Transcript: Kirk Herbstreit Media Conference Call

College Football

Transcript: Kirk Herbstreit Media Conference Call


THE MODERATOR: Thank you and thank you everyone for joining the call today. We’re going to get right to it. We’re going to try to get to as many questions here as possible. We got Kirk Herbstreit here on the line. A big weekend in the sport coming up. Kirk, you do want to give a few opening thoughts here before we get going.

KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, sure. Thanks for everybody that’s on here, looking forward to another fun weekend this week with some big games up at Minneapolis with Penn State and obviously a big game in Tuscaloosa and, yeah, this is kind of the home stretch of the college football season. Those of us who follow it 52 weeks out of the year, this is where it really gets a lot of fun and with the rankings that came out last night, I just think this is the time that you kind of look forward to, these big games taking on even that much more meaning, and not just this weekend but really the next five weeks. So happy to answer any question you guys have.

THE MODERATOR: Perfect. We’ll get right to it.

Q. Obviously you touched on the rankings and stuff like that. What was your take away about what the committee thought of Alabama’s schedule to this point with that No. 3 ranking and what do you feel like a win or loss could, how much could that have an affect Saturday?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think that the schedule, we’re used to, I think some people look at Alabama’s schedule and they, who are not Alabama fans and they tend to knock it and say, oh, they don’t play anybody, kind of thing, and I think, to me Alabama, if you talk to Nick Saban, there’s a willingness there to play non-conference games and they have a pretty good track record of doing that and they will continue to do that, if you look in future schedules. So I’m not one to really buy into, Alabama doesn’t play anybody. But the fact remains right now their schedule isn’t the strongest. Texas A& M is probably the most competent team that they played up to this point, but they have got some big ones coming up with LSU and then the Auburn game and then potentially in Atlanta. So if they’re able to win all three of those games, their schedule will look pretty strong by the end of the year. If they lose this game, to me the only thing that they would have going for them is kind of like two years ago, when they didn’t make the SEC championship and they still made it into the playoff, because they were just better. And at the end of the day sometimes I think people get a little confused, it’s about the best four teams, not the most deserving four teams. There’s a gray area there and it’s subjective analysis and you can pull out metrics, you can pull out whatever you want, I’m not in that room so I would have no idea, but as an outsider looking at everything and the way this thing’s gone since 2014, you’re at home, and you haven’t played anybody up to this point and you’re playing LSU in Tuscaloosa, if you were to lose that game, even with the win over Auburn, I personally think it would be very hard for Alabama, who typically seems to get the benefit of the doubt, I think it would be tough for them to overcome a loss to LSU at home.

Q. Secondly, as far as the quarterbacks in this game, everybody, there’s been a lot ever hype and the Heisman talk, Joe Burrow and Tua, but just how do you break it down, if Tua is even capable of going out at 85, 90 percent, how do you break down that competition between the two of them?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, I think Tua is going to, let’s all knock on wood, let’s assume he doesn’t get sacked or he doesn’t have to pull out of a tackle where that ankle is in jeopardy, I think he’s going to be fine. I talked with people down there, unless there’s some kind of set back within the game I expect him to be very capable of being the Tua that we expect. These two guys, man, it’s beautiful to watch him. Both are running more of an NFL style offense than probably anybody else right now in the college game, with Stark coming back from the Falcons and what Joe Brady has brought over from the Saints, both these guys are able to process coverage and understand how to work through their progressions better than anybody that I’ve watched all year. So it’s good against good, it’s supposed to be a clear day, no rain, perfect temperatures, no wind, let’s have at it. I think with two weeks to prepare for both coaches, not only offensively but for Dave Aranda and Nick Saban and his staff, I think that’s a little bit of a wildcard, so as we’re all on the edge of our seat anticipating a shoot-out, with two weeks to get ready it maybe, maybe it could lean towards the defenses playing better than maybe we all expect going in. But I think these two quarterbacks are blessed to have great receivers and great running games and I think we’re going to see an outstanding show on Saturday.

Q. Everybody knows Alabama has won eight straight in this rivalry. Is it a rivalry if one team is beating the other one all the time and do we make more out of the pressure that mounts year after year than the players do who are not therefore as many will games, this is only Joe Burrow’s second Alabama/LSU game, for example?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, I look at it, I never lived it, that rivalry, but I of course the Iron Bowl is a special, if you ask anybody anywhere they are, your favorite rivalry in college football and you’re going to have a lot of people come up with Auburn and Alabama. But since they have gone to the divisions, even before Nick Saban was there and he was in Baton Rouge, I mean this game’s always impacted the standings. It’s always impacted who is going to go to Atlanta since going back to the early ’90s. So in recent history I think this is still a big game. I’ll say this: I think in 2011 when these two teams played each other and LSU had an incredibly talented team and they went and played Alabama and beat them 9-6, and then matched up of course in the National Championship and loss, and I think struggled to cross mid field that night, I think from that game on I think this has become what I would call a helmet game, where LSU wants so badly to beat Alabama that I think it sometimes affects their psyche. I think interestingly enough I think a real strength of LSU this year and what all of us have been bragging about this team is not just the offensive fire power and the willingness to open things up by Coach O, but as you know from following the team, they’re much more aggressive, going for it on fourth down. Remember the Texas game, third and 17, are they going to run the ball, call a timeout, make Texas use their last timeout, no, no, no they’re attacking. You look at the Florida game, late in the game, instead of being conservative, they’re attacking and they put up that go ahead score. So I, can they take that personality into the middle of the ring against Alabama, is the biggest question to me considering the eight straight and considering that Alabama’s kind of owned them, can this LSU program be who they have been in 2019 in that environment with everything at stake as far as trying to get to Atlanta and ultimately trying to get into the playoffs. So I think for them to I know with the game and kind of get rid of the ghosts that have been haunting them, they’re going to have to be able to maintain that aggressive mindset and I would be very, very surprised if they did not approach that game the same manner.

Q. The way Penn State’s defense has been playing, what has been the key to their success so far through eight games and a Minnesota question, what is has impressed you most about the Gophers during they’re 8-0 run this season?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Okay, first of all, I think with Penn State they have been a great story just because of all that they lost a year ago and I think a lot of people, if you go back to August when the season started, not just the Big-Ten but just the Big-Ten East it was so much talk about Michigan, there was a lot of talk about Ohio State, if there was a surprise team in the Big-Ten East when the season started it was Mark Dantonio and Michigan State. And the forgotten team really was I think Penn State. I don’t know if it was a combination over the last couple years of losing Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley the year before that or what it was, but they were somewhat a forgotten team. So I think they came into the season with a very big chip on their shoulder. I think what stood out to me is the way they’re playing defensively. They have a dominant defense line that has depth, they have linebackers right now that whether it’s Micah Parsons or Cam Brown, you got guys that are just flying around and playing with a ton of confidence, they seem to be attacking I think the line of scrimmage more so this year than any year before defensively because of the way they played at the point of attack and the D-line and those linebackers flying downhill and it’s made it easier I think for the secondary to play consistent too. So I think with all that being said about their defense, I think Sean Clifford and KJ Hamler have been an awesome story and a big playability, not to mention I think the rotation of the running backs, keeping guys fresh, it’s just been a, it’s complimentary football at its finest. And it’s been a lot of fun to watch, I was lucky enough to call a game there at the White Out a few weeks back when they played Michigan and I was even more impressed the week after that the way they went on the road against Michigan State and in a game where they could have let their guard down and they went out and played dominating football that week as well. So I mean everything, very deserving of what attention they’re receiving and I can’t wait to watch this weekend’s game. This will be a great challenge for Penn State because Minnesota seems to have really bought into the culture of PJ Fleck and everything that he sells. It seems like it’s really sinking in with his team. I think that the one thing that nationally is probably not appreciated is what Minnesota can do running the football. Seems like Tanner Morgan’s getting some attention but Rodney Smith’s been great kind of leading their own version of committee of backs. Tanner Morgan’s been taking care of the ball making big plays in the passing game, he’s got a couple really good wide receivers and Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson. And not to mention they’re playing lights out defensively. It’s supposed to be really, really cold, the way you would expect it to be in Minneapolis in November and it’s another big obstacle for Penn State to try to overcome and prove that they are one of the Top-5 teams in the country and then of course if they can get by this one they still have a trip to Columbus.

Q. The last time the Gophers saw (No microphone.) Was the over time game three years ago. That was the Saquon Barkley, McSorley team that went to the Rose Bowl. I’m wondering how will this team, this Penn State team compare to that one from three years ago and secondarily it is supposed to be cold, maybe some snow, how important do you think, will that increase the running game and the battles out there.
KIRK HERBSTREIT: You were kind of cutting out there, hopefully I’ll get what you were looking for. The difference between the team that you’re talking about that played in the Rose Bowl a few years ago with Trace McSorley, if you remember as that year progressed, that was the year where they started to develop a combination of Saquon Barkley in the running game and then the vertical passing game that was lethal. That was the year that every, seems like every game you would see Trace McSorley throw a touchdown pass and then do that home run swing. And then it carried over into the last three or four games of the regular season, into the Big-Ten championship against Wisconsin and then he again, into the Rose Bowl. And they had some great receivers led by Chris Godwin, Mike Gesicki, the big tight end, and so at safeties you had to make up your mind, am I going to get down hill and defend McSorley and Saquon Barkley and the running game or am I going to be faked out and start to come down and now they got one-on-one with their receivers. It made it really challenging to defend. And that’s when Joe Moorehead as a play caller really started to make a name for himself with what they were doing. But when I think of that team and I know KJ Hamler’s a great player, but they had three or four different options of being able to stretch the field. And now I think it’s a very different approach with, they have a big tight end in Freiermuth, who is a great player, KJ Hamler is arguably one of the most dynamic players in space that there is in the country. If I’m Minnesota this week I don’t care if it’s 80 degrees or 30 degrees and snow, you better bracket him, you better take him out. I can’t wait to watch Antoine Winfield and that secondary defending him because that’s going to be I think one of the great matchups of the game. How the quarterbacks handle the ball is always big when it’s cold. Do you have bigger hands to be able to handle that, the ball gets really hard and uncomfortable, it’s not easy to manage, so I think possessing the ball and not turning the ball over for the backs, the quarterbacks and receivers, will be a big factor in the game. What I love is the two cultures clashing. You’ve got PJ Fleck in his second year or third year trying to get these guys to really believe, hey, this is what we can do. You guys have bought into the off season program and we can win games and now look at us. We’re undefeated and we’re playing Penn State and everybody’s talking about us. This is who we are, this is your new Minnesota. And you got Penn State with James Franklin who to me is doing an amazing job of losing players like Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley and I think after all they went through seven or eight years ago, Penn State’s brand is back. I mean they lose great players, they recruit great players, they’re developing great players, and they can replace great players. And to me that’s the mark of a perennial power is when you lose a guy like Saquon Barkley and you can still go out and do what you need to do and just that next wave of talent comes through. So there’s a lot on the line for these two teams beyond just trying to win this game and I cannot wait to watch that. I know LSU and Alabama is a game that everybody’s talking about, but me personally, I can’t wait to see that game on Saturday.

Q. You guys have a different setup this week at the quad at Alabama for Game Day, just what do you remember about being there in the past, it’s been awhile, I think, and what do you think that can bring to the broadcast?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, yeah, I don’t know all that went into that, our director went down there and decided on that spot, along with the university officials. I’m looking forward to it. I know in the past like you said I think it’s maybe the last time we were there maybe years ago, I think Mike Shula might have been the coach, like the Alabama UCLA game I want to say. So the last game I think I can remember I was really young back then. But this is, this will be a great — it’s always fun there, sometimes I think people say well some of the places you go year after year, is it still the same? You go to places like Ohio State or Alabama or LSU, it’s always got so much energy and the fact the game’s kicking off at 2:30 local, I think it’s cool that we’re going where a lot of the tailgating is and I think it’s going to be an electric scene and really looking forward to coming in and having a lot of fun. I know Coach Saban’s going to join us on the show, so that’s always I think great for the fans of Alabama who come out to the show and I think we’re going to have a lot of energy and a lot of fun and lots to talk about with the rankings coming out, some of the big games we have coming up, it’s going to be fun.

Q. Wondering, people are always talking about the guest pickers, do you ever have any say in who gets to be the guest picker?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I don’t really have any say, we try to come up with ideas or they will ask me, do you think this guy or this girl or woman, do you think this makes sense or this makes sense. They will occasionally ask me my opinion, but we have other people that are trying to come up with the names and who might be a good fit for the week.

Q. I know you’ve been impressed with Ohio State all year, what has surprised you the most about the Buckeyes and if I can look ahead a couple weeks, about the Penn State game, what strikes you about that matchup and athletically how do you think Penn State matches up against Ohio State?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, I don’t know if you saw it, I tweeted today I think some people think, well of course he supports the Buckeyes, he’s a Buckeye, it’s like, no, I have a pretty good track record of kind of saying what I think and the last two years in this selection the final Saturday, I said Alabama over Big-Ten champ Ohio State and Georgia over Big-Ten champ Ohio State last year. So for me to say, to be this adamant about Ohio State really for the last five weeks is not me playing favoritism, it’s me seeing something and being impressed. And I think the committee must see the same thing and a lot of other people. It’s about consistency. They’re the only team that I’ve watched and I’ve watched every team every week that are in the top-25 kind of thing, from the beginning, couple first quarters you could argue they haven’t been as dominant, but once they kind of get their bearings, they’re the only team that offensively and defensively has been this dominant every single week. And it’s not just Chase Young, though you follow the team, last year with Greg Schiano, who is a great coach, their defense lost their stinger, they lost their swagger, they got caught a lot of times in man coverage and defensive backs with their back to the wall or to the ball, their run fits weren’t always consistent and they got gashed. I mean it wasn’t just Purdue, it was a lot of other games where their defense struggled. The Ohio State offense had to overcome their defense. That is not the case this year. Their defense is flying around, they’re playing with a lot more confidence, they’re playing with their eyes on the football, they’re much more sound as far as defending the run and once they get teams in the third and six and third and seven we know what happens with the pressure and the way they get after the quarterback. So no, they could lose, but up to this point they have been a dominant team and the last thing I’ll say about them is I’ve visited with them in the spring and when I walked away I visited maybe for an hour, Ryan asked me to come and talk to them and when I got done I shook everyone of their hands and I just sensed a serious focus about them. And this was last spring. And I sensed a maturity and that’s not always the case, not just at Ohio State but everywhere. They just had a different vibe to them. And I think it is Urban Meyer left, everybody wondered how good would Ohio State be without him and Dwayne Haskins and 50 touchdown passes left and everybody wondered how good would they be without him and I think they really came together as a group and are anxious to prove people wrong and so far they have been able to do that. But their maturity and focus is beyond the X/O’s is the thing that I think makes this team different and very unique. And they seem to keep their foot on the accelerator despite all the accolades and all the people telling them all these wonderful things. So I thought Maryland and then Rutgers and as you said, the Penn State game and I think depending upon what Penn State does this week could impact what kind of Penn State team comes in to Columbus, say whatever you want about Penn State, whether the game’s in Columbus or in State College, those games, the last few years, have been as big as any game you could maybe say in the country. And there’s a lot at stake every single year they get together and I would expect this year to be no different. I talked earlier about Penn State with Clifford, who is a kid out of Cincinnati and KJ Hamler and how explosive they can be, they’re running the ball very well with a very good offensive line and I think the difference between a Penn State and let’s say a Wisconsin who came in with a lot of hype I think is the ability to make plays on the perimeter, led by Hamler, Clifford is much better at quarterback, much more capable of throwing and running, and I think their defense right now is playing at an elite level with their front seven. So it will be a great matchup, fun to build that one up and hype it up, but we’ll see obviously what happens here in these next few weeks.

Q. It looks like this year the Big-Ten’s actually going to get a team back in the playoffs. My question is, is there any scenario that you could envision where an undefeated Ohio State gets in and a 11-1 Penn State gets in or does Penn State have to win out and win the Big-Ten?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: No, I think there is a scenario. I think with Notre Dame losing to Michigan in the fashion what they did eliminates a potential one loss Notre Dame being in a discussion without a conference championship game. I think Oklahoma losing opens up that scenario potentially even more. If you’ll bear with me, if you imagine, just to make it simple like you just said, if all the favorites were to win and Ohio State were to win the Big-Ten championship, Clemson were to win the ACC and let’s just say Alabama were to come out and win the SEC, what you’re going to potentially have at the end there is a one loss let’s say Oklahoma comes out of the Big-12, a one loss Oregon could be playing Utah, I would expect both of those teams to play with one loss in the PAC 12 championship. So you could let’s say have Oregon standing there with one loss, you could have Oklahoma standing there with one loss and then I think it becomes an argument about, other than the three that are already in, I think then it becomes an argument with, well, boy, look LSU, they went to Tuscaloosa and they lost 38-35, that’s their only loss on the year. That could be and a one loss LSU could be in that is discussion and the same for Penn State. If Penn State wins every game, including not only what’s already on their resume but a win potentially Saturday against Minnesota and then they lose a hard fought game in Columbus, then I think that’s the potential for the committee then to put what they call a cluster and the cluster would be the one loss PAC 12, the one loss Oklahoma, the one loss LSU and the one loss Penn State and then they start trying to separate those four teams to see who could be that fourth team. That to me — that’s if all the favorites were to win, I think that’s the argument that the committee’s going to potentially have in that final weekend in December or early, first weekend in December when they try to figure out who is going to be going.

Q. Lincoln Riley on the success that he’s had now with three different quarterbacks, three completely different guys, three completely different skill sets, different mental approaches to the game and here we are, we’re celebrating 150 years of college football and all three of these guys have done literally unprecedented things. What stand out to you about the way Lincoln coaches his quarterbacks and the way he designs offensive game plans, draws up play schematics, that allow these guys to have this level of success?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, it’s been clearly one of those things that somebody’s going to be doing documentaries 50 years from now talking about his offense, because as you know, I mean I talked with him last year when we were getting ready for a semifinal game and we were talking about his offense and what he did with Baker and what he did with Kyler and talking about the NFL we’re starting to see more and more of that style in the NFL and he’s like, man, two years ago I would have maybe two or three NFL offensive coordinator or head coach type guys come and visit me in Norman and now I have up to 30 guys that are coming in. And if you watch the NFL, you can really see that — I hope he stays in college forever, but I worry that we may lose him to the NFL ranks and I hope he never leaves. But what I see is just an innovator, I see a guy that his core like foundation would be considered air raid because of the offense that he played in and what he grew up in with Mike Leach, and then I think he’s, to his credit, he’s come up with ways to attack that are different. I think he’s made the running the ball a big part of what they do, and I know it doesn’t talk about the quarterbacks, but if you’re defending Oklahoma and you see that counter play or that back side guard and tackle coming around, you got to take that into consideration. You can’t just worry about what Jalen Hurts and these receivers are doing, it starts with, man, if we’re going to start somewhere with Oklahoma we got to stop their running game. And to do that you need extra guys down there and now you can, now you got one-on-one matchups and you got a quarterback that understands the system and how to get the ball out and in Jalen’s case he runs like a tail back, if everybody’s covered he’s going to take off and run like a tail back. Whereas Kyler he obviously would make people miss and Baker was scrambling to eventually find an open receiver. So they have all done it in their own very unique way. But I don’t know, can you think of in our lifetime, I mean I love Jamal Holloway and Charles Thompson and that era but I think they’re offering 49 a game right now, last year they were scoring 48, year before that they were scoring 45. It’s ridiculous and in modern college football to see quarterbacks play this consistently and to have offenses this dominant in a conference and a Power Five conference like the Big-12. But I would say balance to me and the appreciation for running the ball is why I think they have such consistency. It’s not just, to me it’s like college basketball, you hit threes like Loyola Marymount used to and one day you’re cold you can’t hit the three, what do you have to go back to? Well Oklahoma has that running game. And so I think that’s why every week these last four, five years they have been able to be so good on offense.

Q. One of the things that stands out to me the most is that at this point in their final season whether it was Kyler or Baker I don’t think anybody was predicting that they would be the number one overall pick in the NFL draft and yet by the time scouts coaches teams got to looking at them, there they go, No. 1. How impressed have you been with what Jalen has done in his short time in Oklahoma?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, I’ve been very impressed because I think one of the knocks on Jalen was never about his ability to throw the ball, it was about his ability to sit in that pocket and be able to work through progressions. And I think that if you watch him in the Kansas State game or games where they’re not quite hitting on all cylinders, I think that’s still an area that I think he’s growing of the that’s not just something that a coach tells you, hey, sit in that pocket and work through your progressions, that’s something you have to rep and continue to do. And I think that’s the area that I see the most improvement is through his own maturity, his own, as you know he’s very diligent and hard working at his own craft, so that’s an area that I’m sure he’s he personally has taken on as a challenge, but I’ve been so impressed with him taking the reins, imagine taking the reins from Baker Mayfield to Kyler Murray, and now you’re coming in in one, in really six months and you’ve been able to right away earn the respect of a team that’s a perennial power, you’re looked at as the leader, he’s become the spokesman of the team, I think I’ve been more impressed with him from an intangible standpoint and a personality that he brings to that team as much as anything. They lose to Kansas State, he holds a meeting out at the airport before they even get back to the facility and the players are sitting there listening to him, I mean that’s invaluable to have that kind of leadership. So it’s been fun to watch, I still think they have a lot of exciting moments ahead of them for him, they got Baylor on the road, TCU, and then Bedlam and then probably a Big-12 championship game. So they have got four marquee matchups to still try to climb, but I think the script of Jalen Hurts and his story, as good as it’s been, it still has three dots there and I’m excited to see how it’s going to finish the rest of his career.

Q. With LSU/Alabama two of the last three games have been shut outs on the LSU end. Could you put this particular game in context with those as far as the offense goes with LSU and it seems like with the Tigers like their offense is just able to adapt differently throughout a game, change things up, and I’m wondering from your perspective what you have seen in this offense, how that helps them with the personnel that they have.
KIRK HERBSTREIT: No, that’s a very fair observation. I think that that’s probably been one of the things that I’ve been most impressed with, with his new approach is how they seem to take what the defense gives them. They, they’re known right now for getting wide, five wide receivers out, if you include the tight end and the running back. And how Joe’s been able to work through his progressions so quickly has been a thing of beauty. But when I close my eyes and I think right now the 2019 LSU offense I think of a lot of those underneath throws, a lot of those quick throws where he’s got double slants coming underneath and he kind of finds the guy that has the best matchup. Joe is relentless with his preparation, he not only knows his own personnel but by the time he gets there Saturday he knows the corners, he knows their tendencies, the nickel back on the slot, the linebacker, safeties, dime coverage, everything that a defense has to offer he has a very, very good understanding. The reason that’s important it goes back to your question and how they’re able to adapt to whatever the defense gives you. So how different is that? That’s like going from standard television to high definition. They left 1975 offensively to now being in 2019 and cutting edge of 2019. I mean, they’re the offense right now that the whole country’s talking about. Joe Burrow’s one of the quarterbacks everybody’s talking about. When was the last time we talked about LSU offense? Not individual players, but the entire offense and the production and what they do and what they’re capable of and the personality of that offense and how attacking and aggressive they are. I don’t think in my life time I can remember talking about LSU’s offense in that fashion. And so can they take that same personality into a heavy weight fight, into Tuscaloosa? Because they lost eight in a row. Two of the last three they have not been able to score a point. They have been, in the past, win with defense, and special teams and field position and get just enough hopefully the offense won’t lose the game, we’re going to get just enough from the offense. I mean whether they want to admit that or not that’s how they played for eight or nine years on offense. And now every time I watch them I do a double take with the way — they have five receivers almost every pattern. And Joe’s working through, one, two, three and he’s finding that open receiver. And the last thing I’ll say is the Auburn game to me was a very impressive thing, maybe the most impressive thing because Kevin Steele went with three down linemen a middle linebacker and seven defensive backs for the majority that have game, trying to get more speed on the field to match up with all those receivers and Joe and LSU had to find a different way to do it. They had to run the ball more with Clyde Edwards they had to do a little bit more with trying to get creative with their back shoulder fades and things of that nature because the rhythm that they had created the previous six or seven games wasn’t there that day. And you got to tip your cap to Kevin Steele and Auburn’s great defensive line, but they still found a way to get points on the board and win. And I think against Alabama it’s going to take the same kind of approach, some of those throws that they made against Florida and some of the other teams that they played, maybe against Texas, maybe those aren’t there with Nick Saban having two weeks to get ready. But they’re going to have to come up with a counter to whatever Nick Saban does on Saturday afternoon if they want to be able to come out of there with a win.

Q. The morning of that Auburn game you said onset that Clyde Edwards-Helaire watch out for him and I don’t know if you saw things with this offense and I’m wondering from Alabama’s perspective here like what are the weaknesses that LSU can have, are there things that defenses can exploit?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: We just don’t know who Alabama is defensively, to be candid. I mean we know about Nick Saban, but we just don’t know — who can we say — because they got a lot of new faces on that side of the ball — who can we definitely say tested them to make us know, I mean I respect Kellen Mond and Jimbo Fisher and that game was on the road, it’s like maybe we could say at Texas A & M against that offense was a good test, but I can’t really say anybody else offensively against the Alabama defense was enough of a test for me to be able to say definitively, oh, boy, here’s what the Alabama defensive strength is for sure. I mean they got some individual playmakers, you look at Jennings and Davis and obviously those guys stand out, Xavier McKinney is a great player, but I still look at them and I think, I don’t know, I know they can rush the passer on third down and long, I don’t know yet how good their secondary is, and so I think that’s going to be a great matchup with the LSU wide receivers, Jefferson and Chase and Marshall against that Alabama secondary, because you got to think that Nick Saban knows that that’s the strength of LSU and he’s going to try to take away some of those easy throws. So I think how LSU counters some of those easier throws, what their answer to that is will be big. The line of scrimmage, on paper I would probably give Alabama an edge, just because of some of the faces that they have up there led by Raekwon Davis who is played a lot of ball. So I don’t know, if I were playing against Alabama, I would give a lot of pre-snap movement, I would mix up tempo, I would try to get that defense looking to the sidelines and trying to get the adjustment to, they went trips to the sideline they motion a guy away, oh, my gosh, we didn’t go over that this week in practice, what the heck am I doing. That kind of thing. Like I would give them wrinkles and try to get some of their youth at linebacker thinking twice and being a little hesitant. And I think that could be something that LSU tries to do and tries to capitalize on trying to get Alabama to miss communicate and free up some receivers.

Q. Two Florida State questions for you. Obviously they have had a very up-and-down last six or seven years. So first question, how good do you think that job is and then assuming Bob Stoops is not in the mix, who are realistic viable candidates that you see for that job?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I still think it’s a heavy weight job. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and loved Bobby Bowden and loved that program and want them to be great. I mean I miss Florida State. I think college football misses Florida State being a 10 win team year in and year out. So I think it’s a great job, I think it’s a little tricky as far as it’s not — you know you coach at some of these places and no matter what the product is on the field the stadium’s sold out, everybody’s there, there’s a buzz in the air that kind of thing. I don’t know if that’s necessarily like that right now, but I think if you can bring in a dynamic head coach to get people excited, get the players excited, I think there’s a chance that it can get back to what it needs to be. I mean I’m like you and everybody else, you’re literally just throwing names out there. I’m hoping by Saturday to have a little bit more of an idea of some real people, but I think they have got to go after an established coach, I don’t know if taking a hot coordinator would be the right move. I think after everything they have been through for the last few years I think they need to find somebody that’s familiar with the state as far as recruiting, somebody that’s familiar with that school and some of the ways that school works and operates. And I think that the most obvious name to come to the top of my head is Mark Stoops, because he left there as a defensive coordinator, did a really good job for Jimbo Fisher, coached some very high profile players, their defense was good enough for him to eventually get the head job at U.K., he’s been there now for whatever it is, six or seven years, and has done a pretty good job obviously there, won 10 games last year, which is tough to do in the SEC when you’re in Lexington. And so I think he would be an obvious candidate, but there are a lot of other guys that I’m sure will be candidates, but I’ll have more in the next few days, I still think I’m trying to get my arms around that.

Q. Wondering, how do you make sense of this Michigan season? It’s year five of Jim Harbaugh and how do you see Michigan finishing with the two rivalry games at home, Michigan State, obviously Indiana on the road and then Ohio State at home?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, you know, I was pretty frustrated and concerned and confused with their game up in Madison. I think like everybody and then I continued to watch them play and I think they started to make some progress when they went to Illinois, but you wondered was that more a reflection of Illinois or was that actually Michigan playing better. And I happened to be with them the next week when they went to the White Out and things again got away from them early and I think you and probably all of us after the game that they played against Wisconsin it was like, oh my gosh, in this atmosphere, they’re down 21-0, this is about to get ugly again. And they got it to 21-7 at half and of course Jim Harbaugh said to Maria, this is about to be Michigan’s finest hour and we were all like, wow, I can’t believe he said that. And, I mean, sure enough, as you know, the second half I think they out gained Penn State 230-80, came so close to Tiger that game up late, completely in the rain, dominated Notre Dame. Notre Dame never had a chance in that game at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. We know what happened last week against Maryland. So they have got 10 straight quarters of being the team that I think a lot of people thought they would be all year, but you know things sometimes you never know as a coach, I mean if it were easy you would just say, okay, starting with Middle Tennessee we’re going to be a dominant team, but sometimes you go through some trials and tribulations and Michigan’s case, they were struggling executing with Josh Gattis wasn’t necessarily what he was calling maybe it was fumbling the ball and having penalties and first and 15 and first and 20 and that was a big part of the first three or four games of the season. And these last two and a half games complete opposite. They have been great running the ball, not having as many miscues, the defense has been the defense that you would expect from Don Brown and now they get a bye week and brace for these last three against rivalry against Michigan State, at IU is never easy, Michigan and IU, that seems like it’s a great game every year. And then they host Ohio State. So I, if they keep playing the way they have the last 10 quarters, I mean it’s going to be great football because they’re at home against Michigan State, I can’t imagine them losing that game personally. Indiana is a little bit tricky, but I would think that they will win that game. And then here we go with Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend, which will be awesome and the fact that it’s at home, if Ohio State wins out, leading into that game, how many times have you gone to that game where one team has everything to lose and the other team has nothing to lose and we know how that goes. Because if you think about it, I’m just doing it off the top of my head, if Ohio State beats Penn State and I think as far as the Big-Ten championship I don’t think it would matter if Ohio State won or lost that game to go to Indy, right? I think they would still go to Indianapolis with one loss in conference. I’m thinking off the top of my head, I’m not a hundred percent sure on that. Because they would win the head-to-head if they beat Penn State, I think they would go regardless if they lost to Michigan or not. And that’s always a dangerous thing, right, when you go into a rivalry game. So it will be great. I always like to see Michigan and Ohio State with a lot at stake and I would love to see them keep playing the way they have these last 10 quarters.

Q. The Josh Gattis experiment I don’t know if it’s an experiment I’m assuming that he’s in place for awhile. Do you think it was a good move ultimately for Michigan to go with Josh?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, because I think they — I thought they took a bigger step last year going for more of what you would expect from Jim Harbaugh to Shea Patterson coming from Ole Miss I personally thought if you pulled out tape in 2017 and looked at Michigan and then look at them in 2018, I was more like taken back by, wow, he really did it, kind of thing. But I think 2019 I still see a lot of similarities from what they did last year to what they’re doing this year and I think Shea is getting more and more comfortable with the one wrinkle that’s different is the run/pass option, the RPO game, that’s a little bit different and new and I think he’s getting better and better every week with that, more in command. And I think the zone read stuff and the play action off of the zone read, he just looks better and better and when he’s playing good and they’re running the ball, they’re a dangerous offense, but, yeah, I think Josh is a great coach, I think it was a good hire, but I really think from 2017 to 2018 was more of a, my eyes were up, like, wow, I’m surprised but with Shea Patterson’s background it made sense.

Q. The first question would be, you said last night that maybe the happiest person in the world was Dabo Swinney at No. 5. Can you kind of clarify that a little bit and do you feel like this team Clemson plays better and he motivates better if they’re not the No. 1, if they’re just as he shows it, little ole Clemson?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I’m calling their game Saturday and I was on a call with him and, man, he is exactly why I said the happiest guy is Dabo Swinney and I don’t mean happy as in the ranking, happy as in he doesn’t have to say anything. How many times can you be the defending national champion and have arguably one of the greatest seasons in college football history and not be talked about the following year? I mean think about that. I don’t know if that he’s ever been done. And so I think he really takes offense to the fact that Clemson accomplished all that they accomplished a year ago and they bring back a lot of fire power, even though they lost a lot of great defensive linemen, a lot of great defensive players, but he thinks that this team, if you look at the numbers, is defensively better than they were a year ago and he thinks that at this point in the season the way Trevor and Travis and the receivers are playing as they get ready for the home stretch of the season he thinks they’re better offensively than they were a year ago. And yet because they had a close call against North Carolina it’s almost like well Clemson is not who we thought they might be and I think he really resents that sentiment. So to meaning when I say that the happiest guy in the world is Dabo Swinney, what I meant kind of being sarcastic was, man, he’s the defending champ and they put him at 5 in the first rankings and he’s undefeated and they have one close call against North Carolina, seven of the nine teams they have beaten by 30 or more and he thinks he has a better team this year than maybe he had last year. So that’s why it just adds a little bit of juice to him and to the practices and to the focus to try to say, okay, that’s what you think, kind of thing. Even though if Clemson wins out, there’s no, there’s really nothing to it, I mean they’re going to the playoffs if they win their next few games and win the ACC championship. They’re in. But I think he feels disrespected and I think he’s fighting for his players and fighting for his program and I don’t blame him. I think he’s got a very good point.

Q. Do you think that the national media or maybe the committee understands that, hey, it’s 24 in a row and I heard a stat last night Penn State’s allowed 13 points or fewer to seven or eight teams, but with Clemson it’s 14 or fewer points to eight of nine and better offenses. Do you think that all that kind of gets lost in Trevor’s struggles and that one North Carolina game?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Well see I don’t know if he’s really struggled the way maybe the narrative is. He’s made, I think Dabo said he’s had seven or eight bad plays on the whole year. Where you go back, he’s a human, you go back you look at the film, he’s a true sophomore and you say, oh, man, what was I thinking there kind of thing, you learn from it, you move on. But he’s still having a monster year. He’s got 20 touchdown passes he’ll probably end up with well over 30 maybe 35 to 40 touchdown passes on the year. He’s running the ball better this year. So I don’t personally buy into his struggles, I mean I think he’s made a few bad decisions but what quarterback really doesn’t. And when I evaluate a team I don’t really look at 24 in a row, I don’t really look at Alabama and all their National Championships, I’m just looking at what they’re doing this year and I think the committee is trying to look at just this year. We kid Joey Galloway every year because we give our own top four rating and every week he has Clemson at one and even after the North Carolina game he had Clemson at 1 and we’re like, why do you have Clemson at 1 and he would say, well they’re the defending national champs and they haven’t lost a game so I have them at 1. And again it’s subjective, he’s entitled to his opinion, that’s the way he does it. The committee clearly does not do that. They look at 2019 strictly with the nine games that we have to evaluate and that’s all they’re looking at. So I think right now this ranking will provide motivation for Clemson, I think this team, I, you know, you imagine they’re going to go out Saturday, no matter who they’re playing and in this case that would be North Carolina State and they’re going to show up with probably in a bad mood and anxious to prove to people that they’re the best team in the country. And I would expect nothing less from that, from a mentality standpoint with the remainder of the season that they have.

Q. Earlier you said that Penn State’s brand is back. So what’s next for them? How do they get in a that air space that they want to be where Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State continually live?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Great question. I know that’s something that James Franklin I think it was at the Ohio State game or I think it was maybe the Ohio State game he came out after the had a press conference and he made some comments, something about, you know, okay, we have been good, we have been very good, but that’s where we want to go kind of thing. And I think that when you’re developing and continuing to build a program, I think and you get to a point where you’re winning games, you look back in the last I think three years they have been to 11, 11 — was it nine or 10 last year — they’re on a pretty good run here. But I know their fan base, with their national championships that they have in their trophy case, it’s been great to win those games, but they want in the playoffs, they want Big-Ten championships and they want a chance to win a national title and they should. But I also think you have to look back at where this program was, really not that long ago, I mean Bill O’Brien took over this program, I remember thinking, man how is he going to do this. And that was, what? ’12, ’13, right in that time frame. And he started to give this program a pulse and get them back and it was like, wow, these guys are, they’re going to a bowl game. This is positive. And that was just six years ago. So now James Franklin comes in and it takes him two or three years to kind of get things up and the recruiting players that are pretty good and they bring in Joe Moorehead and a new offense, so I think it just kind of goes in stages. But I don’t think you’re entitled because you’re Ohio State or you’re Michigan or you’re Penn State. Look at Nebraska, look at Miami, look at Florida State, look at Tennessee, look at USC, there are big-time perennial powers that wish they could be Penn State over these last three years. And how do you get to that next step? You just continue to recruit. I think their defense right now I would say is at a National Championship caliber. They’re right there as good as maybe anybody in the country and I think their offense, that’s what we’re going to see, when they go to Columbus, they go to Minneapolis this weekend and they go to Columbus can they go in a those kind of atmospheres with this offense and do that, because until you do that, then I think the question that you’re asking is fair and to me in a perfect world if you had KJ Hamler on one side and Dodson’s coming, but another KJ Hamler or two, maybe not to that level but like they had with Godwin a few years ago, they had so many different receivers on that team, that allowed them to really be a dynamic offense, even though Saquon got a lot of the attention, but they had a lot of weapons. And right now I think that’s where they’re, to me, they’re growing. Because you have Hamler and Dodson and Freiermuth and then there’s a big drop and I think in an era of offensive football, they need five, six, seven options at the skill spots, not two or three. And I think that’s the area of the program, when I look at them, I think that’s the area that I still think they’re developing and still growing is the skill, the playmakers at the skill spots, the depth, the depth, because obviously they have some pretty good players, but the depth of that spot I think is key when you look at some of the premier offenses and teams that are ranked in the top in the country.


Media contact: Derek Volner at 860-384-9986; [email protected] and @DerekVolner

Derek Volner

I currently lead ESPN’s NFL Communications, including Monday Night Football, NFL Draft and studio programming. Previously, I did the same for ESPN’s vast college football portfolio. I have been with ESPN since 2013.
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