Sept. 14, 2016
Q. Hey, Torii, how are you feeling coming off of that?
Torii Hunter Jr.: I’m feeling a lot better. I’m feeling like myself again. Yeah, after that last week I kind of felt out of it and I felt slow, sluggish. But Friday, Saturday I started feeling a lot better, but now I’m feeling back to myself and feeling normal.
I went through practice yesterday, felt a little out of shape, but I pushed myself as hard as I could. Hopefully I’ll have a better day today.
Q. You’re through the protocol at this point?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Yeah, I passed all my brain tests or whatever, concussion tests on Sunday. And then Monday just went through some FSA, like flex, stretch and agility, stretching, just getting loose and trying to get my feet back under me. Then yesterday I went out to practice and did a lot of non-contact drills, just tried to 87stay off the ground as much as I could, keep my head out of plays, and today I pushed myself a little more.
Q. Have you ever had a concussion before? What was the experience like?
Torii Hunter Jr.: It was my first one that I’ve told them about or that they’ve known about. That I’ve actually lost consciousness and all that. So, yeah, it was my first one that I’ve experienced. It was a real experience, but I’m glad to be back.
Q. Did you feel like that hit that was on you warranted a penalty?
Torii Hunter Jr.: I don’t know if it warranted a penalty, but it probably deserved a look at it afterwards. I heard about the new rule or whatever, but I mean, it is what it is. I can’t control it. I can only go out there and play.
Q. Coming off last week, what kind of feedback did you get from the guys who got in the game Saturday? What sort of feedback did you get from them about how they sort of responded to taking on the whole shoulder of the offense there?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Yeah, so a lot of guys I told them that they had to step up, and they told me that they had my back and they were going to go out there and play because I’m the leader of that group and they knew somebody had to step up in my place because I wasn’t going to be able to be out there. And you probably saw last game, a lot of those guys really stepped up.
K.J. came in and had a touchdown, couple catches. And Corey Holmes had a third-down conversion, might have been a fourth, I don’t know. But a lot of those guys stepped up, Equanimeous. They’re ready to play. I’ve been trying to tell everybody over the last month or so that these young guys can play and they can make plays for us, and they showed that these last couple weeks.
Q. You guys obviously want to play for a National Championship every year. With that first loss to Texas, how important – is there added pressure going into this game knowing that a second loss would probably take you out of that championship picture?
Torii Hunter Jr.: I don’t know. We try to approach it the same way. We know it’s an important game for us as far as the rest of our season goes. We’re just trying to approach it like every other week. This is going to be a tough opponent, and we know we have to prepare well and go out there and execute. I think everybody has a sense of how important this game is, and we just try not to make it known and ignore the noise.
Q. I know you’re a young guy, but 50 years ago Michigan State and Notre Dame played in a huge game. Do you know much about the history of these schools and some of the games they’ve played in?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Not really. I don’t really know too much about the history. I wasn’t a Notre Dame fan growing up. So I don’t know too much about it. Was it one of the games that had the Hail Mary or something like that? Was that Notre Dame?
Q. ’66 was a 10-10 tie game, yeah.
Torii Hunter Jr.: Oh, okay. Something like that. I don’t know too much about the history.
Q. What have you seen from this Michigan State defense that’s impressed you?
Torii Hunter Jr.: They stick to what they know. They’re not – they don’t try to mix in different looks. They are what they are. And they show that every week and they’ve shown it the last couple years on film. So they’re the same guys. They’re going to try to test you outside, try to stop the run, and you know they’re going to see if their DBs are more tougher than our wide receivers. So it’s going to be that type of game. We’re going to have to make plays and they’re good at what they do.
Q. You looked like you were enjoying yourself on the field before the game on Saturday. Do you think you could have played or just a lack of preparation during the week ruled that out in your mind?
Torii Hunter Jr.: I wanted to play, but mentally I just wouldn’t want to take that risk of not being completely ready to play. Everybody, I think, agreed that it would be best for me to not even play, even if I did feel good enough, just to make sure. It was also a good time for the younger guys to make some plays and put some pressure on them, get them some experience and everything like that.
Q. From a conditioning standpoint getting out there yesterday for the first time, during the protocol what were you allowed to do physically?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Just basically ride the bike and run on the treadmill and elliptical.
Q. But it’s not on the field?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Of course, it’s not on-field movements. Friday I got on the field and did a small little workout, ran a couple routes and the route tree, caught some balls. But it’s still nothing like going out there and practicing against a defense.
Q. What do you remember about the hit in the end zone? Is that blank in your mind, and did it impact from memories earlier in the game when you caught the touchdown pass?
Torii Hunter Jr.: No, I remember everything leading up to the hit. I remember catching the ball, having it in my hands. But as soon as I got hit I don’t remember any of that, and I don’t remember being on the ground. The last thing I remember was taking the step down the stairs to go into the locker room, and that’s when I was kind of back aware that that’s what was going on.
Q. You kept trying to get up right away and the medical staff. Did you see that?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Yeah, I’ve seen the videos. I guess even though I wasn’t aware of anything, I still wanted to be out there playing. So my subconscious is the same as my conscious, I guess. I don’t know. But I did want to be out there. Even when I went inside I was trying to get back out there and go on the sidelines and help those guys win.
Q. Michigan State love to press at the line of scrimmage. They always have under Dantonio. I asked Coach Kelly yesterday how he wants his receivers to respond to that. His answer was run. He wants to be aggressive to try to get off of it. How do you look at that and what is the emphasis this week as you prepare for their press coverage?
Torii Hunter Jr.: The emphasis is just to make plays because we’re going to have to make plays on the other side, because they’re going to try to stop the run and they’re going to try to get an extra man in the box at all times. They’ve got some pretty hard safeties.
So we’ve got to make plays on the outside, X, Z, W, we’ve all just got to make plays. They’re going to be throwing our way, so we’ve got to make the plays.
Q. What are some of the technical things you have to do to get off press coverage?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Really we’ve just got to run, like Coach Kelly said, man. Just be as physical as they are, because they’re going to be physical, they’re going to try to push you out of bounds, they’re going to grab and hold, and they say they’re not going to call the pass interference plays that are out there. But they’re going to do it every time and test you just to see what your manhood is like. So we’ve got to go out there and be just as physical as they are.
Q. In games that you’ve played at Notre Dame, what previous opponent pressed you as much as Michigan State likely will?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Pitt last year. I think Narduzzi was at Michigan State, so Pitt they run a similar offense. We’ve watched a lot of, well, I have personally, watched some film on Pitt just from a scheme point of view. Not personnel, but scheme. They have a similar scheme. Pitt probably is the closest team to Michigan State.
Q. I know you said you went through and passed all the concussion protocol. Coach Kelly says that even after you passed it’s still up to the player in how good you feel. So how confident are you right now that you’re going to play against Michigan State on Saturday?
Torii Hunter Jr.: I’m fairly confident because yesterday I did everything. That they would allow me to do. And yesterday I pushed myself, I did a couple of one-on-ones, seven-on-seven, 11-on-11. I did as much as I could and just tried to be smart about falling on the ground and keeping my head up and blocking plays and different things like that. So as the week goes on, I’ll try to push myself more and see what I can do. I’m confident I’ll be ready come Saturday.
Q. After the Texas game, you were back out watching it in the corner with your parents. Was that a surreal feeling? What was going through you as you were watching the end of that game?
Torii Hunter Jr.: How much I wanted to be out there, for sure. That was the most important thing. I really wanted to be out there with those guys. Even just on the sideline, I felt so far away from everything that was going on. But I was over there coaching and yelling as much as I could, even though they couldn’t hear me. I just wanted to be out there, closer to the guys and closer to the game. It was definitely tough watching the game and how it unfolded.
Q. Talk about the young guys stepping up. Corey Holmes is not that young of a guy, but what have you seen from him to the progression of the player that he is on right now?
Torii Hunter Jr.: He’s definitely grown as a player, and he’s definitely more confident this year than he has been previously in these last couple years. Yeah, his confidence is probably the biggest thing, because he’s a good athlete, and he can make plays. So getting that confidence is kind of taking you out of the pressure of whatever it may be that kind of hinders your game. But he’s gaining that confidence to be able to go out there and play.
Q. The follow-up to the ’66 game question. I know you don’t know the game. But back then, it was No. 1 Notre Dame versus No. 2, Michigan State. The second to last game of the season, both undefeated so a huge game. Can you imagine playing a big game and coming out with a tie?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Yeah, I can’t really imagine having a big game come out in a tie. Do they still have ties?
Q. Haven’t had one in 21 years?
Torii Hunter Jr.: So, yeah, I’m 21, so in my lifetime I’ve never really seen a tie, so it’s hard to fathom.
Q. Even in high school you played overtime?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Yeah, you play to win. That’s how we played in high school. So I can’t really wrap my head around it.
Q. You’ve had your injuries that keep you off the field. Does that ramp up the anxiousness to get back out there because you missed so much time or did that help in a way because you had to be off the field before? How did that work mindset-wise over the last ten days or so?
Torii Hunter Jr.: It definitely helped. It helped because I knew what my mindset had to be. It’s definitely different because it’s my brain and not a body part that you can rehab really hard. So I kind of had to take a step back and not do anything, which is kind of weird. But I kind of attacked it the same way as rehab, and I had a lot of help.
My family came down and made me turnoff TVs and sit in a dark room and things like that just to get my brain back to where I was. So I kind of attacked it the same way I would any other rehab just to try to get myself back on the field as soon as I could. And I knew I had to be a cheerleader and a coach on the sidelines as much as I could. I wasn’t new to that.
I think going through something that keeps you off the field is definitely something that can help you through it later on.
Q. On the flip side, how anxious and excited are you to get back out there, especially being how big of a game it is?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Yeah, I’m extremely excited to be back out there. It’s tough just being out there watching the guys play you know how much work you put into it, and to miss a game is tough. But I’m excited to be back and to play with my brothers again.
Q. Having Corey Robinson around, someone with a history of that stuff, did you talk to him and maybe see how he came back from some of those hits?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Yeah, he just really wanted me to rest and make sure I wasn’t doing anything crazy, being on my phone, computer, whatever it may be and just to take my time. Whenever I feel like I was ready, that’s when I should come back. That’s one of the main things he stressed, and that was the main thing that everybody has kind of stressed. Just come back whenever you feel ready and don’t feel pressure to come back.
Q. DeShon Elliott you said he called you and apologized. Can you share the details of that conversation?
Torii Hunter Jr.: Yeah, he messaged me on Twitter and apologized about the hit. He said he didn’t mean to target me. And jokingly I said, oh, so you did target? And I was like, no, I’m kidding. You were just trying to make a play like I was, and it’s all good and stuff like that. So that’s how that conversation went. Also, I think Kevin Vaccaro, I think he’s the other safety, he also messaged me and apologized about everything. I thought it was cool that they did that. I can respect it.
Q. DeShone, how do you feel like the younger receivers that you’ve had kind of came out of the Nevada game?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, when we figured out that Torii was going to be down for that game that we were going to have to put a new frontside receiver out there, and K.J. came out and played very well. Corey Holmes as well, not being a young guy, but young being on the field came out and really played a good game. I really had to challenge myself to trust the second guy who was going to come in behind Torii, and obviously that trust didn’t come out too well on the one go-pattern. But other than that, we didn’t skip a beat.
I think that’s the best part about these young receivers right now is they’re playing at a high level where we don’t have to change much of what we’re doing and I can go out and play ball as if I was out there with Chris Brown or Amir Carlisle or Will Fuller.
Q. The trust factor you mentioned, you worked with these guys in practice, obviously flipping between the one and twos in August. You probably got some more work with K.J. and some of those guys. But do you need a game to get trust behind these guys necessarily?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, when you’re in a game, it’s a completely different situation. You never know how fast you’re going to run. You never know when the bullets are flying the way they’re going to react to press coverage or off coverage and all that. But to see it on film after two games, I really know who our guys are. I’ve spent a lot of time watching the routes and seeing it from an outside point of view. So when we go back in practice, I can focus on the adjustments I need to make to make sure we can get the ball in those guys’ hands as if they are the veteran style receiver they’re playing like.
Q. Seemed like Coach Kelly said after the game Saturday you’re maybe looking for Equanimeous in certain situations. Has that trust and confidence in him developed maybe a little bit quicker necessarily?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, the way our offense is kind of set up is we’re going to rely on that big-time receiver, that big-sized receiver on the back side to make big plays for us. Last year you saw it with Chris Brown, with backside routes all day long. Anytime they want to borrow a safety and take him to the field, we’re going to exploit the backside as much as we can with the size of receiver that we have back there. So naturally that was kind of the way I went.
At the same time, there are open throws to the field all day long. Nevada came out with a great game plan to double up on Equanimeous and a couple of big third-down times and I had to scramble on one and overthrow on another. So I have to be able to make that adjustment to find the front-side receiver in those situations and not always rely on going to a guy with size.
Q. (Mo Microphone) mentioned he felt like the wind was a little different with the construction. Did you notice anything out there on Saturday?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, it was a windy game. It was kind of swirling down there. You had to really feel it out. My ball, I didn’t necessarily have that in my mind when I threw the short pass. But at the same time, I think that was a situation where me not just trusting a guy. It’s easy in that situation where maybe the wind gets going and not necessarily trusting myself to put the ball out there to try to just go back shoulder and that’s what I did. And K.J. as instructed, ran right past him and I missed him. That’s simply me misgauging the coverage and looking to a back shoulder ball in a situation where we have a guy who is five yards down the field past the defender.
Q. Last year one of the parts of this offense’s identity was pushing the ball because you had Will Fuller. Is this offense different with the vertical passing game maybe not be so instrumental to what you want to do this year because your personnel is different?
DeShone Kizer: Not at all. We are who we are. We do want to push the ball vertically down the field. In these first two games some of the coverages are going to be cloud safeties where they’re going to be playing high and over the top. So we haven’t had an opportunity to truly throw it down as much as we did early last year. But as opportunities are presented to us, we trust that we’re going to let it fly. We have the talent and we have the speed and the size to be able to do so, so why not?
Q. One thing Coach Kelly said was just about in your development doing a better job of sort of taking what’s available, taking what the defense gives you. It seems like that would be pretty simple and you would start with that premise. Why do quarterbacks have to work up to that to take the easy stuff? Why is that a lesson a quarterback has to learn?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, in the beginning of the season you spend the whole off-season talking the ins and outs of every play, and in doing so you try to figure out what are the best defenses to throw certain routes against, and sometimes those defenses don’t look exactly the same when you get into a game. You miss out on opportunities to throw five yard hit routes and end up getting ten yards if the corners back off 12 yards. You miss inside plant routes against blitzes. You miss some of the small things you don’t put emphasis on during the off-season because you’re so focused on running perfect play against the perfect defense at that time.
That’s something that I really have to focus up on moving forward. If I don’t know that the backside route or the frontside concept isn’t perfect, to be able to just take the 5-yard check down and move forward.
Q. What does this rivalry mean to you? What have you learned about this rivalry since you’ve been here?
DeShone Kizer: Not being able to play in it and being removed from it as a player, didn’t really know much about it. But the perception I have being a mid-west guy is these are two powerhouse teams in the midwest who are going to play inside the tackles and play you tough.
Michigan State is a team that’s an hour and a half away from me that was on TV every week, just like Notre Dame was. I was able to learn that they’re a team who is going to be who they are and be that well. I’ve been watching their corners play man coverage since I think I’ve watched football. I’ve been watching their front line be big, strong guys since I’ve watched football, And that’s exactly who they are today.
For a rivalry game against a team like that, we know that we’re going to have to match their physicality and challenge those corners. If we can have our receivers go out and have the same mentality that they’re just as fast and just as strong as the guy across from them. We’re going to be able to maintain our integrity and our identity on offense and continue to do the things we’ve done against every defense we’ve played against.
Q. As a quarterback, when you go up against a physical defense, do you get excited? Challenge-wise, how do you go approach a defense like this?
DeShone Kizer: You approach it the same way. This is a physical sport. They just have an identity where they’re going to get in your face and make it look a little more intimidating after the fact. They’re still playing the same structure of defense that we play against from week to week.
What we do understand though is that when it does come time to make some sort of contact on a tackle that you’re going to have to run your feet and get through it. They’re going to come up, gain tackle, and stop you right at point of contact. We can come out and match that physicality and make some of those piles fall forward and grab that extra yard or two. That’s going to eventually lead to us having a little longer drives, couple more first downs and hopefully a couple more points on the board.
Q. DeShone, C.J. got the game ball Saturday and he came in and said he’s looked to you a lot for leadership. I’m just curious obviously a young receiver corps. You’re not that old yourself, but how have you kind of helped these guys grow up quickly?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, I was in their situation only a year ago. Some of the things I experienced I’m kind of able to share with them in the sense of the mentality you have to have going into big game and live situations. When you’re playing against the opponents we play against in the environment we play at here at Notre Dame, every game feels like a big game. If you can just focus in on what you do and not try to leave that and know what your strengths are and play to your strengths, you’re going to do well.
That’s a message I’ve continued to push towards the guys each game. As long as you buy into the game plan and execute what you’re asked to do at practice all week, you’re all elite athletes. You’re going to make the plays. You know once the ball is in your hand, it’s instinctual to make that play. That is a message that I pass on to the guys.
Other than that, I think a lot of my leadership style is going to be non-verbal for the younger guys. Just to exhibit the confidence to go out each drive and score points is something that they look up to.
Q. I’m curious, do you know Tyler O’Connor at all? Have you ever crossed paths?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, so I played my AAU Basketball when I was younger was out of Lima, so I heard all about him and I had a couple buddies that went to his high school. We’ve never really crossed paths or never really met. But other than that I knew he played good ball down in Lima and he’s a stud. He’s a guy who has played very well against the first opponent and is ready to take over the reigns.
Q. I think when we talk about press coverage, we focus on the receiver and the corner. But how does it impact or alter your job in getting the football to the wideout when you’re dealing with him in press coverage?
DeShone Kizer: When you play against press coverage there is an intimidation factor that quarterbacks don’t like to go towards them. But those guys are out on the island. We have an opportunity with receivers that we recruit to kind of expose that island. They’re not getting a lot of inside help from linebackers who are box folding guys and safeties who want to play low. It’s all about hitting the guy in front of them.
I believe we have the talent all the way across the board to attack that one-on-one coverage when we need to. It’s also a time and a place for the ball that you want to throw out there. We have an opportunity to throw the ball to the slide receivers who are getting zoned off all day long. But if you can just attack the outside at the right times, you’re going to be able to make the plays that you need to make and move the ball down the field.
Once again, we have the receivers who are playing at a high level right now who have seen press coverage all off-season and in camp against some of our guys who have been successful against press coverage. We’ve got to make sure we get the ball out there when the time comes.
Q. So you look at it as more of an opportunity as opposed to a difficult thing to overcome? Of course it’s difficult to overcome, but it’s an opportunity for you to make big plays.
DeShone Kizer: Absolutely. We play press coverage. I mean, we play against press coverage every game. We’ve been playing against press coverage all the time. They’re just a team that’s known for it. They like to play more than others, but it’s not anything we’ve ever seen before.
Q. I asked Torii about this, not thinking, I mean, when Pat Narduzzi came from Michigan State, he was at Pittsburgh. Was Pittsburgh the previous opponent that pressed more than any other maybe until this Saturday?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, Narduzzi kind of had those same principles that Michigan State is still very committed to now, and we were able to go out and have a very successful game passing the ball. So we’re definitely going to evaluate that game and see what we did well against them and move forward to see what we can do against this team.
At the same time there are some principles that Pitt had within that defense that Michigan State does not have that we’re going to have to make adjustments for and we’ll see how they play as the game moves forward.
Q. You hear a lot of people make the comment like Michigan State ran vanilla defense against Furman, and they probably don’t know whether that’s accurate or not. When you look at that, were they vanilla? Did you expect them to do a little bit more? I know they have a history of bringing their linebackers on blitzes. I don’t think they did a lot of that against Furman?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, Michigan State does a really good job of disguising their blitzes. They hold their show very well and as a quarterback it makes it difficult to predict where it’s coming from. In that case you have to be able to use different techniques throughout the game to figure out hints. Those are things they’re able to do well against Furman that it’s hard to see on film. To see the body language of new guys out there and try to determine when they’re coming and when they’re not. That’s something you’re going to have to move forward throughout the game to understand.
When you go out there from drive to drive and see the blitzes, you have to be able to recall the looks you saw before that drive or before that specific play when they blitzed and hopefully predict when the next one’s coming.
Q. Last thing, the expression, the game has slowed down. Specifically if you could provide a couple examples of how that applies to, I think you’re about to make your 14th start?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, to say the game has slowed down would be completely wrong. It’s more I’ve been required to speed up. For me, being more comfortable and being more confident in the pocket is what allowed me to slow down my thought process and truly trust in what I see. The more you understand the defense in front of you, the more you’re going to trust what your receivers are going to do to become open. Just to recall the different experiences from the past and allow those to fuel your confidence going forward, it allows me to slow down whatever’s getting thrown at me and make the throw needed to complete balls and get ourselves into the right play each play.
Q. Just the thought process slows down, not your actual body movement, right?
DeShone Kizer: Exactly.
Q. How nice will it be — obviously, your younger receivers played well on Saturday – but how nice will it be to have Torii back in a huge game like this?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, we’ve scored 35-plus points in both games without really using Torii the way we can. He’s a veteran guy who is an absolute stud and probably going to be the fastest guy on the field, and you don’t even know it. That’s the cool thing about it. We’ve had success on the offense, and we still have a lot more that we can tap into.
One thing that we are going to make sure we do though is although he will be back and although he will be playing at the high level that he is, as long as you contribute the ball to the right guy at the right time, everyone’s going to make plays. To see Torii get a couple more catches in this game and make the plays that a veteran’s going to make though, it’s going to be nice for the quarterback to know that you have a guy that’s been through all these experiences, has a couple games under his belt, he’s been able to make big plays in big games and be out there with you and rely on those when the time is needed.
Q. What do you expect the atmosphere to be like Saturday night?
DeShone Kizer: Notre Dame football. It’s going to be the same way. We’re going to walk out. There are going to be 100,000 people surrounding the walkways as we walk into the stadium. The stadium is going to be packed as it has been the last 20-plus seasons. It’s going to be really loud. There are going to be some lights on and a lot of yelling, and we’ll try to play the same football we play anytime we’ve played at home and defend our house.
Q. With the history of this series, are you aware of the ’66 game with the 10-10 tie?
DeShone Kizer: Yeah, a little bit about it.
Q. Can you imagine playing in a game that basically decides the National Championship and the game ending in a tie?
DeShone Kizer: I don’t even know how to go about that. You know, to play in any game that determines a National Championship, put everything on the line, sort of like maybe a State Championship and both teams are undefeated, that’s a lot of pressure.
I’ve been in a State Championship, I’ve been in a couple big games and there is a lot of pressure on your back. But for it to end in something like a tie, it would be mind boggling. The only thing I can recall is a local high school team in north view playing against St. Ed’s back in Ohio in hockey in which they played a State Championship went to a countless amount of overtimes and ended in a tie that way. And all my friends that played on that North View hockey team still talk about it today, how they wanted to go back and continue to play, and continue to play, and the state deemed that it wasn’t safe for those guys to continue to be on the ice.
To see the frustration of those guys, I could only imagine what it would be to be in a National Championship with an rival in Michigan State versus Notre Dame.
Q. Are you personally looking at these types of games knowing it’s a night game, on national TV, and a lot of people are going to be watching top ranked teams in the country? Personally, do you look at it as a chance for you to shine and have your name out there with all the other top players around the country?
DeShone Kizer: No, no. Not at all. I look at it as an opportunity for this offense to take the things that we’ve learned in the last two games and put it into an environment like that. We are a team who has so much more in front of them. We are so young in the sense that we are leaving three touchdowns or four touchdowns out there in the last two games just based on execution errors.
If we can go out and execute the game plan and truly trust in the stuff these coaches are putting together, we’re going to be able to put up a lot more points than we already have. And we’re already scoring 35-plus points a game.
Q. Mentally, are you in a different place than where you were week one with what was going on with the quarterback situation?
DeShone Kizer: Not really. I’m trying to approach practice the same way I did when I wasn’t in competition. I think it bettered me. To take things rep by rep and not know if I’m the guy that’s going in for the next drive. It allowed me to focus in on executing that play and being rep focused, and being rep focused in night games against Michigan State is exactly what you have to be. Things may not be going well, but you’ll be required to step out there and execute the next play. Things might be going great, and you’ll still be required to step out there and make the next play.
My mentality against Texas is exactly my mentality now, and Malik Zaire is still out there playing great football in practice against me, and we’re competing as much as we were competing before Texas.
Q. I’m curious, what have you seen as far as the growth of Corey Holmes from a couple years ago to the kind of receiver he is now?
DeShone Kizer: Corey and I came in on a recruiting visit at the same time and hit it off right away. He’s everything I expected him to be as a player. He’s faster than anyone can be, he runs magnificent routes, and now he’s finally getting an opportunity to show it.
When you step in with guys like Torii Hunter and Will Fuller in front of you, it’s hard to maintain the confidence needed to catch balls in big situations. But he’s kept his eyes on the prize and is playing good ball. I’ve missed him on a couple free-access balls in the past game, and that kind of refers back to those opportunities where I could take the what the defense gave me to the front side rather than go back side and throw the perfect ball against maybe a slightly double-covered guy. And Corey was able to create the separation needed to throw those free access balls.
That goes to show how focused he was and how success-driven he is to be able to continue to develop himself behind two great front-side receivers.
Q. Coach Kelly was describing yesterday’s defense as taking away the big play and forcing teams to take the little plays and not allowing sustained drives. Can you speak to how that challenges you as a quarterback and how it tries your patience and the challenge that will present?
DeShone Kizer: There’s going to be opportunities for us to throw the ball down the field and we’ve got to take them when they come. At the same time, we’re going to have to be able to put together 10 to 15-play drives against this defense. They’re going to make sure that they keep everything in front of them. That’s kind of their philosophy.
But with that, once again, it goes to being rep focused and to being play-by-play focused rather than looking for the big home run ball or looking for that one play that’s going to give you the lead.
You’ve got to be able to focus in on understanding the play call and why it’s being called in. Not every play is meant to go for 100 yards and a touchdown. But it is meant to go for six yards and get you in front of the 60 to make the next play that’s supposed to go 94 yards for a touchdown. As long as you can focus in on that rep and executing what is in front of you in the play that’s being called in and understanding why it’s being called, it allows your patience to kind of settle down and not experience the anxiety that might come with playing against a team that wants to keep the ball in front of them.
Q. How long did it take you to develop that to where you weren’t always looking for the deep ball or the biggest option?
DeShone Kizer: It’s still – I’m still developing it. When you’re out there and you’re a competitor, you want to throw touchdowns every time you touch the ball. When you have receivers like we have, every time is an opportunity to throw a touchdown in your mind. If I can go out and throw 20 go balls and posts and switch releases and throwing the ball down the field every play, hey, if that’s a play call, I’m going to be excited to throw it every time.
But at the same time, what you have to do is just continue to trust in the play that’s being called in, to trust in the coaches who spend hours on hours all week putting together a game plan that is meant for a specific defense. And when they get plays rolling and us understand that one play reacts off of another one and you trust in that and you see the success that we’ve seen in the last year and a half, it makes it easier as a player to go out there and just play the play that called.
Q. Last year you guys played for the most part with three linebackers for triple-option teams and B.K. says now he wants to rotate in Asmar, Greer, as well as Te’von. What do each of those guys bring to the linebacking group, and how is it different to have a rotation versus just a set group of guys?
James Onwualu: Yeah, I think the rotation just helps because those guys are a little bit newer to the game, right. So you get ten snaps out of Te’von and then Asmar can give you another ten snaps. So using two linebackers like that can really help with freshness and keeping everybody involved in the game.
Also, I mean, they’re both very talented linebackers, right? You’re going to get different things out of both of them. So bringing them both into the game helps all of us.
Q. Just two games, how would you evaluate the linebackers group?
James Onwualu: I think the linebackers have played well. We need to do a little better job of controlling what’s going on around us, but I think we’re down hill. Nyles has been making plays, I’ve been making plays, and Te’von played well last week, and Greer the start of the week before that, I think he played pretty well. They both have things that clean up, and we all do. But I think overall the linebackers have played well.
Q. When you hear Michigan State week, what goes through your mind?
James Onwualu: For me, I mean, I played my freshman year, so I’m pumped to play them again. They’re fun to play against. They’re a hard-nosed team, and everybody’s been saying physical, physical, physical. But it’s true. I remember playing special teams against this team my freshman year, like I said. They don’t give up on any play.
Q. Broader perspective, what have you learned about what the rivalry means? You seem to have met more than 75 times in their history?
James Onwualu: Yeah, the rivalry is a great rivalry. When you have two teams that have tradition, no matter what teams they are, we play USC, we play Michigan, we play a lot of teams in the country that have unbelievable tradition. So whenever you have matched up against a team like that, you’re really just trying to put on for the University and play the best game you can.
Q. I’m doing a story about the history of the series. Are you aware of the ’66, 10-10 tie?
James Onwualu: A little bit, yeah.
Q. Can you imagine that was No. 1 versus No. 2 late in the season to basically decide a National Championship? Can you imagine playing for a National Championship and the game ending in a tie?
James Onwualu: No, I cannot. That would be very frustrating.
Q. You’ve been very active around the line of scrimmage. I think you have three tackles for loss. You’re on page for a heck of a number at the end of the year. How much better equipped are you physically now than when you first made that transition to defense?
James Onwualu: I think I’ve settled into my body a little bit. As a receiver, you don’t really have to maintain your body very much, honestly. You can be as skinny as you want, as long as you’re running fast and catching the ball, they don’t really care. On defense, on the other hand, you’re taking more hits, getting bruised up a little bit more. So it takes a toll on you. There was that transition, but I feel so comfortable in my body right now. Feel good at the weight I’m at, and I think it’s showing on the field.
Q. It seems like from day one after you moved to defense, Coach VanGorder was talking you up and really liked what you brought to the defensive side of the football. What, for a guy that was transitioning to the other side of the football, what did you do or what do you think was it that you did to impress him so much so quickly?
James Onwualu: I think it’s just my ability to learn as well as try to execute my job to the best of my ability. Just playing be physical along with all of that. Everybody talks about my size for the past however many years, but no matter how big I’ve been or what size I’ve been, I’ve been physical on every play. I think that’s what he’s liked and my execution side of it.
Q. How would you describe what your role and your responsibility is on this defense? What does BVG expect out of you on a weekly basis in game situations?
James Onwualu: Just coming from my specific position or as a leader?
Q. Specifically your position, your physical role.
James Onwualu: This year I’ve moved into a couple different roles. So I’ve played, you saw in Texas I was playing more of a rush linebacker up on the line. This past week playing some more Sam and just being more in my position. But out of the Sam position, just continuing to contain our defense and also give the quarterback different looks in the seam. So trying to help with the safeties, giving different coverage looks and also just pressure off the edge.
Q. Coach Kelly said that one of your big responsibilities as an edge guy is to make sure that things get funneled back to the middle of the field where obviously you’ll get help. Can you speak to that responsibility?
James Onwualu: Yeah, that’s probably my biggest responsibility. You let the ball get outside and we have a corner, pretty much, to end the play. So trying to turn the ball back inside to the rest of the guys who are running the ball is very important. You know, that’s kind of changed for me throughout the years. It’s still very important, but in previous years I’ve kind of tried to just set the edge and make sure the ball’s going back. Now I’m trying to set the edge and make a play. So it’s changed a little bit, but still the same job.
Q. You’re only one of six players who played in that 2013 game. Obviously a different position. But what do you remember about just overall Michigan State’s identity that year? How similar is it to what you’ve seen on film to this team?
James Onwualu: Very similar. I think they hold — that’s part of their culture at that university and within their team. Like everybody’s saying, the physicality part of it. I mainly played special teams as you guys know. So I remember their special teams being pretty tough. I mean their guys, a lot of teams show up and you can tell how the game’s going to go by and how their special teams played. So on the first kickoff, are they coming to knock my head off or are they trying to block me and see what happens? Michigan State is the kind of team that will play every single snap on special teams.
So I remember coming out of that game a little banged up. Felt physically tired and a lot of times playing special teams that doesn’t happen. So it says a lot about their team and the culture they have within their locker room.
Q. I think we kind of talked to you guys after the game Saturday about reestablishing your physical nature as a defense. When you’re going against a team like Michigan State, how important is that to have that physical nature as a defense?
James Onwualu: It’s important every single week. So we tried to have an emphasis on that no matter who we’re playing, but especially with a team like this. You’ve got to practice tough all week long, so that when Saturday comes long, you’re not just trying to flick the switch on. You’ve already been practicing like that every week.
Q. I want to ask you about Te’von. How do you think he came out of that game against Nevada? And going into this week, what have you seen out of him?
James Onwualu: He’s just trying to get better every single day, which is important. I think that he played well in the game. Could have had him play – there were some opportunities for him to make a couple more plays and he knows that. He knows he’s a game behind on tackles and he could have made up for that. He’s working every single day to learn how to make those plays and how to take that picture before the play begins so that he can.
Q. I’m sure you’ve been in games before, especially last year where you had a better performance in the second half defensively, is that settling in? I mean as a defense, not just you, is that part of settling in on defense? You held down Clemson in the second half. Ohio State didn’t score a touchdown in the final 20 minutes. How do you get guys to settle in faster against a physical team like that?
James Onwualu: I don’t know if it’s really the physicality about it when talking about settling in. I think a lot of offenses tried to give us a bunch of different looks in the first half. They go and they look and say these two worked, let’s go with this. You kind of saw it last week and they tried to throw a bunch. We were playing triple option out of nowhere. Obviously that didn’t work.
But teams try to throw a lot at you in the first half and then kind of go with their main stays in the second half, which is obviously what we kind of practice for. So settling in in that manner, yes. But physicality-wise I think it starts from the beginning of the game. In the second half I think that Notre Dame just lasts longer when we’re playing offenses.
Q. Obviously you’re at linebacker, but the secondary, losing another player this week with DeShone going down. What do you say to the guys in the secondary? Obviously a lot of youth back there. But to kind of be ready to go for a big game like this?
James Onwualu: Yeah, it’s next man in and no matter what season it is we’re always going to face things like this. It’s unfortunate to see a guy like Crawford go down just because he’s battled an injury already and he’s such a great player. So it’s unfortunate to see that and he will be missed. But just trying to get these guys to grow up pretty quick and make them realize how serious college football is.
Q. How much does it help going through the Texas game with the youthful team that you guys have gone through the experience of that really big-game atmosphere? Obviously, you lost the game, but everyone got that experience. How much does that help for the younger guys on the team, do you think?
James Onwualu: I think it helps a ton. They have an idea of how that game kind of goes. Just need to give them a little bit of a taste of how it feels to win a game like that. So I know we’re going to be playing four quarters against Michigan State this weekend, and hopefully they can learn how to win.
Q. What are you expecting the atmosphere to be like Saturday night under the lights of the stadium?
James Onwualu: I’m pumped to get back under the lights at home. It was fun to be back home last weekend and get the win. But there’s nothing like a night game or the first night game at Notre Dame Stadium. I think everyone’s going to be super pumped to be back, and especially playing Michigan State, two mid-west teams. So I’m pumped.
I think the stadium’s going to be rocking. Everybody keeps on saying that it’s louder. I don’t know if it’s because of the construction or what the deal is, but I kind of felt that as well.
Q. Mike, can you just kind of speak to what type of game you figure this will be based on watching Michigan State on film or any memories you have from a couple years ago? They’re known for being a grind-it-out, physical team?
Mike McGlinchey: Yeah, I think that’s exactly what we’re going to expect from Michigan State this week. They’re a hard-nosed, well-coached football team, and they’re going to do a fantastic job of competing and playing hard. That’s exactly what we’re going to do as well.
So based off of the film and the history of Michigan State football, it’s going to be a pretty physical football game. Obviously guys like me are champing at the bit for that.
Q. Just to take you down that road, can you express as a lineman or a guy that plays up front, do you relish these games a little more?
Mike McGlinchey: Absolutely. I mean, it’s why you play college football. At least that’s why I play college football. It’s a really great opportunity against a really great defensive front. It’s a special thing to be able to compete against Michigan State, especially at 7:30 in Notre Dame Stadium. So it’s going to be a fun one for sure, and it’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s exciting.
Q. I don’t know how you guys approach this in the sense that it’s the same or different than any other game. But nationally, if you guys were to beat a top 10 team, what do you think that would do for the profile of this program in the eyes of the people that watch and vote?
Mike McGlinchey: I think it would obviously help our cause. I think just winning football games in general will help our cause in terms of where we want to be in the polls. But, yeah, Michigan State is a talented football team; they’re well regarded across the country, and that would help our cause in terms of rankings and stuff like that. But that’s not what we’re focused on. We’re focused on just beating them and keep moving forward from there.
Q. (Mo Microphone)?
Mike McGlinchey: Yeah, I mean, that’s definitely been a huge thing for me personally is trying to keep building on my game and all of that. It was a challenge at first to try and put – because I’m not up here playing left tackle to fill the shoes of Ronnie Stanley and Zack Martin. If I try to do that, it’s probably not going to work out for me too well. So those guys were special players and I’m going to be hopefully a special player in my own right.
But I can’t focus on the expectations that are put on me because of the first two guys that have been here before me. Obviously there is an expectation when you’re the veteran and the captain and you have to know your job at all times and perform at the highest level. That’s what I’m trying to do each and every week. It’s a matter of focusing on what’s important and not those lofty expectations that will help me exceed them.
Q. (Mo Microphone)?
Mike McGlinchey: I thought I’ve been okay. Not great, but okay. I’m not where I want to be. Obviously, that’s the kind of thing that football is. It’s always a learning curve and it’s always a game that will throw you a curveball no matter who you’re playing or where you’re at, or no matter how much experience you have. It’s been – I’ve been good, not nearly where I want to be. Just going to keep getting better each and every day, each and every week, and that’s all I can do and that’s all I need to do.
Q. (Mo Microphone)?
Mike McGlinchey: It’s the same. Obviously there are still some things that I’m working out. My body mechanics and got to keep working on my technique and fundamentals. That’s a part of football each and every day. I was doing it at right tackle and I’m going to continue to do it at left as long as I play it. So you can’t ever get complacent because there are going to be days where something gets thrown off at practice and there’s going to be something that happens during a game that gets thrown off. So I have to just keep fine tuning every little part of the game and every little aspect of fundamentals, technique and scheme. There is so much to learn about football and it’s hard to master it and definitely not there yet and will continue to keep working.
Q. (Mo Microphone)?
Mike McGlinchey: Well there are things that happen during game day and you get beat. It’s not like practice where somebody’s yelling at you and coaching you up on how to do it. You have to figure it out yourself. You can’t focus on getting beat. Because if you focus on you got beat the last play, the next play’s not going to go the way you want it to either. So that’s one thing you’re never going to feel out during practice. I mean, obviously we do a pretty good job here of putting ourselves in that kind of situation, and the guy that coaches us definitely does that as well. But it’s going to be one of those things that until you actually feel getting beat in front of 81,000 people in front of your home crowd, you don’t have that feeling until you actually step on to the field.
In terms of the offensive line, we’re going to continue to work. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some things that we didn’t like as well. It’s just going to keep growing each and every day at practice and getting that experience each and every week.
Q. During your time here, what have you learned about this Notre Dame-Michigan State rivalry? What does it mean to you?
Mike McGlinchey: I mean, it’s a huge one. From what I can remember, I was only here for one other game other than this year, and that was in 2013. That was my true freshman year. We won I think 17-13 was the score. It was one of those hard-fought battles. I think we wound up being their only loss that year after they won the Rose Bowl. So it’s a strong rivalry. Obviously it’s one that you get up for.
We’re really excited to play them. It’s going to be a really tough, physical football game and it’s two national power that get to Duke it out in the midwest.
Q. I guess when Coach Kelly says it’s Michigan State week, as an offensive lineman, what’s going through your mind?
Mike McGlinchey: It means you better get yourself ready to start hitting some people. We’re going to have to move people off the ball. We’re going to have to be on our assignment. They play hard, they bring some pressure, and it’s just a classic Michigan State defense. Like I said to Pete over there, that’s why you play college football as an offensive lineman is for a game like this. It’s not every week you get to play against guys that they’re not trying to sugar coat what they’re doing. They’re going to lineup and play and see what you’ve got, and that’s what’s fun about it.
Q. Kind of in that same vein, I’m guessing Michigan State went pretty vanilla in their first game against Furman. Is there anything you can just look at given the program that Mark Dantonio has and the kind of defense that they always seem to have that maybe helps you prepare as opposed to just looking at this one game of film against an FBS team?
Mike McGlinchey: I mean, there’s film from last year and years before that. We kind of know what Michigan State does and we’ll figure that out as the week goes on of where we need to be and what we’re going to be seeing. We’re going to have a great game plan because we have great coaches upstairs. It’s up to the players to execute the game plan and see what’s in front of you and play ball.
That is the kind of game this is going to be, because, like I said, they’re not going to hide anything from us. They’re going to lineup to see if we can play ball with them, and that’s what it’s about. I’m pretty confident that we’ve got the team in our locker room that’s capable of holding up to the challenge and giving them a run for their money. We’ll see what happens.
Q. I know you’re more of an interior guy, but what do you see out of Malik McDowell that makes him a good player?
Mike McGlinchey: He’s a physical talent and a freak. He’s very good at getting off blocks and using his length and power to make some offensive linemen have some nightmares about him. He’s going to be a great player, but we’ve got some good offensive linemen up front that are preparing hard this week. It comes down to how you execute and use your fundamentals.
Q. Are you aware of the ’66 game?
Mike McGlinchey: The 10-10 tie?
Mike McGlinchey: Yes, I am.
Q. Can you imagine playing in a game, 1 versus 2, basically deciding the National Championship ending in a tie?
Mike McGlinchey: No, because that would absolutely drive me in insane. It was 1 versus 2, and the game ends in a tie, I don’t know if I’d be able to stomach that one as well. At least give me the feeling of a loss and not what could have been. So that’s frustrating.
But, yeah. Actually we had a story George Goeddeke who was an offensive lineman here in the ’60s, and he came back and told us that story a couple summers ago. It’s just kind of wild to hear the tradition and stuff that we have here and they have up there that’s just so special and it’s why you come to the schools that you come to to play in games like this and carry on the legacy that guys like that have set before us. It’s really exciting.
I mean, but, yeah. 10-10 tie deciding a National Championship would probably get under my skin for quite a while.
Q. I was just curious, one of DeShone’s strengths is his composure. At the end of a tight game like the Texas game, for example, what’s it do for you guys when you’re in the huddle and you see somebody composed and you see his actions on the field?
Mike McGlinchey: I think that’s what everybody kind of needs to do in order to win a game. Because if you’re sitting down there at Texas and you’re freaking out in the second overtime, you’re probably not going to be able to execute your job or use your technique of what the coach is teaching to accomplish the goal that you really want.
So if you start focusing on things that are outside of your control or things that really aren’t going to help you do what you need to do on that specific play, it’s probably going to cost you. So it definitely helps us in a big way to see the guy who is at our helm just acting like it’s another play. That’s exactly what you need to do in this game. It’s exactly what we all need to do as a team is buckle down, get back to basics and then focus on our specific job for that play and not the outcome of the game. Because if you worry about that, there is a good shot you don’t get it done.
Q. Last year on offense you guys had a lot of local veterans, Ronnie, Nick. Has DeShone’s leadership style changed at all or evolved at all over the past year now that he’s one of the more experienced guys?
Mike McGlinchey: I don’t think so. I think that’s a good thing. I think that he’s been a very — he’s done a very good job of being the same guy that he was, and he think that’s what makes him a great leader is because he doesn’t change because he’s the big guy on campus. He’s the starting quarterback. He’s had God knows how many touchdowns already this season. And that’s a testament to his character about how composed and normal he stays. That’s a part of what makes a leader a great leader is being that same guy, that consistent guy every single day, and that’s what DeShone has done a fantastic job of since he took over last year.