Nov. 4, 2001
BOB DAVIE: To tell you exactly how I feel, it’s frustrating, obviously, but in some ways, to be 3-5 and a 3-5 coach, I’m as optimistic as I can be. I remember sitting here after the A&M Game 5 weeks ago and at that point, we were reeling. I didn’t feel like — I remember the conversation of saying we didn’t really have a bank of things we could do fundamentally that I felt real strong about, wasn’t really sure we had a foundation offensively because of some of the changes at quarterback. Maybe the plan going into Nebraska, how we were going to go about winning that game. We were reeling.
You know, but it’s a different feeling right now. And I understand totally that we have lost the last two games. I’m in no way lowering the standard of what my expectations are or our team’s expectations. But you feel — you feel like you’re getting better. We are a much better football team looking at that tape than we were five weeks ago.
Could have, would have, should have, all that, but we could be a team that has won five straight games right now. We have some things that continue to haunt us. Some of them are inherent. You know, we don’t get a lot of big plays, so because of that, any time we are not totally efficient and execute, we have a hard time overcoming the mistakes we make. But I think people that would play against us or coaches that would sit down and look at that tape would say that we are a much improved team and to be quite honest a real good team and have a chance to be a real good team. As I said, that’s the frustration of it.
Also with that said is I think what motivates you and you see the positives. Because in coaching that’s what you do, you look at it objectively. And in a lot of ways, yesterday when you take that tape and you say one team is seventh in the country and one team is 3-5, you have a hard time saying which team that was.
You know from an execution standpoint, I felt like offensively, boy, we have come a long, long way since early in this season. I thought our offensive line played their best game of the year. I thought Jordan Black did some really good things at guard. I thought Curtain and Vollers did some good things at tackle. I think our tight end continues to improve.
If you look at it as far as — it’s pretty simple. You know, in the first half, what jumped up and caught us, we had 2nd down and 6 at the plus-20 on the second drive of the game, I believe and we have — we checked to the option against the look we want. Carlyle hesitates for just a second, the kid is coming hard and he holds onto the pitch too long and it forces a bad pitch and we get sacked and end up punting the football.
We would have had 1st and goal at the 1. Arnaz really makes a great play to avoid the guy at the line of scrimmage. It would have been a no-gain play. He takes it down to the 1. He has the football in his right hand instead of his left and the kid strips it out so he stays in bounds, so we get no points. It’s 1st and goal at the 1 but no points.
Then we come back. Ryan Grant is a young guy that probably carried the ball four or five times close to 30 yards, I think you can see the ability he has. Unfortunately, he’s a young guy he comes out of their 1st and 10, I mean, it’s 1st and 10 at the plus 13. You look at the tape and you can’t really see how the ball comes out, but it comes out and it goes back ten yards. Not only is there a fumble, they pick it up and run it 80 yards for a touchdown. So that’s 1st and 10 at the 20 — or 2nd and 6 at the 20, not points, 1st and goal at the 1, no points, and 1st and 10 at the 13, no points. The positive thing is, we keep executing after that. The offense gets the ball back and they go about 60 or 70 yards than that next drive, responding to bad thing that happened.
It’s 2nd and 1 at the plus-15. 2nd and 1 at the plus-15 we get the intentional grounding on Carlyle. The next play we get sacked and we get the long field goal.
So you look at that whole thing and after playing, really well in the first half, particularly offense having great field position, we have three points. It’s not like you can jump up and say, well, that’s a poorly-coached football team or that’s a football team with a poor plan, or you say, well, there’s players that don’t care, they are putting the ball on the ground. It’s the opposite of that. I think Arnaz cared. He had a great run. I think Ryan Grant really cared and the ball popped up.
So, that’s frustrating. And that’s kind of where we’ve been. You know, are we dynamic enough to overcome the mistakes playing against the teams we play. You think back to Boston College, we drop the toss sweep on the 12-yard line going in on the 1st and 10. So you have got to see what is, but we are very much improved.
Defensively, I thought we played pretty good, pretty good. As a football team, they are No. 1 in the southeast conference, No. 1 rusher in the Southeast Conference, he had 60 yards in the game. Critical 2rd downs in the game. Critical 2rd downs. They stepped up and they executed. They made some plays. I think they have got some real good receivers. I thought our defensive backs competed. It was not like they were uncontested plays, but they converted some third downs. Even at the end of the game after the turnover, we competed hard. They ran the bootleg on 4th down to score.
The disappointing thing, I guess, was when we got the football back when it is 21-18 and we get a penalty for the fair catch signal. Then we start the drive. And 1st and 10, we come with the boot pass and they come with the field fire zone that it’s obvious it’s coming. We talked about it on the sidelines, you could see it the way they aligned. We didn’t get the outside linebacker blocked, but the tight end is wide open. I mean, coming across on a crossing route and he is probably going to catch it and run for probably 30. So we don’t get that executed and we get sacked and then we — they bat the ball and they get the interception to end the game. Because I feel we could come back and get a field goal or maybe score to win it at the end, because I didn’t feel they could really stop us. So that was frustrating at the end of the game.
Kicking game, our kickoff coverage continues to be really good. Our field goal extra point continues to be really good. Our punt coverage is good. We downed the ball inside the 1.
Kickoff return, the first one, we had a chance. There was one guy, our off returner did not get him blocked, so we might take the first kickoff. We did not get much done after that. Punt return is probably the disappointing thing. Last year, we had some plays in punt return. We have not gotten plays this year. That’s something we really need to concentrate over the open date, maybe look at changing some personnel up front on that because we need to be better.
A couple things, I thought the offensively line, as I said, really blocked well. I think our running backs, we have not been healthy there all year and you continue to see that. Tony Fisher really struggled. Julius is not 100%. I thought Ryan Grant did some good things. I think our tight end has really developed as a player. He’s a good player for us right now.
I thought David Givens played the best football game he’s played since he’s been here. I thought he competed exceptionally well. He made some plays. He ran the ball. Just really proud of the way he played. He has not been healthy. It’s good to have him back where he has a chance to go out there and play the way that he played yesterday. I thought the quarterback did some really good things, again, he made some great throws. He made some errant pitches that hurt us. But, man, he gets you in the right things. He’s a sharp guy on the field. Comes to him easy, X and O part of it. I think he continues to evolve.
Defensively, once again, a solid performance. Everybody played about the same — obviously, Courtney Watson came up, that was a huge play to intercept that ball and run it back for a touchdown.
So we go into the open date, we’ve got to get rested a little bit. We’ve got to get healthy. As far as injuries right now, Ryan Roberts, it looks like he is out for the rest of the season with a knee. Glenn Earl has a slight — you know, they are terming it as a separation of the shoulder, but it’s kind of on the borderline of a sprain. He’s probably out a couple of weeks. As you know, Donald Dykes did not play yesterday. Ron Israel really didn’t play. So we are a little bit thin — we seem to have really been hit with injuries at the safety position and the running back position this year.
Other than that, I think — we’ve got — Milligan didn’t play. Wisne is out indefinitely. He is out indefinitely. So it looks like Ryan Roberts, Wisne, Glenn Earl, hopefully Dykes — Dykes could not play if we played this next Saturday, but by the following Saturday against Navy, he may be back.
Q. You mentioned before with Julius and Fisher not being totally healthy, what about Terrance Howard, was there something wrong with him?
BOB DAVIE: Well, Terrance is healthy we just felt like we wanted to give Ryan Grant an opportunity to carry the football. You know, Terrance has had a lot of opportunities. We just kind of wanted to see someone in there that we were really excited about in practice.
Q. You talked about the offensive line playing so well. A lot of guys have switched around positions, Jordan Black was playing guard and some other guys moved around. What are you going to do with the offensive line for the Navy game? How is that going to settle down?
BOB DAVIE: I think looking at the tape, this is our best combination. I thought Jordan Black really played well. Sean Mahan continues to improve and is playing well. And Brendan Curtain and Curt Vollers did some good things. So I think everyone is most comfortable right now with the way we played yesterday, that seems to be our best combination.
Q. A lot of players talked after the game last night about playing for pride at this point, is that what it comes down to or do you see it differently?
BOB DAVIE: No, that’s exactly what it comes down to. That’s what it is. We have three games left. I think we are a pretty good team that can be a real good team by the end of the season and let’s be quite honest, that’s probably what yesterday was. When you lose your first three games of the season, it takes a bunch of pride and a bunch of character to keep you going every week, and I think that’s evidenced by the fact that we are getting better. I mean, that’s exactly what it is.
Q. Early in the game, you had Irons and Ryan Roberts rotating, and I was just wondering what the rationale behind that was?
BOB DAVIE: Well, Ryan Roberts has really taken advantage of his opportunities. You know, Ryan Roberts has probably played better than Grant Irons. Grant is back and he’s healthy and he deserves an opportunity to play. But going into that football game, you’d have to say Ryan Roberts was ahead of Grant Irons. So both of those guys played, and that’s Ryan Roberts last game for this football season, so Grant will get plenty of opportunities from here on out.
Q. You had mentioned early in the week that you wanted to try to get work to Jared Clark in, and obviously the opportunity was not there in yesterday’s game, but can you talk about his week of practice and how he’s coming along with that thumb?
BOB DAVIE: You know, I don’t know that I ever said we really wanted to get him in the game and work him in the game. What we wanted to do was get him more work in practice, and if we had an opportunity at some point, you’d like to see him in the game. Our plans going into the game weren’t to necessarily get him in.
He did do well last week in practice. He went for three — three or four weeks really where he had a problem with his thumb, he’s over that. He does some good things. The one thing is, you know, he puts the football on the ground a little bit — I don’t want to label him with that, that’s in practice. That’s why you want to see him in the game to see how he plays, but he’s done some good things.
So right now, whether it be Matt LoVecchio or Jared Clark, I’m not 100% sure. We have another two weeks of practice here. I really like Jared’s attitude, the way he’s stepped up, and Matt has done a great job for us.
Q. Other than putting the football on the ground in practice, is there anything specific that you think Jared needs to work on?
BOB DAVIE: Not really. He runs pretty well. He throws pretty well. Probably just needs to play to see where he is. It’s a situation where he’s doing about what he can do in practice. You know, this week, maybe he’ll get a few more reps because we have a little more time.
Q. How has your mentality changed over the last few games personnel wise, are you looking at things you normally would not look at, just trying to win?
BOB DAVIE: It’s win all the way. No question about that. No, we are not going to start looking at younger guys or anything like that. We’re going to do whatever we can to win, and the reason we looked at Ryan Grant was we thought he could help us win a football game.
So we are not going to put guys in and experiment. There has to be a reason for him to play, and he’s earned a chance to play because he’s being practiced so well, while those other tailbacks have some injuries. He got a lot of opportunities in practice.
Q. Are you pleased with how you and the coaching staff have brought this team along, how they have come a long way?
BOB DAVIE: I think we have coached as well as anyone in the country to be quite honest. I’m proud of what we’ve done. We’ve had some challenges that I doubt any Notre Dame in history has had, if we want to call it what is it. To open up in Lincoln, Nebraska and take the shot we took early in the season. Michigan State, I think Michigan State is a pretty good team, most people would agree with that. To go to Texas A&M, to have to play in that environment down there on a Saturday afternoon and then come back and put ourselves in a position to win five straight games against some good teams — I think we are doing a heck of a job coaching, and I think we have a chance to finish this season off the right way.
Q. If you look at the five losses and you look at those losses and how many of those losses are coaching losses and how many are players-making-mistakes losses, are they related?
BOB DAVIE: They are all coaching losses. They are all coaches’ losses. And when you win, it’s all players’ win. You know, players win football games. And when you lose, it’s coaching. You know, when Arnaz Battle drops the ball on the 1-yard line, it’s the coach’s fault. Arnaz Battle gave great effort. That’s how it always is.
Q. After the game, Arnaz said that it was his wrist problem that prevented him from changing hands on the ball. Can you tell, is that still a factor?
BOB DAVIE: Yeah, he won’t carry that football in the left hand, in the left arm, and that’s something right there. Really, that ball should have been switched. He had it on his inside arm and the kid was able to strip him. So, yeah, that’s been a problem.
Q. How concerned are you about the record?
BOB DAVIE: It’s fair for fans and it’s fair for people to judge by the won/loss record and what judge by the what the final score of the game is. I understand that. I know by saying that we have a chance to be really a good football team — I know by sitting here saying we are an improved football team, there are a lot of cynical — cynical probably outnumbers what reality is as far as what people are concerned. I understand that.
But I believe we are a good football team. I think if you went to Tennessee today and asked Phillip Homer, he would say Notre Dame pretty well coached, pretty good football team. I think we are a good team that’s played the toughest schedule in the country. I think we’ve got a quarterback in place and an offense in place that allows us to continue to improve. I think our defense has played consistent all year.
So, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot what I think. We’ve got a chance to prove it the next three weeks and we had a chance to prove it yesterday. We didn’t play enough have to win but I thought we played pretty well as a team. I think we are a pretty good team.
Q. Do you want to go to a Bowl game with a 6-5 regard?
BOB DAVIE: Me- Darned right. Darned right. If we can go 6-5 and we have a chance to win a seventh game, you’re darned right, I’d want to go play.
Q. Inaudible — what were you trying to do, giving him the ball, that he could do that the other tailbacks could not do?
BOB DAVIE: The first play of the game, we brought him on a little wrap play from the wide receiver position. So we did that out of a formation that we had not run the football before on that little counter wrap. And then, the same thing out the three-back set. You know, we have become pretty much where that third back in the backfield was a flanker, so we shifted that. We don’t put three backs in to show them are we in three backs. We shift the flanker into the back field … (Inaudible.)
BOB DAVIE: … we wanted — great job on punt return, punt block up front. So I think that we have got to get back, and Glenn Earl did a great job. We have had some injuries at safety and running back with David being injured and Arnaz being injured. And Arnaz started the year on punt return, as one of those block guys. We have a lot of injuries that have affected that team. What you would like to do is get back to where you have our best guys on there and get a little more aggressive with punt block and a little more aggressive with punt return. I think we need to generate some plays.
Q. The way you played yesterday, if you had played like that against Michigan State and Boston College, would you have won, do you agree?
BOB DAVIE: Well, I thought we played pretty good against Michigan State. You know, you think back to that game, it’s 10-10 when Charlie Rogers catches that 3rd down and 7 and Vontez misses a tackle and he goes 50 yards. We take it back down the field and thought we had a shot at the fake field goal. We played pretty good against Michigan State. We are a better team now and more efficient offensively than we were against Michigan State.
You know, Boston College, once again, 82 plays to 47, we really played pretty good. I don’t think we played as well against Boston College as we did against Tennessee, but we played good enough to win that game without the mistakes we made, kind of self-inflicted things. It’s tough to answer. Probably on the road, you need to play a little bit better than you to do win at home sometimes up there. I think we are getting better, and I put the Boston College and Tennessee games in that category of getting better.
Q. Was this your most frustrating season?
BOB DAVIE: Well, I’ll probably let all of dust settle before I answer that. It’s been frustrating. To sit early in the season, and the buildup for the Nebraska game, watching them play those two games and waiting to play. And then the situation with Purdue and that game. It’s been a different deal. And then the injuries, it’s been a lot of different twists and turns.
Q. Other than the fact they are pretty good at defense, they seemed to be able to get Carlyle pretty easy?
BOB DAVIE: We had protection problems, is what we had. When they pinned their ears back and rushed us, we had a hard time. That’s true. And they played a lot of —
Q. Coming in from the back even?
BOB DAVIE: He took some shots. He took some shots. We had a hard time protecting when they knew it was going to be passed. He took some hits again yesterday.
Q. Inaudible — there’s the reason he didn’t get any yardage?
BOB DAVIE: Right. And I think the positive thing with that, though, is they — for the most part, took the option away, but he shows you that there’s another element to him that he can drop back and throw it and that we can make some plays, not just being dependent on option. And when you think about him evolving, when you have the option and the passing game, that’s going to be — that’s why he has a chance to be really good because he can switch gears and do other things. That’s the impressive thing about him.
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