Senior SS Kyle McCarthy is tied for third in the Football Bowl Subdivision with a team-high five interceptions. Only once in the past 20 seasons has a Notre Dame player recorded more than five picks in a season (7 by Shane Walton in 2002).

Captains Press Conference Transcript - Washington Game Preview (Sept. 30)

Sept. 30, 2009

Q. Jimmy, in the past couple years there have been problems with second half production with the team, and now this year you guys seem to be getting over that hump. What do you attribute to solving some second half problems?

Jimmy Clausen: I think the biggest thing for us is we’ve been there before. We’ve had to deal with adversity, whether it’s the first half, second half or the whole year. But I think the biggest thing is just every time, at least the offense — every time we get the ball, we expect to score. We want to get seven points, and if we can’t get seven, at least three. That’s our goal every time we get the ball.

I think this unit is pretty good and pretty special, and that’s our goal is every single time we get the ball, move the ball down the field and score seven points.

Q. What’s different about you the way you approach a game, the way you approach a play, just in the way — talking to some people, Pat Haden in particular, he said he noticed that you carry yourself differently this year than you have in the past. What’s he mean by that?

Jimmy Clausen: I don’t know, it’s different coming from high school into college. You think you’re good and you think you can step right in and play, but it’s just something that’s extremely tough and something that I’ve had to get to this point. It’s taken me two, three years to get to this point, and I’m just handling myself like I did when I was a veteran in high school.

I know everything now; I know the offense. I know how to handle myself on the field, off the field, and handle my teammates and be a leader and a captain of the team. It’s just something that I’ve had to evolve to being here at Notre Dame.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about the success of the (offensive) line this year? What has been the key? What has allowed you guys to have the success you’ve had this year?

Eric Olsen: I think the key to our success is experience. I think that’s definitely helped us a lot. We’ve been in pretty much every type of situation you can be in as an offensive line in games through our careers, and I think that really gives us the edge. Obviously Coach Verducci has been doing a great job with us, teaching us a lot of things that have definitely been helping us out and definitely showing in the games, stuff that’s helping us be productive.

Obviously we’re still not where we want to be, but we’re working hard every day in practice and every week and trying to get better at the little things and all the details and make sure it comes together on the weekends.

Q. Can you give an example of something Coach Verducci has taught you guys that has helped this year?

Eric Olsen: There’s so many little techniques and intricate details that he’s taught about particular plays or particular scenarios. It’s tough to get into specific things, but those little details, when you think it’s such a minute thing that it’s sometimes not very important, but it does translate into yardage in the game.

Q. I know you guys had a lot of criticism in past years for whatever. Do you get many compliments around campus now, or do you go about unnoticed and not hear much?

Eric Olsen: No, unfortunately no one really recognizes me still. Maybe some of the guys like Chris (Stewart), he might stand out a little more than everybody else because he’s a little bit bigger than us. Guys like Sam (Young) probably get some attention, too. But as an offensive lineman, when you get attention it’s either because you got a penalty or a false start, so you don’t want to have any attention as an offensive line, you just kind of want to blend into the background.

Q. So is it a good feeling this year?

Eric Olsen: Yeah, definitely. And again, like I said, there’s a ton of room for improvement, and we’re still not to where we want to be or hope to be, but we’re going to keep working towards that.

Q. Jimmy, can you talk about how you’re feeling, how the foot is feeling today?

Jimmy Clausen: I’m feeling good. I practiced yesterday, and I’m just getting better every single day.

Q. Has anyone given you an indication of when you’ll feel 100 percent or given you an estimate that it should take two to three weeks or three to four weeks or anything like that?

Jimmy Clausen: It’s just a nagging injury. I don’t think I’ll be 100 percent healthy until the end of the season or after the season. Next week is going to be big for me just getting my rest and resting my toe as much as I can.

Q. With the toe issue, will you be operating more out of the shotgun, or does it not really make a difference, you’ve still got to move around whether you’re in the center or in the shotgun?

Jimmy Clausen: It really doesn’t matter. When you’re out there playing you’ve got to run around, throw the ball. Obviously for me I’ve got to plant off my back foot when I’m throwing the ball, which I had a little difficulty last week and Saturday doing, but it’s getting better day by day, and that’s just how it is right now.

Q. Can you just take us through maybe how you’ve been feeling each day this week versus maybe how you were feeling at the same time last week, the day after the game and the day after practice and whatnot?

Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, last week after the Michigan State game, after I got injured, it was pretty painful. I could barely walk on it. Just to translate that to this week, I feel a lot better than I did. After the Purdue game, I felt pretty good on Sunday and yesterday when I was out there to practice.

Q. And the plate in the shoe, how does that affect things?

Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, I’m not very mobile as it is, whether I’m healthy or not healthy. But I think the biggest thing is my toe doesn’t move as much if I wasn’t wearing a plate. So I think that’s the biggest thing that’s helping me.

Q. I know you talked about it after the game, but Dayne’s performance and what he was able to do on Saturday and how much confidence maybe everyone is now having in him once they saw what he was really able to do in crunch time.

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I’ve seen Dayne do that ever since we were little kids. We grew up childhood friends and we went to middle school together, and I’ve seen him play in high school, middle school. I’ve seen what he can do. I just told him, you’re going to get a chance to go out there Saturday and just do what you’ve done your whole life, like you played in high school. Just go out there with confidence and have a lot of fun, and he did a great job and helped this team.

Q. Eric, can you talk about the wildcat a little bit? Obviously things are a little different for you in that formation when you’re snapping directly to a running back. Can you just talk about your role in that progress?

Eric Olsen: Can you elaborate on that at all?

Q. Just the wildcat as a whole in terms of how different it might be as a center for you when you’re giving it off to Armando or Golden versus the quarterback.

Eric Olsen: It’s not really different from a technical standpoint. The back, the wildcat is just a yard deeper, but that really doesn’t affect anything with the shotgun snap, so once the ball is in the air, it’s all up to the guys catching it.

Q. And just the offense as a whole, why you think it’s been working so well regardless of who’s been back there, whether it’s been Armando (Allen) or Golden (Tate), it’s been working out very well for you guys.

Eric Olsen: Well, it’s a little bit of an unconventional set for a football team or for an offense. It gives the offense an extra weapon, so to speak, in their game. In the wildcat formation, like I said last week, you’re snapping it to a running back who’s a threat to run with the ball immediately, he doesn’t have to hand it off or throw it immediately, and that’s kind of gives the offense numbers, whereas if you have a quarterback handing off to a running back you already lost one guy on the offense, so you’re outnumbered by the defense, and I think that’s the biggest thing. When you use it effectively in certain situations in a game, it really helps out the offense.

Q. You’re going against a pretty big dude here this week. I wonder what some of the keys are for you when you’re facing a guy that out weighs you by 40, 45 pounds?

Eric Olsen: I asked Coach V (Verducci) if he could put Stew (Chris Stewart) on defense for the week just to get used to that. The guys this week a big guy. He’s a big, strong guy on film and you can see the way he plays. To go against anybody that has size like that and strength, I mean, the biggest thing is you’ve got to stay low and have pad leverage, because if you don’t you’re going to get into a muscle battle with someone like that, and that’s not a position that you really want to be in.

Q. You think about that a little bit more you’re a little more technique conscious?

Eric Olsen: Definitely. This isn’t a game where I can out muscle anybody, so technique is definitely something I’m focused on in practice.

Q. Coach Verducci was talking yesterday about with an offense you try to change the parts around the offensive line, but with the offensive line you try to be pretty static and try to do 10 or 12 things well, and he said offensive linemen by nature are creatures of habit. Can you speak to that, to how no matter what’s happening around you, you guys have to stay in your offensive line mode regardless of what the play is?

Eric Olsen: If you just look at an offense, different formations throughout the game and stuff, the only people that don’t move is the offensive line. Coach Weis does a great job of running the same plays at a different formations and disguising it in different ways so the defenses don’t know what we’re going to run. For an offensive line, you really want to be able to get good at certain things and develop an identity so you know like in certain situations, whether it’s a crucial 3rd down or a 4th down even, you know what kind of plays or what play specifically you really want to go to in those situations.

Q. You had a little bit of difficulty with a couple of shotgun snaps last week in the second half, and you guys were on the field a lot. I’m wondering if you were starting to get a little bit fatigued.

Eric Olsen: Well, I hit my butt a couple times, for lack of a better word. But I think I got that corrected, and luckily our quarterbacks did a great job handling those snaps that were a little off, and we didn’t have any turnovers or any fumbles.

Q. I know you say that you go back in time with Dayne (Crist), but you seem to get such a kick out of when you’re on the sideline and he’s having success. You seem to get such a kick out of his successes. I’m sure you feel that way for everybody, but is it a little bit more because of your background with him?

Jimmy Clausen: Not necessarily. Whenever guys are out there making plays, it gets me excited. You’ve just got to — to be a football player, you’ve just got to have fun with everything, whether something goes bad, you’ve just got to move on to the next play. But just seeing Dayne out there and just making plays is just — it’s just a fun feeling. Having Dayne being another quarterback, it’s just fun watching him go out there and make plays, just like other guys on the team.

Q. You’ve been asked thousands of questions about your development on the field. What about your development off the field? I know there was a picture on the internet last year of you away from the field that caused a little bit of a commotion. How have you grown off the field?

Jimmy Clausen: Are you talking just like in general?

Q. Well, just in general, your responsibility, the responsibility that comes with being the Notre Dame quarterback, which creates so much focus and attention on you.

Jimmy Clausen: Right. Now in my career I’m just to the point where I know things I can do, can’t do, and how to handle myself in different situations. I’m just having a lot of fun being the quarterback at Notre Dame now. When you come in, you think you can handle everything, but there’s certain things that you really don’t know, and Coach Powlus has done a great job of talking to me about different things, different issues that he’s gone through in the past that he doesn’t want me to go through, or he wants me to learn from. And I think that’s one of the biggest things that’s helped me gradually get to where I am today is because of Coach Powlus and his background.

Q. We noticed during pregame at some point you went to the locker room and Dayne was running with the first team. Was there some question as to whether you felt like you were healthy enough to start Saturday night?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I was healthy enough to start. I just talked to Coach Weis when we were going through warmups, and he just said, just go in, before we started going to team and before everyone went in.

Q. The interception you threw right before halftime, I think the announcer said something about you were kind of upset that you didn’t check down on that play. What happened there?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, to be honest, when I dropped back, the defensive linemen kind of hit the ball, almost hit it out of my hand, but I regained my grip, and I was just trying to give Shaq (Evans) a chance to go make a play. But to be honest, I think I should have just checked the ball down and picked up five or ten yards to put us in field goal position and gave us three extra points. But it was a bad decision on my part, and I shouldn’t have just thrown it up there and let Shaq make a play and just checked it down.

Q. Not to take anything away from a freshman wide receiver, but is it a little different when No. 3 (Michael Floyd) is out there getting in position in the end zone?

Jimmy Clausen: It is, and right after that happened, Mike went up to him and said, either you’ve got to catch it or no one is catching it. I went up to him right after that and said the exact same thing. That’s just a lesson he’s got to learn.

But to be honest, it shouldn’t have came down to that. I should have just checked the ball down and got a 1st down and kicked a field goal.

Q. When you look at Washington’s defense the last couple weeks, you see a team that will hold USC to 0 for 10 on 3rd down but also get run on by Stanford. How do you attribute that? You’ve played both programs.

Eric Olsen: Yeah, you know, it’s tough to say what the cause of something like that is. Obviously Washington has two of USC’s big time coaches now. So I mean, they might have been a little more clued into what USC was going to do and how to stop them. But I mean, the thing that was consistent in all the games, in the games we watched and the scouting report, is the guys play hard and they play with energy and they play with excitement, and that’s something that is a good thing for them, bad thing for us.

It’s tough to say which team you’re going to get this week. We just have to prepare like we’re going to get the team that just beat USC, obviously. We don’t want to underestimate them or anything like that. We’re just going to prepare for the best things that we see on them and the best things they do and just try to stop that stuff.

Q. Talk a little bit about Dayne’s presence in the huddle Saturday, kind of his first situation being in there in a real pressure packed moment.

Eric Olsen: I told him if anybody asked me about that I was going to say his knees were shaking and he was stuttering. Seriously, he did a great job of stepping into the huddle and not falling behind or losing a step to Jimmy at all. I mean, he came in, and he knows that this was his first real game that he was playing significant time and stuff, and he knew the offensive line and the offense knew that, as well, but he did a great job coming in with confidence and poise and leading the offense.

As a quarterback, no matter if you’re a star quarterback or a backup, you’ve got to be ready to go in any situation because you are the leader of the offense and you are the leader in the huddle, and he did a great job of that, and I really feel like we didn’t miss a step.

Q. If there were any nerves do you feel like you guys kind of got that out of the way on Tuesday of last week, kind of work through some of those kinks?

Eric Olsen: Nerves for him you mean? Yeah, last week in practice with Jimmy having his toe hurting, as an offensive line we kind of knew to ourselves and our group that we’d have to take the offense on our shoulders, and especially with injuries to a couple other positions, we knew for sure that we’re the most solid, intact group at the time, and as a veteran group we have to take control and we have to put it on our shoulders. So we kind of took some of that pressure off — tried to take some of the pressure off some of the younger guys that were going to have to play a lot more than they’re used to and try to take that pressure off and put it on ourselves because being a veteran group it’s something we felt like we were capable of doing and it was our responsibility to do, and I think that definitely helped out.

Q. This is kind of first week an opponent has been able to prepare for you without Floyd. How did you see maybe coverages change?

Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, we thought they would play a lot more two to Golden (Tate) than they did, and I think teams are going to start playing a lot of two over the top of Golden, somewhat in his face and over the top. Purdue played some different coverages, and I think they did a good job of trying to disguise for both me and Dayne.

Q. Do you kind of feel like those coverages will evolve over time and teams probably won’t do a lot of what Purdue did?

Jimmy Clausen: I don’t know. It’s different philosophies with different coaches. But to be honest, I think a lot of teams since Mike is out will probably roll over the top of Golden and play a lot of cover two to his side.

Q. Outside of Golden and Kyle, how did you feel like the rest of those guys did in some of the various roles that they play?

Jimmy Clausen: I think they did great. All of them came up with big catches. Duval (Kamara) I think it was it was on one of the first drives caught that 19 yard out route, Robby (Parris) on 3rd down and (14) caught a clutch 3rd down play, and Shaq was making plays down the field. All those guys have to step up. Those are only three guys that I named, but there’s a lot of guys at wide receiver that are going to need to step up.

Q. Can you talk about that play to Robby a little bit, the fact that you couldn’t really drive off your foot as much as you wanted and how far that ball had to travel? It seemed like a pretty difficult throw.

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, it was a difficult throw, and to be honest, like I said after the game, I thought I overthrew him. Luckily I didn’t and Robby made a great catch and got out of bounds and got us some time on the clock to let us go down there and score.

Q. Is it different in a situation like that when you have Parris out there, not to take anything away from Goodman or Shaq, but Robby has been through all of this before, you kind of know he’s going to be exactly where you need him?

Jimmy Clausen: Right. That’s one of the things that’s good of having a veteran receiver out there. To be honest, I think Shaq and Goody (John Goodman) both learned lessons, Shaq in the Michigan game and Goody in I think it was Michigan State when we were trying to end the game on comebacks, they learned things that they have to do in clutch situations, whether it’s get out of their break or cut the route short, get the 1st down, get out of bounds, little things like that. I think they’ve learned their lesson, and Robby did a great job of coming up with that 3rd down catch.

Q. Kyle told us a story last night about how you guys were walking to class the other day and you actually came upon two Notre Dame students reenacting your touchdown pass. How much has it changed for you just with fellow students around here? It’s amazing to think of that after your freshman season.

Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, I didn’t see it, Kyle saw it, and he told me about it, and he was laughing. But I thought it was pretty funny. Just the transition from freshman year to last year and last year to this year is just dramatic in my eyes. This team has just grown so much and has been through so many ups and downs that it’s just made us a stronger team.

Q. I’m not sure if either of you guys want to answer it, but it seems like everything between your toe, between the way the Washington defense has been so far this year that this is the ideal opportunity for you guys to run the ball a lot this week. Can you talk about that benefit for doing that this week?

Eric Olsen: We want to run the ball well in every game, obviously, to give us a balanced attack. When we run the ball well, it takes a lot of pressure off Jimmy with the defense gearing towards the run; it gives him a lot more time to worry about throwing the ball downfield and making plays, which gives us a really balanced attack, which is what we want to do.

Running the ball this week is definitely something that we’re going to be focusing on like we do every week and we’re going to try to get ground game going for sure.

Q. How much in a week like this, with Coach Hart’s background, do you guys kind of utilize him a little bit to learn about their defense?

Eric Olsen: Obviously the schemes and stuff are a little bit different than when he was there, but he knows the players well and stuff, and he knows the mindset of that University, and he knows the mindset of the fans and the tradition there. So using that as a resource is something that’s definitely going to help us out.

Q. I wonder if you can tell me when Manti came in if you were skeptical and when you first saw that he was as advertised?

Jimmy Clausen: Is Manti as good as advertised? I think he’s doing a great job coming in as a freshman. It’s difficult. I’ve been through it being highly touted coming in and just trying to fit in. I think that’s the biggest thing he tried to do when he got here is work his tail off and try to fit in with the guys. He’s doing a great job on the field on Saturdays and preparing during the week to go out there and make plays for the team.

Q. Do you folks have a nickname for him at all?

Eric Olsen: No nicknames for Manti.

Q. Do you have a favorite story about him at all or anything?

Jimmy Clausen: Favorite story about Manti? No, there’s not a favorite story, but I could just tell you that Manti is a real hard working young man who loves his family and stuff like that.

Q. Jimmy, Coach Sarkisian earlier this week sort of drew the parallel how when you and Jake Locker came into your respective programs, by his words, you were both, quote, “anointed the second coming.” What were the positives and negatives with that, and at what point did you really feel comfortable, relaxed and most importantly confident in your surroundings?

Jimmy Clausen: When I first came in, I was just trying to fit in and be one of the guys. I just wanted to get out there and do everything I could to help the team win. Obviously I was very young and naïve and thought I could come in here and make plays like I did in high school. But it’s just not the same. From freshman year to now it’s just drastically different for me, and I know the playbook from head to toe now, and I know all the guys around me and the guys that can make plays, and it just makes my job easier just getting them the ball. It’s just a different mindset for me right now.

Q. Do you know Jake (Locker) at all or have you met him at all with your California ties?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, me and Jake are real good buddies. We talk all the time. He came out to California during the summertime and we roomed together at quarterback camp down in Santa Barbara, so we’re real good friends.

Q. With the toe and going through whatever you’re going through in practice, how much preparation do you really need at this point in your career to be ready for a game?

Jimmy Clausen: To be honest, I need a lot of preparation, whether we’re putting in different plays or different things, different Mike ID calls. For me I don’t like not being able to practice and then going out to play. I have to prepare myself on the field in practice before I can go play, and like everyone says, the way you practice is the way you’re going to play, and if you don’t practice, then you’re just doomed to have a bad day.

Q. So it’s not one of those things where they can just kind of hold you out and mentally you can get into it, you really want to be into things on the field.

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I can do it mentally, but it’s just not the same. You need to be out there throwing the ball, getting the different looks from the defenses that you’ll see in the game, and just doing everything with the guys. You know, you can prepare mentally, but it’s different physically.

Q. For Jimmy, I was just curious if Coach Sarkisian recruited you at all and if you know him very well at all?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I do. Coach Sark was the quarterback coach and the offensive coordinator at SC when I was coming out, and he’s a great guy. I love Coach Sark and can’t wait to see him on Saturday.

Q. Just to kind of follow up on what you were saying earlier, how did you and Jake first meet, and I guess relationship wise, do you guys text each other every day? What’s the relationship like now? Are you guys in contact a lot?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, the first time I met him was at an Air 7 quarterback camp in Santa Barbara. I think it was two years ago. There was another one this past summer, and me and Jake roomed together and we became real close. We don’t text each other every day, but every once in a while we text each other.

Q. I know you’re usually busy when the defense is on the field, but in a game like this are you going to be maybe watching him a little bit?

Jimmy Clausen: Yeah, I like watching every opponent’s offense, and it might not just be just to watch their offense. I like watching our guys on our team, whether we’re out there on offense, go on the sidelines, look at the coverages and different things, listen to Coach Powlus, what he has to say, and then go watch our guys on defense. It’s fun going out there and watching those guys work and play.

Q. Is there anything in particular you like about Jake’s game?

Jimmy Clausen: Jake is a great athlete. You’ll see it on Saturday. You see it every Saturday. He loves making plays with his arm and his feet.

Q. Regarding Washington and Locker, if you could comment on, first of all, how you’ve seen their offense change from last year.

Kyle McCarthy: Their offense is much different than last year. I think their head coach and their offensive coordinator have done a real good job. It’s a little bit complicated on film. They do a lot of different things, and I think they use their personnel very well.

Obviously everything starts with their quarterback. Their quarterback is a tremendous player and great athlete. Biggest thing about him, I think, is he’s just a playmaker. He’s one of those guys that knows how to make plays and play football.

We have a lot of work on this week, and it’s going to be a big test for us. We’re excited.

Scott Smith: Just echoing what Kyle said, with Locker the type of player that he is and the type of athlete that he is kind of gives them a different dimension than when we played them last year when he was out, just what he brings to their offense and the kind of plays he’s capable of making brings something different.

Q. Not to disparage the guy that played in his place last year, but with a guy like (Locker), when you find out he’s out, it doesn’t break your heart, does it?

Kyle McCarthy: We weren’t too upset about that. Obviously that helped our team out. But this year he’s there and he’s the leader of their offense. Hats off to him for coming back from injury and being able to step in there like he never left. He’s a great player. We’re going to have to try to contain him.

Q. Is there less to contend with, not saying that the offense now isn’t formidable, which of course it is, but because of the style of offense is there less to deal with this year as opposed to last year, less on your plate in terms of preparation?

Kyle McCarthy: No, I think there’s more to do this year. He’s a great player, but he has some very good players around him. Their running back who was injured last year, he’s back, and he’s a very hard runner. He can take it to the house at any play.

Those are the two guys that I’ve been most impressed well as well as some of the receivers. They catch the ball well with their hands and run good routes. Obviously it’s a tribute to their coaching staff. They’ve done a great job this off season, and I think their guys are really buying into the coaching staff and they’re playing well right now.

Q. How did they beat USC? What did they do?

Kyle McCarthy: They didn’t do a whole lot of trickery. They just kind of lined up and played football. Both sides played their butts off, and you know, Washington made one extra play than USC did.

Q. In practice yesterday it seemed like you guys were working on tackling maybe in a different way in the early portion. Can you just talk about the emphasis on that last week and then maybe where tackling last week wasn’t up to the standards you wanted it to be?

Kyle McCarthy: I don’t think it’s any secret that our defense feels like we should tackle better than we did. That’s an area that we can improve and that’s what practice is for. So we had a much more physical practice, at least in individuals, than usual. We were working on our tackling, and hopefully that translates to better tackling on Saturday.

Q. Is there anything you can point to why it didn’t get to the level you wanted?

Kyle McCarthy: You know, not really. Obviously game speed is a little different than practice speed. Yesterday we were just trying to replay game speed as best we can with going full speed, tackling drills and individuals. I think it helped out a little bit. It was nice to see up tempo drill. I think it’ll help us on Saturday.

Q. In a standard week of practice, how often do you go full speed like that?

Kyle McCarthy: We do it in team period every week. But as far as individuals, it’s usually just kind of a thud it up period and try to get technique down. But I think Coach Brown has seen enough of missed tackles, so he was trying to emphasize to us how important tackling is, and I think we got the message.

Q. For both of you guys, Purdue calls it a jailbreak screen or bubble screen or split screen, but what is hard to defend about that play and what do you guys need to do to beat them?

Scott Smith: Well, I think the first thing is there’s a lot of moving parts, just based on — especially you can run a screen in both directions. You’ve got a lot of guys going a bunch of different ways. So I think the biggest thing is just trying to attack the line of scrimmage the best you can and try and keep forcing the ball to go east and west because on screens like that, kind of the main goal is to get the ball — once he gets the ball, get north and south as quickly as possible. That goes with any defensive play; the more you can make the offensive go east and west, the better chance you have of bringing them down.

Q. For a safety how difficult is that because you essentially have an uncovered offensive lineman running right at you.

Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, I think one of the biggest things is it gives the receiver room to work in space and make plays. The jailbreak screen spreads the defense out really well. Obviously there’s linemen down the field trying to cut block you and block you. The biggest challenge as a defensive player is making a play in space when that happens, and that just comes out of tackling like we talked about earlier, and hopefully we’re going to do a better job of that this week.

Q. Scott, I want to ask you about Darius (Fleming) because you guys are at the same spot. How have you seen him come on? It seems he’s taking more of an active role in the past couple weeks? He had a bunch of tackles behind the line last week.

Scott Smith: I think the biggest thing with Darius is he’s extremely disruptive, just whether he’s in a three point stance playing or whether he’s standing up playing Sam linebacker, he always seems to be somewhere on the opposite line of scrimmage. You saw him in the Michigan State game getting the pressure, and then against Purdue in the backfield a whole bunch with a lot of tackles for loss. I think he’s definitely more comfortable playing Sam.

But I think just having that versatility and understanding of the schemes just is kind of a real testament to him on how much he’s worked and gotten himself in position to contribute with the multiple packages.

Q. For either one of you guys, obviously last year Washington had a tough year. Is there anything you can say to younger players to make sure you don’t overlook them at all?

Kyle McCarthy: I don’t think there’s any concern we’re going to overlook them. They beat USC this year. USC is a pretty darn good team. They’re more than capable of coming in here and leaving with a victory, and we’re well aware of that. That’s why we’re working to try to stop that and try and get the W.

Q. Does that actually help a little bit, just the fact that everyone knows this isn’t the same team that you played last year?

Kyle McCarthy: A little bit, but also every guy on the defense I know for a fact has seen their tape from this year, and they’re a completely different team than they were last year. You can just tell from watching the tape they’re much more explosive, they have much more big plays, and they’re a whole different ball team.

Q. I know he’s not your coach, your position coach, but Randy Hart was (at Washington) for a long time. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what he brings to Notre Dame.

Kyle McCarthy: It’s a pleasure to play under Coach Hart. His enthusiasm and his excitement is contagious. He obviously loves the game, loves to coach, and his tempo is contagious. He’s always upbeat and getting us going. He obviously has a long history at Washington, and they love him there at Washington. So we hope to play well for him this week.

Q. Scott, your run defense has gotten stronger over the last couple weeks. What are you guys doing better against the run than say the earlier part of the season?

Scott Smith: I think just being able to stop the run has a lot to do with just attacking the line of scrimmage and kind of moving the offensive line back so we’re trying to get to the heels of the offensive linemen as quickly as possible. So I think just kind of what’s different than we did in a couple weeks, just staying in gaps, playing better technique, better fundamentals, but one thing, when you start playing on the opposite line of scrimmage it kind of cuts down the running backs’ angles and the lanes that they might see. Just like I talked about earlier, kind of trying to force the ball east and west and not let them run straight down the line because that’s the easiest way to score, just run straight down your throat.

Q. And Kyle, you were called out by the ESPN analyst as making a mistake on the big Purdue score at the end of the game. How frustrating is that? Coach Weis clarified that it really wasn’t your responsibility. But how frustrating is that for the entire nation to hear that you screwed up when, in fact, you really didn’t?

Kyle McCarthy: It’s not too bad. I mean, I don’t know. I know that I didn’t get any phone calls saying, “Good game.” They were all just like, “Man, what happened on that play?”

But we’re a team, and I’m the leader of the defense, so obviously I take full responsibility for that play. You know, it’s just football. Guys make mistakes, and you know, that’s what we’re in the film room trying to correct. Getting called out on national TV, it’s not really cool, but I guess it comes with playing football at Notre Dame.

Q. Was that a situation, were you in any way like a safety on that coverage, or did you just happen to see the ball going forward, because you were one of the few guys to react to it?

Scott Smith: Being one of the guys that’s kind of back on that shield, I kind of have an opportunity to see things a little better than guys who are just kind of sprinting down the field. So I was kind of getting out in my lane and all of a sudden I see the returner just seemed like he was at full speed just sprinting up toward this punt. So just kind of changed direction, just try to get in his way and hopefully not let him get too many yards.

Q. Would you have had him if he had two more yards on you? I saw the speed from behind so I was wondering if —

Scott Smith: I’m pretty sure I would have.

Q. Scott, the last two weeks you’ve kind of come to the game, I think the first time in the fourth quarter from the scrimmage. How do you kind of stay prepared and into it? You’re obviously loose from playing in special teams but you’re kind of inserted into the game in crucial times both times.

Scott Smith: I think everybody who’s not necessarily a starter has to keep themselves in the game, be aware of the adjustments that are being made and understand that whatever the situation is, your number can be called at any time. That’s one of the things like I to try and get in guys’ heads during practices. Even if you’re not on the field taking those physical reps, you need to be taking those mental reps on the side so if a situation in practice happens in the game and you weren’t necessarily in there, you have the ability to react to it just like you have seen that play in practice or something along those lines.

So just staying focused on the game and just being able to — like when your teammates make a great play, be able to recognize that, and if there’s something you see on the sideline, I can go tell one of them this may be coming later or something like that.

Q. Kind of following up on that, Kyle, how much is it on you and both Harrison (Smith) when you’re bringing in new corners, I know Gary Gray played a little bit, in a couple of the home games rotated you five corners in. How much communication falls on you two safeties?

Kyle McCarthy: Every play. We’re always communicating and taught to communicate. If there’s a breakdown in coverage or whatnot, in the end you have to point to the safety. It’s our responsibility to get everyone as well as the linebackers, kind of get everyone lined up and kind of let everyone know the play call. It’s just part of being a safety.

Q. Can you guys each just talk about the wackiness of the last three weeks to have every game go down to the wire and just how unusual and crazy that kind of is?

Kyle McCarthy: Yeah, it’s been a crazy three weeks. Each game kind of came down to the wire, and I think it shows the character of our team to be able to fight through some adversity, especially the last two weeks come out on top in the end.

Scott Smith: I think, too, you saw the defense make a play with Kyle’s interception, and then last week you saw Jimmy (Clausen) and Kyle (Rudolph) make that big 4th down touchdown. I guess I’m just wondering if it’s the special teams’ turn now because we haven’t really gotten a chance. I’d rather not wait until the last minute of the game, I’d just as soon do something the second or third quarter.

But it’s definitely a good feeling, especially with guys in the locker room, to just have that confidence that if we get into the situation we have a bunch of guys that can deliver when it counts.

Q. Do you guys joke around about that a little bit, about the special teams within your unit of, hey, is it our week?

Scott Smith: That’s something I might say kind of going into the game. But you never know which player, which phase of the team can really take the difference between winning and losing, especially with special teams when you really don’t get a 2nd down in terms of punt or kickoff if you let up a big return. It’s one of those things if you can make a play it’s just kind of an added bonus.

Q. How much does that help having these games in the long run coming down to the wire that you can emphasize in your mind that hey every play does count when these games that go down to the wire because you guys are a heartbeat away from 4 and 0 and also a couple from being 1 and 3.

Kyle McCarthy: Just to echo what Scott said, I think it gives our team confidence to know if another game were to come down to the wire, which I’m sure one will, that we have the confidence that we as the guys in the locker room to be able to pull it out and make the play at the end of the game to win.

Q. I’m wondering if it seems worth it or how much time you’re spending watching Washington film from last season, and also, is there a quarterback that you guys have played who reminds you at all of Locker?

Kyle McCarthy: I haven’t watched too much film of Washington last season, just our game obviously. And they have a new coach, a new offensive coordinator, so obviously have different schemes. So we’re busy with focusing on their games from this season and USC from last season. That’s what we’re kind of zeroing in on film wise.

And as far as the quarterback like Locker, I can’t really think of one off the top of my head. Nevada’s quarterback (Colin Kaepernick) posed a threat, to be able to be athletic and run around in the pocket as well as throw, but Locker is kind of in a different class. He’s got the arm to be able to — an NFL type arm to be able to stand in the pocket and make any throw, but as well as a big guy who’s athletic and can run the ball.

As far as this season, we haven’t seen anyone like Locker yet.

Scott Smith: I just agree with Kyle, just the physical tools he has and obviously the ability to make plays, especially at the end of that USC game, making some big throws. Just his overall athleticism, ability to throw the ball and play make ability kind of separates him from other guys we’ve seen.

Q. And the second question, you guys have had some long, quiet bus rides home the past couple years but I imagine Saturday night was a lot different. When you got back to campus was everyone asleep or were people ready to say hi to you when you got home?

Kyle McCarthy: There’s always a few fans when we get home from the bus ride. But last week’s bus ride was much better than Michigan’s, much better than in years past. We’ve had some rough bus rides home. So it was nice to be able to come out of a close game on the road with a win, and I’m happy for our team. I believe we deserved that win.

Q. Just to follow up on Darius Fleming, can you comment on what it means for a young guy, a sophomore like he, to just take on such a big role on your defense?

Scott Smith: I think Darius is ready for everything that he has to do. I’d say he’s one of the most athletic guys that we have on defense and probably has one of the best understandings of the playbook just based on all the things that he’s asked to do. Obviously I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with Darius. We work out together back home during our summer break, and just kind of being around him, just kind of being able to see day to day how he works and how he approaches football and trying to get himself better, it’s just been fun for me to see him develop in that way and then try and help him in any way that I can.

Q. And also from the defensive perspective, when you look at a guy like Dayne Crist walk into that situation, and Coach Weis said he managed the offense well, but from a defensive perspective, how does he differ from Jimmy?

Kyle McCarthy: I’d say the biggest difference between Dayne and Jimmy is Dayne’s physical makeup. He’s a pretty big kid, very strong kid, and you know, he can run a little bit. I don’t know, he’s harder to tackle than Jimmy.

Q. It must give the team a lot of confidence to know you have a guy that can step in and do what he did on Saturday.

Kyle McCarthy: I think with any guy who steps in any position, just to watch them play and especially watch them play well just kind of sets the tone throughout the team that if other guys need to step up, too, we’d hope to have the same confidence in other guys that obviously we had in Dayne on Saturday with his performance.

Q. Has Manti Te’o impressed you and is he as advertised?

Kyle McCarthy: Yes, Manti is a tremendous athlete, football player. He’s got all the tools to be a great player. He’s got great football instinct. So he’s doing very well for us this year. Obviously it’s tough for a freshman, any freshman, to come in and play, but I think Manti, when the coaches have called on him to get on the field has done a nice job for us.

Q. How does he handle the adjustment being that far away from home and to college and everything?

Kyle McCarthy: As far as I know he’s handled it very well. He’s a great kid to be around. He’s always upbeat. He’s always got a smile on his face and someone that you like to associated yourself with. I’m very happy he’s part of our team, and I hope he feels the same way.

Q. Do you have a favorite Manti story, or is there something about his personality or just something that jumps out at you?

Scott Smith: Well, I got a chance to hang out a lot with Manti and kind of room with him in different situations, and if there’s anything that you don’t want to have happen, you don’t want to have him start telling you a story. We’ve just been sitting around talking, and all of a sudden he’ll get into one of his Hawai’i, football or Samoan stories, and next thing you know it’s about 20 minutes later and he’s still going. When he gets on a roll, he definitely gets on a roll. That just kind of shows him just wanting to be able to share his experiences and just real excited and proud about being from Hawai’i and things like that.

Just one of those things you just kind of have to sit down, and if he ends up going for too long, I’ve had to kind of cut it short or tell him to wrap it up. But there was always a continuation either the next day or the next night so I was sure to get the full story.

Q. Have you consciously taken him under your wing like a little brother?

Scott Smith: Well, when I was a freshman I was fortunate enough to have two fifth year senior linebackers from Corey Mays and Brandon Hoyte who really kind of took me under their wing and kind of taught me what it was to be a college football player and to be a student athlete here at Notre Dame. Definitely some of the things I learned from them I’ve tried to pass along to Manti.

But the first thing that kind of strikes me about him is when he walked in the door, he obviously had all the physical tools to be ready to play just based on his size, speed, athleticism. But just the type of person that he is, he generally cares about his teammates and has really put the work in studying film and trying to learn the play book to put himself in a position to play.

So whatever he’s done here and will do here, whether people like myself have tried to help him along the way, he really deserves all the credit for everything that he’s accomplished.

Q. Have you tried to sort of initiate him or razz him a little bit just to let him know he’s a freshman?

Scott Smith: I can’t really think of anything to date that I’ve done, but I think I might have to think of something now that you brought that up.

Q. Any pranks or just anything just to let him know that he’s a freshman even though he has the big rep?

Scott Smith: Not really. I like to give him a hard time sometimes, especially with the whole thing about the stories and things like that. But he’s definitely a part of the team and definitely starting to earn his stripes by — he has no problem messing with other guys, and other guys don’t have any problem messing with him. Just like everybody else on our team, we’re pretty close and just kind of enjoy being around one another.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports