Dec. 20, 2002
An interview with:
We’ll begin with Bill Diedrick our offensive coordinator.
Q. Coach, can you start out by telling us what you’ve seen on film of the NC State defense? Can you talk about your defense a little bit, which is the strength of the team?
COACH DIEDRICK: I think when you look at NC State on defense, tremendous athletic group. They run to the ball. They play very, very hard. I think that you look at the two safeties, outstanding football players. I think you look at the two defensive ends, have really caused a lot of problems to a number of teams. I think probably the one strength of their defense is their linebackers, especially their strong side and middle linebacker. Outstanding players.
I think everybody that you see them play against, they’ve done a tremendous job, especially against the run. They’ve done a very good job in their coverages. It’s a great challenge for us. I think we’re excited to get on with it.
When you look at our defense, I think that that really has been one of our strengths from the start of the season, definitely all the way through the season. I think we’ve relied on them a great deal, I think especially starting the season, being as young as we were on the offensive side of the ball, and really installing a new offense with a new quarterback. It was slow at the very beginning. I think we’ve made great headway.
I think if you discount the USC game, I feel our progress has been very good. Each week we’ve gotten a little bit better.
I think the stretch with our quarterback, Carlyle Holiday, I think from about when he came back from the injury up until the USC game, he did a great job with decision making and taking care of the football.
That’s about where we’re at.
Q. Was there a particular game or moment or practice where you felt things began to click, where you saw things change offensively?
COACH DIEDRICK: Actually I think coming out of our first bye week, I felt like we had made certain small steps of progress, not nearly what we would like to be. I felt like at the Stanford game, after our first bye, I felt like we started getting in sync a little bit better. I know we struggled against Pitt. I think there was a stretch where you could feel the players were getting more and more confident and comfortable with the scheme and the things we were asking them to do.
I think coming out of our second bye, I felt like we were able to open things up a little bit, much more than we did in the earlier parts of the season. So I would probably have to say at the midpoint of the season I felt comfortable with the progress that we were making, but probably more coming out of the second bye that we felt like we had made the improvement that we really needed to open things up a little bit.
Q. Have you personally ever recruited the state of Florida?
COACH DIEDRICK: I have, yes.
Q. What are the keys, with so many coaches, so many high schools, players, competition, what is the key to recruiting?
COACH DIEDRICK: I might have to preface that. I’ve never recruited the state as my area. Basically I’ve come in and visited a couple of young men who were in my position. It was really more of a home call. It’s never really been a state where it’s been my primary area in recruiting.
I think with as many talented athletes down there, I think it’s just like anywhere else, you basically go in, you’re very open, honest. You’ve got a wonderful school that you can attract young men to.
I think recruiting is recruiting. I know in some ways, just with the numbers, it’s a little bit like the state of California where it’s almost overly recruited.
Q. Could you talk about how you hooked up with Coach Willingham over the years? Tell me your impressions of him as a head coach. We don’t know a lot about him, even though he coached at NC State for a while.
COACH DIEDRICK: I know when Tyrone was an assistant at Stanford under Denny Green, I was at Washington State. We actually competed against one another but never really got to know one another. Then I think when Tyrone became the head coach at Stanford, I was at the University of Washington. Again, we competed against one another, but never really got to know one another on a personal level.
I think I always understood what Tyrone stood for. I think when you looked at his teams, they played very, very hard, they were very disciplined. I think he got the most out of his personnel.
When the opportunity came to leave the University of Washington and join him at Stanford University, it was kind of a no brainer decision. I think in the 48 hours that I visited with him, I think you saw a man that was someone you would like to be associated with. He is a true man of principle. He’s exactly to the point. Not too many people do know a lot about him. I think maybe for good reason.
I think Tyrone is his own person, but he’s a tremendous person that you would want to work for and work with.
Q. Talking about Carlyle Holiday, you mentioned earlier about the progress he made from the injury up until the USC game. Obviously he had his problems in the USC game. With him and with other players, do you have to emphasize the good, since the poor performance was the last one out, do you have to do things to keep his confidence up? What’s his mood been like since you returned to practice?
COACH DIEDRICK: Well, in leaving the USC game, you hit the road, you’re recruiting for a week, then you come back and really get an opportunity to see the kids the first time at the banquet. I thought it was very interesting to see how the kids were feeling.
I think it’s one of those things that stays with you, gnaws as you for a long time. It was not a great outing, I think almost to the point it was very embarrassing and very disappointing.
But I think the easy thing is like when you play the quarterback position, it’s just like bad plays, you’ve got to let it go, you’ve got to let that thing flow over your shoulder, get on with life, get on with the next game, get on with the next play.
I think in that regard, I think the mood has been very, very good. I think once we got back out on the practice field, it was kind of a little bit of an upbeat tempo. The mood came back. There was almost a swagger in everybody’s movement. Now you get an opportunity to get back on the field and play another game and prove yourself.
I think back to the first part of the question, as part of coaching, especially working with quarterbacks, I think you always look at the positive and build on that. The negatives are going to happen. You just have to understand what caused the negatives, if it’s correctable, if it’s not correctable.
I think from a mental standpoint, you just have to almost be a little bit callous, be able to move on to the next step.
Q. Your biggest play makers are Grant and Battle. Can you talk about them, what they do well. Is it speed, movement, hands, strength, give us a description of them.
COACH DIEDRICK: I’ll take Ryan Grant first. I think very inexperienced at the beginning of the season. I think with the more reps that he got, I think the more comfortable he felt in running the football.
I think he’s a big, strong, young man. The thing we expected out of him was to be a little bit more aggressive in his running style, a little bit more downhill attack. I think when Ryan Grant is healthy, he’s done a very, very good job of that.
I know he was really banged up for the better part of the year with numerous injuries. But all in all, I think that his progress has been a good one from start to finish. I think that now, when he’s actually healthy, I think we’ll see a much more improved and effective Ryan Grant.
His big strengths, size would be one, physical, and I think speed would probably be above average.
When you look at Arnaz Battle, again because of injuries in his career at the receiver position, he was relatively new, but we knew that he was a play maker and a great athlete, really building on that. When you look at Arnaz’s improvement from the beginning of the season as a receiver, he’s starting to feel more and more comfortable there. As you feel more and more comfortable in a system, it allows you to play a little bit more naturally. We’ve really been able, I think, to utilize his natural abilities.
I think he’s a very strong, physical runner, can break tackles, but also has the great speed, a lot better speed than I think most people think. I think he’s also got the elusiveness where he can make people miss.
Q. Can you improve as much in practice over the course of a month as you do in a game? Can you improve as much as you would like with practice situations or do you need game situations to make the improvements you’d like?
COACH DIEDRICK: I think with game situations behind you, and playing a season, I think that now you can make some improvement in the practice situations because you’re aware of the speed of the game. Now it’s more a matter of I think new wrinkles expanding and maybe opening things up a little bit more because there’s a greater understanding of the offense, but also I think their role within the offense.
No question whether or not you can take those extra practices and improve.
Q. What do you anticipate happening at offensive tackle?
COACH DIEDRICK: I think that Dan (Stevenson) offers us a very physical player that can play outside, can play in space. I think the key thing will be how many reps he can get and how comfortable he feels out there.
Now, he has played from time to time during the course of this season, and we’ve kind of moved him around a little bit, but it’s not like it’s been the only position.
I think it’s trying to get him as comfortable as possible playing on the open end.
Q. Will he be on the left side?
COACH DIEDRICK: We really haven’t probably looked at that right now. We have looked at it, I mean. We’re toying with Jimmy (Molinaro) at left, Dan at right, which one feels most comfortable as which. Jimmy has played both. So it will probably be wherever Dan feels most comfortable, we’ll probably lock him in there and let Jimmy play the other side.
Q. As a quarterback coach, offensive coordinator, do you need to play almost a psychologist role there to coach him?
COACH DIEDRICK: It was one of those situations where you couldn’t get anything started at USC. It wasn’t one person, one play, one player. It just kind of snowballed. Then I think, whether you can’t let it go or you’re trying to make too many things happen, we did not make any plays.
I think when you go back and look at the film, you just kind of shake your head and say, “Who was that?” That was not the team, even in our worst outing of the year, we weren’t even close. We were well beyond that.
Who knows why? So do you have to become a psychologist? I guess you better become one not only for the quarterback position, but I think for the entire team.
I think the players are a little bit lacking of understanding what happened and why. But those things do happen. Like you say, you have to take the next step.
Q. When you’re talking to Carlyle, what do you tell him? Are you saying, “Get over it”? What’s the message?
COACH DIEDRICK: Like anything else, you try to go back and explain what you saw there, what you’re trying to do what happened. I think that you rushed your feet a little bit there excuse me, you rushed your throw there. Set your feet before you throw.
You just try to go back and get them in some ways into their mental thought, into their physical rhythm. It was one of those where I don’t think during the course of the game it ever, ever happened.
Q. Do you kind of treat the next three days as a normal practice as you would in a game week?
COACH DIEDRICK: We used really the earlier practices as an opportunity to really kind of expand things and I guess you’d probably say experiment, but I would call it going to the next step. Now what we’ve done is we’ve had an opportunity to gameplan. This will be day one, tomorrow will be day two, and Sunday will be day three in our preparation, which would be Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. We’ve had an opportunity to practice the game plan, install the game plan. When we go down to the Bowl site in Jacksonville, it will give us an opportunity to repeat the same schedule.
But, you know, you can tweak the gameplan a little bit. You’d like to always have your game plan really installed here at home.
Q. Carlyle mentioned footwork was a big stumbling block. What about his footwork was maybe lacking, but it was there for Rutgers, say?
COACH DIEDRICK: It’s something we worked at beginning in spring, from day one. It will be one thing we focus on a great deal in the off season, just because that is a big part of the quarterback play, in my way of thinking, and he’s not anywhere near where I would like him to be.
I think he’s improved from where he was. And I think when you get in a pressure situation, you revert back to old habits. That’s why it’s important, especially from a quarterback standpoint, that the habits that you get are good habits, whether it is in your throwing mechanics, your footwork and everything else, because when the pressure is on, you have a natural tendency to revert back to bad habits or old habits.
Q. Talk about the offensive line. Obviously, that was a concern. You have two guys that haven’t played a lot. How big a concern is that going to be?
COACH DIEDRICK: Big.
COACH DIEDRICK: You have relatively two new starters. Both of your tackles, both of your open end guys are going to be new. Jimmy (Molinaro) has played quite a bit, so that doesn’t concern us nearly as much as probably Dan (Stevenson). I think Dan has the physical qualities and ability to step in there.
Mentally, I think they have to really know across the board, and he’s played that position in and out from time to time, he just hasn’t done it on a consistent basis, and he really hasn’t done it in a game. So that probably becomes his biggest concern as anything else, how he reacts, how he responds.
Like anything else, he’s going to have to work his way into it, and will gain some confidence along the way. Whether we have to protect him with a tight end, help him out a little bit, or with the running back, we’ll definitely do those type of things.
Q. Sean Mahan is a guy that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. He’s lineman of the year. Can you talk about some things he brought to the team and how important that may be now with new guys?
COACH DIEDRICK: I think, if anything, he’s been Mr. Consistent, a little bit like Omar Jenkins has in the receiver corps. I think he’s been overshadowed. The guys outside of him have gotten a lot of attention. I think Jeff (Faine) without a doubt has gotten a great deal of attention.
If anything, he’s probably been the most consistent guy up front for us. He’s not a real vocal guy, but a guy who the kids really look up to.
Q. You say it would be hard to identify, but do you have any sense that the team might have been either physically or emotionally weary heading into November? Seemed like a time the team didn’t have maybe quite the spark or swagger in some of the November games as in October.
COACH DIEDRICK: Excellent question. I think you’re always searching for what was the problem, what could have been a problem. We have always felt that the way that we practice is that we’ve always been strong in November because we’ve usually been healthy, and we’re usually fresh.
I think when you look at the start to the finish of the season, that very easily could have been a situation where I think the kids mentally may have been, emotionally may have been. Whatever it was, the tank was on empty that particular night.
But I don’t think it was anything I mean, it wasn’t because of effort. It may be a question that we don’t ever get the answer to. It’s something that we’ll continue and have really addressed.
I think it’s nice to get back on the practice field because now you can see the difference and you can see that there is a little bit more bounce, there is a little bit more enthusiasm. Even going through finals, it was a great break for them to get out there and move around. We’ll see today.
Q. The converse of that, whatever that was, is the fact that you have this long time in between games.
COACH DIEDRICK: I think that is probably a detriment. I think even for me personally. It’s just the last memory. Even in gameplanning, we’re in there, you know, you have a tendency to forget the first 11 weeks. All of a sudden everything is the last taste, the last game.
I think sometimes you yourself mentally have to go through and, “Let’s go back and review things.” You always do that I think as a coach. I think maybe even the players have to do that.
Kent Baer, our defensive coordinator is here.
Q. Coach, I wondered, obviously you’re coming off the game, Southern Cal, with their offense run by Norm Chow Do you see similarities, strong similarities, some similarities between the two offenses?
COACH BAER: I don’t think there’s a lot of strong similarities. There’s some. I think it’s a different offense basically.
Q. What do you see that concerns you? Talk about their offense a little bit, the challenges it presents.
COACH BAER: My biggest concern that I have is the quarterback is playing extremely well. He’s veteran, been in the system for a while. I think he makes very smart decisions. I think they’ve given up 11 sacks in, what, 13 games or 12 games, whatever they’ve played. Very good at getting rid of the ball. Very tough to put pressure on him. Excellent group of receivers. Not a huge running game, but what they do they do very effective. I think they’re very well coached.
It’s probably a team that causes more concerns for us than anyone else just because of all the different personnel groups they use.
Q. Could you talk about the team, coming off a very rough loss, you have a month in between games, do you worry that doubt or lack of confidence might set in?
COACH BAER: No, no, no. Disappointment over the last game, those things happen sometimes. You move on. I sense a group that’s really eager to play, anxious to get back on the field.
Haven’t spent a lot of time with them, obviously, because as soon as that game was over, we were on the road a couple weeks recruiting. Seen them a couple times this last week.
Really today is the day we really get started with our practices. Practiced a couple times last week. I sense a group that’s really anxious, has strong desire to get started.
Q. Do you almost lose some of the stuff that happened during the season, and you have to work to make sure the players are ready? Sometimes it seems in Bowl games, one team is ready, the other isn’t. How do you avoid that?
COACH BAER: I don’t know if anybody’s got that answer. It’s a difficult situation. I’ve always questioned a lot of times the season will finish the last week in November and not play until the 3rd of January, the national championship. Sometimes that’s five weeks, even six weeks. A lot of things can change. That’s why I’ve always questioned as a coach the legitimacy of the national championship game or any of those others because there’s so much time in between.
To me, to do it the right way, you play from the last game, playoff system, play a national championship. I just think so many things change in five to six weeks.
I give SC credit. I’ll say one thing. Everybody wants to talk about that last game. I’d like to talk about the next game. But SC is an excellent football team. We did not play well. I watched that game. I certainly think we could do some things in fact, we made some mistakes I’m surprised we made.
But at the same time I think SC is an awfully good football team right now, maybe the best team we played. I think they’re really a good offensive and defensive football team. I’m not so sure they couldn’t beat anybody right now. Sometimes teams get on a roll. I think there’s a concern they may not continue that roll. I would be. You get hot, you probably can beat anybody in the country at certain times. All of a sudden they have that much time off. I would think it would be a concern.
Q. Compare NC State’s QB to anyone you’ve seen?
COACH BAER: Reminds me a little bit , I’m bad with names, quarterback from Pittsburgh. (Rod Rutherford) Big, strong guy. Very big, strong guy that throws the ball extremely well. Little unorthodox style of throwing the ball. Very much a side arm thrower. Very effective in what he does. The glaring stat that just keeps standing out in my mind is that they’ve only given up 11 sacks. That’s almost unheard of. That’s less than one a game.
Q. Is that a result of his mobility?
COACH BAER: A lot of it is timing patterns. He has a unique, uncanny ability to get rid of the ball when people are in his face, when people give him pressure. I mean, he’s just really good at doing that. It’s very tough to get to him.
You know, he is strong, too. That helps him. Not necessarily as mobile as Rutherford. Very strong, like the quarterback from Pittsburgh, but not quite as mobile. I’m sure this kid has a lot of confidence going into this game.
Q. Talk about what you’ve seen of No. 44 on tape?
COACH BAER: I think he is an excellent back. They use him a lot out of the backfield. They love to throw him the ball in the backfield, quick flares. Very effective in the open field, I think much more effective in the open field as he is as an inside runner.
They seem to really do a nice job with their backs, utilize those kids really well. All of them catch the ball really well out of the backfield. That’s part of their offense.
Q. Was that something (throwing to backs) that you had to give USC, whereas against North Carolina State that wouldn’t happen.
COACH BAER: We miscommunicated some coverages in that situation, which again I was surprised. I guess sometimes maybe that happens in a big game, but I’m very surprised that we miscommunicated some coverages and didn’t play very well. I think we certainly could have played it much better.
That wasn’t the design of it, if that’s what you’re asking.
Q. Are there some tough match ups based on substitution? Is that an added emphasis?
COACH BAER: Very much added emphasis. I really have a concern about getting lined up to them. They’ll huddle 11 guys in the huddle. They’ll break the huddle, run to the line of scrimmage, run three or four guys off the field, run three or four guys on the field. I question whether that’s legal or not. I’m not sure. That’s a concern right there because they’re trying to have one personnel group, get you confused, be another.
Q. When you watch them on tape, can you see defenses confused?
COACH BAER: No question. I understand what the rule says. I guess if you really went by the letter of the law, the rule, you can’t break the huddle with 12 or more people. They’re not breaking the huddle with 12, they’re breaking with 11, running four guys off, four guys on. I question that a little bit. That’s something we’re going to have to deal with.
It’s the most personnel groups I’ve seen this year by any team. We number personnel groups. Everybody does. They give you the general personnel groups, then they get a lot of empty sets with different personnel groups. One tight end, no tight end, three tight ends.
What you have to do is really sit down and kind of package those together, try to simplify those as much as you can, try to make some of them clump them together, try to say, “This personnel group is the same as this one,” see what they’re trying to do with it.
Q. You talked about how much things can change in a month. Cedric (Hilliard) and Gerome (Sapp), are they doing okay?
COACH BAER: Cedric and Gerome are pretty healthy. I know we had a couple injuries in that game. I think that’s a question you probably should ask Coach Willingham, whether he wants to address the injury factors or not. I don’t know. All I know is I saw Cedric practice this week and I saw Gerome practice this week. There were a couple other guys that got injured against SC, and I’m not sure what their status is.
Q. I wonder more in a general sense. Nobody is fully healthy after the first game of the season. Do you see guys getting a little bit of that spring back?
COACH BAER: I saw a lot of energy last weekend in practice, when we practiced on Friday and Saturday. Seemed like we looked fairly quick, fairly fast, and somewhat enthusiastic considering they were going into finals week. If it were me, when I was a student, that’s the last thing I’d want to do, is practice. I was fairly pleased with how they reacted.
We actually had a couple short practices this week during finals. They’ve been fairly good, considering what they’re going through. I’m not sure we all truly understand what they go through, but they go through a lot.
Q. The situation with North Carolina State running people in and out, is it even more important to be proactive, not necessarily waiting to see what they do? With Air Force, you weren’t waiting for the quarterback to make a decision, you were deciding to go in there every play, be proactive. Is it the same situation? If they end up in another defense, it could wind up being a good situation for you.
COACH BAER: That’s a good point. Little different type of situation there. So much of football nowadays to me is match ups. It’s changed so much over the last 10 years. Everybody sends in so many different personnel groups. It’s all about match ups.
If they’re going to run four wide receivers on the field, you have your base personnel. Here is one of the problems it could create. Let’s say they have a regular personnel group on the field or two tight ends and two backs, two backs, one tight end, you have your base personnel on the field. They break the huddle, sprint four guys off, four guys on, they give you four wide receivers. If you’re in a man coverage, you better get out of it. You have a mismatch. You have not matched up with their personnel athletically. You become very generic. You have to play zone.
Yeah, I think we’re going to do some things to be aggressive, no matter what personnel groups they give us. We’ll definitely stay with those. They create some concerns. I’m sure we’ll create some concerns for them, too. I have to look at it that way, obviously.
Q. That last game, you did have three interceptions, blocked the punt. Defense made some plays in that game. Obviously, the result, the bottom line was not what you wanted (vs. SC). You did come out of that feeling like you have play makers on the defense.
COACH BAER: I think we did some good things in that game. We made some mistakes on some communication calls that I was very shocked that we made. But that happens in football. I take that responsibility. That’s coaching more than anything else. I haven’t blamed it on anybody else but me.
But again, I think we did some good things. If you listen to some other people, I won’t say who, they got after us pretty good. I think we did some good things. We played a lot of plays on defense. I think we really got tired the second half, to be very honest. We tried to roll the dice a little bit, do some certain things. Some things didn’t work out for us.
We had two interceptions in the red zone in crucial situations. You don’t want to dwell on the negative.
We have Gary Godsey senior tight end.
Q. Curious about your approach after going through finals, getting back into football. Is it hard or something you can go into easily?
GARY GODSEY: It’s tough. You know, I’ve been here four years. Personally it will be fine. I think this older group of guys will lead the team, get ready for NC State.
Q. With your brother playing at Georgia Tech, did you see NC State? How aware are you of them?
GARY GODSEY: I watched their games. Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind watching them is they have an explosive offense. Their defense is top notch, as well. I watched that over the years when they were playing my brother. Yeah, they’re a Top 10 program. We’re going to have to bring our A game to play NC State.
Q. What were your first impressions of Coach Willingham when you had your first meeting with him, got to know him a little bit?
GARY GODSEY: A man that demands a lot of respect. You look at the guy, he’s not real big, he doesn’t yell, doesn’t scream, he’s a quiet guy. You know what he’s gone through. You really know what he’s about when he steps into the room. Everybody sits up straight, listens to Coach Willingham, really gives him a lot of respect, which he deserves.
Q. Is he one of the most intimidating people you ever met, even though he’s not necessarily the biggest guy in the world, because of his demeanor?
GARY GODSEY: I think so. He deserves that, being the head coach of your team. Like you said, he’s not physically he wouldn’t scare you. But he obviously demands your respect, which is well deserved.
Q. Do you get a feel for what your role is going to be early in the game? Do you get a sense of what the defense is going to give you quickly?
GARY GODSEY: Going into the game you have a feel what kind of defense they’re going to play, what kind of role you’re going to have. Every now and then there’s plays called where you’re asked to step up, even if you haven’t worked on it that whole week in practice.
I think going into the game, you kind of have a feel, and then as the game goes on you get a better feel of that, talking to Carlyle, seeing how the receivers are working.
Q. Can you talk about the evolution of the tight end position in the years you’ve played it? Seems like early on you mostly were blocking.
GARY GODSEY: Basically it’s been a one year evolution, went from blocking to blocking/receiver.
Q. Do you enjoy one part of the game more than the other?
GARY GODSEY: It’s always nice to catch balls. But as long as you’re winning, there’s personal goals, that will come along with it.
Q. You guys played a lot of really big, emotional games in September and October. Upon reflection, do you feel at all the guys might have been either emotionally or physically spent by the time you got to some of your big November games? Is that something you can put your finger on?
GARY GODSEY: After that Florida State game, I don’t really think you can put your finger on what happened. We didn’t really play as a complete team. That’s something we’re looking forward to, the opportunity to play one more game, get a chance at playing 100% perfect.
Q. The fact that you had all this time between the end of the regular season and the Bowl opportunity, is that a good thing for you guys, even though there’s an awful lot of time in between games, a chance to recharge yourselves?
GARY GODSEY: No doubt about it. We’re still learning the system. We’re still evolving as a team. The fact we have one more game, with three weeks, a month to prepare for it, that much better.
Q. This being your fourth year, is it strange to think you’ve only played in one Bowl game so far?
GARY GODSEY: Yes, it is. You don’t expect that coming to Notre Dame. I think we’re all better people. I think we’re a better team because of that. Obviously you want to go to Bowl games every year, but that’s just the way things work.
I’m grateful for the ups and downs we’ve been through, because I don’t know if we’d be here today playing in the Gator Bowl if that were the case.
Q. During the week, somebody asked you about Carlyle (Holiday), you said nobody had really seen the real Carlyle yet. Can you talk about some of those things you see Carlyle do in practice that you guys are waiting to jump into the game situation?
GARY GODSEY: He’s an unbelievable athlete. That’s first and foremost. He does some things in practice that nobody has ever seen. I think the Rutgers game, he’s running around, throwing touchdown passes, that’s what he looks like in practice.
It’s just a matter of time before he goes out on the field and explodes with his talent.
Q. Jim (Molinaro) and Dan (Stevenson), can you talk about your role helping those guys out, what you can do to make life easier for them?
GARY GODSEY: They’re really great linemen. I don’t think they really need any help. Being an older guy, it’s always nice to be lined up with a younger guy to help them out. I think Dan is up to the challenge, and Jim is, too. There might be certain things do you within the game plan blocking wise to help them out.
Q. One of the NC State players said the only way this could be better is playing a national championship. This is the biggest game in the history of their program. Is it difficult for you guys to get excited about NC State? As good as they are, it was not a team you ever anticipated playing this year.
GARY GODSEY: Well, that’s who we ended up with. We have to go about it that way. This is our national championship, the final note to the 2002 season. We’re looking to get 11 wins. That would be a big accomplishment in the history of Notre Dame. We’re looking to put our mark on the history.
Q. Can you talk about the challenges of adjusting to the new system through the season, how the offense developed?
GARY GODSEY: Like I said, I think we’re still developing. We might even come out in this game and look that much better. It’s been fun. This offense is a great system. We’re still looking forward to developing it even more.
Q. How much do you use some of the external things as motivation, the chance to finish in the Top 10, to finish with 11 wins?
GARY GODSEY: That kind of stuff swirls around the locker room, without a doubt. The big thing, especially with 11 wins, starting Coach Willingham’s career off on a great note, I think it can be accomplished. We’re in perfect position for that.
Q. Did you focus on this game as not only the conclusion of this season but the beginning of next year, springboard toward next season?
GARY GODSEY: I think so. We had about a month to prepare. We’re looking forward to starting next year off with this game. We see this game in itself as a new season.
Q. Does this team have any worry about confidence?
GARY GODSEY: I don’t think the confidence is down. We’re pretty confident as a team. You know, we know we’re playing a confident team in NC State. Not being able to end the season like we wanted to at USC, we’re really anxious to get out there and play another game, another opportunity.
Q. The mindset of the offensive line, you’re going into the final game with two of your main features missing. What does that do to the line?
GARY GODSEY: I think leadership has to step up first and foremost, myself included. They came to Notre Dame to play, and they’re going to get their chance to play. I’m sure they’re going to shine.
Coach Tyrone Willingham is next up.
Q. Could you relate a couple memories you might have from your three years you spent at NC State.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, they were really challenging years, walking in, trying to get the program back to being one of the top programs in the ACC. There were some exciting Saturday afternoons, some thrilling games.
I think we were one of the few teams at that time that played, if I’m correct, East Carolina. That was always a thing in the eastern part of the state, to have the state schools entertain East Carolina. Then some of our match ups with some of the other teams in the conference were really interesting games.
Q. You said it was a challenging time. What do you think the challenges of having a good program at NC State were at that time and how they might have changed over the course of time?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, I think, number one, one of the biggest challenges we found was trying to get the foundation back to where it should be, trying to establish not only the on field presence that we felt was necessary, but also the off field presence of trying to get the program on a real stable ground so our young men were graduating and doing all the things we thought were important, along with winning.
Q. The coach here (Chuck Amato) said a couple days ago that you came up to him and introduced yourself to him at the coaching convention after he got the job. What did you discuss about NC State at that time?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I don’t know, other than just congratulating him, exactly what the full extent of the conversation was. But I had had previous involvement with Coach Amato. At Florida State we had visited him and looked at some of the things he did defensively, schematic wise in his program.
Q. When NC State was looking for a coach after the ’99 season, Les Robinson came out and talked with you in southern California. Can you talk about what those discussions were like, how serious they ever got?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I cannot talk about those discussions.
Q. Sounded like a lot of the NC State players are talking about this game as the biggest game they ever played. How much does that concern you? Do you address that with the players, what you do to try to defuse that enthusiasm they have for playing in game?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I don’t think we can do anything to defuse their enthusiasm. You can be aware of what the other team will bring to the game. In doing so, hopefully it creates a great deal of enthusiasm in your own guys. That’s where we have to focus our attention, within ourselves.
I think our guys, as we said earlier, when we started talking about this particular football game, this is an opportunity for us to accomplish something significant with our football team, which is hopefully, if we play in the manner we can, to have an opportunity to win an 11th game. I think that’s important in our program. It is a way to finish a good season and a way to begin 2003.
We will look at this, as always, as a great opportunity. I’ve always said to our football team, we shouldn’t need a whole lot to get us ready to play a football game, just the opportunity to put on the Notre Dame uniform once again and represent this University should be exciting for us as a football team.
We should be eager to meet the challenge. This is not anything new, that this is the biggest game in the history of their program. Each and every game we play every weekend brings that kind of mentality to the table.
Q. Can you talk specifically about what you think makes their quarterback such a good quarterback?
COACH WILLINGHAM: His delivery is a little bit different. It’s unique. Sometimes that doesn’t give you some of the keys that you’d like to see because it is different. What makes him good is the ability to work within their system. He is doing that very well. He’s progressed each and every year to now where he’s recognized as one of the better quarterbacks in that conference. If you can be recognized as such, you’re clearly one of the better quarterbacks in the country. He has some outstanding talent around him to complement all that he does.
He is very good.
Q. Earlier Coach Diedrick was talking about the importance of experience in the offense. Talk about the importance of experience at every position, but especially at quarterback?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, there is no question that as one plays and gains experience, that the game has a tendency to seem like it slows down because you’re more aware of things, it does not seem as much a blur that’s taking place, and therefore you have a better command of your tools and the tools within your system. I think that’s clearly what’s happened with any of the quarterbacks that have had the opportunity to be in a system, that the game basically slows down because they have a greater understanding of what they’re doing, what their teammates around them are doing. Just that knowledge makes them that much more confident, allows them to execute at a much higher rate than they would be as freshmen just starting to see things for the first time.
Q. This was a long football season for your team, so many important games. Upon reflection, do you have any sense that the team might have been at all physically or emotionally weary at the end of October? Could that have influenced the way they played in some of the November games when you weren’t quite as sharp as you were in some of the previous ones?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I’m one that says we have yet to play our best football game. We’ve had some flashes. Now, what contributes to us being kind of flashy, our talent, I’m not sure. We’re always working, trying to do everything within our system to get us to be extremely consistent in terms of emotion and performance.
We’re always looking for keys that might determine what enables you to be up, down, et cetera. The key is I think that we can find consistency. It is a challenge to play at Notre Dame, play the demanding schedule that we play.
Q. I don’t know if you had formally confirmed that you are starting two new offensive tackles, that Black and Curtin will not be playing in the Gator Bowl. Can you address that at all? Also any other defensive players who might be dinged up heading into the Gator Bowl?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, the specific issue of that is a University matter. The University will have to address that, or the young men themselves, whichever way is the appropriate way to do that.
As to our overall health, right now it seems pretty good. We’re hopeful that nothing happens in between. Most of the young men, if I am correct, that sustained injuries in and around our last ballgame seem to be moving fairly well right now.
Q. Who is going to be starting at tackle? That was a position that struggled at times. The fact you’re going into this game with probably one guy who has played some, another guy who hasn’t played a lot.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Number one, we approach any adjustments in personnel, whether it be through injury or other reasons, very much the same way. We expect the next guy to step up and perform at a high level.
As to who that will be exactly, what position they’ll be right now, we’ll formulate those thoughts as we kind of go through. We’re working with Dan Stevenson, Mark Levoir, and Jim Molinaro will be the primary candidates that we use. There may be other adjustments that we look at depending on what gives us the best match up to help the football team play its best.
Q. Does it call for a change in game plan because of experience? Do you go with the same game plan no matter who?
COACH WILLINGHAM: There are certain adjustments you have to make. What we’ll do is gauge those as we progress through this practice to see exactly where we are for game time.
Q. Are there some similarities in the situation now to when Pat Dillingham played quarterback? Extra time, do you think that helps some continuity?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Any time a young man has time to get comfortable, that opportunity is not sprung on him at the last moment, he usually has the opportunity to prepare better. So, yes, time does help us from that standpoint.
Q. NC State defense has seemed to be overshadowed by their offense.
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think having experience, kind of growing up, being in that part of country, then having played I think it was East Carolina back in ’95 in the Liberty Bowl, if I’m correct, I have an idea of the style of player that they have in that system. I think the term we used then was their defense will have the ability to shock you, which is they will have great explosiveness throughout their defensive team. That is something that sometimes takes certain teams by surprise.
They may not be the biggest team in the world, but their ability to strike you, that’s something that my background has allowed me to be aware of and hopefully express that.
It is a good defense. They’ve performed well and they’re hitting on records in many areas. Their sacks and different things that they’re doing, limiting the run, the pass, they are a very talented defense.
Q. Can you talk about how you’ve matured as a coach in terms of Bowl preparation? What are some of the things you’ve learned over the last years that you can apply now?
COACH WILLINGHAM: The number one thing is you try to learn the personality of each team, and that your preparation of each team, in each University, is a little bit different. You try to have a foundation for that development, but you’re prepared to adjust it based on scheduling and based on personality of the young men.
We’ve tried to make sure that we’ve understood what these young men can give in preparation for this Bowl game surrounding their exam schedule and how their emotions will fluctuate up and down based on the different things they’re going through during this stretch.
That’s probably the biggest thing, is hopefully how to view them and balance it out, not be so I guess dogmatic in one’s approach towards your practices, what has to happen.
Q. You talked about wanting to play ND football . . . do you feel throughout November this team did play Notre Dame football?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I said we played flashes earlier. I think that’s what we’ve done. We’ve done some things that look very aggressive, which would be the word that I’d like to characterize our football team with, whether it’s offense, defense, special teams. We want to be on the attack. We want to be a team that plays hard, plays smart, and has fun in the process.
We want to get back to playing that kind of football. We want to be aggressive. We want to play hard. We want to play smart. We want to have fun in the process.
Q. What has Jeff Faine’s impact been this year?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, Jeff has always been kind of like a rock, in my mind, for our football team, our offense. He’s been a very stabilizing influence with the way he practices and with the leadership that he has, his ability to reach out and bring other people closer to him by establishing a certain tone and by giving them information that they need to be better players.
He has been a real luxury for myself and our program to have someone that can do all of those things and then still play in the manner that he plays.
Q. You have players that will have to make a decision about coming back. Do you worry about how they approach this game? How do you handle that situation in general? Do you just wait until after the Bowl game is over to sit down and talk with them?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, you’re always concerned about anything that can be a distraction to performance. It doesn’t just have to be thoughts on the NFL. It could be girlfriends, it could be parents, exams, any number of things that can surface and provide that distraction. So you’re constantly talking to your team in general about those things, and sometimes specifically about certain things, so hopefully they can relax and understand that performance allows them great opportunities. If they understand that, they can have excellent performance, it creates great opportunities, situations that they’d like to have happen in their lives.
Q. You talk about your desire to be aggressive. How concerned are you about NC State’s ability to shuttle players in and out of offense after they break the huddle, how that affects your ability to be aggressive as a team?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think I’m concerned about that in terms of the legality of that, how that affects the overall flow and sportsmanship, our function as a defensive team. If that’s not permitted in the rules, then it should be prohibited, it’s just that simple. If it is, then the defense should be allowed to have equal opportunity to get their people on so we can match up.
Q. You talked earlier about preparing for bowl games. What have you learned over the years, how you deal with that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Well, the biggest problem is really both your schedules at home and your schedule once you get to the Bowl site. There are always things that pop up that you have less time than you thought you had, there’s more travel time, so you have to cut here, nip there. You have to be flexible.
I think one of the things that you learn with experience is that you can be flexible and still get the goal accomplished. You kind of make sure that you educate your football team to that. We will have to adjust. It may not be perfect. If we were at home, we could all feel very comfortable about our schedule, our routine. When you’re on the road in this matter, you have to approach it very much like a business professional does. We have to get the job done regardless of whether the plane is late, the bed is short, lumpy, the food is cold. You have to get the job done.
Q. Can you talk about their offensive line? They’ve given up 11 sacks this year. Coach Baer was talking about that’s unheard of.
COACH WILLINGHAM: I think, again, it points first of all, you have to acknowledge the ability of their offensive line. It’s a phenomenal feat if you can do that. It also goes with the quarterback. You talk about experience, being able to read things, see things ahead of time. If this were his first year, even with their offensive line, I don’t know if they’d have those numbers.
Because of his ability to not project where things are coming from, knowing where to deliver the ball, what adjustments to make, it’s a combination of them having an excellent offensive line and his ability to really be in command of their system and himself.
“I think this group of young men has worked amazingly hard to put themselves in the position that they can have and deserve 11 wins.”Coach Tyrone Willingham
Q. Is it kind of amazing to you, still ironic that you’re going to be playing the last game of this year on the day that you were hired last year?
COACH WILLINGHAM: Were you all right getting out of bed that morning? I want to make sure now. I don’t want to touch on any sore spots (laughter). I remember it was kind of cold that morning.
You know, I haven’t looked at it through that set of eyes, to kind of reflect back on one year from basically my hiring date. We were in a January 1 Bowl. I guess if I had to say anything at this moment, pressed for some type of answer or reflection, I’d say it’s a pretty good thing.
Q. When you think about the players, Gary Godsey said one of the things they want to do is make sure you get off to a good start. They think 11 wins is going to be much better than 10.
COACH WILLINGHAM: I would agree with them. I think this group of young men has worked amazingly hard to put themselves in the position that they can have and deserve 11 wins. It will not come easy. We stated that I think throughout this morning with every coach that’s been in front of this group or any group, that this is a good football team that we’re playing.
We also acknowledge and believe that we are a good football team, that and our team wins demonstrate that. To further echo that point, we need to go out and play our best football game and see if we can get win number 11.
But our young men, I’m extremely proud of them, the way they’ve handled all of the circumstances, the cards they’ve been dealt this year. You all, excuse me for that reference, but you can document that far better than I can, some of the adversity this football team has faced on and off the field. They’ve done an excellent job of dealing with those circumstances and preparing themselves to play excellent football.
It would be a shame if they let anything step in the way of doing that again, as they’ve done all year.
Q. Do you think about finishing in the Top 10 for the first time since ’93? Longest time in Notre Dame history without being in the Top 10.
COACH WILLINGHAM: Again, I think it’s part of that finish and part of that beginning we’re talking about, to have that kind of opportunity.
We’d like to finish the season in that manner, being a Top 10 team. That also means that hopefully it will put us in the right position to start 2003. So this is a day of beginnings and beginnings, starts and starts, not necessarily an end and a beginning.
Q. So, will Jordan Black and Brennan Curtin play in the bowl game?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I’m saying that is a University issue. The University will have all comments regarding that issue.
Q. Student affairs?
COACH WILLINGHAM: That’s probably a good place to start.
Q. It seems astounding that Notre Dame hasn’t had a Bowl victory in nearly a decade. Is that something you would address with the team? Is that an additional motivating force against North Carolina State?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I’ve said all year as a coach you use any and everything you can to help you from the motivational side. That will appeal to some young men in our program, and with some young men in our program that will not carry as much weight. We want to find those things that will allow each individual to perform at his best. That’s what we’re looking for.
There would not be a better time to change that than this particular Bowl game.
Q. The issue of the illegality or legality of their substitution thing, how do you address that? It’s something they’ve been doing all year and haven’t gotten flagged for. Is it something you can protest or bring up? How do you respond to that?
COACH WILLINGHAM: No, I would imagine that the conference officials that will be officiating this ballgame will look at both our films so they have some familiarity with the teams they will be officiating. If they see things that seem outside of the rules, they will make their decisions on that.
Q. Are you contending this is outside the rule or something that maybe should be addressed by the rules?
COACH WILLINGHAM: I’m not contending any point of view. I’m saying it’s something that when the officials look at this particular pattern of substitution, if they view it to not be within the structure of the rules or sportsmanship, they’ll make a decision.
Next up is Courtney Watson, senior linebacker.
Q. Could you give me your impressions from watching some film of their quarterback and their tailback?
COURTNEY WATSON: I think Rivers is a pretty good quarterback, pretty good at his decision making. I think he manages their offense very well.
As far as their running back, I think he’s pretty good. I think he’s a true freshman. To be able to do some things he’s done as a true freshman, obviously amazing, pretty remarkable feat.
I think they’re both talented players. Play the scheme very well.
Q. How much does their offense remind of you of Southern Cal and what they did?
COURTNEY WATSON: How they do it by the pass, it’s very similar. A lot of three step drops, crossing patterns. They like to get the ball down the field. In that sense, they’re the same as USC. As far as their running game, they’re a little different. They’re running game is a little more I don’t want to use the word sophisticated, but they seem to have more ways to getting to the running play, different than USC.
Q. Do you want to make the comparison between Carson Palmer and Philips Rivers?
COURTNEY WATSON: I’m not a scout of quarterbacks or anything like that. I think they’re both very good quarterbacks. I don’t really know that much to compare them.
Q. They’ve only allowed 11 sacks all year long. What do they do to protect the quarterback, to keep him safe? What do you guys want to try to do to do, what you’ve done all year long, make big plays, make turnovers, create things like that on defense?
COURTNEY WATSON: Like I said before, about the three step drop, getting the ball out quickly. Something that USC does very well. Carson Palmer doesn’t get sacked a lot. They do a lot of three step, quick passes. That helps the offensive line.
What we want to do is put pressure on them, forcing them into making bad decisions, so we can get interceptions. If they catch the ball, fumble, create turnovers that way. I think we need to get in his face, try to get him out of his comfort zone, don’t let him get into a rhythm.
Q. You’re one of several guys on this team that will have a decision to make about coming back next year. Is that something going into the game, do you allow yourself to think this could be your last game? Do you have a timetable for when you want to think about it, how you will handle that prospect?
COURTNEY WATSON: You like to say that you have one, but the fact is that you’re always asked about it. I don’t want to think about it till the season is over. That’s what I’m doing. It’s kind of hard because once I leave, I’ll go to the 7 Eleven, the person there will ask me, too. It comes up no matter where you are.
I think I’ll wait till the end of the season, and don’t make any kind of judgment or decision on something that’s emotional. We could win or lose. You can’t make a judgment because we win in a way or because we lose. You take your time after that game and reevaluate that, sit down, talk to coaches, family, people that you think should be part of the decision.
Q. NC State does a lot of substitutions after they break the huddle. Have you noticed any of that? Does that concern you at all?
COURTNEY WATSON: I haven’t seen it on film. It’s difficult to talk about it because I haven’t seen it yet personally. If it’s like you describe, it kind of sounds illegal in a sense. I don’t know exactly how it’s working. There’s a certain rule you can only sub in certain ways.
But I think it’s not going to be that big of a deal because they’ve played, I don’t know, 11 and 12 games. People have dealt with it all season. Our coaches will come up with a gameplan, we’ll be able to take care of it.
Q. Dos yur return to glory season success hang in the balance with this game?
COURTNEY WATSON: I think losing this game makes that kind of questionable in people’s eyes who aren’t a part of our program because we’ve lost the last two games, three out of the last five or something like that. If you look at it in the sense that this is a team with a first year staff, wasn’t supposed to be very good, lost a lot of guys last year, have a lot of guys coming back next year. A 10 3 season, that is something I would love to build on, come back next year and have 10 wins.
I don’t think this game will change the success we’ve had this year, but I think people on the outside may want to make that perception if we were to lose the last game of the season.
Q. Carlyle, when you do practice, are there certain things you see from him in practice that amaze you, you’re waiting for him to move that over to a game situation?
COURTNEY WATSON: No, no, I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say I’m sitting back in practice. Watching him go wild in practice, wild in games. I do get wild in games. Especially when he takes off and runs with the ball. I don’t think that’s no, I don’t think that’s the case, at least with me.
Q. NC State has made a big deal out of this is a huge game for them. Do you think that takes away from your standpoint because this is a big game for your program, as well?
COURTNEY WATSON: I think it should make it bigger for us. At Notre Dame, you know you’re going to get everybody’s best game. Then to have a program, coaches, whoever, that are going to put their program their new era on this game, it should make us, as Notre Dame, come ready to play better than if they wouldn’t have been saying those things.
At the same time we have our own motivation to where we don’t need to wait for NC State to say, “This is a big game for us.” We’re trying to build something here also.
We want things to start off this is a game that ends this season, but it’s the springboard to next season. This helps in recruiting. It helps in offseason workouts, go four or five months having a bitter taste in your mouth. That’s fine for them to say it. At the same time, I think we’re kind of in the same situation because we’re trying to get over a hump.
Q. It’s not going to be the first time there’s been more pressure put on defense, losing offensive linemen puts you in that boat again where you might have to pick it up. “Hey, guys, this needs to happen, we need to be a little extra better this game.”
COURTNEY WATSON: If that’s the case, that’s what we need to do. I’ve said all year that we’re a team who depends on each other. If the defense struggles, the offense will pick us up. If the offense struggles, the defense will pick you up. If we both struggle, hopefully special teams will pick us up. We have more opportunities to make plays. I mean, it’s better for us as a defense to be out there longer because we get a chance to go out and play.
Q. Nobody has really talked about it, but the attitude you take down there, to Jacksonville, is it going to be strictly business? Is it going to be a combination of fun and business? What are you thinking when you get there the 26th until game day?
COURTNEY WATSON: I think every trip is a business trip. When you’re on a business trip, you have to have fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. Every time we leave South Bend and go to play a game, it’s always about winning a game. Maybe it’s more so now because it is the last game of the season, for all the reasons I talked about before.
But at the same time the reason you play football, the reason you coach football, the reason you cover football is because you enjoy what you’re doing, you enjoy something about it. At the same time it has to be fun. If you’re not enjoying it, you’re not competing at the top of your level. That’s the way I approach a trip when we go to a game.
Q. Yesterday I was talking to some of the basketball players, talking about finals, how draining it is. From your perspective, getting back to think about football, thinking about tests at the same time.
COURTNEY WATSON: I am glad this week is over. It’s been a long week. I had a test this morning. It’s always a tough week, especially around here. It’s always a happy time when it’s over. I’m ready to start preparing for this game, be able to watch some more tape that I haven’t been able to because of finals.
Q. Can younger people can take from your example, how serious you’re taking your studies?
COURTNEY WATSON: Yeah. I think you look around the country, this is around the time when you start to see people become ineligible to play because of academic reasons. It’s great to play 10 or 11 games, but academically wise, not be able to come back and participate in a Bowl game, which is supposed to be the cherry on top of the whole entire season. If you want to look at it from that standpoint, you don’t have to be a straight A student, but if you want to reap the benefits of everything you’ve done all season, take care of business so you can enjoy the Bowl games.
Next up is Mike Goolsby. Junior linebacker.
Q. Have you had a chance to see much of NC State on film? What is your impression of them?
MIKE GOOLSBY: No, not yet. Like Courtney said, we’ve been real busy with school. I had an exam at 8:00 this morning. I’ll be dragging a bit today. This week will be a normal practice week, we’ll get the ball rolling, have time down there, too, so we’ll be pretty well prepared.
Q. We heard today about some unusual substitution patterns they have. Have the coaches addressed that with you guys yet? Have you seen anything like that?
MIKE GOOLSBY: We got a great staff. They’re going to come up with something to get ready for it. A lot of it is to throw you off kilter a little bit. We have old guys on the defense, veterans, that will be able to get us all lined up. I think we should be all right.
Q. With finals just wrapping up, do you feel mentally ready to get back into kind of a game plan?
MIKE GOOLSBY: No, I’m definitely ready. I think we’re all ready. We’ve had kind of light practices just to keep everything going. But I think, yeah, we’re ready to get after it, get down to Florida, have a good time, go play the game.
Q. Is it kind of a relief to get back and just focus on football?
MIKE GOOLSBY: Yeah, exactly. School is done with. We’re trying to take care of finals throughout the week, but you’re always trying to keep the game in the back of the mind. Now all can you think of is the game. No distractions on campus whatsoever. We’re ready to go.
Q. You mentioned getting down to Florida. Is it kind of business, fun at the same time? What mentality are you taking into this?
MIKE GOOLSBY: I think I’ve been playing pretty well. I think the defense needs to step up. Basically I think we need to go out and reprove ourselves as an offense, as well. We’re down there to have some fun, but I think as a team I think it’s more of a business trip mentality for us.
Q. The USC game, seemed like you were on the field pretty much the whole time. At a certain point you almost wore down?
MIKE GOOLSBY: At the end I think we were a little bit gassed. Like you say, if you’re going to be a defensive player, you want to be on the field, give your offense the best shot at letting them get points on the board.
Every team is going to wear down a little bit at the end. It’s sad to see that happen. But like I said, we try and do whatever it takes to win the game, bottom line.
Q. The USC game leaves a bit of a bad taste in your mouth. I know you’ve been busy with finals. Have you had a moment to look back and say, “We are 10 2”? After the season last year, the progress you’ve made, where you are now, have you had a chance to reflect on that?
MIKE GOOLSBY: I think looking back on the season, it’s been a success with everything that’s happened for us. But I think when all of us came here, you almost didn’t come here to have a 10 2 season. We have such lofty expectations, that when you lose, it hurts. It’s what you expect out of yourself and the team.
10 2 is good, but we’re trying to get an 11 win season here. Like Coach Willingham always says, this game reflects a lot about us next year down the road. We’re trying to take that kind of mentality with it, too.
Q. It seems like it’s been a relatively smooth transition for you guys. What as accounted for that?
MIKE GOOLSBY: I think a lot of it is the guys. If you kind of look at it, you think about finals, how rough it is, I could never picture myself anywhere else because of the guys that surround me every day. We stuck it together, worked it out. Coach came in, knew what he had to do. Took into account a lot of things we needed. Yeah, it’s been about as smooth as you could ask for really.
Q. Do you worry at all about the confidence of the defense being down? The last game, most yards given up by Notre Dame, do you worry the confidence is down a bit?
MIKE GOOLSBY: No, I don’t think so. I know the guys personally on our defense are never short of confidence. We played against a great team, great player, eventual Heisman Trophy winner. We’re playing against another great quarterback this game. It’s another opportunity to go out and play. You’ll never see our defense run short of confidence.
Q. Is this just another challenge for one of Notre Dame’s better defenses in a long time.
MIKE GOOLSBY: We’re going to put that on our coaches. Whatever they come up with, we’re going to try to execute as best we can.
Q. Sometimes people do forget you’re student athletes. Talk about that, some of the classes maybe that you had to have, the schedule that you’ve had this past week. They don’t see you in the class.
MIKE GOOLSBY: It’s all part of it, though. I mean, I guess it kind of makes a man out of you at the same time. We’re not given anything here. Everything else comes along with it. I really can’t complain. It’s just part of it’s something I accepted when I came here basically. I think it makes you a better person.
Now that that’s all out of the way, we’re ready to play some ball.
Q. The next couple weeks, what are you looking forward to the most?
MIKE GOOLSBY: I’ll be home for a couple days before Christmas, it will be real nice, then just fly out there and definitely enjoy the weather. Seems like it’s been snowing here forever.
Just go down there, hang out, go play the game, definitely win the game, just come back and relax a little bit more before you get back to school, start all over again.
Q. Is that a big deal, end the year and start the season with a win?
MIKE GOOLSBY: It’s huge. Going through the conditioning and everything, that’s the longest you’re going to go without a game. It’s going to leave that taste in your mouth. That’s what you’re going to remember most. Hopefully everybody is going to play well, you come out with a big win, carry us over.
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