Nov. 16, 1999
JOHN HEISLER: A couple of quick announcements. Kickoff this week is at 2:36 here in South Bend, that is 2:36 Eastern time. Again, a reminder that the tickets do say 1:30, so please be aware that the game time is at 2:30.
For those of you connected via satellite there will be five minutes of highlights from last weekend’s Pittsburgh game at the end of our satellite feed. And don’t forget our Sunday wrap-up with Bob Davie is at 11:30 in the Joyce Center Auditorium. Coach Davie will make some opening comments.
COACH DAVIE: I think every week you come and you talk about — you have heard me say it a bunch times– it is important to be a better team at the end of the year than you were at the beginning of the year.
The thing I try to focus on each and every week is to show improvement, to make improvement as a football team. I think that is the important thing. That is what keeps you going. That is what keeps your football team going because that is something you can control. Not always easy to control.
But I think if you stop right now and look at the big picture of our season, we started out, we were a team that had some growing pains early because a lot of reasons that you know of and I have talked about a bunch of times because of the schedule because of different guys playing.
So we had some growing pains but we make it through that. We are a 1 and 3 team. We lose those close games, really emotional games, played extremely well at times, probably played a little bit better at times than we thought that we would maybe in some cases. But we lost some heartbreaking games. We are 1 and 3.
Then we got through that. We had those four straight games at home, showed some improvement. Found a way to win some close games – not a great team, not a great team. I don’t know if it’s realistic to say we were going to be a great team. But a team that made enough improvement that we are able to get that thing back on track, playing at home, won a couple of close games, three of those four were extremely close and we are a 5 and 3 team, so we are making improvement.
We get to the Open Date. I guess after the Open Date with Navy and then the last two weeks — it is hard for me to sit here and say we made improvement. If you look at the Tennessee game, I thought there were some positive things in that game. I thought we competed extremely hard. I thought we had some guys play well. The big thing we were excited about playing, but if you look back to Pittsburgh, I thought we played hard. Probably played hard enough to win, if Pitt didn’t make some great plays, if maybe we didn’t have a pass interference or two called on us, if maybe Pitt didn’t seize the emotion of the game at the end and use that to ride the waive.
The point I am making is we played hard enough to win, but we didn’t play hard enough and passionate enough to win that regardless of how Pitt played, we could have won that game. So I think we took a step back.
I am not trying to take anything away from Pittsburgh. That game is behind us. Pittsburgh is the same team that lost 10 to 9 or whatever it was to Penn State early in the season. They are a talented football team.
But I think the point I am trying to make is you always feel good when you come in here and say we have made improvement, we are continuing to make improvement. Based on last week I can’t say that because I think we took a step back. I think it is important always, the responsibility you have is to figure out why that happened. Some things you can control, some things you can’t control. But the bottom line is you better have, first of all, identify why and then try to find steps to rectify that problem because that is what — everyone has problems. Everyone right now in college football of varying degrees has problems.
That is what I have tried to do. That is what this coaching staff has tried to do – continually throughout this season – but probably even more so now because we felt like we took a step back.
But if you look at it closely, I think I have never been one to make excuses but sometimes when you give what you consider the problems to be, sometimes it can be interpreted like that. That is one of the risks you run. But rather than not say anything, I will give you my honest opinion of what I think some of the things are right now and that is how we are going about it as a football team. Not to try to tweak things for a press conference or not to try to do anything, to try to solve the problems for our football team.
I think the first thing that I have seen right now is a team, you know, is that we are mentally drained. I am talking about going into the Pittsburgh game more so, you know, mentally drained, a little bit, you know, a little bit of burnout type of a thing. I go back and look at a lot of things. Because you got to find an answer for it, you got to find an answer right now. Not next season, it is about right now getting ready for Boston College.
But you look at all the teams that started this season early. If you look at Arizona and Penn State, if you look at Miami and Ohio State, if you look at Notre Dame and Kansas, I think all of us would probably – I can’t speak for all those teams – but I can kind of imagine all of us are in the same kind of boat right now by looking at how their seasons have gone, by looking at how these late games in the season had gone, and you know, I look back to our football team staying here all summer with no break, knew it would be a grind, but I’d do it all over again because I think it was best for this football team faced with opening at Michigan and at Purdue.
But I think because of that, combined with the kind of games we have had, those early games, that you lost, each and every one every week playing in the kind of atmospheres as we have played in – I am not whining about it – I think this football team is a little bit drained emotionally. That is not a sign of weakness that. It is a sign of reality, I think.
I think Tennessee may have had the same type of problem last week. I can’t speak for them, but after that game in Knoxville, the atmosphere in that stadium, the caliber of that game, the night game, all those things, for whatever reason it is frustrating we came out of it, we weren’t quite as passionate in the Pittsburgh game.
I think maybe some lessons you do learn the hard way and that is a hard lesson to learn to lose a football game, but I think in the end when there is — all this is said and done it, we will be better off for maybe having gone through it. Because playing football at Notre Dame each and every week, next year and the year after, whether you are playing in an early game or not it is a grind and every week it is a Bowl Game type atmosphere, whether you are at the University of Pittsburgh playing in the last game in that stadium, there will be those same scenarios next year.
You look at the next year where we go to play, we go to A&M and to Nebraska and we have Tennessee coming back in here, so I think this is all about the journey, you know, and a lot of these things I really think we can look back on and say we built the foundation of this program. Maybe some of them we learned the hard way, our football team. But I think mentally we are a little bit run down, a little bit exhausted. We have got to get that solved before this Saturday. I think we will. So that is one thing.
I think the second thing, injuries are a part of college football, part of professional football. I don’t know that I have seen as many as we have had. When you are talking about 16 players to date, 16 players that either couldn’t play in the Pittsburgh game or will not play this week, 16 players. And you add that to five because of the — some of the things that happened in other areas that we controlled. We got no one to blame but ourselves, you know, those rules are those rules. Got no one to blame. That is not my point at all, but you are talking about 21 scholarship players. It affects a lot of things.
I think when you look at the product on the field, first thing it affects are those special teams. When you look at Driver, Israel, Howard, Beckstrom, Walton, Poree, Lee Lafayette, Shane Walton, Brock Williams, you are talking about a bunch of guys that are your skilled athletes on those special teams. I think that starts to carry down because all of a sudden your starters are out there on those special teams.
You look at Harper and Cooper and Clifford Jefferson, there is a reason why in the second half of these last two games we haven’t performed quite as well as we did in the first half. I think we are a little bit beaten down. I think it affects the special teams. I think it affected that offensive line, who was young to begin with, and now you are talking about three starters out, played without two starters the whole Pitt game, then Jim Jones went down in the fourth quarter.
The other thing that it affects is, I think, your practice, obviously, because those 16 players – you are not talking about the ones that can’t practice that are probably going to play – I am talking about the Grant Irons that doesn’t practice, the Julius Jones, a freshman running back, one of your two running backs doesn’t practice all week but then plays.
This week doesn’t like like Anthony Denman is going to practice. Deke Cooper may not practice.
So the point I am making — we all have problems. It is finding solutions to those things. I think if you look at the future, keeping all of our players, our players understand in what it is to be at Notre Dame and those rules are those rules. That is a huge, huge statement right there. But — and also the depth of this football team as we continue to recruit and I think we are going to work through this thing.
But right now we are critically thin.
If you look at on the field, I think, offensively, first of all, the ability to consistently run the ball. Although we are averaging about 185 yards a game rushing, I think, we have run the ball at times this year. But consistently run the football, we struggled a little bit.
Why? Well, I mentioned those offensive linemen. That is a reality. I mentioned those two healthy tailbacks right now. One who practiced last week, one who didn’t.
If you look at the Pitt game, twice in the first half — more than that, but twice for sure, we were off rhythm by penalties that we created on first down.
We got behind in some games. We have been behind in Tennessee. We were behind in Pittsburgh. We had to throw the ball.
But the reality is we have to run the ball consistently to win. I think we will be able to do that. On the short-term, what we are doing right now probably gives us the best chance to win is going into Boston College and Stanford. But in the longhaul, we have to run the ball.
Second thing turnovers. We have turned the ball over 25 times this year. I think we are averaging 420 yards a game on offense, 30 points a game on offense, but we have turned it over 25 times, can’t win doing that. I remember that first press conference up stairs in the stadium: Can we protect the football, can we protect the football with Autry Denson not here. (inaudible) Saturday night, we got two young running backs, we are moving the ball – it is a 10-10 game. We take the ball in the second half. We are on their 45 yard line, kid comes up just rustles the ball out of the running back’s hands on second and 1.
A little bit later same thing happens again – can we protect the ball?
Next thing I think — and the thing that bothers me the most probably — not the most, but one of the things, just the tempo of our offense. Once again, that entails a lot of things, but it is tempo, starting with our quarterback of getting up there and getting things going and more of a rhythm and more of an attack-style offense. That is something we have got to get solved this week.
On defense, you know, the third down defense I have a hard type winning when opponents are 46 percent on third downs. Hard time winning games when their 46 percent completion rate on third down.
Why? Struggle covering people. We compete. We compete. We have — we struggle covering people. You look back at the last two weeks, think about those third downs.
Not a great pass-rush team. We went into the Pitt game 11 sacks, got three more, we are up to 14 sacks. Should have more sacks than that. It is something we continue to work on.
Give up big plays on defense. Pitt completed 10 passes – they were 10 for 27 for the game, but they had three of them over 40 yards, one A’Jani batted, once thrown against three deep behind our corner and our free safety. The others on a three-flicker that Southern Cal had us on the same play. Another they throw a corner rout on us on third and 10 for 28 yards and a touchdown. That is four passes out of those 10. Only completed 10. For 235 yards. So we give up big plays.
I mentioned the sacks.
So the challenge is finding answers for those problems. I think this football team will be emotionally ready to play because I think it is a team that has a lot of pride. I have no doubt about that. But we are not a talented enough team if we don’t play with every ounce of passion we have that we can win and that does not matter who we play on this schedule. Doesn’t matter who we play. There is a lot of teams like that in the country. You have got to put it all out there, every ounce of it. You know, physically this week, the balancing act is the practice, have got young players, Sean Mahan, Kurt Vollers, Ryan Scarola. Need every snap.
But yet you have got Merandi and Gandy who are beat up. That is the balancing act. We need to line up and run the ball but how many times are you going to give Tony Fisher that ball this week in practice?
He is the only tailback out there which we put Lopienski some at tailback in the game, moved Jabari a little bit at fullback, but it is hard to do that right now at this point in the season.
We looked at David Givens a little bit. We need work on pass defense, but if you look at it and you go into that game and it is Deveron and Clifford playing every snap of the game, plus on the punt team and the kickoff team, you get a little bit nervous about how much you do in practice and that is the kind of things we have been faced with, really since we have come out of the Open Date after the Southern Cal game.
So what you try to do is find solutions. Right now, I think the attitude of this football team is one that, you know, they take it very seriously. Their pride is hurt right now. They are a little bit embarrassed right now. And I think we will respond favorably to it.
But it is not one thing, it is an accumulation of things. But like I said, it really is the journey, and I think a lot of these things, everybody goes through, even at Notre Dame and at some point down the road, I think we will look back on this and realize we are building a foundation in this program.
That is honestly how I feel because all these players with these same problems right now, they are going to be back and I think you get stronger, I really do. I think we will get through this and I think we will be stronger down the road.
Obviously this is a big game for us. Boston College comes in 7 and 2. We have got a chance with Boston College and Stanford, last two games, both Bowl Teams. A chance to finish this season on a positive and that is our goal right now. So I have gone on a long time –.
JOHN HEISLER: We will take some questions from the electronic Q and A.
Q. I was wondering what is new from the mash unit, I think Sunday mentioned you had 15 kids who would be able to play. Looks like that has been increased by one. I guess several other guys are so banged up they just would be able to play in the game, but not practice?
COACH DAVIE: I guess probably easiest thing to give you the list some of these guys haven’t played for a while. So I will just give you the whole list:
McNair. Murray. Terrance Howard – Terrance Howard is getting a little bit better. He still can’t sprint. Won’t play this week, but he is showing improvement.
Jordan Black. Teasdale. Jim Jones will not require surgery, which is good news. But he is out for a significant amount of time.
Jamaar Taylor who is back tried to practice last week, but really not ready to practice. Raki Nelson who is getting closer, but I would say is doubtful at best.
Sean Milligan who is out with a shoulder, actually an elbow now.
Jason Beckstrom sprained ankle.
Albert Poree knee surgery today for a cartilage. Want to go ahead and get that done.
Shane Walton, quad.
Ronnie Nicks, with a quad.
Jason Ching had surgery on his knee.
Ron Israel with the broken hand.
David Miller with the hip flexor.
And then you have got — there is several guys, Julius Jones will not practice, Grant Irons will not practice, Anthony Denman will not practice.
But you like to think that they are 50/50 I would say — Julius Jones will probably play.
Grant Irons will probably play.
Denman is probably 50/50.
Deke Cooper probably won’t practice for a day or two, but I think he will play.
So that would be the injury list.
Q. Obviously having to make amendments for all this, is there anything you can say about what you can do against Boston College without revealing too much of your game plan to cope with all this?
COACH DAVIE: That is the point. We had enough game plan and we had enough players to go play Pittsburgh and beat Pittsburgh and we have enough players and game plan to go beat Boston College.
I mean, if you look at it closely on defense, our starting defensive unit is still pretty much intact. Although Grant can’t practice and Denman can’t practice, there is other people faced with that.
Our problem’s really the depth and the backups where there are none and then it trickles into the special teams.
So really on defense we are — on that first unit we have been fortunate. Offensively it is a concern because we have the three new linemen in there, but those three linemen have alternated a little bit and they have played a little bit. So we are not going to change much. It is more the overall depth and it is the practice, practice time and the special teams that concern me the most.
Don’t interpret — this is no — it doesn’t mean we don’t have enough game plan or we are so saddled by this we can’t do what we have to do to win. That is not the point at all. I think the point is these kids have to lay it all on the line and those that have a lot we need a lot from. Those that have a little, we need a little from. But we need every ounce of juice we have on this football team and it has been that way the last couple of weeks.
But, yeah, we have got no excuses with it. We have got enough players to go win.
Q. At this time of the season since you have done so much, is it possible to get by with a little bit less practice since everyone is pretty familiar with what they are supposed to do?
COACH DAVIE: We have to do that. That is the point I made earlier about, yeah, I mean, if you had everybody out there you probably could — you probably would cut back. The problem is where Sean Mahan, Kurt Vollers, Scarola, Julius Jones, they need every ounce of it. Clifford Jefferson is a young player playing for the first time. So that is the dilemma you have. Some need a lot and some don’t need a lot, but it is a team sport, you can’t go out there like maybe some other sports and practice individually. You got to put it all together. At some point if you talk about lining up and running the football consistently, you better line up running against somebody and that is part of the dilemma right now and that is the balancing act.
Q. Is Battle going to play any at quarterback this week?
COACH DAVIE: We’d like to get him in this game. We’d like to get him in.
I have said this before, Jarious gives us the best chance to win right now. I think everybody would agree with that. What is best for our future down the road? Probably is to play Arnaz Battle if you look at it on surface, but I am not sure that is completely accurate because I think there is a trust between players and coaches that may go beyond how much experience or how much — how many snaps you have and right now, be hard for me to look our football team in the eye and particularly Jarious Jackson and say, look, we are putting Arnaz in for next year.
So I think what we lose in maybe experience, maybe we gain in trust that we are going to do what is best for the players, not what is necessarily best for all of us next year. What is best for these players right now is we go beat Boston College and beat Stanford with the best players we have and Jarious right now gives us the best shot.
Now, Arnaz, I think deserves to play a little bit. But it won’t be something where we are doing it to try to get him ready for next year. We are doing it to try to beat Boston College.
Q. I just wanted to ask you a little bit about some of your assistants there and what insights have guys like Kevin Rogers and Jerry Rosburg, Lou West have given you in this stretch of games against Big East teams?
COACH DAVIE: Well, one thing I think we have got a really strong coaching staff. I was getting — Lou West, he leaves Virginia Tech and they are undefeated, they play for the National Championship and Jerry leaves Boston College and now they are 7 and 2. I don’t know if that is good or bad. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought that point up.
But both those guys have added a lot to our staff. As far as our actual preparation for Boston College, not much. We have played Boston College the last several years. Obviously Boston College has a new coordinator that wasn’t there last year that Jerry didn’t coach with.
But they have added a lot to our staff and to our football team. Both those guys are good coaches as is Kevin Rogers and Steve Addazio from the Big East. But right now we are 0 and 1 against the Big East so we are going to put a lot of pressure on those guys to get us back to 500 this week.
Q. Did Jerry give you any particular insights into the defensive personnel having coached them last year at BC?
COACH DAVIE: A little bit, like you can imagine. I mean, you can tell so much from tape though. You can sit there and watch those tapes, you get a pretty good feed on what your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses are.
I think that is only natural that you talk about the other team and you talk about how they do things and how they practice and what they can do on Sundays and what the players are like and all those things. But nothing out of the ordinary and nothing that I think is going — nothing that I think will affect this game at all.
Q. You spoke about just the how emotionally draining it is to go through a 12-game season. At this point of the year, though, it seems like most teams are kind of drawing upon their emotional reserves to carry them through games. Do you suspect your team has anymore left to give?
COACH DAVIE: Oh, I think we do. I think a lot of it depends on how much reserve you have left depending on the schedule you have played. So there is different degrees of that.
And your injury situation.
But just like I said, we are going to ask everybody in this program, players and coaches, that they have got a little, to give a little and they have got a lot, to give a lot. So we certainly have enough left. Don’t misinterpret-I am not trying to make a safety net for us. We fully expect to play our best game of the season this Saturday.
Q. You mentioned Pittsburgh, you succeeded in getting some big plays, maybe winning over the top on some plays. Is it a concern having seen Boston College go deep a couple times with their receivers and what do you see there that could cause some concern?
COACH DAVIE: I think that is a very good point. They do throw the football down the field. They do throw it vertically.
If you look back at the Pittsburgh Game they had the big catch there at the end of the game to beat Pitt. So it is a concern.
They have got a talented group of receivers, particularly No. 11 is a guy that I think is an explosive player and a quarterback is playing well. So yeah, I mean, that is a concern each and every week and, you know, it is going to be no different this week.
Q. What were your recollections of that game last year and again, how emotionally uplifting was that for your team?
COACH DAVIE: I will tell you what, that was an unbelievable experience. The end of that football game, you know, I could only imagining, you know — what you do in coaching, is you appreciate the efforts of the other coaches and the other players sometimes.
To be honest, I was so — felt so fortunate that we won that game. But I couldn’t help but think what Boston College felt like as well. Kind of like, you know, at Pittsburgh the other night. I was about as low as I have ever been in coaching, being from Pittsburgh and having coached at Pittsburgh and family there and all those things, but I couldn’t help but appreciate for Walt Harris and for Pittsburgh what that did for them.
So it is kind of the same thing last year at Boston College. I felt fortunate that we won. Obviously I was elated for our football team. But I couldn’t help but think of what Tom and those guys probably haven’t felt like they had gone down and won that football game in a great comeback and then have it snatched away from you because I have been in that situation. We were in that situation this year at Purdue almost the same identical thing. So you appreciate what goes into it on both sides.
So I was happy for us and, you know, I realize what Boston College was going through right there.
Q. I talked to a number of other coaches who said that the amount of detail of information for practices that ends up on the internet is becoming a concern. Wondering how has that affected your program?
COACH DAVIE: Doesn’t affect me at all. I think it is ridiculous, the whole thing, to be honest. I don’t subject myself to that. Fortunately I am computer illiterate, I guess.
I don’t pay any attention to that because some of the things that have gotten back to me that have been on it are just totally totally ridiculous and I think there is too many people out there probably with too much time on their hands and I am not saying all across the board, but some of the things that have got back to me about things that supposedly happened at our practices and things, I mean, it is just nuts to even address those things or even concern yourself with those things. So if I — if I did look at it or something or I did get a report that some team did something in practice, I probably wouldn’t believe it anyhow.
So what you are going to end up doing is just driving yourself crazy. It could be kind of like the old day of the false tip sheet, I remember years ago in college football you might leave — there is some places you might leave a tip sheet around before the game in the locker room showing a game plan. But you never knew if they were skunking you by doing that and making you think they were going to do something else or not, that is about how I feel about that whole internet thing. Whether it is in recruiting or practice or issues or what, because there is things that have come out about our practice. Our practices are closed or what maybe was said after a game in the locker room or something are just totally ridiculous.
So I think it is all good conversation. It is probably entertainment, but it is all kind of silly to me based on some of the things that I have seen.
Q. When you talked about your quarterback situation you talked about not playing for the future and trying to get the most out of these last two games. Has a decision been made on whether or not Notre Dame goes to a Bowl Game with a 7 and 5 record or doesn’t go to a Bowl Game?
COACH DAVIE: That decision has not been made yet. In fact, it hasn’t even been addressed yet. There has been no speculation at all from within. Because I just think we all see the challenge we have the next two weeks, so we really have not made any decision. We have not even speculated on that at all.
Q. Your first recruiting weekend is just a couple of weeks away now. Now that it is closer, can you evaluate what impact the waiting on the NCAA’s decision has impacted on your recruiting?
COACH DAVIE: It’s impacted us a little bit. First of all, from — it is obvious it impacts you as far as verbal commitment. Although we haven’t, you know, we haven’t tried to get a lot of verbal commitment. But sure, it impacts you a little bit.
It is a question that you continually try to answer, but you really can’t answer. It is kind of like some of the things we talked about today. You got to have answers and I think as competitive as it is right now for a visit, it has impacted us and I think from talking to the coaches and talking to student athletes out there, it is a hard tough situation when you can’t give them a definitive answer.
Q. How do you try to answer it?
COACH DAVIE: Well, you try — you try not to mislead them. That is the first thing because, let’s be honest, it is something none of us know exactly what is going to happen. We might think we do. We may have heard opinions that would lead us to believe of how it is going to go, but what you don’t want to do is break a recruit’s trust by telling him something, then all of a sudden three weeks from now you have got to come back and say, I told you is what I thought was going to happen. So it is somewhat of a difficult situation.
It is something I think we can overcome and we will overcome, but right now it has caused us to be neutral a little bit, just on hold.
Q. Has it hurt you in lining up visits for that banquet weekend which is —
COACH DAVIE: Not too much, it really hasn’t impacted that a whole lot, I don’t think.
Q. After the game one of the comments you made was that everybody has to take responsibility and everybody has to look in the mirror. When you looked in the mirror, what thoughts went through your head? Under the circumstances do you second guess yourself a little bit or what thoughts —
COACH DAVIE: Sure, I mean, that is only human nature.
The thing that bothered me was, you know, what happens, I mean Pittsburgh is a good enough team to beat us. So it is not like everything went wrong with Notre Dame or that Notre Dame just didn’t play and that is why Pittsburgh won that game. That was a unique atmosphere in that stadium. I have been in that stadium an one of times. Pittsburgh played. Those receivers went up and made catches and that kid caused that interception, those two kids stripped the ball.
But the reality is you go in expecting to beat Pittsburgh. That is how it is. So when you don’t, sure you second guess yourself.
I look back to last week on Tuesday when I felt like we were in a funk a little bit at practice, then we addressed that Wednesday. And Thursday’s practice, I thought we were a little bit in a funk. And then even in pre-game, then to not be able to get that solved, you know, to see something coming, from the passion standpoint and from, you know, approaching Tennessee, I mean, you felt like you were going to go in and take your best shot. But I think everyone in this program would say that you kind of see it coming and then not to be able to get it solved during the week. That isn’t the first time that is happened. But I think in our situation right now we have to get it solved to win.
There is other times, like I said last week, where you might have been on teams where, you know, that is a little bit of human nature, that is what football is – not every week are you going to be at the same level. But for us right now, we have to be at that level to win. That bothers me. It bothers me that I felt like we have been making continual progress, I thought we took a step back again at Pittsburgh. I mean, did we play hard enough? Probably. But not as passionate as we had to play in that environment to win. And that bothers me. Then I look at the injuries, all those things, some things you can’t control. But the bottom line is your responsibility to have them ready to play and to get that solved and I don’t think we did a good job of that. That is something we have — I mean, that is all we did yesterday was address that. You hate to learn a lesson the hard way, but it — this football team did. That, more than anything, I mean, that is — I don’t second guess at all our approach to the game, our scheme in the game.
Did we run it enough? Throw it too much? All those things. I don’t second guess those things at all – just on the fever and the passion we had in that game because at the end of that football game, whatever it was, Pittsburgh was going — you felt like they were just buzzing and passionate to win that game. We were, but not as much and that bothers me.
Q. You went through the injury list and mentioned Miller and the kicking situation. What are the chances that he would kick this week or are you going to stay with Sanson?
COACH DAVIE: I think it will be Sanson. I thought Jim Sanson responded well. It is unfortunate we had that field goal blocked before the half. That was a big play in the game from an emotional standpoint. You look back at how he has kicked off, what he did with the on-side kick at Tennessee, you know, first thing is to get David Miller healthy. But right now, I would have to say it is going to be Sanson this week.
Q. Even if David Miller could do (inaudible)–
COACH DAVIE: We will see. We will see. Because I want to keep that competition going there.
Q. When you were talking about the depth of the special teams, is the protection breakdown on the block and an example of what you are talking about or was–
COACH DAVIE: No, they just split our right guard and our right tackle and we had a little soft spot there. We got it solved a little bit as the game went on. That had nothing to do with that. That was a breakdown between our right tackle and our right guard and a great effort by the kid.
The ball was kicked — actually had no chance to kick the ball. That was a protection breakdown.
Q. Hit it, I think, in the face —
COACH DAVIE: Yeah, might have been kicked a little bit low, but I saw it as a protection breakdown.
Q. Can you talk about your senior class what you think about the leadership from them this year, especially during the trying times and also you have — maybe some tough decisions with regard to guys that can come back for a fifth year. Can you talk about how you balance that versus getting some, you know, young good recruits?
COACH DAVIE: Well, first of all, I think this senior class, you know, concern going into the spring and into the season was that — would be the leadership of this class. Because we lost some players that had played a lot of football. But I think they have led, I really do, because I look the Pitt game it is A’Jani, Deke and Deveron and Lamont and it is Merandi and Gandy and Jarious and Bobby Brown played his best football game. I have got no doubt right now that Deveron Harper, Bobby Brown, Lamont, those guys are playing the best football of their career. That is what you base it on. You base it on that.
Because of that, I think they have shown a lot of leadership I really do. They are still going strong and they are playing hurt and that to me says a lot about them.
As far as the fifth-year thing, I am just going to wait until after the season, let all the dust settle. And then bring each one of those fifth-year players or potential fifth-year players in and just see where we are in the whole thing.
There is a large group. I think there is potentially maybe 12 or 13 players potential — would have the potential for a fifth year.
Q. You mentioned about the defense, the sacks, lack of sacks and the coverage problems. When you go through that do you look at schemes? Do you look at experience levels? Talent? Is it a combination?
COACH DAVIE: I think it probably is all those things in spots. It is never one thing. We have rushed the passer a little bit better though the last couple of weeks. I really believe that.
We are caught in that dilemma right now of we want to pressure, but can we cover well enough to pressure. So you get caught kind of in between and being a little bit cautious maybe rushing five and playing some man-free, maybe trying to twist and rush four, you know, which I like a little bit more of that all or nothing approach just like Greg likes it a little bit more of that, but you are caught because you are just not sure you want to get hung out there, straight man-to-man. I am telling you, at times we have done an excellent job of coverage. Deveron Harper competed. Beckstrom competed two weeks ago. Clifford Jefferson has competed. But we are caught a little bit in that.
So, yeah, it is a little bit of scheme. It is a little bit of lack of pass-rush and a little bit of can’t cover them at times. Plus we have played some good teams. Pittsburgh, those two receivers were good 83 and 80. One of them was a freshman, I thought was really good. If you look each and every week, I doubt that anyone in the country played receivers like we played all week. If you look at the whole season, we have played some talented players so it is a lot of things.
But the bottom line, 46 percent on third downs you are not going to win, you are not going to win.
Q. There was some quotes attributed to you after the game that people have interpreted as you second guessing Kevin Rogers and you just mentioned you are not second guessing —
COACH DAVIE: What was the quote on that? I haven’t heard that —
Q. How committed were you at the start — (inaudible) —
COACH DAVIE: That had nothing to do with Kevin. If I wanted to run the ball more, we would have run the ball more. That has to do with in our situation right now, it is in our best interest to be just committed to run the football. Kind of what I talked about, with those linemen, with being behind in the game, with being off right them with the penalties, so, no.
Q. You are talking outloud about this is what I’d like to do, but we can’t do it, you are not —
COACH DAVIE: Yeah.
Q. — saying this guy is calling the wrong play —
COACH DAVIE: Exactly. That is not the case at all. Because one thing I would never do, I won’t let him call the wrong play. It would be easy to sit there and wait until the game is over and say we called the wrong play. I am going to get that solved if I think it is happening at that time.
No, that is more of what you said it was.
I mean, we needed to run that football to win that game probably, but I don’t think under the circumstances that we could have been committed to run the football.
Look at the second half, we came out and did run it, then we had the ball stripped out of our hands. Then we got behind. So, no, it wasn’t because of a lack of play-calling or a lack of — or a difference in philosophy. It was just because things that led us, circumstances that led us to not be as committed to run the ball.
Q. Do you as the head coach, you know what the play is going to be before it is run, don’t you and you have veto power, you can say no, I don’t like that —
COACH DAVIE: Right. I have never heard that one before.
Q. You mentioned Navy playing Daryl Campbell. Are you at the point now where you are not going to use true freshmen?
COACH DAVIE: We came close. He had a great week of practice. But then Grant looked like he was able to play. So right now — it will look like Grant will probably play this week.
Grant only played the first half against Pittsburgh. Couldn’t play the second half. Looks like by the end of the week he may play a little bit more so we have Grant, Lamont, Tony Weaver, and Ryan Roberts goes in there.
To be honest, Daryl doesn’t really want to play and that is what impacted the decision. He is talented enough right now to play without a doubt, but the combination of him not really wanting to do it right now because it is so late in the season, and us not really wanting to do it, I would hope we don’t. I would hope we don’t have to.
Q. Since you took the head coaching job you as you talked about the importance of staying on an even keel not getting too high and too low, yet you said that you need to maybe be a little bit more passionate to beating Pittsburgh. With two games left in the season having to make improvement and also having to win two games to become Bowl eligible, do you find yourself having to turn up the intensity in practice a little bit more this week as you head into–
COACH DAVIE: No, I don’t think — we are pretty passionate about what we do. I don’t think it is that. I think it is just — I think it was just in this football game, I sensed a little lack of passion by our team for those reasons that I mentioned.
But, no, I mean, what we do — I don’t think we can — we couldn’t spend much more time at it than we do or put much more into it or have much more passion for it, to be honest. I think it is a mindset. That responsibility falls on all of us.
But the bottom line is it falls on the players to be emotionally ready to play. I think we will be.
But as far as how we go about doing things, I think we do do it pretty well. I am not going to change our day-to-day way of going about things or doing things because when we went out and played Tennessee we were pretty passionate that game.
So I think it is just the maturity level of each and every week being ready and realizing what is at stake every week and you don’t get second chances. So, no, I don’t think we will change.
Q. Along those lines how do you deal with being mentally tired after they have been exposed to this kind of grind?
COACH DAVIE: Well, it is something you address. I think it is something that you address and you talk about all the issues. You don’t pretend that it is not there. I don’t — I don’t think that is necessarily a sign of weakness or a sign that you are not tough enough or it is 18, 19, 21 year old kids shouldn’t be that way, you only played 12 games, how could that happen. That happens. You go around this country, it happens everywhere. It happens here. This is a tough place.
So I think it is addressing the issue and then talking about ways to solve it, talking about ways we can do things. All of us, as we move forward what do we do? I don’t want to overreact to it. It is a one-game thing.
Was that the main reason we didn’t win the game? I can’t say that. But I think we could have won the game if we would have just been burning up, maybe like we were at the end of the S.C. Game, but I think the first step is to just address it and to — as we did last week. So I think just talking about it and then this week we have tried to, if you noticed last night, we didn’t practice, we didn’t go out on the field. What we did is we used that whole four hours now, but we ended up looking at the Pitt game at length. Then we went on Boston College tape at length. Then we walked through things and got everything done Monday we would have done on the field, but we walked through it.
So trying to give the players a plan for having a little more juice too. Because it is a physical thing too. We are beaten down. So just kind of — tonight we are going to practice a little more against each other. Not try get as many reps in practice. We just get reps and reps and reps and reps against the scout squad but do less reps of more quality against each other. Make it more like a game situation where all the coaches are off, we are going to grade it off the tape, so not the emphasis on reps over and over, but the emphasis on quality reps. Because we just can’t spend as much time on that field. We just don’t have as many bodies. Those are the things I think just —
Q. The factors behind that situation have been accumulating since the first week in August, lack of a summer break, all that, and realistically is that something that is solvable in a four-day period?
COACH DAVIE: It better be. It better be. That is the challenge, but I think it is. I think it is. I think the players — what coaches say sometimes they may or may not buy into. Let’s be honest. I think they realize that we have got to get that stinger and get it back right now for us to finish this season the way we want to finish.
– I know how much they care. I know how important it is to them. For that reason, I think we will be able to do it. But it comes from within. It comes from within. I mean, there is no t-shirt going to get this solved, a clever little slogan. Remember November and all those things. It isn’t about all that. It is coming from within.
I think with the seniors we have on this team, with what we have at stake, with what we have invested, I have got no doubt we are going to play hard this week.
Q. You mentioned during the offseason that one of the key factors in the success last year is that it provided credibility that went into the recruiting season. Are there similar stakes involved the next two weeks to be able to continue that?
COACH DAVIE: Being honest, there probably are. I think you come to Notre Dame for bigger reasons than what happens the last couple of weeks of the season. I think — but on the surface there is no question that finishing positive helps you. It helps you — it just helps in the atmosphere. It helps making those phone calls when you won a game. On the flip-side of it, there is an urgency when things don’t go well. So you take whatever hands you are dealt, but there is no question that winning makes things a lot easier and no question about that.
Q. About a year ago at this time you were asked to assess the possibility of competing for National Championship status during the 1999 season and at that point you listed reasons why you felt that that was a premature notion. How do you view next year at this point and I know you have got more pressing things on your plate but what is a realistic expectation?
COACH DAVIE: You know, so much hinges on am I sitting here next year at this time talking about 16 injuries and five other kids that aren’t in this program for different reasons?
Do we get all these players back that are on this list right here? That is first and foremost to me.
If I can right now get up and show you a depth chart of all the players that we have and say, okay, all these kids will be back, all of them will be eligible, all those things, I think we are going to be a good, solid football team.
The only question we have — it’s not a question of ability but you are going into that season next year against A&M, Nebraska and Purdue and Michigan State right out of the box, with a quarterback that hasn’t played, has been a starter week-to-week to week playing in games 8 or 10 plays all that. I am talking about week-to-week to week being a starter. So it is just talk right now. It is just talk to sit here and say that. It is getting everybody back.
Another year of offseason and another year of recruiting and we are going to be stronger. There is no doubt about it. Just look at the names. Just look at the depth that we will have. There is no question we are going to be stronger if all those guys are back.
Now if I am sitting here with 16 injuries this time 21 scholarship players that is why it is too tough to call. It is all just conversation. If we can get them all back we are starting next year’s football, we are a stronger, more solid football team next year going into the season than we were this year. I have got no problem telling that you.
Q. Do you have a reason to be concerned that getting all those people back to be a problem?
COACH DAVIE: Well, they are not here right now. Talking about Tony Driver and Brock Williams?
COACH DAVIE: No, I mean, not — none other than they are not here right now and I know what it takes to make it through in the longhaul. There is always other potential problems. So nothing right now that is pressing or anything that I foresee but I just have been here long enough, six years to know. But I feel positive about the overall depth and talent of this football team if we can get them all back for 1999.
Q. Boston College is pretty much of a balance team passing and running, but the problems that you have with the injury at defensive back, one, do you expect him to come out throwing the ball more and if they do, is the only logical way to combat that with a better pass-rush and how do you get that?
COACH DAVIE: Well, I think they are going to remain balanced. Just like I mentioned earlier about our defense, you still have Deveron, Clifford, A’Jani and Deke. That is how you started the season. Where it catches you is in the nickel, when you go into last week in the nickel — dime is what we play with Israel and Beckstrom both out, you get two starters in the dime so it affects you more in the substitution defense than it does your starting defense.
But Donald Dykes is the guy came and played against Pittsburgh, played pretty decent at the dime. Sapp played, struggled a little bit. But he played. So it bothers me a little more in the true passing downs, they are going to be pretty balanced on the first and 10s and the run pass downs anyhow. So we are not going to change our plan much. It is too late in the season to start doing a whole lot of different things and they won’t change their plan much. Because each and every week you are playing teams that throw the ball down the field.
Pittsburgh didn’t do anything different because of our situation than they normally did. So I think it will be pretty much what it is. I am just concerned getting those passing downs and the positive thing is we are rushing the passer a little bit better the last couple of weeks.
Q. How about the play of A’Jani Sanders this year?
COACH DAVIE: Warrior. He has got a wrist. He wears a cast. He is going to be wearing a cast this week. Been a warrior. I am telling you what I think he had a great year. Each and every week plays– I think he has been outstanding. He ended up being a nickel Saturday night against Pittsburgh — normally he is a safety back there. He came up and was the nickel playing like a corner on their slot receiver. Really made a couple of plays, couple broken up passes, and he has played really well.
He is a guy that has been beat up all year. Actually he has been beat up for two years, but he is a warrior all the way.
Q. Is the fact that he is able to play hurt and fight through the injuries perhaps an inspiration to other players who are banged up?
COACH DAVIE: I think so. I think that is probably very accurate. I think that is why when a question is asked about leadership, that is what I judge it on. He is out there every week. His body looks bad by the end of the year, I kid him all the time. But he keeps ongoing.
Q. He is the leading tackler on team. Is that more that he is a great player or is it no one is stopping anybody up front?
COACH DAVIE: Well, the way college football has become, those safeties are your leading tacklers. We drop him down in there like everybody does an eight-man front. I think that is pretty common right now across the country, those safeties make a lot of players. Because you think about in the running game they are involved now because of the eight-man front and in the passing game they have chance to make tackles. Those linebackers, they don’t get as many opportunities in the passing game when the ball is thrown to make tackles so they get run and pass opportunities.