FROM CORVALLIS — We're in Oregon for the basketball games this weekend, but wanted to pass along a partial transcript of our conversation with defensive coordinator Mike Breske last week. Read on.
(On the Spokane signing day event) “Blew me away. I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t think any of us did. We get to the ballroom and that’s a pretty good sized room in that Northern Quest. I don’t know what the official count was but it was full. Very energetic, you could feed off the crowd, you could just feel the excitement, the anticipation in the room which was neat on February 1. It got me rolling.”
(On his recruiting role at Montana) “What I did at Montana, I was one of the in-state recruiters so we had heavy emphasis in Montana obviously, our home state and identified the kids and it’s a big state, let me tell you. You can drive from Missoula to Seattle, get there before you get from Missoula to the eastern border of Montana.”
(On his role in the staff’s first class) “It was unique here. Coach Leach sent me to all the defensive guys. I’d only been here a little over two weeks, kind of the catch-up mode in terms of what they had identified. Couple of them had been recruited by the previous staff and we evaluated them and wanted to hang with them. What’s difficult is they had already taken their official visit so they couldn’t come back to campus, so we really had to get to them, in their place, and get to know them in a hurry.”
(On selling defensive backs on the program) “This is the approach that I used with the defensive backs, is day in, day out you’re going to go against the best wideouts. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday you’re going against top of the line wideouts so what you’re going to go against on Saturday isn’t going to faze you, because we’re going to bring in that type of quality at that position and also at the quarterback position. Coach Leach is going to have instant credibility going into a home in terms of a quarterback that likes to throw the ball. Primary receivers. That type of deal. Instant credibility. Just because of the philosophy of what we do on offense. In turn, that’s going to make us better because we’re going to see a higher quality athlete working against them, not only in practice but summer time, summer conditioning, 7 on 7, one on ones. Does that make sense?
“The other thing we’re going to sell on defense is we’re going to be an aggressive, attacking style. Our philosophy is going to be that. Very similar to coach Leach’s but from a defensive point of view. A 3-4 is going to be our base. We’re going to have more stand-up guys, guys on two feet. Find out who our playmakers are. That’s a big thing to me and on our defensive staff is production. There’s only so many snaps per game that you get those opportunities and we want to be at 80-plus percent in terms of production. And what I mean by that is if I get an opportunity for a tackle I don’t miss it, if I got an opportunity for a fumble recovery, an interception, a pass breakup. Those are all potential production plays. I could be in the game for 60 plays but I’m not going to have 60 opportunities. There’s only going to be so many and I want to be at 80 percent. We’re going to stress that to our kids. We’re going to practice that way against our offense. To me, takeaways are huge, we want to get at least plus-3 a game, and that gets our offense on the field. What takeaways do, it gets another possession for your offense and plus it can change field position drastically. It’s just a plus-plus. That’s an emphasis of our defense. And then third down conversion is the other important emphasis. Whether it’s 3rd and 1 or 3rd and 30, we’ve got to get off the field. And we want to win at 70 percent or better, so out of 10 opportunities on 3rd down, we’ve got to win at least 7 of those opportunities. Again, that gets our offense back on the field.”
(Breske said he studied Oregon’s defense quite a bit while at Montana, because both the Ducks and Grizzlies play an up-tempo pace offensively. I asked if coaching a defense coupled with a potent offense allows them to take more risks, as some coaches say Oregon does) “I think it’s a little bit, and correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t know how tempo Mike will be on offense. He’s going to be dynamic, no doubt about it, but Oregon is all about tempo. That’s what we were at Montana with coach Pflugrad. It’s all about go, go, go, go. Now with our offense, I don’t know that comparison is going to be the same in terms of tempo. And that’s where I see their defense. I’ve done a study, I look at Oregon’s defense and it’s similar to our defense at Montana, with a tempo offense, generally your kids are going to play another game, OK? What I’m talking about is plays with a tempoed offense. We were very similar. I looked at our stats in the conference and we were number one in total defense at Montana and the number two team, in terms of number of plays, was roughly 70ish less than us. And the reason is tempo. At the FCS level, what even more factors in is special teams. You’ve got 63 scholarships. Well, for example, the two major special teams I’m concerned about is kickoff cover and punt cover, because that’s field position changing. And most of your defensive players are on that because of tackling. You get a wear and tear if that makes sense, on your kids. I don’t think Tech, when I remember watching Tech, I didn’t see tempo out of them. Oregon is all about tempo and we copied that at Montana offensively. We had the same situation that Oregon’s defense did that we did at Montana. We’re out there more because of tempo. If you’re scoring at 48-49 points per game, you’re exactly right. We are going to take risks. We’re going to challenge, because of takeaways. Good things can happen. You can sack the quarterback. A tackle for loss. A batted ball, instead of playing passive. Does that make sense? And we want to get our offense on the field.”
(On the differences between coaching FCS and FBS) “I think coaching’s coaching. Obviously all these coaches, we’re in a learning curve right now because of the newness of players and it works both ways. We’re getting to know our football team. Hell, I know the recruits better than I know our own football team because I’ve been around them more. We’re just starting to be back right now with our night maneuvers, just being around the kids. I’m just starting meetings next week. I’ve got a 15-minute meeting with each kid on defense. That’s their opportunity. They’re going to do the talking. I get to learn the pulse of our defense, what’s important, what isn’t important, from our players’ perspective. I’ve got to listen. So that curve is starting right now. We’ve got to condense a year into six months. We can’t wait ‘til two-a-days. We can’t wait ‘til next season. We’ve got to be ready to go September whatever-it-is for BYU. So we’ve got a lot of work in front of us in a short amount of time, so we have to be very efficient as coaches in terms of what we ask our players to do and not to do.”
(On the linebackers WSU signed) “Kache Palacio was more of a D-end type of deal. We’re going to stand him up. He’s very athletic. You know he’s a soccer player? That’s a big soccer player. How’d you like to run into that? He’s very athletic. We’re going to stand him up. You know the old saying round pegs find round holes? Where he is in the four-backer approach, we’ll find out. But he gives us flexibility. He can rush the passer and he can drop.
“Khalil Pettway is a dude. He is a dude. And again, he can rush the passer and he can drop. More of a traditional linebacker.
“The Ewing kid from Texas, he’s going to be an inside linebacker for us, either a mike or a will. Very explosive player. I think in high school they played him more on the outside, we’re going to play him more on the inside. He’s going to be a big guy once he gets to lifting year-round.
“Jeremiah (Allison), probably the best athlete of the four and will give us a lot of flexibility. Probably looking at him more as a SAM linebacker to the wide side of the field because of the athleticism. But all four of them have so many plusses. It’s a nice group. Plus these guys are going to help us on special teams. They’re going to help coach (Eric) Russell on special teams. They can tackle, they can run. If you can’t get there, you can’t make plays.
(On defensive starters playing special teams) “Especially on kickoff cover and punt cover. That’s a change of field position play. Whatever coach Russell needs. If he needs starters, he needs starters. If we’ve got to take a play off on defense with those guys and get someone else in, we’ll do it. But those two special team plays are very vital to be successful.”