Oct. 29, 1996
Off The Practice Field…Coach Lou Holtz
MR. HEISLER: This is John Heisler here at the University of Notre Dame. The game is one o’clock, that equates to eight o’clock in the morning New York time on the east coast. The game will be televised on a delayed basis by CBS, and their telecast begins at noon eastern time. To begin today’s conference, COACH HOLTZ will make some opening remarks and then take some questions.
COACH HOLTZ: We have had about ten days of practice. Yesterday we ended up our physical work. Defensively we have concerns because their offense is very, very similar to Air Force, and Chris McCoy is very similar to Beau Morgan. Last week Chris McCoy ran for 183 yards. Navy’s averaging about 477 yards offense, well over 300 yards a game rushing. Their fullback is a very, very strong threat, Nelson. About 228 pounds, 5 foot 9. They run him much more than Air Force does. You can say the offense is very, very similar, yet at the same time each school is going to have its own personality. I think the two people you have to stop on Navy’s attack, of course, is Nelson the fullback, and McCoy the quarterback. Same type of speed as Beau Morgan, experienced. Navy’s biggest improvement has been on offense, their execution of it. I think their offensive line is bigger and stronger than Air Force’s, so consequently they block it a little bit different. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they have more of a fullback-style offense than maybe the Air Force did. Air Force had Beau Morgan pitch the ball to the wide back. They have more fullback in Chris McCoy. Looking at us on film, we still make far too many mistakes. It’s just hard to defend everything they do when they execute it well. When they execute it well, and it’s a triple-style option. They read it very, very well. You can’t give them the good play, can’t give them the turnover, it’s very, very difficult to stop. Last week we gave up 17 points to Air Force, which is not an awful lot. But with the exception of the on-side kick, they never started outside their own 30-yard line. One thing, our kicking game and offense did a good job of giving them a long ways to go. Navy has put up a lot of points, a lot of yards. They’re getting better and better. Their confidence is outstanding. Defensively, just looking at it on practice, we turn people loose. The scout squad makes a lot of yardage. Eric Chappell is certainly no Chris McCoy. I think their passing game is a little different than Air Force – the fact they present a few more problems with some different formations. Same style offense we faced against the University of Hawaii several years ago. Defensively, Navy did an excellent job on us last year as far as stopping our run. We had difficulty running the ball the first half. Of course, they pressured the passer. We were behind 17-14 at halftime in that football game. I think, you know, we were a better offensive football team by far last year than we are at the present time. Derrick Mayes caught a couple a touchdown passes on it. They haven’t changed much defensively except they’re probably a little bit bigger and stronger. The main thing is they’re playing with great confidence and playing very well coordinated. They’ll play us in a lot of man-coverage, I’m sure, which is what other teams have done, which is what Navy did against us last year. The thing that helped us last year was in the second half we forced some turnovers, got the ball in good field position and took advantage of it. The nine or ten days that we’ve had hard physical practices. We just tried to get it where we could gain some degree of consistency. I wish I could stand here and say we have achieved that, but we haven’t. I think the starting lineup is far from settled, but right now Randy Kinder will start at tailback in all probability. We may also see Marc Edwards some at tailback and Jamie Spencer some at fullback. Jamie is playing very, very well at the present time. Kevin Carretta in all probability will start at tight end as Peter Chryplewicz has missed most of practice for the last, I guess, close to a month. He came back out yesterday and he’s very, very rusty. It’s hard to get ready because most of our hard work is now over. We don’t have a chance to prepare much more. I cannot tell you who will start at the offensive guards. Mike Rosenthal was maybe one of our leaders in the offensive line, even though he’s a sophomore. I said Mike Rosenthal was really an excellent player, he really was. We miss him drastically. I have no idea. It could be Mueller, could be Wisne, could be Akers. We worked David Quist some there. He got a concussion and hasn’t been able to practice the last couple days. I don’t think he would figure into that equation. Just very, very discouraging practice yesterday. The guards will have a mental error, the receivers will drop a pass, just gain us some consistency and confidence. I have never experienced anything like this since I’ve been in coaching. I think we beat Army 28-27, lost to Air Force in overtime, now here comes Navy after they were ahead of us 17-14 last year. Going over to Dublin, it presents some problems, logistic problems. We’ll practice today, we’ll eat, bus to Chicago, catch an airplane, fly to Dublin, get there at 12:30 tomorrow. The players will have been up all night on the airplane. No practice tomorrow. We will go to Croke Field, look at it. We’ll go back to the hotel. Going to try to keep them from going to bed, trying to make the time adjustment as rapidly and quickly as we possibly can. I don’t know whether — we’ll just have to see. We have a schedule for them Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Of course, the game is Saturday. The thing that you don’t know is the time difference. I’ve been to Croke Park, but I don’t know what kind of atmosphere there’s going to be, particularly with an awful lot of people, maybe they will see college football for the first time. I don’t think you’ll see the tailgating and usual enthusiasm you see when you walk in the stadium usually. I don’t know about all those things. All I do know is I am concerned about the way we’re playing at the present time. What questions could I answer for you?
Q. Lou, I wonder, you kind of touched on this, but if you could just look at the trip from two standpoints: in terms of being a fun thing and educational thing for your players, but also it’s been kind of an up-and-down team and now you introduce a new element not only for the Navy game but probably for Boston college next week.
COACH HOLTZ: Introduce what?
Q. A new element, degree of uncertainty, I think.
COACH HOLTZ: But that’s all part of it. I tell you, I think you got to be able to adjust, be flexible. That’s just the way it is. I think sometimes you can make too big a deal about it and say, “This is different and unusual.” I mean, you know, people go abroad, overseas, come back, business people do it all the time. It’s just something you have to do and you have to adjust to. It’s just going to be our approach to it. It’s time to play, time to eat the pregame meal, time to line up. What you do is you don’t look at your watch, you don’t — naturally, we all have an inner clock on us, but you can’t let that control us. “This is what we have to do. You know, you have to play in eight hours; get ready mentally, whatever the case may be.”
Q. Lou, did you get anything positive in the preparation with having an extra week off or open week, rather, before this game, or was everything on the downside?
COACH HOLTZ: No. You know, practices haven’t been on the downside other than the execution. Let’s just say I found out a lot more about our football team during these ten days in the way we’ve tried to do some things, et cetera. I just don’t know how they’re going to react to it. I think — see, all you want, you need to have 11 people, Jack, doing the right thing at the right time. Offense, defense, kicking game, 11 people. Not enough to have nine, not enough to have ten. You have to have some people step up and make a play. We don’t make plays in practice except for the opposition. Either missed assignment, dropped pass, a sack, a missed assignment, a missed tackle, not covering the guy deep. We don’t make plays right now, and you cannot make plays unless you have 11 people doing the right thing at the right time. I always felt that was easy. I have never seen anything as difficult as it is at the present time, and yet I can’t go back and say, “This guy doesn’t care, he doesn’t care, he’s not trying.” There is absolutely no correlation whatsoever between college board scores and native football intelligence.
Q. I wondered if you could expand on Kinder starting and why you feel he’s the one there?
COACH HOLTZ: I think all you want to see in a back is to get the maximum amount of yards of play he’s been blocked for. I think we cannot be a physical football team if we don’t play physically. I think Randy Kinder does the best job at the present time of handling blitzes, and of running physically. I think he has practiced physically. He’s prepared himself very, very well, and I think either he or Marc Edwards give us the best chance right now at the tailback position. When you rush for 69 yards in 37 attempts, you go back and you look at the film, you see how much did the tailback get on his own, how much did the fullback get on his own. When those numbers are not very, very big, then you look at what kind of pass protection we’re getting, et cetera. I think it just goes back to productivity. I felt this week in practice we’d find out a lot more about whether we could do those things. I just feel at the present time that Randy Kinder gives us the best chance, and he is the guy that in all probability will start at tailback.
Q. Lou, you mentioned that you don’t know much about the atmosphere over there, how it will be. Do you have any gut feeling on who might be the sentimental people of the Irish people, if any, the Navy or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish?
COACH HOLTZ: I would hope it would be us because we’re nicknamed Irish, because of Notre Dame, because of the preponderance of the amount of Catholicism there is there; because of the fact that Notre Dame is having an American/Irish study program inaugurated over there. I wish I could talk more about that in-depth and detail. I think it’s by a close association. By the same token, we have an awful lot of people that have been in the Navy and Marines. They always have a tremendous amount of support. I have absolutely no idea who the sentimental favorite will be in the football game, nor is that my major concern right now, Dick. My major concern is how we react. We played on the road — played better on the road than we have at home.
Q. Lou, how big of a part will Autry Denson play? Will he play a part at all?
COACH HOLTZ: I think it remains to be seen. Autry Denson is a fine football player, really done some very fine things. This is not a demotion of Autry Denson. This is the fact that Randy Kinder has worked very, very hard; has done a nice job out there and deserves to have the opportunity to start.
Q. You mentioned Allen Rossum playing a little free safety. How much do you anticipate — Harper at corner, how much do you anticipate going to that?
COACH HOLTZ: We could play Allen Rossum in there because he has very, very good speed. Deveron Harper is a young man who has competed and played pretty well. I think you get to the point where he might be one of our four defensive backs. Trying to get him on the field somewhat. You’ll see Allen Rossum free safety some, but you won’t see him there the entire game.
Q. Lou, how much of this week has been basically like a Bowl week? Have you purposely tried to get everything out of the way? I guess some of these package deals, people will cover the practices you have. Has this been a Bowl week?
COACH HOLTZ: Not like a Bowl week. You’re absolutely correct, we have tried to get everything done before we get on the airplane, figuring once we get there it’s going to be difficult to get good, solid practices to get the improvement we need to have. That’s probably the thing that’s most discouraging because I don’t think we’re ready to get on an airplane and play a game at the time. I was hoping we would be and be able to polish. We are not at the present time. As I say, I don’t wish to keep harping on it, but it takes 11 people on offense, defense, kicking game, and we don’t have that. It’s hard for us to run a defense or play where all 11 people are doing the right things. You look and say, “Are we too complicated?” I don’t think you can be. We tried to simplify this thing down as far as we can. When you run a play at least a hundred times, guys still make mistakes on it, you’re just doing a poor job of teaching it. Either they’re doing a poor job of learning it, or you’re doing a poor job of teaching it. I’d have to believe that as a coach you have to take responsibility for that.
Q. Lou, what is the status on Sanders? Where does he stand?
COACH HOLTZ: A’Jani Sanders has been released to go full speed. He has practiced. He’s moving around pretty well. He’ll make the trip. Very possibly he could play in the football game.
Q. Coach, you said you’ve been to Croke Park. Can you talk about that experience? Obviously you’ve been to Ireland, some experience you’ve had in the country.
COACH HOLTZ: First of all, let me talk about Croke Park. We went over to Croke Park. It’s going to be very, very impressive. They just built an addition onto it, first class, beautiful sky boxes. The press and the media, you’ll have a tremendous view. I mean, it’s as nice as anything we have here in the United States, one side of it. It’s a little bit different. I couldn’t get a feel for the field because they didn’t have it marked out. They just — the grass seemed to be pretty good. I guess they’ve had a tremendous amount of rain over there. The other side is — the one side is rather old. The end zones go up maybe 25 rows, except there are no rows, it’s just standing room only. I guess people just stand there. Both teams are going to be on the same sideline. That’s a little bit different. It’s a little bit different in the fact that if the team’s down on the other end of the field, you’re going to go to about your 49, but you’ll still be a long way from it, whereas you can go down there to the 30 or 25, et cetera, even further if the officials didn’t grab you. You’re always close to the action, now you’re going to be far away. Plus it’s going to take longer to get a substitute in, further to go, et cetera. I think that — we met with the people. I think they’re well organized. It’s just a little bit different. As far as Ireland, I think the Irish people are tremendous. Their attitude is wonderful. I think they’re fun-loving. I guess you go to a cabaret, there are more Irish pubs than there are anything else in Ireland. They’re just fun-loving people. I think their golf courses are tremendous. You go down to the other end of the country, La Lynch (phonetic), Tralee, Ballybunion, Waterville, Royal Dublin, it’s beautiful scenery, lovely golf courses. I played with some people whose ancestors migrated to the United States from Ireland. Standing on I think it’s the No. 11 tee at Ballybunion, I think it was, I remember the hole vividly. You’re up on the tee, it drops down a little meadow; the ocean is there, long par four. Tom Watson’s favorite hole. It’s just a beautiful setting. The weather was beautiful. I was standing there, the two Irish guys said to one another, “Wonder why our parents left.” The roads are small. Don’t get a car and drive on the roads. The roads are small. You go on the wrong side of the road. It’s going to be a great experience for our players. I’ve had nothing but positive experiences when I have been in Ireland.
Q. How many times have you been and when were you last there?
COACH HOLTZ: I’ve been to Ireland three times. I went over there and made a speech for a gentleman by the name of Michael Smurfet (phonetic), Smurfet and Jefferson, one of the sponsors of the game. He was inaugurating his golf course called “Circle K” (phonetic), which is just south of Dublin. I went over there as his guest. I went over with a golf group, which we played all the great courses. Then I went over, I guess it was a year ago this past summer, with Mr. Rosenthal and Mike Wadsworth to look at the different places we’d be staying, et cetera. Those are the only three times I’ve been there.
Q. Were you able to use the normal communication? Did you have Coach Chmiel behind you?
COACH HOLTZ: Berty will do that. I think our spotters are going to have a very good view of where they are. I think the media, they put you up in the new section, I think you’re going to be impressed, I really do. I went up there. It was all under construction at that time. But, boy, you get up there, you’re pretty high. It’s impressive the one side. The other side — initially, they were going to have us sit in the stands. In the stands they got a little wall, and they got that wire barrier for the soccer fans. It was different. I’m anxious to see it. The one side is very, very impressive. This is going to be the first time, my understanding, that there’s been a non-Irish contest on Croke Field. They don’t allow that. They have another stadium that’s quite nice which is closer to downtown, but Croke Field, which is Gaelic football, Gaelic curling, it’s impressive. The whole Gaelic organization, I mean, they have a big building right there by the stadium. It’s no small-time operation.
Q. Jarvis Edison, is he available at all?
COACH HOLTZ: Jarvis Edison is not available and he will not make the trip.
Q. His back or his knee?
COACH HOLTZ: Knee.
Q. Out of curiosity, where are the refs, score board and the goal posts coming from?
COACH HOLTZ: The refs come from Navy’s officials. There are the seven independents that Navy uses. There will be an entire crew of them. I was thinking about the 25-second clock. That concerns me more than anything. Those are portable. We have 25-second clocks at practice. I imagine that they made the arrangements for the goal posts. I don’t think that will be real difficult. The score board, they have a score board there. I think finding down and distance might be a little bit more difficult. But the 25-second clock is a thing that caught my attention the most. The field was pretty nice when I was over there.
Q. Notre Dame is bringing the 25-second clock?
COACH HOLTZ: No. I imagine they’ll have it. What I’m saying is we’ll have one, so that’s not a real big deal.
Q. You talked about being concerned about the intensity of the football team? What about its attitude? Not just because of the trip, the Air Force loss, having all these days off?
COACH HOLTZ: It is an intensity. It’s not like — I don’t wish to convey that the players aren’t trying. That’s not it. I’m just talking about being productive. I don’t worry about the attitude of a football team. If you practice the right way and make plays, your confidence comes and you’re anxious to play. I think you like to be positive as a coach, but at the same time you don’t want to whistle in the dark and say you’re pretty good when you make mistakes over and over. We just are not consistent at the present time. We do some things fairly well, but Navy is going to play 11 guys up within five yards of the line, they’re going to bump-and-run us even as they did on Derrick Mayes last year. You’re going to have to be very patient and very consistent to beat an academy team. Academy team doesn’t make many mistakes. They don’t go the wrong way. They do things the right way. We have been fortunate over the years to go well against academies because we played with pretty good discipline and consistency. That’s what’s really frustrating with our entire football team this year, not just limited to offense.
Q. Coach, last year Army had a good shot at beating Notre Dame. Navy had you down in the second half, lose to Air Force this year. The service teams are 17-3, I think is their combined mark right now. Is that an evolution on their part or the fact that maybe discipline is not an option with them, they have to play every play? Have they gotten better or have teams around the country, maybe standards are a little different?
COACH HOLTZ: No, I think it’s a good question. I think the academy teams right now are playing very well and they’re capable of beating anybody. It is very, very difficult to stop a triple option football team with an outstanding quarterback. All three academies have this. McCoy and Beau Morgan. They do execute very, very well. One of the things about a triple option offense, it’s not the old-fashioned wishbone. They now have all the receivers on the line. They have four immediate receivers near the line of scrimmage and put the wing back in motion. They give you some problems that the old wishbone didn’t give you when the old back was in the back. When both backs were in the backfield as far as passing game. But in the wishbone, you probably have six plays maximum. You run them over and over and over and you know them. When you see this defense, you know how to go to this, you plug this in and that in, you just execute it. Your lineman can come off the ball and you don’t worry about twists and stunts, don’t have to spend a lot of time on pass protection because everything is straight turnback. I think that that offense is impossible to stop completely. When they never have a penalty, they don’t have a turnover, you give them three downs, it’s very, very difficult. I would much rather face a team that throws the ball 70 times than I would an option football team like Navy and like the Air Force academy that executes it as well as they do.
Q. Coach, a week ago Sports Illustrated ran a piece on the press, what we call an eight-man front, the previous prevalence of that, now using a lot of blitz packages and things like that, man in the corner. How prevalent has that been and how much has that played into Notre Dame’s inconsistency in running the football this year?
COACH HOLTZ: Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt that people are playing you with an eight-man front, blitzing, stunting, doing different things. That’s great as long as they can play man-coverage.
Q. How prevalent has that been and how much has that played into Notre Dame’s inconsistency in running the football this year?
COACH HOLTZ: Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt that people are playing you with an eight-man front, they’re blitzing, stunting, doing different things. That’s great as long as they can play man-coverage and get pressure on the passer and create confusion for you. We do that pretty well also. The problem is that that doesn’t faze the bone. You better not try that defense against a good, solid option football team or you are in big time trouble. I think it doesn’t really bother you if you are consistent on offense and can run the football. What you have to do is you have to have somebody make a big play. For example, if the safety man makes ten out of ten tackles, and the game gains are six yards and less, and you don’t beat him one time or fall forward one time, then they win. You let him make ten out of ten tackles, beat him one time or two times, you get the 40 and the 50-yard run, or you get the sever to catch a slant and run with it. It’s really very effective. When your backs don’t break a big one, it’s very, very effective when your receivers catch the ball and are mainly tackled or go to the ground to catch it or crater it. Then it’s just a first down. Where you hurt the eight-man front and the blitzing and the press coverage is by making big plays or being consistent enough that eventually you’ll get to the big play. I don’t know if I answered it to your satisfaction.
Q. When you’re speaking of that, the inability to hit on those big plays, what have you done to kind of counteract that?
COACH HOLTZ: There’s just some things you can’t do on a big play. Sometimes when you look for the big play, you don’t get a whole lot out of it. If you’re looking to break it to the sideline, et cetera, the best way to break a big play is to go from one corner to the end zone to the other corner of the end zone and run anywhere in between it. When you start running to the sideline, dancing, waiting to see, the pursuit is just too good, they crash in on you. As an analyst, for the Carolina/Philadelphia game, I studied a bit on the airplane going over, watched the game, et cetera. It was the same thing there. Safeties are coming up, making a lot of tackles. The team that won the football game was Philadelphia because they made some plays. I mean, the guy would catch the ball or make the great over-the-head catch, break a tackle and go for 20, 25, things along that line. I think the eight-man front has been here for a couple years. It’s not anything that concerns you. Navy definitely runs an eight-man front.
Q. Coach, as far as the problems with running the ball, in addition to the injuries on the line and seeing all the eight-man fronts, you guys I think have 19 fumbles in six games, and 12 of them are loss (sic). When was the last time you can remember having the problems fumbling the ball? Any explanation or are you still looking for one?
COACH HOLTZ: I have never had a football team fumble as much as this one has, and particularly the last two years. I wish I could give you an explanation of it. We’re not teaching things any differently than we did before. I think you have to look at what we’re doing, how we’re doing it. We’re not even running the high-risk offense which we did before. We ran a high-risk offense, pitching the ball, reading options, doing things like that. We’re not even doing things like that now.
Q. How much do you expect the fans and Ireland to be into this game, I mean how much do they know about football?
COACH HOLTZ: That is a good question. I really wish I could answer it. I tell you what, if you tune in at the same time next week and ask the same question I will be in a better position to answer. I don’t know. I know they get American football on TV and they get many of the professional games over there. I imagine the people that come to the game are the ones who know something about it, but I have no idea. I have no idea how much they will know about it. I will be anxious to give you my impersonations next week. I have no idea what to expect. I feel like a paratrooper at D-Day on–coming out of an airplane. You don’t know what to expect. You hope that the pilot made a left instead of a right and you land behind friendly forces, but, I don’t know. I mean, we are going to jump out of the airplane and see, but we will get back here to tell you about it, but I don’t know. It is an intriguing question and I just have no idea.
Q. I am from the Irish Times, and I wanted to respond to that. I wanted to say Coach, that I think you have got it just about it right that they don’t know an awful lot about American football here, but we do see the professional and get highlights here every week. And as you know, Boston College was over here in 1988 and it was a pretty good response. I think you are about right with the people that are interested. If the weather is good they might come out and enjoy the day.
COACH HOLTZ: I think they will enjoy the fanfare, the band is going over and things along that line. I appreciate that, that is one of the few times a member of the media ever agreed with me.
Q. You know we are very?
COACH HOLTZ: Touche
Q. You have had a chance to participate in overtime now, with the few months to think about it since it was instituted, has it changed the way you approach it? With the kind of artificial nature of starting on the 25-yard line, do you approach it differently offensively and defensively than you would regulation?
COACH HOLTZ: I think how you approach an overtime game is largely dictated by how the game has gone. I would much rather have gotten the ball second, but you get a first, then you have to look at it, “Well, let’s put pressure on them.” We’re not able to run the football obviously, 67 yards on 37 attempts. We felt a play-action pass would be open. The two things I did not expect — the pattern was open, but it was a second read that was open. It was a tightend and the flat, which was a second read. I did not expect the protection to break down that quickly and to get sacked. I expected care– I expected to complete it, but if we did not, I did not expect a turnover, I did not expect a sack. Not being able to protect the ball when you do get pressure was disastrous, yet at the same time when I looked at the pattern, we didn’t execute it, same thing I’ve just been talking about, it was open. Would have had a first down on approximately the 10-yard line. You had momentum then. Whereas if you go into an other overtime, have 322 yards rushing, you’re probably going to take your rushing attack and be patient and see. The one thing I have learned going into that game, you have to go according to how things have gone. When you get the ball first, you got to be productive with it, and we know that. Now, if they score a first, they haven’t scored a touchdown, you know you have to have a touchdown. When we didn’t score a touchdown, turn it over, all they needed was a field goal. Then the face-mask penalty half distance to the goal really made that game nonexistent, so to speak.