Sept. 11, 2005
COACH WEIS: Good afternoon. Being a creature of habit, at 1:20 I meet with the staff to go over the injuries that occurred during the game, so questions you have regarding the injuries, I would not be able to tell you anything more than I told you yesterday, because I don’t meet with them until 1:20.
At 2:00 I’m going to meet with the team and I’m going to tell you right now exactly what I’m going to say to the team to start off the meeting. Michigan State has now won four consecutive games at Notre Dame Stadium, which happens to be the second longest winning streak for a Notre Dame opponent in Notre Dame Stadium. Only Purdue had won five straight from 1954 to 1962. No other school has won as many as three straight games against the Irish here at Notre Dame.
In addition, Michigan State has won 11 games here at this stadium, which is more than any one of our opponents in the history. Purdue has beaten Notre Dame 10 times, Southern Cal has beaten us 10 times, Pitt has beaten us eight times, but no one has beat us more times (in Notre Dame Stadium) than Michigan State. And by the way, one last comment about Michigan State – in their first two games they won 91 28. So before the players hear anything as it relates to the Michigan game, that’s the first thing they are going to be hearing today.
As we get to recapping the Michigan game, I’d like to talk in this order of special teams and then defense and then offense. I thought our special teams had an outstanding effort yesterday. I thought they really played physically. I was really concerned with (Steve) Breaston going into the game, and I think they negated him. I thought the coverage was very good. They had no penalties on special teams which is a very good thing. I think our kickers did a nice job. I thought that there are a couple players that really stood out: (Terrail) Lambert was outstanding, I thought (Carl) Gioia’s kickoffs was outstanding, (Joe) Brockington was all over the field, and (Tom) Zbikowski, in addition to being a full time player on defense, he’s quite a contributor both on our punt team and our punt return team.
The only thing that I thought that could use well obviously, you can use work on a lot of things but I thought our kickoff return blocking was a little sloppy because I really thought that we had an opportunity at least one time to take it to the house if we had just stayed on our blocks. We’ll work a little extra on that this week.
As far as the defense goes, I thought their effort was outstanding all day. I thought they put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Obviously we did blitz zone them a little bit, but I think that the front four and the rotation did a great job of putting some pressure on the quarterback batting balls down. I think they made a bunch of significant plays. I mean, the whole defense hustled, but I thought the front guys really stood out in this game.
We gave up a couple of big passes and a couple big runs, but I thought the key to the game going in, one of the keys to the game going in, were going to be our turnover ratio. Like I said, and every week, where you look at the stats and you think that they had that we took the ball away twice and they took it away once. We don’t look at it like that. We look at it like we took it away four times, because any time we stop them on fourth down, we consider that a takeaway. You saw the interception by `Zibby’ (Tom Zbikowski) and the recovery by `Nedu’ (Chinedum Ndukwe) but also those two fourth down stops; and to us those are turnovers and that turns it into a 4 1 ratio by the way we look at it.
We did have two penalties on defense and one was a substitution error which forced us into a little bit of a problem. We made up for it on the next play when we got a little fortunate when they fumbled that snap. We did have two penalties on defense.
The one guy who I have to single out above all the other players was Ambrose Wooden for those couple of touchdown saving tackles. He make the one on the one yard line which ended up turning into no points, and he also made the one on the 50 yard line, which might have been a touchdown as well.
Offense, I was very happy with how we started the game. I thought Brady (Quinn) did a great job of the no huddle execution, and matter of fact when we were in the no huddle throughout the periods we were in the game, I thought he handled that execution of the operation very well.
One of the biggest differences in the game came down to red zone. Again, like I had said earlier in the week, they were 0 for 3 in the red zone and we were 2 for 2. Really, if you combine the turnover ratio, turnover ratio and the red zone production, the team that won the game deserved to win the game.
Offensively, we didn’t handle a couple of their pressures very well which led to a couple of sacks and the one fumble we had. They brought just a fairly vanilla blitz and we didn’t touch the Mike linebacker. And although Darius (Walker) has to hold on to the ball, he gets hit just when he’s touching the ball, we need to do a better job not turning guys free, which we did a couple of times in that game.
I was very disappointed that we weren’t able to run out the clock at the end of the game with 3:47 left. That is the time where the defense should never have to get back on the field. As I said yesterday, I did call the one play action pass where I should have done a better job of letting the quarterback know that if he didn’t feel comfortable with throwing the ball to the guy in the flap for the first down to take a sack. Last thing in the world we should have been doing is throwing an incomplete pass and stopping the clock. That cost us some time, and I’ll take the blame for that one.
I was exceptionally pleased on the offense with the running of Darius. I thought he was outstanding all day long. I thought he made guys miss; I thought he ran tough. I was very pleased with how he handled it.
Q. You talked last week about being in an ornery mood after the first one. What kind of mood are you, more ornery mood or what exactly?
COACH WEIS: No, I think it’s the same level of ornery. (Laughter). Obviously I’m very happy for our football team and for our coaching staff and for our university to come out with a win. That was a big win for us yesterday.
But, with that said, I think they have a small time frame to get back to business. Because what you can’t ever do is let a win like that be followed by laying an egg. Trust me, you won’t have to worry about my mood with the players because it will be very matter of fact, just by my approach with you today and telling you my points on Michigan State. I can’t let them feel too good about themselves because we do play Saturday against a team that has definitely got the best of the rivalry here in the last bunch of years.
Q. Again the ballots are not in yet, looks like you’re ranked at No. 10, do you feel like you’re a top-10 team right now?
COACH WEIS: Well, all I know you is you just beat the No. 3 ranked team in the country and you’re 2 0. I’m not the one who sets the polls. But if you just go by what you see, there’s some teams that are unranked that probably should be ranked; if you just go by what you see and not by reputation.
If a real good teams gets blown out by somebody, why are they still hanging around there? I think that too many times rankings are based by reputation, not really by what happens. Maybe if you go by what you see, maybe the answer is yes. I’m not there to judge that.
Q. How do you feel that your front and Brady (Quinn) handled their blitzes?
COACH WEIS: If you listened to what I said, I was not very happy with how we handled the blitz zones. I think there was about three times in the game where they brought blitz zone pressure; that I wasn’t very happy. Two of them led to sacks and one of them led to a fumble. So that is one area where this was not something that we had not seen happen. This was not something we had not prepared for. But we obviously didn’t prepare for it well enough we obviously didn’t get it across enough because there were three opportunities for big plays that turned into big plays for their defense rather than for our offense.
Q. With Notre Dame moving into the Top 10 or getting towards the Top 10, there’s also a chance that you would have people mentioned for a Heisman. As a head coach, do you feel like it’s your obligation to play into that a little bit or do you feel like you really need to focus on the team?
COACH WEIS: Well, that’s an easy one for me because it’s always going to be about the team. I’m always going to talk about the team.
I only can draw an analogy from where I’ve been before I got here. That organization I just came from never really worried about which guys went to the Pro Bowl. The goal was always going to the Super Bowl, not going to the Pro Bowl. That’s the best analogy I can give.
I’m not really worrying about hyping any of our guys too much. I think that their play takes care of that. I think that the notoriety that Notre Dame gets by being on national TV each week plays into that, too. I think that we’ve had two wins in a row that have been because these guys have bought into the team. That’s really what it’s all about.
Q. Scott Smith it appeared got into the game a little bit. Can you talk a little about his progress?
COACH WEIS: He’s been progressing enough where he’s been practicing as a backup to Corey (Mays) for the last couple of weeks. Then Corey got a little sick during the game, so he asked out for a few times. The last thing you really want is to be there and all of a sudden see your freshman middle linebacker come running in for the first time playing against Michigan.
But I tell you what, he had one great hustle play on that reverse. I mean, he was already all the way up in the line of scrimmage and he turned and tracked a guy down and ended up making a hit on him right there.
Obviously it’s a learning experience for him and a lot of other guys, but I think it was great to get his feet wet and to get him in there some in the heat of the action. And it wasn’t in a non pressure game, so obviously it wasn’t like he was overwhelmed by the game.
Q. Outside the summer with the freshman, how did you guys get these guys so prepared to be ready to play; so many of them have already played this year.
COACH WEIS: First of all, I will give a lot of credit to my coaching staff. I have a bunch of great teachers on this staff. I think that when you really break football down and realize that coaching is just teaching, I mean, we’ve all had teachers that weren’t so good and teachers that were good, and I have a bunch of good teachers on our staff.
Secondly, in defense of these kids, they are a bunch of smart guys. So the combination with good teachers and good students progresses people along. I’ve said all along when I first got here that one of the advantages at Notre Dame is that you have a bunch of smart guys here, and it gives you an opportunity to push guys along mentally faster than you normally would be able to go.
Q. Can you compare getting a rookie ready (in the NFL) versus a freshman ready?
COACH WEIS: That’s a very good analogy right there, because getting a rookie ready, the only difference is the amount of time that you have to work with them. You know, up until school started, it would be just like you were bringing a rookie in. The parallels are there. But the difference is now when school starts, now you’re back to a four hour day, 20 hour work week. So that’s where for me it varies, because I used to have these guys from seven in the morning until seven at night.
Q. Before these guys got on campus, did you have any idea who might be ready, anybody you thought would play early?
COACH WEIS: No. But we knew that this year with the number of guys that we have on scholarship, we knew that this year a lot of these guys, that if they played well, were going to get their selves into the mix. We just didn’t know who. We just knew they were getting an opportunity to play themselves into the mix and many of them have.
And there’s more coming. Because we played eight of them so far, and it would not surprise me if more of them end up seeing time than that.
Q. Do you maintain contact a lot with people in the program, former players and such, wonder what type of feedback, if any, you received after the game?
COACH WEIS: We talked to a few of them on the bus on the way home, a few of them that know our numbers that we could call. I would rather leave those as private. I think they are just excited with the start. Of course, you know me, I’m of course tempering that down; as soon as they say that, I say, well, we played two games.
I think there’s a lot of guys that are just excited with how things have started. We’ll see where it goes from here.
Q. A lot of people were saying Michigan would really be a test of where this team stood, and not even in terms of whether you won or lost, but how you were perceived; does that change your line of thinking at all?
COACH WEIS: Here is the one thing that’s happened now through two games. Through two games, we have had spots where the offense has played very well, we’ve had spots where the defense has played really well, and now we’ve also had spots where the special teams have played very well.
So at least now there’s evidence after only two games that all three of them are capable of playing well. So now the important thing is going to be to strive to get all three of those in sync all playing well at the same time. That’s easier said than done, but because there’s evidence that it can be done, now my expectations go up.
Q. You mentioned you might be concerned about the player’s head right now.
COACH WEIS: Not as of 2:01. They might have had a real good time last night and slept in late and had a nice brunch. But by about 2:01 they are going to be hearing about Michigan State real hard, I promise you. And then we’ll be following up with a lot of constructive criticism.
Like I said last week, it’s always easier, I can’t even tell you how much easier it is on a Sunday to give constructive criticism when the team has won. Because when the team has won and is feeling good about themselves, it’s easier to press them to another level because you’re not doing it in a damaging or demeaning or condescending way. They are open to it because they want to listen to you. It’s when they have lost or things have gone back, that’s when they don’t want to listen to you, because they already know they played bad. It’s a lot harder when that ends up happening.
Q. I want to put a fine point on something you said about instant replay yesterday. You said something about the officials are going to err on the side of safety and I’m not sure what that..
COACH WEIS: Yeah, it confused me, too, a little bit, that’s a good question. Because when the official came over to the sideline, I said, “You couldn’t see that he was down”? I might have had an adjective or two in there. I said, “You couldn’t see that he was down?”
And he goes, “Don’t worry, Coach.”
“Don’t worry? You just called a fumble, you tell me not to worry?”
He goes, “We’re told, what we’re told to do is if it’s close, for them to call it the way they called it,” because the officials because the replay official could always correct it. Because if they called it the other way, if they called that he was down, then for the replay official, it was a moot point. Because if they had already called it down, then they could not have reversed it the other way, so that’s why they are told that.
So at least I understood the explanation, but I just thought that he was down so obviously to me. Maybe I was wrong, but he was down so obviously that I could not understand when he said that to me. But as I sit back to reflect on it, I do at least understand what the thought process was.
Q. How much more is it a part of your job to motivate people and be aware of the players psyche than it was, say, last year?
COACH WEIS: I only had half the ball to worry about and to be honest with you, it was Bill’s team, it wasn’t my team. So I think that the team, I’ve said this several times, takes on the personality of the head coach. And good coordinators, which I felt that I was a good, loyal coordinator, do not try to one up the head coach. What they try to do is follow the lead. And I thought that both Romeo and myself and Brad Seely, who was in charge of special teams for that matter, were very good at following Bill’s lead.
I think that’s what’s happened here. I think that my coordinators do a great job of taking the message that I have here and pressing it to everyone. But you can’t have too many people voicing their own opinion when it comes to those things, so it’s significantly different.
Q. Is doing this something that you’ve enjoyed so far, the challenge?
COACH WEIS: Do you mean dealing with motivating the players? I like dealing with the players. I like trying to find out what makes people tick. I like that. I think that it takes quite some work when you’re dealing with 100 different kids. It’s not like we’re dealing with twice as many in this locker room than I’m used to dealing with, and I used to only have to deal with half of them because I only had to deal with half of that 50 guys that we had. That’s the only ones I was really dealing with and I was still following Bill’s lead. So it’s quite challenging, especially in the time frame that you have to work with them.
Q. First home game of the year, obviously very familiar with what a football week is like here, does this change anything that you do this week getting the team ready, as opposed to the last couple of weeks?
COACH WEIS: I think the first thing is, there’s more distractions when you’re at home than when you’re away. I think the one thing you can play on when you’re away – it’s us against the world. It’s us against all of those people at the Big House. It’s us against all of those people at Heinz Field. Now you’re coming back and the families start coming in for the game and the dog and pony show arrives for the pep rally on Friday. It could be quite a distraction.
I’m definitely first of all, Michigan State is good to start off with. And if that isn’t enough, then we have a problem. Then on top of it, now you don’t have that `Let’s get on the bus and get out of here where we can focus everything.’ Now you have all of your family and friends coming into the game. It could be a distraction.
I personally, today, Chad Klunder, my director of operations, one of the big things I talked to him today, I said, you give Maura an itinerary, you go over with it with her, I don’t want to be worrying about it on Saturday, because obviously I don’t want to be hearing about it Saturday night if I didn’t worry about it. I like to get that stuff, I really think of it that far in advance, so I’m not worrying about it as a distraction.
Q. How will you try to prepare the players, especially the younger players, with what they have to deal with?
COACH WEIS: We’ll talk about that today. I won’t wait until Tuesday to bring it up, because Tuesday I want to be talking about game plan. I want to be talking about Michigan State’s personnel. I want to be all football. So the things that could be distractions, I’ll address today.
Q. Last week you talked about the great home field advantage the Patriots have, and certainly Saturday, that stadium will be full of energy, electric. How does a team positively channel that energy into success?
COACH WEIS: That’s a good question. I think you can play off of the crowd. I think the crowd can definitely be a pick-me-up.
But it really comes down to how you perform. I would say we were at a decided disadvantage with the home crowd yesterday, and I think our players made more plays. There’s no more obvious, evident case than yesterday for our players that if you don’t go out and play well enough, it won’t make a difference how many people are yelling, whether it’s 80,000 or eight; you can still end up losing the game if you didn’t play well.
Q. You mentioned last week that your favorite play from the Pittsburgh game was Darius’s touchdown on the screen, not so much because of the score but the blockers and hustle on that play. You singled out the play by Ambrose Wooden as the hustle play, almost seemed like it was just delaying the inevitable, but, do you splice together certain plays of the game and try to show to the team an example of hustle that can win or lose a game?
COACH WEIS: We do it on all facets of the game. When we watch the tape on Sunday, the first thing we start with highlights plays; or sometimes low light plays as well. But really what it comes down to, the coordinators, after we have hit the highlights for the day, the next thing we do is then get to the nuts and bolts of every play. But we definitely, the first thing we do, is single out plays like that.
Q. Did you pick your special teams captain yet?
COACH WEIS: Yeah, but I haven’t told him yet, so I think that he should get first dibs. I’d like to let the team know first before I tell you.
Q. On the whole, has your defense exceeded your expectations so far?
COACH WEIS: Well, I don’t know if exceeded. I thought they played great yesterday, and we had our whole motto all along is that we’re going to have 11 people flying to the ball and I think that’s how they are playing.
When we talked about experience versus inexperience, I said a lot of times on defense, you know, scheme is definitely a big part of it, but getting 11 guys buying into it at the same time and flying to the ball can make up for a lot of things. I think that’s what we’ve seen through two games.
Q. Do you know how soon we can expect to see Tom Brady with the hat?
COACH WEIS: Well, I talked to both his position coach and his head coach this morning to try to make sure that it is handled expeditiously. But both his position coach and head coach and I have spoken this morning on this very subject.
Q. Yesterday Brady Quinn faced a lot more adversity than he did against Pittsburgh. What did you learn about him yesterday that you maybe you didn’t know?
COACH WEIS: It wasn’t perfect, but he didn’t turn a ball over and he threw two touchdown passes and managed a no huddle operation with 111,000 people yelling.
I, just like everyone else, could sit there and say all of the things that went wrong in the game and start singling things out, which I’ll never do anyway, but I like to sit there and say the kid came out there on the first drive with 111,000 people and went on a 12 play drive and threw a touchdown pass. That that says a lot about somebody.
You know, a lot of people, this kind of confuses me a little bit, too. A lot of people say, you win the toss, you always elect to defer. That’s a thought that never even enters my mind. That is the furthest thing from my mind when the players looked at me and said, “You mean, win the toss and we want the ball?”
I looked at them and said, “Why wouldn’t we want the ball?” To get the ball and go there and go through that drive with a no huddle operation, to me that tells me as much about the kid as anything anyone else can write about them.
Q. And the secondary yesterday did a very good job of confusing (Chad) Henne or having him look to his tight end first, what was the game plan going in there to kind of limit him?
COACH WEIS: I think the first thing was to keep pressure on him. Pressure, a lot of times, is only going to occur with the front four and I think that he always felt the pressure. Even when we were not getting to him, the pocket was moving backwards, so he always feet the pressure.
We knocked down a bunch of balls, which that saves a lot of plays, when you’re tipping and knocking down balls, it kind of throws you out of your rhythm. So any time you can press the pocket with a drop back quarterback, any time you can press the pocket and then knock balls down, that’s a good you have a good, fighting chance when it comes to covering people.
Q. You mentioned a couple of times the passes your front four knocked down yesterday at the line of scrimmage, and I think from my count it was at least five, which most everyone seems to think is as high as we’ve ever seen. Have you ever been involved in a game where the front four has gotten more balls at the line of scrimmage than yesterday?
COACH WEIS: Well, very seldom, but usually it’s a combination of the defensive line being well coached, getting good pressure, being well coaxed and a combination of a quarterback whose delivery doesn’t come straight over the top.
You know, I think that their quarterback is very good, but he also throws he releases more at three quarters. And I think any time you release the ball at three quarters, you have a little better chance of a lower trajectory with a better chance of knocking some balls down.
Q. And the second question is, you said that there is more of an opportunity after the team wins, is there also more of an opportunity inaudible after they have seen the success they have had doing that?
COACH WEIS: I think that the goal now is because they have evidence of them playing well on all three elements of our game. It now gives you it gives me an opportunity to raise the expectations when I’m dealing with each one of them. It would be one thing if just the offense had played well for two games, or just the defense had played well, or the special teams had not played well at all. But because all three elements have all played well in aspects of the first two games, it gives me an opportunity to raise the expectations myself and hopefully bring them along with me.
Q. When you see a freshman in practice, what are you looking for that convinces you can put them on big stage like yesterday?
COACH WEIS: That they don’t act like a freshman. I think that’s the best answer I can give you. Because if they act like a freshman, then I don’t want them on the field. I think when you have a freshman out there that looks like he belongs, then I have no problem with him being on the field.
Q. I was kind of curious that you’re going to give guys kind of a history lesson on Michigan State, is that a departure? Seems like that strays a little bit.
COACH WEIS: First thing I did when I got on the bus on the way home was started doing some research to make sure I had the exact numbers that I quoted here today. Because I, like anyone else who knows the psychology of football, would realize that this would be a perfect opportunity for the guys to feel so good about themselves, they forget to show up to play a team that’s been beating them regularly that they have come here.
So I think by giving them the cold, hard facts; `Fellas, this is the way it is,’ kind of slap them back to reality, and I think that’s the most important thing that I could be doing this week more than X’s and O’s is make them understand the fact that we need to play our best game if we’re going to beat Michigan State.
Q. The offense has played very well in spots, but also stagnant in spots; what’s it going to take to get that going for four quarters?
COACH WEIS: Sometimes it’s better play calling by the head coach. There’s some times I’m playing into how the game goes. And you have to understand that I look at the game a little different when it’s 17 3 than when it’s 0 0. There’s different mentalities involved in the game.
But that being said, I thought yesterday there were a couple vanilla blitz zones that came our way that we didn’t handle very well. And whether Michigan State runs those blitz zones on tape or not, I can promise you that a good portion of this week, we’ll be practicing against blitz zones.
Because if I were them, or anyone else going against us, I would want to see if we got the problems fixed.