UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football and No. 2 Ohio State are set for a Big Ten East matchup Saturday at 8 p.m. in Beaver Stadium.
Lion offensive line coach Matt Limegrover spent time with the media Thursday
ahead of the Penn State White Out. Check out updates from the Q&A below.
Can you talk about where the offensive line has made the most progress in the last few weeks?
Limegrover: "I think probably the biggest thing is that we were able to solidify a group of five guys. I think one of the biggest things with any offensive line is the chemistry and the cohesion and I think getting Connor McGovern settled in at right guard, obviously Brian Gaia at center, Ryan Bates has started every game at left guard and our two tackles. Unfortunately, Andrew Nelson getting hurt kind of disrupted that continuity. The communication was getting better, the understanding. There's so much that goes into as as far as getting a feel for how the other guys around you play the game and I felt like we were really getting into a good place with that."
How do you make the decision between Brendan Mahon at right tackle or left tackle going into the week and what does that mean for the other guys who are competing to spell Andrew's [Nelson] position?
Limegrover: "The biggest thing is and I guess the nice luxury that I have is having a guy like Paris Palmer who has started in some games and started some big football games at Penn State. He feels really comfortable at left tackle. When Andrew [Nelson] went down Brendan Mahon didn't skip a beat and looked at me and said, hey I can move over, no problem. With Brendan playing the different positions, I love the kid because he loves the game of football and he understands it and he gets it. That transition was a lot smoother than one would expect, just because of Brendan's willingness to both play the position and the fact that he had played right tackle in the past and being able to get a guy who has a decent amount of experience in Paris Palmer in at left tackle."
Can you talk about the development of Will Fries and how far he has come since he has arrived?
Limegrover: "There is that chance. I think what's happening with Will is that he did a really good job of preparing himself and not just as far as weightlifting and conditioning, as a lot of guys do before getting here. He worked quite a bit after his senior year leading up to coming here with a gentleman who specializes in working with offensive and defensive linemen. I think that helped his transition quite a bit because Will was a guy who was going against college guys who would come back in the summer. I think that helped his initial development so that it wasn't as big of a shock to his system. Even with that being said, there's still a difference speed-wise and what your knowledge base needs to be. I think early on that kind of caught Will a little bit, but he has been able to get back and in practice, we've been able to give him some quality reps to help that process along. I feel a lot more comfortable with him than I was week one and there's still a long way to go but I think just him coming to work everyday, putting his time in and being an attentive student - he listens to every word the older guys have said, who have been through it and I think that's huge for him."
We've talked a lot over the last few years about training flexibility up front and the need to cross train some of these linemen. What's your philosophy on that and how do you balance the need to have a guy at one spot and then having him move around?
Limegrover: "I think it's kind of a two-part answer from the standpoint that I am also a believer in having flexibility. The very first thing I told the offensive linemen when I first met with them is that the best five are going to play. If that means that a guy who is playing guard is the next best on the team, then you have to find a way to make that work. There is an element of cross training, but I also believe that you can do it.
Guys need to concentrate on a position and my thought is that what ends up happening is that you find that group of guys who are going to be your starters and eventually you can settle in on that. Then what you try and do is you try and find, if you have five more guys who are the very best at the position that they are playing, then you feel pretty good. Usually the way it happens in any program is that you may have two or three additional guys. You're lucky if you have seven guys or eight guys you feel really good about and those are the guys who you would like to start cross training and that's what you try and do to help build that quality depth so if somebody goes down you have the next man up mentality. I'm not against the idea of cross training but I think again, you don't want to do that at the expense of letting a guy get really comfortable and really feel good and be accomplished at the position you have him slotted at."
What have you seen on film from Ohio State as far as specifics on their front seven? Losing their starting defensive tackle for the season, is interior defense an area you think is a weakness?
Limegrover: "In all honestly, when you're the No. 2 team in the country, weakness is a relative term. I think they can trot out a lot of good football players. One of the biggest things is that if they lose a guy and the next one comes in, you just say, okay, I don't even know that they have lost a step. They do a good job putting their personnel in spots. to succeed. They are a team where if you get into third-and-long, they are going to take some back up defensive ends who are really good pass rushers and they are going to move them inside and create a lot of movement and disruption in there on third downs. They've got some big space eaters there in first and second time. It kind of gives you a look at what pro teams are trying to do when they can mold their lineup in terms of getting their guys on the field that really fit the situation. If you're a team that is going to run the ball first and second down, you have those build dudes on the inside you have your defensive ends who can play the run and then all of the sudden you get to third down and you have four defensive ends in there trying to pin their ears back and get to the quarterback. So from a front standpoint, I think that's the way you like having it and I think that provides a tremendous challenge for us."
"I don't know if there is a better linebacker in the country, from my opinion, than RaeKwon McMillan. I don't want to say I have had the pleasure, it has been kind of my personal nightmare, but this will be the third time I have seen Ohio State and watched them play. RaeKwon McMillan is one of those guys who really makes them go on defense and he was last year as well and even the year before. He is just a guy who goes and it all builds around him. It's a formidable challenge and I think they are just as good in everything they do and they do it differently but I think they are every bit as good as Michigan from a front seven standpoint."
Taking it back a few weeks here, with the Minnesota win where players were saying they wanted to win that game for you, what was that like for you?
Limegrover: "It was really a highlight for me, just personally, career-wise. As that game was going on, I had a chance to share my story with the team. So the guys had some perspective of where I was coming from and it wasn't anything bad, but it was just a matter of, I wanted to let them know, what had happened and how appreciative and grateful I feel about being at Penn State. A lot of the guys, I think it struck a cord with them and it was really an amazing thing and you're in that game and initially things weren't going as we had hoped, but there was that constant, steady climb. Guys were coming up to me and not even the offensive linemen, but it was secondary guys, it was wide receivers, saying hey coach, we're going to get this one for you, we're going to get this one. It really made me feel good. It was like, okay, this is something that's pretty special. Then obviously to win the game the way that we did, the guys gave me the game ball afterward. It was one of those things as far as a personal highlight for me, but in tern I felt great for the guys. I really loved to see the group of guys that we have fight back and fight through some adversity and continue to move forward and that's the message that I gave them. I thanked them and then I also told them how proud I was to be part of this staff and watching them never give up and continuing to fight. It was a pretty special day all the way around.
With Andrew Nelson going out like that, what is the emotional response from the o-line or the people who had to step in and take his place?
"You know what's interesting, I think that a lot of things that happen throughout a football game, when you take a step back and look at it from a detached standpoint, there is an emotional response to it. I'll be honest with you, in the middle of the game when that happened, there wasn't a single woe-is-me, there wasn't anyone looking around going oh darn or whatever you want to say. It was here's the mission - Brendan [Mahon], you go to right tackle, Paris, we talk about next man up and to their credit, those guys stayed in the game and continued to fight. Was it emotional after the game, Andrew Nelson, he's one of those guys who could have easily been one of our offensive captains if it wasn't for Brian [Gaia]. He is that type of guy and that type of mentor to the younger guys, that kind of solid voice in the offensive line room. So it hit the guys pretty hard after, but in the moment they just stayed right on point and continued to fire away and then after we sort of got through the grieving process as a group and then I don't want to say fortunately, that's a bad way to put it, but we had the off week so we worked through that as we started to get into Ohio State that reality had sunk in. Then as tough as that reality was, we realized we had to move forward and I think that off week was probably good mentality for the guys in my room."