Nov. 26, 2001
An interview with: COACH DAVIE
JOHN HEISLER: Good morning. Just a couple of quick notes. Our kickoff this weekend at Stanford is at 8:00 eastern time, 5:00 out on the West Coast. For those of you hooked to our conference via satellite, about six minutes of highlights from the Notre Dame?Navy game. We will not have a Sunday wrapup this week because of our late night travel plans. Won’t be getting back to South Bend until about 6 a.m. We’ll be back here a week from today with our next scheduled teleconference.
Coach Davie is here. He’ll make some opening comments and take some questions.
COACH DAVIE: Just watching Stanford, I think the statistics, if you look at the statistics, it jumps out at you that they are really an explosive offensive football team. I think they’re fifth in the nation in scoring offense, right at 40 points a game. I think they’re seventh in total offense at about 480 yards a game.
I think the thing that has been most impressive is how consistent they’ve been on offense. You look at every game, they’ve been up right at 400 yards or better. It’s not like they’ve had just great explosions and then have played mediocre other weeks on offense. They’ve been a very consistent offensive team throughout the season.
Defense, when you look at the statistics, it’s probably a little bit misleading in that pass defense they’ve struggled statistically. But if you look at it, I think one reason is they’ve been ahead of people so much. You look at the second?quarter scoring. They’ve scored something like 121 points in the second quarter compared to their opponents’ maybe 40. They’ve been ahead a lot in games and people have had to throw the football. Because of that, I think those statistics get a little bit skewed.
When you look at their team, when you just look at their situation, I think there’s probably a lot of parallels to our situation in that when you’re at a place that does it without cutting any corners, when you’re a place that does it where academics are very important, I think you can see that there’s probably some parallels.
I look back, I think they were 3?8 four years ago, then they went 8?4, played in the Rose Bowl. Last year they were 5?6. This year they come back, right now they’re 7?2. I think there’s a lot of parallels.
You look at their team, I think they have ten starters on defense that are seniors. Their quarterbacks are both guys that are now experienced. Last year Fasani got injured. Chris Lewis came in playing for the first time. Now all of a sudden Fasani gets injured, Chris Lewis comes in, he’s an experienced quarterback. Their offensive linemen have all played.
I think the thing that’s most dynamic about them is they make really big plays. You look at their receivers. No. 6 is a guy I think compares a lot to Troy Walters several years ago. No. 4, Ryan Wells, has been injured a little bit, but he’s back healthy now. The big tall receiver, Teyo Johnson, No. 5, probably 6’7″. Their tight end catches the ball. Their tailback is really explosive, No. 34. There’s an explosive offensive football team. That’s how they’ve been able to generate the kind of yards that they’ve had.
I’m looking forward to this game. I think it’s time for us to go see if we’re an improved team once again. As good as they are on offense, I like to think we’ll have an opportunity to line up and play good, solid defense. Some people may not realize that we are 11th in the country in total defense, which I think is ?? I’m not sitting here saying we’re a dominant defensive football team. For us to be 11th in the nation in total defense I think is really a pretty impressive statistic when you consider some of the things that have happened this year.
I’d like to think we’re going to be able to challenge them with our defense. I think for our offense, we obviously are going to have to score some points, generate some things hopefully in the kicking game.
It’s a game, I think they’re similar teams ? not so much this year on paper, but kind of how things have gone the last several years. It’s a big challenge for us to go out and play in Stanford stadium. As I jokingly said, glad it’s a 5:00 kick?off and not any later. We can’t categorize that as a night game. Maybe we have a chance to win.
I’ll be happy to take any questions.
JOHN HEISLER: Questions from the telephone first, please.
Q. I want to find out what you think the key is to defend Stanford’s potent passing attack? What does your secondary have to do on Saturday to effectively defend Stanford’s pass offense?
COACH DAVIE: I think the first thing is control No. 6 to a degree. First of all, don’t let him run by us on deep balls, but maybe just as importantly tackle him after he catches the ball. He caught about a five?yard hitch against Cal Saturday and broke it for a long run.
You know, it’s a couple of things with him. He has grade speed, good ability after he catches the ball. Then No. 5, Teyo Johnson, there’s a match?up difficulty there. What he basically does it rebound. He goes up and goes over the top of people, makes catches. He’s improved all year.
They’re pretty balanced. They have three really good receivers. They also alternate in a couple of other guys. We have to make plays. I think we’ve improved in the secondary. To be quite honest, this will probably be our biggest challenge. Tennessee I thought had some real fine receivers. I think USC had some real fine receivers. I just think the combination of scheme and numbers of receivers, number of times they’ll throw the football, this will probably be our biggest test.
Q. What is your injury situation going into the week?
COACH DAVIE: Actually we’re okay. It’s pretty much what it’s been. I think Glenn Earl will play. I think Donald Dykes will play. Tony Fisher, he may be at about 75%. David Givens, right now probably at 75%. I’m not sure they will play. Rocky Boiman has a foot, really an ankle?foot injury he’s had just about all season. He’s not practicing right now. How close he’ll be to full speed, I don’t know. I would expect him to play.
Andy Wisne is out. Ryan Roberts is out. Jason Murray did not practice last night.
Really, for what amounts to the last game of the year in some ways, as far as just the regularly scheduled games, we really have hung in there. We’ve had a lot of nuance?type injuries, but fortunately not many season?ending injuries.
Q. You also mentioned on Saturday after the win that Terrance Howard has shown a lot of character this year. Can you expand on that?
COACH DAVIE: He has. Also, Ryan Grant probably will not play with a hyperextended elbow.
Terrance Howard really has shown a lot of character throughout his career. He’s had a lot of different situations that he’s been involved in, both from family situations that have happened and also on the field some things that have happened with different players playing and different things happening.
I think he’ll be the first to tell you he’s going to leave Notre Dame as a grown man. That’s the thing I’ve been most impressed with Terrance.
I think that’s the unfortunate thing probably that people don’t get to see sometimes, is maybe the most important things. Somehow this whole thing of college football takes on a whole different spin.
But Terrance I think in a lot of ways exemplifies our team. I think people would be really impressed if they could be on the inside right now and look at our team has reacted, how our coaches have reacted, how they picked themselves off the ground and kept competed. In a time and era where everything is sarcastic, it’s really refreshing to be on the inside and be around people that are some tough people. It really is.
It’s unfortunate that everybody can’t see that. Maybe at times everybody can’t follow the lead of people that are right in the middle of it. But that’s what keeps you motivated, keeps you excited. You know, you separate the pretenders really quickly when you find out ?? you really find out what people are all about when you hit difficult times.
I’ve been impressed with our football team, and Terrance Howard has been an example of that.
JOHN HEISLER: We’ll take some questions from people here in person.
Q. With the defensive backs that you’ll be using, is it Clifford that will be play a lot? Is it Jason Beckstrom? Is he hurting any now?
COACH DAVIE: No, you know, that’s a good question. Both those guys I think have improved. I was impressed with Clifford on Saturday in the Navy game. Not to belabor this point or to get off the subject, but I’ve coached a lot of years. You can tell so much about the attitude of your football team particularly ? particularly ? when you play a team in a game like Navy on Saturday.
I’ve been around situations or heard of situations where you go out and play a wishbone team. You can’t get guys to go out there and play on defense, with the low blocks, chop blocks, the different kind of scheme that goes on.
You reminded me of that. I thought we played probably as hard on defense as we have all year from an effort standpoint, flying around. Clifford Jefferson really impressed me in that game. That’s not the most ideal game for a defensive back to play in.
He’s come back. He’s bounced back. He’s had his share of difficulties. I mentioned to our team yesterday about the leadership of some of our seniors, different things that happened in the Navy game, whether it be Tony Weaver down in there exchanging gaps, trying to dig the fullback out in the wishbone, or Ron Israel having to go in there at free safety, being caught in some different situations he hadn’t been in before.
Clifford is a guy, you know, I’m kind of proud of him. He’s really hung in there, played well, and he’s getting better. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’re a senior in the program and been through as much as he has been.
I think that says a lot about him. I’d like to see him have an opportunity to finish this thing out and compete at a high level against some good players. I think it would be Clifford right now.
Q. Can you talk about Wisne, the strange start to his career, now the kind of strange end to his career.
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, one thing about it, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Andy Wisne has seen an awful lot of things. He started off really an unfortunate incident with some test scores that kept him from playing his freshman year. He’s ended it up here with some injuries. Came back this year and I thought was in the best shape he’s been in, really was the healthiest he’s been. I think he went for two years where he had a problem that finally got fixed, finally got resolved with some different pulls in the groin area. He was healthy. Then he ends up this year obviously out there in pregame, you know, has some form of a concussion.
He’s had different injuries off and on throughout his career. It’s been kind of a different situation. But he’s given great effort. It’s just unfortunate that he’s had an accumulation of different things.
There’s a guy like his brother who goes along and really from an injury standpoint has some good fortune, goes through Notre Dame pretty much injury?free. It’s really a strange thing.
Q. I notice one name you didn’t mention was Julius Jones. Is he okay?
COACH DAVIE: He is. He has a slight back problem. He practiced yesterday. Probably healthier now than he’s been all year as far as his legs, his Achilles are concerned. I think he’s going to be fine.
Q. I know Notre Dame doesn’t sneak up on anybody. With Stanford in the middle of a tight PAC?10 race, with them going for a BCS berth, is this one of the few times where an opponent isn’t focused on Notre Dame going into a game?
COACH DAVIE: That would be hard to answer. I’d like to think when Stanford looks at that tape, they see a pretty good football team on that tape. I think what you said would probably be more realistic. I know how they’re coached. I think Tyrone has done a great job. They have a lot of coaches that have been there a long time. I think there’s a lot of respect between these two programs.
Also I think last week against Cal, they played a football team that was 0?9. They struggled at times against Cal. They probably will use that as an example this week. So I don’t think that’s going to be the case. We’re certainly not counting on them not being ready to play. We’re going out there totally expecting them to play their best game of the year. That’s how we’re preparing for this.
Q. Outside of the context of this week, could you talk about Abe Elam’s development in the back?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah. Once again, the Navy game was an interesting game for Abe because he had to play a lot of man?to?man coverage on what amounted to a little slap back for a receiver. I think that was really good experience for him, really gave him some confidence that he could do that.
Abe Elam has played a lot of football. You look at the positions we’ve had injuries, it’s been runningback and safety. Abe has gone from starting the season as a guy that was going to be a special teams player to someone that’s taken advantage of his opportunities, he’s a productive player. He has a lot of football ahead of him.
It’s funny how things go. You start out the season. You see Abe Elam is the third strong safety. All of a sudden Abe Elam plays as much as anyone. He’s done a good job. For a guy that was a high school quarterback, he stepped up.
Q. Talking to Gerome Sapp yesterday, some of the safeties joke around that Abe has the luck of Tony Driver. I don’t know if you see any similarities along those lines or not?
COACH DAVIE: I think that’s a good point. That’s a good point. There are some guys, for whatever reason, kind of inherent play?makers. He seems to be someone that that’s very true. He is a guy that’s a play?maker. That’s why we played him. He’s productive.
Q. Him coming in as a quarterback, how long did that last exactly? Did he sort of know coming in?
COACH DAVIE: We had him in summer camp. Wasn’t the most dynamic passer. It probably lasted about ten minutes when he got here. It didn’t last real long.
What we wanted to do was not discourage him in any way, but let him compare himself to the other three freshman quarterbacks. He was actually the fourth quarterback in that class at that time. I think he realized that his future was going to be at defensive back.
The thing he’s so concerned of, they always tease him about being a linebacker. He’s one of those guys always conscious of what he eats because he doesn’t want to get much bigger because he’s afraid that would be the next move for him.
Q. You talk about injuries at safety and runningback. Tony Fisher you said is about 75%. I assume if he can contribute, he will?
COACH DAVIE: I think that will be a game?time decision. Tony is such a great kid, so competitive, I don’t know that he helped himself or helped us playing against Tennessee. We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t want him to play if he’s not better than he was the last time he tried to play.
Q. Can you talk about his determination, his mental strength? He seems to be one of those guys, he’s been nicked up all year, but manages to go out there.
COACH DAVIE: He’s an amazing kid. His mom, Hermetta (phonetic), was actually raised in the same area I was raised in. She’s from right down there in the steel town, steel mill. She’s done a great job with him. In fact, to be quite honest, I think Tony would have gone to Ohio State coming out of high school if his mom didn’t really want him at Notre Dame.
He’s been raised right. He’s a very competitive guy. He’s a leader. We’ve missed him. That’s been a setback for this team because he is so productive. He’s one of my favorite guys. I remember going into his high school and watching him play basketball his senior year. You knew right away he was kind of a special guy because he was so competitive.
He’s done well. He’s been over 3.0 here several times, his overall GPA is extremely high. He’s going to graduate from here. Heck of a kid. We’ve missed him on the field this year.
Q. One of the things that has been lost in the shuffle this year has been the kicking game with Nicolas Setta. He’s really developed into a consistent weapon for you.
COACH DAVIE: I agree. When you look at Nick Setta having two years of football left at Notre Dame, all those competitive things you saw in Nick Setta, the confidence you saw in Nick Setta when he first walked in here, you realize now that he is the real deal. I think he can be as good as anybody because he’s just so accurate and he’s so competitive.
I think the thing that’s so impressive about him is we’re out there before the game, you always kind of do the kick right before the end of the pregame warm?up, kick it from the 20 yard line. When you miss it, it gets a little tighter the next time. He missed two of them before the game. I said, “Nick, do you want another one?” He said, “I don’t need another one.” Walks out in the game and bangs it down the middle.
He’s an unflappable guy. I think kicking here at a place like Notre Dame, there’s some people who try to flap you pretty good if it doesn’t go through the upright. I think he’s going to be a star. He’s got all the skills. His kick?offs have improved to where he can kick the ball in the end zone.
Then the development of Joey Hildbold. You think about four years ago going with some young, young guys. There’s still some football left for those guys. I think that’s going to pay off.
Q. Julius, missing the berths. We saw that the other day. We haven’t seen a lot this season. Do you think the injuries have slowed him?
COACH DAVIE: Everyone has talked about that a lot. I think it was really important for him at the end of the Navy game to bust that 44?yard run. I said this to him as soon as he came off, it was like the weight of the world was lifted in some ways.
I think it’s a combination of things. Being healthier, you know. Sometimes when you try the hardest, it works out the least. I’ve been impressed with how he’s worked, how hard he’s competed. Hopefully some good things are going to happen at the end of the year.
It’s hard to put your finger on that. He’s bigger now than he was as a freshman. He’s been injured a little bit. But it’s just one of those things, I know he’s capable of doing it. Trying to compare him now to when he was a freshman, 185 pounds, is difficult, to be quite honest.
Q. It was only his fifth hundred?yard game. Three of those were Navy, one against Air Force, the other Michigan State. He hasn’t had his best games.
COACH DAVIE: There has been a Tony Fisher and a Terrance Howard here and a Ryan Grant. A lot of guys who are the big hundred?yard gainers around the country, they’re sitting there in a one?back offense. They carry the ball 35 or 40 times a game. That’s impacted those statistics a little bit.
The other thing you look at is the competition he’s played against. There’s a lot of things. There’s a lot of things.
Q. Comparing the two schools, Stanford, Notre Dame, they both seem like they go back and forth. Do you think part of that is the academics makes it harder to be a team that wins consistently?
COACH DAVIE: I think it’s pretty obvious, don’t you? Particularly when you’re not going to take shortcuts in recruiting, there’s no quick fix. Certainly there’s some similar hurdles. You look around this country, there’s no question that Notre Dame and Stanford many times end up recruiting the same players. It’s a big?time academic school. It’s an ivy league school where academics are important, just like they are here at Notre Dame.
It’s a challenge. That’s the reality of that.
Q. With the Thanksgiving holidays, the schedule is a bit different, do you change anything up in terms of how you prepare with the students leaving?
COACH DAVIE: Our entire football team stays here through Wednesday night. I let the players that aren’t traveling go home Wednesday night. Our travel team stays Thursday, we practice Thursday around 11:00 or so, then we leave out of here at 3:00 in the afternoon. We go out there, then have Thanksgiving dinner Thursday night. Probably going to work out Friday out there.
Yeah, it’s a little different. You’re flying across the country. It is Thanksgiving Day.
JOHN HEISLER: Thanks very much.
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