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David Braun UTEP game week presser notes

Quite the quick turnaround to start things off.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Less than 24 hours after his head coaching debut, a 24-7 loss at Rutgers, David Braun was back on Northwestern’s campus to speak to media members at his weekly press conference. Here’s everything that Braun had to say about the action in Piscataway and his team’s upcoming matchup against UTEP this Saturday:

David Braun

Opening statement: “Certainly disappointed with yesterday’s result. I’ve had an opportunity to go back and look at the film. There’s some positive things to build off of. We’re gonna build off of those things, plenty to identify in terms of a lot of work to be done in all three phases of the game. We’ve got to start faster on defense. Two 16-play drives to open the game gives no one an opportunity to get into a rhythm, whether that be us on defense creating momentum or giving our offense an opportunity to catch rhythm in the early stages of the game. Offensively, [there’s an] opportunity for us to identify where we need to improve and get much better. But there were plays out there, plenty of missed opportunities. There’s going to be an opportunity for our team to learn from yesterday this afternoon, and then very quickly move on to UTEP. The preparation for UTEP has already started. Meetings today will probably be 30% review of Rutgers and 70% focus on capitalizing on an opportunity to prepare for UTEP on a short week.”

On Northwestern entering the week as a 1.5-point underdog to UTEP: “I’ve never paid attention to lines, never will. I think this group is at its best when it’s an underdog, so that sits just fine with me.”

On the staff’s communication leading up to and during Northwestern’s fake punt, and its justification of the call: “We had talked about that for multiple weeks now, and knew that Rutgers was a heavy pressure team, was going to find ways to come after multiple punts throughout the day. And we were very calculated in terms of the specific scenario where we thought that might be a good opportunity for us to take. Felt really good about where we were at from an execution standpoint with that look and that fake, and the guys that were executing on it. It was a point in the game where we needed to find a way to build some momentum, and we were down 14-0 at the time. Felt really good about the communication that went on on the sideline leading up to the decision to call it in. The mechanics from that team were exactly what we wanted them to be.

“Going back and evaluating it, would’ve loved to have seen Rod [Heard II] push it a couple more yards vertical on the route. The kid from Rutgers [Carnell Davis], to his credit, made a great play. [Hunter] Renner’s execution, Rod’s execution, credit them. They didn’t blink, Rod makes a nice catch. In a perfect world, we would’ve had it dialed up on a fourth-and-6, but again, we didn’t go out to New Jersey just to play to stay in the game. We went out to New Jersey to win a football game, and felt like that call was a complete embodiment of that. We needed to find a way to flip the momentum, and the reason for that call was very much to do with that.”

On Matt Lawson, who left Sunday’s game with a lower-body injury, and the defensive line’s depth: “There’s no update right now, and haven’t gotten that far. I do feel good about the D-line depth in that room right now. I think that’s something Coach [Christian] Smith in that room has done a great job of building that up over the course of fall camp.”

On the offensive line’s performance at Rutgers: “There’s plenty to look at in terms of things that are positive to build off of, but that group knows that we need to improve. We need to do a better job of protecting our quarterback, we need to do a better job of establishing the run game. And that’s something that they recognize as well. There’s plenty to take from as positives, and we’re going to take those positives, we’re going to identify where we need to get better and we’re going to be right back at it this afternoon preparing for UTEP.”

On how Brendan Sullivan’s late-game touchdown drive impacts the quarterback competition with Ben Bryant: “Ben will be our starter for UTEP. Proud of the way Sully came in. You take stock in everything, everything’s being evaluated. But Ben knows he needs to play better. We know we need to find ways to give him and the rest of the offense more opportunities to create rhythm, and that comes with getting off the field on third down and fourth down defensively. Everything’s being evaluated; proud of the way that Sully handled himself and proud of the way that our offense closed out the game.”

On sending more secondary blitzes in the second half against Rutgers: “A lot of those pressures were very calculated in terms of attacking the run game and knowing that, based on the situation, we had to find ways to get them behind the sticks. But none of the things that you saw in the second half were strong deviations from the gameplan. There were certainly adjustments that were happening throughout the game, not just at halftime. It was a chess match throughout the game, whether that be in-series, timeouts, in between series, but all things that are within the framework of our defensive structure and the concepts that we teach. But we certainly knew that we needed to pick our moments to be aggressive and find ways to get them behind the chains because we needed to get the stinking ball back to our offense.”

On Devin Turner’s impact as a sophomore: “It’s really exciting. I think the thing that’s really exciting is that he’s showing up, he’s flashing and he’ll be the first one to tell you he’s still got so much room for improvement. He’s got an opportunity earlier in the game to finish on a ball, and he wants that opportunity back, he wants that INT. There’s some things that he needs to continue to improve on in terms of his consistency. If he was sitting with us right now, I’d be telling him the same thing. He knows that, he understands that. Coach [Matt] MacPherson does a great job of pushing him, and we will continue to do that. But don’t let my honesty hide the fact that we’re certainly very excited about his growth here over the course of spring, fall camp into the beginning of the season, and know that Devin will be a critical piece of our defense moving forward.”

On the logistics of in-game decision-making with the coaching staff: “It’s a lot of conversation. Good conversation on gameday stems from preparation prior to gameday. There were conversations that were had leading into gameday about what the mechanics of that would look like. Certainly communication with Coach [Mike] Bajakian, communication with Coach [Skip] Holtz at times in between series, and then finding a really good balance of trusting the wisdom that exists on this staff while also making decisions based on my sense of where the game’s at that I feel are in the team’s best interest.”

On the roles of defensive assistant coach D.J. Vokolek and Special Assistant to the Head Coach Skip Holtz: “Coach Vokolek, incredibly involved in everything that’s going on with the defense. He’s someone, along with the rest of the defensive staff, that I’m leaning on for perspective and feedback on things that are going with the game. D.J.’s certainly taking on a role in terms of gameplanning from a standpoint of the organization of everything, while I’m wearing two hats right now. We’ve got great minds in that defensive room that are taking on heavier loads than they typically would be, just because of the time and the way that it’s split. And D.J.’s doing a great job of helping me organize all that.

“When it comes to Coach Holtz, it’s an extra eye for the offense, it’s an extra eye for the defense in terms of him being able to see what’s going on and give information back to coaches, most importantly myself. And then Coach Holtz being over a 20-year vet as a head coach, it’s even conversations on the plane ride back, as we get off the plane. He’s won big games, he’s lost big games. He’s dealt with a lot of different things sitting in that head coach’s chair. It’s someone that can provide me with a lot of perspective. I think those that know me well understand that I’m incredibly self-critical, and after a loss like yesterday I’m going to have a tendency to shoulder as much burden as I possibly can. And a guy like Coach Holtz [would say]: ‘Hey Dave, we’re gonna be alright. There’s plenty of positives to take from this too.’ Both D.J. and Coach Holtz have been just great resources to already a staff that I certainly appreciate in terms of the way they’ve continued to coach and prepare.”

On his mentality in the midst of a 12-game losing streak: “At the end of the day, there’s no excuses, there’s no explanations. What solutions are we finding to play winning football? And the easy thing to fall back going into yesterday was, ‘Hey, this is a new team.’ Talk about fall camp, we had an opportunity to find out where we’re at, both good and bad, evaluate it, move forward and [ask] how do we find a way to play winning football against UTEP. The thing that I can control day in and day out is the energy and enthusiasm I bring into the building, meet these guys where they’re at and speak truth into them. What I mean by speaking truth into them is, we have plenty of talent. We have a team that can win a bunch of football games this year. Speaking truth to them is making sure they understand that, that they know that I believe in them, they got a bunch of other people that believe in them. Momentum’s a powerful thing. It’s time to get the momentum going in the right direction and let that thing roll downhill. That starts with — like I told the team in the locker room last night — we’ll have a quick evaluation of the Rutgers film here this afternoon, but a majority of what we’re doing today is focus on UTEP.”

On how to get Cam Porter more involved in the run game: “We’re going to get off the field on third and fourth down on defense, and find ways to get the ball back to our offense so that we have more opportunities, and we’re going to find a way to get up so that we can get our running backs more touches. It’s a lot easier to feel comfortable running the football on a consistent basis when you’re not down two scores in the first half.”

On potentially giving Sullivan more snaps if the team continues to struggle: “Ben Bryant is our starter for UTEP, and we plan on Ben being our starter moving forward. We evaluate everything at all positions, but we don’t want anyone playing with this mentality that they’re looking over their shoulder. We want Ben to rip it with a bunch of confidence and go help this team win games. We’re going to continue to push Sully and Ryan Hilinski and everyone in this program at all positions to say, ‘keep pushing.’ Own your role, but keep pushing. We talk about owning our roles, well, Brendan Sullivan has owned his role throughout camp and moving forward into prep for Rutgers. That doesn’t mean that Sully has to be satisfied with his role. Shoot, there’s plenty of guys on this roster. Robert Fitzgerald has owned his role as a backup for our defense and a special teams guy. That doesn’t mean that he has to be satisfied with it. We want him to continue to push to find ways to get on the field more often. So Ben’s going to be our starter going into UTEP, I know our team will be backing him and I know our quarterback room’s going to continue to push to own their role, but not be satisfied with the role that they currently have.”

On integrating more high-ranked recruits like Anto Saka as the season goes along: “The plan is to give guys opportunities that earn those opportunities. And Anto’s done that. He flashes a ton, and he’s continued to feel really comfortable in all situations within our defense, and play with a great deal of consistency. But to his credit, Anto has earned those opportunities. I’m really excited for that young man, and the same applies to everyone within their program. As they earn those opportunities, they’re going to find ways on the field.”