Sept. 6, 2005
COACH WEIS: I have great respect for Coach Carr. Last I checked, his record at the Big House was 59 6. We know what we’re getting ourselves into going there. As far as their three sides of the ball, starting with their offense and Coach Terry Malone, the biggest problem they have is the last year they scored over 30 points a game and last week was no different scoring the 33. They have a lot of weapons.
Obviously we’re very concerned about (Chad) Henne. Last year statistically he was the top freshman in Big Ten and in Michigan history. He started 13 games and he’s thrown a touchdown pass every time he’s played. Obviously we’re concerned about him. (Mike) Hart, the running back, and (Kevin) Grady, their backup running back – Hart was a Big Ten freshman of the year, and of course all first-team Big Ten. You know, my biggest concern with Hart is in 283 touches in a row, he has not fumbled the ball. So obviously he’s very good at ball possession, which was a critical factor in their win last week. (Jason) Avant, he had nine catches for over 100 yards last week as a front line receiver. Their tight end, (Tim) Massaquoi, he’s all Big Ten. Obviously as you look at the weapons on offense, they are very strong up the middle, and on top of that they have a huge offensive line anchored by (Adam) Stenavich and (Matt) Lentz, and it’s going to be quite a challenge for our defense to stand and go toe to toe with these guys.
As far as their defense is concerned, Coach (Jim) Herrmann has been there forever. If you add all of the years he’s been there it’s over two decades, I think it’s like 21 years he’s been there. But last week, if you throw in the forced fumble that (Darnell) Hood caused on special teams, they caused five turnovers, four fumbles and an interception. I tell you right now if we do that, we’ll lose. Their front four, (Jeremy) Van Alstyne, (LaMarr) Woodley at the end, and (Gabe) Watson and (Pat) Massey at the tackles; Massey who is a captain, and I know his father played at Notre Dame, so I know the game is going to be special for him. Their linebackers, I know (Prescott) Burgess and (Chris) Graham will be in there, whether it’s (Scott) McClintock or (David) Harris as the other guy, I know they are flip flopping between the two. Harris didn’t start last week but I’m expecting to see him some this week. Obviously their linebackers are some of the strengths of their defense, and (Leon) Hall really is the key figure in a very, very strong secondary.
Last but not least with special teams, Coach (Mike) DeBord, since he’s come over from Central, their special teams are really solid. Starts with that kicker who also punts, (Ross) Ryan. Last week, kicked off seven times; five of them were touch backs. Makes it a little easier to recover kicks when five of them are thrown out of the end zone. I’m concerned with (Steve) Breaston, both as a wide receiver, but especially as a kick receiver and a punt returner. He didn’t get many opportunities last week. We know he’s a dynamic returner and somebody who we’re definitely concerned with.
So that’s kind of the lay of the land with offense and defense and special teams. We know that Michigan is going to be quite a challenge and we know we’re going to have to play a lot better than we did last week if we’re going to have an opportunity to win this game.
Q. Inaudible question Notre Dame’s players “finishing the play”?
COACH WEIS: I think our coaching staff has done a great job of doing that, starting with Coach (Michael) Haywood and right through every assistant we have on offense. They have done a great job of really staying on the players to finish the play. I think too many times you take for granted, especially from the offensive line standpoint when a play is ahead of him, `I can watch the rest of this play and not go down there and try to make a block.’
I think maybe my favorite play of the whole game besides running it in the red zone was the posse that was in front of Darius on that screen pass. All three receivers were there; linemen were there; tight ends were there. I mean, everybody was there, and it brings a smile to the coaches’ faces when you see that many guys hustling until the play is over.
Q. Early in the game, especially, Darius Walker seemed to dance a little bit, what is your philosophy, when there’s no hole there, do you want him to just hit it up or do you want him to stop and reverse field and do some of the things he did earlier in the game?
COACH WEIS: Well, that’s a loaded question. Obviously you want him not to have a negative play, so the logical answer on that one is just take what the defense gives you and take your two yards and come back and go second and eight.
But I also have a lot of trust in Darius. And not that I ever want to have a freelancing back, because that’s not what we’re looking for. We only had one negative play the whole night, so we are not looking for negative plays. But sometimes you can inhibit a running back by telling him, `you can only do this.’ It’s just like telling him on a play, this is where the play is going to be run, and all of a sudden they come out the back door. We call them an ‘atta boy’ play. ‘Atta boy,’ because they didn’t do what you told them to do, but they turned something negative into something positive.
Obviously we don’t want to take too many risks as far as going east and west on the field. We always prefer to be going north and south. Sometimes if you have a running back with great instincts, you have to let him play.
Q. (Ambrose) Wooden, not a very big guy, missed a tackle early in the game, are you concerned he’s going to be able to hold up physically, No. 1, playing corner all year, and what are your options right now in terms of tackles?
COACH WEIS: Let’s go with the first part of that question. I thought that he played a pretty solid game to tell you the truth. He made a bunch of plays and played very physically. Going over our history even against guys at the next level, we went against a lot of guys that were not the biggest corners in the whole word. No corner really is in love with to have to make every tackle at the line of scrimmage. Even teams that profess to play nothing but cover two where you’re putting all of the run force in the hands of the corners, I’ve seen some of the best ones that they are not in love with that anyway. But we traveled five corners actually, traveled six corners to the game. So it wasn’t like we didn’t have any confidence in whether we put in Leo (Ferrine) or whether we put in Terrail (Lambert) or whether we put in, you know, LeBrose (Hedgemon) or whether we put in Brandon (Harris). We were ready to play any of those guys if the situation warranted it and we did. Most of them got into the game.
Q. Inaudible about what Rashon Powers-Neal brings to the lineup?
COACH WEIS: Firstly, he has very good running instincts and sometimes people get overlooked because they are really not put in that position to have the ball in their hands from the halfback position. But he’s truly in that tweener mold where he’s big enough to play fullback, but then he’s elusive enough or runs well enough as a halfback where you could play him either way. It helps in your position flexibility to go ahead and use him that way, too.
Q. Have you heard from Tom Brady at all yet this week and what kind of back and forth will there be?
COACH WEIS: I talked to Tom multiple times last week and I think right now he’s just worrying about the Raiders. I don’t think he’s spending a lot of time talking to anyone from Michigan or Notre Dame right now. He’s just concerned on beating the Raiders on Thursday night, and I know Tommy and I can promise you that’s what he’s doing.
Q. Could you compare and contrast Hart and Grady and what they bring to the table and what makes each of them difficult to stop defensively?
COACH WEIS: First of all, they are both good running backs. You talk about Grady who is not even the starter. Obviously got some action last week. He holds about every Michigan rushing record there is known to mankind. So you can’t just be concerned with just one guy. But Hart is a very dynamic runner. He’s got a lot of similarities to the guy we’re playing with. They could run the ball inside; they could run the ball outside; they could run with speed. I mean, there’s many similarities. I look at between the offensive players at Michigan and the offensive players at Notre Dame. I think that the one thing that both defenses will have a little bit of an advantage is that they have been going against similar players in practice every day in training camp.
Q. Are you where you thoughts about being nationally ranked, what should they be and what are your thoughts on that?
COACH WEIS: We’ve played one game. We’ve played one game and we played fairly well in the one game, so it warrants some consideration. But they count it by 11. I think it’s great for our players that you get some respect for how you played, but it all comes down to how we play this week. We’ll see where we’re rated after we play Michigan.
Q. You talked about keeping an even keel, did you talk to the team about that, that you can’t put too much into it?
COACH WEIS: Absolutely. We’ve already discussed it twice. We discussed it Sunday, we discussed it Monday. I discussed it after the game on Saturday night and at 2:30 today it will be discussed very, very vehemently; the only issue at hand is Michigan.
Because let’s face it, that is a tough opponent. We’re going to have to play very well to have a chance of winning the game. You can’t rest on your laurels and feel good about yourself because you played a good opener. I think you’ve got to be worrying about Michigan, because if not, you’ll get your butt kicked.
Q. Can you talk a little about Darius (Walker) as a receiver, what kind of threat he is as a receiver?
COACH WEIS: He’s got very good hands, and in addition he’s not afraid to pick you up in a blitz, as well. When you start stretching the field vertically and start pushing guys down the field, everyone wants you to throw the deep ball. `Oh, let’s throw the deep ball.’ But a lot of times those defenses are trying to take that deep ball away, begging you to go ahead and dump the ball underneath. The real offenses are the ones that are not afraid to dump the ball off to the running backs and tight ends and go ahead and let them run with it and get some positive yards.
Q. How do you feel about the Michigan rivalry or do you view it as a regular game?
COACH WEIS: Not to downplay it, but it’s no different for me this week than it was last week. That’s how I view it. Might be different emotions for the players who experience it, but I view it as going to Michigan Stadium and trying to win the game. We’re going to have to play well just to try to win the game. That’s all I’m worried about. I have no emotions at all about Notre Dame versus Michigan, none.
Q. Will you try to pass that along to your players, the businesslike approach?
COACH WEIS: Yes, that will be part of my 2:30 presentation.
Q. How much do you account for the fact that they may have been holding a little bit back (last week)?
COACH WEIS: Well, I watched every game they played last year, so unless there’s some big surprise from all of the games including the Bowl game. I watched them all. I’ve gone back to watch previous years games on top of that, so my reference isn’t just one game against Northern Illinois. But what that does is gives you the most up to date personnel assessment because that’s who they played. But you have to go back and look at even schematically, going between 3 4 defense and a 4 3 defense and how they mix and match and what they are doing right there. I think that you have to be prepared for a lot of things.
I’m not expecting just to see what they did last week against Northern Illinois. They are not expecting for us just to do what we did against Pittsburgh. I think that we have to both be ready to adjust on the fly.
Q. How do you prepare for a game on the road, over 100,000 fans, is your approach any different?
COACH WEIS: Well, first of all, you have to practice the silence count in case you can’t hear, that’s one thing. The other thing, we’ll dedicate at least one day, at least Wednesday or Thursday, I’m leaning towards Thursday right now, where you blare the noise so loud that no one could hear and we’ll be doing that. We did it last week and we’ll be doing it again this week. I’m leaning towards Thursday rather than Wednesday, but one of those two days we’ll have it where you’ll barely be able to hear the quarterback give you the play in the huddle, and that’s the best way of preparing people to handle the noise and to concentrate when you can’t hear anything.
Q. Your impressions of the instant replay after going through it?
COACH WEIS: I thought most of the calls were right. The one call I thought was close, I thought the one play was a fumble. Even going back and watching it, but I could be wrong. It was close, the one with (Tyler) Palko. I thought it was a fumble. But I thought instant replay for the most part was correct, and I thought the officiating for the most part was right on, and I really have no complaints.
Q. Do you like this system more than the NFL system?
COACH WEIS: Yeah, you take the pressure off the coaches. The coaches don’t have any pressure. I wouldn’t like to see where the pressure is on the coaching side when you want to go ahead and challenge something rather than just be waiting for an official upstairs to say, `Okay, we’ll challenge this one now.’ I mean, there’s going to come a time this year, I promise you, I will call a time out just to think give them a chance to think about whether or not they want to challenge a call. If I think that they were really wrong and it was a critical wrong, I’ll call a time out just to hope that 90 seconds or minute or two comes into play; maybe they can go ahead and review their thinking and go ahead and challenge a call.
Q. How much does it help to have that Pittsburgh game before Michigan, now that you have that one under your belt?
COACH WEIS: Well, whether it was anyone, I think any time you can get the first game out of the way, as I said to you guys after the game the other day, I had become such a distraction going into the game, I think now we’re past that.
The fact that we’ve played okay in our first game and we’re going against one of the top teams in the country, that’s really the story and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be going against one of the top teams in the country and seeing how you do.
Q. How much did that help you as far as recruiting, too, just to have a win? You’ve been talking to these recruits for a long time and now you have something to talk to them about.
COACH WEIS: I always have something to talk to them about. But I spent Sunday afternoon (talking to the recruits) while I was watching tape. I spent four hours talking to recruits, and last night I spent another three hours talking to recruits, because we have a plan, and when it gets to football week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, my energies are going to be dedicated towards winning that game.
So we have a plan between me and the assistant coaches of who calls people on what days. Obviously as of September 1, you can make one phone call a week, but it’s always easier talking to them when you say, “Hey, did you get a chance to watch the game.” Well, you know it’s a loaded question. It’s easier to say that after you played okay. And there’s also going to be times where you could be saying, “I hope you didn’t watch that game.” (Laughter).
Q. Have you heard or even spoken in the past, visited with Lloyd Carr, what were your impressions of the way he ran his program overall and what might have you learned?
COACH WEIS: I’ve known Lloyd for some time, goes all the way back to the Giants and Jet days. He had a relationship with Coach (Bill) Parcells and they come in and they talk a couple of times. Matter of fact he and Coach Malone had come to visit us at one time. Oh, a few years ago they had asked me to come speak at their Spring Coaches Clinic. I have a lot of respect for their whole staff, and as a matter of fact their associate head coach Fred Jackson, is a very close friend of mine. He’s a friend of mine come Sunday; he’s my enemy until then.
Q. Going into a game and going out of a game, what do you feel are maybe the most overrated team statistics?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think obviously the greatest determining factor of any statistic are turnovers. Just look at the Michigan game. They created five turnovers in the game. I think it was 5 1. That game, statistically, if you looked at the yardage between Northern Illinois and Michigan, it was pretty close. But one team turns it over five times and the other team turns it over one, I think that’s significant. The statistics might be 79 percent, 80 percent, 79 percent, the team that wins the turnover ratio wins the game; that’s one of the five games you’re going to win if you win the turnover margin.
I think too much emphasis is put on rushing yardage, rushing defense, passing yardage, passing defense, because I don’t know in any game if I’m going to throw it more than I’m going to run it. You’d like to have a balance every game and say it’s going to be 50/50, but if I’m going into a game and we can run it on every play, well, why should I throw it? Or if there’s a game where they are just going to stop the run but you can throw it, throw it all over the yard and score touchdowns. I think red zone efficiency and turnover are the two critical factors. Are you scoring when you get a chance to score when you getting it close? Are you scoring touchdowns or do you have to settle for field goals? And what is your turnover ratio? You can look at time of possession is often a critical factor. Third down conversions are often a critical factor. These are critical factors. But usually the determining factors, the two determining factors really: Are you scoring touchdowns when you get into the red zone and who turns it over the least versus who turns it over the most.
Q. Yesterday in Ann Arbor, Lloyd Carr mentioned that the Big Ten will probably be a 12 team conference before too long, and that anything that helps the conference would be welcome. Would a conference schedule be something you would favor?
COACH WEIS: Notre Dame is an independent. When the powers to be decide it’s not to be independent, I’ll deal with it at that time. But right now, we’re an independent and we play a national schedule. We play everybody and I’m not really worrying about being a member of the Big Ten. I’m just worried about trying to win as many games that we can so that we can play past November 26.
Q. Over the years coaches talk about the biggest advances people see in their team from week one to week two; if there is, where do you look for it, on special teams, offense or overall?
COACH WEIS: There’s no doubt that all three facets of the game can be improved from last week. Too many times you get caught up with the statistics, like, `Hey, you rushed the ball or you threw the ball for such and such.’
But there was much, much improvement that could be made on all three facets. That’s a general area, but it was very easy for us to identify a number of errors that occurred. And they also are included in coaching, as well. There are things that we could do a lot better as coaches. It was a first time staff working together now, too. A lot of times you have a staff that’s used to working together and doing all of the idiosyncracies that come with doing a game plan and game day operation. And hopefully we’ll get better at those things each week while the players get better, as well.
Q. You mentioned Tom Brady before, obviously I know his attention is on the NFL this week, but have you two talked about this game or have you joked about this game in the fast?
COACH WEIS: Oh, we have a friendly agreement.
Q. Could you detail it for us?
COACH WEIS: Well, I’m not going to tell you what I would owe him. But I can tell that you if he loses he’s going to be wearing a Notre Dame football hat to his next press conference, that I can tell you. I can’t tell you what the other end of that agreement is.
Q. And you talked a little about recruiting before. Have you found that just because of the nature of the two institutions that you bump up against them maybe more than other schools?
COACH WEIS: We bump against them often in recruiting, because let’s face it, we are both going after high character kids that can read and write and that are good football players. So they are going after the same type of guys we’re going after; and they win sometimes and we win sometimes – that’s just part of being competitors.
Q. You mentioned Tim Massaquoi, can you talk a little about what makes him so effective?
COACH WEIS: I tell you any time you go against a tight end like him, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical, he runs well, and he’s got production. It’s definitely a concern when you have a legitimate guy at the tight end position, because if you spend too much time trying to stop the running back or trying to shut down the wide receivers, the guy and the position that can exploit you the fastest is the tight end position.
Q. Now, Massaquoi is a former wide receiver. Does that show up in his game at all, the way that he runs passing routes?
COACH WEIS: He’s a lot bigger than wide receivers now. I think he’s a very it’s always an advantage, I remember I had a guy years ago by the name of Tyrone Davis who ended up playing for the Packers for a bunch of years that had come out of Virginia when I was with the Jets who was a receiver that ate himself into a tight end. The one thing, they always had that big advantage in the passing game. In addition, this kid could block. Usually those receivers that eat themselves into tight ends are still good receivers, but they just can’t block. This kid can block, too.
Q. Can you talk more about the offensive line and after watching more of that tape in the first game, what really did they do the best?
COACH WEIS: They played physically. That’s what they did the best. t wasn’t perfect by any extent of the imagination, but I really they tried to take it to the defensive line they were going against. Any time you can get offensive linemen to play being on the attack, rather than being passive, you usually have a chance to be successful.
Q. You said they didn’t play perfect by any extent, was there something glaring that you saw that really bothered you?
COACH WEIS: Well, I’m not going to go into particulars. I’m just saying that as a team, there were way too many way too many things for me to just be happy. Obviously when you score six out of seven in your first seven possessions, which is what it was, you can’t sit there and nitpick on everything that goes wrong. But when you can sit back and you study the tape and say, okay, we could have done this better or done that better, I think that they will all agree there are things we could have done better in that game.
Q. You mentioned the other day about being a game plan coach, and then after the game you talked about the game was really won from 10 yards after the line of scrimmage, not the secondary. Is that what you’re talking about when you talk about being a game plan coach, attacking what was their weakness, compared to their strength?
COACH WEIS: That’s exactly I’ve told you that from the day that I started talking to you that that’s how I view football. That’s why I’ve got to chuckle when everyone was making such a big deal of us going against Pittsburgh and their secondary. I wasn’t worried then; a secondary could not have been out there as far as I was concerned because that’s not where we were going. I knew that, and you just didn’t, because I’m the one who gets to call the plays.
Each week is its own separate entity, like I’ve always been saying, and you have to look at where are the real good guys and try to stay away from them and try to find the guys that you think that you have a chance to exploit. Last week I just viewed the game as their front seven was inexperienced, and I thought that that’s where the game should be won and that’s I believe where the game was won.
Now, I don’t always calculate it right. Just last week; I think it was calculated right.
Q. On Sunday you mentioned penalties being something to improve on, over the next couple of days, how do you go about trying to coach these guys to be smart?
COACH WEIS: For example, today we’re going to practice the two situations where we had the defense on the field and then we went to punt rush and we had substitution errors. That will be addressed today on the field, in the classroom and on the field.