Sept. 14, 1999
SOUTH BEND, Ind.
JOHN HEISLER: A quick note: Kickoff this week is at 1:36 here at South Bend, 2:36 in Lansing.
Coach Davie is here. He will make some opening comments at this time, then we will go to Q and A.
COACH DAVIE: I think it was — might have been Malcolm or John, last week I was walking out of the press conference we were talking about the celebration penalty and how much attention that had received, just on and on questions about that. I said one thing you know for sure, here at Notre Dame, next week at this time there will be a whole other set of issues and controversies that we will be discussing and this thing will die down. I didn’t realize how right I was going to be. But it is probably true. This time next week, even though we don’t have a press conference there will be other issues that we will be talking about.
I know for our football team it is good to have a chance to be back home and playing Notre Dame stadium. When you start this season or prior to this season when you look at our schedule, you knew that that Big-10 stretch at Michigan, at Purdue, then Michigan State at home, was going to be a grind. That is why we went ahead and we tried to get involved in Eddie Robinson Classic. It is a grind. The thing that you don’t envision and happening is to lose two games the way you have lost two games the last two weeks. I mentioned Sunday, you could be in coaching 20 years, and you may not play in two games that come down to the very last play of the game when you have the ball, particularly after you have overcome some momentum swings in the game and moved the ball to even put yourself in the position to win. But to think you are going to win and then have it snatched away from you, you don’t envision that happening. Because of that, it makes this Michigan State game even that much more important, even that much more of a challenge. I think we all realize that.
But I think it is also important when you are in the middle of this right now that for our football team to see the big picture and that old saying is nothing as good as it seems and nothing as bad as it seems is really true. It always pertains to life and it pertains to football.
But if you just look at some things that could have gone differently, I am the first one to realize they didn’t-but if you talk about 11 more yards, the 10 yards against Michigan and the one yard against Purdue, we could be sitting here now as a football team that is probably in the Top-5 in the country. If you think about 257 – 257 not being confused with 15, we are sitting here and a 2 and 1 football team that just had a tremendous comeback win in a place where they have been 11 and 1 at home and won seven straight games.
So I am not trying to sugar coat things at all for our football team, or for you, but I think it is important to keep in mind or keep in perspective right here, you know, I really believe we are close to being a good football team. If we can just improve, if we can improve, we will be a good football team. We all know that saying you are going to improve and improving is two different things, particularly with the ups and downs of a season.
You know, particularly where our football team probably was Sunday after the Purdue game, improving is not an easy thing. When you push it as far as you push it, then all of a sudden you have it taken away from you at the end. But I have got tremendous confidence in this team, I have got tremendous confidence in our coaching staff and I really could think we are going to be a good football team. I don’t think we are far away.
Now coming back this week and playing Michigan State that is not easy task. I am sure Michigan State comes in here as they should a very, very confident football team because of what they have done this year. But also what they have done the last two years to us. Without a doubt they are the most talented team we have played so far this season. That is a pretty strong statement. But I have no doubt about that.
But for us, I think there is some things we need to do that is obvious. We need to eliminate mistakes which mistakes come at you from a lot of different angles. That is not always easy. When you have a young football team – which I do think we are a young football team – we have got some experienced seniors but we also have some young guys in critical spots, you can’t overcome shooting yourself in the foot. You are just not far enough along to overcome some things. It jumped up and bit us again this week at Purdue with some mistakes.
But I do think we improved. I thought we played better against Purdue overall as a football team than we did the week before.
But what we need to do – I think on offense I think you can see we have a good scheme. I think you can see we have some play-makers. But we need to improve first of all, the turnovers. Once again, we had two against Purdue, that makes nine for the year. We are fortunate that it is not more than that. Once again, we pitched the ball on the ground twice in the Purdue game. You just can’t do that. We cannot continue to do it.
The penalties, made some improvement. Still had a holding penalty at the end of the first half, then had a procedure penalty at the end of the first half that got us out of sync there.
I think without question, we have to run the ball better up inside. That is not easy to do with the young linemen. And the team we play not only this week and Michigan State but Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC, you are looking at some big strong front sevens that are all — we have to be able to run the ball better than what we are doing now. We may not be able to go out there this week or next week or the week after and run it like we did at the end of last year, but we need to improve.
The last thing I think we need to improve on and I have said this and we really haven’t done it, is just the tempo on offense. With those young linemen we have got an awful lot on their plate right now. We are asking them to do a lot of things. We haven’t made as big an issue about the tempo that we are going to make in the future.
On defense, still disappointed that I don’t think we attack enough. I am not talking about blitzin, but I am talking about that front 7 being a factor. You just don’t feel us yet that we are really physical enough. That is something with Michigan State you have to be because they have got those big linemen, got those physical backs and if you don’t come off the ball, they are going to knock you back.
I think the second thing is no big passes. We gave up some big passes to Michigan. We gave you some big passes to Purdue and we played good teams. But once again, we played two good receivers this week, two NFL receivers. So more physical in the front and no big passes.
Kicking game: I do think we made improvement in the kicking game. You look at our punt protection and punt coverage, our punter, he gets the benefit of some rolls. He hadn’t just rocketed that thing out of there, but he is making improvement.
I think our punt team is a little bit better. I think our kickoff coverage and our kickoff man, you know, Jim Sanson pinned that ball about where we have asked him to pin it. We have had good kickoff coverage.
Our kickoff return, three weeks in a row we have been close to breaking one. So I think we are improved there.
Punt return: We blocked the punt against Purdue, also I think Julius Jones, you can see that he has got good acceleration. He is a good north/south guy that will get in there pretty quick. We are okay. We are a little bit worried about field goal and extra points. We have had a tendency to kick the ball real low and that has hurt us several times this year.
So I think there is a lot of areas that we can improve on, that we need to improve on. But we are not that far off. I really think we are an improved football team. I told our team Sunday that really I believe we are a better football team than we were last year. We are a little more of a mistake-prone team but I think a better football team.
So I think when you look at Michigan State, I don’t have to tell you that they are a talented team. On offense I am concerned about a couple of things, one, giant offensive linemen and they run the football at you. They have got some backs that run hard, their fullback blocks well. You look at their passing game, those two big tall receivers, and they go about three or four deep at receiver. It is not just Burress and Scott.
Then their quarterback, I think is a good player, really a good player. I think last year he broke the Michigan State single season passing record. Reminds me a lot of Brady from Michigan, kind of big, tall guy that throws the ball real accurately and can move around a little bit. So passing games concerns me.
And their defense, big and athletic. A lot of numbers. They have a lot of players in the front 7 that play, all of them look about the same. Really, really impressive looking team.
Kicking game, both kickers are back. Their place kicker is really good and their punter is good. They are a good solid football team. To be able to beat Ohio State last year in Columbus, to beat us the way they, just totally dominated the game, it is hard to imagine that was a 5 and 6 football team. They are off to a great start this year and they have got a lot of experienced players back. So it is a big challenge. It really is.
For us, injuries, Ron Israel is out. Ronnie Nicks is out. Joey Getherall has made some progress. He won’t play this week, but I really think he will be back for the Oklahoma game.
One setback, you know, I really hate to have to announce this, but Eric Shappel has been dismissed from the team. It is my decision. It is really just an internal discipline matter. I really don’t need to say anything more than that. I am disappointed to have to say that. But Eric Shappel will not be back on our football team. No question that it hurts us, no question that it hurts him. But it was a decision that I had to make.
At this time, John, I guess we can go and take the calls.
Q. You mentioned that you feel that Michigan State is one of the more talented teams you will play this season. Can you tell me a little bit about what goes into that assessment how you came to that conclusion?
COACH DAVIE: Well, a lot goes into what I saw last year playing up there. They made a big impact, a big impression on not only me but our entire football team.
I think if you went around this country and talked to coaches in our profession that play against Michigan State, they would all agree that Michigan State is an extremely, extremely talented football team.
You just look at the athleticism they have. Really just about at every position, the size they have, but the combination of a lot of skilled players that can run and a lot of big strong bodies, they are a very talented football team in my opinion.
Q. Coach, Bill Burke is kind of a classical dropback quarterback. Do you expect him to maybe be a little more sack-prone than some of the other quarterbacks you have been facing because he is not the most mobile kid?
COACH DAVIE: They do an excellent job. I think like Michigan does of throwing the ball a lot on running downs, keeping a lot of players in to protect. They throw it when you least expect it. So that you don’t get matched up a lot with in particular pass/rush situations. It is not easy to pressure him because of their scheme. They do a really good job. So I would like to think we can put some pressure on the quarterback, but I don’t know how realistic that really is.
The key is to be able to stop that running game and somehow put them in some third down situations where everyone in the stadium knows that they have to throw the football. But that is easier said than done.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the option. Obviously it is a big part of your attack. What I want to know is how do you use that specifically to exploit teams? Is it something that sometime you can see in defenses that, hey, they are not going to stay on their assignments or how exactly has that worked for you that kind of thing?
COACH DAVIE: What we try to do is really highlight a little different option each and every week, do it from somewhat of a different formation, just what you said is exactly right, you try to look at tapes and just figure out how certain teams are going to align to certain formations. That is not always easy because when you are an option team – there is not many other option teams, not that we are an option team, but a team that runs option, there is not that many teams that do it. So you don’t get a chance to look at a whole lot of other people running option against that opponent. So there is a little bit of a factor, a fear factor there. You may get some looks that you haven’t prepared for and that has hurt us a little bit this year.
Jarious Jackson has pitched the football on the ground several times, but on several of those occasions it wasn’t actually Jarious’ fault. There were some looks that happened that we really hadn’t prepared for because we hadn’t seen enough of our opponent play option on tape. So it is kind of a, you know, a double-edge sword.
We do some things that maybe people haven’t seen, but we get some defenses that we haven’t seen because we haven’t seen them play against option teams. Each and every week we try to go through and just try to figure out what gives us the best chance in the option game.
Q. How many different options do you have?
COACH DAVIE: You don’t have that many different options. You just kind of package them different because what you don’t want to do is get in there and have to pitch the football at different angles each and every week. So we have a basic core of option plays that really there is not that many. It is just that we kind of put window dressing on it to make it look a little bit different each and every week.
Q. A question with the end of the halfs the last couple of games. Who has to really kind of shoulder the blame for that? Is that something on the coaching staff or is that something the players have got to kind of live with?
COACH DAVIE: Well, it hasn’t been the last couple of games. We had a problem at Purdue and that was my fault. I take the responsibility for that.
What happened it came down to the end of the half, we had the football second and 5 on their 20. At that time we got called for holding which started our unraveling. We got called for holding. It goes back to second and 15. At that time prior to the second and 15, I told the offense – we had no timeouts left – if we throw a pass on second down that is short of the first down and the clock continues to run, let’s get up on the football, spike the ball, and we will kick a field goal on fourth down.
Well, prior to that ball being snapped, we had another penalty that was a procedure penalty that made it second and 20 and some seconds came off the clock. So I changed my mind. I said — now I told the field goal team on the sidelines and I hollered out to our players on the field that if we completed a pass short of the first down that we would now go fast field goal. I did that for two reasons. No. 1, some seconds had come off the clock, but I also, we have had some problems getting field goals batted. We had an extra point batted earlier in the game. I wanted to keep them out going for field goal block. The problem that happened as we — after that play, we did complete, it was short of the first down, down to the 20. We ran the fast field goal team out. But two of our players did not get the communication that we were doing that. It was my fault because at some point when you see the fast field goal team come out with the holder, the kicker and the snapper being different, you would think everybody would come off the field. But that didn’t happen. I had to take responsibility for that. We ended up at the end of the half not being able to get the play off. If I had to do it again, I would come up and spike the football just like our initial plan was and just kick the field goal on fourth down.
But there was a lot of discombobulation because of the penalties and once again, you learn that you don’t change. You don’t change, particularly when you are on the road in an environment where it is noisy, we kind of outcoached ourselves right there and made it a little bit harder than it had to be. Without question, I take responsibility for that. There was nobody else involved with that but me.
Q. You talked a little bit about the importance of being physical against Michigan State. Can you talk a little bit about your team’s progress in the defensive front since you have been there and also about the kind of player that Lamont Bryant has become as a senior?
COACH DAVIE: I think we have made some progress over the last two years. You go back and look at the tape against Michigan State from 1997 here at Notre Dame stadium. They just smacked us around. We were not very big. We were not very physical at that time.
In 1998, last year, it wasn’t quite as bad. The results weren’t awful, but we were a little better. I think we are a little farther along physically right now. I am not sure that we match up to Michigan State. They are all 300 pounds across that front. But I think we have made progress over the last couple of years.
I look back to the 1997 tape Grant Irons is the inside linebacker, we played the game, Joey Ferrer was the rush end. Kurt Belisle was the 5 technique that — was about 245 pounds, Jason Ching was in there, Antwon Jones was in there, and Grant Irons was the linebacker. We have grown up a little bit. We have got a lot of those same players that are little bit bigger, a little bit stronger. I think we are more physical but Michigan State truly is a big physical football team.
Q. How about Lamont Bryant and his progress? He has been making a lot more plays this year seems like.
COACH DAVIE: Lamont is. I still think there is another level that Lamont realizes he can get to. He has played pretty solid football for us. He made some plays against Michigan, had two big sacks that come to mind.
I thought he played hard against Purdue. Lamont plays hard. He is a competitor. We are just waiting for him to become a little more productive. It is important to mind, that he came off a severe knee injury two years ago. Last year we moved him inside. He is now up to 270 pounds. I think he is much more comfortable than he has been in the past.
Q. You talked about improving the inside running game. Has the problem been because of the inexperienced offensive line? Also, could you kind of talk about the differences between Fisher and Driver as far as their style of running?
COACH DAVIE: I think there is really three problems why we don’t run the ball as well as we’d like to inside.
First, we have really four new linemen in there, three that have never really played. We have two new tailbacks. I think our fullbacks have to once again play at a higher level. But I also think we are a little more diversified on offense so there is a little bit of a trade-off there.
We practice more things now than maybe we practiced in the past. So there is a lot of reasons why our inside running game is not quite what it has been particularly late last season.
The difference between Fisher and Driver-you know, I think Driver may be a little bit faster, a little bit more of a straight-ahead style runner.
Fisher may have a little more wiggle to him, maybe catches the football a little better. By and large they are pretty similar, pretty similar size, and I think pretty similar abilities. The one thing I don’t want to be similar is we put the football on the ground. Tony Fisher this past week again a huge play in that game, even though it was a close call. Both those guys are good young players at that position.
Q. Could you talk little bit about MSU’s defense? I was hoping maybe you can talk about their linebackers. They have had — obviously they are going to face some more diversified offense in you folks. What exactly are your perceptions of their linebackers and what you would like to do to make sure you can have a different outcome?
COACH DAVIE: I think the first thing you see is kind of like their team — what they look like. They have got some size to them. You look at their dropbacker, Julian Peterson he is 6’4″, 240 pounds and TJ Turner is behind him is 6’2″, 255. They are big physical players. Julian Peterson drops down and has been a defensive linemen, then at inside linebacker TJ Turner is a gentleman we recruited here at Notre Dame and we thought the sky is the limit. Mike Austin it seems like he has been there forever. He has played a lot of football backup.
They are big athletic physical style linebackers and they have got a great opportunity to play a lot of players. They have got a lot of depth there.
Q. A little bit different practice schedule this week. You practice Sunday. We are off Monday. How does that feel? What do you think the impact will be?
COACH DAVIE: I am not sure. I think, you know, what you try to do whenever a problem props up is have a plan to solve that problem.
I felt like right after the Purdue game, just with the emotions obviously the way they were, that I didn’t want our football team to leave on those buses and then us not see them ’til Monday morning at 6:45. I thought in this specific situation the best thing for us was to come back Sunday for two reasons. One, I think the emotional reason, but even more so, we have time to sit and watch that tape. We have time to go through each situation that came up in that game and talk about it, and digest it. Where on Mondays if we wait ’til Monday, you know, we just don’t have the time. So to get our football team back together, to sit down and just look at each issue thoroughly, to see where our problem areas were, I felt that was the best thing to do.
Then we let them go eat. We brought them back and we practiced, particularly special teams Sunday night, which we were prepared to do.
The good — the thing I like about it is it gives the coaching staff so much time on Monday without any interruption to get the game plan in. Then because of our class schedule here, our classes don’t start ’til 9:30 on Tuesday, we brought our team back this morning at 7:30 and met for an hour and 15 minutes. So this afternoon we can start practice a little bit earlier and get our players off the field because, as you know, I mean, we are probably the only place in the country where players get off the field at 8 o’clock at night Tuesday and Wednesday nights. So we were able to be ahead a little bit to meet this morning. I kind of like it.
Now, the drawback is, you don’t have that Monday practice and you are not near as far along Sunday as you would be Monday to do things. So I think in our situation this week it was the right thing to do. Whether or not we do that much and every week, I don’t know. You just try to handle each situation as they come.
Q. You might consider doing it or shaking it up like that on other weeks as well?
COACH DAVIE: I would consider doing it.
I want to get through this week and just talk to our coaches and see how it all shakes out. One thing, you know, if you win, you usually like what you did during the week. It all comes down to was it 257 or was it 14 and did we win or did we lose? So we are all human. But.
I think so far we like the plan and I think it is kind of let us get our feet back on the ground.
Q. As well as Jarious played at times, could any of his mental lapses or turnovers or anything like that be traced to a comfort level with the offense? Is there too much for him to handle? Are you considering kind of scaling back at all at this stage?
COACH DAVIE: I have put a lot of thought into that as I am sure everyone has because you are trying to eliminate some of those blatant errors we have had.
We have done some atrocious things with the football and we have actually been fortunate. We could be sitting here instead of 9 turnovers it could be fourteen or fifteen. Also the throw Jarious made before the half when he just floated it up, but I think more than the fact that we are doing more on offense because I really don’t think that is a problem. May be a little bit of the problem or certain percentage of the problem, but I really don’t think that is it because Jarious has been around so long and has done so many things over his five years and he is smart.
I think it is a little bit of, No. 1, I think in all honesty, he probably went into this season a little bit concerned about his surrounding cast because there were so many young players and it is probably human nature sometimes to worry a little bit more about other people than maybe he should worry about himself. That is something I have addressed with him.
Let’s face it, we have two young offensive tackles that have never played before – you are a little nervous and when you have two tailbacks that never played before. So I think it is a little bit of him, you know, wanting us to be so successful and he is worried about other people.
The second thing is, he feels like he has to make so many plays. I think he is a guy that, you know, you love his competitiveness and, let’s face it, last year we turned and handed the ball off to Autry Denson a lot and Autry Denson had his hands on the ball a lot. Jarious has his hands on the ball a lot and in more situations than he did last year. I think because of his competitive nature he maybe tries to make too many plays at times.
Q. When you look at other major programs playing teams from the MAC and/or from Conference U.S.A. or teams that would be considered beatable, do you look ahead of your schedule and try to fit in any of that to — can you adjust your schedule at all? Does that frustrate you at all that you don’t have any of those perceived opponents on upcoming schedules and how much more difficult does that make the looking at the —
COACH DAVIE: I think that is a legitimate point.
When you read the comments of Lloyd Carr and different coaches, Bo Schembechler, talking about conference teams as they move to the future, Howler, how they are cutting back their non-conference schedule, obviously I think our schedule here is different.
Notre Dame has always played an extremely competitive schedule. To me, right now, at this time, it seems even more competitive than maybe it he was when I first came to Notre Dame.
I look back to 1994, 1995, 1996, we really had a pretty good schedule. You just don’t know five years or ten years from now how it is all going to shake down, but I know over the next couple of years, you just look at this next stretch of games, you go at Michigan, at Purdue, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC, Navy, Tennessee, I mean, there is not many coaches in this country that are licking their chops to go do that now. I don’t care what they say. No one is looking forward to doing that. Nebraska at home, Purdue at home, at Michigan State, it is pretty much that way over the next four, five years. So, yeah, I mean, that is a concern. That is why we have to recruit. We have to get built up because if you are playing those kind of teams you better have some good players.
But also with that said, just think of all the tremendous opportunities that is. You can sit here and say, oh, boy, we have got to go to Tennessee, whatever date that is, but, you know what? I mean, what a great opportunity that is for us. But it is a challenge. It is a concern particularly with the expectations as high as they are here. And particularly with trying to get in the Bowl Championship Series. I mean, let’s be honest about it, I mean, it would help right now if you would have played some Directional Schools, as I call them, with some Easterns and Westerns in front of them, instead of playing Kansas, Michigan and Purdue right now. But also that is what I think makes this place unique and there is no — nobody is going to use that as an excuse or whine about it, but the reality is, it is a challenge.
Q. You made the comment that you think that this is a better team than last year. Do you mean better or do you mean more talented than last year?
COACH DAVIE: I think probably the best way to say that would be “potentially better.” And “potentially more talented.”
We had some good football players last year, I think particularly on that offensive line. It is hard to find players like that. But I just think potentially this football team is more explosive, has a chance to make a few more big plays and I just think potentially it is better.
We beat Michigan last year. But if you look at the game, how much different did we play against Michigan this year than last year. We beat Purdue last year. But really did we play better against Purdue this year or last year. In some ways we played better this year, both on the road. But we didn’t win.
So I think we have a chance to be a good team. I think we are a pretty good team. Are we a great team that can overcome shooting ourselves in the foot or overcome some controversial calls and be strong enough to overcome that? Probably not.
But I think eventually we can be. Eventually we need to eliminate those mistakes so that we don’t have to deal with that issue.
Q. Maybe just expand on Tybor’s question, you talked about the reasons coming back on Saturday. But were the results of that, what you had hoped for and can you kind of put a finger on the emotional psyche of the team as you head in….
COACH DAVIE: I will tell you what the results, for me, were perfect because all I wanted to do is be back around those players and those coaches. If it was up to me, we had pulled that bus right back to the stadium and we had gone in there and watched that tape and maybe it is misery loves company, you know you like to be around people that are in that foxhole with you. But for me, I felt a whole lot better, starting at 7 o’clock in that morning when I got back in there with that coaching staff. I felt a whole lot better once we got all those players together and we can talk through what happened and talk about where are we right now and what are we really all about.
So for me, it made me feel a whole lot better. Best part of it was going out there Sunday night and practice. So for me, I think there was a little bit of a cleansing to it, not that there was closure on it because this game is one of those ones you wake up– didn’t sleep Saturday night, Sunday night, Monday night, I woke up about 2:30 both nights with the same thought going through my mind, of what we could have and maybe should have done different. So not that it puts complete closure on it because — but it is good to get that football team back and get that thing behind us. Now we can start on Michigan State.
Q. In the long term how do you put those feelings behind you both individually and as a group?
COACH DAVIE: The only thing that is going to make us feel better is to win. Only way to win is to eliminate mistakes, and go play a complete football game. That is the only thing.
You can take some solace maybe in the fact that you got it down to the last play of the game, you had great comebacks and you put yourself in a position to win. But let’s call it what it is: You have to win. You have to win. That is where we are. All the conversation and all was good. Practice Sunday and not Monday kind of goes back to that point I said, if we win Saturday, then we all feel good and it was a good plan. But keep in mind I think when you don’t win, it is not all the end of the world. Because if no one would have heard 257 sounded like 15, we probably would have scored and won that game. There would be a whole different slant on this whole thing. But, Malcolm, there is one way and that is to win. It is that simple.
Q. How are the communications errors dealt with? It is not like a physical error on the field….
COACH DAVIE: That is what is hard. That is what is hard. You go back to 41 alert, 15, probably the No. 1 thing we have practiced from Day 1 on the goal line. Reality, we shouldn’t have put that alert 15 on. I’d rather them jump in a gap 8 and run our head into a stone wall, but at least we ran the play called and we had no chance of a negative play. But that is hindsight right now. Would I again say, okay, let us go fast field goal now instead of spike the ball? I won’t do that again.
If Jarious and Raki could have come off the field, it would have been a great plan. So at some point you just let it go, you go on to the next one. And I really believe — not that I am counting on this, but there is — some breaks will start coming your way. You will get some breaks. You will get some officials’ calls and some good things will happen to you if you just stay steady in the boat, keep doing things the way you have done them, nobody point the fingers, isolate the problem, be honest what the problem is and just try to correct it.
The thing that happened to us, Bobbie Brown, at Michigan, I mean, we had had the Big-10 officials in during training camp. We talked at length about being on national television in the Eddie Robinson game – Notre Dame, national television. What a great opportunity for officials to make the point of the new awareness of celebration. Once again that happened. So it is just continuing to do the things we have done. I think more experience across the board.
Q. From a technical standpoint, is the answer to simplify in those kind of situations?
COACH DAVIE: In a specific situation to being on the goal line with two plays left in the game, I don’t think you put yourself in that situation to put that alert on that. It is just — it is a great plan, but there is little too much of a downside. With me, do I change and go fast field goal? Probably don’t do that again because I didn’t have time too bring all those kids over and tell them what we were going to do. So I think it is take nothing for granted. Take nothing for granted.
You know, let’s be honest, we take great pride in how we do things. I take great pride in the way we practice and in the way we organize things and how efficient we are with things. Right now we are not getting the rewards for that. Right now, I can understand where people would look at us and say: Boy, those guys, I mean, what are they doing. That is all part of it. But I also realize how close we are to some really good things happening.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the story with Joey Goodspeed talking to the two backs, is that part of his responsibility to talk to them, should they have listened to him?
COACH DAVIE: We have done that for two reasons.
One, we have got two young half backs, also that fullback is closer to that quarterback. So really what it came down to was one guy with 257 sounding like 15. As frustrating as that is, that is what it was. But you go back and you say why were we in that situation where that even crops up. So you are going to beat yourself up for a long time over that one and trust me, we have.
Q. You have made it pretty clear about why you — with the schedule you face why you can just go week-to-week. About the BCS situation, you apparently have to finish in the Top 12 to qualify for a major Bowl. While you are going week-to-week, is it possible to look ahead and kind of see what kind of goals your team can achieve this year because obviously it has probably diminished over the course of the last two weeks what you can ultimately achieve?
COACH DAVIE: I don’t know about that. Our coaching staff and our football team and I know each of you realize who we are playing. We may not be a 10 and 2 football team at the end of this year. We may not be a 9 and 3 football team. I don’t know what our record is going to be at the end. But we have got enough opportunities out there that we can feel good about ourselves because we are going to play in a lot of different situations before this season is over. So more than worry about what that final record is, you know, a big part of the thing I take pride — — this is just overcoming some obstacles and taking a football team right now that has been darn close two weeks and probably a little bit down and playing a team like Michigan State that is tremendously talented and being able to bounce back, you know, so within that whole thing of how many you won and how many you lost, I think there is a bigger picture:
It is dealing with each situation that comes your way and turning it into a positive. So I don’t really look at that. I realize that is the reality of it, but each day brings new challenge. I think you can feel good about yourself without it being all down to the won/loss record. There is a whole bigger picture than that.
Q. Is it in some ways in this case almost advantageous to have difficult games left because I guess you actually have the opportunity then to prove yourself? If you had nothing but Centrals and Easterns left and finished 10 and 2, perhaps you couldn’t prove as much…
COACH DAVIE: We have just a couple of those — you know, I think your point is well taken. I do agree with that.
There is something about going to Michigan and playing Michigan in front of 111,000 people and going down to Purdue and playing against Drew Brees. If we were looking for something easy, you know, there is a couple of other head coaching jobs I could have had that might have been easier than this one. We have got some players that have been recruited, probably could have gone to some easier places than Notre Dame.
But I don’t think any of us are looking for the easy way. But to say that all things are equal, I don’t think that is really the case either when you look at some of the teams other schools play.
Q. Do you worry about this team forgetting how to finish or not learning how to finish what they have started in terms of a game?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, I do because I think things kind of run in cycles.
You remember last year, or even go back to the end of the 1997 season when you beat West Virginia at the end of the game, you beat Navy at the end of the game, you beat Hawaii, as ugly as it was, you beat — Hawaii at the end of the game Raki Nelson somehow when it looks as bad as it looks, we can’t move the ball an inch, Raki Nelson catches (inaudible)….
You think back to last year, Purdue Army, BC, you know, so it kind of goes in cycles. And you got to break that thing. You got to break that cycle right now. It gets a little bit harder when you go two weeks in a row and you kind have been in the same situation and don’t do it, it gets a little bit harder. But yeah, I am a little concerned about that.
Q. When you say the word “potential,” does that put more pressure on the coaching staff in terms of it’s there, now it is up to the coaching staff to mold that or to get that done? Whereas, last year, you got everything that team had — you got everything out it that that team had. Now it is up to the coaching staff….
COACH DAVIE: It always is up to the coaching staff and there is always going to be some pressure and some responsibility that goes with that because the bottom line, when people look back at your record they don’t put a P beside that loss and say, boy, there was some great potential there or — it isn’t about that.
So there is always that pressure and that responsibility. But I think with this team, you keep using the word “young,” because we are. You keep using the word “potential” because you see it. It is hard not to watch our football team and think that we don’t have a chance to be pretty good one day.
So, yeah, there is pressure with that. But I’d much rather have that young talent and see the light at the end of the tunnel and have some things that if, you know, you correct the problems, and get everybody going in the right direction and mature, you are going to be pretty good, you know, because there are some teams around the country that can’t say that.
So it is all kind of tied together. You keep recruitin and keep building it, and, you know, eventually I think we will have a chance to be okay.
Q. How did Goodspeed handle the end of Saturday’s game? He wasn’t talking to anybody. This hasn’t been the greatest year for him anyway and the fullback position, after that happened, how has he handled up until now?
COACH DAVIE: I don’t really know, to be honest. I haven’t talked to him a whole deal individually about it. He has struggled a little bit. He has done some good things but he has struggled a little bit. He has dropped some because even there at the end on that first and goal >from the 9 going in, if that is ruled a fumble and they recover, you know, so he has struggled a little bit. But he continues to play pretty good. You just you want to see him get to another level.
Q. With the dismissal of Eric Shappel does that put more of emphasis on quarterback? I know it was high priority to begin with but even more so thousand recruiting-wise?
COACH DAVIE: You are not kidding. You are not kidding. It has been kind of a bizarre set of circumstances at that position, going back to last year in the recruiting. We think Arnaz Battle can really be good. But you know, with Gary Godsey the next quarterback, I haven’t seen a whole lot of trap options run with 257 pound quarterbacks, you know, he might have a hard time beating the guard out there on the trap. It is not the exact fit.
So, yeah, I mean, recruiting is a priority at the quarterback position. We ought to be a pretty attractive place, in particular with what we are doing on offense now for quarterbacks. So I will put that pitch in right now.
Q. Going against a physical front 7 like Michigan State how much more important does that put on John Merandi’s leadership and experience?
COACH DAVIE: A lot. Going back, looking at Purdue, their two defensive tackles and good players, same thing this week. John Merandi is key. We haven’t run the fullback as much, as many traps, we need to do that. We need to establish our fullback.
Our center is a big part of that. Plus John, like you say, he is kind of the elder statesman in there. It is key. It is key. And you see, we — our offensive tackle struggled a little bit with Purdue’s defensive ends. They will even get a bigger taste of it this week with Michigan State. So that whole offensive line and in particular John Merandi’s leadership, I think that is key.
Q. Last year against Michigan State the blocked punt seemed to spark them to a big first half. Against Kansas you had some problems with long snaps. What have you done between the Kansas game and now to improve the long snapping?
COACH DAVIE: We have worked the heck out of Dan O’Leary. I think our protection is a little bit better in punt than it was last year. We have devoted an unbelievable amount of time to that.
So you never know what is going to happen, but I am pretty confident in our protection. The concern I have with Michigan State, they have got some good guys coming to block it, particularly No. 2. But their punt returner, No. 86, Gary Scott, he is a game-breaker. So you have got the added problem of protection plus coverage in this game.
Q. Your game film show that Purdue’s No. 78 handled Irons pretty well one-on-one most of the way. If so, how does that impact your pass/rush overall and for Grant’s development as a pass-rusher?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, I think we are all waiting for Grant to become more of a play-maker, to notice him more. He makes some plays though. He makes some plays against the run. Right now he plays the run a little bit better than he rushes the passer.
At times he is in there so heavy on the tackle that I think maybe he needs to widen out a little bit. He needs to get a little bit more of an up-the-field reckless style to him. But let us keep in mind, he is kind of going through a transition as well, playing in there for an extended time for the first time.
But I agree that you haven’t felt Grant’s presence in the pass/rush. You haven’t felt our defense’s pressure up front in the pass/rush other than Lamont make change couple of sacks. So not only Grant, but our whole front has to become more vertical up the field.
Q. Look ahead next week, you have got a week off going in there 1 and 3 would be a long, long week —
COACH DAVIE: Don’t even talk about that now.
Q. Hypothetically. But going in there 2 and 2 with another week, maybe to get healthy and get up for the rest of that home season and then move into the next break of the schedule becomes even more crucial to get there with a win?
COACH DAVIE: It is crucial. If you are 2 and 2, after that stretch of those four games, you don’t feel great but feel like you got a pretty solid shot. Then with four straight games at home, with two Open Dates, you know, you feel like you got a chance to build the thing. 1 and 3 is a big difference between 2 and 2, particularly with that Open Date coming.
So, yeah, it is a big game. They are all big games. Problem that we have got a darn good opponent to do it against but, yeah, it is a key game for us.
Q. A couple of things, against Purdue defensive holds offense to 20 points. That is not a bad effort. Special teams seemed like again you are close. Any chance Julius Jones will get a look maybe on kickoff too?
COACH DAVIE: He might. I just don’t want to put too much on his plate. Terrance Howard did okay with the — almost broke one. We had some good blocking. Julius is an exciting guy. You may see him back there.
We practice him a lot in practice on kickoff returns. Like you say about Purdue, they are going to get their points against most teams, just the style of that offense. I thought we played fairly well. We gave them a couple of big passes. One of the problems you have is just matching up across the field with all those receivers. There is not many teams in college football that have enough DB’s to match up and play man every down against them.
But I thought we played pretty solid, gave ourselves a chance to win. That is all you can ask against offense like that.
Q. Does David Givens or somebody behind Godsey, just in probably the unlikely occurrence that that would be needed —
COACH DAVIE: I hope it is unlikely because we have thought that through. I think it would be David Givens. In fact we are going to try — what you don’t want to is take away from his progress at receiver. We ask him to do a lot. But also I think we need to take David Givens everyday and maybe put in a play a day and get through this season into the spring. You go out there in the spring and it is Arnaz Battle and Gary Godsey, maybe Dave Givens in the spring at quarterback until we can get some younger guys in here.
Q. Are you considering any personnel changes in week?
COACH DAVIE: The only thing we are going to do is give some of the backup linemen, particularly on offense a little more opportunity. I think Kirk Vollers should probably play a little more. I think Ryan Scarola should play a little more. So I think there is some competition there. I had think Dan O’Leary should probably play a little bit more on tightend. Dan is playing well right now. Jason Beckstrom really wish we would have got him in the game against Purdue. He looks like he is close to being able to help us at corner. So mostly the offensive line and then I hate to say something and not do it. I think with Arnaz Battle, Arnaz is a guy that needs to play in the games and the flow of the last two games it has been hard to get Arnaz in. But it is something that we need to make ourselves do.
Q. On the subject of Arnaz, does that decision making process change now because in the event that something was to happen to him now you are talking about Godsey as a backup?
COACH DAVIE: I don’t think it does. Because any time you have that decision making process where you try to protect someone, seems like it always that is when it jumps up and bites you. So, no, the thing that makes him so effective is his running ability. We are going to cut him loose just like we would if we had five quarterbacks.
Q. Talk about Julius Jones having more of a positive expanded role in this weekend’s game. What happens when Joey Getherall returns?
COACH DAVIE: That is a good question. I think it probably depends on what Julius Jones does this week. So that is a pretty good decision to have to make. But I think it will depend on just what Julius does and how he performs this week.
Q. You don’t want to put too much on his plate. Does it seems like he is feeling overwhelmed?
COACH DAVIE: No, he is a young guy and just standing back there catching those punts, the first one he didn’t fair catch. They were right in his face. You could see he is a confident guy. Just your first time out last week down there, I didn’t want him doing both punts and kickoffs. Plus you like to spread it around. Terrance Howard is a guy, he invested a lot. He has been around here a long time. I like to see him have an opportunity as well.
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