Dec. 28, 2015

Q. (No microphone.)

COACH SANFORD: The magnitude of each game we played in, it sounds redundant, it feels like each game you played in was the biggest game of the year. Played in front of packed stadiums on the road and at home. College Game Day road games, places that haven’t had that, or very few in their history, that speaks to who Notre Dame is.

More importantly, being around these players and this staff has been the most enjoyable thing to be part of. Have great people in this program. To me that’s 100% on Coach Kelly, the group of people that he’s assembled. Not just the coaches and support staff, but also the players.

We’re going out and hand-picking players that fit what we’re trying to do. The result is a tremendous culture. That’s enjoyable to be part of on a daily basis, to go through the ups and downs together with people like that.

Q. Did you have opportunities to be a head coach, and if so, what made you decide to stay?

COACH SANFORD: I think there’s always going to be rumblings and stuff out there. Honestly I go back to the fact that this is a people business, it’s about families. It’s not just about coaches and getting their name recognition out there.

Honestly, my family is extremely happy to be in the South Bend area, to live there. I think it’s the kind of place that I think our family would love to be at hopefully for a while.

It’s been a wild last 11 years. My wife will tell me, basically seven moves or something along the those lines. It hasn’t always been by choice. A lot of the decisions were no-brainers.

Right now, what better place to be a part of than Notre Dame football, to continue to learn from right now the active win leader in all of college football. That’s pretty neat to be around Coach Kelly, the guy that has most wins in all of college football.

Q. When Malik goes down, what goes through your mind?

COACH SANFORD: Not going to lie. Everybody has a plan till you get hit in the mouth.

As a coaching staff, as a team, we got hit in the mouth right there. We were staggering a little bit in that Virginia game. But I think you got to see the intestinal fortitude of DeShone Kizer early on, really without a whole lot of confidence at that point in time in his physical abilities, playing in meaningful snaps. But you saw that grit that he has, that came up throughout the course of the year.

If there’s one trait about DeShone Kizer, he thrives when the game is on the line, our backs are against the wall.

On the flipside of that, we’re going to try to not have our backs against the wall or the games on the line all the time. We need to learn to push the petal to the metal for all 60 minutes of the game and not be in those situations where we need heroics. We’d love to avoid that.

Q. How has Malik’s attitude been?

COACH SANFORD: Every day being around Malik, it’s honestly a blessing to be around him, the character he has. Yesterday at practice, he clearly knows he’s not going to be playing in this bowl game, he’s out there as fired up as I’ve seen him, both when he was competing to be the starter. Getting ready to play Texas, after Texas, the most fired up I’ve ever seen him to be part of team 127, competing against his home state, Ohio State Buckeyes.

He’s out there firing guys up, yell, running around. Picked everybody up. Everybody had just flown in from different parts of the country, we were out there practicing, getting after it. Malik’s vocal leadership has picked up the team.

Q. You will have a heck of a scenario come spring.

COACH SANFORD: It will be outstanding. Honestly, the room is in such a good position as far as those guys care for each other. They have a legitimate love for one another not just Malik and DeShone, but Brandon Wimbush, Montgomery Van Gorder, Robbie Regan, Nolan Henry, adding another high school quarterback to the fold here in 2016.

Already you can see the inner workings of guys that really care about each other, and most importantly care about this team.

It’s going to be competitive. We look forward to that. It already is. That’s what we want. We want a situation where each and every day you have to acquit yourself to be the leader of this football team and this offense. That’s what we look for out of that position on a daily basis, whether there’s a ‘quarterback’ competition or not.

Q. Like last year, the third quarterback finishing up the season, what is it about his demeanor to go to work and it didn’t faze him?

COACH SANFORD: His demeanor, he’s businesslike, workmanlike. He’s really one of those guys that has his jaw set to work every day. Then he has a playfulness to him, a personality that’s conducive to bringing your team along. It’s not all business, just serious. He has got a sense of humor, a little bit of swagger to him on how he conducts himself on a daily bases, particularly on Saturdays.

I think a lot of that can come from probably his basketball background. He was a ball distributor in basketball. I can see him being the leader on the court. A lot of that comes from his dad, being a college basketball player himself.

Just an ultimate competitor, somebody who does a great job of the intellectual side of the game, but also sees it as an opportunity to have fun with your teammates, go out there and crack a smile as well.

Q. You probably would know him as well as anybody. Every day you meet with him, talk to him. When this game was announced, did you notice a demeanor change in him?

COACH SANFORD: The quarterback room was pretty excited, to say the least, about the opportunity to play against the mighty in-state Ohio State Buckeyes. Obviously, when you grow up in the state of Ohio, there is no bigger thing than Buckeyes.

Those guys, they grew up going to their games. They grew up in the recruiting process going to games of theirs. They understand the magnitude of that program, they understand the respect that program has garnered, particularly over the last four or five years with what coach has done.

They were really excited about the opportunity. I had to remind them, this isn’t about the in-state school, it’s about a football game, about preparation. They’ve done a great job of transitioning back into the mindset of preparing for a great game against a great opponent, putting forth their best effort.

Q. With Ohio State, playing without their top two defensive tackles. There is a change for them. How will that affect things? Would that affect the way you view them now?

COACH SANFORD: No. You know, guys that have followed the Buckeye program, they have four-star, five-star players up and down the roster. It’s not like they’re going to be at a complete disadvantage with the next man in.

Honestly we’ve been going through that through the whole year as well. They have, too, over the last couple years. They’ve found a way to incorporate that next-man-in philosophy.

We know the next guys in there will be just as good. They’re going to be fresh. They’re going to have an opportunity to show what they’re all about.

Seeing a couple guys on tape, the guy that’s listed like the fourth D-tackle, Tracy Sprinkle, he’s a heck of a player. Guys mixed in there, Joel Hale. Guys that have played a lot of meaningful snaps for Buckeyes, incredible talents. We’ve had a chance to watch those guys on tape.

Q. (No microphone.)

COACH SANFORD: The guy is going to wreak havoc no matter where he is. The reason he does that is he plays with incredible effort, plays with incredible athleticism. With his length, his power, generally you see those guys being a little bit more stiff. He has zero stiffness in his game.

You combine that with the fact he’s always straining to get that second-, third-effort component of the play, that’s where he gets those devastating hits on quarterbacks.

Whether they show up as statistical sacks or not, those hits on quarterbacks add up. We understand the ball’s got to get out. We understand that we can’t sit there and read the Declaration of Independence back there in the pocket. We have to make decisions. Certainly No. 97 forces your hand in that area.

Q. What do you need to do offensively to get a win?

COACH SANFORD: I just think the balance that we’ve played with all year, I think that’s going to be incredibly important, to get DeShone in rhythm early will be really important, especially against the pass-rush we’re going to face.

Getting our runningbacks going early, C.J. and Josh Adams greased up, ready to go, have them get into some form of rhythm or flow.

Everything is going to start up front. We’ve won games based on how great the offensive line plays. Those guys are so unselfish, just play with such great effort. That’s what you look forward to. When you watch the film the day after the game, two days after the game, you look forward to watching those battles between Ronnie Stanley and Bosa, seeing Mike McGlinchey and Bosa, see how Tracy Sprinkle matches up against Quenton Nelson.

Games can be won or lost in the trenches. We got to get our quarterback going as well.

Q. Talk about the battle with Bosa. Guys that could go day one in the NFL Draft. How do you see that battle going?

COACH SANFORD: I think it’s going to be an incredible battle. Those guys are as good of players as there are in college football. The film speaks to it, measurements speak to it. Draft day, both their names are going to be called really early. Those are the kind of battles you look forward to.

There’s some incredible players in this game on both sides of the ball, both teams, that are going to be early picks in the draft, this year, next year, the year after. Really the two best defensive players in all of college football are playing in this game as well with Jaylon Smith and with Bosa.

They’re going to move him around. It won’t be isolated on Ronnie and him. Steve Elmer will get a shot at him, Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey will get a shot at him. We’re prepping to do a really good job against them.

Q. You were in a different situation at quarterback in the spring. Talking to your QB a few minutes ago, he said he felt like he was going to be the starter. Did you sense that?

COACH SANFORD: I did. After the spring game, I don’t know, he was like one of three for like minus two yards, a sack and a safety. Didn’t have a great performance, if you will.

After the game he sent me a text message and said, Coach, I needed to hit rock bottom because I’m going to do everything in my power to come back and compete to be a starter.

At the time you’re reading that text message saying, Not based off of what I just saw.

That’s the thing about him. I’ve coached a lot of kids that have sent that text message, not back it up with their preparation.

He shed about 9% body fat. His physical preparation is off the charts. His confidence in what he was doing from a throwing standpoint was so much improved. We saw that as camp wore on, that this is a guy we can win games with. We would feel comfortable with a game on the line with this kid.

Q. He’s the dual package, everything you wanted?

COACH SANFORD: He’s got so many God-given abilities, physical stature, athleticism. The key for now and always will be his continued development. He is so humble, he continues to do a good job remembering that the separation for him has to be in the way he prepares.

If we use that as our calling card, his future is extremely bright, both at this level and hopefully someday in the next.