Dec. 29, 2015

Q. As you’ve prepared for Ohio State, much of the Sammy offense as they had a year ago. Did you pretty much study this team this year to figure out a plan?

Coach VanGorder: We watched a little bit of the playoff, national championship game from a year ago.

Q. What about their offense is unique compared to what you’ve already seen this season?

Coach VanGorder: I think you see a lot of what you all call a spread offense, its growth in college football, the running of the quarterback. They have more of a quarterback run game than a lot of teams do.

Q. They have potential to play two quarterbacks. How big a factor, if at all, is that to you?

Coach VanGorder: I don’t see it as a factor. I don’t really see it as a factor. They’ve been pretty consistent schematically with what they do, maybe more emphasis on one quarterback than the other in the run game, but same offense.

Q. Jaylon Smith, on video, he’s pretty much everything you’d expect. What makes him stand out?

Coach VanGorder: I think that it’s obvious: his great physical traits. I think what makes him unique is he’s way ahead of most college players respective to his obsession with being a great player. That involves a lot of preparation time, film study, a lot of questions.

He’s even gotten to the point where he really looks and almost demands that you stay on him. He wants to constantly get better. I think that’s what really makes Jaylon unique.

Q. When you were preparing for running the defense, is there anything in particular you have to key on, especially with the defensive line?

Obviously Elliott is a powerful runningback. Coach VanGorder: I don’t think our preparation is much different respective to this game than how we’ve prepared all year long. Obviously we have more time. But the technique portion that you’re talking about doesn’t change. The philosophical conversations that you just talked about become really, really important.

This is a team that executes very well. This is a team that is built tough. This is a team that will use tempo and do a lot of different things to you. You have to prepare the psychology of the player for a lot of, again, those things that you mention.

Q. Coach, how would you evaluate the defensive performance for the season?

Coach VanGorder: Inconsistent, I guess, is probably the best word. We’ve played a lot of good football. We’ve had some plays that you just shake your head, both player and coach, when it’s all said and done.

Q. Why do you think that is?

How do you correct that not only for this bowl game, but the future?

Coach VanGorder: These are young players. You’re constantly pushing on the idea of developing. They all develop at a different rate, a different process for all of them.

A lot of those things come down to also focus. That’s, again, part of the development, part of the process, for somebody to focus through some 65 to 85 plays, for some it’s a challenge. That’s player responsibility, coach responsibility through a game to make sure we maintain a great concentration and a great focus.

To be quite frank about it, it hasn’t been always where any of us want it to be.

Q. Jarron Jones, how many plays do you think you can get out of him?

Coach VanGorder: Good question. He looks rusty. He’s definitely not 100%. If we could get 10 to 15 plays out of him, that would be, I think, helpful for us.

Q. Does his energy, personality help you guys?

Coach VanGorder: I think so. I think so.

Q. When you look at the Ohio State offense, there’s so many weapons, what stands out to you as the guys you have to pay attention to?

Coach VanGorder: Again, anytime you talk about the quarterback being involved in the run game… The numbers don’t work well for defense. That’s just the way it is. That’s a major concern going into it.

Having said that, the great runningback, you got to try to control him. You have your hands full. They have big-play possibilities out in the perimeter, they’ll smoke, screen, take their shots out there with very good personnel.

Anybody that’s played them, anybody that lines up against them, you have your hands full for sure.

Q. How hard is it going to be to lose Joe Schmidt?

Coach VanGorder: Hard. He’s unique. It’s been unbelievable coaching him. From the first day where I didn’t see anything that would tell me of the growth, the mental abilities of the game were where they were. To watch it grow, to watch his leadership position grow, watch the guys gravitate to him, it’s been outstanding.

Then just player-coach, the way we can converse and talk the game with a young player is unique. I’ll miss that.

Q. Who is next in line to take over that role?

Coach VanGorder: Well, Nyles Morgan played as a true freshman a year ago. I really respect what he’s done this year in terms of he’s watched Joe play and got very few reps. He’s maintained a very good workmanlike attitude towards it, understands he’s still got a lot to learn. I think he’s used his time wisely. Right now Nyles Morgan will step into that position.

Q. What prevented him from maybe not getting more opportunities during the season?

Coach VanGorder: Joe Schmidt. He runs our defense. He’s the quarterback of our defense. Nyles would acknowledge he can’t do that right now from that standpoint what Joe can do.

Q. Your take on J.T. coming off a big Michigan game?

Coach VanGorder: They’re difficult to defend. The whole offensive philosophy and makeup of it makes you defend a lot of players. They’ve got good players, great runningback, quarterback capable of running. Makes them very difficult, good on the offensive line. Got eight starters back from a national championship.

Q. Is Zeke as good as you’ve seen?

Everybody brags on his blocking ability. Coach VanGorder: He is a football player.

Q. How do you contain him?

Coach VanGorder: You got to play hard. You got to play hard. You have to face the issue with him. He’s going to make you face the issue. You got to be mentally tough and ready to go. He’s going to challenge you. He’s a good football player.

Q. Schematically, it comes down to?

Coach VanGorder: I think I kind of said it that way. Schematically they’re very difficult. They’ve got a lot of good players.

Q. You have to defend everything?

Coach VanGorder: You have to defend everything. A lot of people have good scheme, maybe not the good players. They have a bunch of great players that are going to play in the NFL.

Q. You can’t load up on one guy?

Coach VanGorder: You can’t, no. They’re too good everywhere. You talk about the run game and such. Obviously the Michigan game makes a big impression on everybody. They’ve got perimeter presence, too, where they can hurt you real fast.

Q. What’s gotten this team here?

What do you like about your herd?

Coach VanGorder: I think we have a very good culture, very good working environment. I think that starts with Brian. I think his consistency, week-to-week his message, it’s very strong.

I think we’ve played very well offensively through the year. At times we’ve played good defense, but been too inconsistent on our side of the ball.

It’s worked well. But I think our overall demeanor as a team is really solid and consistent.

Q. What has Jaylon meant to your unit?

Coach VanGorder: He’s such a good, outstanding player. He’s an outstanding guy. I know there’s a lot of guys that that can be said about, but this guy, he’s obsessed with being outstanding. The work that he puts into it, the importance of it for him make him really unique.

Q. You’re at a preeminent university, but has the Showtime thing made you more recognizable on the street?

Coach VanGorder: I don’t know. I try to stay away from them as much as possible. They’re a group of good guys, they’re everywhere you go. They want to mic you up everywhere you go. They’ve done a good job.

I’ve never watched one show.

Q. C’mon.

Coach VanGorder: I’ve never watched one show (laughter). I assume what they’ve put out there with respect to Notre Dame has been solid in the public’s eyes.

Q. What is the upside to that?

Coach VanGorder: From a public standpoint, we can say recruiting is a part of that. Parents, kids can really see what’s real. They get to spend much more time observing us and finding out what’s really real. What does this program really look like on a day-to-day basis.