Oct. 7, 2001
COACH DAVIE: I think it’s pretty obvious what kind of plan we have to follow to win and it just reinforces it for us. If you look back over the last several years, we are a football team that, No. 1, we can’t turn the football over, and yesterday we played a game a lot like we played a lot of games last year where there were zero turnovers. You compare that to the five turnovers that Pittsburgh had, that’s a huge, huge statistic.
Second thing, we have to be able to run the ball and we got a lot of yards rushing yesterday. Pittsburgh had minimal yards rushing.
You look at the things like time of possession, field position, all of those things that just go over and look on our wall in our meeting rooms, and we call it the “Plan to Win,” and if you follow that plan, you know, it’s infallible, you’re going to win. That’s been our whole focus is to stay on track and follow the plan.
I think the other thing you see, once again is what a fine line there is between winning and losing. You look in the third quarter and it’s a 10?7 football game, we’re ahead. Pittsburgh made some plays. You know, the quarterback stepped up against the pressure. We’re in zone coverage, the linebacker jumps up and he hits No. 84 and behind us he is going in to score, but the ball flies out of his hands and it goes into Abe Elam’s hands ?? very fine line. But we had some guys chasing the ball, and good things happen when you play hard. It’s ironic how it always works out when you play hard, good things happen.
The next thing you know Tony Fisher breaks out there have from the goal line. We get a big play. I mean that, was the biggest run ?? maybe the biggest gain of the year right there if ?? I’m not sure at that point, 20?some yards. A little bit later you see Carlyle’s explosiveness. He takes it 67 yards for a touchdown. So instead of it being 14?10 Pittsburgh, you turn around and it’s 17?7 Notre Dame.
If you look defensively, I think there are a lot of positives in the game. I thought Greg Madison last week did a tremendous job of really focusing on our defense of three and out, everybody chasing the football, tremendous effort. We went back and took clips of years past. We practiced every snap in practice of all 11 guys chasing the ball, stripping the ball, swirming to the ball, and it is really encouraging to see it on tape where you see guys giving that kind of effort. I think Greg did just a tremendous job with that. I mean, that was the focus of last week.
The second thing, I think, you know, we’ve gotten to a point, you know you talk about half?time adjustments and stuff, and a lot of times that stuff is overrated, I understand that. But I think we had given up one touchdown in the second half this year, and it was against Michigan State on a third down and they throw a hitch ?? a little sight adjustment and we miss a tackle and the receiver goes 50 yards. I think also defensively we played yesterday ?? Grant Irons didn’t play a snap. Ron Israel didn’t play a snap, nor did Clifford Jefferson. So we had some young guys step up and play.
Probably the most encouraging thing to me on defense, though, would be that early in the game, we get the football. We’re three and out, we punt the ball. Joey Hildbold has done an outstanding job for us. He shanks the punt, so they start at about midfield. First play of the game they run a wheel route pass interference. We are backed in the wall, if ever momentum was against us, it would have been then but we came back and got the big interception by Abe Elam. I think to get things at some point ?? I’ve always said things get worse before they get better, but he stepped up and he made a play. I thought that was really, really big in the game.
And, obviously, the five turnovers. I thought we really ?? other than the one time 80 cut the corner route on us for the touchdown, the 30?yard touchdown ?? it was 1st and 10. We played man?free, just one in the middle. I thought they would run the football, they threw it, they beat us. Other than that, we had him doubled for most of the day. Just about every time, we had really, two guys on him, whether it was zone or man. I thought our kids did a pretty good job. I thought 11 is a talented quarterback for them. Obviously, their receivers are all big, tall guys. I thought we played well defensively. I think we can build on it and get better.
Offensively, certainly getting the big plays helped. Carlyle Holiday, I thought, really played pretty good. You know, the positives he was 10?for?13 passing. He thought he stood in the pocket when he should stand in the pocket. He threw the ball away when he should throw the ball away. The concerning thing is he’s a little reckless with that football as far as his mechanics when he carries it. He let’s the ball hang out here, we have to get him to tuck it away. The second thing, he takes some shots that I don’t think he has to take. He plays high when he’s getting tackled. And he’s realized he’s not in San Antonio playing high school football. There are some guys who are going to knock him in half. So I think just from a mechanic standpoint, there’s some things we can do that he needs to work on and to get better at.
I thought our offensive line played better. You know, when you are lining up in I?backs and you are running the ball, you are not going to come out of there just gashing them. They are putting 10, 11 guys up there, but we were making four and five yards consistently. I thought our offensive line overall played pretty well. Our receivers, for the opportunities they had, David Givens, other than the one drop, had five catches. Javin had the one catch. Also, pass interference I thought Omar Jenkins made a play.
Offensively, I think that the focal point for us right now, the area of emphasis is not the easiest thing ?? our tailbacks cared the ball 37 times and we probably had 140 yards rushing with our 37 tailback carries. We are running up there against eight? and nine?man fronts, but we do need to come out of there and make a big run and somebody take one to the house. Our efficiency is pretty good but our productivity is not great right now. Even though it is difficult, we need the tailbacks to make some big runs.
But I think if they just keep hitting it up in there, we keep getting better, those big runs will come if they keep pounding it and hitting it up there even harder.
Passing game, we were 10?for?13, 70 yards passing. That’s not a whole lot of productivity for 10 receptions, 70 yards. We have to get to where we throw the ball down the field a little bit more. I think we are capable of doing that. I think we have to get some runs after the catch. I think we can help our kids a little bit scheme?wise with that.
So I think we made some improvement yesterday. I was really proud of our fans. You know, this is a great place. I mean, football is very important here. I certainly understand people’s frustration.
But, it gives you a good feeling when you walk in that pep rally and you feel a genuine ?? a genuine excitement, a genuine enthusiasm, a bunch of people rallying together. And it felt good in that stadium yesterday. You know, there was some frustrating times yesterday, but people hung in there with us and I appreciate that.
I hope people appreciate the attitude of our football team, you know, scrambling around and trying to get better and kids playing hard. It was an encouraging weekend and I think we all feel some reason for optimism right now.
Not going to get too dramatic. We are a 1?3 team. We didn’t win a National Championship yesterday. But we are taking some steps. We are taking some steps. There was a lot of dynamics involved. We are through September. A lot is going to be said about October and all of the games we’ve won in October. I realize, we don’t play the same September schedule a lot of other teams in this country play in September, but that doesn’t change anything and that’s no excuse for anything. What we’ve got to do is start right now and get better. It’s encouraging to have two games at home the next two weeks. So, let’s go see if we can coach better and take advantage of some little momentum we have right now.
Q. Terrance Howard, I notice he got into the game a little bit yesterday, got a couple of carries and then you went back to Julius at the end. Do you expect Terrance to start working his way back into the rotation?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, I think so. It will depend a little bit how much significance, based on Tony Fisher. But I think Tony Fisher is going to be okay. The doctors were encouraged this morning. It was actually his knee, not his hamstring. They will have an MRI today ?? they think he’s going to be fine. Yeah, Terrance does a lot of things for us, particularly on special teams. I’ve got confidence in him carrying the football but a lot depends on Tony Fisher.
Q. What does Terrance bring as far as a tailback that the other two don’t? Last year he had had that 80?yard run against West Virginia, but is he quicker?
COACH DAVIE: I think he’s a little more of a slasher. I think he runs really hard. I think now that he’s over the turnover concern, he can cut it loose a little more. I can see him having good speed. Obviously, he went 80 yards against West Virginia, but his style will be different than Julius’s and Tony’s. He hits it up there hard.
Q. Can you talk about what having David Givens back, what looked like full strength meant, in terms of the confidence for Carlyle and knowing that he had another veteran to go to besides Javin?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, I think that’s significant. If you look at Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh played those first three games and No. 80 was not there for them. Every time he was on the field yesterday, you felt his presence, and you called defenses a little different and you had to do things differently. Certainly, with Arnaz and David both being out, we’ve been a little bit limited. We don’t strike much fear into people. David is a good football player and we need to find more ways to get him involved, which I know we will and we have. So, he’s a good experienced player out there, to make plays for you on those third downs.
Q. The offensive line, their improvement, was it a matter of them not making any mistakes and doing their assignments, or was it something else that made things come together yesterday?
COACH DAVIE: I think first of all, there was far fewer breakdowns assignment?wise. We did a lot more gap blocking scheme, ran some powers. I think we ran the same plays over and over a little bit, which ?? which got them into the rhythm of the game. We didn’t get behind. We didn’t get behind, so we could kind of stay on rhythm with the things we practiced, which I think is a big point. I think, also, Kurt Vollers back at tackle. I think we are just a better offensive line with him at tackle. So, it was better from an assignment standpoint. I thought as the game went on, we wore him down a little bit like we’ve done in the past when we’ve had good offensive football teams. So it was a step in the right direction.
Q. With the overall offense, you mentioned before about you have to get more productivity with the passing game throwing it down the field. Is it just a natural progression that every week, Carlyle should make dramatic improvements, like he was much better yesterday, as opposed to the Texas A&M game and you expect him to be better next week against West Virginia?
COACH DAVIE: I would hope so. Even yesterday, we made some mistakes. We had two procedure penalties. We fumbled a snap from center. We fumbled a handoff to the tailback. Those are all self?inflicted mistakes, but we’ve got to get over that and we’ve got to get through that. Because, once again, we were in a 10?7 football game late in the third quarter and that’s what we are going to be in. So, he made some mistakes, but I do think you’ll see him improve. I think you would say the same thing that I would, he’s an exciting player. I think he’s going to be a heck of a player and we’re going to keep going with him. The encouraging thing is he’s really smart. He’s really smart and he’s really composed. So it’s kind of exciting.
Q. Do you worry about getting a little predictable on first downs, I mean, 26 snaps on first down and all 26 of them turned out to be runs ??
COACH DAVIE: Is that right? Did we really? That’s pretty predictable right there. (Laughter.) I didn’t realize we were 26?26. We just got done watching the tape. Obviously, we have to mix it up. And I think some of it has to be option. But some of it does have to be throwing the football. You look at Pittsburgh, they come first play of the game they launch it down the field. We are capable of doing that, and for us to loosen things up a little bit, we have to do that. Let’s face it, everyone is in the mode of being pretty conservative right now, to try to give the kids a chance to win, that you don’t want to take it out of their hands. But I think we are through that phase, now that we have seen Carlyle play, now that Javin and David are back, we have to do that.
Q. The young guys playing on defense yesterday ?? are you in a hurry at all to go back to Clifford and run out there or would you like to be able to stick with the guys that are more apt to make plays?
COACH DAVIE: No one wants to see guys get injured, but it does provide opportunities for young players. I think we were really excited about Vontez Duff. He played an awful lot of snaps. When you throw in kicking game, he was out there the whole day. He will lock up and cover you pretty good. He’s a talented young player. Abram, it was good to see him be productive. Ron Israel has played pretty well, too, though. I think Vontez right now has earned the starting corner position, I would be willing to go on record saying that. Ron Israel, if he’s healthy, he’s still our starting safety. But Abe Elam, Gerome Sapp, Glenn Earl all of those guys are young players that have a lot of football left in them. Jason Beckstrom, the same thing. We’ve got some pretty good young players, we really good do.
Q. You mention you want to get the ball down the field with the passing game ?? the majority of the game ?? inaudible ?? is that more on the play calling of the players?
COACH DAVIE: That’s a good point. We’re kind of a ?? you know, our little play?action stuff, the 3rd and 5, 3rd and 6, we are usually running comeback?type routes where there is not a whole lot of opportunity to run after the catch. We do need to throw the ball if the receiver is headed down the field a little bit more. That’s an accurate statement. And that’s something that we are looking at right now and I think we’ll be able to do.
Q. You talk about having the plan to win and having followed plan, but how realistic is it to have a plan that calls for five turnovers ??
COACH DAVIE: That’s kind of what it was last year. I know it’s realistic to ask our defense to force turnovers. I think we’ve got good enough players, if we can get them swirming around, we’ll cause some turnovers. I do think it is realistic to have our offense not turn football over, I really do. We’ve done it. My first year here, we were second in the history of Notre Dame football for fewest number of turnovers. My second year here head coach we were third in fewest number of turnovers and then in ’99 when we didn’t win, we were 30 in turnovers and last year we were first. So, we can protect the football. But with that said, I think we all can see that it’s a fight to be productive. It’s a fight to get the big explosion and the big hits. We are going to have to get some of those. And we have to create those a little bit more scheme?wise, and ?? but we’ve got to have some players step up and make some big plays, too. So that’s been kind of the theme and that will be the theme, of guys stepping up and making plays, and we did that yesterday. It’s not realistic, honestly, to win exactly like we won last year. That’s tough, particularly when you play who we play and where we play them and all those things. But we’ve got to stay close to that plan, but we have got to move forward with guys making plays. That’s why when an Abe Elam makes some plays ?? Abe Elman’s in the mix. When Vontez Duff makes some plays, Omar Jenkins made a catch. I think we all see where we are. We are a pretty well?coached football team. There’s no coaches out there that would question that. We need some explosions and we need some hits. I think that’s pretty obvious.
Q. How about Ryan Roberts, would you consider keeping him in the starting lineup if Grant is back and healthy and how will Grant be?
COACH DAVIE: That’s an accurate statement. Ryan Roberts right now is playing better than Grant Irons. He played good last year. You know, Grant didn’t play yesterday. Obviously, you’d love to have a rotation. You’d love to have a rotation going with Grant being in there. But I think it’s accurate to say that Ryan Roberts is ahead of Grant Irons right now. But the both of them ?? and all three of them are going to play. I thought said Cedric came in and did some good things. Cedric can run, Cedric chases the ball, he had the sack. Budinscak unfortunately lined up off?sides the first play. You know we got on him pretty hard and he only played one more play may. He’s the guy I would like to see ?? I thought Carlos Pierre Antoine is starting ?? you look at him on special teams, the effort he played with on a couple plays, I think he can come in there and play. I feel good about him right now. You know I see some guys stepping up right now on defense a little bit.
Q. What makes Anthony Weaver so effective? I know when he came in, I think you talked about how good his technique was for a young kid. Is that what continues to set him apart?
COACH DAVIE: He’s got a lot of gamesmanship. He understands, he understands where the ball is going. You know like on the interception, we were in the zone blitz. They tried to chop him and they didn’t chop him and he just times the thing up and jumps up and catches it. He’s batted a lot of passes. He had an interception at Michigan State last year. He’s got a good feel for the game. He’s got a lot of natural instincts. Any player that you’ve been around that’s a player has that.
Q. How much of a sense of relief is it to have that losing streak over with?
COACH DAVIE: It’s big. I mean, you know you could feel it. I felt it on that sidelines, and when 84 caught that ball up, I couldn’t help but think momentum was coming our way. I always talk to the players before we go out in every game. I said there’s a lot of bad things that can happen, but we’re only one play away from making a big play where momentum will come our way. You know, when you lose, it gets harder. I mean, it gets harder because there is a fine line. But I felt a little bit of a ?? a surge on that sidelines during that third and fourth quarter, and I think that’s something that we can build on, I think we can build on. So, bottom line, you’ve got to win. You’ve got to win. And I told them after the game, I mean, there’s not much ?? you’re about out of things to say at some point. You’re about out of things to say. I think everybody kind of feel it is without saying it that we’ll start bouncing back.
Q. Any concerns from yesterday?
COACH DAVIE: Jeff Faine sprained his foot early in the game. Played the whole game with it. He would probably be 50/50 right now. You’re optimistic because he’s really a tough kid. Gerome Sapp injured his shoulder. He probably won’t practice for a couple days. Seemed like there was one more ?? oh, Tony Fisher. Same thing. You know, they are pretty optimistic. They are going to do an MRI just to be sure. They think he’s going to be okay. Then you have Grant Israel and Clifford, they will get better as the week goes on. Obviously, they were close to playing Saturday. Israel would have been probably the farthest away from playing. Grant probably could have played, but he couldn’t really push off the ankle. So I kind of think unless they go backwards this week, this they will be ready Saturday.
Q. As focused as you are on the game right when the game is ready to start, having to do that interview as they are lining up for the kickoff, is that difficult?
COACH DAVIE: Well, if it wasn’t NBC, it would be really difficult. (Laughter). I get some off the wall questions ?? I’m like ?? the ball is ready to kick off, the ball is in the air and I’m finishing up the final question. It’s a little different, but I think ?? I think that’s all part of it. You know, I was talking to Walt Harris before the game, and I said, “Walt, how did your luncheon go today ?? yesterday,” Friday. I say, “Tell me about your pep rally last night, how did it go?” And he’s saying, “What?” I said, “You mean you don’t have a pep rally and a luncheon that you do every Friday before the game?” There’s a lot of things that are different here and it’s something that you learn to really take pride in being able to handle and pride in being able to do. But it is different. There’s not many of them doing those things, I promise you that.
Q. While we are asking questions like this ??
COACH DAVIE: Something’s coming right now. (Laughter) don’t set it up ??
Q. At night after a game when you go and watch a tape you obviously know what defense play is called as you’re watching what offensive plays and you can anticipate it as you review the film?
COACH DAVIE: Right.
Q. How long does it take? Do you run through it quickly or go over plays our or five times?
COACH DAVIE: I go quick. When I go home, the only tape I have ?? there’s no ?? I get a tape as soon as the game is over and it’s a continues copy of the game, from offense to kicking to defense, just like it comes off in the game. It’s not the close copy ?? you can see it, but I like to study the close copy. So I just go through it quick. It takes me a couple hours.
Q. Do you know what you’re looking for?
COACH DAVIE: I know what’s coming. I want to reinforce ?? like that call on the option, to be an incomplete forward pass, you’re kind of anxious to look and see if that’s what you thought it was on the field. So you know everything that’s coming.
Q. What explanation did they give you?
COACH DAVIE: They said it was a forward pass. He ruled it as an incomplete pass. But it was an option and the kid just dropped the ball. Fortunately, Bryant fumbled two plays later, or the next play, the next play. So it kind of all worked out in the wash. But I take that ?? I take that tape and just go through it pretty quick. It takes me a couple hours.
Q. Were you pleased with Holiday’s decision making yesterday?
COACH DAVIE: I talked to him yesterday after the game, I think a big part of his productivity is going to come from scrambling and then makes throws on the run. I think we need to build in more of a plan of where the receivers fit when he scrambles because that’s going to happen. I thought he made good decisions. A couple times on the option, on different runs, he checked it the wrong way, but that’s going to happen. He did some good things.
Q. Are any of the younger running backs ready to go, going to get some time the next few games? COACH DAVIE: You know, I hate to say it, because as soon as you mention someone’s name, then ?? I’ve been around here long enough to say Davie says so and so is going to start. But we have some guys. I think Ryan Grant is someone that I’m anxious to watch play. I’d kind of like to go through this week, just see where he is protecting the football. But, you know, I wrote that down last night at home, that I think ?? I mean, like him. He’s kind of a big Tony Driver. Catches the ball good. Ryan Grant is someone that we may go ahead and play. Marcus Wilson has a lot of speed. Has not has as much work as Ryan Grant. Marcus Wilson has been on the scout squad. We’ve kept Ryan Grant really with the offense, so he’s farther along. So I would say it would be Ryan Grant. And receiver would be Carlos Campbell, would be the next guy. On defense we played Quentin Burrell and Dwight Ellick, both those young corners have played on special teams.
Q. Yesterday there were not a whole lot of sole tackles, they were mostly gang tackle?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, we kind of swarmed around. It was encouraging when the receiver would catch the ball. He sees turning and running and they are trying to strip. We missed tackles, though. We missed a tackle on an option on third down and four that we would have got off the field. But, it was pretty encouraging, really. I thought we swarmed around and had a little bit of personality to us.
Q. Did you run the fullback just to appease us once?
COACH DAVIE: We with got stoned. You hear what I’m telling you? We got stoned. (Laughter). No, we are going to throw that ball to the tight end somehow before this year is over.
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