By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
During Monday’s Big 12 teleconference, Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham sat in for Paul Rhoads. Below is a transcript of what went down, where Burnham discussed Jake Knott, Robert Griffin, what happened against Texas, Baylor prep and more.
Q: What makes Jake Knott such a prolific tackler?
WB: He has got a lot of natural ability. You don’t get to be that way unless you have got some ability to get there. Of course the second thing is that he is a tremendous work guy. He works at his craft. He keeps on working every day trying to get better. He studies the opponents, the running backs, the wide receivers when he is out in space, all of those kind of things and his attitude is towards getting better. That’s why he is where he is today.
Q: He mentioned that he played safety in high school. What made you think that he could make this good of a transition to linebacker?
WB: When you get a DB out of high school with his size and his speed, you kind of project him. This guy can move closer to the line of scrimmage and be a linebacker for us. It just so happened that it worked out. He was a quarterback. He was a really good baseball player. He had some interest there as far as playing in college. We said, ‘Hey, let’s take this guy. We think he can play.’
Q: Everybody sees Robert Griffin for the kind of athlete that he is at quarterback. What do you see from him as far as being a quarterback though?
WB: He is a great athlete standing back there and the thing that he has got is great touch. They don’t necessarily put him in a lot of reads or whatever. They have great timing on their routes. He just has great touch. He knows where he wants to put the ball and he does a nice job of getting there. He can take something off of the ball. He has all of the throws I think.
Q: Over the last couple of games, your team hasn’t gotten off to the best starts. What can the defense do to make that a thing of the past?
WB: We have to go out there and do our jobs. We have to go out there and whatever the situation is, we can’t worry about anything except when we are out there on the field. We have to do what we can to get off the field. We have to create more turnovers. We have to emphasize that. We have to emphasize not giving up the big play when we go out there. Penalties have hurt us on third and long. We’ve had two or three situations this year where we should be on the bench and the next thing you know, they score a touchdown. We have to do a better job of controlling those things.
Q: Back to Griffin. Have you seen a guy who has been able to throw the deep ball as accurate as him?
WB: I haven’t. I really haven’t. I can’t remember the last time I saw a guy like this. It looks like he is just throwing to a spot and those wide receivers just run under the football. That is a deadly combination for any defense to face. He has a deadly arm. We were watching him this morning. He threw a ball off of his back foot 65-yards down the field. That tells you something about what the strength of his arm is.
Q: With Texas, it is almost like you have to prepare for trick plays. They run a lot of them. You’ve got different guys taking snaps, double handoffs and all kinds of stuff. How hard is that to prepare for a team that does so many different things.
WB: Well, it was a full week of preparation, I’ll tell you that. It was hard. They have changed their philosophy, as well all know. They are an east-west team. They try to get outside you. Not as much downhill football as we’ve seen in the past. I don’t know if I would call them tricks or not but they are good, sound football plays. They do a good job. They make your kids think that with a different quarterback in there, there are different things that you need to do. It was a long week of prep and they will give people problems all fall with all of those formations and personnel groupings. They do a great job with it.
Q: As a defensive coach, you’d rather have your kids not thinking and reacting more right? Does stuff like Texas does slow a team down?
WB: It probably did. The way we went about it, the kids pretty well knew by the calls that we were making, what personnel was in the football game for Texas. That helped them a little bit. But yeah, anytime you can’t go with the flow and react it slows you down. I’m sure that in that first part of the game, they came out and ran three or four new plays on it and we had to make sideline adjustments too.
Q: You’ve talked a lot about Robert Griffin. Can you speak about the other guys? He has quite a bit of talent around him doesn’t he?
WB: Oh yes. They have some great receivers. Great speed and great athletes that catch the ball. You never know where they are going to line up. They do a great job of getting open and they are a big screen team, a bubble-screen team. They do a good job of getting the ball to the athletes on their team that can make plays in open space. That is a major concern. Their offensive line is big. Everybody is 300-plus. They’re a physical offensive line. The running back, Terrance Ganaway, is not a bad football player. He’s 6-foot, 240-pounds. He is a downhill guy now. He is going to run the ball downhill and will make it a physical game when he has the ball in his hands. They have two good tight ends. They have done a lot of good things for them catching the ball and blocking. They have a good complete offense. There is no way that you can say that you’re going to stop the wide receivers or stop Kendall Wright, who is probably one of the premier receivers in the country right now. He gives you extra problems. Do you put two people on him? Do you play a zone and try to keep him in front of you? Do you double him? There are a lot of questions that you have to answer because of personnel.
Q: What problems did you see that Kansas State’s defense exposed in the win and that you can take advantage of?
WB: K-State didn’t take a whole lot of chances. They had a philosophy that they were going to earn every yard. If they caught a ball in front of them, they made the tackle. They didn’t use a whole lot of pressure in trying to get to Griffin. I thought that they had a really sound plan. It is hard to sit back there and not be aggressive but at the same time, if you take too many chances those wide receivers get behind you and it is six points.
Q: How hard is it to guard a combo and threat like that?
WB: Here’s the thing that we’ve seen with all of their receivers, but it seems like Kendall and Robert have chemistry going. They have a good thing going. They are going to keep it going. Why quit something that is working for you? Robert has got the run with the running backs. He can keep the ball himself. He’ll throw it out there with an option type of play with a wide receiver. They have a lot of weapons. We better have a lot of bullets in our guns too to try to stay with them.