Sept. 4, 2005
COACH WEIS: Good afternoon. Well, this morning I’ve had enough time to clear the air and be able to watch the offensive tape, the defensive tape, the special teams tape. Our staff got in early with minimal sleep to be able to break down the tape from those same three facets and we got to meet as a staff before I got in here so that we could review this game which is basically how I’ll handle every Sunday. When I come in here, it will be obviously not total specifics but I will talk about the overall game. I’ll make some points on offense, I’ll make some points on defense and I’ll make some points on special teams and then we’ll open it up to questions. Just kind of get the lay of the land.
Obviously I think for our whole University, for everyone who represents Notre Dame, for our football team, for our coaches and our student body and our alum, I’m happy that the season started off the way it did with a big win on the road versus a formidable opponent in Pittsburgh.
I thought our team played very hard. I felt that way after the game last night and going and watching the tape, that was validated. There were a couple of major concerns. One was the volume of penalties. There were 10 accepted penalties and with the exception of the one that I intentionally took in the punt situation to move them back an extra five yards and run off some more time on the clock, I thought that was an inordinate number of penalties. That will not be tolerated and we’ll have to do much better if we’re playing a little closer game than we played in yesterday.
We also had three substitution errors that all surrounded special teams that we’ll talk about here momentarily. Two of them resulted in penalties, and one of them resulted from a time out, and I’ll take responsibility for those substitution errors in all three of those cases.
First of all I’ll start with the special teams. I thought that they really played hard. There were some definite positives. Obviously we did a nice job on punt protection. They were trying to bring the house, we didn’t punt very often, but punt protection was very good especially versus a team that was lining up an offensive line on a six man side, something you don’t see on a very normal basis. We did a nice job there.
I thought our biggest problem physically were our kickoffs. I thought that both kickers could have done a better job kicking the ball. We had three substitution errors, two of them in the punt game. On the first one we didn’t get a guy off the field. We were in nickel defense and we were trying to go to a base defense and play punt safe, but because we were going from third to fourth down from the nickel defense to a regular defense, it caused some confusion that we will practice at this week. I’ll take that hit.
On the second one, it wasn’t a confusion of who was supposed to get off. They quick snapped us and we just didn’t get off in time. I think that we could do a little bit better job effort wise getting off the field. Also, I was a little disappointed with the official on that play because when they, at the last second, rushed their punt team on you’re supposed to have an opportunity to match which they didn’t allow to happen. But once again we were a little laissez faire getting off the field and we could do better than that. And we were forced to use a time out on the one extra point after the touchdown because we only had ten on the field. We need to do a better job in all three of those situations to not have those type of errors.
We did have one critical, critically successful play on the caused fumble on the kickoff. (Anthony) Salvador made the initial tackle, and Casey Cullen came in and stripped the ball and (Chinedum) Ndukwe recovered the ball which led to the touchdown. As a matter of fact, as I’ve told you on a weekly basis, and I’m not going to talk about Michigan. I told you on a weekly basis we would single out the guy that played the best on special teams and name him as the special teams captain for Michigan, and that person will be Casey Cullen. He played solid on teams all night long, played on all the teams, played really well and made a critical play that helped us win the game.
As far as defense goes, once again, the same message, we really played hard. I think we settled down after that first drive and on that first drive they ended up with three second and ones, before they threw the touchdown pass and I think what ends up happening after you hit them second and one three times and they convert for first downs then you’re trying to make a play, and you’re susceptible to play action pass, which is exactly what they did, which to be honest with you is exactly what we expected.
You know, they made a big play. As a matter of fact, on the day we really gave up two big plays. We gave up that 39 yard touchdown pass to (Greg) Lee and then the 155 yard run, and those two plays accounted for 94 of the 320 yards. So you really look at two big plays in the game, really the only big plays that we gave up.
We had too many penalties on defense. We had about a half dozen, but four of them were major penalties. You just can’t get by with a couple pass interference penalties, personal foul and a facemask. Forget about jumping off sides, being overly aggressive. We just can’t play winning football in a close game doing that. We need to do a better job there.
But, you know, we came up with five sacks in the game which I thought that had pretty steady pressure on (Tyler) Palko most of the night. I think we also missed some opportunities for sacks. A couple of times we had runaway rushers and we didn’t make the play and we also had a couple of opportunities for interceptions that we didn’t catch.
But overall the biggest concern for us for next week are to do a better job in communication. We have to do a better job of keeping our composure and that unlike the offense where I got to put in a bunch of guys a little earlier, there were a lot of guys that played a lot more on defense and were a little gassed at the end of the game. You have to commend our defense after the way the game started with that quick touchdown, it could have been a long night and that’s not the way it was. They gained their composure, they gained their composure at that time, and that as long as we just play with better communication and that type of intensity, we’ll have a chance to be pretty solid on defense.
As far as offense goes, you know, obviously our first three quarters, there was a lot of production. You get the ball seven drives and score six touchdowns – you take that every week. What I saw, which I said last night after the game is exactly what was reviewed on tape, the one interception we threw, Brady (Quinn) got middled by the corner probably should have just taken the first down over there which we had, just thrown it out to Rhema (McKnight), had the first down. But he got caught in between with the corner, the corner made a nice play on that interception.
Other than that, next time we really gave the ball back was a minute left in the third quarter after we had scored six touchdowns. So you can’t say too many negatives. We converted 67 percent on third down which I think is definitely winning football. Every time we got in the red zone, we scored a touchdown – that’s winning football. I certainly don’t count the one at the end of the game where we’re running the clock out as a failed time in the red zone. That’s the right thing to do in that situation anyway.
We didn’t give up any sacks. Although there were a couple pressures, we didn’t give up any sacks. The two major things I thought were poorly executed on offense, once again, we had too many penalties, we had two majors and two minor penalties, which that totals double digit penalties for the team between offense and defense. That’s not winning football. And we had more mental errors than I would like to have in a game, especially with a game where you had that much time to prepare for what they were going to do.
As I said last night and this is really a coaching error, not a player’s error, but as it relates to offense, we had to take two time outs in the third quarter, which I thought that was a bad job by me communicating to Michael (Haywood) and then on to Brady (Quinn). There were two times we had to take time outs. You know, you can’t do that. You might need those time outs in the fourth quarter. You can’t leave yourself in the middle of the third quarter with one time out for the rest of half. I thought I should have done a much better job there.
Overall my synopsis before I open it up, I was very pleased with that being our first performance. The best part about it is any time you win like that, your players are feeling good about themselves, they are definitely more open to constructive criticism of which they will get plenty today. But at the same time they should feel good about themselves. It was a big win for them for an opener, but we have a long way to go. We want to wrap up Pittsburgh here today because after today we don’t be talking about Pittsburgh anymore. You can forget about asking them questions about Pittsburgh on Tuesday because they will not comment about Pittsburgh. We’ll be talking about our next opponent at that time.
And with that, I’m open.
Q. There’s times where teams come off big wins and they go the other way. You’ve had a lot of success with the Patriots having big wins and building on it. From a coaching standpoint can you talk about the keys to doing that?
COACH WEIS: I think our philosophy has always been to treat the season like a bunch of one week entities. I’ve said that all along. That’s why our game plans are fresh each week. They are never stale or stagnant, because each week we go ahead and we break down the opponent, their strengths and weaknesses, figure out what gives us the best chance of winning.
So what we did on either side of the ball on special teams, although there will always be some foundation in there that you need to have on a week in, week out basis, okay, it might be totally different each week. I think that the players are always they are never stagnant. They are waiting for the game plan to see what we are going to do against this opponent.
I think as long as you take you don’t have too big of highs or too big of lows emotionally; right now they could be on a real big high, and if they lost it could have been a real big low. As long as you try to keep it steady and look at it like it’s a marathon and treat it as 11 one week entities, I think you’ll keep a proper perspective on that.
Q. With the special teams effort like that, will there be a change in personnel or will you be making adjustments throughout the week before you address any personnel changes?
COACH WEIS: I don’t think the personnel was really the problem. We could have kicked off a little bit better and they would agree with me on that.
I thought as far as the coverage and everything, there were a couple of things, the one return off the 40 yard line we made a couple of mistakes on, but it really wasn’t the personnel that was an issue. The substitution errors, I’ll just take those hits, as I told you I would, anyway. We’ll get those straightened out.
Q. Inaudible question about the overall mental and physical performance of the team?
COACH WEIS: One of the things that was really encouraging right there was that a team, when one of your biggest concerns as the head coach is the psyche of your players, and here we go the first drive you come out, boom, it’s 7 0 right off the bat, that was definitely a concern.
So to see how favorably they responded. It says a lot that things have changed. They are not going to panic when things go wrong. It’s ironic because when I talked to them in the afternoon before we got on the bus, one of the things I told them, if something goes wrong, don’t panic, we’ll fix it, we’ll respond to it, and they never panicked; especially after the big play early. I was encouraged by how they played and they really played physically, too.
Q. Brandon (Hoyte) was talking about the team’s attitude after the game and he was not concerned about what happened last night because it’s a mature team, do you let guys like Brandon or Brady (Quinn) handle that or…
COACH WEIS: I think that the sooner you can turn that over to the players, the better off you’re going to be. When you go through this period of transition of the leadership, when you go through the transition from the coaches to the true leaders of the team, at this time you need both factors working for you. But all good teams really come down to guys on the team leading the team, because all we really do is send in the calls, and then it comes down to how they produce when those calls come in.
Q. Along those same lines, as you continue the transition, what kind of impact do you expect last night’s performance to have as you continue the change in philosophy, believing in themselves, and now you have tangible proof, clearly they have proof that it’s true?
COACH WEIS: I think you raise a good point, because it comes down to a matter of confidence when you’re playing. There were a lot of unknowns going into this game last night. I mean, how were we going to handle as a coaching staff, how were the players going to respond. There were a lot of unknowns. We knew their personnel and we knew their personnel and we knew their schemes and they knew our schemes.
So there were some substantial known quantities, okay. But you don’t really know how they are going to respond especially when something bad happens or you get on a roll. But now because they have some evidence that, hey, maybe we can do something here now, you’d like to just build from that.
Q. What does it mean or how important is it to get so many guys involved last night, some of those reserves, right away?
COACH WEIS: Let’s talk about the offensive line, for example. When you go from such experienced guys to such inexperienced guys between your first guys and your second guys, I think it’s a critical factor to get them playing time, because practice isn’t really the same as when you’re actually playing, when you’re going against an opponent. When you have to go there and there’s 65,000 people out there, that fortunately, the way the game went, we put ourselves in a position where we could get some experience from the quarterback and tight ends and running backs and offensive line and receivers. Not that we are throwing it at that time.
There comes a point in the game where you have to be smart. I use the old baseball analogy; you put the bats away. When it gets to a point in the game where it’s time to score runs, it’s `put the bats away’ and let’s get the game over. Then it comes down to converting. And that’s why you might have seen me during the game, I wasn’t real happy in the fourth quarter, regardless of what’s going on, I want to convert first downs, so we can get on the bus and get out of there.
Q. Can you talk about the condition of your team, I don’t know if you credit that to Ruben Mendoza; seemed like the offensive line was getting a lot of push?
COACH WEIS: Definitely should give a lot of credit to Ruben Mendoza. I think that when Ruben got in here, and this is no slight on Mickey (Marotti) because I don’t know Mickey that well. But Ruben got in here and it was that transition time when everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on around here. Ruben is sort of like the head coach when it comes to conditioning; it’s his way or the highway and there’s no in between. I think that the players have really taken to it and responded and I think that he has them in good shape. I said that going into the year that our players are in condition, and it kind of was verified last night.
Q. What was it like for you going out there knowing it’s your program, and was it different than being an assistant coach in the NFL?
COACH WEIS: Not really. The biggest problem was making sure you were talking in the right microphone, because you have that switch, the offense and defense. And there’s more than once where I’m sitting there and saying something to somebody on defense and I’m the offensive line and I have to get used to that switcher. I’m not quite used to that switcher yet.
Q. To see seven different receivers getting tested has to be nice for them, too.
COACH WEIS: But that’s the way I like to play. I’ve had games where 11 different guys caught the ball in a game. As long as your guys don’t have big egos and don’t have to worry about them being `the guy’ and `I’m going to go catch ten balls a game.’ As long as you have guys that will buy into the program to say this week I might be the guy and next week you might be the guy, but you don’t care who is going to be the guy, just as long as it works. It’s good to keep them all involved. It all starts with the quarterback knowing to get the ball to the right guy.
Q. You talked a lot last week about the opener; is that the opening play of the series or…
COACH WEIS: I wrote openers for both the start of the game and I wrote openers for the start of the third quarter, which is just wonderful for me. The start of the game I had a list of plays that we were going to run and we basically ran them down in order. I call this play and then this play and then this play, and the only time you interject anything in between is if you get into a third down call where it doesn’t fit. Like I’ll have an inside run, but then I’m trying to get four yards and it’s third and seven, and then you call a play that you have designed to go third and seven, and you also have those ranked as well. You also have those ranked one, two, three and four, so that you get a play between third and sixth, you’re going to go call one of those plays to try to pick up a first down.
So when you tell your players, here is how the plays we’re going to start the game with and you go out there and that’s what you actually call. They have a better chance of mentally knowing what to do because they have already got a chance to picture it in their mind before it’s taking place.
And now, because you’ve got this 20 minute halftime, by the time you come in and talk to the coaches, talk to the players and sit down, you also have an opportunity to write openers for the second half. You don’t have time to write down 15 of them because you have to be thinking; you’ve got to think quick. This isn’t something you can that you can do and take your time. It’s thinking quick because if you’re going to get that information back to the team before you get your five minute warning to get ready to come back out. We get the ball in the third quarter and we go on a seven minute drive for another touchdown, it seemed like it lasted forever and we overcame a couple of penalties in that drive on top of it. When the players once again have an idea what the plays are, hey, it doesn’t work every time now, you’re not going to score touchdowns every time, but when the players know the plays are coming it usually gives them a better chance to execute them.
Q. Was the first play something to keep them off balance?
COACH WEIS: The first play of the game? Actually we had two plays called based on hash marks. That’s another thing that you have to understand. You have to take into consideration field position. I mean, with college boundary versus the pro boundary being so narrow, it’s a wide field this you’re dealing with. So when you call a play, like I list 1 and 1A; I list two different plays. And in this case the ball is on the left hash mash, so we call a play based on the ball being on the left hash mark. You have to take those into consideration.
Q. Talk about the overall play of Brady and the offensive line.
COACH WEIS: Let’s start with the offensive line. I think they slugged it out really well. I’ve been preaching since I got here about being a tough, physical team and earn made the big overtures about nasty, but I that’s the way they played last night. I mean, they played wanting to be the ones delivering the punches, not the ones taking the punches. I give them a lot of credit for that.
And then as far as Brady went, I think at one time, I don’t know if he was 14 for 16 or 16 for 18, it was some phenomenal statistic, but I know he completed 11 in a row. It wasn’t just screen passes, either. They were balls down the field, too. We dinked and dunked a little bit and threw the ball behind him a little bit. It was a combination of the two of them. The thing is, he had good composure. Now he has plenty of things that he can improve on now. It wasn’t that he played an error free game, but he made a number of good plays, a number of good plays in that game.
Q. You come off as a guy that has plan A, has plan B and a plan C; is there anything in the game that surprised you last night?
COACH WEIS: I talked about a couple of them. I had not thought about the substitution errors that happened in the punt team. I should have given some more thought to that. That isn’t like me to not have not at least gone through that in a punt save situation when the ball is in the plus 50 when we were keeping the defense on the field to go from nickel back to regular or whatever we were doing. I really had not given that enough thought, so that’s an error on my part. And then the only other thing that I well, two things, I thought there were a couple of times when we could have had our composure a little bit better.
But really the `switcher,’ might sound like something minor detail, but all of a sudden I’m hammering somebody on offense and they say, “Well, you’re on defense, Coach.” So I need to do a better job with that one. Other than that, there were not too many things that came up.
Q. Can you talk about (Justin) Brown and (Ronald) Talley, how they played?
COACH WEIS: First of all I’m glad they got to get meaningful time in because they give us some fresh legs; they are rushing the passer. They played pretty physically, too. It’s good that they got involved so much, because now you start building some depth, and now depth becomes every time they go on the field, they are growing in experience and now you gain more confidence when they go out there and you’re not afraid to put them out there. I think that’s the critical factor when you are giving guys playing time.
Q. Inaudible question about dealing with the scrambling ability of Tyler Palko?
COACH WEIS: First thing we’re worrying about are his boot (legs) to our right. He’s a lefty quarterback and it’s a little unorthodox. Any time you practice against a bootleg quarterback it’s always rolling to the quarterbacks throwing side. When you have all `righty’ quarterbacks in camp yourself and you’re going against a guy who is boot legging running the other way, for the most part, I thought the defense did a pretty nice job. I think he got beat up pretty good in that game. He’s a tough quarterback. He made some plays but he got hit a bunch of times, too. When you get sacked five times, they weren’t the only times he got hit. He got away from them a few times, too, but for the most part he was under pressure a lot of the night.
Q. What does it mean to allow only 220 yards passing with a defense that lost eight starters last year, how was such a young squad able to come together so quickly?
COACH WEIS: That one of the key issues like I said before is as the game goes on you have inexperienced guys that are playing, one of the things that you can compensate for experience is running to the football. That’s what you saw these guys doing, even in the beginning of the game, the mistakes they made were from being overaggressive, not from not being aggressive.
As they settled down into the pace of the game, you know, can’t simulate the speed of the game in practice. But as they settled down into the pace of the game and they started gaining some confidence in themselves, it isn’t like it’s a bunch of inexperienced guys anymore as the game goes on, because now they are getting used to playing with each other, and hopefully each week that will be a growing process. Hey, there’s going to be up and downs and downs but yesterday was a perfect example of a team gaining more confidence as the game went on.
Q. Last night you mentioned that even before you left the field that you were thinking about your next opponent, Michigan. Does the toughness of your schedule give you some trepidation or do you think you can use that as a positive in terms of focus and motivation?
COACH WEIS: I’m not worried about the schedule. At the end of the game, you just run out the clock and your mind. Football coaches are creatures of habit and they really don’t enjoy the wins and they are miserable in the losses, because when the wins take place, rather than feeling good about the win, we’re already worried about the next game. Usually when you lose a game you spend too much time worrying about that game and you’re not worrying about the next game. I mean, I can’t control what happened because Pittsburgh game was already done.
Now I’ve got to worry about Michigan, and it doesn’t make any difference who we’re playing, it’s a tough game every week. You could lose to everyone on your schedule. There isn’t anyone that you should assume you’re going to beat. Right now I think all of our energy, every bit of energy, everything we can do, we have to put into just trying to beat Michigan.