Nov. 13, 2006
COACH WEIS: Right to the Air Force game yesterday. Obviously it was kind of a strange game, especially how the time of possession went in the second quarter. Basically we were on the field for 32 consecutive plays, 17 plays and 15 plays, and when all that’s said and done, we outscored them on top of it because we brought the field goal and ran for the touch down.
It was a very, very unusual game. I thought the second quarter, despite the fact that we won the second quarter point?wise, negative residual effect on our defense in the second half. You know, I didn’t think too much about it at the time other than the fact that we started substituting a lot earlier than we normally would. We looked like we were pretty spent toward the end of the game.
Let’s start with special teams. I think our kickoff coverage ?? first of all I thought Burkhart kicked the ball very well to start off with, even when we were going against the wind. I thought he hit the ball well. Their average drive start was the 22?yard line. We had obviously a couple really key things to happen, I mean, Steve Quinn had three tackles on a kickoff coverage, two of them were inside the 20?yard line. Possley, here is a walk?on guy we put in there a couple of weeks ago and you go with that on?side kick and he’s on top of it, recovering that on?side kick. Trevor blocks the field goal and Landri picks it up, and he has Possley go up, especially we had Ndukwe and Richardson out front, takes it for a touchdown which was obviously a critical play in the game. Those three guys, Quinn, Laws and Lambert, they were all big plays.
On the negative side, there were a few things. I thought our punt protection, our whole punt process I wasn’t very pleased with. I didn’t think we were very good in protection, I didn’t think we were very good in coverage and I didn’t think we handled the punts very well from our punter; I’m not talking about it from our returner. Obviously we missed three kicks in the game, a couple of them blocked and one we just missed. You know, that’s poor. And we had a penalty on Ray Herring on an illegal formation on the last punt when we lined up in the backfield which is a lack of concentration.
Defense, of course part of third downs, ended up being in fourth down, as a matter of fact they went for it four times on fourth down last night, and our defense stopped them three out of the four times. We didn’t stop them on that fourth and two play action where they threw the touchdown. One of their key plays is the quick toss, one of the plays we eliminated. And we didn’t have very many mental mistakes.
I think the most positive thing I can say about our defensive performance last night was the play of Ndukwe. Even though there were a couple of times where they were getting four, five, six yards on the play, I thought he had played a solid game for us. He’s credited in the play?by?play with 22 tackles, but really, he made 25 tackles in the game because there are three penalty plays and he made the tackle on those three plays, too. So really, as we chart him, he ended up being involved in 25 tackles on the day which is, you know, I’m sure he’s going to be a sore puppy here today.
On the negative side, you know, we gave up 400 yards, a couple hundred both running and throwing. You could say, well, it’s pretty good holding them to 200 in the run game because they have been averaging 267. But then to go ahead and give 200 passing and 110 of that in the fourth quarter, that’s not very good.
The thing that probably I’m going to talk about, extended drives and everything, but the thing that probably bothered me more than anything is that this is kind of our second time around at going against an option team, and I would have expected ?? I would have expected to be more in a shutdown mode than we ended up being in this game. We gave up extended drives where we stayed on the field for 15 straight minutes in the second quarter. You know, which I definitely think in hindsight ?? well, I felt it last night during the game. But when you’re watching it on tape this morning, you could actually see it. It’s more evident as the game goes on, that, you know, we were on the field for an awful long time. We gave up three drives, 23 minutes off the clock, gave up only three big plays, but, they were what, 24?yard pass play after a penalty which led to a field goal and a 43?yard pass play which led to a touchdown, and we also gave up a 41?yard pass that yielded no points.
We were not very about on third down. They converted 58 percent, I believe. We especially were not very pleased with our third?and?long situations, and penalties came into play in a few of these. We had a third and seven, we get called for the pass interference where we had a chance to get off the field. We had a third and 14 where they run option to our left, to their right, and run for 17. We have third and 20, the quarterback running for his life and we grab his face mask, and then punting, you know, and now they get a personal foul face mask and pick up the first down. The pass interference and the face mask were two of our three penalties. The other one we had a personal foul by Trevor where he fell over the top of the guy. The referee said he didn’t go to hit maliciously but the fact that he fell on him so late, he felt that that was a penalty.
Offensively, I thought our no?huddle operation was excellent. We scored on five off our six drives. Obviously got a little help on the third one with the punter penalty. We scored every time we got in the red zone, over six and a half yards a pop. And I thought the quarterback was outstanding again. He threw the ball 19 times, five incompletions, three of them were dropped balls. And one of them, he’s kicking himself in the pants over on the last one to Jeff. So really, the whole night, that throw is a little overthrown and he has one deflected and three dropped balls, keeping him from having ?? he was close to pitching a perfect game as far as his throws in this game.
We also on both sides of the ball, both offense and defense, we’re in single digits in mental errors. So mental was not the issue in this game. That’s the good thing about the offense. We didn’t turn the ball over because really Air Force had capitalized on that the previous week with six turnovers and we had six big plays on offense.
On the negative side, we get that ball right before half?time, everything is going just about perfect for the offense, we come out, drop the ball on the first play and then we drop the ball on the second play. Then we complete the ball and I’m running the clock out and I’m going to give a mental error to the referee on that one on top of it, because I told Quinn ?? Quinn had told him, we’re taking a time?out with one second to go and he calls a time?out with ten seconds to go. He goes, “Sorry, Charlie, I messed that up, but I can’t change the time on the clock.” So do we call ?? okay, we’ve already called on that one. I don’t know if it showed me, but probably wasn’t be very nice at the time.
We did try that one fourth down play when we were not kicking a field goal from there. Came very close to having a touchdown and gave up a couple of sacks, they were both coverage sacks. Had the holding penalty on Bobby when Brady pulled it down and rolled over there to the right. Had illegal procedure late in the game on Olsen, late in the game when backups were in there.
And just like I said, Ndukwe was the obvious standout on defense. I thought there were five guys that stood out for me on offense. I mentioned Brady. I thought he was excellent. Darius, I thought he was excellent. Sulli, I thought he was excellent. Samardzija, I thought he was excellent. And one other person, which I’m glad to bring this up, I thought Marcus Freeman was excellent. Although he has the catch for the touchdown as his one catch for the day, the fact that John went down ?? when you have a guy that’s been playing really well like John has been, and he goes down, a lot of times, it’s a little disheartening and sometimes a team gets rattled a little bit. And the way Marcus played, you know, you didn’t really notice a change who was out there because the whole night, until the end much the game, we’re only using one tight end out there and Marcus just went in there and we just ran the offense.
So that’s a quick recap of yesterday from my perspective.
Q. I’m not sure how many games in a row it is that you’ve scored touchdowns in your first possession, but it’s quite a few. What goes into that and why has that changed for you guys in the second half of the season?
COACH WEIS: Part of it was how we had not been doing it the first half of the season. Not that I have ever written a bunch of openers trying not to score; I’m not being sarcastic when I say that. Every time I write them, I’m writing them with the intent of us trying to score.
But in this game in particular, because we thought we would get fewer possessions, our goal was to try to score quick. And I don’t mean just scoring on the second play the way it turned out because you don’t know you’re going to score. Actually I was trying to score on the first play when we called a post to Jeff, coverage was pretty decent.
But our intent was to make sure we got on top of them early so that when they got into that ball control phase, which we figured they would have some success with, as long as we were up a number of points, we always feel like the game was under control.
Q. All the wins you’ve strung together now, have you noticed a rise in the team’s confidence? They seem to be playing more like a team that expects to win and know that they are better?
COACH WEIS: I think their expectation level is going up. Just like every fan and follower of Notre Dame football, when things around them start helping, when other teams start losing, that causes optimism for them as well.
So I think that they are playing a little bit better, and then, you know, we’ve got Senior Week coming up this week. I think that they will all be fired up to play their last home game here. We’ll go on from there. They know that we are basically in the playoffs now, that’s how I presented this on Friday night. I said yesterday was the first round of the playoffs.
So we’re going into the second round of playoffs this week because, I think not to give an NFL analogy, but I think that’s where we are right now, and I think that’s the way I’m trying to get them to think.
Q. Because you’re quote, unquote, in the playoffs right now, do you think the big prize could be at the end of that?
COACH WEIS: I think you’ve got to win the second round. I think that’s what too many teams tried to do yesterday from what I was watching. They got knocked out in the first round. I mean, I think you’d better win the second round and not worry about the third and fourth round yet.
Q. It doesn’t change what you guys do on Saturday, but how much of a lift does it give you and the other players seeing that other teams are opening the door for you?
COACH WEIS: Well, you guys, some of the people at the press conference yesterday told me about Cal, I didn’t know about them, I had heard about the other games. But if you would have heard the roar on the plane when the K?State/Texas game was announced when we landed, I started to send Ruben back there to find out what was going on. Literally I turned to Ruben and I said, “Go and find out what’s going on back there.” There was literally a roar in the back of the plane when that came out. They are well aware of ?? these kids are dialed in just like the rest of us are. They know what’s going on.
Q. Does that give you potentially another extra spring in your step this week?
COACH WEIS: No, I think that ?? I think that I’ll try to approach it the same. I really think that it’s good if you can have one area of focus each week. This past week for me was, this is the first round of the playoffs. This week for me, it’s Senior Week. I think you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s following after that.
So I think that, you know, Senior Week, that should be enough of an impetus for everyone to focus on who you’re playing against and what you need to do. If that doesn’t get it done, if you can’t get ready to play your potentially last game, or in most cases it is their last game, ever, at Notre Dame Stadium, both the players and the coaches, then we have a problem.
Q. Can you talk about game planning, now that you’ve been in the season, everybody kind of knows what you do, a lot of the plays. Does your job get harder trying to disguise some of the things you do, and take advantage of what other teams try to do against you defensive?
COACH WEIS: Works two ways, though. I mean, you know, there’s a lot of stuff that we haven’t even done yet. There’s stuff that I’ve never even done that we can do.
Yes, what we did yesterday, the way we did it, it was the first time we did it that way. You’ve seen us go no huddle but the formations and how we did it, yesterday was the first time we ever did it.
So you always come up with stuff that they are not prepared for, just like they can come up with stuff that you are not prepared for as well, always, every week you can do that.
Sometimes you do it, sometimes you don’t do it. It all depends on what the thought process or methodology is going into that week.
Q. How much does your thought process change with John not being in the next couple of games, how much does it change what you can do?
COACH WEIS: It doesn’t change other than the fact that you take one of your good players and he’s not playing. The offense does not change.
You know, I think that when you’re developing young guys or when you’re developing backups or when you’re developing depth, the important thing isn’t how much they play; it’s are they ready to go when their number is called. Just like yesterday, Marcus is ready to go. Now he’s played a lot this year on our two tight end set, but yesterday’s game was featuring one tight end the whole game. That’s what we were using.
So fortunately, that’s the way it was laid out. If the whole game plan was designed around two tight ends, it would have been a little more difficult, but it wasn’t. So really, John went out, Marcus went in and we just moved on.
I have a lot of confidence in Marcus now. You know, it isn’t like I’m just turning to Rory and saying, okay, fellas, you’re the starter this week and I have a fifth year senior in there. Plenty of reps, so I have a lot of confidence in Marcus.
Q. Talking about seniors’ last game, game the following week, and what’s happening BCS?wise, a lot of things that can distract the team. How do you keep that from all hurting them?
COACH WEIS: I think it would be a lot harder if there wasn’t a seeable theme that you could have, something, a substantial theme. Like all of their parents are coming in for the pep rally and we introduce, they come walking up with their parents for the pep rally, all the seniors.
I think because, I think it would be tougher if there were a couple of weeks to go and you really didn’t have something of substance to grasp on to. But you know, their parents are coming in. This is it for them. This is their last hoorah. I think because you have that area of focus, it gives you as the coach something to put ?? to lay out for them that they can say.
I think, you know, it should be a very easy thought process to keep them from being distracted.
Q. You had said a number of times in here that you need a lot of help to get to ?? were you shocked at how everything came together, aside from South Carolina ??
COACH WEIS: Yeah, I was rooting for the Gamecocks yesterday. I think that, was I surprised all of those things happened? Yes. Am I shocked? No. I think just like what we’re talking about with areas of focus, every one of these, they’re still 18? to 23?year?old guys that you’re dealing with. And no matter how mature they are or no matter how much the coaches preach to them, no matter how many times you sit there and say, you get it, I can tell you from being on that next level, you still have that same problem.
Even with guys that are pros that do it for a living, what they always call the sandwich game or the trap game, everyone has those where you’re looking past one team in anticipation of something happening. Even at the next level, it’s hard to not ?? to keep people up for every single game. But I think that, you know, for us, I think yesterday was a good first round opener. It was a nice, solid first round win.
Q. And is the best part of that, now you can actually look and say, these four things happened; we’re there?
COACH WEIS: I’m looking at one thing, I’m not even looking at ?? the only thing I’m looking at is we win our next two games, starting with Army. That’s all I’m looking at because that’s all I can do. All I can do with our program is to go beat Army. And if we beat Army, then we try to beat the next guys. And if we’ve done that, we’ve done what we can do.
We’ve already had our blemish, it’s been well documented. We’ve had our close calls. But everyone else has had those close calls, too. We’re not alone. Take your pick. Take any of them. Go look at ?? everyone has had close calls. I think right now, we’ve just got to go win Senior Day against Army. That’s what we have to do.
Q. Is the prognosis on Carlson still the same, out for to games ask then back for the Bowl game?
COACH WEIS: I’m hoping it might be better than that, but I’m meeting with them at quarter after or 20 after. Everything gets pushed back an hour or so. I always meet with the doctors five minutes after the press conference up in my conference room, so I don’t know the answer to that at this time.
Q. You had mentioned Marcus Freeman going into spring, thought he had a great winter workout for you, what kind of year has he had for you?
COACH WEIS: He’s been solid all year. It’s just that a lot of balls haven’t come in his direction. So a lot of times when a guy doesn’t have a whole bunch of catches, people correlate that with not having a good year. I mean, just like McConnell has had a pretty good year, but it’s not like he’s touched the ball a whole bunch of times.
But there’s guy, David Grimes until a few games ago, was wallowing away in anonymity, and then he has a couple of big games and all of a sudden, David Grimes is coming on as our third wide receiver. Sometimes it’s just when the ball comes in their direction. But I think he’s been solid as a blocker all year. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve had such a large amount of multiple tight end packages because of our confidence in Marcus.
Q. Speaking of multiple tight end packages as you move forward, how do you feel about the two young kids being involved in those?
COACH WEIS: I really don’t have much of a say in that because they are involved. I think that we were ready in that game as soon as that happened. We don’t panic on the sideline now. As soon as that happened, okay, here’s the deal, went over with Bernie and Michael and John and got them over there, the guys on the sideline and said, okay, if we get to multiple tight ends, this is what we are going to do. If Marcus is in with Yateman, this is how I want them lining up. If Marcus is in with Roland, this is how I want them lining up. If the two freshmen are in many there to go, this is how I want them lining up.
So in other words, we did that in five minutes. And we had plenty of time to talk about it because that was the second quarter where I could put in the whole offense if I wanted to at that time.
Q. I’m sure you love when we ask about personnel moves, but as far as your kicker, do you get to the point where you open it back up and say, wow, we’ve gone this far, we need to give this guy confidence? How do you look at that?
COACH WEIS: I think that’s something we’re definitely going to have to re?evaluate this week because, you know, that’s not acceptable, and that’s a fair question.
Q. Last thing from me is, a lot of times, you know, when we get through the positive things that happened in the game, we tend to ask you about the defense and the offensive line’s play, and it seems to be a recurring theme a lot of weeks. Do you feel like you’re distancing yourself at all from the things that happened with those early in the year, the big plays, or do you think this is just the makeup of this team and the offense is just going to have to overcome that?
COACH WEIS: Well, I thought the offensive line played pretty well to tell you the truth. And you could say that maybe they played pretty well the last few weeks because of the size advantage or experience advantage over the guys they are going against. But they have gained some ground since the Navy game on; they have gained some ground.
I’d say our biggest concern, week?in and week?out on defense, was not giving up the big play. So in this game, we give up three big plays on the game, but at the same time, last thing you want to be doing is being out on the field for 79 plays or whatever it was.
So eventually you’ve got to get off the field. I’m not saying we went into the game ?? it’s easy for me to say we went into a game with a bend?but?don’t?break mentality. We just went in with a very simple game plan saying, we’re going to have to line up and we just wanted to make sure that we didn’t ?? you know, we didn’t give up something big. But when it was all said and done, even in the second half with them having the ball forever, the score is advantageous for us. If it was just kind of more of the same in the second half, we probably wouldn’t be having the conversation.
Q. Can you talk a little about the play of Tom Zbikowski, he had such a great break out game the other day, what allowed him to have the day he did?
COACH WEIS: Well, yesterday he really wasn’t involved in too much of the action to tell you the truth. What happened with him is they would come down the line and he would end up having to quarterback, so then the quarterback would not keep it because had I responsibility basically was to take the guy out of there so he would be pitching the ball the whole time. Then what happened is the ball would kick down to Ndukwe and he would be the one making all of the tackles. That’s why Ndukwe had over 20 tackles.
Q. Is there a certain challenge in playing a game like that, we talk about playing with the ball versus playing responsibility ??
COACH WEIS: Without a doubt, the challenge is the game plan is so much more simplified because it has to now be, all of a sudden you don’t see ten different coverages in a game like this. Everyone has responsibilities to do. We have a couple of adjustments that we do, line might slant, we might bring one guy. But what you can’t do is leave yourself vulnerable to the big play, which was obviously one area, which we handled pretty well.
Q. The Carlson injury, I know you touched on that with Freeman, what happens now, I know earlier in the year you had talked about he had been talking about Carlson, what happens behind Freeman right now, or is that really open?
COACH WEIS: What happens is Freeman is the starter, and then if we’re in multiple tight end packages, if he’s in one guy ?? Freeman becomes the swing guy, not the freshman. They learn one position. And then if Freeman is in with them, okay, and the position they learned is not the same. I’m talking about the two tight end packages, Michael, not the one tight end packages. Obviously they are all in the same position there. But Marcus will be the swing guy. He will be the guy who learns both responsibilities, and the freshmen, I don’t think it’s ever to ask too much mentally of the freshmen. So they will learn their job and Marcus will be the guy who learns both jobs.
Q. With Carlson, I know you talked a lot about Carlson, on the tape, did you see exactly what happened to him? Ryan Harris said he fell ??
COACH WEIS: We were running a stretch play and we had the edge. We had the edge pretty well and then Ryan kind of fell on top of John. What happened, he kind of got rolled on the play.
Q. So none of the defenders ??
COACH WEIS: It wasn’t like John got caught, and it wasn’t like Ryan went down and chopped his knee or anything. It’s just he got rolled on him.
Q. Also, maybe I’m wrong about this, but I heard that you made some comments about Rutgers and your thoughts on them and their whole situation. I missed those. What do you think about the whole Rutgers situation?
COACH WEIS: Well, obviously, first of all, I’m prejudiced toward New Jersey, so let me say that, just like I’m prejudiced toward Notre Dame.
My whole feeling was, which is kind of a rhetorical question on my part, I was asked about it and I said, I don’t understand why Rutgers is not viewed the same as West Virginia and Louisville, that’s all. My whole thing was everybody made a big deal out of West Virginia, and Louisville beat West Virginia, so Louisville goes into Rutgers, and this is before they played, and people asked me what I thought about Rutgers. Well, I was rooting for Rutgers. That’s who I would be rooting for. And they went in there and they beat them. I said, why should Rutgers not be viewed the same as the rest of those guys? I just didn’t understand it.
So for Coach Schiano and Rutgers, I think that they have done a heck of a job and should be viewed ?? hey, they still have to go to West Virginia the last game of the year. Everyone knows that. But they still have two more games before they get there. I just don’t think that they should be treated any different than those other teams.
Q. So do you think Rutgers should be is ahead of you?
COACH WEIS: I didn’t say that. Here is what I do think. I think that if Rutgers is undefeated at the end of the year, it’s going to be a heck of a situation. Whether it’s Notre Dame, you know, whether it’s Notre Dame or somebody else, it’s going to be a heck of a situation. Because no matter what way you go, there will be people whining, spoken from the ultimate whiner himself.