Junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen and his fellow Irish captains took time out on Wednesday to meet with media members and offer their thoughts on Saturday's game against Michigan State at Notre Dame Stadium.

Captains Press Conference Transcript - Michigan State Game Preview (Sept. 16)

Sept. 16, 2009

Q. How much do you look at last year’s tape of the Michigan State game to look at their schemes and personnel?

Eric Olsen: It’s tough to go back and look at a tape from last year, even though they returned so many guys, whether it’s different things that they do technique wise or different things that they do scheme wise. We kind of focus more on this year’s stuff.

And the previous two games obviously there has not been that much football played so far this year, so we have to go back and use last year’s game so see how they liked to defend us, in particular.

From a personnel standpoint, every college football player across the country is trying to get bigger, stronger, faster in the off season, so it works better to our advantage looking at personnel from this year.

Q. Talk about Greg Jones.

Eric Olsen: It’s no secret he’s a great player. He shows up time and time again and makes a lot of great plays against us and against everybody. He’s one of the best linebackers in the country, so it’s a major responsibility for me and the offensive line to make sure we cover that guy up, especially in the run game and even in the pass.

Q. Jimmy, you haven’t thrown a pick at home in several games now, is there an added comfort level playing at home that has helped with that?

Jimmy Clausen: I don’t think so. I think it’s just going out each and every day and trying to prepare to win on Saturdays. And just playing at home, like you said, there’s no crowd noise, so you can do a lot of different stuff to get you in tune to what the defense is doing.

Q. Jimmy, when you played Michigan State last year, it was kind of a transformation of your offense and going into (last) season, Coach Weis talks about smash mouth team and that all changed, Michigan State. Your recollections of going in at half time and just said, throw the ball and from there took off. What are your recollections?

Jimmy Clausen: In the first half of the Michigan State game, we were trying to pound the ball, like coach said. They had seven, eight guys in the box and we just had to — they were stopping the run, and we just had to just throw the ball if we were going to have a chance to win the game. And that’s pretty much what we did coming out in the second half was just try to throw it around to give us a chance to win.

Q. How good did it feel to know that you guys were moving from that point on?

Jimmy Clausen: It was good. I was still a young player, my second year playing quarterback and, we had a lot of younger guys at receiver. We had Mike; Michael (Floyd) was a true freshman in college and Kyle (Rudolph) a true freshman were playing. So Coach Weis was just trying to ease everyone’s way into it and was trying to help us all.

Q. There was a feeling, the distinct feeling on Saturday and you guys overcame a double digit deficit that no matter how big the deficit the guys are in, just what it feels like to now be in an offense where that can be the mind set.

Jimmy Clausen: It feels great knowing that whenever we get the ball we can make plays and if we don’t score touchdowns every time at least try to get three points. That’s our goal to get down each and every time we get the ball, not have a three and out and go down and score every single time.

Eric Olsen: Our goal as an offense, as a unit is to outscore the other team’s offense, you know what I mean. As an offense, you want to put the game in your hands and make it easy for the defense. As long as we score one more point than the other team, that’s what we are going to try to do every game.

Q. We were talking to Armando yesterday and he said what he got the most kick out of were the running plays and how much fun the offensive line was having with some of the big runs and some of the third down runs. Can you just relate the feeling of really feeling and seeing your ground game take off?

Eric Olsen: Well, on a personal level, it was nice to see success in the running game for a change. Obviously it’s been something that we have struggled with in the past.

But in the grand scheme of things, as an offensive lineman at any level of football on any team, running the ball is kind of a thing of pride. And when you’re pushing defensive linemen back and getting up to linebackers and your running back is making great runs behind you; it’s just a good feeling and something that gets everybody excited.

Q. And how — again I don’t want to jinx you here, but you’ve been so good as a pass blockers —

Eric Olsen: Don’t say it. Don’t say.

Q. How confident are you guys now? You made huge strides last year and looks like you are making even further strides this year. How confident are you guys as a unit as pass blockers?

Eric Olsen: As every game goes and every practice goes, we are getting more and more confident.

Obviously the experience we have has helped us with that confidence and playing against Coach Brown and Coach Tenuta’s defense all camp long for the last two years has helped us you out as well going against every blitz in the book. It’s just a matter of seeing those things in game speed setting. As we get more experience and we become older, it gets easier for us and enables us to grow more confidence.

Q. Jimmy, for a while you have talked about the playmakers you have, just getting them the ball, do you feel like you have the best weapons in the country?

Jimmy Clausen: Oh, for sure. You know, whether it’s the running backs or receivers, tight end, I think we have the best guys in the country.

Q. How about Michael (Floyd) — do you feel like you can just throw it to him any time one on one?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, whenever they are one on one, that’s something I look forward to; and you know, they get geeked up whenever they get one on one because they know I’m coming to them. That’s kind of the thing that we have in common is whenever they get one on one they know I’m going to throw it to them and they know they have got to get open and make a play.

Q. Can you guys just talk about Armando (Allen) a little bit, what obviously his breakout really means to the team, and keeping his confidence up? He looked as distraught as anyone after the game coming off the field; just what he means and making sure he realizes how important is he to this offense?

Jimmy Clausen: Armando is a real big part of this offense. Obviously he’s the starting running back and he’s the one that gets everything going. The offensive line is the biggest key in our offense, and making holes for the running backs, giving me time and protection to let me throw the ball down the field so the playmakers — and Armando has done a great job being a leader on this team and helping all of the younger running backs get up to speed and just making plays out there.

Eric Olsen: Yeah, Armando is a guy that definitely leads by example and we have pretty much a stable of running backs with a lot of talent and a lot of depth.

When Armando has success, that means our offense is going to have success. So that’s something that personally for him and for us as a whole is something we want to do is get Armando the ball and let him make plays.

Q. You obviously talked about after the game, you were disappointed with how practice went the previous week. What did you see on Tuesday from the guys, was it going in the right direction this week?

Eric Olsen: Yeah, I think last week, it starts with me, it starts with the other captains and the leadership on down.

I think Jimmy did a great job yesterday coming out and not hanging his head and coming out with fire and emotion and ready to take on this week of work; and I tried to do the same thing, along with Scott Smith and Kyle (McCarthy). And all of the guys picked up to that and gravitated to that because we know there’s a whole lot of football left to be played and we can’t hang our heads after one loss.

Q. Your thoughts on kind of bouncing back?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, just like Eric said, it’s just one loss, and now there’s ten more games to be played in the season. As much as we don’t want to lose a game, that’s in the past. That happened Saturday, and we are getting ready to play Michigan State this Saturday.

We went out yesterday and everyone was happy to get back on the field is and just get ready to practice and just get ready for Michigan State.

Q. Eric, Coach Weis had mentioned about some live plays in yesterday’s practice of ones versus ones, how did that work from your perspective? How did the run look yesterday?

Eric Olsen: Our defense? Oh, they did a tremendous job. Any time that Coach Weis wants our offense to go full speed against the defense, it’s just to simulate a live situation, and those guys are able to make the plays that they need to make to stop running plays, it’s a good thing for the whole team.

Q. In a situation like that, in a practice setting like yesterday, do you encourage them? Do you challenge them? How do you maybe try to help that along?

Eric Olsen: I think it’s a little bit of both. Obviously we want to challenge them because we want to have success ourselves.

But with that, they know that we are trying to encourage them and trying to bring them along with us and make them better you know what I mean. Any time you’re going against your own teammate, yeah, you want to win and you want to have a successful play as an individual, but you have to look at the grand scheme of things.

Q. For both you guys in terms of running the operation maybe a little better, a little bit cleaner, quicker, how much of that was just first road game, you are going to have some kinks, one play where the official spotted the ball on the wrong hash and the wrong yard line, that hurt you, as well. How do you guys try to get that cleaned up? And in some ways, when you come home, there’s no crowd noise; do you not know if it got cleaned up just because of working under a different circumstance?

Eric Olsen: Well, I have to take some of the responsibility. I’m a new center, so a lot of the things are new to me.

So playing in a place like the Big House where there’s a lot of noise and trying to look between my legs on the silent count to see when Jimmy is ready and then have to worry abut reading the defense and making all of the calls, that is something that’s a little bit of a tough adjustment for me.

But playing at home obviously makes it a lot easier because the fans are not as loud when we are on offense. That’s something I’ve talked to Jimmy and the coaches about and that’s something I’m going to work to clean up.

Q. Learning experience?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I think so. Going into a first road game, obviously for Eric, his first road game playing center, it’s going to be different.

For me, I was just trying to make different calls here and there, especially running shotgun, calling out different Mikes, just to get us picked up and protection, a few of the times I lost sight of the play clock, and that’s on me. That’s not the coaches and that’s not on Eric.

So I should just have taken more timeouts if that was the case, or just next time we play on the road, I’ve just got to be a little more quicker making all those adjustments.

Q. I guess when you’re making those adjustments on the road with the noise and shotgun, that creates communication challenges that’s inherent to that set; do you have do dial back some of the checks in some situations if you feel like you’re in a situation where a play might get blown up but for right now, you can’t get the change made, you just have to run it and see what happens?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, in different situations you have to know how many time outs you have, if the second half if we need to save time outs.

Coach Weis is pretty good at telling me in different situations, we want to call a time out or just run it. But most of the time if it’s a big play, third down, the play could get blown up, I’m pretty much going to call a time out and have Coach Weis get us in a better play and give us more time and different options.

Q. Curious about one play, the pass to Kyle (Rudolph) that got called back. Two questions are: It seemed like you just happened to fine him and he was wide open. And also you stood above that flag for what seemed like about ten minutes, was that just coincidence or tell me about that?

Jimmy Clausen: You know, it’s just a play down the field. I got flushed out of the pocket a little bit, saw Kyle and I just got him the ball. He took it down to the five or whatever he did.

And then the flag, I was just — I just stood right where I ended up flowing the ball, and I really didn’t see the flag. Was it like under me? Was it? Yeah, I didn’t see it. So I guess just a coincidence.

Q. Jimmy, did you set numerical goals for yourself this season? And I would imagine you’re satisfied at this point no matter what they were if you did.

Jimmy Clausen: Not really. Stats, I’m not really worried about those. The only stats I really worry about is the wins and loss columns. You know, I’m not happy obviously with being 1-1 right now but that’s in the past and we are getting ready for Michigan State. It’s day two in our preparation and we’re ready to go on Saturday.

Q. The manner in which you lost, even though you lost, you gained a lot of respect nationally, this current crop. Did you hear from any former Notre Dame players or anyone who sent you a text message or e mail in the last couple of days just to talk to you about that?

Eric Olsen: I talked to Reggie Brooks a little bit about it and he kind of let me know, hold your head up. Same thing I said before, keep going and make sure all of the guys are showing up for work every week, because all of past players and guys that are watching on TV are seeing glimpses of how special this team really is.

And it’s just a matter of again, working hard and staying after it, and you know, he just let me know that Notre Dame Nation is behind us.

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, there was some e-mails sent to the rest of the guys on the team and myself, as well, and other former players that texted me and said, just keep your head up, keep working hard, it’s a tough loss, but you guys will bounce back. It’s just real encouraging to see former players and just people out there that are cheering us on.

Q. I think the general feeling around here is that you guys were better prepared and ready to bounce back compared to previous years, can you comment about that and if that is the case, why that is so?

Kyle McCarthy: I believe that’s correct. I think that we have a much more mature team this year. You know, last year we were a little young, but this year, those guys have really stepped into more of a leadership role.

It’s important to this team not to let last week affect us this week. As competitors and football players, we know that we need to put last week behind us no matter how hard it is and move on. You know, there’s a whole lot of football to be played, and we are excited for the rest of the season.

Scott Smith: I have to agree with Kyle, just the fact of the leadership that we have on this team and obviously we can’t do anything about last Saturday. So all we have to put our focus towards is what happened this coming Saturday against Michigan State, and that’s the focus, doing everything you can in practice on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to get yourself ready to go.

Q. There was a lot of talk from the offense about poor practices last week — did you hear any feedback?

Kyle McCarthy: I think you could always do better in practice. It wasn’t our best practice, not to make excuses obviously, but you know, as a team we are going to take care of that and just make sure that this week we are going to have a good week of practice.

Last week was last week. It wasn’t our worst week of practice but I would definitely say it wasn’t our best. So obviously the leaders and the coaches are going to take care of that, and we’ll get it right this week.

Q. Specifically, what things did the people on the outside maybe don’t recognize as to what is so difficult about playing against the Pistol or spread offenses?

Scott Smith: Well, that’s in the past and obviously you know we are facing a different offense this week, one that’s really good. One that you’re going to need buckle up your chin straps for. A conventional offense. As a defensive player that’s exciting because that’s what you practice against all fall camp, so we’ll be ready for this week.

Q. For both of you guys, what is your perspective on, everybody says that Michigan State is always the most physical, or one of, if not the most physical team; have you found that? And has that been the case in the past? And why do you suppose that is?

Scott Smith: Looking at their offense, defense, special teams, they like to play physical and the challenge for us this week is to try to match that physicality. We are a pretty physical football team, too. The goal is to go out and hit somebody and just keep hitting them all game.

It’s going to be tough and it’s going to be physical, but that’s what we are looking forward to.

Kyle McCarthy: Michigan State is one of the more physical teams we play all year. It’s just their mentality. It’s just kind of something they have in their program. They get hard nosed kids and they are a tough team to play and we are definitely going to be sore on Sunday. But we are pretty confident in ourselves and we think we can strap it up and hit, too. So it’s going to be a battle on Saturday. I’m excited for it.

Q. Thinking back to last week, I apologize, I have to go back to Scott again with regards to the kickoff return for touchdown —

Scott Smith: Obviously on that play, there’s a bunch of guys that would like to have that play back and maybe be in a better position to make a play or do something along those lines. But that play is done with. There’s nothing that we can do about going back and trying to fix a mistake or anything like that. So just have to learn from it.

You know, we are past it. We were past it the next kickoff we had, that game. So this week is all about just making sure we get those things corrected and just get back to what we do well.

Q. And from that point on, you played all the kickoffs very well.

Scott Smith: It’s just our mentality. We can’t focus on what happened last week. The only thing you can do is move forward. There’s no chance of getting those plays back. You have to focus on what’s in your control and that’s practicing this week to get better and see better looks on maybe what they do and going out there and playing well on Saturday.

Q. In a situation like that when they get a kick return touchdown, do you just realize that’s just one breakdown?

Scott Smith: That’s pretty much it. There are things that happen during the course of the game that you’re forced to adjust to. And obviously the goal for our kickoff team is to not let that happen again, especially this Saturday and moving forward.

Q. So it’s not a situation in practice where you’re overreacting to one play?

Scott Smith: There really hasn’t been a change. Guys could put themselves in a better position to maybe make a play. And everybody knows that. Everybody on the kickoff team wants to have that play back, but we know we are not going to get that play back.

We just have to focus on Michigan State and trying to help our defense out by hopefully keeping them inside the 20.

Q. In regards to the defense cleaning up some of the stuff from last week, how relevant is that because there’s such a shift in the opposing offense, the things that maybe you guys didn’t do great last week, to correct that, would that even be applicable this week?

Kyle McCarthy: Yes and no. Obviously it’s a completely different offense, so we have a completely different game plan. But then again, there are fundamental things that we can correct that we see on film: tackling, staying in your lane, trying not to do too much.

Obviously there are fundamental things we can always improve on, but you know, obviously this is a different offense this week. We have to put last week behind us and just continue to look at the tape and just try and improve and hopefully that shows on Saturday.

Q. The fact that you have been practicing against a conventional offense for months, does that kind of help you guys turn it around pretty quickly?

Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, absolutely. Even yesterday in practice, we came right back and as a player, it was nice to see a normal offense and line up against it and go back to what you learned on day one.

I think our defense is excited. I think our team is excited to put last week behind us and use it as motivation and continue to work hard for this week.

Q. Coach Weis had mentioned yesterday that you guys were going to do some kind of full speed run plays, just to kind of work that out a little bit. How did that go and what was your evaluation of that period?

Kyle McCarthy: It went well. You know I think that was a good move by Coach Weis, because you know, we are not used to seeing the offense that we saw, or will see tomorrow, or Saturday. So we had to get ready to be able to go full speed and get used to guards pooling and fullbacks going to take your head off.

It was good to get used to the speed of the game and you don’t always get that in practice, so I think it was a smart move by Coach.

Q. For both you guys, you both have talked about the maturity of the team and that being a reason why you are able to bounce back in a different way than last year; how does that maturity show itself when you’re going about your business? How does that maturity show up that gives you confidence that, yes, you’re going to respond differently?

Scott Smith: I think it’s just pretty much what you said, the way guys handle themselves and conduct themselves during the lifting and the meetings, and also when we get out to practice. There’s not a feeling of feeling sorry for yourself and somehow like letting what happened on Saturday linger.

Just the fact that the guys recognize that we have another opportunity this Saturday to try to get a win, and that’s the most important thing for this football team right now. And the more guys, especially from captains and leadership committee can kind of exude that during practice and our team activities, that’s going to start to trickle down to those younger guys who have not had to deal with the situation before.

Q. What do you see in Michigan State’s offense that you really need to key on in?

Kyle McCarthy: They do a lot of the same things they did last year. You know, just different guys. Obviously the guys are more than capable of running that offense.

I think this year, something they didn’t have in years past, they have a really good receiving corps. Their receivers are more than capable of hitting the home run ball and making a big play.

So I think that’s something that we need to key on is that we need to be ready to come to the line of scrimmage and stop the run, but this year, they have the ability to really play play action pass and go for the big play. As leaders in the secondary, we are going to need to be ready for that.

Q. Blair White has been a factor before, but had a pretty good first two games.

Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, definitely, a very polished receiver. You could tell that he’s an excellent athlete, has good size, great hands. We are going to need to be ready for him. We are watching him. We are well aware of him and he’s going to be a big part of this game.

Q. How important is it to get out there the first quarter of this game? How important is that first quarter to take control of this game?

Kyle McCarthy: Well, last week hurt. It hurt. But you know, like we have been saying all along, this team, I feel has a different chemistry, different feeling. We have some mature guys and you know I think we are all mature enough and well aware that we need to put last week behind us.

You know, we have done that. I saw really no lay over effect in it yesterday. I thought yesterday was a good practice. We are not concerned if we don’t score in the opening drive or we don’t get a three out of the opening drive. We know Michigan State is a good football team, and you guys are all aware of the history that they have in this place.

So we are going to be ready for them. They are going to be ready to come here and for a good ballgame and we are not really concerned about last week right now.

Q. Kyle, you mentioned the history and unusual nature of a team winning that many straight games in the stadium.

Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, we are aware of the streak they have here. Scott and myself were here two years ago. That was a pretty disheartening loss. Obviously the last time they were here it was tough. You know — we know that they are more than capable of coming in here and winning but you know that’s why we are out there practicing and listing and that’s what we worked hard in the off season for is to hopefully end that streak this week.

Q. Your thoughts on trying to end that streak?

Scott Smith: Obviously I’ve only been here since 2005. Same thing with Kyle. Really the only thing that’s been somewhat within our control is what’s happened since we’ve been here. From my perspective, I don’t really look back to what happened in 1993 or anything like that. So for me it’s just focusing on since I’ve been here and what I can do and our team can do to hopefully switch that in the other direction.

Q. You guys are obviously hungry to bounce back but you know they are obviously hungry to bounce back as well. You guys come off a demoralizing loss and theirs is arguably worse how they went down; talk about that hunger.

Kyle McCarthy: Both teams are hungry. Notre Dame/Michigan State has been playing for a long time. We know they are going to be up for us. We are Notre Dame. Every team gets up for us.

There’s definitely a history between the two teams. It’s a tough rivalry. Both teams are hard nosed. I’m not really concerned about last week. I don’t think they are really concerned about last week. This is a whole new ballgame, it’s Michigan State and Notre Dame. They know it and we know they are going to be up for the challenge, too.

Scott Smith: Every game is a big game, so Saturday just whether we are coming off a loss or a big win, the most important play is the next one that you have and the next opportunity that you have to make an impact on the game. So from our perspective we are just trying to look to make an impact on Saturday and just take the next step.

Q. Kyle, you had the big interception last week and looked like you were thinking about lateraling it; what was going through your mind?

Kyle McCarthy: I was going to take it to the house but I got tackled.

But lateraling it did cross my mind, but then I decided against it.

Q. Scott, can you talk about your approach to leadership given your special teams’ expertise and your versatility at linebacker, and not necessarily being a starter in your career, how do you approach being a captain and a leader?

Scott Smith: I think the biggest thing about being a captain is making myself available to my teammates and just understanding that guys on this team operate different ways. We have more quiet guys than you have guys like Brian Smith who are more vocal and kind of act in certain ways.

I think being a leader is about managing different types of personalities that you have.

For me, it’s a great honor to be a captain of this team just knowing my teammates look to me for guidance and something I take a great deal of pride in.

So whether it’s trying to get the team up and excited to get going for a Tuesday practice, or you know, making sure we are trying to stay up on the sideline during the game; it’s all about just making sure that our team, you know, is constantly working together and working together to improve.

Q. And coming from the Chicago area, did you pattern yourself or keep an eye on guys like (Brian) Urlacher or any of the former great Bear linebackers?

Scott Smith: Yeah, definitely just being from north Chicago, I’ve always been a Bears fan, especially since Brian Urlacher has been there I’m not sure how many years now. Just kind of the way he plays and the way he conducts himself and you look at the quality of linebackers that the Bears have had in the past. It’s something that I’ve definitely been aware of, just understanding how they operate both kind of on and off the field.

Q. There’s obviously a lot of high expectations that you guys have for yourselves this year, to get to those high expectations, the margin for error is already a little slim. How do you manage that?

Kyle McCarthy: I don’t think we can be concerned with week 13 right now. I think we are concerned with week three and just taking it one game at a time, and the rest will take care of itself.

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