Dec. 1, 2005
COACH Charlie Weis: I’m going to talk about a couple things here. First I want to talk about a little wrap up of the Stanford game, then I’m going to wrap up the regular season, and then I’ll turn it back over to you.
Obviously the Stanford game, one of the things we were really concerned about is getting off to a fast start. We did that, scored on the second play of the game, and then the defense came out and helped Stanford go three and out on the next possession.
One of our biggest concerns going into the game was the turnover ratio and that manifested itself right off the bat because the next possession we threw an interception, which ultimately led to one of their big plays, a 27 yard touchdown pass.
We did turn it over two times in the first half, and they didn’t turn it over at all. Usually, as I had said with Stanford, normally when that happened, they’d be on the long end of the stick.
The second touchdown was with good field possession. We had the ball in plus territory on about the 40, and 3rd down we ran a sub run that didn’t get anything. We went for it on 4th down and gave up our one sack of the game when they outnumbered us. It wasn’t related to the offensive line; it was more a good call by them and a crummy call by me, which led to another home run shot and a second touchdown, which took us into halftime at 14 14.
Despite having a decided advantage statistically, it just shows you that stats don’t really mean too much because they were just 14 14. I thought that at halftime the team had a lot of composure. As soon as we got in there, we talked about those 30 minutes being gone and getting off to a fast start. We started off bad because we kicked the ball out of bounds, but the defense went three and out and offense got the ball and ran a 10 play drive for a touchdown to take the lead. But 20 14, missed the extra point, which was part of our problem all night long, which I’ll get back to here in a second.
A lot of the decision making for the rest of the game really centered around the problems we had stemming back to DJ’s (Fitzpatrick) injury in the Syracuse game. DJ had practiced this week and had gotten better as the week went on. As the game went on we were having problems on both ends, problems kicking extra points, problems kicking field goals, and problems kicking off for that matter. As a matter of fact, after we took the lead to go up 23 14 to get it to a nine point game, we then had a low kickoff they returned back for a touchdown.
So the nine point lead, all of a sudden now it’s back to a field goal game again, and we’re not feeling so hot about how things are going. We’re not panicking but we’re not feeling so well. The kickoff, they drilled (David) Grimes on that kickoff return; all the momentum is going their way and it’s one of the times the offense stepped up and turned the momentum by going on that 80 yard touchdown drive with Travis (Thomas) running it in for the touchdown. That makes it 30 24.
Then we get the ball relatively late in the game, and I decided what I would do is make them use their timeouts, settle for a field goal after we ran it on 1st down and lost some yards inside the 20; basically told the team we’re going to run it twice, center it on 3rd down and kick the field goal, which we missed if everyone watched the game, all signs are we’ve got a problem here, and sure enough, it manifested itself again when they ended up scramble pass and threw it up the sideline for 70 plus yards down to the four-yard line. We had three timeouts left and it was not a panic situation. Even if they scored a touchdown, we still were in position to have plenty of time to go down and score to win the game. The only problem was our kicking game was definitely a big question mark at that time.
They scored, we got the ball back and showed a lot of composure, got the big play on the first play to Jeff (Samardzija) to change field position, then after a completion, another completion to Jeff and a little scramble by Brady (Quinn), we threw the fade ball down to Mo (Maurice Stovall) and Darius (Walker) runs it on two plays and Victor (Abiamiri) goes and ends the game with his third and fourth sacks of the game, and we have a nice 38 31 hard fought victory.
Defensively I thought we played really hard. They didn’t run the ball. They were sacked seven times. If you add sacks in there, they had minus 11 yards rushing for the game. The quarterback got hit a lot, no penalties on defense, either.
The biggest problem in the game was big plays. They had seven big plays for 127 yards. That’s the downside. The positive side, it was the best tackling game we had. We played physical and we played great on 3rd down for the second week in a row. We were 1 of 11 on 3rd down and 0 of 2 on 4th down. We gave up two, really three big passes, one touchdown on the sideline to put them in position to win the game.
Offensively the biggest negative were the two interceptions by Brady. He definitely wanted both of them back. That being said, he was 25 of 38 with three touchdowns longer than 32 yards, 66 percent completions, which is usually considered a pretty good day at the office.
Darius had a great day, both in the passing game and the run game. He was running hard, running the ball, gave it to him 35 times to run it alone for 186 yards.
Our two receivers once again stepped up again like they’ve been doing all year long, Jeff was 8 for 191, Stovall was 7 for 136 and a touchdown. Our time of possession was a good team goal. We had the ball 34:35 to their 25:25 and offensively we were over 50 percent on 3rd down, even though I like to be at 67 percent. There was a decisive edge on 3rd down possessions. Thirty 1st downs in the game, so obviously moving the ball was not the issue in the score of the game.
You know, team stats sometimes can be misconstrued, but I thought the game, a lot of the decisions I made in the game were directly related to my confidence or lack thereof in the kicking game.
As far as the season goes, there are a lot of positives. When you outscore your opponents by just about 15 points a game, you rush 35 yards a game more than they do, you’ve got 112 yards of total offense a game more than they do, you win in the 2nd and 4th quarters, which are the key quarters in the game. We outscored them on the 2nd quarter by 112 points and the 4th quarter by 33.
We had (an advantage of)over six minutes possession time in every quarter, we converted 40 percent of 3rd downs where our opponents converted 33 percent. So there are a lot of positives as far as team stats go.
Defensively, our two linebackers, (Brandon) Hoyte and (Corey) Mays, led the team in tackles, Hoyte had 82 tackles and 18 and a half tackles for loss and six sacks, and Corey had another 68 tackles with 10 and a half tackles for loss, four sacks, plus three fumble recoveries.
You’ve got the D line; Victor had a big game obviously this week with the four sacks and 15 tackles for loss, and (Derek) Landri, I think he ended up with seven tackles for loss and three sacks. He and Trevor (Laws) both played pretty solid in there.
In the secondary there was Zibby (Tom Zbikowski), but no surprise. Michael (Richardson) and Ambrose (Wooden) all had about the same as far as tackles, but five interceptions by Zibby and Ambrose’s two interceptions, they were critical plays as the season went on.
In addition when I’m talking about Tommy (Zbikowski), he averaged 14.6 a punt return, as well, with another couple touchdowns, so he obviously was a critical player for us this year. DJ averaged over 40 yards a punt. Chase (Anastasio) had those three blocks we talked about. We got some help out of some of our freshmen; David Bruton on special teams, he had 10 solos and three assists.
One of the guys you don’t notice too often, but John Carlson by far played the most snaps on special teams. Sometimes you don’t even notice it, but he had 239 plays on special teams this year and was one of our leading tacklers, as well.
Obviously Brady had a phenomenal year; 32 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. Jeff as it currently stands leads the country in touchdown receptions. Brady broke about every record there is around here. I’m not into individual things too much, but when you look at Stovall and Samardzija and when you look at between the two of them they have 26 touchdown catches and over 1,000 yards of receptions and Darius rushed for over 1,000 and Brady throws for 3,600, obviously there’s some pretty good production in the year and hopefully our best is yet to come.
Q. In audible question about the kicking game against Stanford…
COACH Charlie Weis: What had happen is after hitting the field goal, then we popped up that short kickoff that was returned for a touchdown. I wasn’t exactly in love with Carl (Gioia), either, at the time, so it really comes down to, if you think about it, who got you there. At that point we had a long talk with Brian (Polian) on the sideline and we decided that the guy who had gotten us there all year was DJ (Fitzpatrick) and we figured based off of that, that was the right way to go. You have to put all those kicks together; let’s remember the kickoff that starts the second half goes out of bounds and it goes for a touchdown.
Q. I was just wondering if at that point it was an issue as to whether (DJ) was healthy enough to continue kicking.
COACH Charlie Weis: No, because remember, he’s the guy who kicked off at the end of the game, kicked the ball back to the 17 yard line, so we’re for getting that that’s still the same DJ that hit that kickoff after we take the lead 38 31. He looked pretty healthy on that one to me.
Q. Have you figured out who you’re cheering for this weekend?
COACH Charlie Weis: I only cheer for us because I don’t think it’s really good to be cheering against anyone or for somebody. I feel pretty good about our chances of getting a bid to the BCS and we’ll just let it play out, and whatever it is, it is. We’ll just let it play out.
Q. Are you hoping things stay as they are? Any suggestion as to what your thinking is?
COACH Charlie Weis: You mean who do I think is going to win the games and where we’re going to go?
Q. Yeah, where you’re going to go.
COACH Charlie Weis: I know how the picks go, that I do know. I know the pecking order based off of who wins. I know if USC and Texas both win, I know the Fiesta has got the first shot, and I know if Texas loses and they go to the Fiesta Bowl then the next goes to the Orange Bowl. I know who has all the picks, I just don’t know who’s picking us.
Q. Do you think it’s a smart pick to pick you guys first?
COACH Charlie Weis: I don’t want to be disrespectful to the other teams, but I think we’re going to be a very good representative to one of the BCS games. I think whether it’s a smart pick, I think that we’ll be a good pick because we’re going to go there and we’re going to be a good representative to their Bowl game.
Q. (During the season) you didn’t want to talk about postseason awards. Now that we’re here, do you think that Brady is a good pick for the Heisman Trophy winner?
COACH Charlie Weis: I’ve said all along, it would be tough for me to pick against that No. 5 from USC. I’ve seen all three of these quarterbacks play, and I think that (Matt) Leinart is pretty good, I think he’s real good and I think (Vince) Young is real good, but I wouldn’t trade my guy for either one of them.
Q. One of the things you talked about recently was you felt the team played best at the end of the season. Do you feel right now that your team was playing better at the end?
COACH Charlie Weis: Something critical happened in that game Saturday night, something critical that happened was in a close game they won. There’s definitely a lesson that can be learned in every game, and each week there’s a separate lesson to be learned, and the fact that now all of a sudden something bad happened at the end of the game and the team comes back and wins the game, that’s just as important as any other lesson that can be taught because a team doesn’t start winning those close games until they experience it. Now that they know they can do it, it’ll make it a little easier next time it presents itself.
Q. Aside from Brady for the Heisman, there are a couple other players up, Fasano best tight end and Samardzija best wide receiver. Do you think that they’re good candidates, that they deserve those awards?
COACH Charlie Weis: You have to look at things two ways. One of them is statistically and one of them is the makeup of the player. For example, you look at the tight end from Maryland, it’s tough not to like that tight end from Maryland. It’s just that I don’t know if he does what we do. I just know that Anthony (Fasano) is a very polished football player that can block, run, catch, and he’s tough, and I like to have him on my team. It doesn’t mean I would not want to have that kid on my team; it just means I want Anthony on my team.
As far as Jeff goes, you’re leading the country in touchdowns on a team that’s 9 2, what’s there to say? You’re on one of the best teams in the country and you’re one of the reasons why. You’re leading the country in touchdowns. Some people might have more yards per catch, but it’s tough to ignore what he’s done.
Q. Did you and Brady make any specific changes at halftime of the Stanford game? Looking at the stats in the first half, 9 of 19 with the two picks and second half 16 of 19 with two touchdowns and no picks?
COACH Charlie Weis: We made a few adjustments. The first thing we did, we just said, okay, here are the problems that present themselves in the first half. Let’s rectify those, first of all, which I thought we did. Then in the second half I thought he played extraordinary and poised and composed. A lot of people would be rattled after that and just let the first half lead to a poor second half, but we did a few things. I’d like to pat myself on the back, but I don’t throw it. I thought he had very good composure.
Q. Were you surprised by the number of Notre Dame fans in the stands on Saturday?
COACH Charlie Weis: The more the merrier as far as I’m concerned. We have great fans and they travel everywhere. The one good thing there was there were tickets available. It wasn’t a full house and it was a big stadium. One of the problems our fans have are being able to get their hands on tickets. It was good to see so many of them there, especially at the end of the game. It was such an exciting win, and to have our players spend time with the fans at the end, I enjoyed that.
Q. Considering the problems that Notre Dame has had in postseason play in the last decade plus, how important do you think it is to your program to end this season with a victory?
COACH Charlie Weis: I go into every game with pretty much the same mentality. The one thing is this is the last one, so this is going to be the one people aren’t going to remember the Stanford game after the Bowl game. They’re going to remember the Bowl game. You’re either going to be 9 3 having lost a Bowl game or 10 2 having won the Bowl game. Really it’s one that’s going to leave a good taste or a bad taste. I’m hoping for the former.
Q. As far as Bowl practice, I think you might have addressed this a little bit earlier in the year, but a lot of college coaches say this is a good time to look at some young kids to maybe make some position swaps. Do you look at it that way in addition to getting ready for the Bowl or is it all Bowl preparation as far as you’re concerned?
COACH Charlie Weis: A little bit that way, but with a lot of those guys you’re talking about are playing for us. So many of those young guys are actually playing significant roles for us, whether it be on special teams or actually in the two deep. This has not been a year where you have a bunch of guys that are sitting there not getting any time that you’re getting ready for the future, so I think there’s a fine line between wearing them out and getting a look.
We’re all set; obviously as you would expect, I already have the practice schedule set and ready to go, so we’re going to use some time to go offense against defense where we get a chance to get some of the younger guys some meaningful reps, seven on seven and some of those other things, where it isn’t Brady throwing every pass, some of the younger guys catch the ball instead of those older guys. We’ll definitely have periods like that, especially the first couple of days of practice.
Once we get to the game plan portion, once we get to our opponent, get everything broken down and get the game plan done, once we get to that part of it, then it’ll be full go to get ready for that team.
Q. When do your practices start?
COACH Charlie Weis: We’re going to have a practice this Saturday and a practice the following Saturday, and the following weekend I’m putting exam burnout factor in and giving them that weekend off because they finish exams on the 16th, so I’m going to give them off the 17th and 18th and then we’re going to start a training camp mentality the next day, one a day, two a day, one a day, two a day, one a day, starting the 19th until noon on the 23rd, where I will then let them get out of here to go home for the holidays.
Q. Do they stay, though, on a pretty strict running and lifting type thing?
COACH Charlie Weis: They’re already on it. They started it Monday after Stanford, so we got back late on Sunday but they ran on Monday. We’re Monday Wednesday Friday as far as that goes. We’re already started this previous Monday. It was most enjoyable for them to come in and go and lift on their off week, on Monday.
Q. I wondered what you thought of all the kind of whining and politicking and, oh, Notre Dame isn’t playing a very tough schedule type of talk?
COACH Charlie Weis: One of my answers to that is people look at schedules, records at the end of the year. I look at records when you play them. For those people that are looking, what they should really do is look at the teams when you play them.
For example, Michigan State, now, Michigan State deserved to beat us. We did not play well that day, we did not coach well that day. They deserved to beat us. But at the time Michigan State was one of the best teams in the country. So they end up 5 6 and everyone says, well, they lost to a 5 6 Michigan State team. That Michigan State team that we played at that time was not a 5 6 team. They ended up 5 6 but they were not a 5 6 team.
Too many times people talk about if you look at the two games we lost, we lost to Michigan State that at the time was on a meteoric rise up the charts, and we lost to USC. I mean, take a look. It doesn’t take too much to figure out. As a matter of fact, take a look at the teams we beat that people say, well, they weren’t any good this year. Last time I checked, I think Michigan turned out okay. Purdue, when we played them, I think they were highly regarded when we played them. You can’t look at how they turned out. Look at where they were when you were playing them.
We forget, we went into Pitt the first game of the year and we were supposed to lose by 100.
Q. Where do you think that since the USC game, where do you see your team having improved?
COACH Charlie Weis: I think 3rd downs on defense was phenomenally better, especially the last two games. Look at the Syracuse game and the Stanford game. The first defense gave us two 1st downs on 3rd down in those two games. That’s phenomenal. I mean, that’s the money down as we said in the NFL. That’s the down you want to get off the field on defense. The offensive production is tough to figure, but the balance I thought actually improved. We ran the ball better, which led to more balanced attack, and obviously Darius (Walker) saved his best for last. When you have a combination of a running game and obviously being able to throw the ball at the same time, you always have a chance to score points.
Q. I read this morning stories about Brady Quinn may be going pro, and I know that he’s repeatedly said that he’s staying. What’s your thought about these things come out and what’s your thought about the reality of that happening?
COACH Charlie Weis: We’ve already talked, so I have an unfair advantage here (laughter). I talk to all these kids, and if he says he’s coming back, there’s a reason why he’s coming back. Brady is not the type of person that’s going to sit there and tell you he’s coming back and then not come back. Obviously you have to understand what happens at this time. What happens at this time is you have NFL agents that try to get to these kids and their families to try to encourage them to come out early so that they can make money, and that’s the bottom line. That’s what this is all about.
Okay, now what kid wouldn’t be impressionable when somebody says, hey, you’re going to be a first round draft choice and you’re going to make millions of dollars? Well, my feeling is you’re going to make a lot more millions of dollars one more season, and if a guy wants to go out early, as long as he’s graduated from Notre Dame I’ll support it. The only time that I have a little problem with these guys going out and wanting to leave here before they’re eligibility was done would be if they hadn’t graduated yet. Getting a Notre Dame degree is part of the package when you come here. What they don’t realize is if you leave here without one, you’ll probably never go back and get one. The odds say you won’t.
Q. The last thing with me, in terms of injuries, are you optimistic that you’ll get the Talley and Fitzpatrick?
COACH Charlie Weis: I think that both of them as a matter of fact, both of them would want to go this week, but I’ve kind of put both of them on the 19th program. They want to go Saturday. I told DJ I don’t want him kicking until the 19th. I saw Talley yesterday, he wants to go Saturday. I’m going to have to hold him back because he wants to go, but by the 19th we’ll have those guys we’re going to be in pretty good shape health wise by the 19th.
Q. You talked a little bit about looking at young guys during the Bowl practices. Is that a time when you can look at guys who might be thinking about coming back for fifth years, also?
COACH Charlie Weis: I don’t need to look at that.
Q. Have any of those decisions been made yet and do you have a timetable set?
COACH Charlie Weis: There’s a whole protocol that takes place here. It’s not just a decision; there’s a whole process involved at the University. It’s not like I’m the sole person involved in that. There’s a whole process, so it takes some time. I would expect to see a great number of people back here well, a large number of people back here for fifth year.
Q. Has anything been decided yet?
COACH Charlie Weis: I said there’s a whole process that hasn’t even started yet. The only person that really the process started on was Rhema (McKnight) because when you play in a game in your fourth year you have to apply for a medical, so that process obviously had to be started because it’s a different situation than all these guys that are currently still playing.
Q. You mentioned that Brady Quinn had seven interceptions, I think, on the season. Not many of those seemed to be the result of a poorly thrown ball.
COACH Charlie Weis: Well, every once in a while (laughter).
Q. Like Saturday it seemed like the ball ended up going right at a defender. Is that more a case of a misread or did they make an adjustment from what you saw in the film?
COACH Charlie Weis: I don’t know, he threw for 430, so I don’t know how much of an adjustment they made. Maybe we just didn’t do too well on those plays. I wasn’t very happy with the first one, and I was more unhappy with the second one because the first one I was confused with where we were going with the ball, and the second one was a little he got middled, middled meaning you have a high low receiver and you have one DB to try to cover two guys. So the secret is always take the money and take the shorter one and take the profit. That’s what I say, take the profit, rather than always trying to hit the home run. We decided to go for the big one instead of taking the profit. He didn’t do that in the second half, as you noticed.
Q. When you came to Notre Dame obviously your background as a student and your association with athletes when you were here gave you a pretty good indication that no matter what the record was the previous year, you were going to find a certain quality of athlete here at Notre Dame, an intelligent, disciplined kid you would work with. Was that part of the confidence you had coming in that you could get things turned around and have success the first year?
COACH Charlie Weis: The system I’ve been involved in has always countered on having smart players. That’s what the Patriots always prided themselves on, having smart players. Coming in, not even knowing the kids, you knew they were going to be smart. That showed up. It helped, how much of a system you could put inThat gave us the best chance, especially with the quarterback.
Q. At the start of the year you discussed wanting to install that Patriots model of team chemistry that is so important. As you look back through this regular season, how much did that model impact the 9 2 regular season and how well do college kids take to that model that Coach Belichick used in the pros?
COACH Charlie Weis: They did a great job. I’m more than pleased with how our players bought into that. That is very tough to do, and it’s pretty easy watching our players on the sideline and how they pull for each other and how they celebrate after a big play. We don’t have a bunch of hot dogs; we have a bunch of guys who actually care for each other, and we don’t have finger pointers when things go bad, either.
I can say that I’m pleased.
Q. Looking back now, what do you think has been maybe the biggest surprise for you from the beginning of the season?
COACH Charlie Weis: I’d say the biggest surprise would probably have to be Ambrose (Wooden) because we didn’t have him in the spring. Remember, he wasn’t out there in the spring. He was coming off an injury. At the time I didn’t even know who our second corner was going to be. Coming out of the spring, I wasn’t really sure. I knew Mike (Richardson) would be one of them, I didn’t know who the other one would be.
You could sit there and say (Jeff) Samardzija, but to be honest with you, I told Samardzija in the summertime that I expected him to have a banner year, and if you ask him he’ll tell you that I told him he should raise his expectations because I had this conversation with him in the spring and pulled him into the media room this summer and told him that again.
I had high expectations for (Maurice) Stovall. A lot of other people might not have but I did; I had them for (Brady) Quinn, Darius (Walker), a lot of those guys I had high expectations. Of all the guys, the guy that I didn’t know anything about was really Ambrose. I thought he played very solid for us all year.
Q. You mentioned the defense on 3rd down. What have been the keys to that? Is that a mentality thing?
COACH Charlie Weis: It’s a lot of things. First of all, you have to give some of that to coaching. You have to credit Rick (Minter) and Bill (Lewis) and Jappy (Oliver) and Brian (Polian) and Jeff (Burrow) helping out there, come up and put them in position to do that. It really comes with a defensive mentality. Remember early in the year we made a big deal out of turnovers in the red zone, well, how that becomes an attitude? Well, getting off the field on 3rd down becomes an attitude, too, and that really showed as the year went on. It’s a very positive note to leave the regular season on.
Q. At the end of the Stanford game they had the long pass play and you and Steve had one at the end of that game. I think both times the announcers said maybe they would have been better off letting the guys score to give the offense more time.
COACH Charlie Weis: Give me a break. Those are announcers that know everything, right? That’s why they’re announcers. Give me a break. I mean, let’s talk about it.
First of all, we had three timeouts left. There’s over a minute and 55 seconds to go. They run the ball three times and don’t go in, we call time out, time out, time out, we still are going to have a minute and 30 to go regardless of whether they score or don’t score. They have no timeouts left so if they don’t score we kneel on it and the game is over. So for those brilliant guys, they missed on that one.
Conversely, in the other game, the USC game, you have to understand how it’s not for little extra second effort or a quarterback sneak. The clock runs out, we win. What you don’t want to do is give them time to make a call on what they’re going to do. As it turned out, they made a very brassy call that ended up working out for them. If it doesn’t work out, they’re not playing for the National Championship right now and maybe we are. So that’s the difference, that one decision with the clock running, that one decision is the difference between winning and playing for a National Championship.