Sept. 12, 2007
Q. This is really for all of you. As fifth-year guys, what’s been most disappointing with the tough start so far to you? Anything in particular that’s jumped out?
John Carlson: I guess I would say it’s disappointing to be 0-2 at this point. The offensive players, our failure to move the ball and score points has been pretty disappointing.
John Sullivan: Yeah, I’d definitely say it’s the 0-2 start. That kind of encompasses everything, the different problems that we’ve had so far that we’re working to correct. But when it comes down to it, everything that you practice is to help you win the game, and we’ve failed to do that so far, so hopefully we’ll be able to remedy that.
Travis Thomas: Those two guys hit it exactly on the head. Just the failure we’ve experienced and not being able to win, the things we’ve practiced, not being able to translate those and be successful on the field come Saturday, that’s the biggest disappointment. Knowing what we can do, and everyone else is not seeing that. That’s a disappointment.
Q. Does anything change as far as your roles now? Do you do anything differently? Obviously, the guys are going to be looking to you to kind of help them pull through and get these things turned around. How do you define your roles now? Any differently?
Travis Thomas: I think as the captain, the role is just to keep everyone together. We’re all we have and we have to stick together and keep plugging away and try to get a win on Saturday. The thing is just to keep everyone on the same page, keep a positive mindset and continue to look forward.
John Sullivan: I think Travis said it well. I don’t think the role changes much. I think that’s something we’ve been working on since the beginning of camp. Team unity is something that’s really important. We’re fifth-year guys, we’ve been through a lot, and we’ve had a lot of experiences. So we can kind of share those with the younger guys and kind of let them see that we’re keeping our heads up and we’re going back out to work every single day. You’ve got to put the game the week before behind you, no matter what it was — a win, a loss — it doesn’t make a difference. You can’t look back. You’ve got to stay focused on the game right in front of you.
Q. John, obviously all of you guys have NFL aspirations. Is it difficult to not start thinking individually and stay focused with the team and what you’re trying to do, given that there’s a next step? How difficult is that not to worry about all the stats and where they need to be or where you’d like them to be, that type of thing?
John Carlson: My focus and concentration is on this season. I think every individual is different, but we put a lot of work into this season and a lot of practice time, a lot of lifting, a lot of running. We’ve done that as a team, and we do all that work to get to the season and to play games and to win games, and we’re at that point now. We get to compete on Saturdays. This is what we’ve worked for. I’m not looking ahead to anything past Michigan right now. That’s my focus.
Q. Just one more thing from me. I’m curious about the fifth year, how it differs from the first four. Do you guys have more time to focus on football? Are your class schedules a little lighter than what they would have been before this year? Can that vary from guy to guy? How does that work? Do you have more time to do your thing?
John Sullivan: As long as you take care of what you need to in the first four years, it does change a little bit. All three of us are graduate students, along with the other six fifth year guys. As long as you’re taking a graduate course, the class load lightens slightly. But the grad courses are accelerated a little bit more, so it’s pretty regular.
Q. How many classes do each of you have?
John Carlson: We’re required to take three classes, one of which needs to be at the graduate level.
Q. The guys on the offensive line — even though it wasn’t proven from week one to week two, there was some improvement. Where do you feel like the line was better against Penn State?
John Carlson: I think we came and were a little more aggressive actually; not aggressive where it’s outwardly visible because there was no hesitation. I think that was a positive. We came out on that first drive and we were trying to get after them pretty good, and I thought we did a good job of that, and it kind of slowed down after that. But I think there were definitely positives from the offensive line.
Q. Guys said they felt like the mental mistakes dropped down a little bit. Did you see that as well, and what’s the cause of that?
John Sullivan: The cause of mental errors in games is experience. You’ve just got to get out there and be able to see the entire field, not focus on just what’s in front of you but seeing bigger picture with what the defense is trying to do. And yeah, the mental errors were cut down and I expect they’ll be even more this week.
Q. Coaching the team about max protect — how much does that settle the line down to have John or Will (Yeatman) stay in and block or Travis stay in and block? Is that a big benefit or can the defense just send more guys out at you because there aren’t as many receiving options down the field?
John Sullivan: I don’t know. Max protection, it’s a way to help the offensive line when they need it. At the same time, obviously, it’s better for our offense to have more people out on routes. We’d like to think as an offensive line we can handle it with the five of us or whatever the play called for. If we need to max protect, that’s what we’ll do. That’s a coach’s decision.
Q. And Travis, I didn’t get a chance to talk to you on Saturday night. You’re a pretty collected guy. That seemed to be somewhat unlike you to get in that kind of situation?
Travis Thomas: It was one of those uncharacteristic situations. It was one of those situations where my emotions got the best of me. I talked to (Penn State’s Jerome) Hayes after the game and I expressed my regret and apologized. It was discussed with the coaches, and it was just something that shouldn’t happen from a fifth year guy, especially from a captain. It’s just one of those situations where you try to forget and it definitely won’t happen again.
Q. Is that a by product of the frustration of how the season has gone so far?
Travis Thomas: I wouldn’t say it’s frustration. I try to never get frustrated, regardless of what’s going on. Like I said, it’s just one of those plays that you hope never happens to you, and it just got a little out of hand.
Q. What did Charlie say to you in terms of dealing with it, in terms of getting it out of your system? What was his reaction?
Travis Thomas: It was handled internally. We talked about it, and it’s just not expected from me. It’s not expected from someone in my position that has the experience that I have.
Q. Travis, what do you feel like you can do at this point to get the ground game going … negative-eight yards in two games?
Travis Thomas: Everyone just has to get on the same page. Everyone just has to do his job. Obviously, we’re not doing what we need to do individually to get things going in the right direction. We’ll just continue to work. Like I said, we’ll continue to look forward and try to get better individually, working on fundamentals and techniques. You can never forget about the basics. So that’s what we started doing yesterday and that’s what we’ll continue to do throughout this week to prepare for Saturday.
Q. At what point do you start worrying about your job and your role as far as a running back?
Travis Thomas: All I do personally is just try to do my job whenever I’m out there, and whether it’s the run, block or catch, that’s what I try to do. If I’m doing my job, hopefully good things will happen out of it.
Q. You guys, as running backs, do you talk about it as a group? Is there something you’re seeing, they’re just not open?
Travis Thomas: Obviously, we want to run the ball as running backs. When things come up and you’re not successful, you want to know why. As coaches, it’s their job to make corrections and figure out why things aren’t working. So we leave that job to them.
Q. There’s nothing you see as a player then that stands out?
Travis Thomas: We’re not moving the ball, so I see there’s room for improvement in our game as far as running backs and the offensive unit. But as far as the games and things like that, we let the coaches figure out what to do.
Q. I want to ask you a quick question about Armando (Allen). His role expanded last week. How have you seen his game develop?
Travis Thomas: Just being the explosive athlete he is, he has great speed. One of the things we want to do is just get the ball to him in open space and let him try to make things happen. That was something you saw last week.
Q. Do you see him as mentally being able to take on more responsibilities, now that he’s got a couple of games under his belt?
Travis Thomas: As a freshman, he showed good maturity, grasping the concept. It’s a big change from high school to college, but I think he’s done a pretty good job.
Q. I think with two 0-2 teams playing against each other, people are looking to see who’s going to panic first for fear of falling to 0-3. Can you avoid that? How do you avoid that, and at what point does something like that set in during a down season?
John Carlson: I guess we look at this game like any other game, that we need to be as prepared as possible going into Saturday, and that started yesterday at practice. As far as panicking, I don’t see that as an option. We’re 0-2 and we can’t change that right now. The only thing we can do is win the game this week. That’s the one thing on our minds. If we keep things in perspective and tell ourselves that we can only win this game, we can’t get back the two we lost, that’s how you work against panic. You don’t have an option to panic because it’s one game, and that’s all you can worry about.
Q. The other two guys — is that something Coach Weis has talked about, about staying on an even keel and putting the two games behind you and just focusing on being 1-0 this week?
John Sullivan: You always have to stay on an even keel, no matter if you’re 2-0 or 0-2. You can’t look behind you because both games are in the past; there’s nothing you can do. I don’t think panicking is going to be an issue. We’ve played enough football. We’re mature enough to know that that goes back to our roles as captains, to help the younger guys with that. There’s no option of panicking, like John said, because we’re mature guys, we’re fifth years, we’ve been here, we’ve been through a lot, and panic isn’t an issue for us.
Travis Thomas: One of the things we need to do is just handle adversity, and that’s something we’re trying to do right now being 0-2. As far as being on an even keel, you never want to get too high when things are going well and you never want to get too low when they’re going bad because there’s always room to improve. That’s where we are right now.
Q. Do you guys think maybe you can use the crowd against your opponent this week if you can get off to a good start, especially offensively? They’ve lost two in a row at home. This would be three now, if you can get the momentum early in the game and turn the crowd against their own team?
Travis Thomas: Absolutely. That’s something as an offensive unit you strive to do every week, getting off to a fast start. Being on the road, you want to take the crowd out of the game because that will help you. That’s something that we want to do this week — get off to a fast start and put drives together, move the ball, get positive gains early on first down, which will make it easier for us to convert on third down. There are little things like that that we’re harping on this week.
John Carlson: Travis said it pretty well. In every game, we want to come out and start fast and get some momentum early, so in that respect, this game isn’t any different than last week or the week before. We always try to start fast.
Q. This will be the first time (this season) that you’ve had the same quarterback start two weeks in a row. Is there a little bit of comfort zone there? Do you feel like you’re settling in a little bit now?
John Sullivan: I feel like there’s some continuity now. That’s something that will help this offense going into this week. We’re comfortable with Jimmy (Clausen), and think he does a great job. That’s why we’re working so hard this week and why you practice to get better. We’re going to go out and try to protect him and get the running game going and see if we can’t win a game.
Q. Yesterday, Coach Weis said you have to open up the offense a little bit and score some more, and he pretty directly alluded to getting you and other tight ends involved. Is that something you’re anxious to do, contribute to the point scoring rather than basically just the pass protection like you have been the past couple of weeks?
John Carlson: I view my role as doing whatever I can to help the offense score, and pass blocking is part of that. Run blocking is part of that. Run blocking and pass blocking is as big a part of my role as receiving. I guess my focus is to do whatever I have to do to help the team score points. If that calls for me to run-block and pass-block or run routes, whatever I have to do is what I’m going to try to do.
Q. Do you think you best help the team when you’re out as a weapon, trying to get downfield? Do you think that’s the strongest suit you bring to the offense?
John Carlson: I think the offensive coaches are going to have a game plan ready, and they’re going to have some plays in mind where they’ll put me in position to make plays, and then there will be some plays in mind that they’ll ask me to pass-block and run-block. And like I said before, that’s kind of the nature of my position. I have to do all three of those things, and while I do like to make plays down the field, I also like to open up holes so Travis can run the ball and Armando can run the ball. I like to pass protect so we can maybe throw one down the field. Whatever they ask me to do is what I’m going to do.
Q. You came back for your fifth year to have that leadership role. You talked in the preseason about being more vocal. In the context of the start you guys have gotten off to, how does that change for you? What changes about being a leader now in this context for you?
John Carlson: Considering the youth of our team, it’s our job to make sure the young guys know that we’ve played two games. We can’t change the outcome of those two games. But there’s a long season ahead, and we can change what happened with the 10 games coming up. But this week, we’re focusing on Michigan. That’s all we’re thinking about right now. As leaders, it’s our job to make sure the young guys put the past behind them and just really take it one week at a time.
Q. Can you talk about Michigan in terms of the rivalry and what this game means to you guys personally?
Travis Thomas: It’s obviously a big game and it has been historically. We want to come out with a lot of emotion, and we just want to get the win. That’s the biggest thing, get that win on the board, be 1-2 and then go from there. So as far as rivalry, yeah it exists, it’s big, and everyone knows that. But all we’re focusing on right now is getting better, trying to do the things we need to do individually to help this team get the first win.
John Sullivan: Michigan is a traditional football program, they’re a great team. No matter what, it doesn’t matter if Notre Dame and Michigan are 0-2 like we are now. It’s still an intense rivalry and a highly-contested game. We’re going in there expecting a battle for 60 minutes. We have a lot of respect for the University of Michigan. At the same time, I think this team will embrace going into the Big House and playing in a hostile environment. I think that’s what we’re going to feed off of.
John Carlson: I guess I agree with what Sully said. It doesn’t matter what our records are. It’s going to be a tough game, a physical game. Any time you have to go into the Big House and play, it’s exciting. It’s a great opportunity for us to come together as a team in a hostile environment and to hopefully come out with a win.
Q. Being fifth-year guys, is this a game that will be more special, the final time you get to play Michigan, a team I’m sure you’ve always wanted to play and have gotten to play a number of times now?
John Carlson: I guess it’s special because it’s the last time that we’ll have this opportunity. But first and foremost, we want to improve as an offense, as a team, and Michigan is the next team on the schedule.
Travis Thomas: I’ll look back on playing Michigan more so after the game has passed, and embrace it. But for right now, I’m living in the moment and trying to do everything I can to help this team win. That’s what we need to do is win. That’s what we came here for, that’s what we came back as fifth-year guys for is to win. We haven’t done that thus far, so I’m looking forward to hopefully getting the first one.
Q. You look at their defense, they’ve given up a lot of points. What do you look at as things that you’re able to do against them to maybe get that first offensive touchdown?
John Sullivan: That’s more of a question about our offense than it is about their defense. It doesn’t matter who’s out there in front of you. We just need to go out and execute as an offense. As long as we go out there and execute our fundamentals and techniques, but really just execute what the plays are trying to accomplish, we’ll go out and be successful as an offense.
Q. Do any of you guys have any comments about what (Michigan running back) Mike Hart had to say?
John Carlson: I think he was trying to motivate his team, and I don’t fault him for that. Is it going to make a difference in the game? No, we have to go out there and play. I think he was trying to motivate his teammates.
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