ESPN’s College GameDay Built by The Home Depot host Rece Davis and analyst Kirk Herbstreit spoke with media members today via Zoom, discussing this week’s show and college football slate. College GameDay is set to originate from the Masters Tournament, on Saturday, Nov. 14 (9 a.m. – noon ET).
ABC’s Saturday Night Football (No. 13 Wisconsin at Michigan) is set for 7:30 p.m. ET, with Herbstreit, Chris Fowler and Maria Taylor on the call.
A transcript of the call is available below.
Question: Okay I cover Penn State. And I know you’ve been following them on College GameDay. I just wondered, are you surprised to see the 0-3 after an 11 win season last year. What are your observations on what might be wrong?
Rece Davis (RD): I’m absolutely surprised to see it. I actually thought, you know, had some bad luck in the first game, and some of it self-inflicted, I know, but in my judgment, they also got a very bad call at the end where they should have pulled that one out of the fire. Overmatched in the second game as most everybody in the Big Ten is. And then last week was not a good performance. I mean, Maryland’s improving, Taulia is a good player and all of that, but that shouldn’t happen. So you know, I obviously the defections, the opt outs, some of the better players are hurt, the injuries at running back have hurt, but I don’t know that they’ve gotten enough crisp difference-making plays on offense. And I think Sean [Clifford]’s good player, but I don’t know, maybe, maybe he and Kirk Ciarrocca just haven’t quite hit their rhythm yet. So I think, I think that’s part of it. And that seems to be the primary problem to me because they have difference makers on defense. They certainly would love to have Micah Parsons, but I think it’s just a combination of a little bit of ragged play in the Indiana game that lead Indiana, which is a good team, stick around and have a chance to win the game at the end. One game where they’re overmatched and then a bad performance. Last week, so I am surprised. I don’t think it’s unfixable but I’m certainly, certainly surprised by it and it seems to be just lack of explosiveness on offense and lack of consistent difference making plays a quarterback, even though I know Sean had some good rushing numbers and so forth.
Q: I’m going to keep this on the Big Ten disappointing train. Michigan’s obviously off to a 1-2 start. I’m curious what you make of their start and the job Jim Harbaugh has ahead of him and trying to turn this program around.
RD: Well, I think the thing is we talked about it on GameDay last week and I made the observation – people tell you that they aren’t good, they’re wrong. I mean, if they haven’t been good. They have been good. The problem is that they brought Jim in for great and they brought him in for championships and they’re not anywhere close to that level. I just don’t see identity from them on offense. I don’t know if it’s they’re not totally comfortable with what Josh is trying to do and there’s too much of a mix and match or if it’s inexperience at a quarterback. I would also say that I noticed on the telecast last week, I think there was a quote from Don Brown, I didn’t hear Don say this directly so I don’t want to be too critical in case I’m misunderstood the reference, but there was a reference to the fact that he didn’t want to become something he didn’t believe in. And I think the discussion was about playing so much man coverage. In my judgment, a coach’s job is to either get his players to play to the level that he wants in the scheme that he wants, or fix the scheme so that they can play it. And they haven’t been able to do that it recently against elite teams or against even really good teams like Indiana and against Michigan State, I’m not really sure what happened that was sort of like Penn State against Maryland. That was a less than good performance. So I just, I know it’s a nebulous thing. And you’d love to say, well, here’s the X and O reason, or here’s the philosophical reason that they haven’t taken that next step. But to me, they just don’t seem to have an identity and things that they believe in to the level that allows their players to execute freely and with great confidence and that’s a small step and it’s a hard one to find, but to me that’s what they’re going to have to do. They’re going to have to determine whether the issue from going to good to great is Jim’s philosophy and his scheme X and O, or is it personality and demeanor within the program. And I don’t just mean Jim – I think every program ends up taking on some type of personality, and is the one that he has led them to effective? And if it is not, can you change that? I think it’s far easier if the problem is the first one. If it’s philosophy and scheme… If you’re not too stubborn, you can fix that. The other one’s a little tougher and we’ll have to just see which direction he goes. But I am not on the train of dismissing Jim Harbaugh or you gotta change. I think Jim Harbaugh has a really, really good coach and you know, he hasn’t performed the expectations up until now relative to winning championships and I think even he would say that. That doesn’t mean he’s not a good coach, and that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but it does mean that they need to make adjustments and figure out what’s wrong and figure out how to get it done. They need to start doing it now.
Q: I have a question on the overall GameDay presentation this year, obviously doing it without college fans behind you. It’s been such a hallmark of the show for so long. How’s it been this year doing it without those fans and how have you navigated all that to put on the same quality product that you have, but without that backdrop that so synonymous with College GameDay?
RD: It’s been different for sure, Alex. I think the number one thing that we’ve all noticed is that when you have normal situations in the crowd, you get instantaneous feedback, good and bad. Whatever you say, if you say something good about your host rival or something they don’t like and you get booed, and if you say their teams good, then you get cheers. There’s a certain adrenaline and rush it goes along with it, and I think there’s a great energy that comes from having a show in a setting like that when you’re surrounded by, in some cases you know 25,000 people, you know, depending on the venue. They pulled in Washington, you know, James Madison different places like that we’ve had huge crowds and it’s exhilarating and there’s a lot of energy. And so, you miss that. I think the show sounds different in the background because of it sort of like when you watch games now and you hear the fake crowd noise behind it you know it. I think the show sounds a little different, but the discussions not different. The one thing that I’ve noticed is that once we once we get engaged in a conversation I don’t notice the difference until I go back and review the show and I don’t hear the reaction. And you also don’t have the spontaneity of being able to you say something they boo and kind of react to and have a little fun with it and then move on. That part’s gone. But I think the discussion and the interaction. And the chemistry has been the same, you just miss that little bit of instantaneous energy.
Q: Whether it’s because of weather delays or just somebody making a run early Saturday morning, can you guys show highlights? Can you narrate highlights from the Masters or would that be something where you throw to Scott Van Pelt or something like that?
RD: We are navigating that. We will make sure everything is covered and if there are weather delays, I think there’s a plan in place for both things to happen – our show to happen and coverage of the Masters. I don’t know what Scott’s availability is going to be, that probably depends on whether they’re in play you know, and what type of weather we have, but we have Tom Rinaldi and Geno Wojciechowski, both of whom are deeply and well versed in the Masters and golf and so we’ll be able to keep people up to date if it is necessary to do so if they’re playing. Now, I think there’s a plan in place so the viewers can go back and forth or check it out or whatever. It’ll be covered. No, nothing will, nothing will be hidden because we’re on site in Augusta.
Q: Any hints about what Lee Corso setup will be down in Orlando for this weekend?
RD: I haven’t seen it yet, but it will be proper for the occasion and the event, we’ll put it that way. That’s how we discussed leading up to it.
Q: I know this was like kind of a rumor like back when the pandemic started but when did it become like a serious discussion and kind of how fast did that discussion move to get GameDay to Augusta?
RD: I think it’s something we pointed towards since it became a possibility. What are the strengths of this show has been the ability to capture the unique opportunities of different venues, whether it be the aircraft carrier before I came on the show or Times Square when I was on the show. And now this. The show has a really unique ability to be able to fit in and make connections and when that became a possibility and the Masters moved and we knew we were going to have a show, it was a goal and people at Augusta National were extraordinarily gracious and their hospitality has been great on a call, on several calls but on a call with them this past week. And they’re looking forward to having us and we’re looking forward to being their guests. It didn’t happen quickly, it wasn’t like, you know, somebody had an idea and said, hey, you know, let’s get it done, there was all this pushback, negotiation and give and take. I think it was more a cooperative effort of saying ‘how can we make this happen?’ And they were tremendous and our people work very hard to be able to create a set and find a place that would not be disruptive in any way, shape, form or fashion and we’re glad that it’s all worked out that way, but it came together, I would say, through continuous cooperative effort, rather than a, you know, fits and starts and give and take and whether it’s going to happen or not happen… I think everybody’s goal from the beginning was to make this a reality.
Q: I’m wondering what’s unique about hosting this show from a golf course? This is kind of a unique venue, so what’s unique about that for you guys?
RD: Everything, really. It’s one of the cathedrals of sport. It’s a place that is synonymous with excellence and tradition and you want to go in there and be extraordinarily respectful of that venue. I’ve hosted College GameDay basketball for a number of years and I’ve done numerous shows at the Rose Bowl. When you go to places like Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas in basketball and the Rose Bowl for football or any of the great stadiums, Notre Dame Stadium where we were last week, you start putting into context where things are in the realm of the great cathedrals of sport and there’s a certain reverence that goes along with that. And I think Augusta National was right at the top of the list in terms of places that people have great respect and reverence for. To be able to do the show from there is certainly different. Now we’re going to do our show. And that’s what the people that Augusta National want us to do, they want us to do the show from there. It was one of the first questions when we first started talking about it… I said, you know, are we going to have to, you know, not that we really a bunch of yellers and screamers anyway, but are we going to have to manage our volume level and our tone during discussions and we are far enough removed so the week can speak as we normally would. So I think just giving people a little peek at Augusta National at a time of year that they don’t ordinarily get it with it being in the fall now, as opposed to in the spring, I think that will be unique. I think just the reverence and the awe of one of the great cathedrals in sport is something that will try to capture and I’m confident that we will capture on Saturday morning.
Q: I’m kind of curious. A. Have you been to Augusta national before all of this was put together and B. What was your very first reaction when the word started floating around maybe we could go to Augusta?
RD: My first reaction to that was, that would be awesome. And when it started looking going to happen a couple of several weeks ago, a couple months ago, maybe, you know, we’re pretty sure that this was going to happen. It was very exciting to be able to do something different, especially this year and maybe be able to give people a little look at two great events. Obviously, the Masters stands alone, and then a college football Saturday, which we, you know, hold great reverence for as well and be able to connect those two things and do it from Augusta National is something that was very exciting. I have been to Augusta on two occasions – two very different occasions. My first trip was in 1992, I was working as the sports director at WRBL-TV in Columbus, Georgia, and we were… we didn’t have great resources as we might say in college football. We weren’t exactly the Alabama of television stations. So I went up there as a one man band, shared a satellite truck with the station that was owned by the same company and those folks had no interest whatsoever in letting me in there truck to get my stuff done. But it was really a remarkable event, just, you know, with the number, the number of patrons following golfers around and Fred Couples won that event and you know, to be able to be a part of it and still trying to get the video I needed and get this stuff done, and sent back, was… it was taxing and difficult and frustrating, and I probably got angry once or twice, not at any one at Augusta.. the people in the satellite truck from the other station that didn’t want us to use their truck after it had been agreed upon. But you see, I don’t hold a grudge and I don’t remember things like that. I’m semi joking, anyway. But that was the first experience. The second one was far more relaxing and enjoyable. Lou Holtz was gracious enough to invite Mark May, me and Jay Bilas joined us and we went down and spent the night and you know, had a couple of wonderful meals and played the course and you know – it’s especially, if you’re a below average golfer like me, it can really get you churning a little bit when you get started, even if you’re just out with friends, but you’re just out there with friends, but all of a sudden, you know, the group getting ready to go off. They’ve got, you know, who knows you. I think Ozzie Newsome and some of his friends were getting ready to go up afterwards so you don’t want to embarrass yourself and you know all of it, which I did anyway. But it was the kind of thing that gets your heart pumping and stomach churning a little bit, but I can’t say enough about how gracious and kind and hospitable everyone was when I was able to visit on both occasions, both in a professional manner when I was treated well when I was, you know, absolute scrub just trying to piece together a few packages for my station back in Columbus, and when I came back as a guest of Lou’s, how gracious and kind to everyone was and what an enjoyable experience that was.
Q: And speaking of Lou, and I believe Steve Spurrier is also a member, they’re going to be on site, I would imagine. Are they easy choices to sit in on the set on Saturday?
RD: The pandemic has made having guests on the set a little more challenging, just out of an abundance of caution, in terms of if you move someone in and out, the sanitizing that the crew needs to do. So we have found ways to do it on occasion, and we will… I think you saw last week we had Brian Kelly on. We did it down on the field in chairs that were safely distance, then that way you don’t have people moving in and out of the same space. I actually, I communicate with Lou quite often, but I haven’t spoken to him in a couple of weeks. I’m not sure if he’s going to be there or not. I don’t know about Steve either, but it would certainly under ordinary circumstances that will make a lot of sense. But I think we’re going to make every effort we can within the golfers schedule to have as many of those guys on to explore their college football ties as we possibly can.
Q: I imagine this is kind of a bucket list trip and a destination for a lot of the people on staff purely because of the exclusivity and I’m sure not a lot of people have gotten a chance to go to Augusta. Assuming all goes well on Saturday, what’s the next marquee event or location you guys would like to visit with the show? And where does Augusta rank on the list of places you guys have taken the show?
RD: I mean I think because of the exclusivity that you mentioned, and also because it normally doesn’t fall in football season, I think it’s gonna have to go to the top of the list, right. I mean in terms of pure venue, there are a lot of great ones, but this is hopefully, just because we want things to return to normal. Hopefully this will be the only opportunity to have a college football show while the Masters is going on. So I think just because of the nature of that it would have to go to the top of the list, not to mention the fact that it holds a certain mystique for so many people because they only get a glimpse of it and you know typically over one weekend in the spring. So it’s, you know, I think because of that it ranks very high. I haven’t really given a lot of thought, to be honest with you, about what the next big venue would be. The pandemic cost us one that we were really excited about. We were supposed to have our first show this season in Dublin for the Notre Dame-Navy game. The backdrop and site that they had set up in downtown Dublin was just spectacular. And so I think taking the show to a place like that for an event would probably be next up, and hopefully we’ll be able to make that happen. But I think just because of the unique situation that we find ourselves in here with the Masters being played in November, I would have to say this goes right to the top.
Q: Who else would be the most likely to sneak out to the Par 3 course and try and get a couple putts off during a commercial break?
RD: I mean, our golf experts there are Tom and Gene. So I think they would probably be the first candidates to do so. But the guy who would really love to do it, even though I don’t think that he really considers himself a golfer, but he’s such a remarkable, stunningly good athlete at everything he goes is [David] Pollack. I can see Pollack out there during breaks trying to see if he can unleash one or maybe even pop one up there and get close to the pen or something. So, and knowing him, he’d probably able to do it. For a former defensive lineman, I don’t know that anybody really appreciate what a remarkable athlete he is.
Q: You’ve said several times over the years that Dabo Swinney loves to have that chip on his shoulder to get his guys motivated. Do you think the loss last week, obviously you never hope to lose, but do you think it’s kind of exactly what Dabo wanted to give them the edge for the rest of the run to the season?
Kirk Herbstreit (KH): I think if you look at their history, they’ve been upset along the way towards championship years, they’ve had some scares against teams that you probably, on paper, wouldn’t expect them to be in close games. But you know, it’s hard to go 12 weeks, or in this case, whatever it is this year – 10 or 11 weeks – and bring your A game every week. In this case, they played a team that was, you know that night, they were better. Notre Dame was better than Clemson. I think the fact that, you know, we knew going in, it wasn’t an elimination game fact that Clemson had a lot of injuries and the fact that Clemson has a chance to get healthy and they’re sitting at four in the AP and four and the coaches that committee hasn’t come out with their rankings. You figure that this is going to not so much be a wakeup call. But I think it’s going to be a reminder of you can lose games and everybody can lose a game and now we’ve seen them use a game like this in the past to get them right and to get them ready to roll the rest of the year, so it wouldn’t shock me at all. If you look at what they have left with Florida State and Pitt and Virginia Tech and then you would think ACC championship, I think their best football is ahead of them and I’m excited to see. You can only go by history and a track record. I’m excited to see Trevor come back and eventually James Skalski and just kind of see the energy that this team plays with the rest of the year.
Q: You got a chance to see Penn State a couple of weeks ago and obviously they played a team that’s one of the best in the country, so that’s one reason they didn’t look very good. But I just wondered, are you surprised at their 0-3 start, and what did you see two weeks ago that might have told you that this team was going to struggle this year?
KH: I’m shocked that they’re 0-3. The Indiana game obviously could have gone either way. You know, they played well enough to win the game, but ended up losing and the fashion which they did. I think that may have took some of the wind out of their sails and then to follow it up with Ohio State and to lose that game. I personally thought after the Ohio State game, watching them play that night, you know, especially in the second half, I thought this team is going to kind of get back in order and I thought they went out, personally. They’ve got some issues right now. I’m very surprised that their offense just can’t – a lot of new faces – but they just can’t quite seem to put it together. The offensive line and the lack of the running game has put a lot on Sean Clifford and he’s been at times a sitting duck back there. You know, getting sacked and trying to make something happen and at times, putting the ball in just risky areas. And I think more than anything. he’s just trying to make plays. And so I’ll be interested to see how this week goes. This is not an easy game in Lincoln. Nebraska is kind of facing desperation mode of their own considering they played Ohio State and last, last week there they’re sitting there winless too. This will be this is kind of one of those games this weekend, it’s maybe a little bit off the radar. But for those of us that are junkies, I’m excited to watch to see what happens in this game and kind of see how both these teams responded to being off the slow starts
Q: Coach Franklin talked yesterday about, he’s not handling a situation very well as far as having his family away in Florida, trying to protect his daughter. And the players, say, you know, hey, we have his back, but how does that affect the team do you think? You know obviously Coach Franklin’s built a pretty good culture there, but he’s trying obviously not to have that affect this team, but is that avoidable? Can you avoid not having something like that not affect your team?
KH: I don’t know. He seems to have a very open door policy relationship with his players. I think he talks to them about their lives, he talks then about his own life. So I think if you have a heart, as a player and you care for your coach, you feel bad that he and his family are having to go through this. We’re seeing all over the country a lot of people making extreme sacrifices to get through this pandemic, and I don’t know of another coach going through what he’s going through. That’s intense. We all like to rely on our families during the good times and especially the bad times. And he was sharing with us when we were getting ready for Ohio State some of the aspects of his new life without his family being there for now, and just saying how, you know, you lose a game like Indiana and the fashion which we lost, there’s something about coming home to my wife and my kids that just gave me a little bit of an escape and now he comes home to an empty house and a quiet house. And so, yeah, he’s a human so that that would definitely take a toll on him. But I’m glad he’s talking about it. I’m glad that he’s sounds like he had a really good conversation with his wife, the other night on the phone. That’s tough, man.
Q: I’m just curious – when the word started first floating around that maybe we could go to Augusta National this season, what was your initial reaction? And then also usually the contrast would be quite, quite a big one, going from a raucous typical GameDay set to Augusta National, but being that you had to go with no fans this year, is that almost a certain amount of prep for it?
KH: Yeah, it’s kind of what we know this year. it’s been very strange from the Clemson-Wake Forest game at Wake where it was our first experience of – we had some of the marching band and some of the cheerleaders from Wake Forest come out to the show. But other than that, there was nobody there. The only show that I can tell you that we do on an annual basis, it’s anything like what we have faced this year is the Rose Bowl show on the morning of January 1 when we’re just by ourselves, and it’s very strange to do a show when you’re used to a live crowd and a live audience. And that energy and the reaction to, you know, discussion and debate, you know, they’re booing, they’re cheering. There’s just so much natural juice that you get and to not have that is, it’s has been a very big challenge for our show, because we love our fans and we look at them like they’re a member of the set, really, on the desk. And so to not have that’s been strange. But yeah, you’re right. I mean, Augusta it will be very natural for us now. I mean, you know, a hush over the crowd, you know, the will be in our element in that regard. But I can tell you that when they brought it up to me Lee Fitting brought up the idea few weeks ago, I knew that the Masters had been moved to November, and of course that was the LSU-Alabama week and everybody’s trying to connect the dots, you know, what might happen that weekend and then the closer we got to it, they let us know that it was becoming a more and more of a reality. I’ve been actually to the Masters, the last couple years as a patron and I’ve enjoyed it. Just it’s one of those venues. I’m a sports fanatic, whether it’s the Kentucky Derby, the Masters, the Rose Bowl. There’s certain iconic moments on a sports calendar that you’re either lucky enough to go to in person or watch and the Masters, to me, is in that stratosphere. And it’s one of those – I’m not a great golfer I play golf. I’m awful but I enjoy watching. I love watching tiger and when these guys play at Augusta and so to be able to walk out on that course initially and just see how beautiful it is, and to see it with your eyes for the first time, and I told Des[mond], you know, maybe you’re not a big time golfer, but you’ll be blown away when you walk on the grounds for the first time. And so we are very honored as a show, we’re fired up, really looking forward to it. And we had a nice call/Zoom yesterday with the folks at Augusta and they couldn’t be more gracious and we’re, we’re very, very honored and excited to have a chance to bring the show from there.
Q: You’ve been there, Rece has been there. It sounds like Desmond hasn’t. Who else… what’s kind of the breakdown of who’s been to Augusta before and who hasn’t?
KH: Pollack lives in Athens, and he loves to play up ‘he’s a defensive lineman and, well, what’s this a golf club. Oh, I didn’t know what do you do you hold it. Okay.’ He loves to play that up. Maybe he’s been there, I don’t know. But he’s a sneaky great exceptional athlete and likes to kind of play himself into – I call it the three technique because of his time as a defensive lineman. But I don’t think he’s been there. He’s too busy in a weight room or a gym or eating celery or broccoli. But I think Rece, myself obviously Rinaldi and Geno. Maria – I don’t know if she’s been there or not. So I think that we’re like half and half. Half the crew’s been there, half have not.
Q: So I imagine this is a bucket list trip in the destination for you guys purely because of the exclusivity and assuming all goes well on Saturday, what would be the next marquee event or location you guys would want to visit with the show? And then, where does Augusta rank on the long list of places you guys have been?
KH: I would put this experience… I’m trying to think. We’ve been to some, you know, we did some unusual shows like taking the show to New York City, you know that that whole idea behind ‘there’s so many bars and alums.’ You don’t think of New York and college football fans, but there’s so many fans that go to these bars in New York City, in Manhattan and enjoy college football. So that was kind of a really unusual and fun experience to be right in Times Square. Other than that, we always go to traditional matchup or we’ll go to that North Dakota State kind of game or James Madison, you know those are always kind of fun experiences but… this is the one silver lining of 2020 is the fact that you know the Masters has been pushed back to November. As soon as we I heard that I thought ‘wow wonder if there’s a chance we could take the show’ just in my own head, thinking that there’s no way that will happen. And here we are. So this is going to be a historic moment for the show and I can tell you this, whenever we announced that GameDay was going to be at Augusta, I’ve never received more texts from people around the country than I did when we announced that location. So I think people that watch the show, enjoy your show, are excited to see how we’re able to intertwine college football, along with what’s happening at Augusta.
Q: Who do you think would be the most likely of the people on staff on the show to try and sneak out and hit a couple putts or hit a couple shots in the Par 3 course on a commercial break?
KH: I would vote me. I’ve actually played that Par 3 course a couple years ago. I’ve only been there one time. I had some folks from Michigan State invite me to go and – I’ll tell you, this is how bad I am, how embarrassed I am of my game. I said no. As much as I would love to play, I said, no, like, three different times, he invited me. And then he finally said, [Tom] Izzo said you’re going. Shut up. You’re in. And so I was like, man, I don’t want, I don’t want to hurt the course. Like I do not want to go do this. And they’re like, too bad. We’re picking you up. So you’re in. So I went and played and I actually stayed right on the grounds and just had an incredible time. I was blown away with how friendly… I had a perception that ‘am I allowed to step here, am I allowed to go here,’ and when you actually get there, it’s very opposite of that. I mean, the members are very laid back, they’re very welcoming, very chill, which, it made me relax and allowed me to just have a good time.
Q: (about Michigan): Well, that’s what I was gonna ask you. I can’t put my finger on it. So you’re the expert you’re coming here Saturday night.
KH: You know that nobody wants to see him do better than me outside of the Michigan family. I am all in. When they made the hire, I was like, here we go. Because I want the Big Ten to be elite and I want the blue bloods to be elite, and I want Ohio State and Michigan to play each other with everything on the line every year. That’s my dream scenario. As a fan, I enjoy that. I think it’s healthy for the conference and for the game and for the sport. It’s no different than if you’re an SEC guy, you want Auburn and Alabama and LSU to all be great. So when they lost to Michigan State after … I called the Minnesota game. And I [thought], ‘they’ve got something here. This looks great, they seem to have really come together as a group during this quarantine. You can either get divided, as we’re seeing all over the country, or you can get tighter. That day, they were tight and I was excited for their season. I can’t explain the Michigan State loss. I have no idea. I know it’s a rivalry game. But if you’ve watched Michigan State before that game and you’ve watched Michigan State after that game, no way anybody can explain what happened for 60 minutes that day of watching those two teams play. And then I thought, okay, okay, mulligan. It’s quarantine, it’s [the] pandemic, had one of those days. They’ll be fine in Bloomington, everything’s taken care of, and then Indiana outplayed them and looked good doing it. It was not a fluke. It wasn’t like, well, they caught a break. They got that one call that went their way. They were getting separation against the Michigan corners. They weren’t getting a pass rush against Michael Penix. The combination of not getting a pass rush and not holding up in man is a deadly combination for that style of defense, and that’s what we were seeing quite a bit. They had some injuries on the offensive line and couldn’t run the ball. Then they dug themselves a hole and they became predictable with their play calling. I played at Ohio State when every wrong step was not, ‘well that’s okay. They’ll figure it out.’ It was ‘fire Cooper’ anything that happened to go wrong. It was ‘fire Cooper’ everything. Didn’t convert on third down? They got a ‘fire Cooper.’ The defense gave up a touchdown, they got a ‘fire everything,’ and as a player, you constantly hear the negativity that’s around your program. And I don’t know if it affects today’s players. Back then, we were more annoyed by it than anything else. But I have no way of describing what’s happening. Hopefully they show up inspired and ready to play against Wisconsin, but it’s been tough to watch these last couple games.
Q: You think, in light of what you just said about Cooper and the whole ‘fire fire fire.’ Do you think that Jim is still the answer? People want to call him the Messiah, the Savior. Do you think he’s still the guy?
KH: I’d like to think they can turn it around and [Harbaugh] proving to be the guy that we all think that, when he first came in, who he can be. I think anybody who stands around right now and thinks he can’t coach is crazy. They’ve got to continue to go out and get elite players. One thing I’ve noticed is when I think of Michigan back in the heyday of Bo and Gary and Lloyd. I think of recruiting and I think of Ohio State and Michigan: 60% of them are going to go to Columbus, the other 40% are going to go to Ann Arbor. I’m asking our guys this week to go back and look at the Michigan roster and their two-deep. When Bo is rolling and when Lloyd and Gary when they were rolling and look at the Ohio players. I’m looking at the roster now and I’m seeing Connecticut and New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and I’m not saying they don’t play good football, there’s just a very different roster. So I don’t know. I like to think he’s the guy. I’d like to think they can turn it around and I continue to remain hopeful.
Q: I know you answered a little bit this question earlier, but I want to expand on the whole phenomenon of doing College GameDay and your game broadcast as well without fans. How is that impacting your approach to your work on the GameDay set, and even as a color commentator, I imagine, feeding off a crowd of 100,000 people probably plays a big role.
KH: It’s very different. I don’t want to ever say that I’ve gotten used to it because going back to back from the White Out [at Penn State] to Autzen Stadium, those are two of the more intense atmospheres you can ever hope to do a game and, obviously, it was crickets. There was no one there. What I have found is the love for the game, the love for what I do is what’s been able to get me through. I love working on College GameDay with Des and Rece and David and everybody that’s on our show behind the scenes, and I’m just really plugged even more into that. I’m really into what we’re discussing and what we’re talking about, and trying to take it segment by segment and trying to make the most of it and enjoy. The fact that we’re actually out at a site talking college football, we could very easily be in our basements or we could very easily be not involved in talking about a season. So I’ve tried to remain very, very positive about that. Doing games, the most challenging aspect is pregame when you start to usually see the stadium fill up and the energy starts to really build. And then when you put your headphones on and you start to call a game, you’re just so locked in on X’s and O’s and football that you kind of, like a player, block the crowd out except for the noises from time to time. So I just, again, I’m trying as hard as I can, through this whole pandemic, to remain positive and focus on the things that we can celebrate as opposed to what we don’t have.
Q: One of my favorite parts of College GameDay would be your personal videos with Lee Corso. How much do you miss those and when’s the last time you saw him in person?
KH: I saw him at the Doak Walker Award in February in Dallas was the last time. We were honoring Jonathan Taylor; he and I and Chris Fowler were there and we do that every year. That was the last time I saw him in person, but I’ve kept in touch with him quite often, and he’s on all of our zoom calls on College GameDay. I still do the Saturday morning [videos], but I didn’t even really start that as a tradition. I just wanted to share Lee, [who] is such a character and such a personality. Since I was on social media, I thought I might as well share some of his mannerisms and some of his silliness with the people who follow me, and so I started to do that the last couple years. He has no idea what we’re even doing, which makes it even better. And I’ve continued to do that this year even though he’s in Orlando and I’m wherever GameDay is, but we do it every morning Saturday morning before the show starts. We just reminisce about the day or I try to get him to tell some stories, but he’s my guy. I’ve been with him for 25 years and we miss him terribly on the show in person, but with everything going on and him being 85 years old, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense for him to travel. So we’re just happy that he can still be with us and on the show, even though he’s in his backyard with all those mascots and all the craziness that he has going on every week on the show.
Q: Today is Veterans Day. What words would you like to share with the people who served our country?
KH: Incredible gratitude, appreciation… I had family members who served and really not a day goes by for me personally, where I don’t think about how lucky and how fortunate we are to have folks that are willing to sacrifice so much. I think, as a country, we are at times very divided over these last three or four years, and I think one thing we can all agree upon is how fortunate we are to have people who go out and provide us with freedom and provide us with safety. AI can’t even put into words the gratitude and respect that I have for all that they’ve done for us in the past and what they continue to do for us. While we do celebrate Veterans Day, I’d like to think that we have a special place of thought every day, not just on Veterans Day, for everything that they do for us.
Q: Two questions for you: one, with everything that’s going on with the pandemic, do you feel like this Wisconsin-Michigan game can still have that same energy and hype; two, I wanted to get your thoughts on Joe Milton.
KH: Without having the normal energy, the hype and a buildup of a night game in Ann Arbor and the crowd of 100,000 people, you take away from that, I think what’s at stake here is enormous for both teams. Wisconsin, everything that they endured after the opening game, what everybody’s talking about in the way their quarterback Graham Mertz played against Illinois with only one incompletion, and then to endure missing two games because of all the positive tests that they had. Now, here they finally come back. So I think that there’s a lot of intrigue there. Who is Wisconsin? We’ve only seen them play once. And with Michigan off to a 1-2 start, last two have not looked good. There’s so much negativity surrounding that program and they need a win to quiet some of the nonsense and get it going in a better direction. From that standpoint if you’re a college football fan, even if you’re not a Wisconsin or Michigan fan, there’s a lot of buildup and a lot of intrigue about the game itself.
And then with Joe, I called their first game against Minnesota and it could not have gone any better. They’re running the football, putting him in really good positions off of play-action and RPO. And he looked to be in command, which I think was the word that I remember using quite often that night. For a guy that really never started, he played some mop-up work. He looked like a seasoned veteran, I thought he was incredibly well prepared. I left there thinking, boy, this offense has a chance to be really special. This year, even though we don’t know a lot of the receivers other than Ronnie Bell, the way they can run the ball with these backs and this offensive line, it’s going to take a lot of the heat off of what Joe’s trying to do. The Michigan State game where they just couldn’t get the running game going put a lot on him, and that would be tough on any quarterback. In the Indiana game, they got into a hole and were trying to get themselves out of it. So [the offense] became very predictable. What I’m looking at right now with Josh Gaddis’ system is they can’t just rely on Milton to throw the ball, even though he can. If they’re going to be who they want to be, it’s got to be like the Minnesota week. They’ve got to control the line of scrimmage and mix in play-action and RPO with that and not be one-dimensional, not be predictable. So that’s what they’re going to have to do and they’ve got a tough defense to try to do that against. This will be the toughest defense they’ve faced up to this point. Four games in and two of the three weeks, they’ve not been able to accomplish that. So that’s the test this week: can they be balanced and can they be unpredictable with their approach, which will help Joe out.