Oct. 14, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We have Jimmy Clausen and Eric Olsen will be joining us momentarily. We’ll start with questions for Jimmy.
Q. What has Kyle Rudolph brought to the offense?
Jimmy Clausen: He’s a great play maker. I think the biggest thing about Kyle is his matchup, whether you put him in the slot or put him outside, he’s running against linebackers. Kyle is probably a low 4.5 guy. He’s 6’6″, probably 260. He’s just a real big body. He’s got real good hands. He blocks real well. It just gives us a mismatch going against the defensive guys.
Q. He says he likes to call on his basketball skills oftentimes. Is that something you take into consideration with how you throw to him or is that just up to him?
Jimmy Clausen: No, that’s one of the things we talk about when we watch film together, is placement of the ball, where he would want to catch the ball, where I’d want to put it in different situations.
But sometimes you got to understand when he’s running down the middle of the field, which he does most of the time, you don’t want to put it too high so the safety can come and can get a kill shot on him. You have to be careful where you put the ball in different situations.
Q. Obviously you have a little bit of an important game on Saturday coming up here. A lot of things going on. Jimmy Clausen hype all week. What do you have to do to not get too worked up especially before Saturday?
Jimmy Clausen: I’m just trying to do the same exact thing I’ve been doing the last four or five weeks: go out there each and every day during practice and get better. You can’t take any days off. A lot of guys are tired, banged up. You just got to keep pushing through it. It’s a long season. That’s why you play football.
You just got to keep pushing through, get better each and every day, prepare yourself mentally and physically for the game on Saturday.
Q. Do you notice the distraction level being higher this week or are you able to put it aside?
Jimmy Clausen: No, I’m able to put it aside. I’ve gotten questions earlier in the week, different things, are you getting annoyed or anything like that, all the media attention, things like that. To be honest, I’m really not worried about that. I’m just worried about the hundred guys in the locker room and the coaching staff, everyone surrounding Notre Dame football, just going out there and preparing each and every day to get ready for Saturday.
Q. Can you talk about your relationship with (USC quarterback) Matt Barkley. I understand you’ve known each other for a while.
Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, we’ve known each other for a long time, probably since before high school. Our quarterback coach, Steve Clarkson, Air 7 Quarterback Camp, we’ve been going to him ever since we were little guys. Me and Matt have been working out together ever since. Every time I go back home during the off season, Matt is always around. We’re always throwing the ball, hanging out, stuff like that.
Q. Did he ever talk to you about playing as a freshman, about experiencing it as a freshman? If he did, what advice did you give him? If he didn’t, what advice would you give him on how to survive in a high profile situation as a freshman?
Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, I think Matt has been in a good situation coming from a great high school in Mater Dei, California. You know, he’s been in a hard offense to play in, which he played at Mater Dei. I talked to him during the summertime. He went into USC early, like I did here. I was just asking him how everything was going. He said it’s going well. He’s just trying to fit in, like I was trying to do, just try everything he can to get on the field.
I just told him to take his time. When the time comes, you just got to be ready for it. He’s done a great job of leading USC’s team, their offense, to high expectations. He’s done a really good job with that.
Q. Charlie said his supporting cast might have been a little better than yours was a couple years ago in terms of how your first year went.
Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I’d say so (laughter).
Q. The ’05 game here, what that experience was like watching it from the stands?
Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I was out here with (USC running back) Marc (Tyler) and my family. You know, it was a crazy game, back and forth. Came down to the wire. We were on the field about ready to storm the field, being recruits. It was a dramatic ending. That’s pretty much what I remember.
Q. Was that a weekend that kind of proved to you that Coach Weis is here, NFL talent, now I can see where this program is going? Did that prove to you he was going to be able to take what he did in the pros and apply it here successfully?
Jimmy Clausen: I think so. To be honest, it was his first year here. To be able to come in and compete against a great USC team, which they had, I don’t think they were on the same level of athleticism at the time, but to come in his first year and compete and almost win the game was, you know, pretty spectacular to me.
Q. Was that almost when you made the decision in your mind you were going to come here?
Jimmy Clausen: It wasn’t that game. It was a little bit later than that. But I just wanted to come here, see the atmosphere, big game. You know, it was a lot of fun.
Q. Eric, Coach Weis mentioned, he used the term ‘manhandled’ regarding the offensive line versus USC’s front last year. How are you better prepared? Do you mix the motivation of what happened last year with the confidence that you’ve gained over the last five weeks heading into Saturday?
Eric Olsen: Yeah, I think it’s the same old story, different week. I think our experience is going to be the biggest difference between previous years and this year. I mean, obviously at the offensive line position, having a couple years under your belt is definitely something that’s a plus as a player, having that time in the weight room, being able to get bigger and stronger and be more comfortable in the offense. I think that’s something that’s definitely it has so far at least paid dividends for us. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing.
As far as what’s happened in the past, it hasn’t been good, it hasn’t been pretty, but I feel like we’re definitely a different group this year. We’re the same guys, but our mindset has been different. Our production has been different. Like I said before, I’ll say it again, we’re a real prideful group. I doubt our group is going to let what’s happened in the past happen to us again.
Q. When you look at USC’s front seven, a lot of turnover there, do they look that different to you?
Eric Olsen: That’s the thing about USC and any of the top programs in the country, when they lose players at graduation, they just reload. There’s no rebuilding. They replace them with the next guys in line who are top recruits as well. They’re ready to play. For them it’s a great thing. For us it’s not so good.
But at the same time that’s the reason why we come to Notre Dame, because we want to play the USCs of the world. We want to play against the top talent and win those games, because that’s a statement for us, a statement for our program. That’s what we want to do every week.
Q. Jimmy, what kind of challenge does (USC safety) Taylor Mays present to you as a quarterback? You look down a field, think a guy is open, he can come out of nowhere. What have you seen from him on tape?
Jimmy Clausen: When you watch him on tape, he’s obviously a big, physical and fast safety. Runs to the ball, makes big plays, big hits. That’s one thing that you can’t do when you’re playing against SC, playing against Taylor Mays, is stare receivers down because he’ll read your eyes, go wherever you’re going. As soon as the ball comes out of your hand, he’s going to be right there. That’s what I’ve tried to work on this week leading up to the game, is not staring receivers down, moving Taylor one way or the other with my eyes.
Q. Is there a play or two that you’ve watched from him (Taylor Mays) on tape that really gets your attention the most?
Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, it’s not one or two plays. But wherever the ball is, he’s there. Like I said, he’s a big, physical, fast safety, has a nose for the ball. He’s going to be around the ball carrier, wherever they are.
Q. Jimmy, 2008 game, after that game (at USC), can you talk about the emotions you felt, then also maybe what you transformed that game into?
Jimmy Clausen: That was probably the toughest loss that I’ve ever faced in my life. I never want to feel that way ever again. Just going against some of the guys that I know, that I’ve grown up with, played against, it’s not a good feeling at all. Like I said, it’s something that I never want to feel again.
I think this whole entire team has grown from that game on. Going into the Hawaii Bowl, moving into this season, I think we’ve really taken a lot of steps forward. We still have a long ways to go, but each and every day going out to practice, that’s that we’re working towards.
Q. I know (wide receiver) Michael (Floyd) didn’t do much yesterday, but was it kind of a lift having him out in practice anyway?
Jimmy Clausen: It’s always fun having Mike out there in practice, whether he’s suited up or not. He’s a character. Probably one of the funnier guys on the team. It’s just great to have your whole team out there. All the guys on the team love each other, are there for each other. Just to have his presence out there is good for us.
Q. Jimmy, I notice you kept encouraging him to get to the front of the line. Probably wasn’t ready for that yet.
Jimmy Clausen: No, he wasn’t ready for it. But he’ll be back soon enough.
Q. Talking about the guys that you know and the difficulty of that loss last year, did the guys that you know give you a lot of grief about what’s happened the past couple years?
Jimmy Clausen: They do. I was getting text messages before I came in here, those guys talking smack, different things like that. My buddy Marc Tyler, he was texting me. Then Will Harris got on his phone, started texting. I know all those guys. We always joke around with each other. Whenever I go back home, we all hang out with each other. It’s a rivalry, but it’s a friendly rivalry, especially with me being from California.
Q. So if you were to win on Saturday, you’re well prepared to answer them?
Jimmy Clausen: Definitely. Definitely.
Q. Eric, we’ve asked you a thousand times about Coach Verducci, what he’s done for you, technique. What about in terms of just instilling in you and giving you guys the confidence level that you now seem to have after five games compared to where you were five games ago?
Eric Olsen: Coach Verducci really has done a tremendous job of teaching us that it’s not about what other people think we are, who other people think we are, it’s really about what we think of ourselves, what we think about ourselves, how we see ourselves as an offensive line. No offense to the media, but we can’t let media or fans, anyone in the outside world, dictate the way we play. It’s kind of tough, especially for young guys, and we have plenty of young guys, 18 19 year old kids to not listen to the stuff being written about them, about how bad they are, how terrible. It’s really tough to block that out when you’re at this stage of your life. Self image is something that every teenager battles with.
But Coach Verducci really has gave us the tools and taught us how to think of ourselves and worry about fixing the things in our room and getting things right in our meeting room, worrying about ourselves as a group, not worrying about what other people think. I think that’s definitely helped us out. In the past, guys may have bought into the fact, they see everything, Oh, USC’s defense is going to destroy Notre Dame’s offensive line. This guy is going to destroy Eric Olsen. That kind of thing, I think guys have bought into that in the past. Coach V again has given us the tools to not pay attention to that stuff. You can read the clippings when they’re good, but when they’re bad, just dirt off your shoulder. You kind of just let that stuff go. He’s given us the tools to get past that stuff and it’s definitely helped us out.
Q. The clippings are pretty good now.
Eric Olsen: I don’t want to admit to whether or not I’ve been reading them. I’m just going to let that one go (laughter).
Q. Jimmy, you talked about some of the texting. Can you give us an example of what a message might be, what kind of things they say?
Jimmy Clausen: I can’t give you a specific example. But it’s just friends talking smack back and forth to each other. It’s nothing bad. But I think it’s kind of personal.
Q. Pete Carroll yesterday said one of the reasons you came to Notre Dame was you thought you could get on the field faster. Is that accurate? Was that a major point in the decision making?
Jimmy Clausen: No, that wasn’t a factor at all. To be honest, wherever you are going to go to school, you have to compete for the job. No one is going to hand you the job. Obviously, I didn’t start the first game I got here. That wasn’t the case at all.
Q. You talked a few minutes ago about the 2005 game, maybe Notre Dame didn’t have the same athletes that USC did. At this point do you think Notre Dame is on the same level as USC or close to the same level in athleticism?
Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I really do, whether it’s the skill guys or the line or whatever it is. I think we match up really well against SC this year. In the past, I don’t think we really did. This year definitely we match up pretty well.
Q. Obviously a lot of different things are written about you this year. A lot is written about whether you’re going to stay another season or not. Have you gotten to the point of thinking about how you’re going to make that decision, what parameters, when you’ll think about it, how you’ll go about it? Have you thought about that at all?
Jimmy Clausen: Not one bit. The only thing I’m thinking about right now is going out to practice later today and beating USC on Saturday. That’s about it.
Q. Have either of you ever seen a tape of the ’88 Miami Notre Dame game?
Jimmy Clausen: I saw the fight in the tunnel. I saw that. That’s about it. Eric Olsen: I haven’t seen the tape.
Q. Jimmy, is it overblown when you’re playing all your games in 78 degree weather, and you play a game for the first time in the 40s, do people make more of that than they should? Does it impact the way you play, at least a little bit?
Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, it’s kind of difficult. I’m texting Matt Barkley when I was in the locker room before I came in here. It’s going to be different for him because he’s never played in cold weather, things like that. When I first came out here, it was freezing cold. The first day I went out there, I was throwing ducks all over the place, couldn’t really grip the ball. It’s something you have to get used to. It’s good for us being able to practice outside. I don’t know the coldest game Matt has ever played in, but it’s probably going to be a lot different for him.
Q. Does this week feel a little bit like three or four days before Christmas for you in the sense that there’s nothing else on your mind and it’s hard to block it out?
Eric Olsen: It’s kind of a tough question because every week is like that. I mean, there’s so much work that goes in all off season, all summer and everything for 12 games. It’s kind of tough to look past any game and not treat it as Christmas, as players, even the coaches get just as excited. You put the practice in, Sunday goes by so slow, the first day after the game, then Monday, class and everything, it kind of drags along.
I think everyone treats every game as Christmas, especially for us, because we’re not in a conference, we don’t have a conference championship or something to work for. It’s BCS or nothing. For us as a team, every game is a big game. It just so happens that the next guys in line are highly ranked and have gotten the better of us the last few years. As a team, as an offense, as an individual, you have to take this game as another game. Obviously the credentials that come along with it are a little bit different and there’s a little bit more on the line. But we’re just as excited as we’ve ever been. We’re just looking forward to Saturday.
Q. Do either of you guys ever read Pete Carroll’s tweets on Twitter?
Eric Olsen: I’ve never been on Twitter. I don’t even know what it is.
Q. Jimmy, you were talking about your 2005 visit. Do you remember meeting any of your future teammates here that day?
Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, I don’t. It was kind of a crazy game. Notre Dame won, then they had to take all the fans and everyone off the field, then the Bush Push happened. After the game, everyone was down. To be honest, it was so long ago, I don’t even remember.
Q. Can you talk about what it means to hear your name mentioned for the Heisman, how you deal with that kind of buzz?
Jimmy Clausen: I hear about it, but I kind of try to block it away, worry about the team. Coach Weis said it the best. If the team keeps winning, we have a winning season, that happens, the team did well, if it happens for me, it happens. But I’m not worried about individual awards at all. I’m worried about this team, going out on Saturday, preparing well the rest of the week, getting a win on Saturday.
Q. Can you talk about what it was going back with (tight end) Kyle (Rudolph) on the bye week.
Jimmy Clausen: It was fun. I went back to Ohio. Went back with Kyle and Dayne (Crist). Just hung out. Got to go to and watch Andrew Hendrix play for the first time. That was fun.
Q. Jimmy, obviously you’re playing your best football right now. How have you grown off the field since you’ve been at Notre Dame?
Jimmy Clausen: I’ve grown a lot. When I first walked into Notre Dame, I didn’t really know and expect what it was to be the quarterback at Notre Dame. I’ve had to deal with some things on the field, off the field. To be honest, I’m just really embracing being the quarterback at Notre Dame right now, just having a lot of fun with it.
Q. I asked Chris Galippo if you were cocky yesterday. He went for about 10 minutes telling me what a great guy you are. Do you think there’s a pretty big distance between some of the negative public image and who you are today?
Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, yeah. People that know me wouldn’t really say that. Chris is a guy I’ve known since high school. He’s one of the guys that we hang out every single time I go back home, go to SC, hang out with those guys. The people that know me truly know who I am.
Q. Jimmy, you spelled out pretty specifically what you wanted to accomplish before you came to Notre Dame, how you wanted to leave your mark. You probably had similar thoughts at Oaks Christian. Is there something about the position that makes you want to leave a legacy in some way wherever you are?
Jimmy Clausen: Being the quarterback, you always want to have the ball in your hands at crucial times, you always want to win the big games. You want to win every single game. I think just being the quarterback, you know, you just want to do everything you can to help the team win, whether it’s hand the ball off or, you know, cheering the defense on or throwing a touchdown pass. To be honest, it really doesn’t matter, all you’re trying to do as a quarterback is just help your team win. If that leaves a legacy for yourself, then so be it.
Q. And just from your perspective, why is there such a sense of ownership for a quarterback with a team, besides the obvious of having the ball in your hands all the time?
Jimmy Clausen: You know, the quarterback, like I said, has the ball in your hands every single play. Guys are looking up to you, whether they’re on defense or on offense with you. When you have the ball in your hands every single time, every single play, something good can happen or bad can happen. They want you to have something good happen every single time. So it gives you that much more motivation to go out each and every day to work hard and do everything you can to help the team win.
Q. Do you think this is a big game for you in a way to establish some sort of that legacy at Notre Dame?
Jimmy Clausen: Like I said, I’m not worried about myself. I’m worried about the team, and that’s about it.
Q. Jimmy, what do you say to critics who say you’re 0 4 against top 20 teams and haven’t won a big game since you’ve been at Notre Dame?
Jimmy Clausen: I guess that’s the nature of who we play. We go out each and every day and play against whoever is on our schedule. Just so happens to be that SC is a top 10 team coming in. We’re just working real hard right now to go out and prepare for them and get ready for them on Saturday.
Q. How important is Saturday in terms of being a statement game for you and the program?
Jimmy Clausen: I think it’s a huge game for us as a team and as a program, a university. We haven’t beaten SC in seven years or whatever it is. We’ve kind of been the whipping boys of the USC Notre Dame rivalry. We want to get on the other end of the stick now.
Q. Jimmy, quarterbacks are always going to face adversity at some points in their career. You had quite a bit as a freshman. Do you think that helped you get to the point you’re at right now, going through those trials and tribulations as early as you did?
Jimmy Clausen: I think that helped us a lot, helped me a lot, just going through all the ups and downs that we did my freshman year and last year, not only for myself but for this team. We’ve been through everything that could happen, good or bad. I think that’s what’s helped us grow so much as a team, to get to this point, this year, this season, and help us move forward.
Q. Can you talk about the process as a quarterback taking ownership of a team. I’m sure it’s hard to do as a freshman. You’re dealing with older players. Like you said earlier, you’re trying to fit in at that point. Nevertheless, you’re the quarterback. Is it a process, was it a process, for you to get to that point where this is my team and I’m the leader here?
Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, it is a process. Coming in as a freshman, you can’t take ownership of anything until you’ve proven yourself. The first thing that you have to do is just come in and work hard and do everything you can to help the team win. I’m to a point now where I’m obviously the captain of the team, taking more ownership, trying to make plays each and every time I have the ball in my hand. Whether it’s in practice cheering guys on, trying to encourage guys, or getting on guys, do everything I can to get this team ready to go and play on Saturdays.
Q. Lastly, if you could talk about your relationship with Coach Weis. I know you’ve said in the past that you went to Notre Dame to play for him in a pro style offense. You were his first signature recruit. You’re linked at the hip. After a couple of the emotional wins these last few weeks, you shared some heartfelt embraces on the sidelines. It seemed genuine. Can you talk about that relationship you have forged together.
Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, that is the reason I came to Notre Dame, is because of Coach Weis. Ever since I came in, we’ve been real close. I see him every single day, whether it’s in meetings, on the field, going in his office, joking around with him. He’s a real family oriented guy. A lot of people don’t get to see that about him because he tries to keep his life kind of in a shell. He’s just a great guy to be around, funny guy, just a great coach who loves his family and loves his team.
Q. What do you remember about the 2005 game, that experience, the atmosphere around that game?
Scott Smith: Probably the most hyped up game since I’ve been here. I forget what we were ranked and what they were ranked. Just coming in, a buzz around campus something special was about to happen.
I think throughout the game, our team just kept believing and believing that we had a chance to win. Unfortunately, things didn’t go our way at the end. I just remember the atmosphere surrounding that game.
Being a freshman, being my fifth or sixth career game, just really showed me what this place is really all about.
Q. Kyle, what do you remember about the game?
Kyle McCarthy: My first memory of that game is sprinting onto the field afterwards when we thought we had won and jumping up and down, and then being told to get off the field immediately.
So, obviously that game was a tough loss. But, there’s some similarities between that game and this game going into it. Obviously USC is one of the top teams in the country, we’re a big underdog, we know we have to play pretty close to perfect if we have a chance to win. There’s definitely similarities, but hopefully there’s a different outcome this time.
Q. Even though you lost that game, is there a source of confidence that despite the fact you are big underdogs, it can be done?
Kyle McCarthy: Well, we know we’re big underdogs, but we believe in ourselves and we go out there and work hard every day and we see the progress that we’re making. I think that’s where we get our confidence.
Q. On the point of confidence, if I asked you going into the USC game last year, ‘Do you believe you could win?’ everyone would say yes, but why is it different? Why is that yes maybe a little bit more genuine now?
Kyle McCarthy: Well, we’re a different team this year, just as USC is a different team this year. We have different guys. We have new leaders on this team. We have younger guys that have stepped up into a leadership role and worked hard in the off season. I think that’s shown on the field this year.
This team has become real close over the last couple years. We’ve had our bumps in the road, we’ve learned from it, we’ve all grown and matured. We feel confident going out every day and going out every week and we think that we can improve every week. Hopefully it shows Saturday.
Q. Scott, are there things you’d point to about why the confidence is more substantial now than it was maybe going into the USC game last year or two years ago?
Scott Smith: I think this year we have a lot more mature guys, guys that have been around the block. It’s not necessarily their first time playing in big games like this. Just that maturity factor. Like Kyle said, how close we are as a team. When you have that close knit group, it’s a lot easier for you to believe in one another and even yourself. We have a ton of guys who believe in each other and believe in what other guys can do. That’s what’s really going to carry us through this week.
Q. Kyle, you said it’s a different year. It is and clearly the teams are different. College is different than the pros, but you lost by 35 last year. Specifically, where do you guys think you’ve narrowed the gap the most?
Kyle McCarthy: I’d probably have to say in the trenches. You know, being on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t really work with the offense too much, but I see how they work every day. I think our offensive line has improved greatly. Obviously, our offense is playing great this year. Last year, I don’t think they were ranked in the top 10 in the country, but I think they are this year.
Obviously, there’s different stuff going on. Guys are making plays this year that they weren’t making last year. Got to tip or hats to those guys. I’ve seen how hard they work each and every day. I think it’s shown on the field.
Scott Smith: I think one of the biggest things we have going for us is the way Jimmy has been playing. He has put us in a position to win every single game. Just looking how far he’s come as a leader from our perspective, being able to take this team and put it on his shoulders. He’s a big reason why we’re in the position we’re in.
Q. The two defensive guys mention the offense. Anything you can point to on your side of the ball that gives you some confidence going into this situation?
Kyle McCarthy: I think we have a lot of the same guys we had last year. The new guys stepping in have also brought a new confidence into our defense and a little bit more athleticism. We’re a relatively young group, but those guys have the confidence. A younger guy has a shorter memory than an older guy. Last year is not going to be a factor when we’re out there playing, I can tell you that. We’re just worried about this Saturday, this USC team, doing what we can do to help this team win.
Q. Nobody wants to say it’s great playing against a freshman quarterback. Considering the alternative, I’m sure it’s better to do that. What will you do to try to throw him off his game?
Kyle McCarthy: Well, we can’t tell you. Barkley, obviously, has all the tools to be a great quarterback. He is young. He is a true freshman. I think we’re just going to really prepare like we normally do. We have a pretty complicated defense. We’re blitzing from all angles. We’re not going to change our game plan just because he’s a freshman quarterback.
If a time comes when he makes a mistake, we just have to take advantage of it. I don’t think he’s going to make too many of them. If he does make one, we need to take advantage of it.
Q. I’m sure it’s a technique issue, but can you pinpoint the issues you have had tackling, does it come down to technique?
Kyle McCarthy: Yes and no. Obviously there’s technique in tackling. When you miss a tackle, it all comes down to technique. But then again, I think guys also are just excited to try to make a play and they need to calm down and regroup and get their feet under them and just explode and make a tackle. We’ve been working on that. I think we’ve been improving slowly every week and hopefully that continues.
Q. Scott, what is your perspective?
Scott Smith: I think, just like Kyle said, it comes down to fundamentals, bringing your feet. Something we work on as linebackers every day, tackling a lot, bringing your feet, wrapping up, grabbing cloth and not letting go. Not every tackle has to be the knock out shot. We like to say on special teams, ‘any tackle is a great tackle.’ So as long as you get ’em down, you live to play another down. That’s the biggest thing. Just keep focusing on those fundamentals to get better.
Q. Scott, your evaluation of Joe McKnight, what kind of back do you see there?
Scott Smith: First thing, he’s extremely fast. Just that speed factor alone really makes him special. He has the ability to make you miss in the open field, which is something tackling wise you’re going to have to make sure to bring your feet, come to balance. He’s one of the better running backs we’re going to have to face.
Q. I know you’re faster than him, but…
Kyle McCarthy: McKnight is obviously extremely talented. You can draw comparisons to Reggie Bush or whatever. But at the end of the day, we just need to as a defense get in position. You can’t really game plan around one guy because they have so many weapons. It’s just going to be up to our defense. When it comes to one on one opportunities, who is going to make the play. Is he going to make the play or is the defensive guy going to make the play? At the end of the day, that’s all it comes down to.
Q. Kyle, when you’re in a game of this magnitude, the media attention, I’m sure you’re seeing it from the student body, do you want to cut to the chase and get to Saturday, or can you enjoy the process of getting to Saturday?
Kyle McCarthy: In all honesty, I’m pretty anxious just to get to Saturday. I actually thought today was Thursday all day until about an hour ago. But, the atmosphere on our campus is great. We’ve had a good week of practice. But as the competitor and the football player, you just want to get to the game. Hopefully we can enjoy the game and enjoy it afterwards.
Q. As far as the atmosphere on campus, students, anything out of the ordinary or unique that you’ve seen this week?
Scott Smith: I can’t say that I have. There’s some chalk. Students chalked up the sidewalks. You can just tell. There’s a feeling around campus, everyone is real excited. They have high expectations for us. Hopefully we can live up to them.
Q. I know neither of your units’ primary objective is to score, but in a big game, especially involving Notre Dame, defensive and special teams touchdowns have turned the momentum. How much of a emphasis has that been for you guys this week?
Kyle McCarthy: It’s always an emphasis for our defense to score. I know we haven’t lived up to that yet this year. You know, our guys are playing hard. I think that either comes sooner or later, hopefully sooner. Our guys are working hard. We work on that every day. Hopefully the big play comes this week.
Scott Smith: Special teams wise, not necessarily scoring, there’s a lot of things you can do to help change field position. There’s a big difference if you have a talented offense like USC having to go 85 yards to get in the end zone versus going 60 or 65 yards. Same thing on the return units. We can pick up a couple first downs for our offense, that’s less plays they have to be on the field, less they have to move the ball to get in scoring position. Anything we can on special teams to put the offense or defense is really going to be a big for us.
Q. I guess both of you can answer this. Stanley Havili, we’ve seen this guy getting so many touchdown passes which is odd for a fullback. I’m sure the coaches have mentioned it to you. How do you prepare for this?
Scott Smith: First thing, he’s probably one of the better fullbacks in the country just with what he’s able to do and the versatility that he shows. Not only as a lead blocker, but being able to carry the ball and also as a receiver out of the backfield. It’s definitely something you have to be aware of, just the fact he’s an option that they’re very willing to use and have had a lot of success with. He’s just another one of their talented guys on offense that’s going to be difficult to stop.
Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, we’re well aware of his talent. Our coaches are well aware of his ability. We know the kind of ability he has. We know he has as a fullback, he has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and go the distance.
Obviously our game plan will be tailored a little bit to that and hopefully we can stop him.
Q. Kyle, I’m guessing you were sitting in the student section as a true freshman or were you on the field?
Kyle McCarthy: I was on the field in my equipment.
Q. Are either of you hosting recruits this weekend?
Kyle McCarthy: No.
Q. Coach Weis said there’s a wealth of recruits coming in this weekend. Can you kind of walk me through, if indeed you were hosting from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, what happens, what your responsibility would be handling recruits? Do you go to dinner? What do you do?
Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, go to dinner, spend time with the guys, obviously do all the football activities on Saturday, probably go to the walk and all that stuff, and then go to the game. Come to the locker room after the game, see the guys. You know, after the game, hang out with the guys. Then meet with coach on Sunday.
Q. I know it’s a necessary evil because the program doesn’t stop once you guys graduate, but is it a distraction in a big weekend like this one if you have to be responsible for hosting a recruit and you’re still trying to maintain focus on the game?
Kyle McCarthy: No, I think this staff does pretty good about leaving the frontline guys out of recruiting until after the game. They usually have a guy that’s not traveling this week spend time with them on Friday and then Saturday after the game hang out with all the guys. It’s not a distraction at all.
Q. Growing up in Ohio, was the USC Notre Dame game a big deal for you? Were you more of a Ohio State follower? What did you watch growing up?
Kyle McCarthy: No, I was a brainwashed Notre Dame fan, diehard. USC Notre Dame, I’ve followed it very closely ever since I was little. I know what kind of rivalry it is.
Q. Who brainwashed you and are there any particular games that jump out at you?
Kyle McCarthy: Well, just being an Irish Catholic kid, last name McCarthy, I didn’t really have a chance. My grandfather went here. Just the whole McCarthy side, pretty big Notre Dame fans. So, as far as any specific memories about Notre Dame USC, I don’t have any specific ones. I’ve seen pretty much all the games since I was little. I’d like to end this streak that they have against us.
Q. Coming in when Charlie was the new coach and stuff, both of you were in the first recruiting class, what is it like to be playing in such an important game at the end of your career? Do you foresee something like this happening to you in your career?
Kyle McCarthy: I think this is one of the reasons we came to Notre Dame, is to play in games like this. Sure, we had bumps in the road the last couple years. But, we’re back in the national spotlight. We have some things to prove. I think it’s fair to say that not everyone believes that Notre Dame is a good team. That’s what we’re going out on Saturday trying to do.
You know, for Scott and myself, I think as seniors, this is our last year, this will be a big game for our last season, making a mark on this program.
Q. As you’ve evolved from a high school option quarterback, I know you played defense in high school, but into a frontline safety, is there anything from that quarterback experience that helps you reading the quarterback’s eyes that comes into play for you?
Kyle McCarthy: Not a whole lot. Obviously, I know where offenses like to attack the defense. It helps me with my tackling a little bit. As an option quarterback, I ran a lot. I kind of pay attention on how to make guys miss. In that sense it helps.
But I think, the success that I’ve had at safety kind of has gone back to the high school where I was from, the program, taught me about hard work and preparation and all that.
Q. You touched on the 2005 game. Can you talk about obviously the mood that was in the locker room, the despair, what that was like as a freshman to see and be a part of?
Scott Smith: I’m sure it was a lot more difficult for the older guys. Not to say that as freshmen we weren’t invested. I know our class, we were all in from the very start. But especially not having a huge impact on the outcome of the game. We still felt down and upset, but at least for me being upset for the older guys, especially Corey Mayes and Brandon Hoyte and all they’d done for me. Just to see them with that dejected feeling after the game, was something that really pushed me to work hard the rest of the year so hopefully they wouldn’t feel like that again.
Kyle McCarthy: The feeling after the 2005 USC game was awful. I think I thought the world was ending because, you know, I was just depressed for quite some time. My older brother was a senior here at the time, an undergrad. He took it pretty hard himself. He didn’t even play football.
Obviously it was a terrible feeling to be that close. But I think it made that team hungry. We went on to win the rest of our regular season games after that.
Q. And then obviously you talked about how big of a game this is. How big of a win would this be to come full circle for your class, for the program as a whole, to end this streak against USC and get a win over them?
Kyle McCarthy: This would be a huge win for us, especially for our seniors and this football program, this university. Obviously, you know, we’ve had some rough patches last couple years. To beat a top tier team like USC, one of the top teams in the country, would mean a lot with us.
Scott Smith: Just to agree with Kyle. We’re not just playing for the guys that are in the locker room, we’re playing the entire Notre Dame nation. The whole Notre Dame nation really, really wants to beat USC, and we’re no different. And we believe that we can. More people are starting to believe in us that we can. That’s the most important thing, just keeping that confidence and that belief all the way through Saturday.
Q. Obviously the last four games have been crazy for you guys. During the bye, did you at all kind of stop and think about what the heck did we just go through the previous month?
Scott Smith: It was nice not to be stressed out at about 7:00 on a Saturday night, just kind of hanging around.
But I really think those experiences are going to be so valuable for us moving forward, just the fact that we’re in close games, tight games, that come down to the finish, we have the confidence and the belief in ourselves that no matter what happens, we have the opportunity and we can come out on top.
Kyle McCarthy: I really didn’t think the last couple weeks at all. Really all our focus has been on USC to be honest. That’s just what we’re preparing for.
Q. Can you just talk about the heart of the team. Never die till the end.
Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, I think the best example of that would probably be last week in the goal line stands. I don’t think anyone believed that we’d be able to stop ’em. I’ve heard numerous times that people were just kind of hoping they’d score quick so we’d have time to score. I think the only guys that truly believed we could stop them were on our team.
You know, to put up with that goal line stand and then get a penalty and do another goal line stand, that’s a perfect example of the character and heart of our team.
Q. Scott, you talked a minute ago about Jimmy. Can you give an example of how he’s become the leader.
Scott Smith: I think just kind of the presence that Jimmy’s developed, just the fact that you always know he’s around, but you don’t always necessarily have to hear him. A lot of leaders have to scream and yell, always be ranting and raving at guys to be heard, be understood, get their message across.
But, just the fact, based on how he’s playing, the fact that I think you could argue there’s been no quarterback in the country that’s played better than he has through these first five games. Just the fact with how he’s played, then just how he conducts himself, handles himself around the locker room, it kind of makes our job a little easier when somebody’s performing like that.
Q. Kyle, can you talk just a little bit about what you’ve been doing this year that you’ve been able to be in position to make so many big plays? Is it experience? What has enabled you to be at the right spot so many times this year?
Kyle McCarthy: I think it’s a combination of a couple things. Obviously experience, preparation, things like that. Maybe a little luck. Maybe a little, you know, help from the other guys on our defense.
Obviously, if I’m making a big play, that means someone else is doing their job and making a play as well. I mean, on a couple of my interceptions, I think the quarterback’s been under pressure, so the D line, linebackers, have been getting after ’em. Last week, at the end of the game, Harrison was right there with me.
You know, if I’m making a big play, that means someone else is doing their job, making a big play as well. I give credit to the whole defense.
Q. Kyle, do you see yourself as trying to be the guy who makes sure, especially back there in the secondary with some of the younger guys, they’re where they need to be? Are you maybe the glue of that group?
Kyle McCarthy: I do view myself as a leader on the defense, as the captain of the defense. I know that the defensive backs and linebackers and defensive line work hard. The biggest goal is to be on the same page so that every play we can go out there and try to win every play.
At the end of the day, that responsibility falls on me as being the leader of our defense.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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