November 17, 1998
It’s nice to be back home Notre Dame stadium again. We’ve only been on the road a lot longer coming off Tuesday’s win and what I consider to be situation makes you really — you really have to be involved with Notre Dame football to really appreciate what it’s like when you go on the road. Not every place you go it really is a Bowl game type atmosphere.
I think it’s usually — look back to the D.C. game it really is hard imagine that D.C. and Notre Dame have only played ten times in football. Maybe because of us being the only Division 1 Catholic university who plays football, but it’s a huge, huge rivalry. I think you have to be on the sidelines of Chestnut Hill with those 45,000 people stomping their feet on those metal bleachers to really appreciate the atmosphere. To be able to win a game on the road in that situation is a big win.
And you look at last week against Navy, also the same thing: First college football game, Jack Kemp Cook Stadium, first sellout at the stadium, at least this year. That game had sold out before the tickets ever went on public sale. And then to be, I think, the largest crowd, I think, in the State of Maryland to ever witness a sporting event; you know, to play there and defeat Navy 30-0 with the entire Naval Academy there … as I mentioned after the game, I’m glad the Persian Gulf situation has quieted down, because I think we probably would have been outnumbered.
To win that game in that situation is a big win. And I think that that’s a credit. I think those last few situations I mentioned, I give the credit to Notre Dame Football to have that type atmosphere everywhere you go. It’s also a big challenge, and I’ve talked about to our football team, it’s also a big responsibility to play the game at the level that Notre Dame is supposed to play the game. But it certainly is a challenge.
It’s great to be back home. It’s great to be able to have a chance to play LSU here in our stadium. Last year we played them twice. I think because of hard work and unselfishness and the honest to good fortune, we once again put ourselves in a situation to have a great opportunity. Looking at our season, I go back to last spring. We really broke our season down to four quarters before we ever — before we ever started.
I looked at the first quarter being Michigan and Michigan State, (inaudible) defeated us last year Big 10 teams, two real physical teams. Prepared all through the spring, all through fall camp, really, for those two games. You look back, you really don’t have much time in spring practice. Don’t have a whole lot of time in fall camp. And then we had the open date. And the 2nd quarter we beat Purdue, Stanford and Arizona State, two more teams; one team was 3 in the season, No. 1 in the country, three passing south teams, Pac 10 teams.
And then we had another open date. Then we go into the 3rd quarter: Army, Baylor, D.C. and Navy, the wishbone teams, teams on the road.
Now, as I look at it, you know, we enter the fourth quarter of this season, LSU, and certainly USC, once again, two teams that beat us last year; two teams that have a lot of speed a lot of talent, two really talented teams. So I think it’s a challenge as we kind of enter this 4th quarter, because everything we did starting with the off-season program when we came back in January, really was for the 4th quarter. Whether it was the second half of the football game — which we struggled last year — we kind of geared everything to the 4th quarter.
So obviously our goal right now is to see if we have some more juice left in us, to see if we have another gear, to see if we have another level. And I’ve talked to our players about, you know, it’s kind of like building a skyscraper: You can put as many floors on that thing as the foundation allows you. And I think our foundation is strong. I look back, you know, I’m not going to go through the statistics that kind of show we’re an improved team. A couple things I think we have improved: We’re playing faster. That was a goal in the off-season. You look at the big plays of the last four weeks. We’ve had 42 big plays for about 900 yards compared to 27 big plays for our opponents and 540 yards.
Negative plays is something we’ve talked about. I think that’s something that coincides with playing faster. We have created 31 negative plays for 150 yards in the last four weeks. Our opponents had only had 13, 51. So there’s some statistics that bore out the foundation getting stronger. But I really think it’s more the intent. I think the first thing — probably the best most progress we’ve made and honestly the thing that was the most discouraging — last year you hard me say this — we’ve always been taken pride in being able to have a football team that plays hard. And I think we’re starting to get to the point where the football team plays hard every down, in all phases of the game. I think that’s something that — is something we worked hard at. Something we’re proud of that.
We’re finally getting to where we play hard. Second thing I think that makes a foundation strong is the seniors. We sat here last year, compared senior classes and we had 11 seniors I think on our entire football team (inaudible) and we had one draft pick last year. (Inaudible). I look at the little things. I look at Bobby Howard. I look at Corey Minor. I look at Jim playing against the wishbone. I watch other teams play against them. Not everybody likes them, particularly those linebackers you’ve got guys chomping at you. You’ve got fullbacks coming back in there on you. I watched the tape of the Navy game and that shows me that those three senior linebackers they are playing the best football of their career. Jamie Spencer came up to me after the Michigan State game and said, “Coach, I’ll go on any (inaudible) team. I don’t care what role I have on this team.” Jamie Spencer goes in as our starting guard against Navy. He hadn’t been a starter on a kickoff return team all year.
I look at Autry Denson; breaks that record. Unbelievable accomplishment to break that record, yet Autry Denson has a half-time (inaudible) fumble that football in the first half. I look at Mike Rosenthal, Mike Handy, almost like another coach. He’s taken Mike Handy; coaches him every since. Those things make me feel good about the team’s position.
I also see some guys that are unselfish. Look at Benny Guilbeaux. He was a starter here for a couple years. He comes back, Tony Driver is a starter. Benny Guilbeaux didn’t go in the tank Benny Guilbeaux came back and helped Tony Driver; again, Benny Guilbeaux is probably playing his best. You know I could go on: Lamont Bryant, Grant Irons, Ty Goode, Brook Williams make a point that they bring out the best and in the team and that’s important to me.
Certainly we don’t have all of our problems solved on the field. All you have to do is watch how they play to understand that. But I think in the bigger picture I think we’re making a lot of progress because I think that foundation is solid, as much because of the intangibles. So I think the future is bright. As we enter this 4th quarter in the season, I think we all see what a challenge it is. We’re playing two real, real, good football teams, starting with LSU. We need to play our best football of the year against this team. I don’t think there’s a question about it.
LSU is obviously a big game, first of all, for these seniors. Something that we’ve talked about, made no second about is the undefeated at home senior year, it’s a huge accomplishment, especially after your first game as a freshman you last to Northwestern. We’re 1-1 against LSU. Last year I think the score was 33-33. This is kind of the rubber match.
And I think most of all I made no secret about this: Losing that Bowl game hurt. We had won six of our last seven regular season games. We struggled to win those games but we did win them. We won five straight; played decent in the first half, and come out the second half and to fall flat like that. So this is a big football game for us. I know that is a big football game for LSU, coming off that open date. I’m sure they are exited to come up here and play and I expect them to play their best football game of the year. I have no doubt about it. I doubt that we’ll play any more talented, top to bottom as far as personnel than LSU.
On defense, they are very athletic. There’s a lot of numbers and good athletes. They are physical, concerned about their front. Particularly strong up the middle with their nose guard, with their defense. The big 300-pounders is even more of a concern because Jerry Whitney is gone. Jerry Whitney is a heck of a player. Mike Candy, Ken Ridder (ph.) have played a lot. They haven’t played a whole game against competition like this. I think the other supporting cast can pick up their game, raise their level, expect them to play well. On offense, certainly have a lot of explosive players in just about every skill position: Tailbacks are both explosive. Quarterback’s explosive; throws the ball deep. Dangerous running with the football and he can take off and score points. Really two excellent (inaudible). And they are a good, strong offensive line with a good, strong fullback.
So without a doubt this is a big challenge. Looking at them, they are 4-5 coming in, I believe, but that doesn’t mean anything. They have played a lot of good teams and these games have been right down to the wire. I think Georgia by one point, beat Kentucky by three, Boston in overtime. Certainly it looks to me like they out played Alabama. So they are an excellent football team. This will be a huge challenge. But, you know, I think it’s a challenge we’re excited about, one that I think we’re looking forward to playing in Notre Dame Stadium. I’m anxious to see what kind of atmosphere will be in the stadium.
Q. I’m just curious. You mentioned the linebackers that can run but also maybe throws a little better than Broadwater does. How do you have to change the way your front seven attacks things this week?
BOB DAVIE: It’s a much different team. The point I really tried to make with the linebacker is the effort which they played with. Even when we were ahead in that football game (inaudible) there’s a different scheme against LSU. But the fact that you have seniors playing hard when you’re ahead in a football game, kind of a foreign offense to play against shows me that the attitude of this football team is really strong. Obviously LSU is a completely different challenge. We have to change gears a little bit on defense; go back and look at some of the things that happened against Boston College a few weeks ago and really try to get —
Q. Have you given any thought to wearing white uniforms since they like to wear the white jerseys?
BOB DAVIE: We have enough issues to deal with. I’m not going to get into all that. I’m just anxious to put those blue ones back on because that means we’re playing.
Q. I was just wondering if you could maybe compare the two marquis runners with week with Autry and Kevin Faulk; is it going to be as big a show as it looks like it’s developing on paper. And also what running back like Faulk who is in a league by himself, too, meets up with a Class A runner like Denson, do you think that that’s personal wars going on in their minds, not necessarily to divert the whole game’s attention, but in their own mind they want to raise their own level?
BOB DAVIE: It’s interesting. I asked Autry about that when we were getting ready to play Michigan State. (inaudible) He was typical Autry. It was no factor to him and all he was worried about was his performance on our offense.
I’m sure each individual kind of perceives things different or looks at different challenges. And I think in Autry’s case, he’s so even-keeled and so team-oriented that I doubt that he puts a whole lot of thought into that. And to be honest with the team, (inaudible) our defense trying to stop Kevin Faulk and Rondell Mealey, that really has nothing to do with our offense. So, you know, I haven’t really used that as a form of motivation. And I doubt seriously if Autry Denson does. You know, it’s interesting to look at the statistics somewhere. I somewhere I think I looked at the statistics somewhere. They are pretty equally balanced. Both of them have some tremendous careers. I remember when Kevin came up here for his visit when he was a senior in high school, he knew then that he was a great football player. Has a lot of charisma and really an outstanding young man.
You know, you get to know him a little bit in recruiting, and certainly we’ve watched his career. So it should be a heck of a match up with those two running backs, but I don’t know that the two individuals involved really are going to get a whole lot of motivation.
Q. I remember a couple weeks ago you had mentioned about coming off a by that the defense might be just a step behind the offense because of two weeks off. Because LSU is coming off a by, are you aware of that with your offensive game plan of taking it to them early; that hopefully that’s that one letter difference between “rest” and “rust” that you might catch them early on?
BOB DAVIE: Well, I’m trying to think back to the Army game, but I think it was actually the opposite. I felt like our offense, because of the open date, may have been a little bit out off, while I thought our defense played pretty good.
No, that’s a tough call. Open dates are so dependent on situation you’re in, the chemistry of your team. You know, open dates can be the best thing for your football team or they can be the worst thing for your football team. And there’s no way for me to judge what situation LSU is in or how we can respond to the open date. And it’s hard enough to even know with your own football team.
So I don’t think that’s really going to be a factor, particularly this late in the season. I think LSU, from what I know, is pretty healthy going into the open date. So I don’t know that it will make that much difference.
Q. As the head coach, do you have any source of frustration? It still looks like you could possibly complete a 10-1 season and be excluded from one of the Bowls, which I’m sure was a preseason goal that you had for the team.
BOB DAVIE: Well, I’ve kind of been one worry at a time and right now that’s — that’s not even in the file yet as far as frustration. I’m not trying to minimize it. I’m worried about now. We’ll certainly deal with those issues. (Inaudible.) That’s too far down the road. With LSU coming into this stadium, last time we played them, the last half of the football game, we were pretty much dominated. 10-1 seems like an awfully long way away for me.
Q. Bob, with the way things are shaping up, I don’t want to overemphasize this game, but there is a lot at stake here. What are you hearing, what kind of feedback are you getting both around the country and on the campus? Will this atmosphere be anything like some of the really big ones we’ve seen before like when Ohio State came here or maybe even Florida State in ’93?
BOB DAVIE: Well, I haven’t — I really haven’t had a whole lot of feedback. The thing I’ve tried to do is not put myself in a situation to get a whole lot of feedback. I don’t think it’s a good idea to put yourself in a situation to get a lot of feedback when things are going well; try to stay on course and keep your eye on the target. I don’t really know, Bob.
The big game I was in this stadium in my four years here would have to be the Ohio State game back in ’96. We were 3-0. And certainly that was a — that was a heck of an atmosphere, early in the football season. I’m anxious to see. We’re an 8-1 team. Having won seven straight games, certainly there is a lot at stake in this football game, just against an opponent that brings out the best in you because they are such a talented team.
So I would hope that there is a tremendous atmosphere in the stadium. But once again, I’m not sure that it’s something like really — I’d much rather focus on the product on the field, some of the things — I’m as anxious as you are to see. Certainly when we were — we left Arizona State and went into the 3rd quarter of this season, you know, you looked at some way to scratch and claw and bring good fortune and be 8-1 and have an opportunity to play LSU. And now we have that opportunity. So I would hope that there is some excitement but I don’t really have a good feel for it right now.
BOB DAVIE: You know it’s interesting. In ’95, they were freshmen. I had the opportunity some (inaudible) some opportunity some ways to be the head coach — their sophomore year was ’96, and now these last two years. So I’m comfortable with the senior class. There are some great young men in this class. There’s the things I mentioned about the foundation. I think the personality of this team is really taking shape. There is no divisions on this team at all. There is older players helping younger players. The offensive players cheering for offensive players and defensive players cheering for offensive players. I look down at the end of bench at the Navy game and there is Lamont Bryant, Malcolm Johnson and Corey Minor sitting on the bench rooting for the defense. I watched Joey Guetheral on that punt return. You’ve got defensive guys just going crazy on the sidelines. I think back to Bobby Brown on that big touchdown pass against Baylor. I mean, Lamont Bryant is out of his mind on the sidelines. But I think the personality of this team has really taken shape. I think it does lay the foundation. Because to me that’s the big picture. We’re always going to have problems on the field and we’re going to continue to work to solve those problems. But the bigger scope — (inaudible) — personality and I see it being one that’s unselfish, I see no scars. I see everyone pulling together for one common goal and I see a bunch of people that like each other. And to me that’s positive. And you know I’m proud of that. As a coach I’m proud of that. They are good people.
BOB DAVIE: Well, I think that’s the issue. I hope that we can. I hope that we can play these next two opponents — LSU, is one of the Top 5 teams. They are still a Top 5 team as far as I’m concerned. USC has a quickly improving team. They have made a lot of progress. So, you know, we need to win. And I want to see if we’re capable of doing it. We have not yet played our best football and I do think we are capable. We played well defensively against Navy. Struggled a little bit on offense. And the last four weeks, we’ve been a little bit — we’ve done some good things but we just haven’t been consistent as we were at times back against Arizona State or against Stanford or against Michigan. So it’s trying to get trying to get everybody playing their best football this time of the year. That’s why I say we’re going into the 4th quarter. Everything we’ve geared this program for since we left Shreveport last year. So we’re healthy. The attitude is good. So let’s go find out and I think that’s a huge challenge for this team and that’s the way we’re approaching it. Because the best is ahead of us. And that didn’t mean it’s going to come out. We’ve got to go make it happen. Because everybody is playing — but we haven’t played as an entire football team as good as we can play. That’s what we’ll try to do. That’s what it’s going to take.
BOB DAVIE: (Inaudible.) What the future holds for them, I don’t know. If you look at Tony Weaver and you — (inaudible) — whether or not that’s best for that type of a player, I don’t know. But that’s one option. Certainly that will be an option.
BOB DAVIE: I think his body type is a little bit more of a running back. Although, this week we’re going to play him a little bit above. But yeah, that’s something we’re going to sit down — and I think that will be a critical issue towards next year because I do think we have a chance to become a pretty good defense. And really, we’ve got a loot lot of good players coming back. We’ve got the foundation there. That’s going to be a big issue. But it’s certainly going to be Grant’s decision.
BOB DAVIE: I don’t think — just as I mentioned earlier, I think the plan is to raise the level of people around us. The offense will just have to execute and play better. We’re got to go to change. The problem we have is not Mike Candy and not Tim Ridder and Tim Jones (inaudible). So you know, we’re looking at things not just because of Whitney not playing but because if he was playing again and I don’t think he is.
BOB DAVIE: Well, I didn’t worry about it last year but I felt last year that our football team (inaudible) gave up the best chance to win. Jarious Jackson will be the first one to tell you we don’t have those quarterback draws, quarterback counters. We didn’t have any option game. Going into my first season I really felt like Ron Fowler gave us the best opportunity to win. So the team wasn’t in place. In my opinion, Jarious was just a — once we got into the season, knowing Jarious would be back and Ron wouldn’t, yeah, certainly there was an issue there of playing the young quarterback that’s going to be back next year. But I think we made the right decision because the team wasn’t in place for Jarious to be as successful as he’s been. I’d much rather have Jarious wait — you remember when Jarious played last year, Jarious didn’t look like Jarious played this year. So Jarious needed the time to develop. Jarious needed the time to get the team in place. I think it was a really good decision. I’m not sure Jarious last year at this point with the offense we had could have won some of those games, won six of the last seven, that Ron did. We threw the ball pretty good at the end of the season. We had a lot of big 3rd down conversions. So from the standpoint of a controversy or not a controversy, I never look at that. As we move toward to recruiting, we’re going to continue to recruit quarterbacks that have the ability, want to throw the football. There’s always a temptation for awhile to sign a marquis quarterback who threw 9,000 yards in high school to try to convince him — we’re going to be in sync on that. (Inaudible) especially the way college football is now away nowadays. The reason there’s been no controversy this year, we call it like it is. If Jarious Jackson wasn’t, there would be a whole other issue. Just like after the Michigan State game, I gave all the credit to Jarious Jackson.
BOB DAVIE: The results are back on that. But I don’t have them. In my mind he’s out for three or four weeks. Our backup quarterback, right now, I’m not sure. In practice last night he did some good things. He had soreness. It was expected. I don’t think we’ll know until the end. Good thing is he’s back in practice. Also Eric Chappell has done pretty good the last couple of weeks. (Inaudible).
BOB DAVIE: I’m sure that without saying (inaudible) he’s a football player first, but I don’t know. (Inaudible.) I’ve said this before that the players spend a whole lot of time on it. What they look at is an opportunity to go back and look at tapes of last year, see how they match up with the X and Os. All the scenarios are out of it when you put the tape on. So I think more than the scenario comes down to the actual Xs and Os, and how we played. That’s more important.
BOB DAVIE: I remember Bobby Howard. I watched Bobby Howard on a tape. I remember watching him pull that linebacker, went in and called him on the phone. And, you know, Bobby wasn’t real happy recruiting him. You expected Bobby Howard just to be excited Notre Dame offering him a scholarship. Bobby Howard would be exactly the same then as Bobby Howard was now. There wasn’t a whole lot of feedback on that phone call and that’s probably held true in these four years. I remember Lamont Bryant coming in on his visit. It might have been January. He had a little leather jacket, a little thin leather jacket. And I remember him riding in my car — I couldn’t help thinking to myself: You have no idea. You know, you go through all these — I remember Corey Minor. I remember Jarious Jackson. I remember Jarious Jackson as a freshman, and freshman practice without that, I watched him throw a little bit, bounced some off the ground and I thought (Inaudible). I remember Autry Denson being on defense, just as excited as heck,, next thing I know we’re in a scrimmage out there, I look over and Autry Denson and the tailback are running across. But I could go on and on. I watch these kids grow and explore it’s hard to believe they are leaving on me. Fortunately, we’ve got a few of them left.
BOB DAVIE: I went down to Sherman Texas watching in practice playing quarterback, high jumper and a basketball player and swimmer and know his coach and the coach pretty much — see Hunter Smith how far he’s come. But I think the real story — and it’s kind of the Tony Driver thing. There’s so many things that have happened, little things, as there is with every freshman and every student at Notre Dame off the field. All the home sickness, all the second thoughts and all the doubts, all those things, all those kids pull through all that longer because of it. I think that’s really the big picture and the quality of Notre Dame. But one mistake ends up being pretty strong. I think that’s an example of this class. They have been through an awful lot.
BOB DAVIE: We have about two or three in the last couple weeks — punt return. We got the one against (inaudible). Our punt protection is better. Punt coverage is better. We’re an improving — we’ve got most of our guys back healthy. Last year we were a good kickoff team. We were a better kickoff team than LSU. A lot of that had to do with — like any good return game, LSU, a lot had to do with the individuals. Right now we feel like Tony Driver (inaudible). You don’t have a whole lot of options here. We got the young guys: Hunter, we got Darcey Levy back early in the year, but I still think Driver and Levy are our best —
BOB DAVIE: I don’t know if it’s ridiculous or not ridiculous. But that’s a lot of ways to go about that but I’ve been around here where every year started out and made it (inaudible) goal of Notre Dame. I’ve said that right from the beginning. I don’t know if I agree with that. I think it’s, number, one being realistic. National championship has never been — (inaudible) — I’ve never heard anything — (inaudible) — you’d have to ask our players. I don’t think it’s been a lot more —
BOB DAVIE: I’ll say that. I think we are making improvements. I think we’ve got a long ways to go, talking about preseason. See, the program three years now, the program has built back with a up strong foundation. With our schedule, certainly I’m not talking about next year, you look at our schedule, to me, we’re — we’re going to lose a heck of a team. Our talent level is increasing, right now. I think it’s still a couple years away. That doesn’t mean we won’t try to win every football game or expect to win every football game, but I still see it’s a ways away.
BOB DAVIE: Yeah, you know you see some — I think we’re getting more talent. But I mentioned before, the foundation’s strong, which I think help you recruit as well. So I think we’re going in the right direction. But being one hundred percent honest, we’ve got a ways to go. We’ve got the keys. We are doing that. That’s one thing I’ve proud of is this staff. You guys all know how late we get off that practice field. Not only does the staff go back and make recruiting calls, but it also breaks down those practices. The coaching staff and the attitude and the focus, may not be as quick as we’d like, but they’re working on it.
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