Oct. 10, 2007
Q. For any of you guys, can you just talk about the mood in practice, maybe the confidence level increasing, getting that first win, how exciting it’s been over the last couple of days?
Travis Thomas: The morale is high after finally getting the monkey off our back and getting the first win on the board. We are practicing hard and the schedule is the same. We are going out with the intent to practice to win and not just practice to practice, and that’s the approach we’re taking this week.
John Carlson: I would say that even last week, we were 0-5 at the time, we had the best week of practice we’ve had all season, and possibly the whole time we’ve been here. But I think even though we haven’t been producing on the field necessarily on Saturdays, we’ve still managed to maintain our confidence level and our energy level in practice. So this week really isn’t any different than last week.
John Sullivan: In some ways it’s like John (Carlson) said, we’ve been consistent in practice with how we’ve approached things and keeping a positive attitude. I feel it is important to the guys that we got the monkey off our back as Travis said and got that first win out of the way. Obviously it was a great job by the entire team, the offensive side of the ball didn’t turn it over and the defense really played outstanding. Winning games makes everything more enjoyable in practice. That’s just the way it is.
Q. Following up on that, what did it mean to you guys firstly, and finally to get the win and you come back, and you want to obviously have a good season and finally get that first win, what did it mean?
John Sullivan: I think it was a big step for our team. For the perspective of a fifth-year guy and from the perspective of a freshman, they might be different. But at the same time we’re all members of the football team here at Notre Dame and we are all trying to achieve the same goal which is to win. I can’t lie; it felt amazing. It was a great feeling. I don’t think we’ve won, in what, seven games, so it had been a long time. So that win felt pretty good.
John Carlson: I think considering the youth that we have on this team, it was important to get this win so they would have that feeling. We’ve (fifth-year seniors) been here long enough that we’ve been through up and downs and we know how to react to every situation. But to get that win for the young players that we have on this team was really important.
Travis Thomas: Following along with what John said, we’ve been through a lot of trials and tribulations and ups and downs and the one thing that was good was to get that feeling back to kind of remind you what it’s like to win and hold on to that every week so that you don’t have any setbacks and to work towards that feeling every week.
Q. Can you talk about the offense, how it came from the defense, being able to get the turnovers, and do you see the offense regress a little bit from the Purdue game a little bit in the second half or do you guys stand on the offensive production?
John Carlson: Looking at the game we didn’t produce a lot of points and we didn’t get a lot of yards but we did take care of the football. When the defense causes seven turnovers and we don’t turn the ball over, the chances of us winning are pretty good. We had a big drive that turned the field over, we were backed up on the one yard line and we pushed it out to about the 50. We had a good punt that really changed field position. And like I said we didn’t turn the ball over. Those are a couple of keys to winning the game; did we produce enough, or did we produce as much as we wanted? Probably not. But that’s kind of what the game dictated.
John Sullivan: I agree with John. I don’t think the offense regressed. If someone wants to say that and that’s what it takes for us to win, then I hope we regress every single week and keep on winning. But I mean, we did certain things in the game well. Like John said, it was a field position game last week a lot of the time, and you know, we know how our defense is going to do a good job, going out there, not having to three and outs and getting some downs was important. We didn’t turn the ball over, which was great, and I think we are better in short yardage situations last week. I just think guys kept fighting and UCLA has got a really good defense and they have a lot of really good players and they are very athletic. I still think we won the game and that it was a step in the right direction.
Q. Can you guys talk about the rush defense of Boston College, obviously one of the better ones in the country? What makes them good and what have you seen from them that makes them so good?
John Carlson: They have always had this mentality that they are going to be physical and tough and just try to go hit people, smack people in the mouth. They have got a lot of big guys up front and their linebackers are really physical, and like I said, they play with that mentality. It’s going to be a physical game and I think we’re looking forward to the opportunity.
John Sullivan: The other thing I think you can see on tape, because like John says, is they are big and they are very physical, they play with a lot of confidence, too. Just watching them on tape, it seems like the team knows they are going to take care of their assignments on every play. I’m looking forward to the game on Saturday and I think it’s going to be a big challenge and you have to be thankful to play against an opportunity that’s ranked No. 3 or 4 in the country and deserves to be so. I think Boston College is a great team and I think we have a big challenge ahead of us.
Q. How important is it for you guys to get more production again this week for the team, just because of how good they are versus maybe circumstances of last week’s game? Can you just talk about that?
Travis Thomas: As an offense, your goal is to be productive and outscore the opponent. However many points that’s needed to win this game, we are up for the challenge and we have that in mind. Our goal like John and John said, is to come out and play a physical game, and more importantly get a fast start and get some points on the board and get the ball rolling and get the momentum on your court.
John Carlson: Obviously they have got a great quarterback and a potent offense. If we can help out the defense by staying on the field longer, making drives, scoring points, it’s going to be in our favor. But ultimately what we need to produce will be dictated by just the course of the game and you can never predict what that’s going to be. Weather conditions could be a factor in that. Hopefully it will be like this today like it is on Saturday. We want to be productive and help the defense.
John Sullivan: That’s always the goal. We’re going to need to score points this weekend and we know that. That’s always the goal is to score points. Of course, we cannot overlook the things we did well last week. We cannot turn the ball over; we know that. We can’t do anything to hurt ourselves. We need to play well.
Q. John Sullivan, being a New England guy, what does this game mean to you? I know Greenwich (Connecticut) is a lot closer to New York than Massachusetts.
John Sullivan: I don’t think it’s much that I’m from New England. I don’t feel a lot of New England connection to Boston College. Maybe a lot of people from Massachusetts do, but I really have no personal ties there. I did go up there for a recruit day, and it was a finalist besides Notre Dame. The schools are very similar. They are both very good academic schools. There’s no personal ties there or significance like that.
Q. Do you think that Notre Dame and Boston College should play every year, considering the ties that are there?
John Sullivan: You know, I think it’s a great rivalry. I know there are extenuating circumstances to schedule making that I know nothing about, but yeah, you know, I think it’s a great rivalry for college football. It’s two programs with a lot of integrity. And to play at the highest level year in and year out — yeah, I think it’s a good rivalry for college football.
Q. John, last week we asked you about the pass blocking and getting a better rhythm and, you said in some ways it was guys thinking less about fundamentals or techniques and just going out and hitting somebody. Does the same logic hold true in run blocking or is the solution there a little bit different in?
John Sullivan: It’s the same thing. You’ve just got to go out and you’ve got to fight. Fundamentals and techniques are very important. They have to be there. You obviously are not going to win on a consistent basis without those things. But at the same time, you’re not going to win with just fundamentals and techniques and you’re not going to win with just fighting. There’s got to be a combination of both. I think for the first couple of games, the guys were all focused on “I don’t want to mess up” and “I don’t want to have something there’s a glaring reason why I wasn’t able to make a block.” I think the fight was missing a little bit. Not because guys are not aggressive, but because guys were trying not to make mistakes by having perfect fundamentals. I think we’ve gone out in the past two weeks, maybe the second half of Purdue and this past week at UCLA, they have been fighting and the fight isn’t missing anymore, and I think the offense has improved because of it.
Q. Do you feel you’ve settled into a rhythm in the passing game whereas the running game, you’re still searching for something? How do you see that?
John Sullivan: I don’t know, we’ve had games where we’ve had success throwing the ball. We had some games where we’ve had more success running the ball than throwing the ball. So I feel like within pass protection, I think we’re in more of a rhythm than we’ve ever been before, and I think that’s something that we have to continue to get better at practice, too. And I think it will get better each week from here on out. We do need to get the running going and we do need to find a groove for that. We work hard in practice and we give it everything we’ve got, but it’s something that has to be done on Saturday, so, we’ll see.
Q. Obviously Mo (Maurice Crum Jr.) had a huge game on Saturday against UCLA and talking to guys about him, (head coach) Charlie (Weis) mentioned to us the other day that he may take losses harder or as hard as anybody on this team. Have you guys found that to be true, and what do you see as a leader from him?
Travis Thomas: Well, being a fellow linebacker with him last year, he takes a lot upon himself — someone who gives his all in every play and he is ultimately responsible for something that happens on defense because he feels like he can and should make every play. So I think that’s something that should be very catchy on this team, something that should be emerging and someone should take upon themselves to take responsibility for what they do and, you know, go all out.
John Carlson: It’s obvious being a linebacker, he plays with a lot of passion and he plays with a tremendous amount of desire and he really, works harder, works as hard as anyone on this team. It really makes you happy as a teammate to see him have a game like he had, because he cares so much about this team and about this game, and it’s just fun to see him succeed and make plays. Just everything he brings to the table, that’s a testament to him, to his character, and to his devotion to this team.
Q. Some of the younger players said they kind of respond or take note when they see a veteran really take things personal when things are going poorly and that gets them mentally in line with the leadership and what you guys demand. Is that important for you guys as captains to show some of these younger guys that losing should hurt and you should feel down about it?
John Carlson: I think it is important. I’m not sure about the number of freshmen we have playing, but I know it’s really true freshman. They are 18, 19 years old, and this is their first experience at the college level, and they haven’t been here nearly as long as we have. Just by that fact alone, I don’t think it’s possible for them to have as much invested in the game and the season as we have. That doesn’t mean they are not on the same page as us or whatever, but I think it is important for them to see how we react to losing and how we don’t think it’s acceptable.
Q. John Carlson, you mentioned Boston College and the toughness that they play with and the mentality that they have. Where does that come from? Is that geographical or what do you attribute that to?
John Carlson: I have no idea where it comes from, but I know it’s there. Just my experience playing them and watching them on film, they are going to hit you every play. Last week, we played against a team that was real fast and athletic. These guys might not necessarily be as fast, but they are big and physical and tough and they are going to hit you on every play. We know that we really need to bring the lunch pail this week.
Q. Where are you as a team when it comes to that mentality and that toughness? Obviously Coach Weis went back to a more physical brand of practice, but where are you guys with that in this program?
John Sullivan: I think that’s a style of football that we like and we enjoy playing. I think we welcome a physical challenge like that, and it has helped that we have gone back to a — for a while with the training camp, one versus one mentality whatever you want to call it, we have very physical challenges, so I think that’s a style of football — and that we would enjoy playing.
Q. And you said something about by watching tape of BC, you could see the confidence that they play with. What are some of the telltale signs?
John Sullivan: Just the way that they have guys making plays right now and they have people executing. And you can tell that they are passionate about what they do. One guy will go make a hit and celebrate with their teammates. Their defense is playing with a lot of confidence. And plus the fact that they are playing really well, so how could they not be confident? It’s kind of an indication they are playing with confidence right now.
Q. The shotgun snaps you’ve had when you have had some difficulties — what do you attribute it to or is it a technical thing?
John Sullivan: It’s a technical thing. I’ve been working on my technique a lot in practice and I’ve got some things that I’ve tweaked a little bit. My stance being — it’s a problem I’ve had until the last couple of games. I’m just trying to approach it with the mind set that it’s something I need to fix. I played with my stance and my grip and in practice. You need those reps in the game and so in practice, they have been good and we’ll see if they are good in the game.
Q. It’s got to be frustrating to you when that happens because I’m sure you never make a mistake in practice with it and like you said in the past, it has not been a problem.
John Sullivan: It’s a frustrating thing but the same time, it’s not nothing I don’t think about all the time because you’ll just drive yourself crazy. I just try to approach it logically and fix the problem.
Q. John Sullivan, you’ve talked about how nice it was to get a win, and for all you guys, now that you have that win, was there a breaking point, or would there have been a point in the season where if you didn’t come up with a win, at some point, you can’t keep going back into practice and working as hard as you did, or do you think that you just — there was no breaking point for you guys?
John Sullivan:I know there wouldn’t have been a breaking point, and for this team I don’t think there would have been a breaking point either. There are too many guys with high character and a will to succeed and win and so motivated that the fight is just not going to end. So I don’t think it would have been a breaking point. Disappointment would have obviously set in maybe a little more, but no, I don’t think there would have been a breaking point.
John Carlson: I think based on the week of practice we had last week, the majority on this team will continue to fight and continue to work and continue to come in practice and do what’s necessary. And I think all along we’ve known that we had the ability to win games and we’ve got the talent and we’ve put the time in and it just has to come together and we’ve all known that eventually it’s going to come together. You know, it’s nice to get the one win out of the way, and you know, we can build on that and move forward.
Q. You guys have been through it before, but you talk about the young guys and their mentality and what they haven’t experienced — is there a tendency now through maybe the younger guys to take that deep breath and sigh and relax a little bit now?
John Sullivan: I think that goes along with the leadership questions that were being asked before. The past couple of weeks before we won this game, it was 0-5, and the questions have always been: How do you lead now? The one thing is you stay on an even keel and you keep your head up and you don’t let the team get too low. And it’s the same thing now. It started yesterday going back out to practice. When you win a game, you don’t let the team get too high, either, because then guys have a tendency to react, and that’s something that we as fifth years have experienced in the past and we know how to prevent. You don’t let yourselves get too high or too low. You stay on an even keel. And it’s not about the last six weeks and the fact that we won most recently; it’s about Boston College this Saturday.
Q. Was yesterday’s practice as physical as last Tuesday’s was?
John Carlson: Yeah, it was a physical practice. We understand that with this approach we have made strides and we’ve made improvements, and we know that’s what we have to do to get better.
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