Sept. 17, 2011
COACH Brian Kelly
COACH KELLY: Much needed victory for our kids today. We obviously felt like coming into this ball game we hadn’t lacked any confidence in our ability to win football games. We just had to find a way to win.
And that was the theme this week. By any means, just find a way to win the football game. You’re a good enough football team to beat any team you play. We needed big plays at times of the game. Obviously last week, you know, a lot of the talk was the secondary.
I think they played outstanding down the stretch. Came up with a big interception. And it’s nice when you’re coaching a team and they’re able to bounce back from adversity as a team, as a unit. Then as an individual Gary Gray played one of his best games at Notre Dame since I’ve been here.
So as a coach to see guys bounce back from adversity as a unit, as a team, and pick each other up. Because we needed everybody. We played six true freshmen out there. George Atkinson, a true freshman, had a big kickoff return for us. And Aaron Lynch was outstanding. Troy Nicholas started in place of Prince Shembo at the drop position. Stephon Tuitt. I can go on and on.
So it was everybody. It was seniors. It was juniors. It was sophomores. Everybody pitched in and we found a way to win. That will open up to questions.
Q. When did you decide to put Atkinson in on the kickoff returns? And is he there to stay?
COACH KELLY: Well, he certainly is somebody that we had looked at all year. It’s a matter of maturation and getting that sense and feel for when is the right time for him to go in the ball game. And we felt like based upon some of the things that happened on kickoff return against Michigan, this would be the right opportunity for him.
Q. The frustration you had last year against this team and against this school even before you came here, was that addressed at all this week? Was that a factor in any of this and the way you played?
COACH KELLY: It really wasn’t. I think our players were actually asked about it during the press conference today. And it’s really for us the history has really no relevance in terms of how we prepare.
We have a great deal of respect for Michigan State and Coach Dantonio. But it was really about us and what we needed to do to be better. And we couldn’t relive what had happened in the past, because we needed to do something right now.
Q. Can you take us through your viewpoint of the fake field goal attempt before halftime, what you saw?
COACH KELLY: It just looked like a shovel play up inside. We had some time to talk about it and just remind our guys to be gap conscious and do their jobs. And we just did our job on that. And obviously able to come up with a big play.
Q. Is there any more that you can tell us about Prince Shembo’s situation?
COACH KELLY: I think other than what’s already been established is that he had a family emergency and he’s attending to that matter.
Q. How did you feel like Filer and Nicholas stood in in that spot?
COACH KELLY: Next man in. They went in there, true freshmen playing at the drop position. We’ve had about six weeks’ work there. Did a very good job. He’s a very confident kid, too. So there was no question that he was going to go in and play.
And we needed Steve. And Steve came through for us as well. Hadn’t played a lot of drop for us. Had focused primarily on four down pass rush. So guys just pitching in. Everybody finding a way to help us win.
Q. Your push up front, you talked about Lynch, could you talk more about him and just the general push you got from the front?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, obviously there were a number of times when they were forced to throw the football. We were able to pin our ears back and Aaron is, you know, outstanding pass rusher. I think he showed that today.
If he didn’t get to the quarterback, he got held. Stephon Tuitt did a great job for us. We moved a lot of guys in there, kept them fresh and kept the pressure on them.
Q. How would you characterize Tommy Rees’s play today, especially after two early turnovers?
COACH KELLY: I thought he managed the game well. Obviously the turnovers, one, he’s got to have a clock in his head, get rid of the football. There was a game on the backside. He was waiting for something to come open.
He needs to make a decision there. The interception was one of those things through game plan and game film study he knew he made a mistake. They had an alert player that drops down off their fire zone. He knew right when he did it.
So this is still about repetition. This is still about learning. Experience but what I liked about him he managed the game for us. He went in there knowing that we had to find a way to control the line of scrimmage to the point where we could run the football and set up some passes later that gave us big play touchdowns.
Q. What inspired you to go to a full contact practice on Wednesday? Did you think it had any impact? Have you done that before? I know you haven’t here at Notre Dame done that before in your career?
COACH KELLY: I just think it was a mentality that we wanted to continue to establish that we’re not letting up, that losing is unacceptable. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We can’t feel like, well, we didn’t get this break and we outplayed our opponent but we didn’t win. I didn’t want any of that.
I wanted our guys to be focussed on getting better. And we needed to get better in some certain situations and so being able to tackle in a very short period of time. I don’t want to make it sound like we tackled for 45 minutes. We did not. But we had a live, spirited practice and I think it was good for our guys at that time and place of the season.
Q. Have you done that before?
COACH KELLY: Yes, in certain situations we’ve felt like and, again, you have to take the pulse of your team. You gotta have health involved. If we were banged up and down to a lot of guys out, we probably wouldn’t have done it.
But the timing was right for us to do it in that instance.
Q. Blanton had a pretty good day even beyond the interception, could you talk about what he brought out there today?
COACH KELLY: He’s extremely active. He’s got great instincts. The ball is in the air, he’s going to get it. I feel confident no matter who goes against him that when the ball is in the air he’s going to make a great play on the ball. And sometimes you try to coach that as much as you can.
But some guys are just good at it. And he’s really good. And he’s a spirited guy. He’s really, you talk about guys that lead by example, he also leads, he’s probably one of our more emotional leaders back there. So when you need a big play, he seems to be around the ball quite a bit.
Q. I saw before you guys left the field to go off after the game you kind of grabbed him and talked to him. What did you tell him then?
COACH KELLY: I just said that from my perspective you know he’s the kind of guy that can make things happen. He’s got to continue to do that. Make things happen, positively. Don’t sit back and wait. And we had a conversation that I didn’t want our DBs, in particular, Gary and him, to sit back and be apprehensive based on last week. I said be aggressive. He said: Coach, I was maybe too aggressive on that play. I said: Make sure you don’t tell anybody that. You were correct in all of your alignments and assignments.
Q. We all know about Michael, but T.J. had three catches, Tyler two catches. Are you sensing Tommy is developing chemistry with either of those guys?
COACH KELLY: I think that’s true. And we talked about this with our local guys the other day, is that I think it’s really a good thing when you can develop that rapport with the other players. And all of them are younger players as well.
So Tommy’s developing that rapport with all of them. We know about Michael. Michael, it was hard to get the ball to him today. And we worked hard at it. But when we got some one on one matchups Tommy was able to find the guys that needed to get the ball.
Q. You helped them, the team that really likes to run the ball and run it well, 29 yards, forcing them to throw it 54 times, what was the key to that? Was that your game plan force them out of what they like to do and what would you attribute the success to?
COACH KELLY: Well, again, I think all the basic tenets of good football starts with stopping the run. And we’ve done a really good job of that.
The question was when we force you to throw, how are we going to play on the back end, and I thought we played very well. Mixed the coverages up well. Played some new nickel coverages and got really good pressure.
I think when you press a team that’s so conscious of running a football to throwing it 54 times, those are numbers that generally resonate into good things happening, playing against a Michigan State team.
Q. Does that speak to your confidence in your secondary, that you felt like forcing them to throw was the way to beat them?
COACH KELLY: No, what it really was we got up on them. We got some separation which forced that. But we knew that we had to play better in late games in our nickel and dime defenses in the back end. And we’re going to continue to be challenged in that respect, because I think we’re going to do a good job against the run.
Q. You guys turn it over again a few times today. Obviously they didn’t hurt you quite as bad as they did the first two games. Do you feel like you’re at the point where you take the bad with the good as long as there’s enough good to win some games at this point?
COACH KELLY: I don’t. No. We’ve got to hold onto a punt late in the game. We can’t do that. And Tommy’s developing, and I’m not happy with interceptions but he knows what’s happening and he’s going to continue to get better.
Q. Going off that, there were imperfections in the game, do you feel like your guys dealt with the imperfections maybe better than they did the first week at all?
COACH KELLY: That’s what I said to our team. We found a way to win, when you’re 0 2 and you feel like things could be just going against us, we got bad luck. And they didn’t feel that way. If they did, you maybe have a different outcome in that football game. But I think we stressed all week about you gotta make your own luck, and we did. We turned the ball over and then we made a play with the big interception.
And so I think in answer to your question, our guys hadn’t lacked confidence. They just need to finish. I said at halftime, I think I said finish, finish, finish more times than I’ve said anything else to a team. And that’s all we said. Finish the game, find a way to win.
Q. Tyler Eifert appears to be really valuable on third down. It seems like most of his catches come in that situation. Is that happenstance, or is there a reason behind that?
COACH KELLY: No, he’s hard to match up, because obviously you’ve got to pay attention to Theo Riddick and pay attention to Mike. And T.J. will beat you if you let him.
I think he showed that today. Tyler can get matched up inside/out, when he gets matched up inside/out. When he’s matched inside/out, he’s usually matched up on a linebacker. And he’s the guy that’s going to win a lot of those matchups. So very valuable player for us in that respect.
Now, we try to force one to him. Tommy’s interception was trying to force it to Tyler in the third down situation. We had a conversation about it and he found him when he needed to.
Q. Brian, can you talk about the schematics? Coach Dantonio said it was an ambush run two for one and that sprung George. And what was the setup for that?
COACH KELLY: Well, there are schematics that we thought we’d employ this week that were different from what we’ve done in the past and we felt like we had an opportunity to create a small, very small seam. And it was going to be we talked about it during the week at practice. It was going to open and close, going to have one shot at it. And you gotta beat it with speed.
That’s what prompted us to go with George, because we felt if we could get him a sliver he was going to be able to make a big play. And certainly that’s what occurred. So the schematics of it were such that the other two times we couldn’t catch that theme and he went down pretty easily. We’ve got some work to do.
Q. Big picture with this team, sounds like this week the focus, attention to detail was where you want it to be. On these guys were they kind of desperate for a pay off? How much longer do you think these guys could have gone before, without being rewarded for that focus, that attention to detail may have taken a hit?
COACH KELLY: I didn’t care about them. It’s me. I couldn’t take it any longer. I had to listen to you guys another week. I wasn’t going to show up.
You know what, I think it’s like anything else. I know one thing is that they weren’t lacking confidence, but sooner or later you gotta get paid. You gotta be validated in what you do. And so it was a big win for us.
Q. Your sudden change defense, I think after three turnovers I think you only gave up three points after the turnovers. Do you try to impress upon the defense you’ve got to step forward and pick up the offense when they’re struggling to turn the football over?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it’s all part of the day to day conversations that occur. In preseason camp we create those sudden change opportunities. We talk about it.
So I think you have to address those things. We do. And, again, I think our defensive mentality is such that they feel like they can play with anybody. They wanted to get validated in the back end of the defense. And again I’m not saying we’ve arrived. But they’re prepared for those sudden change opportunities.
Tommy Rees: Especially being a full team effort. Defense played awesome. Offense made plays and special teams did a great job. So having this full team win, seeing a win in the win column, it’s a great feeling.
Q. (Off microphone)
Tommy Rees: We’ve always had chemistry. T.J., Theo did a great job. I was telling everyone in there, even the running backs, they did awesome, getting themselves open and making good options for us.
Q. Could you say just the negative, not to get down, how do they actually maintain that level of (indiscernible)?
Tommy Rees: I think the group of guys we have, no one on this team was getting down or feeling bad. I think the leadership throughout the whole the team, the coaches, the players, everyone did a great job.
Q. Talk about the balance off the pass. Two running backs and couple of receivers.
Tommy Rees: The offensive line did a great job. Provided us with a great running game, protection to get the ball out on the perimeter. Starts with them. And then running backs running hard and receivers getting open and just my job getting the ball to them.
Q. Considering all the turnovers in the first couple of games, how were you able to overcome that in the first quarter?
Tommy Rees: Obviously we had a couple in the first half. And those are on me. There’s ways I need to keep getting better, improve. And they did great all week, the whole season staying positive. We know we can go out there and play well. It’s a matter of putting everything together.
Q. Talk about the practice on Wednesday and what effects that had.
Tommy Rees: I think almost all the practices we’ve had, everyone is understanding the preparation throughout the week and how that translates into the game. And we had a couple of periods that were tougher. Coaches getting after us. Guys responded great and I think it helped a lot.
Q. Talk about just the chemistry.
Tommy Rees: T.J. and I came in together a couple of springs together. We’ve been roommates. We have a great chemistry out there. I’m completely confident in his abilities of getting the job done.
He made a huge play on third down to set up his touchdown. And without him catching that quick slant, we’re not in that position.
Just building the confidence with each other; them getting a little more used to how I’m playing, and me the same way. And I think we’ve done a really good job staying on the same page.
Q. Coach said you had a conversation after the interception. Talk about that conversation.
Tommy Rees: Right. I knew the mistake I made. And I knew exactly what was going on. It’s just you gotta eliminate those mistakes. You can’t have them happen again. And I felt like we did a good job from that point on, taking care of the ball, taking what the defense gave us, not trying to force too many things. And Coach and I had a good dialogue after that and I just came out firing from there.
Q. Tommy, talk about managing the game. From the first half to the last half, seemed like you may have made some mistakes, but you were always conscious of managing the game.
Tommy Rees: Right. Especially playing with the lead there, you have to do a good job taking care of the ball, not putting your defense in tough situations. And when we get in early leads like that, staying consistent, not getting complacent and knowing that you need to keep going and keep putting points on the board. The quarterback, you’ve got to be the leader out there and stay calm, do what you can to help your team win.
Q. Were you ready to bleed the clock all the way down the last half of the fourth quarter? Did you hear the clock in your mind as to what you wanted to get it down to?
Tommy Rees: Yeah. We still wanted to go out there and put some points on the board. Helping our defense out, helping our whole team out by killing some of the clock and eliminating some of the time they had to go down and score and the whole offense was conscious of that. And Coach did a good job letting us know the situation we were in.
Q. How much easier does it make the game for you with the running game right away?
Tommy Rees: It helps a lot. It keeps the defense on their toes, not having to go out there and throw it a lot. Like I said, it all starts with the offensive line. They did an awesome job, not only protecting me, but providing running lanes. Our running backs are running so hard, and they’re understanding what they need to do. And it’s fun having the whole offense click like that.
Q. Brian mentioned the chemistry you’re starting to develop with some of the other receivers. Can you talk about that?
Tommy Rees: I think that just comes throughout the week of preparation, just getting on the same page as them. Just comes with more and more experience.
Q. Do you feel like you guys handled it better?
Tommy Rees: I think in the past we’ve handled them well. But maybe greater volume, in the red zone and stuff like that where you can’t have them.
But the guys all through games and especially they handled them well and bounced back and knew what we needed to go out and do.
Q. What’s the key to that?
Tommy Rees: Just staying positive. It’s just one play you gotta go out there, you gotta have a short term memory and keeping the guys up and staying positive throughout the game.
Q. (Off microphone)?
Tommy Rees: I just think getting the win helps a lot of guys. We’ve been confident and we’ve had times when we’ve been down on ourselves, but getting back on the winning track, on the right track, it helps us a lot going forward.
Q. With the physical practice, more so than any other time Brian’s been here, what does that do for you?
Tommy Rees: I think it helps the guys just throughout the week. And in tough situations getting that extra yard we need and getting those hard yards on third down and third and short, and I thought the coaches did a great job handling that.
Q. Also help release the frustration to go out there?
Tommy Rees: Yeah, maybe a little bit. But it paid off.
Q. Coach said you managed the game well. So when he says that, what does that mean to you?
Tommy Rees: As long as we get the win, I don’t care what words he uses to describe the game. I thought we were playing with the lead. We had help from special teams. And just limiting mistakes and understanding what the defense is doing and how to take advantage of it. Getting the win is all that matters.
Q. What was that call?
Tommy Rees: We had a couple of different things going on, on that play, frontside and backside. And they came up and pressed T.J.
When that happened, we worked all week keeping our guys deep and getting over the top. He did a great job being a big play guy for us. And can’t say enough for how well he got opened and I just gotta put the ball on him.
Q. (Off microphone)?
Tommy Rees: Yeah. You know, it hurts, but not as bad as people think. Obviously you don’t see it coming and all that.
But I was fine. I was more frustrated with how it went down than anything, just losing the ball and not having great ball security on that hit. But you pop right back up. And I don’t even feel it now. So it’s good.
Q. It appears that Tyler is kind of your target on third down. Almost did it three times today. Twice on one drive. What is it about third down in particular that makes him so valuable?
Tommy Rees: I think he does just a great job providing a mismatch for us. People think about Floyd on third down or something else. But Tyler is a hard matchup. He’s big. He’s athletic. He does a great job getting open. We have such a good confidence and chemistry with one another that he’s a great guy to have on third down.
Q. Are you surprised that Lynch had the impact that he did today?
Tommy Rees: To be honest, I didn’t see much of the defense. I’m not surprised. I mean, since the day he’s walked on campus, he’s been a good player. I think he’ll just continue to grow. And obviously he helped out a lot.
Q. What do you see from Robert Blanton; he had a great day today.
Tommy Rees: He’s the kind of the guy you don’t want to throw to all the time. He has a knack for making big plays. He’s a big physical corner, can do a lot of things on the perimeter. That’s what we expect from him. He’s a great player.
Q. People make so much out of (indiscernible)?
Tommy Rees: I think probably. Throughout the whole process, we’ve been at each other’s backs the whole time. There’s never been a moment of bad blood or bad chemistry. He helped me, I helped him, and we both had team goals in mind. So I think maybe a little bit. But at the end of the day we’re there for each other to help each other out.
Q. What do you think is the biggest thing you learned?
Tommy Rees: I think just growing within the offense and knowing the different situations of the game and just learning how to prepare week to week, and that’s something I’ve got to continue to get better at.
Q. Does your preparation change?
Tommy Rees: Not really. You gotta come out to practice every day. Your reps are a little different and all that. But you come out with the same work ethic every day, and you’ve got to be focused no matter what happens because you never know when your time is going to be. And you gotta try to make the most of your opportunities.
Q. (Off microphone)?
Tommy Rees: You know, I love playing at home. I love being here with our fans and our crowd. They did a great job last week traveling and giving us support. And obviously last week was a pretty awesome atmosphere and the same for today. Playing at Notre Dame Stadium is a privilege. A lot of fun.
Q. Let’s talk about your learning curve. And when you threw that interception you said you knew it right away. Tell us about that.
Tommy Rees: It comes with a week of preparation. We knew what they were doing. And I knew I shouldn’t have thrown it there, obviously, and it’s just something I would like to have back.
But going forward I think we took advantage of that coverage they were giving us and just working towards it. And I knew the minute I let go of the ball I knew I couldn’t throw the ball there.
Q. (Off microphone)?
Tommy Rees: I think we’ll enjoy it. But tomorrow’s, we gotta get back to work and get prepared for next week. We’ll enjoy it for now and everyone understands we’ve got to keep moving forward and keep winning games. And it’s something we can enjoy for sure.
Q. Talk about the running that really got the team going.
Tommy Rees: I mean, that was kind of focused throughout the week. Spread running. Starts the offensive line and the running backs ran hard and they did a great job of providing a great running game today.
Q. (Off microphone)?
Tommy Rees: It does. Keeps the defense on their toes and forces them to add people in the boxes. With the guys we have on the perimeter, you got a lot of mismatches out there.
Robert Blanton – Sr. – Cornerback
On his feelings after the win…
“We won the game (today) which is great. We’ve got to go back and watch the tape to assess every play. We need to look at how we played as a unit. I think we played great as a defense. Everybody stepped up and made a lot of plays today.”
On his interception…
“The coaching staff made a great call and put me in a great position. It allowed me to make a great play. I had my teammates out there blocking for me. It was a great play.”
On what prepared the team for the game …
“We have great coaches who work with us every day. We have great players-Gary Gray, Harrison Smith, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta. We need to show that we can go out and get the job done.”
On keeping morale up after the first two games…
“Just make sure we go out there with the same (demeanor) every day. Motivate each other. We all lift each other up. Everybody on the defense just pulled together.”
On stopping Michigan State’s running game…
“Our linebackers were doing a great job stopping the run so we knew the only way they could move the ball was with deep plays. We just needed to make sure we didn’t do anything silly back there that could cost us the game. The linebackers were playing great.”
On whether or not the defense changed because of Michigan State’s running game…
“Our game plan is the same every week. We go out there, we play our rules, we go out there and try to win. What the offense does is up to the other team. We just make sure we’re prepared for everything.”
On having a more active role in the defense today…
“I was pretty busy because they threw the ball a lot; but it was also fun. You like that as a DB.”
George Atkinson III – Fr. – Running Back
On preparing for today’s game…
“As soon as I heard I was going to be back there this week, I started watching more film.”
On his kickoff return for a touchdown…
“I saw a crease, and all of a sudden-the blocks were well placed-I hit it as fast as I could. I saw the kicker in front me, and I couldn’t let him get me, so I just started running faster.”
On the learning curve as a freshman player …
“Watching the people in front me, Theo, watching how they hit it hard. Coming in, you know you’ve got to run. It’s a faster game than in high school. I still have to work on a lot of things, specifically ball security. I’m going to watch the film and work on it.”
Ethan Johnson – Sr. – Defensive End
On the week leading up to the game…
“We didn’t lose our confidence. Some bad things happened in the last couple games but that’s not always going to happen. And if it does, we just have to bounce back and be ready as a defense. We were even tested today and came back with the same attitude. The success (we had today) is attributed to our hard work and practice. We’ve kept our heads up through defeat the past few weeks and it showed today.”
On the team’s post game attitude…
“It’s our first win (of the season). We’re 1-2 right now and we’re not happy with it. We’re happy for the win today. We’re not happy where we are overall, but we have to enjoy today and get ready for next week. We play Pitt and they’re going to want to take us down just as much as Michigan State did, so we have to get after it at practice Tuesday.”
On the success of Aaron Lynch…
“I saw what I expected. He’s a very athletic player who plays hard. He had some success which was great to see.”
On the future of this team…
“I think that we need to continue to get better. There is no secret formula to winning. We have to continue to work hard and focus on the mistakes we’ve made and improve on them. At the end of the game you hope your improvements have made you the better team (to come out on top).”
Manti Teo – Jr. – Linebacker
On Michigan State’s passing game…
“We took away what they wanted to do, which was the run. They’re a running team, they don’t want to be forced to pass. We made (Michigan State) do something they’re not used to doing and don’t want to do, and when you get an offense to do that, it’s half the battle.”
On the secondary’s play…
“They were great. They’re lead by Harrison Smith who I think is one of the best leaders in the country. We also have two of the best corner backs who can play their game. They played the way I’m used to seeing them play.”
On the maturation of young players on the team…
“They’re slowly being incorporated into the play calls. They stepped up big. They were blowing up plays and that showed through the holding penalties and the quarterback hurries.
On Troy Niklas’ first start…
“He stepped in and did a pretty good job. I told him to relax and to work on things. He was tense and not relaxed and it’s hard to play football that way. The more he relaxed, the more he was able to make plays.”
Harrison Smith – Sr. – Safety
On doing your job…
“To me, the coaches have always put us in perfect situations to win. On Saturdays, game days the win or loss is on the players, period. When we do our job on the back end, that is when we win games.”
On cohesiveness of the team…
“I think the offense leans on us, and we lean on the offense. We are a complete team – offense, defense, special teams – we all rely on each other. All count on one another, respect one another, and nobody is ever getting on anyone. There is constant support and when we go out there on Saturday it is one family that goes out and plays together.”
On the gaps in the defensive zone…
“There is always some gaps. At the end of the day you want to stop everything. That is something that Michigan State does, and it is a part of their offense. The underneath throws and picking guys to run the route is what they do a good job at. Sometimes when no one is blitzing we still couldn’t stop it because they execute it so well. I think it is a testament to the system they run and the players they have running it. They really know how to work with one another and get open. At the same time it is also on us to get that corrected.”
Michael Floyd – Sr. – Wide Receiver
On goals for next game…
“Just making sure we keep the confidence up and do the little things right. There are mistakes in this game that we want to make sure we don’t have next week, we need to correct our mistakes and keep it going.”
On the team coming together…
“Getting the win today feels great. Most teams don’t want start off at 0-2. Getting this win under our belt is boosting our level of confidence and giving us momentum heading into next week.”
On having confidence and calmness…
“When I feel it is a time for the team to hear what I have to say, I just feel that it is my duty as a senior to speak up. To make sure everyone focuses and know that the past is there, but we need to win.”
MARK DANTONIO: To begin with, I thought to come down to Notre Dame and play well we had to do a number of things: We had to travel as a team. I thought we did well in that area.
And we had to come down here with the belief. That belief remains intact and that will carry us through this football season. We also had to make plays that we had to defend. Those are things we had to do if we were going to be able to win. We had to sort of silence the crowd a little bit, we felt.
But defend, that means protecting the quarterback. That means playing on kickoff. Playing well on kickoff doesn’t mean just playing on the defensive side of the ball, it means we’ve got to play well on special teams.
The one big kickoff return in the first half obviously was a huge play for us. I thought the guy got ambushed, sort of pinballed into another guy. And they were off to the races.
But obviously that was a huge play in the football game. We felt we needed to have one special teams play that would be explosive to help us win the football game and they got that play rather than us.
When you look at us collectively, we’ve got to establish a running game and be more balanced, I think, as an offense.
Defensively played very well the second half. Came up with some turnovers, two turnovers, actually. The third one was on a special teams play. But came up with some turnovers in the first half. But offensively we’ve got to do something with those turnovers as opposed to getting three points.
That hurt us there and we had field position a number of other times I felt around the 50 where we need to convert on those things and have more opportunities to score points.
Field goal at the end of the half, my call, didn’t work. Three points. But I don’t think that’s why we lost the game. But I’ll take the blame for that.
But our guys will continue to push. And that’s the beautiful thing about being in conference, I guess, is that our conference still remains intact. All of our goals remain intact. We’ll get ready to play Central Michigan next week and we’ll look forward to that.
Congratulate Notre Dame on their win. I thought they played very well, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And I thought they ran the football in the first half, which I think was the key to some of their success in the first half. So I’ll take some questions.
Q. Coach, first of all, could you tell what happened on that field goal attempt?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, they got some push right there on the wing side and they got penetration right there. So it knocked the tight end back, the guard back, and because of that it didn’t go. He could not get around. Had he gotten around, looked like he would have walked in. But he didn’t get around. End of story.
Q. You were very effective on the 8 to 10 yard passes down the field. What was the problem throwing the longer passes?
MARK DANTONIO: I thought they did a nice job defending down the field. They were in two man stuff early in the game, played some cover two on the trick play, brought the corner one time and fell into that and sacked our quarterback.
But two things I think enter into that. One is we have to have protection to be able to throw the ball down the field. And then the second thing is the way the game played out in the fourth quarter, they weren’t going to allow us to throw the ball deep down into the field. But I thought they played the ball well in the deep part of the field.
Cunningham comes up with I think 12 catches, one big one down the field. Other than that, he had a couple knocked off him. Would have been great catches. They were great plays by the defenders. Give credit to Notre Dame in those areas and congratulate them on some of these things as well.
Q. How big a concern is your offensive line right now? Burkland going down, can you give us an update on that? Is that a potentially season ending thing?
MARK DANTONIO: We’ll find out more about Skyler tomorrow and be able to release exactly what’s going on with him. But obviously our offensive line is a bit of a concern because we’re relatively young there.
But I thought Fonoti came in and played pretty well. We can’t have the penalties that sort of occurred in the fourth quarter. We can’t have those things happening for us. And we’ve got to get a push and run the football.
But whether it’s the offensive line or whether it’s the tight ends or whether it’s the full back, all these things enter into running the football. The same with pass protection.
It’s a running back potentially that has the problem with pass protection or it’s a tight end, or it’s a route problem or it’s a coverage or whatever. Or it could be the quarterback.
So it all plays together. And there’s no one group of people that’s saying, okay, they can’t run the ball so it’s the offensive line. That’s not really how it works in the real world.
Q. Mark, it’s a little bit of a follow up on Joe’s question, but would it be primarily youth on the offensive line that you blame for not being able to run the ball? That’s been such a problem here against good teams.
MARK DANTONIO: That remains to be seen until we see the film, probably, and see exactly what the problem was. But we had two inexperienced tackles. They’re athletic, but they’re young. And we said coming into this football game they’re going to be young until they start playing more.
And when they start playing more, they’re going to get better and there’s a big curve. If you’re playing with the senior there and you have a problem, I think that’s more of a concern than if you’re playing with a sophomore or freshman or junior college player because you know those guys are going to get better. They’re talented athletes. And so I’m not concerned about it.
What I am concerned about is that we stay together as a football team; that we weather a storm. I think that’s what you have to do when tough things come down the pipe at you. That’s where we’re at.
We’ll weather the storm. Our guys are disappointed, obviously. Very disappointed. But sometimes these things happen. We have to pull together. We have to move to the next challenge.
Q. You talked about penalties, but up front a couple of them came from an experienced guy like Foreman, does anything surprise you about the discipline from your team today?
MARK DANTONIO: No. You know, we’re in a two minute situation, running a lot of plays, two minute situation from the one yard line. So we have to go 99 yards. And we’re down on the field they’re getting tired. Defensive line, they’re rolling people in there on you. That’s part of the factor of going two minutes really, for the last ten minutes of the game we went two minutes in that situation.
So they’re going to get tired, but we have to shore up the areas where there was a problem. And obviously you’re concerned about penalties or lack thereof on the other side. But you deal with it.
Q. Last year you saw Dayne Crist run this offense for the Irish. What did Tommy Rees bring this year that you noticed from last year?
MARK DANTONIO: I think Dayne Crist did a great job last year as well. I think both those quarterbacks can function very effectively in this offense. You’ve seen them both function very effectively.
Sometimes guys make a mistake and you gotta they’re certainly more qualified to answer who should be playing quarterback than I am. But I think both those guys are good football players and both those guys have the ability to function well and lead from what I’ve seen and win football games.
Q. What happened on the kickoff return?
MARK DANTONIO: What happened on the kickoff was it’s not an illegal block but a guy coming to ambush a guy. So he’s coming from the far sideline and coming to hit a guy, hit him in the front. He pinballed him into our contain guy. So they took two for one right there. I think our safety got caught up in the flow a little bit. So our safety, there was a safety on the kickoff, wasn’t able to fold over.
They got Isaiah. Sort of sealed him off a little bit. When they knocked down the two guys with one guy they were sort of off and running. They made a nice cut and got the edge.
Q. Earlier in the week you talked about attention to detail and how important the little things are going to be in this game. And it seemed to play out. Is that something that you’ll look to clean up?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, you always look to clean those things up. But I also think this is a game of football. We can have a great play called and execute it to that level almost nearly perfect. But if a guy gets a hand in there or they do a good job because they have the defense, the correct defense called or they do a great job executing their defense, then things are going to happen.
And, again, credit Notre Dame in terms of what they were able to do. I thought they played hard. And they made plays. They made plays on the ball down the field as a secondary, I thought. They got a push out of their defensive front. Cousins was on his back a lot after throwing the ball.
So they were applying some pressure and that takes an effect on a guy. If you hit the quarterback 20 times in the game, I’m not sure how many times he got hit, but that can take an effect on somebody. So those things happen.
If you look at why it is what it is, I guess, you look at we have three turnovers. We’re down inside the 10 twice and we come away with nothing on those. One of them is mine. Another one is an interception. And, you know, so those things are happening. We have to obviously omit those, clear those up.
Q. (Off microphone)?
MARK DANTONIO: I thought we lost the edge a couple times. Lost leverage, leverage would be if an outside position player needs to be outside and not caught inside. But we knew what they were doing. I felt like always when you’re functioning against an offense like this, it’s a no huddle, spreads you out type attack. It takes a little bit time to adjust to that as the game continues on.
So an adjustment to it, you know that first series we have a chance to get off the field a couple times. I can’t really remember. But it’s how the offense is coming, and how rapidly it’s coming at you. You have to get used to that. Played much better in the second half. But, again, we have an opportunity to shut them out really I feel in the second half. And they make a couple of plays and then they throw the fade.
So make a couple of plays, there’s a couple of calls, whatever. There’s always going to be plays that you wish would have gone our way or something like that. But, again, you just have to deal with what really happened, look at what really happened, beyond looking at this because you don’t really know. I’m on the sideline. You guys are in the box. But find out what really happened and then clear those things up.
And I think if we do those things, we’re going to have a good football team. We’ve got guys who can make plays.
Q. On the third and one, when Cousins went long, can you explain your decision process for that?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, our MO thus far on third and one has always been run it. And we felt like the tight end on the corner route was there, and it was there. He went to the post on it. But, again, he did not have time, I don’t feel, to look. But the tight end was open on it. And we’re trying to get in the game make big plays. On third and one, so we took a shot. Calculated risk, I guess, to some extent but took a shot and it didn’t work.
Sometimes it’s there. Could have converted it. It would have been a great call. I challenge our coaches to be playmakers as well and try to make plays and that’s what we’re trying to do as a coach.
Q. The fact that they were 0 2 coming in, did you sense that Notre Dame played with any special desperation?
MARK DANTONIO: Oh, I don’t think desperation desperation is not a good word for it. I think they played confident. I think they played enthusiastic, energized. They played hard. And some bad things happened for them, too. We just couldn’t convert.
So it’s the way the game’s played. And credit them and what they were able to do. Credit their defense, when they had sudden changes going in and making a play and stopping, whatever, so those things are going to happen. But I don’t feel like they were they played two good football games where they had every opportunity to win that football game. Turnovers hurt them in those games.
Q. On the fake field goal, can you give us the design of that play how it was supposed to work?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, the way it was supposed to work was supposed to be solid on the right side and not get any penetration, shovel pass back to (indiscernible) and we were going to fold it on the backside, outblock the wing. Outblock the tight end, pulled the wing up through, because they stepped outside on it and allow him to go get the safety. Probably should have done it from the 20 or 30 yard line. But now I’m telling our secrets, so…not a secret anymore.
On how Notre Dame played…
“I think we knew coming into the game that they were going to come out and play hard. They were 0-2 and needed a win. We had mistakes and let big plays happen and we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
On not being able to use their running game…
“Any time you don’t run the ball effectively it is going to add a little bit of difficulty to the offense. I really tried hard to keep running the ball. We’ll get back on track and run the ball better next week.”
On execution by MSU’s offense…
“I don’t think there was any one thing we did wrong, I think we just came up short in the redzone. We came away from the five-yard line twice with no points; you can’t expect to win a game when you do that.”
On quality of offense without OT Skyler Burkland…
“They battled. They did a great job. They fought all day against a great defensive line, a very talented defense. I was really proud of how our offensive line played and really proud of how our team played as a whole. I think we showed a lot of character.”
On what to take away from this game…
“We have to forget about it, watch the films, and correct our mistakes. We need to keep it in the back of our minds though when we come out and play the rest of our games. We faced adversity, we faced it all day today and we will face it next week too. We take this loss and keep our heads up and move forward. The biggest thing to take away is execution on the little things, it’s a game of inches. So we have to keep moving forward, running routes and catching the ball. We have to correct all of that this coming week and move forward.”
On playing against Michael Floyd…
“I was just out there trying to do what I do by catching the football and making plays. Our defense did a great job with him. He’s a playmaker and I felt that I came out and made some plays too.”
On frustrations from today’s mistakes…
“It’s the game of football, the ball bounces around, you get a call here or a call there. We just have to play through it, and that’s what we tried to do but those things happen.”
On play throughout game…
“We didn’t get the win, so I could always play better. The team could. Opportunities didn’t go our way.”
On differences in Notre Dame from last year to this year…
“No they had the same offensive lineman. They’re ND. I’ve played them the last four years, and I knew what I was going against and we didn’t make as many plays as we should have. They’re a good team. We’re a good team and we’re just going to have to bounce back next week.”
On Notre Dame…
“They’re good players we just had a hard time standing on our blocks. They have a pretty good defense, but they did what we expected. We just didn’t execute to our full potential.”
On difference from last year…
“Last year we stayed on pace, and it was a close game. This year we fell behind early so we had to lean on the passing game to try and get back into the game. They have a nice solid defense.”
On failed fake field goal…
“They got too much penetration and knocked me off my path. The pass was delivered on time, I just got knocked off. They played a good game, special teams and everything.”
On if Notre Dame was ready for the fake…
“I couldn’t tell. I feel like if I got the ball it would have been open on the other side. They got too much penetration and knocked me off. Everyone was ready for the fake. They caught on early. They were calling fakes the whole game. They caught on every time.”