Dec. 10, 2005
Coach Weis: I have had a couple days to get caught up here and there are a couple things I want to say about Ohio State. As you all know, they started off their season 3-2, but finished up strongly and won their last six games pretty convincingly. One thing about this senior class going out (for Ohio State), they have a chance to become the winningest class in the history of the school with one more victory. Ironically, that is how many games they have left.
This is the same group that helped Ohio State to the national championship over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl in 2002. This is their third trip to the Fiesta Bowl in the last four years so they obviously are familiar with everything about this game and they are 2-0 with wins over Miami and Kansas State.
I have a lot of respect for Coach Tressel. This is his fifth year as head coach there. In the five years he has a national championship and two co-Big Ten championships, I believe. He has taken them to four bowl games in four years, including back-to-back BCS wins in the Fiesta Bowl.
Their offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, he also has been at Ohio State for five years. There are some figures about their offense that are pretty impressive. They are averaging 32.5 points per game, they are rushing for 189 yards per game and they are averaging 4.4 per carry. The last five games they have rushed for over 200 yards four times. In addition to that, they are averaging over 200 yards passing per game, 215 per game passing, so that puts them over 400 yards per game in total offense.
They do a real good job on third down, converting at 38 percent and they have only given up 17 sacks for the year. One of the most impressive statistics in my research is that they have outscored their opponents 180-79 in the second half of the season. Obviously, they have shown that they are strong.
(Troy) Smith, their quarterback, he has taken over as a true dual-threat quarterback. He has accounted for over 25 touchdowns, both running and throwing. He is coming off one of his best games, I just watched again this morning, the Michigan game, where he threw for a career-high 300 yards and a touchdown. He was 27-37 in the game and rushed for 37 yards as well against their archrival. He played well in a big game.
They have (Justin) Zwick ready to go as their back up. He has started nine games in his career, so they have a capable back up.
(Antonio) Pittman, he is a guy you are going to have to deal with along with Smith. If you are worried about Smith’s rushing ability, you better start with Pittman because he has rushed for just under 1,200 yards with six touchdowns and he is averaging 5.4 per carry and 108.6 per game. He finished the season with six 100-yard games including four of the last six. All of his touchdowns, all six, have come in the last four games. He also catches the ball, averaging over 10 yards a catch. This season he has joined two great Ohio State alums, Archie Griffin and Keith Byars, who I happened to coach with the (N.Y.) Jets, by the way, as the only Ohio State sophomores to pass the 1,000-yard plateau in school history.
(Maurice) Wells is the back up and he is a capable back up even though he is a freshman.
At the fullback/tight end position, there is kind of a hybrid because they have three different guys that they use depending on what they are doing. They list (Stan) White as their fullback, but he is more of an h-back type of player. He will line up a little bit at tight end and fullback. (Marcel) Frost, he saw his first action, I think I saw his first action in the Iowa game. He came to Ohio State as a defensive lineman but he is more of a receiving tight end. The also use (Jordan) Hoewischer, who wasn’t really even listed in their program that much, but they use him as their blocking tight end in their two-tight end packages. So those three guys you have to be ready for in that fullback-tight end situation.
When it comes to receivers, they have four that play. (Santonio) Holmes, (Ted) Ginn, (Anthony) Gonzalez and (Roy) Hall. Between Holmes, Ginn and Gonzalez they have combined for 118 receptions and 1,857 yards and 16 touchdowns. Holmes, all-Big Ten, is their leading receiver with 48 catches and 850 yards. The impressive thing there is the 17.8 yards per catch. He is third all-time in touchdown receptions with 24 behind two great players, David Boston and Chris Carter. In addition to that, he returns punts and kicks along with Teddy Ginn Jr.
Speaking of Ginn, last week, just as I talked about Smith and his performance. Ginn steps up in the Michigan game with nine catches – the most he had this year. He will line up anywhere. He will line up in the backfield, he will be in the slot, he will be a flanker. He has 43 catches for 636 and three touchdowns. He also has rushed the ball 10 times. He has scored on a kickoff and punt return for touchdown and he is averaging just about 30 yards per kickoff return so he is a guy that can beat you a lot of ways.
You can’t underestimate Gonzalez and Hall who are third and fourth on the team. They are productive receivers in the offense. They are not afraid to spread you out. You have to cover the whole field.
Solid offensive line. You have (Doug) Datish at left tackle and (Rob) Sims at left guard. Sims is all-Big Ten and a co-captain. They actually have two captains on their offensive line as well because (Nick) Mangold, the center, is also a co-captain and second-team all-Big Ten as well. They are not afraid to put him at guard if they need him. (T.J.) Downing plays right guard and they have used both (Kirk) Barton and (Alex) Boone at right tackle.
The defense, this year they have a little change and they have co-defensive coordinators in (Jim) Heacock and (Luke) Fickell. Those coaches have done a really good job with their team. Fickell in fact is an alumn of Ohio State and played nose tackle there for them for a bunch of years. He was a four-year starter.
Some stats about their defense. They are seventh in the country in points allowed per game, 14.8. They are averaging 2.4 yards rushing per play, 74.5 yards rushing per game, just about 200 yards passing yards per game. All together, 275 yards per game for their defense which is fifth in the country. Thirty nine sacks led the Big Ten and, once again, the Michigan game, their archrival, they held them to 32 yards rushing and 103 yards total in the first half.
Honestly, one of the big concerns for the defense is going to be the health of (Bobby) Carpenter. That will affect their defense. He broke his fibula, they list him at six to eight weeks and I got him calculated that kickoff will be 45 days from the time he got hurt. So that is right in the six to eight weeks period where he may be ready to play. He is an excellent player and allows them to switch back and forth between odd and even fronts. I was kind of watching him closely myself because I was a big Giant fan growing up and his Dad was one of my favorite players when I watched the Giants.
Last week, (Mike) Kudla took over some of his responsibilities. He has over six sacks and (David) Patterson, the other end, as four sacks as well. Then you have (Marcus) Green inside.
The strength of their team is at the linebacker position. (A.J.) Hawk, I sat right behind him at the show earlier this week. He is an impressive looking kid. He handles himself very well and looks pretty good on tape. You don’t win the Lombardi Award by not being a good player. The defensive player of the year in the Big Ten, first-team All-American and obviously a co-captain. He is the leader of their defense. He is a really good player.
(Anthony) Schlegel, their `Mike’, I think he is a little underrated. He is a really solid player and is second on the team with 75 tackles, seven for loss and a couple sacks. We’ll see what happens with Carpenter. If he doesn’t play, (John) Kerr is his back up at the linebacker position. Last week against Michigan when (Carpenter) went down, they immediately went to nickel and brought (Brandon) Mitchell in as their fifth DB and they just shuffled those guys around. They did so effortlessly and it didn’t seem like they missed a beat.
The secondary is led by (Nate) Salley the free safety. He is a co-captain, first-team all-Big Ten. You see a pattern coming here, they have a lot of first-team all-Big Tens coming out of this team. (Donte) Whitner at strong safety, (Ashton) Youboty and (Tyler) Everett handling the corners.
On top of everything else, when it comes to special teams, I already talked about Ginn and Holmes returning kicks. They have (Josh) Huston as their placekicker who is 20 of 24 in field goals. Out of the 70 kickoffs this year, 49 have been for touchbacks. Last but not least, you have (A.J.) Trapasso, a redshirt freshman who is averaging over 40 yards a punt and 18 of them have been downed inside the 20.
I am not really totally up to speed yet on Ohio State but I think we have a good start. Hopefully, by the time the game rolls around I will be a little bit better prepared. Fire away.
Q: Will this be the best defense you have faced so far?
Coach Weis: Too early for me to make that judgment. I think we have played against some good teams this year. I would say they are high quality. We have not watched all 11 games and do not have a really good idea of what they are doing I would be premature (to judge them). I have a lot of respect for their defense. I think they are darn good. Those statistics don’t lie. But right now they are just stats and they will become more meaningful when I understand their players and what they are doing.
Q: This is your first time in a bowl game, is the preparation different?
Coach Weis: This is my first time going to a bowl, huh?
You have to realize that these are student-athletes you are dealing with. This is exam week this week. So what I try to do is try to keep them sharp physically, not worry too much about Xs and Os and Ohio State at this time. You need to give your staff time to make sure they have been able to do all their research and come up with their schemes of how we are going to attack them. We practiced last Saturday, we are going to practice today, and then I am giving them off until next Monday.
This is a burn-out week around here. They have exams until Friday. If I practiced next Saturday, it will be an awful practice. After going through that grind mentally, what they have to do with exams, they will come back Monday and we will do training camp schedule – one-a-day, two-a-day, one-a-day, two-a-day, one-a-day and have everything in by the 23rd at lunchtime so they can go home, enjoy Christmas. When we go to the bowl game it will be more fine-tuning then it will be game planning.
Q: Can you compare your experience now with the Super Bowl?
Coach Weis: I have a lot more time here. The most time you had with a Super Bowl was two weeks. There were some years you would go and it would only be one. The last several years it has been two. You would put most of the stuff in the first week before you went down to the bowl site. Then you just tweak it the second week. It is important not to burn your players and give them everything right off the bat. You lose their attention on the week of the game. It is an important element not to burn your players out where they get bored.
Q: Did you ask coaching friends of yours for advice to deal with this situation?
Coach Weis: I have done that. I have met with several guys about how they have handled this situation. Unfortunately, some of these guys, not going into who they were, told me how they screwed it up first and how they fixed it. So I am hoping that I am going to bypass the `screw-it-up phase’ and get to the second phase of it right off the bat.
Q: Overall evaluation of your defense…
Coach Weis: They have been opportunistic. Even in games when they have given up yardage, they always made plays in the red zone. There has been steady improvement on the defense from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. We always felt, right from the start that we would get them flying around out there. They are playing with more confidence. The last couple games, how they have handled third down. Basically in the last two games the first team has given up one third-down conversion total. That is pretty phenomenal. I think it was a shutout at Syracuse and I think the first defense gave up one at Stanford.
When you can get off the field on third down, you always have a chance of winning.
Q: How do you account for Brady Quinn’s rapid improvement?
Coach Weis: First of all, he had all the inherent traits to already be a great quarterback. He had played for two years and played a lot of football and been hardened. He is tough and smart. All we did was put in this system, which is a quarterback-friendly system. It puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback but you try not to put anything in that the quarterback can’t handle. Because he has been able to handle a lot, we have been able to do a lot.
I think the success of our offense can be pinpointed to the progress of Brady.
Q: How much of an adjustment has it been coming back to college from the pros, specifically having the patience to work with college-aged players?
Coach Weis: I don’t change very much. I really don’t. The one thing you have to understand is that the time element is so much different. In the NFL, I would be with Tommy (Brady) from six in the morning until seven at night. I saw him more than I saw my wife. It was like every day you are with him all day long.
Here, the hours are much, much shorter. You have to be much more time efficient. You have to be good at time management to try to get the same thing done. I rely on Peter Vaas a lot with Brady (Quinn) to get things done when I am not around. Q: What did the coaches say you should avoid in your preparation?
Coach Weis: Well, for example a couple guys told me that when they first got into college they beat them up and went through trying evaluate all the guys for next Spring and game planned three weeks before the game. By the time the game came up, they were too bored or beat up. They would go out to the bowl game and not do too well. They learned how to tone it down and be more time efficient.
That is why this training camp was a suggestion of many people. When you get them in, give them a full dose of fundamental and techniques and don’t overwhelm them with the Ohio State game plan all at one time.
Q: Does your veteran staff help you decide how to go about your preparation?
Coach Weis: I went to all of the coaches, we met as a coaching staff to get suggestions. That was the first area I went to for advice, before I went to other resources.
Q: Were you surprised that Brady Quinn wasn’t invited to New York as a Heisman finalist?
Coach Weis: I wasn’t surprised, I was disappointed to tell you the truth. I didn’t understand why. I made a phone call to the guy that runs the show and I told him that. Their rationale was that there was a clear drop off between three and four and they felt in the past they had as few as three and as many as six. They though that three was the magic number. I just disagreed.
Q: Most of the players will be back next year, does that affect your preparation for this bowl game?
Coach Weis: I could care less about next year. I am only worried about one game and that is the game on January 2nd. I could care less about next year at this time. There is only one thing we are worried about and that is Ohio State. We have not won a bowl game in over a decade and let’s see if we can do that.
Q: What makes A.J. Hawk such a force on defense?
Coach Weis: He is physical and can run. I am assuming he is a very heady player just by his production. I have not studied him personally enough because right now I have just spent time watching the game tape to get a flow for what is happening rather than zero in on the strengths and weaknesses of players. But, he shows up on a whole bunch of plays.
Q: Troy Smith gets attention for his feet. Can you talk about his ability as a passer?
Coach Weis: It is interesting watching him evolve this year. Going from the running quarterback versus the throwing quarterback, now he is `The Guy.’ Watching that evolve as the year went on and they did more and more and became more comfortable with what he can do. Now, you have to be concerned with both elements because you can’t just worry about his feet. The guy can beat you with his arm pretty easily now.
Q: Wondering if you have ever been in a situation with two quarterbacks and how difficult it would be to have them not look over their shoulder?
Coach Weis: I have seen guys that try to rotate quarterbacks, I just don’t get it. Maybe I am dumb, but I have always thought that you have one quarterback and you do what he does. When the other quarterback comes in, there are two decisions you have to make. Everything is dictated by what he is capable of doing. Sometimes the personality of your team can stay the same with a more minimal package, or sometimes your team has to adapt to what that player does – so you include plays that he does well.
The only example I can give you is in the last couple years with the Patriots I had Tommy (Brady) who was a drop back quarterback and I had Rohan Davey as a back up. We had a package for Ro that wasn’t the same as for Tommy. When Ro was in there, we ran `Ro Plays.’ Every day after practice we had a whole period and that was name of the period – `Ro Plays.’ So if Tommy wasn’t in there I would nix off all the others and go to `Ro Plays.’
Q: Would you be opposed to a head-to-head yearly series with Ohio State?
Coach Weis: How are you going to fit it in? Twelve years from now when there is an opening in the schedule? These schedules are set so far in advance. That is why trying to judge whether a schedule is good or not is irrelevant. These schedules are set so far in advance, you don’t even know if someone on your schedule seven or eight years from now is going to be good or not, or whether you are going to be good or not good. That is why I leave the worrying about schedules to the powers-that-be and I just worry about playing them.
Q: You coached a prominent former Buckeye in Mike Vrabel…
Coach Weis: One of my favorites and a pain in the butt. He is a chirper. He will never shut his mouth and is always chirping. But we would play him on offense and get him the ball and he loved me.
Q: Were those plays on which he scored your designs?
Coach Weis: We throw it to the guy that is open. He was open. We have very few plays that are set to throw the ball to one guy. He scored again this year. I was watching the game and I said `I can hear his voice in the locker room already.’
Q: Does Brady Quinn have some of the intangibles that Tom Brady has?
Coach Weis: I would not put him on that same level at this point. As we have talked several times here, he has a lot of the same elements and same components that make a front-line quarterback. It starts with that special something inside that the great ones have and I think he has that something special inside.
Q: Can you talk about what you accomplished this season and compare it to your accomplishments in your early run with the Patriots?
Coach Weis: I felt personally responsible for our two losses. When you ask that question, I am content with our season ending 9-2 and being in a BCS game. But I think both Ohio State and Notre Dame, as happy as we are being in a BCS game, you sit back at night and say `What if,’ and I think as a head coach you have to be personally accountable for that `What if’ scenario. I am happy in the situation we are with our team. We made significant progress in one year. But I am never going to be really happy until we win all of them.
Q: What attracts you to coaching?
Coach Weis: I am into the mental part of the game. I think everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I think my strength is as a teacher. You have to understand what you are talking about before you can teach something at a high level. I really like analyzing people and trying to win a game mentally. Obviously, I am not very good physically so that is all I have to work with. The mental part of the game is the thing I enjoy the most.
Q: What are you looking for in the training camp mentality?
Coach Weis: When we come back, we are going to walk in the door and run the heck out of them. I hope they enjoy their time off because they are going to come back with (strength and conditioning coach) Ruben (Mendoza) right away. We are going to run, lift and be on special teams. We are going to have a full special teams practice in pads because that is something you don’t have to game plan for. That is something you can practice. That will not be a welcome way back, needless to say. That will get the juices flowing. Then we will come back that night and give them the scouting report on Ohio State. We will meet in the morning, practice in the afternoon and meet at night. Then we will try to get first down in, then second down in, then third down in, then red zone, then goal line, short-yard and two-minute and by the 23rd we will try to have that all in, or at least introduced, so when we go down to the bowl game we are not just starting from scratch.
Q: You talked about Tom Zbikowski’s toughness, what about his ability to get people in the right place and his mechanical development?
Coach Weis: He had a solid season all year. Talking to him walking in the door, when I interviewed all the players, he was really disappointed that last year he started off fast and then leveled out. He might have peaked early and wasn’t playing his best ball at the end of the year. This year, one of his goals was to be consistent in the games until the end. That is the thing that he probably feels the best about because there was no leveling off of his performance this year, he just continued to get better.
Q: Do you see Victor Abiamiri improving this year and how about the overall development of the pass rush?
Coach Weis: He has pass rush ability. Remember, he missed a lot of time after he got banged up in the Spring. He bruised his fibula, he was in a walking cast for a while. I think physically he got off to a slow start, even though he was ready to go you really can’t train the same when you are coming off an injury. I think that Victor’s play, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year continued to improve and I am hoping his best is yet to come.
Q: Is there a chance you will get Chris Frome back for this game?
Coach Weis: There is no chance he will be back for this game.
Q: Any chance Rashon Powers-Neal will be back for this game?
Coach Weis: He can’t, that is a University thing. I am not involved in that. What had come out earlier was a miscommunication. He was done for the semester and there was nothing I could do about that. I understand how that came out, but I talked to him afterwards and he understood that I didn’t have a say. At this point, it is out of my hands.
Q: Can you talk about the matchup with your receivers against the tall players in their secondary?
Coach Weis: We can talk about the height advantage, but like I said before I know who they are. I know what their numbers and stats are. I have watched a half-dozen games. I don’t know how good they are. The first time through I watch the schemes, not the players. It is the second time through when I watch the players not the schemes and I have not done that yet. It would be a bit premature for me to make a comment on that at this time.
Q: How has Darius Walker improved from the beginning of the year to now?
Coach Weis: Through Coach (Mike) Haywood’s tutelage, Darius has become a much more well-rounded running back. He has become better blitz pick-up, better pre-snap reads and reading fronts. Sometimes as a running back, as I have told both Coach Haywood and Darius, if you know what the play call is and are looking at the defensive front, you should be able, before the ball is even snapped, to know where the ball should go. Then, you just have to react if something happens differently as the play comes. That is something that has to be taught, it is not inherent. Too many time people just run on natural ability alone. He can catch, he can run and he has a better understanding of the game right now. His blitz pick up has improved dramatically from the beginning of the year.
Q: Was there a point when you remember him picking up the blitzes better?
Coach Weis: He has been a very consistent runner for us. There is a difference between having great vision and being able to run to a hole as it happens, versus a person who thinks he knows where the hole is going to be before the ball is even snapped. That is a different thought process altogether. It is a higher thought process.
Q: How do you raise expectations for Anthony Fasano every game?
Coach Weis: His goal every game starts with being able to dominate on the line of scrimmage as a blocker because a tight end’s job is to be an extension of the offensive line. Obviously every tight end wants to be running around and catching the ball. Every skill player wants the ball in his hands, but you have to be able to block, at least in this offense. This offense is not one where the tight end is all over the place and just running routes as a receiver. It starts with a run-pass threat and I think Anthony has been one of our most consistent players the entire season.
Q: What has the general reaction of friends and alumni to your success this season?
Coach Weis: We knew the ramifications of getting to that ninth win over Stanford and the possibility of being picked in the BCS. As it all worked out, we ended up being No. 6 in the final BCS and we knew we were a lock to get in there and did not have to sweat it out. To be honest with you, I was in North Carolina, New York, Detroit and Orlando in the last four days so I have not had a chance to worry about what anyone else was thinking. I had to get back in here and spend two days on Ohio State. Just 10 minutes before coming in here I felt like I just started to get caught up.
Q: Can you tell when you play a team that has an NFL influence, like USC?
Coach Weis: There are a lot of great football coaches in college. It is not like every great college coach came from the NFL. The only difference, those guys, I know them already. I know Pete (Carroll), not good enough to beat him, but I know what he does. The same thing would be true for some coaches I went against. That doesn’t mean your going to win, though. There are a lot great coaches in college and Coach Tressel is one of them. I have a lot of respect for him and his coaching staff.
Q: With your tam’s success, have you noticed any difference on the recruiting trail?
Coach Weis: Recruiting, not getting into particulars to get myself in trouble, but recruiting has gone well for a lot of reasons. First of all, Rob Ianello, Ron Powlus and Dave Peloquin and that whole department has done a heck of a job coordinating things. I think our coaches have been hard working. But the biggest elements were, number one, our aggressive approach right from the start. Number two, us getting out there and representing Notre Dame. I don’t believe we are salesmen. We represent Notre Dame. Lastly, for the top players at least, for a lot of people the jury was out of whether we were going to back up what we said. To finish up 9-2 kind of erased some of the indecision that some people had trying to figure out whether we were going to be any good or not.
Q: Has your path ever crossed with Coach Tressel?
Coach Weis: Not really in coaching. At the Big 33 Game we were at a press conference together sharing a table. It was a love fest with Notre Dame and Ohio State, which will continue for the next few weeks I am sure.
Q: Are the seven-straight bowl losses something you will emphasize with your team over the next few weeks?
Coach Weis: Oh, it will be mentioned (laughter). It won’t be history. It will be mentioned every day multiple times.
Q: Do those losses have a snow ball effect?
Coach Weis: No, I think it gives you a great opportunity to humiliate the team. I think it has no effect and I could care less, to tell you the truth, those games are gone. There is nothing you can do about it. But I like the firepower going into practice every day. They will hear it. It might not be in the first 20 minutes of practice when my friends from the media are there, but they will hear that a lot over the next few weeks.
Q: The anniversary of your hiring is coming up, can you talk about that day a little bit and how the season has gone for you?
Coach Weis: First of all, I really appreciate every one that I have worked with and they have made this transition a lot less difficult than I thought it was going to be. You really don’t know what you are getting into. It is all the elements – Sports Information, the players, the coaches, the administration, whether it is Kevin (White) or Father (John) Jenkins, or the academic admissions or the media, I think it has gone a lot smoother that I thought it was going to go. I am still in a learning experience and I learned a lot of valuable lessons that should make me better next year.
Q: Did you have any emotions that day walking to the podium and being introduced?
Coach Weis: I had plenty of emotions but it was not `Oh gosh, I got this job.’ It was `Okay, now what are we going to do with it?’ You are judged by how the players perform and my biggest job was to get them performing better than they were. Unfortunately in this business there are coaching changes. When coaching changes take place families are affected. I am not a big fan of coaching changes because when you do that they are a lot of assistant coaches, kids that are moving and going somewhere else. I am not into wanting someone to get fired.
All I know, I am proud of how (the players) handled this year and especially the seniors, the fifth-year seniors who have been involved with four coaches. They can leave with a good taste in their mouths. Hopefully, if we can beat a quality opponent like Ohio State, it can be an even better taste.