Sept. 25, 2005
COACH WEIS: I know some people are still en route coming back from Seattle, but I just wanted to say to the members, especially the local members of the media, that I appreciate last week’s efforts on both your part and our players’ part to not have this situation become more of a distraction than it could have been. I thought for the most part you guys handled it very well. I thought our players handled it very well, too. And before we get going on the game itself, I just figured I’d bring that up to you because I like to have a good working relationship with the media, and I think both the way you handled it and the way the players handled it kept it from being more of a distraction than it could have been. With that being said, I’m going to tell the players the same thing when I get here with them this afternoon, I’d like to just cover the three facets of the team from our performance yesterday in Washington, then of course open it up for questions.
First of all, on special teams, there were some good and some bad. I thought our kickoff coverage was very good. As a matter of fact, we only gave a 15 and a half yard average per kickoff return, which was significant. Some of those sky kicks that you saw to the right were by design, trying to trigger fair catches, which that got done. The only time we really missed one was the one down the middle that they caught to about the 10 and got it out to about the 30. But I think for most of the day I thought our kickoff team played well. I thought David Grimes did a great job on that one kickoff return getting it out there to the 34-yard line.
I thought our field goal operation, as a matter of fact, field goal and extra point operation, left a lot to be desired. Snaps, holds, kicks, there was a lot of things we’re going to have to work on because in a game that turns a little closer, that could be the difference between winning and losing.
I was happy with Zibby’s (Tom Zbikowski) 25 yard punt return, but he’s got to take care of the football. Two last issues. I addressed one yesterday for anyone who was there. But in the third quarter, I think in hindsight, we were a little bit concerned going into that open end about how close we had to be to kick field goals. In hindsight I would go ahead and try both those field goals, even if we came up short on them. We were trying to get closer to the 20 yard line, especially on the second one after we gained nine yards on third down, got up to the 21. I definitely would kick one there. But in both cases, it was right in that grey area where we weren’t really sure whether or not we had a good, solid play. If we had a good, solid play to call on offense, we were going to go ahead and call them. In hindsight, I would have taken those both back and I’ll take responsibility for those.
In addition to that, I think the one guy who really stood out in the game was Chase Anastasio, who will also be our special teams captain next week. I’ll tell him at this meeting today. He had two tackles on kickoff coverage and he blocked a punt. I thought he had a nice, solid performance.
On defense, there were a couple of strong positives. We basically shut down the running game, turned it into a one dimensional game. Unfortunately, there was a lot of production from their passing game. We had three critical turnovers, two fumble recoveries and one interception, which were all critical reasons why we won the game yesterday.
Once again, for the second consecutive week, we were giving up way too many big plays. On 18 plays, we gave up 419 yards. On 18 plays, that’s 23 yards a play. When somebody was asking me last week what I consider a big play, these went from 11 to 69 yards. But any run that’s over 10 yards I consider a big play. Any pass that’s over 20 yards, I consider a big play. As a matter of fact, they had five plays in the game that went for 227 yards, which is over 45 yards per play. So obviously that’s an area of concern.
Another area of concern, they had five drives for over 70 yards. They didn’t always come up with points, but when you change field position that drastically, when you have them pinned back, then all of a sudden it’s all the way down the other end, that’s not a good thing.
We also did not do a good job on second down and long. We had in a lot of second and 10s, I think like eight times we had them second and long, and we didn’t do a very good job in this situation.
Of the four penalties that we got on defense, one that was declined on a pass interference on Mike (Richardson), but the other three penalties that were accepted coincidentally, they scored their three scores all on drives when those penalties occurred. The off sides penalty, the other two penalties as well, the personal foul by Ronald (Talley), the face mask by Victor (Abiamiri). On all three of their drives, 17 points, all those penalties occurred on those drives.
Obviously, we had a bend but don’t break game yesterday. I’d like to sit there and take the credit and say that was the mentality going into the game, but that wasn’t the mentality, that’s just the way the game played out.
On offense, we made a bunch of big plays down the field in the game. We did a much better job of handling the blitz zone than we have in the last couple weeks. We took care of the football. We didn’t have any turnovers, didn’t have any sacks. We left a lot to be desired on both the fourth down calls that we talked about and our red zone production. We scored three out of six times down in the red zone, which is not satisfactory.
We had three penalties in the game, one was in the red zone, the first drive. They’re drive killers, especially when you get called for holding down inside the 10-yard line. But we really had some big plays out there. I thought Brady Quinn was outstanding. Jeff Samardzija had a big game. Ryan Harris was a stalwart on the offensive line. I think Darius Walker once again had a nice, solid performance, as did the running backs in general.
With that, I’ll leave it open for questions.
Q. Are you glad to get that over with?
COACH WEIS: I think that’s a fair statement. You have to work really hard in a situation like that to avoid it becoming a lack of focus, especially after a disheartening loss the week before. It was not a perfect situation because you had to get them right on focus. You knew where all the attention was going to be given. I’m just glad the way they handled it. We got through that. We can go on our way. They can go on their way. We can move forward and start worrying about Purdue.
Q. Can you talk about the big plays? You mentioned a lot of the big plays. When you look back at the film, are these things that are fixable, are you getting out athleted?
COACH WEIS: It’s a combination. There weren’t as many mental breakdowns. There were a couple that led to big plays. I can’t say there were none. There were a couple that we turned some guys free. But there were a number of plays where we’re there and they’re there, they’re coming up with the play. So one of two things got to happen: either we got to change what we’re doing to make it a little bit different of a look for them, or we got to start making some plays.
I don’t think anyone was satisfied with how the grand scheme of things goes. But fortunately they don’t judge you by how many plays you give up, it’s by how many points you score. I think that’s where the defense stepped up and made plays, just like the Michigan game. Wasn’t like they didn’t give up plays in the Michigan game, but when it came down to it, they turned the ball over in the red zone, and that’s the difference between winning and losing.
Q. How important is it to have the lead at halftime? You’re outscoring opponents 54 to 19 in the second quarter. Does that affect the confidence of your opponents?
COACH WEIS: I think it helps when you’re up by more than one score. Being up 12 3 is being different than being up 9 3. When you’re up 12 3, even if you give up a score, you’re still leading. I think sometimes it starts to put the pressure on the opponent. As that lead stays over a score, I know as a play caller, eventually you start to lose patience a little bit because you know that sooner or later you’re going to need more than one score to win the game.
It’s a little bit of a security blanket for whoever is up by that. It doesn’t end the game; it changes your thinking as the game gets further and further on.
Q. With you liking the offensive side the ball so much…
COACH WEIS: I like both sides of the ball. I’m rooting for Notre Dame, remember (laughter)?
Q. With the offense having the ball for 37 minutes yesterday, can they be on the field too much?
COACH WEIS: There’s no such thing as the offense being on the field too much. That will never, ever be an issue. You know, those offensive linemen, they’re not running 50 yard sprints on every play. It’s 10 yards a play, five yards a play. They’re just banging around. They’re creatures of the habit. They’re not getting worn out.
Unlike the last game where we threw it 60 times, that wasn’t the game yesterday. Yesterday was more of a balanced game where we ended up running the ball more than we were throwing it. The receivers aren’t really getting worn out. There’s no such thing as being on the field too much offensively. It’s only to your benefit.
Q. Can you talk about Jeff Samardzija’s body control, what it means?
COACH WEIS: Some people have a gift. I’d like to sit here and take responsibility for that, but some people have a gift. Especially when you’re a taller guy that doesn’t run a 4.3, okay, and I’ve talked about torque, things like that, when it relates to him, but he does a great job of positioning his body where he’s the only one who really has a chance of making the play.
You know, some of those catches now, like he’s catching it over there, over there. He does a really good job. And one of the reasons why he does that so well is because he has so much confidence in his hands. Most people, a lot of receivers, are body catchers. He’s not one of them. He has a lot of confidence in his hands.
Q. Would you call it exceptional compared to other guys his size?
COACH WEIS: I’d say he’s very good. Let’s not get carried away. But I think he’s very good.
Q. The zone blitz, we’ve seen a lot more of it the last few years. Can you talk about, from a quarterback standpoint, the ability to recognize it, that process?
COACH WEIS: The difference this week versus the last two weeks, we practice blitz and zone blitz every week. The last week, because I wasn’t happy with how we handled it the two previous weeks, we over-practiced it, so to speak. In other words, we practiced it an exorbitant amount of time, more than just practicing regular defense. If one thing was going to happen in that game, we were going to handle the zone blitz.
I think what happens from the defensive coordinator standpoint is once they see you can handle the pressure, they realize they have a problem. When they think that they can get to you, they won’t call off the dogs until they think you have it handled. I think that yesterday we did a much better job of handling that.
Q. I saw that Terrail Lambert got in the game. Can you evaluate him, maybe some of the other reserves that got to play yesterday?
COACH WEIS: I was happy, especially on that one fade ball, they went right after him. He went up and made a play in the end zone. I was happy for him.
With guys like Lambert, who we know have a lot of athletic ability, the more experience he can get, the better off he’s going to be. As time goes on, we’ll be able to get him into the mix more and more.
I would have liked to have been able to get a little more time, to be honest with you, with a lot of guys in that game. When the score got to be 29 3, my intent was to kind of open the floodgates and clear house and get everyone in there. But they scored so quickly to get to 29 10, what I didn’t want to do was go on offense, three and out, all of a sudden it’s 29 17, boom, it’s a game again.
I would have liked to, with several people, get them extra time. Probably the most encouraging thing after Lambert, like you said, was being able to give Travis (Thomas) a heavy dose in that next drive, let him hammer it right down the field, run the ball right at ’em, go in and score, get the game back to 35 10.
Q. After four games, what about this team maybe has surprised you and what maybe are the points of emphasis for improvement that you can share without giving away anything?
COACH WEIS: Let’s talk about different aspects of the team here first of all.
The defense has realized they’ve given up a lot of yards, but they’ve also realized they’ve made a lot of big plays when it counted, especially down in the red zone. So you gain some confidence when you do that because when you believe that somebody’s going to make a play to keep them out of the end zone, it keeps you playing hard on every play, even if you’ve given up a good play. They’ve proven to be fairly resilient, especially coming after last week’s game where we gave up a bunch of points.
Offensively, they have confidence that they can move the ball and that they can score. The important thing is to realize that every week is a new entity and you really don’t know. This week’s cast of characters is going to change. That means the defense we’re going against and how we approach them. But they have confidence now. It starts with the quarterback. As his confidence grows, so does everyone else’s.
Q. As you head into this Purdue game, this is going to be the last game before a bye week. Do you handle players that may be a little bit banged up a little differently? Do you maybe slow them down a little bit so they can have the benefit of a couple weeks of rest?
COACH WEIS: After the Purdue game I’ll do that. Right now, this is a regular game week. As a matter of fact, I’ve laid out the whole schedule for the players through November 5th that I’m actually giving them today. In the coaching staff meeting we had this morning, we talked about things like that, having the advantage of two bye weeks in the next month. That gets you off your normal schedule on the one hand, but on the other hand, it gives you a chance to get some bumps and bruises healed up.
Q. Speaking of bumps and bruises, have you learned of anything more on Bob (Morton) that you’re able to share?
COACH WEIS: No. I talked to Jim (Russ) on the plane a little bit about it last night, I talked to Bob about it on the bus last night. He was going to get tested today. I meet with the doctors at 1:20. I really don’t know where we are. I’ve been watching tape all morning.
As was brought up earlier, Montana, there’s a young boy by the name of Montana Mazurkiewicz who died on Thursday of this week. You know, very often Notre Dame gets asked to get involved with different people. This is a kid from Mishawaka who on Wednesday, I went over to visit him during the day for a brief time, brought him a ball and a couple of T shirts and hats and stuff.
It was a very compelling visit, one that I’ll always remember the rest of my life. When you walk in, here is this 10 year old kid with inoperable brain cancer. They basically told me he had a couple weeks to live. If you looked at him, you would know that a couple weeks was more realistically a couple days.
I sat there with his mom and his brother, his mom Cathy, his brother Rockne. Montana, Rockne, you get the picture? First of all, I gave him an opportunity to hammer me on the Michigan State loss, which he did very well. Reminded me of my son. Then I was able to get a couple smiles out of him. His mom got to take a couple pictures. She said it was the first time he really smiled in about three months.
But here is a 10 year old kid sitting there telling you, “Yeah, I have a tumor that’s inoperable.” He knew he was going. He had lost feeling in his lower body. While I’m sitting there, he has pains in his shoulders, asking his mother to rub him down. He’s trying not to be a wimp. When you see the kid, it was really disheartening.
I sat there with the kid, we talked about Notre Dame football. He talked to me about his love for Notre Dame football, how he just wanted to make it through this game this week. He just wanted to be able to live through this game so he could watch that game because he knew he wasn’t going to last very much longer.
I said, “What can I do for you?” He said, “I don’t know.” I said, “I’ll tell you what. What do you want me to do on the first play of the game? Run or pass?” Like any 10 year old kid, the answer is going to be pass. I said, “Okay.”
All of a sudden (in the game) we’re on the one-yard line, the first time we get the ball. I say, “I have a problem here.” I had told the team briefly about Montana on Wednesday because it was kind of a compelling visit, like I said. I told them how important Notre Dame football is to a lot of people. I was using Montana as an example. I’m not big on “Win one for the Gipper” type of deals, but I wanted people to realize how important they are as football players at Notre Dame, that they represent a lot of people that they don’t even realize they’re representing. Sometimes you think of the media. Sometimes you think of the alumni. You don’t think of the 10 year old kid who is dying of cancer.
We’re on the one-yard line. I told him I’d try to throw a pass to the right. I told Brady (Quinn) what I was going to do. We’re on the one- yard line. “What are we going to do?” “I got no choice, we’re throwing it to the right. Let’s call bootleg. (Anthony) Fasano is going to be open, try to get it out of here, get it off the goal line.” Anthony makes the catch, in a rare moment of athleticism, he leaps over the defender, gets some extra yards. It’s almost as if Montana was willing him to beat that defender and take it to the house.
I got the message when we were in Seattle, I got the message through a phone call that Montana had died. I called their house, I talked to his brother Rockne. Rockne said, “The only thing I really wish on behalf of Montana is that you guys would be thinking of Montana and playing in his memory.” I try not to use any individual as a motivational tool. I promised Rockne that after this game was over, if we won the game, I would get this ball signed and bring it over to their house. The ball is signed. After I meet with the players today, I’m going over there today to give it to them.
Just so you know, that’s not to make me out to be a good guy. I was asked by somebody from the university to go. I thought it was the right thing to do. I tell you what, to watch a kid that’s 10 years old, a lot of times we look at people that are older, that are sick, we feel bad for them, which we should. But having two kids myself, knowing that I would do anything in the world for my kids, to watch this 10 year old kid, knowing there wasn’t much time left in this kid’s life, and the only thing that could get a smile out of him was the head coach from Notre Dame sitting there talking about Notre Dame football, it makes me feel good that I went over there. I’d feel really bad if I didn’t.
If you’d like to ask any questions about that, I’d answer them. I think I tried to answer that as best I could.
Q. How old are your kids?
COACH WEIS: My kids are 12 and 10. My daughter was 10. The thought went through my mind. My daughter Hanna has special needs, we have our own set of problems. The first thing I did was call my wife up, “We think we got problems with Hanna.” This kid could be lucky if he makes it to the weekend. Unfortunately, I was prophetic.
Q. When exactly did you meet with him?
COACH WEIS: I met with him Wednesday because we left on Thursday. I went over there on Wednesday after I finished doing what I was doing. I got the call Thursday night when we were in Seattle.
Q. Did you talk to the family after the game?
COACH WEIS: I talked to Cathy after the game yesterday. I said, “Did you see the first play?” She said, “Yeah, I was watching.” She was toughening it out. She’s a tough lady. But I called her just to let her know, A, that I was thinking of her and her family, and B, we called the play he wanted and it worked, that I’d be or the house today, to bring that game ball, which I promised I’d get that game ball and bring it over to their house, which I wanted to.
Q. What did you, or your team, learn from this experience?
COACH WEIS: Two things I said before, I’ll tie together. One is I’m a big family guy. In addition to my wife, my son Charlie and my daughter Hanna – that’s why I live. As a matter of fact, I was sick years ago, probably should have died. I know that I stayed alive because of them. Willed me not to die. To watch a kid that’s 10- years-old only get a smile to his face because of his passion and love for Notre Dame football, that’s really a good moral to tell your own players to realize to let them understand who they’re representing when they put on that uniform. It’s not just the university they’re representing, it’s all the people who support that university. Sometimes we forget who they are because you think you’re on a pedestal and you’re bigger than the rest. It really it kind of brings you back down to earth, realize how important it is to wear that jersey.
Not to bring a somber note, but I think for Montana’s sake, I hope he’s smiling in heaven right now, and I’m glad he’s out of pain. I’m glad we won, by the way, too, so I could bring him the ball.