Sept. 23, 2007
COACH WEIS: After looking at the tape, I do have some reasons for optimism. I went into the game trying to simplify the game on offense and defense, and out of that we had a great reduction on our number of mental errors on both sides of the football.
I thought the team played hard and tried to play physical, and I think probably the thing that encouraged me the most of anything was how many people in the locker room after the game showed obvious emotion on the outcome of the game. It’s probably the first time this year that I saw so many players that were moved by the game, and that is, more than anything else, the one thing that people don’t get a chance to see, and it’s probably the greatest reason for optimism — how much they really care.
We’ve cut down our penalties to only four penalties, we ran the ball more effectively with James (Aldridge) and Robert (Hughes) and Armando (Allen), and even Travis’ (Thomas) one carry was a touchdown. We ran it in the red zone a couple times. We scored on sudden change this time, when the last time after Zibby (Tom Zbikowski) had run a punt return down inside, we couldn’t get the ball in the end zone.
Michigan State hadn’t given up a touchdown in the first quarter, we scored a touchdown the first quarter. We got a couple of turnovers on defense. But I think that still some of the same problems showed up on offense and defense.
For example, third downs. In the first half, offensively, we scored a couple touchdowns, it’s 17 to 14. Well, we’re 4 of 9 on 3rd down conversions; in the second half we’re 0 of 6. You look at the time of possession in the first half and then leading into the second half, a lot of that directly parallels with being able to convert on third down. So that’s obviously a critical factor.
But I walked out of there with several things — for the first time in a while there’s several things I can walk out of the game feeling good about.
I’m most disappointed of anything with our performance on special teams. I thought that that was definitely a lacking performance.
Q. How did Derrell Hand play in his first game, and do you expect Justin Brown to be out for an extended period of time?
COACH WEIS: Justin is going to be able to go today. That was a game time decision where we just didn’t feel — he had rolled his ankle a little bit earlier in practice, earlier in the week, and it was a day to day type of thing where we weren’t really sure whether or not he could go or not. But even right to game day, he just didn’t feel that he could just push off enough on that day. It was close. It was close to him being able to go on Saturday, but according to both Justin and Jim (Russ, head trainer), he’ll be back and ready to go. That’s the answer to Justin.
Derrell played okay. He looked like a guy playing for the first time. That’s what he looked like. He hasn’t been out there. I wouldn’t say terrible, I wouldn’t say good, he just looked okay.
Q. Is Geoff Price bothered by an injury or did he just have a tough day?
COACH WEIS: It was a tough day at the office. He’s not bothered by an injury.
Q. You had a couple young guys in there, pass rush situations, (Kerry) Neal and (Brian) Smith. Do you see those guys being able to contribute on run downs as well as pass downs?
COACH WEIS: Spotty on run downs. I see them being in the two deep on run downs. I don’t think that right now they’re ready to be prime time every down players, but I think their progress has grown at a much higher pace than a lot of other people. One thing they’ve both shown is they can get after the passer. We definitely needed some edge pressure, which both those guys provide. And then different roles, I think they not only played themselves into the two deep on regular defense but put themselves close to being on the field on a more regular basis.
Q. (Matt) Carufel in his first start, he must have played pretty well with the offensive line.
COACH WEIS: Yeah, he was decent. We were pretty good at the point of attack with the straight on physical stuff. Where we had a little bit more problem is with movement, you know, and I know you’ll go back and watch it the way I do, but you’ll see movement creating some more problems than just lining up. When we were just lining up smacking people in the mouth, I thought he held up fine.
Q. You mentioned a few minutes ago about the emotion. Can you give an example of what emotion you’re talking about?
COACH WEIS: Well, when you go in there and you’re talking to the team after game time, I think one of the things you have to do is make sure that you don’t tear them down because you already know they’re feeling bad. But when you look in guys’ — look in some of their faces and you see them to the point where — not losing it but like where it’s that important to them, where you look in their face and it’s that important to them, that’s when you know they’re the type of players you want playing on your team. And sometimes it’s one guy, sometimes it was two guys, but there was a bunch of them yesterday that looked like that. That is a very, very strong positive when it’s that important to that many people.
Q. You mentioned the last game you watched something. Is that what you look for after a game? Are you really watching to make sure everyone is still where you want them to be?
COACH WEIS: Absolutely. I think that’s a really important part of my job is to see for guys that you think are going to throw in the towel. I think that’s an important part of our job. As I said to them in the locker room after the game, I said, “fellows, you’re either all in or all out, it’s one or the other. The boat is going to sail with or without you. It’s okay if you want to be out, but you’re either all in or all out.” And I’d say for the majority of the people, the majority of the people were all in.
Q. You also mentioned they tried to play physical. Does that mean they were unsuccessful?
COACH WEIS: No, I think there are a lot of people on both sides of the ball on both teams that are pretty sore today because that was a physical game in both aspects.
Q. You mentioned last night how you go game to game. The players — I know you say they avoid the media, but it’s impossible to miss the fact that from a historic stretch, it’s the worst start ever, six straight losses, second worst streak ever, and I know so much of that goes back to last year, but there’s so much out there. How do you keep the team from letting that weigh on them and how do you keep it from weighing on you?
COACH WEIS: The easier part is weighing on me because I think that the toughest thing is when you deal with people or the media, as players and coaches when you deal with the media or deal with people in general on a daily basis as everything they say — for example, in my case, I don’t read or watch or listen to anything. I just have stuff that’s given to me by (Notre Dame director of football media relations) Brian (Hardin), here’s what’s out there. And it’s just a synopsis. Sometimes it’s a whole article, sometimes it might be a couple words, just so you know it’s out there.
But in reality I’m more buffered than they are because I have a no screens policy. No screens means no computer, no TV. That’s no screens. And when there’s no screens, you usually don’t have too many problems because you usually are kind of oblivious to the rest of the free world.
Now, for (the players), I really don’t know how much they do that. But unlike me, who’s in this — enclosed in this building all the time, they’re out there in the public every day. So as I said before, it’s really tougher on them than it is on me. Like I said last week, I think they find the solitude when they come here. This is kind of where the regrouping takes place.
Q. You talked last week about creating a niche. At least in the running game it looked like you made some good progress in that. Have you made enough where you feel like you can start getting creative and throwing in some more stuff?
COACH WEIS: Oh, I think that you — let’s not get to that creative (and) throw in too much more stuff. I think you have to put in breakers now. In other words, you can’t just say, “okay, here’s the handful of plays you ran last week. Let’s run the exact same plays the exact same way the next week.” Those coaches, they get the tape. They are not going to say “let’s run the exact same plays the exact same way.” I think you have to add on to it.
But I’m not trying to go overboard in anything we’re doing. I’m trying to grow this. I say we’re going to start with a core and go from there, and that’s what we’re doing. We established a core and we’re going to kind of grow from there.
Q. How much this week do you need to work on the same things you worked on last week so as not to regress?
COACH WEIS: I think it’s important to make sure we work on being physical on both sides of the ball. The only way we can do that is ones against ones, which we’ll be doing elements of that this week. Now, we will not do as drastic as it was last week because you also don’t want to physically beat up your team. So there’s the fine line in there of working on being physical and tackling and taking to the ground, which we will do, and at the same time protecting your team and getting them ready to play Purdue.
Q. That’s where I’m going next. Did the fatigue factor set in in the second half?
COACH WEIS: No, I don’t think fatigue was the issue. I don’t think fatigue was the issue.
Q. What was the issue do you think?
COACH WEIS: (Laughing) It’s a rhetorical question. You watched it.
Q. Yeah, I did. Lastly, Michigan State used the play action pass really effectively. I’d imagine that’s something you want to get to as soon as you can?
COACH WEIS: We’re already on that. Hey, the guy completes 11 passes and four of them for touchdowns because you’re trying to stop the run, which they were doing effectively. That’s kind of what I was talking about last week, which is the direction we want to head. The better you run the ball, the better play action pass works. They go together.
Q. Tom (Zbikowski) was off the field a lot. I think in dime packages you brought Zibby out to the sideline. Can you talk about how you were going to use him yesterday?
COACH WEIS: Zibby you’re talking about? We had one package yesterday. He was on a dime in — he’s always on a dime at sub and regular, but we had one package yesterday which we call penny, which was three corners up, three corners on the field so that we could keep our regular defense front in there but still be able to match up when they had three wide receivers in there.
See, what had happened the week before against Michigan is Michigan would put in three wide receivers really just to run the ball, okay, because we put in nickel defense or sub defense and they were getting a couple of advantageous situations. So that was really just a one for one tradeoff where Raeshon (McNeil) would go in and Zibby would come out so that we had a third corner on the field so we could sit there and still — whether it was zone or man, we could still keep a seven man box in there on the run game.
Q. In terms of the team’s emotion, you said you could see it in their eyes after the game. How do you make sure they don’t run out of emotion? Is there anything you can do to make sure the well doesn’t go dry?
COACH WEIS: I would have been more concerned if they didn’t show that emotion. That’s when you really start to worry because when they don’t show the emotion, that’s when you start to have that concern you’re talking about. As long as they show that emotion, you know they care. And as long as they care you’re not going to be really concerned with that happening any time soon. That’s the sign I’m looking for, that’s the facial expressions I’m looking for, those are the type of things that are important to me when I’m looking at these guys after the game because I think it’s important to be looking to see how important it is.
Q. On that same tangent now, in practice, how do you kind of approach the team mentally where there were some positive improvements and at the end of the day it’s still a loss? Where is the balance between reinforcing the positives and also getting on them for the negatives?
COACH WEIS: One of the things we’re going to do different than last week — last week we didn’t watch the tape. So this week we are going to watch the tape because there’s plenty of — unlike last week, especially on offense, there wasn’t anything good to say. Now we can sit here and say, “hey, this is good, this is good, this is good, this is good. Okay, now, this is bad, this is bad, this is bad.” So you can differentiate the two.
And then we go out to practice and we’ll go ahead and work and clean up all the things that were bad, make sure we — not only do we see them visually but we go out and try to rectify them and then you can move on. Where last week when you went right into training camp, you weren’t even worrying about Michigan. You weren’t really worrying about Michigan State. We were just worried about ourselves.
But now this week is a little different because we get a chance to go back and correct — correct both visually and on the field what our problems were yesterday and then move on from there.
Q. Lastly, you and some of the players said you were going to try to pose a greater sense of urgency. Do you feel like you were successful in that, at least at the beginning of the game?
COACH WEIS: All you have to do is watch the beginning of the game and you can see that because to anyone watching the game, you could see that the question to whether or not the team was going to come out flat or not would have been answered right off the bat, and you could see that that was not the case. If they were going to be flat, they would have been flat coming out of the tunnel.
Q. On special teams, do you have a read on what’s not happening there and why isn’t it working up to your standard?
COACH WEIS: Well, first of all, let’s start with the coverage units. The first thing that’s got to happen is we’ve got to kick it better. That helps. Once you kick it better, the guys that are in one on one situations, which when you go back and watch it, you’re going to see some guys unblocked at the point right there to make a tackle that are unblocked. I mean, when you have an opportunity to make a play, you’ve got to make a play.
You know, the first play of the second half goes to the plus 45-yard line, there’s — you’ll see people about the 25-, 27-yard lines just one on one, unblocked right there to make a play. And in that situation, I’m not big on ever calling players and helping them see — in that situation you’ve got to make the play. You’ve got 11 guys going down there on the kickoff team, somebody has got to go ahead and make that play.
On the punt team it was kind of indescript as far punt coverage because the protection was good, but who knew where the ball was going to end up going. Just like the question was before, it was just a bad day at the office.
Then on the return game, I thought at punt return we really didn’t get many chances because the balls weren’t going very far and they were rolling around and off to the side and stuff like that, so that was kind of indescript. And on the kickoff return, which we had enough opportunities to, I just thought we got beat on individual blocks a couple too many times. We tried to simplify it so this was not a big scheme game. It just comes down to people having to play assignment football.
Q. Considering how many issues you have to deal with on offense and defense, do you have enough time to emphasize special teams to your liking in practice?
COACH WEIS: We spend a lot of time on special teams, every practice. We’re not light on walk through time, meeting time or practice time on special teams. There’s many, many people involved in it, and we just said, we’re going to have to do better because it’s not good enough right now.
Q. Offensively you got some nice positive production, kind of an H back type of look with either Will (Yeatman) or Luke (Schmidt) motioning through. What did you see in practice? I think you talked last week we’re going to have a play, “four yards we know we can get on this.” Was that one of those plays?
COACH WEIS: That was one of our goals in the game, whether it was with Asaph (Schwapp) in the game or Luke in the game or Will in the game to kind of run some similar plays from different formations to try to get positive production so you weren’t having some negative plays. Now, we had a couple negative plays in the run game, okay, but most of them there was some production.
Q. The emotion that you saw in the locker room, is that spread evenly throughout younger guys, older guys, or is one group showing more than another?
COACH WEIS: Fortunately it was, but more in the older guys than in the younger guys, which is normally the case. A lot of guys — the younger guys don’t know they don’t know, whereas the older guys, when it’s that important to that many of the older guys, it usually means that there’s going to be some good carryover all the way on down.
Q. And lastly, you said kind of the majority are all in. Does that mean there is a minority that is all out, and what do you do with that?
COACH WEIS: Those people I don’t know yet. You don’t know the answer to that question yet because when you’re looking at 100 guys, you can’t read everybody. I mean, you’re trying to, but I’m not a mind reader, I can’t read everybody. But you can see — what you can see, you can see the guys that are undeniably all in.
Q. In terms of your fifth-year seniors, people talk about leadership as this intangible thing. What tangibly are you seeing from them and what tangibly are you looking for from them?
COACH WEIS: One of the things I look for is how hard they play and for how long that takes place. The other thing you look for is you look at how they try to bring people along with them. For example, Trevor Laws, in the past, has just been one of that group of defensive linemen. Yeah, you had Victor (Abiamiri) here, you had Derek (Landri) here, you had Chris (Frome) here, you had a bunch of older guys here. But Trevor Laws is working as hard as I’ve ever seen him work, and he’s playing as hard as I’ve ever seen him play, and he’s doing it for the entire game.
You want to know something? The person that it’s probably had the most effect on is Pat Kuntz because he’s been in there with him the whole entire time, and because of that he’s kind of carrying Pat along with him, where Pat is kind of playing the same way. Now, what we’ve got to do is get more guys doing that. That’s one example of how one guy can help push another guy to play at a higher level than you thought he might have been capable of.
Q. You mentioned, too, that you break it down into kind of one week entities. Do you want that from your players, and if so, how do you get them to do that?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think because that’s been my way since I’ve been here, for anyone who’s been in the program, that’s the way we’ve done it. In other words, this isn’t a novel approach. It would be one thing if you’re trying to do it, okay, we’re losing, so I have to break away from the losing syndrome. But let’s just say we’re playing a one game season.
But since I’ve been here, I’ve treated every game exactly the same. So because I’m consistent with what I’m doing, okay, they know that my approach is always the same. Usually the players are going to follow your lead, and if you approach it that way and you always approach it that way — it would be one thing like all of a sudden in the middle of the season if I said, “okay, fellows, we’re starting from scratch, we’re 0 and 0.”
Well, we’re 0 and 4, we’re not 0 and 0. But right now we’re trying to beat Purdue. And I think because it was the same approach that I had every game since I’ve been here, this is not a novel approach and it’s something the players are used to as far as how we do things.
Q. I’ll preface this last question by throwing Brady (Quinn) in there. When Brady was a freshman, he was not even in the top 100 nationally in pass efficiency. He jumped to the top 50 and then jumped to the top 10 his last two years. From a pure physical standpoint, you talked about the mental and leadership challenges that Jimmy (Clausen) had yesterday. But purely physical and mechanics and things like that — what are you looking for from him to see that he’s still on that curve?
COACH WEIS: Well, the two things that he does the best is he can read coverages and he can make every throw. They’re the two things he can do, okay. Now, at this point, for example, and we had this conversation this week, at this point in his career what he’s doing is calling plays in the huddle more than running the offense. Okay, there’s a big difference.
And this is part of the evolution of a quarterback. When they first start playing early in their career, they relay the plays from the sideline to the guys in the huddle and then go to the line of scrimmage and run the play. That will grow while he’s here, okay, from calling the plays to running the offense, and that is a natural transition that takes place over time. With any quarterback that’s when everything changes.
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