Offensive captains Eric Olsen (55) and Jimmy Clausen (7), along with defensive captain Kyle McCarthy and special teams captain Scott Smith, took their turn in front of the microphones on Wednesday, previewing Saturday's game at Pittsburgh.

Captains Press Conference Transcript - Pittsburgh Game Preview (Nov. 11)

Nov. 11, 2009

Q. I’m working on a story on short yardage. Eric, what’s it take to be a good short yardage team?

Eric Olsen: What’s it take to be a good short yardage team? Consistency, for one. Obviously, any time you’re in short yardage you want to get first downs or score touchdowns whether it’s on the goal line or out in the middle of the field.

I know from a physics level, leverage is also a major point there. You need leverage, obviously, because the defensive line and the defensive front knows that the odds are you’re going to try to run the ball to get a yard or less than a yard or two yards. So they’re going to play long, come firing off so the offensive line has to be lower than they are or you’re just going to get driven back. That’s pretty much it.

Q. Does the urgency change at all in the huddle? How does the urgency change when you know it’s a big 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1 whatever the case may be?

Eric Olsen: Yeah, the urgency definitely changes. The mentality, the short yardage mentality, is in your face, tough kind of thing. As an offensive line, I know me personally I take pride in those situations and try to get that first down because it really comes down to the offensive line being more physical than the defensive line and winning the line of scrimmage. So there is definitely a mentality that goes with that.

Q. When you’re in those spots as a quarterback, do you remind the guys how important that particular play is or do you just kind of keep your usual demeanor?

Jimmy Clausen: No, I think when it’s a 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1 situation I just try to tell the guys you know, it’s 3rd and 1, we’ve got to get this. Keep the chains moving. As soon as I say that, when Eric says 3rd and 1 in the huddle, you know, he says down and distance every single time we come in the huddle. I think all the guys know that it’s a crucial situation and we need to get the first down.

Q. As far as red zone, you guys were good leading up to Navy. Is it easy just to kind of move forward and say you know that was more of a fluke, the red zone struggle or is it something you need to concentrate on in practice this week?

Jimmy Clausen: I think it’s something we need to concentrate on. When you play a game and you don’t really have as much production as you had before in previous games, you obviously want to focus on what you did bad and you know what you can do to improve. That’s one of the things we’re definitely going to need to improve on is red zone production, going in the Pitt.

Q. Coach Weis gave Coach Powlus some credit for working with you. I mean not only on the field but maybe dealing with some things off the field. I don’t know if he meant media related or what. But has he played a role in that for you?

Jimmy Clausen: He definitely has. Whether it’s in the classroom, on the board, just helping with different nuisances can in the offense, off the field as well just how to handle yourself in different situations with the media, when you’re out to dinner with your family or your friends.

He’s lived the life that I’m living now, and it is just good to be able to hear it from somebody else when your coach has done it before you here at Notre Dame.

Q. He talked to you about what he went through and how much guys like me used to torment him when he was playing?

Jimmy Clausen: What was that?

Q. Has he talked to you about what he experienced as a player and how guys like myself who actually did torment him while he was playing?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, it’s funny to hear some of the stories that he went through while his days at Notre Dame being the quarterback. We have a lot of jokes in the quarterback room about different things on the field, off the field that Coach Powlus went through.

Q. Coach Weis also mentioned that you texted him I think at 1:00 a.m. after the game about the responsibility or you felt bad about the fumble. And kind of were disregarding the positive things that you did. Can you relate that little brief conversation with him?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, it’s kind of hard for someone like myself and Coach Weis to just go through everything that we go through. After that game I felt really bad for not only the team and myself, but really bad for Coach Weis. He’s always seems to be the guy in the media.

If people really know who Coach Weis was and just knowing that this is probably the reason I came to Notre Dame was because of Coach Weis. If he wasn’t here I probably wouldn’t be here right now. It’s just we have a great relationship. He’s not out there each and every downplaying in the game. It’s all of us that are out there.

I take full responsibility for everything, all the mistakes that I make and you know things that I could have done better to put (us) in a better position to make plays down in the red zone. Having the fumble on the 1 yard line, that’s not coaching, that’s playing. I take full responsibility for a bunch of stuff like that.

Q. Are you concerned about him? Are you concerned about him and his family and what they’re experiencing? What they’re going through?

Jimmy Clausen: Not really concerned about anything. It’s just you feel for him. I feel for all the guys on the team and their families that have to go back home and listen to people saying stuff. It’s just it was a hard loss. To be honest with you, we moved forward as a team and as a family that we are in here. We’re just looking forward to going out today, practicing one more day to get ready for Pitt.

Q. How do you deal with the talk about hot seat and those kind of things? How do you deal with that personally? Not on you, on Coach Weis, of course?

Eric Olsen: I have a really good relationship with Coach Weis also. And, you know, aside from being a coach, as a human being I mean he never would admit it, but I’ve got to think that that kind of stuff wears down on you as a human being. Constantly hearing that and having that pressure all the time and his family and stuff.

Coach Weis is a really strong person. That’s no secret. He takes everything in stride. He’s always the first one up in front of the media and put all the blame on him. But, as a player, I understand he’s not out there. People sometimes criticize his play calls and stuff. Well, what are you expecting him to call when I’m letting the guy run free at Jimmy? What is he supposed to call in those situations?

It’s really not him. It’s the players. It’s on us, honestly. But as a team and stuff, we can’t be worrying about what if or what’s going to happen and stuff. We’ve got to worry about Pittsburgh. This is a huge game for us as a program and as a team. What it really comes down to is we have to show up this weekend and have a good game.

Q. I do want to ask you about Pittsburgh, but just following up on that question. So in a lot of respects you guys may hold the fate of your head coach in your hands as you go into this weekend’s game?

Eric Olsen: Yeah, I think you have to look at the big picture and how we took the team that we were a few years ago with all these young guys and brought us to the point where we’re at now. I don’t want to say that the fate’s in our hands. I don’t know that.

I don’t know what’s going to happen and who makes that decision and stuff like that. But all we can do as a team is try to play our best. I know Coach Weis will coach us the best and try to put us in the best position to win. And that’s what he tries to do every week.

Q. Let me ask you about Pittsburgh. They have an excellent offensive line. What have you seen on film and what are you going to deal with this week?

Eric Olsen: Not to slight anyone else that we’ve played against, but Pitt’s front four might be the best we’ve gone against all year. They’re tremendous athletes across the board. Whether it’s the defensive ends or the guys inside. Even some of the guys that are the fifth defensive on or sixth defensive linemen to the game. Some of the guys are leaders in sacks and leaders in tackles.

It just shows the quality of players that they have over there and how good of a job their coaches have done coaching up all the guys and as far as the starters go, you know, they show up time and time again on film. They have 38 sacks this year, so it’s no secret they’re getting to the quarterbacks.

So for us as an offensive line, it’s a great challenge. We’re going to try to keep Jimmy clean all day.

Q. Better than USC? As good as?

Eric Olsen: Their schemes a little bit different, so it’s kind of hard to compare the two. But I definitely say they have as good athletes on Pittsburgh’s team, and those guys are making plays.

Q. How long did you said you guys had moved on, how long did it kind of stay with you? How long did the loss stay with you and bug you until you were able to kind of move past it and start getting ready for Pitt?

Jimmy Clausen: I think everyone was obviously disappointed after the game. Coming into meetings on Sunday, I don’t think anyone wanted to be here coming off that loss. But by the time we got done watching the tape and working out and running and lifting, you know, by the time we left here, I think we were all right. We put that behind us and start looking forward to getting ready for Pitt.

Q. This may not be a fair question, but there was a quote from you in a magazine this summer saying you won’t be the reason Coach Weis gets fired. Can you just explain what you meant by that?

Jimmy Clausen: Just taking ownership that we’re the players. We’re the ones that have to be making plays. Just like Eric said, it’s not the coaches who are out there making the plays. It’s on us.

I think that’s the biggest thing for this team is we have to play better. You know whether it’s me making a better call at the line of scrimmage, putting us into a different play. Not making mental errors. We need to take responsibility upon our shoulders and it starts with myself and Eric and Kyle and Scott being the captains. It just goes down the chain from there.

Q. Do you look at this week as maybe the deciding factor about whether or not that will be the case?

Jimmy Clausen: We’re going to go out and play our hardest just like we do every single week. Right now we’re in the progress of game planning and practicing and getting ready for Pitt.

Q. Could you just talk about Coach Weis as a recruiter and what he does and how strong he is at that?

Jimmy Clausen: He’s a great recruiter. Obviously he’s been there done that before. He has NFL credibility. Guys coming out of high school obviously want to play in college, and ultimately get to the NFL. Coach Weis has been there done that.

He’s a family guy. A lot of people don’t get to see that because, just because of his profession and everything like that. But he’s a family guy. He loves his family. Loves all the guys on the team. Really cares about you as a person and not just only as a football player.

Q. With everybody in the country coming at you, and the promises that he made to you, has he lived up to those?

Jimmy Clausen: First off Coach Weis didn’t make any promises to me. His only promise that he makes to every guy on the team is that they’ll graduate from the University of Notre Dame, and he won’t be hypocritical about academics and football. You’re going to go to class if you come here. You’re going to be a great student athlete. That is the only thing he promises his players.

Q. How big is this game? How maybe motivated you’ll come out Saturday night? You know the atmosphere’s going to be amazing, and just with that extra motivation that you now have?

Eric Olsen: Like we’ve been saying all season long, it’s a big game. It’s the next game. To stick with that kind of mindset is kind of what we had at the beginning of the season. Obviously, they’re ranked pretty high for a reason. They’re a really good football team, so it’s going to take our best effort from our standpoint.

But at the same time it’s another opportunity, and it’s the reason why guys come to Notre Dame to get into these games. We’re going in front of Heinz Field to play in front of all those people in a hostile environment, it’s going to be a great experience for us.

Q. I’ve seen your emotion on the field. It’s got to be more than just the next game to you. This week in practice. Are you ready for it already, or is it just matter of fact, this is the next game?

Eric Olsen: It’s a little bit of all of that. Obviously there is excitement that goes with that. Coming off the loss with Navy where everyone was disappointed, kind of getting back on the field kind of put our team in a mindset where we’re right back to work, getting after it. We’re looking at this game. We understand the magnitude surrounding this game and how big of a game it is for our program. It’s not like we’re taking it lightly or anything like that.

Guys are definitely excited about that. We have a couple guys from the Pittsburgh area that are really excited to get back home and play in front of their hometown crowd. But for a team, we understand what comes with a game like this, both positives and negatives. We’re just trying to put all the work in this week to be ready to go on Saturday.

Q. As far as Pitt’s defensive lineup, they gave you guys a pretty good test last year. Do they do a whole lot different or is it basically the same scheme? You kind of know what you’re going to get from that group?

Eric Olsen: They’re mostly the same guys from last year. There are a couple of guys sprinkled in in different positions on the difference that might change some of their schemes a little bit.

But from the most part they’ve gotten plenty of pressure rushing their fourth down guys and they’ve been able to use that as a strong point for their team all season. I’m sure they’re going to attack us as many ways as possible. Especially getting Jimmy out of the pocket and getting him running around. As the offensive line, we have to be ready for the challenge ahead of us and just slow them down.

Q. As far as the red zone stuff goes, are you at a point with Coach Weis where you can sit down and talk to him about play calls? Like I like this, or maybe we should move in a different direction? Is it a give and take or is it he comes to you, these are the plays you’re running and you just go do it?

Jimmy Clausen: It’s a little bit of both. Me and Coach Weis have a real good relationship. If I don’t really feel comfortable with a play or not necessarily not like the play, but it’s kind of hard to read the play or guys aren’t getting open at the right time, we obviously talk about that.

That’s one of the things we do Friday night before the game, go over the game plan. He asks me if there’s anything I don’t like. Most of the time if I don’t like it, you know, he never calls it because he’s not the one that’s out there. If it’s his favorite play and I don’t feel comfortable with it, he’s not going to call it because he’s not the one that’s out there playing.

Q. Obviously you guys have had a lot of success with the fades this year. Last year was not one of those times. But what do you like about that route? It seems like it’s something you’re comfortable with doing?

Jimmy Clausen: It’s a good match up for us. Golden (Tate) and Michael (Floyd) on the corner. Michael and Golden are probably two of the top receivers in the country. I have confidence in them that if I just put the ball up there, they’ll go get it every single time. Once you play against better corners, you have to use a little bit more technique and you have to put the ball in better places or back shoulder or lead them some more. It’s just a good match up for us.

Q. I realize there are scouts at practice every week from the NFL. But when essentially a GM comes out from the Washington Redskins, what is that like for you? Do you even notice or do you just kind of block it out?

Jimmy Clausen: You just kind of go out there each and every day and practice. You know, whether there are scouts out there or no scouts out there. You’re trying to get ready to play a game on Saturday. That’s all you can focus on.

Q. Did you see the hit Christian Ponder took, the Florida State quarterback? I don’t know if you caught it on the highlights or anything?

Jimmy Clausen: When he hit the guy out of bounds?

Q. Yeah.

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I saw that.

Q. He’s out for the rest of the year. Are your contact days over? Have you been basically told slide, slide, slide from now on?

Jimmy Clausen: The reason I didn’t slide in the game was I thought it was third down. I was just trying to put my body out there and score a touchdown and get some points on the board.

If I can go back, and I knew it was first down and I probably would slide.

Q. I think in the outsider’s opinion, everything about you in the last two years is you’ve grown so exponentially. Last week your toughness I think you answered a lot of questions for people. How woozy were you? It was very scary to see you on the ground like that. Did you know your name at that point?

Jimmy Clausen: I’m not going to get into the details about what happened, but I was a little dinged up. But I’m fine right now. We’re ready to go, getting ready for Pitt.

Q. For both of you guys, is it sort of attractive knowing — I mean, as opposed to playing a team that’s 1 and 9 this week, you’ve got all the cards stacked against you. I would imagine you’re more fired up because the team’s so us against the world?

Eric Olsen: Yeah, definitely. At the same time while everyone was giving us grief about the Navy loss, especially on TV and stuff, just looking at the rest of our schedule we had the great opportunity to kind of redeem ourselves here. You know, if anybody on the team throws in the towel in any way shape or form, then we’re in for a long ride.

These are three good football games. We’re not looking past Pitt. But it’s no secret who is at the end of our schedule. So it’s a great opportunity for our team to step back up and show everyone what we’re about and redeem ourselves for this past weekend. It starts Saturday with the number 12 team in the country on a Saturday night game in front of the whole nation.

Q. Jimmy?

Jimmy Clausen: I think the same thing. It’s a good opportunity for this team coming off a big loss against Navy on Saturday. Just to get back on the practice field and working together, just trying to get those cobwebs off from the loss. He we just have to get ready as a team. We have to go down there in a hostile environment and play big.

Q. I think you had 23 interceptions the first two years, only three this year. I was wondering if you could just talk about your evolution as a quarterback and some of the reasons behind not turning the ball over this year?

Jimmy Clausen: I think I’m just being more careful with the ball this year than the past two years. Just taking what the defense gives me. I’ve had to learn the hard way to get to where I am right now. It’s helped me a lot throughout my progression as being a quarterback, you know. Just coming into this year I knew I had to take what the defense gives me. Guys are going to drop eight or nine guys and take it underneath stuff. Just keep the chains moving.

Q. You mentioned Golden and Michael before. What’s it like as a quarterback to have two guys who are probably going to be playing on Sundays for you and just the comfort level of you being able to just throw the ball up to them and for those guys to go make a play for you?

Jimmy Clausen: It’s great having both Golden and Michael. And just to have those guys is something special. Those guys make plays every single time they go on the field. It makes my job a lot easier just knowing if I get them the ball as quick as I can, if they make one guy miss they’re going to probably score a touchdown. Those guys are great athletes and great to have as a quarterback.

Q. Just talk about the confidence the team is able to have in part to having a quarterback the like of Jimmy.

Kyle McCarthy: We just now that he will score points if we are able to capitalize on a big stop or a turnover, so really he just gives confidence to our whole team because he has the ability to change the game at any time.

Q. For both you guys, you were both here when Brady was here. Is there any similarity or difference to the confidence that Brady inspired?

Kyle McCarthy: Sure, I think so. Same thing with Brady, any time the offense went out on the field you had the confidence that they were going to be able to put points up. Going into a game, it just gives the team confidence that we can compete with anyone.

Q. And again for either of you guys, Coach Weis mentioned accountability and dependability. What does that mean for you guys as captains?

Scott Smith: I think the biggest thing with accountability is recognizing your mistakes, correcting your mistakes, staying in the film room, understanding exactly what you have to do and doing it well. There’s never been a situation where the coaches haven’t done everything they have scheme wise to get us ready to play. It’s always been a factor of guys making plays and being out there putting themselves in the right position to make those plays.

Accountability for me is just doing what you’re supposed to do every day and doing it well but recognizing when you don’t do something up to what your own standards and what the team standards are. You have the ability to go back and correct it and fix it the next time and not make the same mistakes twice.

Q. Is some of that recognizing the mistakes you’re making?

Scott Smith: I think at any time in anything, whether it’s football, school, anything, any time you can recognize what you may not have done well or up to the level that you wanted to, any time you can see that and put more of a focus on that during the next week or your next opportunity, it’s just going to make you better in your fundamentals, your techniques, everything like that, and you’re just going to put yourself in better positions to make plays.

Q. Kyle, as far as the problems that defense had against Navy, how relevant is that to this week considering you couldn’t be farther from a different system one week to the next?

Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, obviously it’s a different system, but as far as preparation and preparing for the game, our guys need to be, like we said, accountable for the job at hand and task at hand because the coaches are going to put us in position to make plays, but it’s up to the players to go out and execute and make the plays. Last week, we struggled, so we just need to maybe prepare a little harder and pay attention to detail and hopefully get it corrected this Saturday.

Q. Is it a little more comforting knowing you’re going against a more conventional offense this week?

Kyle McCarthy: A little bit. I think that Pitt has great offensive weapons starting with their quarterback. I believe he’s fifth in the country in passing efficiency. You know, the receiver you guys saw last year, Baldwin, awesome, awesome athlete. The tight end is a great athlete. He’s almost like a receiver out there. They have great weapons on offense, so we just need to put last week behind us and focus on Pitt because they have an explosive offense, definitely a different kind of offense but one that’s explosive and is a good challenge to our defense this week.

Q. How would you describe the style of Lewis, their running back?

Kyle McCarthy: I mean, he’s not a real big guy, but for his size, he runs with a whole heck of a lot of power and has great balance and shiftiness to his running. You know, he certainly doesn’t look like a freshman. You watch film, and he’s definitely one of the top backs if not the top back that we’ve played this year. We have our hands full defensively, we’ve just got to come out and play.

Q. For both of you guys, when controversy is stirred up and there’s talk about hot seat and those kind of things for a head coach, how do you guys deal with that individually?

Kyle McCarthy: Honestly, speaking for myself, I can’t speak for Scott, but it has zero effect on how we go about doing things. That’s all going on outside the locker room, and inside the locker room there’s no questions or anything like that. We just go out and prepare every day trusting the guys in the locker room and trusting the coaching staff. We’re excited about playing Pitt this week.

Scott Smith: I’m exactly on the same page with Kyle. It doesn’t affect me at all. As a team we’re focused on doing everything we can this week to get ready to beat Pitt, and that’s all that matters. Especially for Kyle and myself only having three regular season games left, we need to put all our energy and all our effort into doing everything that we can to get ready to play and also helping everybody else to get ready to play their best on Saturday against Pitt.

Q. I know you guys are past Navy, but if I could ask you one more question about that one. Because it’s such a unique style offense and they started to get things rolling and all of a sudden it seems like Dobbs, every decision that he makes is the right one, do you feel like you’re kind of caught in the midst of like you’re in the eye of the storm and you can’t get out of it because he’s making all the right decisions?

Kyle McCarthy: Well, any time you have a quarterback playing the way he played against us, especially in that offense, it makes it a little tough on the defense. They kind of get in the flow of their offense and the momentum of their offense, and it runs a little more smoothly. Sure, it was challenging playing against a guy of his athleticism and how well he’s making decisions. It was a little bit challenging.

But then again, if we’re going to be the kind of defense that we want to be, you need to weather the storm and be able to step up and stop that, and we weren’t able to do that last Saturday. So that’s why we’re out there every day practicing and striving to get better.

Q. Coach Weis yesterday alluded to the fact that there were more people here on Monday, more players here on Monday than he had ever seen before. Just from your own personal experiences on Monday, was it different for you? What was the reason to come in extra early, and what did you do?

Scott Smith: I think there were a lot of guys who were anxious to get a jump on Pitt, realizing that they are one of the better teams in the country and this does present a great opportunity for us, going there, night game, national television. And I think guys just want to be as prepared as possible, so they probably took the time, I know I did, to come in and watch some extra film, get a jump on their personnel and the kind of things that they like to do.

The more you watch film and the more you study your opponent, especially when you’re either doing it by yourself or with a group of guys, you may pick up on things that you may not with the coaches. So it was just another opportunity for me, I know, just to learn a little bit more about them and what they do.

Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, there was a number of guys in Monday. There’s always guys in on Monday, but I guess you could say there was more guys this Monday. Probably a couple reasons. One, obviously Pitt is a great team; and two, I think everyone was a little bitter and disappointed about Saturday and just kind of wanted to get back to work and get the taste out of their mouth and just start preparing for the next one because as a competitor the only way that you can get over a loss is to get back on the practice field and start working for the next one and hopefully get a big win.

Q. What you alluded to as a competitor, I would think you guys almost welcome what’s in front of you this week. Everything seems stacked against you, and I would imagine this week you realize you guys are all you’ve got, maybe even more than normally. Is that accurate?

Kyle McCarthy: You could say that. I don’t think the country really feels that Notre Dame is one of the top teams in the country and has much of a chance this week. So we’re not going to say much about it because we’re not in a position to say much about it; we’ve just come off a heart breaking loss. Really it’s just the guys in the locker room need to come together and hopefully show something on Saturday.

Q. Did either of you make the trip to Pitt as freshmen?

Kyle McCarthy and Scott Smith: Yes.

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