Oct. 11, 2005
The University of Notre Dame football team held a series of teleconferences and interview sessions on Tuesday, Oct. 11, in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. Due to heavy media interest in this weekend’s contest between No. 9 Notre Dame (4-1) and No. 1 USC (5-0) and Irish players facing midterm examinations this week, Tuesday was the lone day this week that Notre Dame players were made available for interviews.
Several Irish players also took part in a teleconference, allowing out-of-town media members to call in and ask questions. The transcript of those teleconference calls follow.
In addition, Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis held his traditional Tuesday press conference at 12:00 noon.
Notre Dame Player Quotes – USC Week
October 11, 2005
- Junior TE Anthony Fasano
- Senior OL Dan Santucci
- Junior WR Jeff Samardzija
- Senior WR Maurice Stovall
- Sophomore RB Darius Walker
- Junior DB Tom Zbikowski
Anthony Fasano –
Q. When you were growing up, did you have any particular memory that stands out of Notre Dame, Southern Cal football, any game, what it meant when you just heard about that rivalry?
Anthony Fasano: No. Growing up I really wasn’t a big Notre Dame or college football fan so I really don’t have any memories of our past meetings.
Q. When you think about it now, what does it mean to you in terms of college football and two programs, this kind of intersectional rivalry?
Anthony Fasano: I think it’s one of the best rivalries out there. Everybody talks about Michigan Ohio State. I think this is one of the best rivalries. When both teams are in the top 10, you can’t ask for anything more.
Q. I know it’s not your side of the ball, but you look at USC’s offense, they’re averaging 640 yards a game midway through the season. As an offensive guy, what do you think of when you hear a number like that?
Anthony Fasano: They put up very impressive numbers on offense. They do a great job of what they do.
But, again, I really haven’t looked in depth into their offense, only what I’ve seen on the television games I’ve watched.
Q. Big test for your DBs?
Anthony Fasano: Definitely. I think we’re going to go as far as our defense takes us this week.
Q. Is there a quality about Coach Weis that kind of separates him from any other coach you’ve ever played for?
Anthony Fasano: Coach Weis is different than any coach I’ve ever played for. He just has a great way of teaching his system, a great way of getting you in a right mindset to go play every Saturday. I think he comes out with a great confidence and it shows within his teams.
Q. How long did it take for him to get the players to believe they could win any game on the schedule?
Anthony Fasano: I don’t think it took long. Had a little bit of attitude change in spring ball. We pretty much knew what we were in for coming into camp. Once we got things gelling in camp, got rolling, I think no one had any doubts on our team.
Q. What do you think the best story was on the team? The reason I ask that is so much is written about your coach. Sometimes the stories about the guys that are actually doing this get lost. To you, what is the best story on this team among the players?
Anthony Fasano: We came back from so much adversity, and people had us going 0-6. So many people had us struggling this season. Coming together as a team with the same players that we went 6-6 with last year, just to come out and start hot, start well, be 4-1, be in the top 10.
Q. How much of this, being here now at 4-1, how much is just you guys being a year older, a year bigger, more mature, and how much is it the change in the coaching staff?
Anthony Fasano: Like we always said, we always had talent here, even when we went 5-6, 6-6. We had talent. It’s just our attitude and mentality wasn’t where it needed to be.
I think Coach really helped that out. He also puts us in great positions on the field to really utilize our advantages and our techniques and our skills. I think it’s a combination of both that puts us in a good position.
Q. Could you talk about the difference or if there has been a difference in the pride or confidence that you have in your program this year versus years past.
Anthony Fasano: We’ve always had pride in Notre Dame, in our program. But this year I think we come to games expecting to do well, expecting to win, just stepping on that field, stepping out there on every play with confidence is what is the biggest change so far.
Q. How much has Coach Weis had to do with that?
Anthony Fasano: Pretty much entirely. We had confidence last year, but it really wasn’t where it’s at right now. He prepares us mentally so well that we’re at a big advantage.
Q. You mentioned you weren’t a big Notre Dame fan growing up. There’s so much made about the lore of Notre Dame, stories of the past. Do you buy into any of that stuff or do you think it’s kind of silly, the fact you weren’t a fan? I’m curious where you fall on that scale.
Anthony Fasano: Coming here and seeing all the great things that happened and all the spirit, the pride people have around here, it definitely is easy to buy into, and I have.
But, I don’t think it changes what we do on the field for me or any of my teammates because of the past or tradition.
Q. Could you tell me what you see different in Brady (Quinn) this year as opposed to past years.
Anthony Fasano: He’s so relaxed in the huddle, he’s so confident in what he’s doing. He knows where everyone has to be and where everyone’s going to be. Coach Weis gives him the freedom to put us in his own checks. What he thinks best at the line. Him doing that and doing that successfully I think is the biggest difference so far.
Q. Can you recall an incident either in the huddle, I would assume that’s probably the best time when it might have happened, you guys were facing either a key third down or a key series, where he came in and either made a joke or grabbed attention in the huddle, just something that you hadn’t seen from him in the past that you said, “He is definitely our guy now”?
Anthony Fasano: We’ve had so many long drives where it started back in our own territory. I think when you have to drive 98 yards, important possession after another team scored like Purdue, he just would come in and say, “Relax, this is our first drive, let’s get going.” It’s not big rah rah, a fake speech. You know he’s serious and to the heart. That’s the biggest change.
Q. Everybody talks about the offensive line, Brady Quinn, all those people. Tell us a little about Darius Walker, where he fits into the scheme of this offense.
Anthony Fasano: He’s doing a great job for us this year. It’s great because teams have to prepare for him so well because along with Brady and our passing game and our offensive line, Darius is such a big threat. Preparing for him, and him just being able to make plays on the field is really beneficial for our offense.
Q. You said earlier the coach has a great way of teaching the system. Can you elaborate on that? What is different about the way he teaches compared to some other coaches you’ve been with?
Anthony Fasano: He has a very complex offense. When he came in the spring, a lot of guys were overwhelmed by it. He did a great job of taking it piece by piece and breaking it down to the bare nuts and bolts of it, of the offense. He really made us learn the philosophy of the offense, what he’s trying to do, instead of just learning what you do on which play. That helps in the overall scheme of things.
Q. When did you notice everyone kind of buying in and having the confidence you needed to have in his system?
Anthony Fasano: Toward the end of spring ball, when our offense was really doing well against our defense. Our defense would get us a couple days. I think just that back and forth, seeing success against our own defense. Coming into camp, realizing everything got together, started gelling, I think everyone had confidence.
Dan Santucci –
Q. I asked Anthony, but who to you is the best story on this team right now, player wise, and why?
Dan Santucci: I think Jeff Samardzija. He’s just having a great year. Last year a lot of people didn’t know about him. I think he was just as talented last year as he is this year. He’s just making some big plays for us, a huge contributor to our success right now.
Q. You look at him. To me, maybe you’ll agree, when you first look at him, he looks like the typical possession receiver. Does he fool teams in that he can get down the field and make big plays?
Dan Santucci: Yes. I think he’s got great speed that people don’t see, like you said. A lot of people think he’s a possession receiver, but really he’s a big playmaker with great hands, just a great ability to know where defenders are, which way to turn after the catch. Unbelievable hands and speed and great vision. All aspects you need to be a great player.
Q. Could you tell me what changes do you see in Brady Quinn this year as opposed to past years?
Dan Santucci: I think Brady is a lot more focused. He just understands this offense so well. He’s the type of guy that he does everything for football. He watches tons of film. He just took this offense into his hands. He knows he’s the leader. He goes out there every day and performs like it.
Senior OL Dan Santucci
Q. I’m wondering if there was one anecdote or incident in the huddle. You obviously have had a lot of long drives, crucial third downs. Was there one particular time when he came in and made a joke or said something where you said, “He’s got it now”?
Dan Santucci: Yeah, he does something. If we’re having a couple plays, aren’t clicking like we would like them to be, things aren’t going so well one or two plays, he’ll come into the huddle and get everyone together and say, “Let’s go. It’s time.” He’s got that look in his eyes, that leadership role. When we listen to him, we just all believe in him. We’re like, “Yeah, it’s time to go.” He just keeps everything together.
Q. What changed with the new coaching staff?
Dan Santucci: Coach Weis has brought in a great group of guys that really understand the game of football, just brought in an attitude that we’re here to win, and that’s all that’s all he’s going to accept, is winning. It’s just an attitude that is in all of us, confidence and attitude that we expect to go out there every Saturday and win.
Q. As you look at this game coming up, is SC this monolithic, unbelievable thing or is it a deal where if you go out and execute, you can win the ballgame?
Dan Santucci: USC’s a great team. You don’t win all those games in a row just being an average team, don’t win two national titles in a row. They’re a great team. But we focus here on what we need to go do to win the game. We put it on us rather than what they’re going to do or putting it on them.
Q. Everybody talks about Charlie Weis and the offense, Brady, a great offensive line. Where does Darius Walker fit into the mix of all this?
Dan Santucci: Darius is a huge essential part to this team and this offense. He’s got great vision and is a great back that runs hard. He puts our running game on the map.
Without a good running game it’s hard to have a great passing game. He’s our workhorse back there. He carries the ball, makes big plays for us.
Q. There’s a lot of talk about the ghost of Notre Dame, this sort of stuff, the fact you have the game at South Bend, does that give you a little extra edge as far as confidence wise, just knowing there’s kind of a history there, or do you just forget that totally and play the game?
Dan Santucci: Me personally, especially, I kind of don’t worry about that stuff. I just focus on the week of practice, the week of preparation that I need to have, and our team needs to have, in order to just go out there and play no matter who it’s against. Play a great game, do everything we can to win.
Q. Is whatever confidence you guys might have, from the fact that Coach Weis apparently is a guy that is obviously very prepared, he’s going to have you in position to win the game, is that maybe where the most confidence you guys are going to have is going to come from?
Dan Santucci: We have confidence in ourselves right now. We’ve been playing some good football. We just believe in ourselves, believe in the plays that are being called. Just go out there and perform so that we can win.
Q. You returned a lot of guys, especially on offense. In your mind, what is the biggest reason for such a fast start for this season?
Dan Santucci: We just got a bunch of older, experienced guys. We just want to win. We just put that as our No. 1 goal. We go out there every day to practice hard, work hard, to do everything we can to perform on Saturdays. That’s what playing football’s all about.
We just have a bunch of experienced guys that are just striving for the same goal.
Q. How much has the success been due to Weis’ attitude about win right now and how much to his offensive mind that he brought from the Patriots?
Dan Santucci: It’s a huge part. When he came in, that’s what he said. A lot of us are seniors, older guys. We don’t have four years to wait. We were really excited when he said he’s here to win right now, and that’s all he expects out of us is winning. He told us, you don’t get anything for second place. That’s the new attitude and confidence that this team has.
Q. You mentioned you don’t worry about some of the ghosts of Notre Dame, the history. Do you suspect the USC players also don’t care about that stuff? Beyond the fact you’ll have your home fans, is there any advantage to the fact you’re playing this game at home against the No. 1? Does that mean anything or do you think the USC players are like you and that doesn’t mean anything?
Dan Santucci: I think a lot of football teams just go out there to play the game. Everybody loves playing at home. At home you’re supposed to have an advantage. You got more of the fans there.
It’s easier, you don’t have to fly anywhere. You don’t have all like the distractions of transportation. It’s nice to play at home. But I think most of the teams around the country, they go out there and whether it’s at home or away just prepare and play the game like they usually do no matter where its at.
Q. Going into this game, beyond the fan reaction, you’re not going out there with a ghost for the 12th man?
Dan Santucci: I go out there and I focus in on what I need to do, what the team needs to do, just play our game, go for that one outcome, which is the win.
Q. Can you take us through with the bye week what Charlie’s schedule was in terms of when did you actually start focusing on Southern Cal, how you used the extra days?
Dan Santucci: We went out there and had a couple fundamental and individual technique practices to focus on the little things. Every day we would watch film on USC. We basically started focusing on them right away. We had a couple days off on the weekend here to just kind of get your mind away from football and to come back with great energy for this game.
It was a great week. He gave us a chance to heal up our bumps and bruises, just kind of get our mind away from the game a little bit.
Q. How much do you feel that extra week has helped you in terms of preparation? Do you feel like you know Southern Cal as well as you can know an opponent?
Dan Santucci: Yes. I think whenever you have more than the normal one week to prepare for a team, you’ll be able to know them a better. Like I said, I watched a lot of film to prepare. Now it’s game week. It’s going to be here before we know it.
Jeff Samardzija –
Q. Are you going to be able to play baseball and do spring practice at the same time?
Jeff Samardzija: I guess that’s to be determined. Haven’t really talked about it too much. Just trying to concentrate right now on the game at hand and the football season.
We’ll kind of cross that bridge when we get there. Right now we’re just looking forward to Saturday.
Q. Is that something you don’t want to bring up right away with a new coach, kind of see where your standing is on the team?
Jeff Samardzija: Whether you’re stepping on toes or not, that has really nothing to do with it. It’s just more respect for coaches and your teammates, too. I think, right now, I’m not really even thinking about anything like baseball or spring ball right now. I think all my attention is going to Saturday and the season. That’s No. 1 on the list right now.
Q. Why don’t you think you were thrown too much your first two years? This has been a breakout season for you so far.
Jeff Samardzija: I think a lot of it has to do with just making plays. I think I had a couple chances my freshman, sophomore year to make some plays and I kind of let them slip away. It comes down to when you get the chance, you’ve got to take advantage of it.
Q. It seems like it’s maybe been a while since the two teams have come into this game with this degree of attention from fans and the media. From your point of view, is there something special with the rivalry or does it blend in with other games on your schedule?
Jeff Samardzija: Just looking at it from a fans’ point of view, not a player, it’s a great rivalry. I think there’s always great games and it’s always kind of hyped within the public. I think it’s something that’s great to be a part of, especially when you’re playing a team like USC that has so much talent on both sides of the ball and on special teams, it’s just great.
If you’re a true athlete and things like that, you know you love challenges. Like I said, I’m just trying to concentrate on this week and on Saturday and just trying to be ready for the game because you know they’re going to bring their best. You got to go out and play your best game of the year. I think that’s all we’re trying to do.
Q. Does it add something that the two teams are so highly ranked? Is there something more to it than there has been perhaps in the past?
Jeff Samardzija: On the outside definitely. I think as a team, though, we’re just trying to approach it like another game. You have to. It’s real important that you don’t let everything on the outside affect what you do on the inside. We’re just really trying to concentrate on just the game, whether it’s the schemes or anything, just trying to concentrate on the game. Everything else on the outside’s great, but just kind of take that as it goes, not concentrate too much on it or else you can get distracted pretty easily.
Q. Can you talk about your background as a baseball player. What was it like when you first came here?
Jeff Samardzija: Out of high school, I was looked at to play some ball in the professional leagues, they were talking about getting drafted. I just kind of let them know that I wanted to come here and play football. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I actually wasn’t going to play baseball here at the beginning until the interview happened and they asked me the question. I said, `Yeah, I would love to play baseball at Notre Dame.’ Coach Mainieri actually read it and contacted the coaching staff. Everything kind of worked out. It was kind of weird. I didn’t even know about it until one day they let me know I could play baseball.
I guess things just kind of worked out. But it was kind of funny.
Junior WR Jeff Samardzija
Q. I was told that your coach told Coach Weis this spring, your baseball coach, told him you could make a big impact. He was out there hyping you.
Jeff Samardzija: I guess he was throwing his little word in for me. I guess I should give him some props or something. Coach Mainieri is a great guy. He’s going to say what he thinks. I guess that’s what he thought at the time. I tried not to disappoint him.
Q. Can you talk a little about what Charlie Weis has meant to this team, how your role has changed on this team since he’s taken over?
Jeff Samardzija: Coach Weis has brought a confidence to this team that’s just kind of bled through the team. It’s kind of something we’re trying to feed off of. It’s just a mentality that a football team has to have in order to be successful. He’s brought a lot of things, but I think the mentality he’s brought has just been probably the key part. We’re just trying to go out with the confidence each weekend that we can get a victory.
Q. How has your role exactly changed since he’s taken over?
Jeff Samardzija: I don’t think it’s changed too much. I just think I took advantage of some situations and it’s just kind of grown from there. When there’s a confidence within the team, within the quarterback and within the coaching staff that you’ll make plays, you might just get a couple more opportunities.
Q. Do you recall a particular series or play when you realized that Brady Quinn had really come into his own?
Jeff Samardzija: I think if I had to hone in on one thing, it was that Pitt game. We had a 23 play drive. It was a big part of it. We had some penalties, we had some adversity on the drive, but we still ended up getting seven points out of it.
Obviously, there’s a lot of things that go into it. I think if there’s one drive, that’s the closest I could get because there was a lot of adversity on offense. We had a couple of penalties. But he kept everyone levelheaded and he stayed levelheaded and still drove us down there and we still got six points. I think that was a big exclamation point on the whole situation.
Q. Have you seen a change in him in the huddle? Was there one time you can recall where doesn’t sound like he’s much of a joke cracker, maybe I’ve missed something, has he said something to loosen you guys up at some point?
Jeff Samardzija: You got to understand that Brady’s going to be Brady in the huddle. I think the biggest part he’s brought, just like I said, is a confidence in the huddle and for the offense, that when he comes in, he calls his plays, I think everyone listens and everyone is just going with what he has to say. They have confidence in the plays he gets from Coach, and they have confidence in Brady to run the plays. I think just an overall confidence kind of bleeds through the huddle.
Q. Comic relief is not his thing?
Jeff Samardzija: I think he leaves that up to some other guys (laughter). Brady throws a zinger in there. Comedy and joking isn’t necessarily Brady’s thing. That’s on some other people’s shoulders in the huddle.
Q. Tell us something about your family. Do you have brothers or a dad that played? Are you a Homer Drew fan?
Jeff Samardzija: My dad played hockey. I think he played in high school, semi pro team in Chicago. My brother, he was a D1 caliber DB in high school. He was a little shorter than me. Things just didn’t work out. He just took a different route.
Sports have always been in the blood. Just kind of something we’ve always done. As in the whole Homer Drew fan.
I think growing up in Valpo, there was a whole big Bryce Drew and I don’t know if you ever heard of Tim Bishop before, but there was always a big little buzz behind them. Growing up, we kind of watched them and then to see that Bryce developed and did everything that he did. It’s kind of funny to see, kind of cool to see someone from my hometown do that.
Always watched all my brother’s football games, what he did growing up, just kind of tried to be like him.
Q. I think your last name is Croatian. Is there some history there where some grandparents came across?
Jeff Samardzija: My last name is actually Serbian. My grandparents actually came over I believe in the early ’40s from Serbia. They actually came over from Germany. They made the trek from Serbia over to Germany so they could catch a ride on over. A couple of my uncles were born over there. My dad went to school in Merriville after his uncles went to Gary Lou Wallace. We’ve always been in the area. There’s actually a rich history there with the family. We’re a real close knit group. I have a lot of respect and love for what they did to go through everything they went through. Both sides of my family, my mom and dad’s side, are real close. It’s a big part of what I am and what we’re about.
Q. Did you speak the language at a young age?
Jeff Samardzija: Most of my family members do. My dad understands it. I know some of it. I can’t speak it. I can pick some of it up. When my grandma talks, it’s a little mix of English and Serbian, so you gotta know a little bit about it to really pick up what she’s saying. We love her. She makes some great food. Just like I said, we’re a close knit group and everyone’s always keeping in touch.
Q. Could you tell me, was there one particular play that stands out in your mind that Brady has made this year where you said, “He has arrived”?
Maurice Stovall: Is there one play? I don’t think there’s only one play. Brady’s done a number of plays. I don’t think it would even be noticed by fans or even television.
It’s mostly calling out blitzes calling out who is the Mike linebacker or audible in plays. Those things are key factors that keep us in drives. He’s done that a number of times this year.
Q. Just watching SC the last couple of weeks, they’ve shown they’ll give up some yardage through the air, Arizona State a couple weeks ago, to a lesser degree Arizona last weekend. To the extent it’s possible, are you encouraged by what you see of their secondary?
Maurice Stovall: A lot of people, a lot of fans, a lot of other teams say that USC has a very weak secondary. But from watching film, I feel as though they’re very solid. They gave up some big plays like any other team, but I still feel as though they’re a solid secondary. They have big corners, very physical safeties. They have a solid defense overall.
Senior WR Maurice Stovall
Q. This series has been so lopsided for the last three years. There’s a sense it’s going to be a closer game this year. Jeff Samardzija talked about the confidence that Coach Weis has given you. What else is the difference this year? Does it all come from that? Can you talk about different schemes? Why is this team so different?
Maurice Stovall: I think it’s just a change overall in our program, the way we approached spring ball, the way we approached the off season workouts, the way we approach practice. I think that plays a big part. How we work in the weight room, overall what we do in the classroom, what we do off the field, everything just has changed. A lot of that has to do with Coach Weis and how he’s changed the program around.
Q. In light of the fact you think USC has a good secondary, why do you think Notre Dame has the type of offense that can make USC’s defense vulnerable?
Maurice Stovall: I think that all has to do with Coach Weis’ scheme, how he will approach USC’s defense. Obviously, I can’t tell you how we’ll do that. But, I think any team we play, we change our scheme a lot. Some games we might run the ball a lot. You have games where we pass a lot. We’ll also have games where our run and pass is balanced.
We’ll look at USC’s defense, watch them on film and we’ll just take what they give us and go from there.
Q. It looks like it takes a really balanced team to beat them. You can’t just be run heavy or pass heavy. They don’t have any weaknesses on defense. Do you see any place as vulnerable?
Maurice Stovall: A lot of people say their secondary is very weak. I think they’re pretty solid. I don’t think it’s so much what they do, but what you do as a team, if you’re executing your plays, if you’re staying on your block, running the right depth in your routes, quarterback making the right reads. All of those things play a big part in playing against a good defense, especially the No. 1 team in the country.
Q. Talking about people expecting a close game this year, all the attention that this game is getting, from your point of view, is there still something to this rivalry or does it kind of just fit in with all the other games on your schedule?
Maurice Stovall: I think there is a little bit of both. Notre Dame has a few rivals. Any time you have the No. 1 team coming into your house, especially when it’s Notre Dame versus USC, that’s a big game in all of college football, that plays a big part, being rivals. At the same time, you can’t succumb to the hype too much, allowing all that media hype or hype from fans to take you out of your game and focus, realizing that it’s still football. It comes down to offense versus defense, special teams versus special teams on Saturday.
Q. Does this game feel any different than SC Notre Dame games you’ve been a part of?
Maurice Stovall: Personally, I don’t really remember the feeling playing USC our previous years. Worrying more so about this year. I feel as though we have a lot of confidence going into the game. From an offensive standpoint, we have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We realize this is an opportunity that we can use to show the country that we have a solid offense, we can be consistent, use it as a stepping stool into making ourselves better for the rest of the season.
Q. When you first got a look at Coach Weis’ playbook or offensive system, was your first reaction that it was really complicated? In the spring when it started to click, did you start thinking, if we make this work, we’re going to have an efficient offense?
Maurice Stovall: I feel as though any time you have a new offense brought to you, it looks like Arabic. Yes, it was very thick, and it was complicated. At the same time, after repetitions in the springtime and him, the way he explains it to us in the meetings and on the field, doesn’t make it seem as complicated as it may look on paper, maybe even on film.
Coach Weis is a great coach. At the same time he knows how to relate things to each individual as players and as a whole offensive unit and as a team. When you have a difficult offense, difficult terms, schemes, a lot of audibles, just everything is different from your previous offense, in our case, which was the west coast offense. It helps to know that your coach has confidence that you understand it. He’s patient enough to explain it to you.
Q. As far as preparation you’ve seen thus far, going into the USC game, do y’all feel like the game plan he comes up with is going to be the game plan that’s going to find the weaknesses on whatever defense? Have you gotten the confidence now in him he’s going to come up with the scheme that’s going to give you the best chance to win?
Maurice Stovall: We definitely do. Our confidence hasn’t changed at all. We have a lot of confidence in Coach Weis and his schemes. We have a lot of confidence in his assistant coaches, our individual position coaches. We also have confidence in each other that we’ll execute those plays.
Darius Walker –
Q. How many family members will you have up there on Saturday?
Darius Walker: It’s going to be about 25 people for me. Everybody back home knows this is a big game. I’m also getting a lot of phone calls from everyone wishing me luck, everything like that. It’s just kind of a crazy time up here in South Bend.
Q. No ticket requests, I’m sure?
Darius Walker: More ticket requests than I can handle (laughter).
Q. How crazy is “crazy time” up there?
Darius Walker: I think if I had to put this on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s definitely in a 10 right now. Today is just Tuesday. I think if I stay on that scale, it will probably be a 15 out of 10 come here Thursday and Friday.
Q. How do you react to that then?
Darius Walker: Our reaction, we knew it was going to be to this extent. Southern Cal is a highly media ized team, No. 1 in the country. For them to be coming here, I know for Notre Dame fans and everyone, this is just a special event. We’re all excited about it.
Q. As a player, how do you view playing the No. 1 team in the country with the longest winning streak?
Darius Walker: It’s incredible. It’s definitely something that I asked for, something I wanted coming in. That’s the reason I think players pick a school like Notre Dame, is because we get the opportunity to play these kind of teams.
Q. We were talking to Coach Weis. He said one of the biggest jobs he had last week was convincing the team that it could win. Do you need to get a collective amnesia about the last three results? I know you weren’t around for all of them. Is the team believing now? What sorts of things was Coach telling you?
Darius Walker: The team is definitely believing. Coach Weis has always instilled in us confidence in whatever it is we’re doing. When we play up to our potential, we can play with anybody in the country. This team really feels that way.
Last year, and I know the previous years that the games have turned out in Southern Cal’s favor, but we also understand that is the past, that really has no bearing on this game coming up here Saturday.
Q. What do the words “fake punt” mean to you after last year?
Darius Walker: I think if I remember correctly, either we tried to fake one or Southern Cal tried to fake punt.
Q. They did.
Darius Walker: The game was already kind of out of reach. Yeah, I remember that.
I think it just kind of shows what kind of team they are, what kind of point they’re trying to get across. They want to be the dominant team in the country, and they really want to pound teams. In turn, that kind of fuels us up a little bit, that if they want to try to make a statement in a game like they did last year, we can definitely try to do the same.
Q. Coach Weis obviously wasn’t there. Has that been discussed among the players at all, a revenge factor?
Darius Walker: Not too much. We try not to look too much in the past because we understand that doesn’t have any bearing on this game coming up. At the same time, we do know that the last few years, Southern Cal has gotten the best of us. That also is something that is fueling us to change those outcomes.
Q. Coach Weis made a big deal of the fact he did not want the players he wants you to be excited, but he doesn’t want you to be too excited. He wants you to be ready to play the game, but not too ready. How do you walk that fine line between being excited, but not too excited?
Darius Walker: That becomes a little difficult as a player, I would say, especially at a school like Notre Dame because we have so much media attention and so much fan support. It’s kind of hard not to get very, very excited or overly excited about the game. At the same time we understand we can’t go out there and play with that enthusiasm every down and everything and be productive as we should be. We understand we need to calm down some and that the game is played with confidence and not too, too much energy.
We just try to get out there and play our game, not think too much about who we’re playing with Southern Cal and all the hype coming into this game, try to focus more so on Notre Dame, what we have to do to play at our best and win.
Q. As an offensive player, when you look at Southern Cal and all the things they can do, what is your reaction? Are you impressed? Shocked? What do you think about watching their team offensively?
Darius Walker: Their team offensively, it’s definitely impressive what they can do. I think just watching it on television, you know they have a lot of talent on that side of the ball definitely with the different players they have and the type of plays that those players can make.
It’s definitely exciting for one to watch. In a way, I kind of feel that we have some of the same firepower in our offense.
Q. You were there last season, you knew Charlie Weis was coming in as coach. He’s known for the passing game. Were you at all concerned about what your role was going to be? I have to assume now you’re happy with what your role is.
Darius Walker: When I heard Coach Weis was coming, that made me watch more New England offense, watch the Patriots, watch them playing different games. I got a chance to see players like Corey Dillon get out there and do what they did, to have the productivity they did. It was actually exciting to hear he was coming up, he had a back like Corey Dillon play for him. It was exciting for me as a running back because I hoped I could have that same success.
Q. A lot of people around the country are curious about how this team could be so much improved this year with a lot of same bodies. Are you new players under this staff? Are you in a sense reborn? How did it happen?
Darius Walker: That’s sort of a difficult question. I think what has happened is that in each of us, more confidence has been instilled in us. It seems that when we get in the huddle and we look at each other in the eyes, Brady (Quinn) calls a play, we know that the play’s going to work. We know that each member out there on the field is going to do his job.
That’s something important that Coach Weis instilled in us which has helped us gain more confidence in the plays we’re running and gain more confidence in ourselves and our own abilities.
Sophomore RB Darius Walker
Q. Did he tear you down before he built you up? He mentioned the first thing he did was embarrass the team.
Darius Walker: I guess in a way. It kind of depends on how the individual takes certain things and how he takes certain things that Coach Weis says. Coach Weis is very up front and blunt about his opinion, what he thinks about certain situations. From my perspective, I just kind of take it as constructive criticism, that he still wants the best from me and my teammates. He wants the best for us.
When he criticizes us, just take it as a grain of salt and keep going.
Q. Teams have moved the ball on USC in recent weeks, more through the air than on the ground. Are you encouraged by what you see?
Darius Walker: Definitely encouraged by what I see. I’m more so encouraged with our work ethic that we started off with this week as far as the offense is concerned and the team as a whole going out there in practice yesterday, the amount of work and time we put in was very encouraging for me to see.
You know, teams have moved the ball a little bit on them. At the same time, just because another team moves a ball on them doesn’t mean we’ll be able to. We understand we have to work on our game and perfect our game before we can even think about Southern Cal.
Q. Everyone talks about how complex Coach Weis’ offense is. When you first got a copy of the playbook, how difficult was it? How long did it take you to fully understand his philosophy?
Darius Walker: When I got the playbook, first thing I noticed was the size of it. It really is about the size of a phone book or a dictionary or something. The first few days, that’s what it was like looking through there, it was like scanning through a dictionary and picking up a few key things in there and most of the things in there you don’t know.
It didn’t take that long for us to understand the system because we had such great coaches and teachers. These coaches aren’t just coaches, they’re teachers. They help us understand the concepts and our overall knowledge of the game has improved that when we get out there playing, you’re so much more comfortable. I understand how the line is going to block on a certain play, what move to make in a certain play and everything.
My overall knowledge of the game has improved so much because of the teaching and coaching that I received.
Q. You mentioned Corey Dillon. Once you got the playbook, could you start to see why certain things worked for the Patriots?
Darius Walker: Definitely so, because since the playbook is so advanced, so much different things that you can do using this playbook and using this scheme, so many different things that you can do. In a way it really keeps the defense off balance and they kind of have no idea what to expect or what’s coming up next.
Q. Do they go over the history of Notre Dame with you this week, let you know the big games they’ve played in, the big games they’ve won? Do you hear from former players?
Darius Walker: A little bit. We get that a little bit about the games as such that are coming up, the Southern Cal games, the big Tennessee games, Michigan games, all the rival games. I think we get earfuls of that every week.
Q. Coach Weis was saying earlier he wants his team to take on his attitude. Do you get that sense, that you have become a little more brash in his mold since he’s taken over?
Darius Walker: I would definitely say so. A mentality he always tells us he wants us to have is “the get nasty” mentality. I think what he means by that is our confidence being out there on the field that no matter what play we run, it’s going to work. No matter what the defense does, we’re going to be able to adapt to that and make our system work. So that’s definitely something he has instilled in us is our “get nasty” attitude. He also talks about walking with a swagger as far as when we’re running out on the field and running out on plays. That also kind of helps increase the confidence a little.
Q. Is that something that was missing maybe the past couple years, that swagger that you seem to be developing again?
Darius Walker: I don’t know if that’s an accurate way to say it. I do think it hasn’t been what it is now as far as philosophy goes, as far as teaching and things go. Coach Weis and his staff are a lot different than what I expected.
Q. He was saying a key against USC is you can’t let up, you have to if you see they’re vulnerable, just keep going because they’re going to keep scoring, and no lead seems to be too big for them. Is that the thought you take? If you’ve got them down, keep pushing?
Darius Walker: Definitely so. That’s an approach we take with anyone we play. When you have a man down, sort of like Coach (Mike) Haywood says, you got to keep your foot on his throat. That’s definitely a mentality we buy into. Once you have a little lead, you’re winning by a certain margin, you have to keep increasing that. You may never know what may happen on the other side of the ball. Just watching Southern Cal’s past few games, teams have had a lead, they come back and take it away.
Q. What impresses you about USC’s defense that the average fan watching on television probably doesn’t notice?
Darius Walker: I think what impresses me about them is their speed on defense. Not only their safeties and their corners, but their linebackers, defensive linemen and ends move very well, they can run very well. That always poses a problem for running backs and offenses in general when you have a defense that can run and flow to the ball very quickly.
Q. You were talking about how this year when you were in the huddle, a play gets called, you are supremely confident it’s going to work. Last year or the year before, was there a feeling of breaking the huddle and kind of hoping it was going to work?
Darius Walker: I don’t know if that’s really an accurate way to put it either. I guess I can remember from last year just that being in the huddle, I don’t know what it was about it, it seems a little different now. I don’t know if it’s because of the confidence that we received or because of the training and things we received from Coach Weis. I think a lot of it is the mentality he’s instilled in us, the “get nasty” mentality. That’s something we definitely buy into, since we buy into it when we’re off the field. When we get on the field, it’s just natural that we have the swagger and the confidence.
Q. Do you believe in leprechauns?
Darius Walker: Yes (laughter).
Q. A lot of people are thinking that the Notre Dame mystique might be the edge in the game. Do the players think that at all? Obviously you have to go out and block and tackle. But playing at South Bend, the history of the USC series, does that play a little bit into your confidence factor?
Darius Walker: I don’t think so. What we try to do is just work hard on and off the field and we feel if we put in the necessary time and make the necessary plays, we can play with anyone. We try not to base too much of our practicing and playing off of the luck of the Irish. We just try to go out there and get it for ourselves.
Tom Zbikowski –
Q. Do you remember the fake punt late last year against USC? What was your reaction to it?
Tom Zbikowski: Yeah, I remember that pretty clearly. I don’t remember exactly the score. I remember them being close down in scoring range, then running that fake punt. Kind of put something in my memory for this year.
Q. They were up so big in that situation. In a rivalry game, it was almost like, “What is the point?” What went through your mind? Was it discussed among the players?
Tom Zbikowski: A big game like that, there’s not much good feelings for both teams. When that happens, I guess when we get our chance, we’ll do the same.
Q. Why is this team different this year from last year with basically for the most part the same players?
Tom Zbikowski: I really think the way the season has been going, us just winning, getting confidence every single week, just building up, knowing going into every game we’re going to win, having that confidence that we’re going to win.
Junior DB Tom Zbikowski
Q. Did that start with winning the first game? When did you start feeling like this team is going to be different? Did it happen before you played Pitt?
Tom Zbikowski: I think it was in the off season. Looking at games last year that we probably should have won. Things just didn’t go our way. We knew the talent we had on our team. Going through the off season, making strides in the weight room, getting stronger, bigger, faster, getting in better condition. Waiting for that first game, we knew kind of the season would be that kind that kind of set the tone for the rest of the season. I think we went out there and had an exclamation point on that first game.
Q. Where does this game rank for you, them being the two time national champs, all the history between the two programs?
Tom Zbikowski: For me personally, this is probably the biggest game I played in, just what you were saying before, this background information. Us being 4 1, No. 9 in the country. Coming back home, playing at home. Being a chance to be part of Notre Dame’s history.
Q. Is this game one of the reasons you wanted to go to Notre Dame?
Tom Zbikowski: It’s the biggest reason. I think everybody on this team, the reason they came to this university, is to play in a game like this against the No. 1 team in the country that just happens to be Southern Cal and playing at home.
Q. Is there anything different about Coach Weis compared to any other coach you’ve been under, whether high school, college, whatever?
Tom Zbikowski: I think each coach brings something different to the table. Coach Weis brings that nasty attitude, that confidence, that swagger to his team.
Q. A lot of the media expectations weren’t as high for this team compared to how Notre Dame is doing. Did you pay attention to that? Was it a motivating factor?
Tom Zbikowski: It was a little bit of a motivating factor. But we kind of just stayed in house and kind of went on the feelings of how we felt as a team, based our feelings off of how each other felt, the expectations we gave ourselves.
Q. Can you talk about your secondary. How much better is it this year than last year, do you think?
Tom Zbikowski: I think it’s a lot better. I know a lot of people are looking at our stats, how much yards we’re giving up. If you look at the number of pass breakups, forced fumbles, fumbles recovered, interceptions, they’re a lot higher than last year. We have a lot of confidence and we have guys that are making plays.
Q. What is your impression of (Matt) Lineart?
Tom Zbikowski: He’s very composed. He’s very confident. He’s a veteran back there. He makes his plays when he has to make them. He spreads it around.
Q. I asked this question to Maurice Stovall. I asked him if there’s one play or series of plays that really stood out to him in terms of Brady Quinn, something that he saw that maybe we don’t see. He said he has made some calls, audibles, in terms of picking up blitzes that have impressed him. Have you seen him pick up a particular blitz where you said, “I can’t believe he picked that up, I didn’t see it coming”? Is there something that stands out in your mind?
Tom Zbikowski: There’s various things that stand out in my mind. It’s tough for me because I’m not sure about all the audibles on offense, what they’re looking at. Me being on the punt team whenever it’s third down, knowing I got to go out and punt if they don’t convert, more than half the time, majority of the time, I stand up, I sit back down because he’s converting on third down. That’s the biggest thing. It gives the defense an extra break, more confidence we can go out and make something big happen.
Q. Do you see something in Brady this year that you haven’t seen in years past?
Tom Zbikowski: I’ve always seen it. When I came here as a freshman with him, we always saw it in him. Everyone else is getting a chance to see it this year. That’s the biggest thing.
Q. What has changed that we’re seeing it now as opposed to before?
Tom Zbikowski: A lot of confidence in him being able to spread the ball around to Jeff, Maurice, Fasano, Carlson, the different threats that he has. Like I said before, that third down, just picking it up, moving the chains.
Q. We hear a lot about Coach Weis’ swagger, that he’s very opinionated, the nasty attitude. Does he show you another side at all? He’s obviously a big family man. Do you ever get that sense from him or is it just football?
Tom Zbikowski: No, we definitely get that sense of him. I know that’s why he’s such a good coach, to let us see that other side of him, you know. When he’s around his kid, he’s a different person. That’s the way he should be. You shouldn’t let your work take over in the household. He shows us that other side when he’s with his kid and his kid comes to all our games, so it’s good to see that family’s important to him, that there’s a lot more to life than just football.
Q. Has he ever talked to you at all about his experience where he had to fight back from a health crisis, and people didn’t know if he was going to make it for a while? Has that been something he kept to himself?
Tom Zbikowski: Kind of kept it to ourselves. We kind of heard about that just through like media and stuff before he got here, kind of hearing about that.
Q. Two great running backs in Bush and White. What do you see in what they bring in terms of weapons?
Tom Zbikowski: Everyone knows about Bush. He can line up at receiver, line up at running back and hurt you in various different positions. He’s a great running back. He’s powerful. He’s also got that speed and that burst where he can make a long run.
Looking at it, a lot of their yards are coming in the third, fourth quarter, wearing down teams, beating up teams. That’s kind of what we’re preparing for.
Q. It will be a team effort and the offense will have to carry its part. From a defensive standpoint, are you looking at it, if you can keep them from putting up their average, stop some drives, get a couple turnovers, that could be the difference? Obviously, your offense can put up points. Are you thinking, if the defense can really do a great job, you have a good chance to win?
Tom Zbikowski: Definitely I think so. Our defense is going in with the mindset that all we need is a field goal to win. We’re not going in there to just hold them a couple times. We’re going in there trying to dominate the game.
Q. How can you banish doubt and fear going into this game? What is it like on the practice field?
Tom Zbikowski: We went out on the practice field and practiced hard yesterday. Even during the bye week, we were going pretty hard, but staying fresh. This whole team believes it’s got nothing to do with what’s happened the last three years. We’re looking at it as we’re the ninth team in the country. It’s not like we’re an unranked opponent.
Q. You say previous results have nothing to do with it. A lot of the same bodies are on the field at the same time. Do you feel like you’re different players with this staff?
Tom Zbikowski: I definitely think we’re different players. We play with a lot more confidence. We go into each game thinking about that week, not the previous week or the year before.