Illinois' Lovie Smith Weekly Press Conference 11/4/19
COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
Opening Statement… "Of course, this is a good feeling to be playing better football the last three weeks. We went into the third quarter, wanting to play a good third quarter of ball, and being able to get those three wins said that. Which sets up the biggest fourth quarter we've had since we've been here. This is the position you want to be in. Most games are decided in the fourth quarter and that's when you want to play your best ball. Our football team realizes where we are, of course, one of our goals has been to take steps as we build our program. One of those steps is to get to a bowl game, and we don't talk about that an awful lot until you get to that game where if you win, you're in. So as we talk about being in the playoffs, I mean this is it. This is a playoff game, of course, and we are looking at it that way. A lot of guys are playing their best football right now, which is big. Offensively, the last couple of weeks we haven't had any turnovers. It's about ball security, being able to run the football. Brandon Peters was our offensive player of the game, just a lot of good things going on. Dre Brown continues to play really good football, Josh Imatorbhebe making good plays, everybody stepped up. And defensively, it starts up front, and I could say the same thing about offensive line too. But our defensive line, we were missing a couple players but of the players who have been in that reserve role have really stepped up. Guys like Isaiah Gay in particular. Jamal Milan played his best football. But then when you have a Big 10 Player of the Week in Dele Harding, he has played outstanding football throughout. I mean how can a player like Dele not be on the Butkus watch list too. I'm trying to figure that out. But he and Jake Hansen have been playing outstanding football. I can't think of two linebackers that I've seen in college football playing better than the two of those. Nate Hobbs as been wanting to get his splash play for a long period of time, and him getting involved in the end zone is big. That's all in the past, that's all fine and dandy, but like I said it's all about this week. Blake Hayes, we're going to count on him again to pin the guys down there. And of course they're fighting just like we are. Good football teams have to be able to go on the road and play well, and I think we're built for that and were really looking forward to it. Injury wise, hopefully we will be getting a couple players back but we will see how that goes tomorrow."
On what he sees from Michigan State… "Coach Rod Smith will talk about this more, but they have played outstanding defense for a long period of time. Offensively, they have been committing to the run throughout the years, I'm just talking traditionally on what they've been. They've opened up their offense more, a bit more spread than were used to seeing from them. You're gonna have good skill guys, good linemen. Michigan State is one of the best programs in college football, and that's what we're going against."
On Dele Harding being the "quarterback" of the defense… "First off he's a smart player, he gets it. And when guys are watching you, he does everything right, so he has everybody's attention. So knowing what to do and being a voice, that's good. But in the end when you start playing you need to play good football and no one has played better ball than Dele has, and it gets your attention a little bit more. But just like coach Smith says on the offensive side, Dele Harding makes a lot of checks based on formations and there's a ton of communications going on, and there's a lot on his plate before he had to line up, and he has done it well."
On what clinching a bowl game would mean to the seniors… "Guys that have been here for four years and have contributed so much to the growth of our program, that's how you reward good play. A job well done, we feel like let's get to a bowl game. And to have that opportunity, that's what we're talking about now. We have an opportunity to do something in November that we haven't had in a long period of time and that's all the seniors have been asking. And to have a chance to finish it up the right way, I'm betting on it."