Oct. 15, 2000
JOHN HEISLER: Just one quick note, kickoff this weekend in Morgantown will be at noon Eastern time, that is 11 o’clock here in South Bend. That was confirmed late yesterday afternoon. Coach Davie is here. He will make some opening comments, then he will take questions.
COACH DAVIE: I think after looking at the tape that we are making some progress.
I felt offensively we really did some good things, probably played a little bit better offensively than I thought during the game. I thought Matt LoVecchio struggled a little bit at times in the fact that he missed a couple of reads, didn’t throw the football where he was supposed to a couple of times.
The first pass of the game he didn’t make a great throw. But by and large as the afternoon went on I think he got better and he did make some plays. I thought our running backs, all three of them, played pretty good.
Julius Jones, I thought looking at the tape played, better than I thought during the game.
Tony Fisher ran the ball well. He had the big catch on the wheel rout for a touchdown.
Then Terrance Howard I thought really ran hard at the end of the game. So three of those tailbacks had solid days.
Our tight ends we got involved, you know, Dan O’Leary made a great catch on the touchdown pass. The ball probably shouldn’t have been thrown. Matt through it in between them, about three guys, and Danny used his body and made the catch.
Jabari made a catch, had a decent run. Also dropped an opportunity that he probably could make that catch. But the tight ends were involved and I thought were fairly productive.
Offensive line, played pretty solid. I got a chance to play a lot of different players on the offensive line which is good.
I thought our wide receivers — we dropped one ball. Joey Getherall dropped one, but they played pretty good. Certainly the catch Jay Johnson made and the throw Gary Godsey made was a big-time play.
So offensively I thought the balance of running pass was really good. I thought we were pretty good. I thought we played pretty good.
We still have a ways to go in the area of consistency. We still have a ways to go in taking advantage of opportunities we have because we didn’t take advantage of every opportunity.
As far as turnovers, we had the one turnover before the half. That was a very, very poor decision. Fortunately they came back and missed the field goal and we survived that. But, you know, as you play down the stretch, playing against really good teams, that you have to take advantage of your opportunities. You cannot make silly mistakes.
So I thought we made a step in the right direction. I think we have got some diversity and I think overall we executed a little bit better.
Defensively, I thought we really played well. We were sloppy at times, particularly it was so obvious to everyone at the end of the football game, you know, to be honest it is embarrassing to have that happen after you have kids play so hard and play so aggressive throughout the game and then you just give them two touchdowns at the end.
But any time you play against them, you know, the formations are so different, when you put some young guys in and they haven’t played a lot, we just got confused a little bit and turned a guy loose.
But overall, I thought our defense really played an aggressive game. We changed our plan against the wishbone. We played something different. We have researched it for a year, looked at a lot of different things. Where we go with it, we have Air Force in two weeks and it is hard to play the same thing two weeks in a row against academies because they do such a great job.
But it gives us another little package to play with, but I thought overall it was really an aggressive defensive performance. Tony Driver’s two fumble recoveries. First one he made a great move, picked that ball off the ground, made the guy miss.
Second one, the ball bounced off the pitch back shoulder pads, he ran it in.
Kicking game not much of a factor yesterday, not many opportunities. Kickoff coverage was good. Kickoff return, the one chance we had, we did a poor job. Punt returns not great opportunities. We got a little bit of yardage there. We made the field goal, made the extra points. Punt team was pretty good. The protection and the coverage was pretty good.
So not a whole lot of opportunities in the kicking game, but any time you can come out a game with the academy and not have a punt blocked or reverse run on you on a punt or some kind of trick play against you, you feel pretty good.
So it was a pretty solid performance. Now we have got to get better, but I think we have an opportunity to get better.
We are pretty healthy. The injury report I would say Jay Johnson is doubtful. Really we expect to have everyone else back. Javin Hunter, I think, will be back, although he really he didn’t play at all yesterday. As you know, he struggled before the game, so he has got a ways to go. But I think he will probably be back depending on how it goes this week.
Ron Israel didn’t play a whole lot, with some groin pulls that has been kind of a chronic thing. We need to get him healthy.
Joey Getherall has a bit of a shoulder. He dove on a pass. He is probable.
Kurt Vollers sprained his ankle. Probably by Wednesday he will be practicing.
But we are really in pretty good shape. And this is a big week for us. With no school, going down to Morgantown and playing, which is a difficult place to play and I think they are a really good football team, West Virginia.
So it is a big week, but we are really in a pretty good position right now as far as being healthy. I think we are getting better. I think we are a pretty good football team. And this is a big, big week for us of preparation.
Q. You talked yesterday about how good it has been to have everybody back this year, Driver and Brock Williams. It seems like your team has utilized its togetherness as almost a 12th man this year. Is that an accurate assessment that they are just playing more together and picking each other up a little bit?
COACH DAVIE: I think that is probably accurate.
I really like the spirit of this team which I had liked, you know, since the summer. I think the camaraderie of this team is excellent and it has been a team that has been a low-maintenance team from the standpoint of every day they show up excited to play. And I think you can — I think you can see that in their style of play. They enjoy playing the game.
And certainly guys like Brock Williams, you know, he is worth his weight in gold what he brings to the table from a leadership standpoint, from a spirit standpoint. He is a competitive guy and it is contagious.
But I think that is accurate, you know, it is a team that realizes that it has to play as well as it is capable of playing each and every week, but the bottom line is to have fun playing. And there is no way you can hide that, or no way you can create that. They legitimately enjoying playing football, that is why they are fun to be around and fun to coach.
Q. You have talked from the beginning about how you feel like the last six games of the season are going to be the most important stretch for your team. Is there any sense of relief at getting past all the hype and getting to maybe a little bit — not necessarily easier, but quieter game where you can concentrate more on the coaching and less on all the, you know, outside stuff?
COACH DAVIE: Well, there is always issues. That is just the reality of being a college football coach and being a coach at a place like Notre Dame. There is always going to be issues.
I wouldn’t say that there is any less issues now just because we are through the part of our schedule that everyone had so much conversation about prior to the season. So that is why you try to stay on an even keel and not get too excited about things.
There is that old saying around here that things are never as good as they seem and they are never as bad as they seem. Reality is somewhere in the middle. And is that is how I try to approach every week.
Q. Was there any thought of playing Jared Clark yesterday when things got a little out of hand?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, we did. We discussed that on the sidelines and, you know, for a couple of reasons we didn’t.
No. 1, I think Gary Godsey is the backup quarterback right now and every opportunity he can have in a game will maybe help us down the road.
Second of all, you are still in that situation of should you play him or not. Just to try to, you know, if he is in a position four years >from now, maybe apply for a fifth year, you know, you like to keep that option open for a young man. You think that is in his best interest.
So for those two reasons, and also Gary Godsey being from Tampa, we decided not to do it.
Q. What is the status right now as far as how much can somebody play without losing a year of eligibility?
COACH DAVIE: You really can’t play at all. The only way that you could be granted an extra year if you have played, would be in the case of Grant Irons and really Arnaz Battle, I think you must be injured — you must be injured the first three games. It has to be a season-ending injury that has happened in the first three games. So if you play in the 11th football game and you came in in the last play of the game, you’ve lost a year because that was not in the first three games of the year and you weren’t injured.
We have had that happen before. As you know, John Merandi last year I think had played in four football games his freshman year. Jerry Wisne had played in just a few football games. I thought we did those kids an injustice, to be honest, by throwing them in games at times. Emmett Mosley was a young guy I think that had the same situation, played maybe a play or two as a freshman.
I think we can do a better job as coaches of being conscious of that and trying to keep those guys in a position where in fact if they can apply and receive a fifth year that they have eligibility left.
Q. With the 85 scholarship limit now, does that put you guys as coaches up against the wall more trying to make that decision when to play people when you start to lose players?
COACH DAVIE: No, I don’t think it does because the bottom line in any of those decisions, if you think a young man can help you win a football game, you are going to play him. So it really takes care of itself.
Certainly if we thought Jared Clark could have helped us yesterday or if there is a point down the road where Jared Clarke would be better for having played a couple of plays, we would have certainly have done it. That is always our first priority is to help us win.
Q. Two things about the quarterback situation – Godsey and the offense, the expected — some problems with the crowd noise and general pandemonium at Michigan State. Where LoVecchio with that and the offense in general?
COACH DAVIE: That is probably a good point because I expect Morgantown, based on my past experiences down there, to be extremely loud. And one thing that you can do, the thing you can’t control, is to play well enough that you kind of take the crowd out of the game by your performance.
You really don’t know. I would like to think that Matt LoVecchio now with several weeks of experience, it is a little bit easier for us. I don’t think we are as spooked as we were going up to Michigan State. We probably overevaluated that situation a little bit in the fact we talked ourselves out of doing some things.
So I think we are a little further along right now offensively and I think our quarterbacks are a little further along and I’d like to think we are better. We will try to get some crowd noise out there this week on those amplifiers, but the bottom line, we won’t know until Saturday but I can tell you this: We are not going to go into it paranoid about it. We are going to go play our game and not try to make things so complicated.
Q. Follow-up to that, some quarterbacks with all kinds of natural ability never do get to see the field as completely as some other quarterbacks with less talent. Where is LoVecchio on that and the rest of your quarterbacks in general?
COACH DAVIE: I think, you know, Matt LoVecchio yesterday did really some good things, but there is still a concern being frank that there were some situations that he didn’t take total advantage of. That is probably due to his youth and his inexperience.
But as he progresses, we will find out because, as you mentioned, some guys really do have that intangible knack of being able to see things a little bit quicker than other guys. But the reason Matt LoVecchio is the quarterback now it is not because he is the most talented, even of those freshmen quarterbacks, but he is a guy right now at this stage in his career, in comparison to those other freshman quarterbacks, that does see things better than they do. But he has a long way to go.
You are still a little bit nervous at times. I was nervous yesterday looking at the tape, there were some things that he didn’t take advantage of, that I know against, you know, maybe a little different team he is going to have to take advantage of.
Q. I have got a big-picture-type question here. There seems to be more and more overtime games this year. We had another slew of them yesterday. You guys played Nebraska, obviously, but what do you think of the rule? Has it changed end-of-game-strategies? Do you guys actually practice for this situation? What do you think of the whole situation?
COACH DAVIE: First of all, I am glad that when you walk out of that stadium there is going to be a winner and a loser. And I kind of like it because, really, with these guys playing eleven football games a year, having played a whole football game in the situation of leading up to overtime, I wouldn’t want to do it any other way than put the ball on the 25 and keep the number of reps hopefully down at the end of football game to avoid injuries. I kind of like it.
It is something that we do practice. It is kind of difficult to practice, but you spend some time as coaches just on the strategy involved. In other words, you would always want to go on defense first, so that you know what you have to do offensively when you get the ball.
So I think most coaches around the country are the same. We probably all practice those scenarios, and I know, speaking for myself, personally, you know, I like it.
Q. How about as far as end-of-game-situations when as opposed to the old days when you might have gone for two with a chance to win, now most coaches will kick the point if they are down by one in that situation, does that — is that something that you — do you ever think — have you ever been in a situation where you have gone for a win at the end of regulation rather than play for overtime or do you think that is kind of passe anymore?
COACH DAVIE: No, I think that is a big, big decision and that is not one of those decisions that I think you can sit in there on Wednesday or Thursday of the game week and say: Okay, what will we do if we are in this situation. You do that to a degree, but it is kind of like the decision we had at the end of the Nebraska game of not throwing the football at the end of the game and risking getting a punt blocked. So much of how the flow of the game has gone — you know, in relating it to our situation against Nebraska, I wanted us to keep playing because I felt like, to some degree, we had gained momentum and our defense was playing really well and we would have a chance to beat them as long as we gave our players a legitimate opportunity to play it out and not turn the ball over in doing something we really weren’t comfortable doing by trying to throw it.
So I think the same scenario comes down to the end of the game. If you are down by 1 and you score — you scored and you are down by 1, if you feel confident about playing that thing out and, getting it into overtime, that you are playing better than the other team at that time, you kick the extra point and tie it. If you feel like you are very, very fortunate to even be that close, then you probably try to go for two and win the whole thing right there because you don’t want to continue play.
I think it comes down to the situation and how the flow of the game is going. But I always like to leave the game in the players’ hands and like for us against Nebraska, I didn’t think it was fair to our players to ask them to throw the football at the end when everybody in the stadium knew we had to throw it. And I think the same thing would be true in trying to convert a two-point play. The percentages of that is not real high in college football of how many times you can convert >from the three-yard line. So you are rolling the dice a little bit by trying to get a two-point play to win the game, but if you feel like that is the only way you can win it, then you go ahead and do it.
Q. In listening to you and hearing Kevin yesterday, it seems the assessment or the evaluation on Matt is getting a little more critical. Are you guys expecting more of him in being more, you know, he talked about his mass footwork not being right, are you being more —
COACH DAVIE: You are exactly right. Now he is no longer a freshman. Right now he is in the position where he has to lead this football team and there is no excuses. He is the quarterback and we said that last week coming in here as — I thought we got more consistency in our plan. So we made some steps.
But I also think our quarterback, you know, the first play of the game, he bounces that ball out there. He had an opportunity, threw the swing to Tony Fisher where the curl to Joe Getherall on third and 9 was wide open. He made the throw at the end of the first half. We probably shouldn’t have put him in that position – not a great call to throw the ball there, but, you know, scramble a little bit, use the clock, don’t throw it into traffic.
The touchdown pass to Danny O’Leary – should that have been thrown? Well, results say it should have been because we caught it but to do it again, I am not sure with three guys on him. A lot of things like that, you know, and our little decide play he missed a read. Should have given the ball one time when he kept it on the little boot and got sacked.
And on our play-action fakes we are not as clean as they should be. So if you are evaluating him as a freshman, playing his second game, you live with those things and you say — you pat him on the back and you say, okay, we will get better next time. But I think for this football team right now, we realize that for us to get to where we want to get, we can’t treat him like a normal freshman.
We need to expedite this process and that is what we are doing. We are trying to really raise our standard a little bit and go. I think he is a guy that will really react to that.
Q. Do you reevaluate Arnaz this week (inaudible)?
COACH DAVIE: The plans right now are to x-ray Arnaz and see if there has been some significant healing and then take it step by step from that point on.
Right now he will not play against West Virginia or Air Force. I know that. And obviously I don’t know that he would play any time down the line, but I do know that he is not going to play against West Virginia and Air Force.
Q. One other thing, I didn’t see Mike McNair there yesterday, was he hurt?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, Mike McNair Thursday injured his hip flexor and he was in today again for treatment. He is going a little bit better. He would be questionable, 50/50 for the game.
Q. After looking at the tape you mentioned evaluating Matt, but what about some of the other younger guys that played, do they earn more playing time after seeing what they can do?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, the great thing about this game is we had an opportunity to play a lot of younger players and I was impressed. I thought Terrance Howard did some really good things. I thought some of our young offensive linemen. I thought J.W. Jordan came in and played about 15 plays and was really solid.
I thought Casey Robin played well at times. Brennan Curtin played. Sean Milligan, a young guy, his first time in the game played pretty well. I thought Chris Yura came in, we put him at tailback. He has not practiced at tailback at all. He did some good things.
Defensively I thought Cedric Hilliard and Derrick Campbell both played really well and it looks like they have earned some more playing time. So other than the mistakes we made in the secondary at the end, it was really pretty positive with the young guys.
Q. What about the freshmen receivers because with Jay going to be doubtful and even Javin (inaudible)–
COACH DAVIE: Omar Jenkins is in the rotation. Omar Jenkins played yesterday. We are going to take Lorenzo Crawford and bring him up and give him reps with the varsity and take him off the scout squad. Ronnie Rodamer I think is a little bit behind right now, but Lorenzo Crawford and Omar Jenkins, there is an opportunity that both those young guys will play in the West Virginia game.
COACH DAVIE: I think all three of our linebackers are playing well. They are active guys, very athletic and they are play-makers. I think the thing Rocky Boiman has done is, No. 1, he lost some weight since last year. He played at 245, probably playing at 235 this year. He is aggressive football player and I think we are doing a pretty good job of putting him in some different situations to make plays.
If you noticed yesterday, he really played the whole game as a defensive end. He really didn’t play linebacker. Tyreo Harrison I think is someone that has made a lot of improvement. Anthony Denman is really a good football player, really a hard-nosed football player. So all three of them were making plays. The key for us is to keep them healthy, although Carlos Pierre Antoine played a little bit yesterday, Courtney Watson played a little bit. And also Mike Goolsby played some on special teams.
COACH DAVIE: I think we are through the phase of being so tight that we are going to play the game in a box. I think it still comes down to fundamentals and protecting the football and being smart. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do some creative things and have some diversity in our offense. It is just being intelligent about what you do and making good decisions.
Certainly we are going to be conscious of all of those things because, just as you said, the No. 1 statistic of this team is not turning the football over. That has allowed us to play better defense as far as points per game. So that is always the priority, but it is like we can take the handcuffs off a little bit, I think, as long as the quarterback continues to respond.
Q. Other than the personnel problems last year in the last four games defensively, especially, was there any underlying thing that you are watching for this year that you are preparing for or in that last —
COACH DAVIE: Stay healthy. Stay healthy. I mean, let us think back, you know, Clifford Jefferson played every snap of every game, special teams. I mean, we had no bodies left. We were out of guys. And that is what I am guarding against – trying to keep this football team healthy and keep them together, because that is really what it came down to at the end of last season.
Q. You talked earlier this season that you couldn’t get some younger players in because games were so close. Is that what you hope for now — you can’t plan to have them, but is this the type of game that you hope to get so you can get these young guys in —
COACH DAVIE: Yeah.
Q. — so you can guard against injuries?
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, and I think not only guard against injuries, but I think a bigger point would be in the case of injuries, you have some players that have played that now have experience. That is the biggest thing. And you can see — and I talked to our players about this after the game — when young guys go in the game for the first time, there is a bit of a panic and we even had things with Courtney Watson and Carlos Pierre in there, linebacker, where mistakes breed mistakes. We are a little bit late getting out of the huddle – like we were so nonchalant, I mean, it was like a Tuesday afternoon out on a practice field just breaking the huddle there at the end of the game, so by the time we got the call and the corner turned, he didn’t recognize that there was a receiver outside him. So the corner is the one that gets blamed, but the whole thing started because we were just so nonchalant getting out of the huddle. That is why young guys need to play in the games.
I think our entire football team has a responsibility to play well enough so that that can happen. It was good yesterday to get those guys in and, you know, it is funny how Sunday or last Monday my first message to our players was that those guys that practice so hard for the Stanford game that didn’t get in the Stanford game, that is who I appeal to, to do the same thing again this week. That is the chemistry of your team and the unselfishness of your team for those guys that don’t play as much as they thought they might get to play to be able to rally the next week and practice with the same urgency they had. Those are the things that you address every week as a football coach. But it sure helps to get them in the game and give them a reward. In the case of Cedrid Hilliard, you know, he took advantage of his opportunities. He is going to be really a good football player for us. Daryl Campbell took advantage of his opportunities and did some good things.
So you feel a little bit better and they feel better about themselves. And that is one of the issues, I think with playing — there is so many things that go into who you play and that is another thing, when you play a real competitive schedule early in the season, compared to teams that don’t play a competitive schedule, they have got an advantage on you because they are getting a lot of guys in that game when you are not and that affects so many things, not to mention “Chemistry,” but just the development of your team.
So I think it is not just a case of who you play. It is a lot of times when you play them and, you know, you look at us late last season when we ran out of guys, there is a lot of things that factor into that. We had a pretty tough stretch of the games last year. We beat Oklahoma here in this stadium last year. We beat Arizona State and Southern Cal and not to mention, we played Michigan, Michigan State,, Purdue, and then Tennessee. So there is a lot of reasons you ran out of gas at the end of that season that are pretty complex issues.
But the whole focus on this year was to not run out of gas at the end of the season because the year before last, we were a 9 and 1 football team. We were a pretty good football team. We were a 5 and 3 three team last year that went to Tennessee and then ran out of gas late in the season. So before we start putting the whole doomsday cast on this whole Notre Dame football program, let’s realize we have been pretty successful.
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