Sept. 13, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. We have Tom Zbikowski at the table. We’ll start with questions from media in attendance and then we’ll take questions from the callers after that. We’ll open it up with questions here.
Q. (No microphone.)
Tom Zbikowski: Just better decision?making. I know drops are going to happen. I’ve just got to shake it out and get out of my head and get back to fundamentals and basics. That’s what I’ve been working on. Yesterday after practice I stayed longer just making sure I’m worrying about catching the ball before trying to get a return.
Q. (No microphone.)
Tom Zbikowski: You know, I don’t think it’s incentive. It’s hurting the team any time you put a ball on the ground. I could care less about my average returns or whatever that is. It’s hurting the team if we get a turnover. I’ve got to make sure to just field the ball and get it when I can get it.
Q. What really stands out to you about the Michigan game from last year?
Tom Zbikowski: I guess really going in there, playing solid defense. I think that was one of our better defensive performances of the year. That was pretty much it. It was a hot game, I remember that, though. Those black cleats were burning up on our feet.
Q. What do you see out of Mike Hart that really makes people think he’s so special?
Tom Zbikowski: Just from last year, he’s never fumbled. I think that’s one of the ?? I think he has but hasn’t lost any, so it obviously stands out when you have 400 some carries and never fumbled.
Q. (No microphone.)
Tom Zbikowski: Like I said before, any time you have a hold on the ball and have a fumble, like I was saying before, you never hurt your team when you never put the ball on the ground.
Q. Coach Weis is talking about the different spin from a left?footed punter. Did you find that to be true? And how well were you able to simulate that during the week?
Tom Zbikowski: We have the machine. Obviously you’re not going to get the same look as from a live point, but when you get some height on the ball, the spin will turn. Just at the end of the punt, I’ve gotten to used to right?footed punters that you just anticipate it and field it easier. Just something that, like I said before, just staying after practice and keep working on different rotation on the punt.
Q. Coach Weis is adamant about treating ?? he says he treats every game and every opponent exactly the same. Can you remember when ?? is there a moment where you really bought into that philosophy and were able to truly focus on one opponent and just block everything else out?
Tom Zbikowski: So far I think it’s been this whole year, just with ?? I think walking into training camp and looking at it with Georgia Tech, I know all the hype surrounding the entire time, with Brady, with Heisman, with us maybe going for a national title, all we were thinking about was Georgia Tech. We won that game, and then all we were thinking about was Penn State. I think putting your whole off season into Georgia Tech and next week being able to put that whole week into Penn State, that’s what we’re doing weekly. I think that’s when you start buying it, and it’s working so far.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the playing of Maurice Crum so far?
Tom Zbikowski: He’s been solid. Just watching him last year for his first season, you know there’s a great deal of talent that he has, and just watching him week in and week out makes my job a lot easier, just coming in and making some clean?up tackles and try to get some position while he’s making most of the plays. Any time when the ball fumbles and you get lucky and pick one up and score a touchdown, obviously it makes it that much easier, too.
Q. You talked about his play last year. Are you seeing a difference now that he’s the leader?
Tom Zbikowski: I think he has a lot more coverage and also him just being healthy. I know he had a lot of problems with a knew nagging injuries last year. Now being 100 percent you see what type of player he is.
Q. As far as on the field does he take some of what you have to do away?
Tom Zbikowski: Yeah, he’s making all the calls in the huddle, and he has yet to mess any calls up. It sounds like a small part, but in the heat of battle in the third and fourth quarter to make sure everyone is getting the call every single play, it’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Q. You guys have played a lot more nickel this year than last year. Does that make your job tougher or easier?
Tom Zbikowski: I think it’s easier just because there’s a lot more speed on the field. I think we’ve had some success with that, and being able to just stop the pass ?? another corner playing that slot receiver as opposed to linebacker bumping out trying to cover and support the run.
Q. One of the plays Saturday was when Terrail had the pass interference call against him and he was beating a little bit deep and kind of intentionally interfered so he’d take the 15?yard penalty. Is that something that Bill and Charlie emphasized to you guys, the best penalty that’s available rather than getting beat deep?
Tom Zbikowski: You want to play a deep ball before anything. Obviously it worked out to our advantage, but in any circumstance, you want to make the play before pass interference. You want to stay calm, not panic, and if you look at that play there’s one time the ball was in the air for quite some time, but I think that was a learning experience for everyone in the defensive backfield. We’re watching film, and it may be deep, but there’s no reason to panic, the ball is up there for a long time.
Q. Some players say they feed off the crowd, some say they never hear the crowd. How is it for you?
Tom Zbikowski: Once the play starts you don’t hear anything. Third and fourth quarter you start getting the crowd involved. I think that’s why our defense has a lot of success within the red zone is also our home crowd; once they start getting into it, we start feeding off it and making plays when they matter.
Q. What are your impressions of Ron Talley?
Tom Zbikowski: In the way he plays?
Q. In the way he plays, just kind of how he is as a person.
Tom Zbikowski: I love the kid, I always have. Obviously he’s got that deep, intimidating voice. It’s hard to ?? I don’t know much about D line so I kind of get my info from other guys, but he’s a tough kid. I like the way he plays. I’ve got classes with him a couple times, so I always enjoy being around him. He’s a funny kid.
Q. When you first heard the voice, did you do a double take?
Tom Zbikowski: I thought he was kidding around or something, trying to mess around. You grow to get accustomed to it.
Q. Back to what Tim was talking about before about the opponent?by?opponent approach, as a player is it at all tough to try to keep that even keel when you’re talking about a Michigan or USC or a rival like that?
Tom Zbikowski: Obviously because you know there’s going to be that big?time hype, whether it’s on the Internet, whether fans with getting here on Wednesday and Thursday as opposed to Friday. Obviously on the outside it’s much more anticipated for us. You only get three days of practice so you’ve got to be as focused as possible to get the game plan down and get ready for the game. If you ever lose sight of that, that’s where mistakes are going to be made.
Q. Final question on the guy who’s playing behind Ronald Talley. Can you talk about what he brings to the huddle?
Tom Zbikowski: Definitely some experience. Like I said before, I can get a feel for what linebackers are doing a little better than what the defensive line is doing. You know, when guys are making plays and defense is being successful, obviously most of the guys have to be doing pretty good. But just watching him make plays, stopping the run, I know he’s done a good job doing that.
Q. You’ve scored six touchdowns in your career three different ways. Can you talk about your propensity to get to the end zone?
Tom Zbikowski: It was a pretty good bounce this last one, I’ll say that. But any time there’s a punt return, I’ve said it before, it’s the entire team, it’s never just the returner. I think the coaches have done a good job of simulating interceptions in practice to teach the blocks, making sure the intended receiver was blocked and then going after the quarterback or linemen just to seal off the edge and try to score. Any time you score, it’s more of a team effort than really anything. I’ve just been the fortunate one to get the ball.
Q. Do you think that your days of an option quarterback helped you like on a fumble return when you’re trying to ad lib?
Tom Zbikowski: I think it’s helped me out a lot with punt returns. You have that offensive ?? you’re used to having the ball as opposed to a lot of defensive players who have never even touched the ball, let alone scored touchdowns. I think it definitely helps out with kind of instincts and being there before.
Q. You’ve mentioned a little bit about people riding into town early, Internet and so forth. Do you try to absorb all that energy, absorb all that electricity when it’s happening for a big game like this, or do you try to tune it out?
Tom Zbikowski: I try and just tune it out. You definitely feel on Friday when 40,000 some people are come to a pep rally, it’s probably a pretty big game. But you try and just eliminate as much as you possibly can.
I love watching ESPN. I’ve always been a sports fan, but you try and stay away from it, just be another college student and try and relax and not worry about it and just be focused on your scheme and what you’ve got to do to win the game.
Q. Last week you mentioned growing up you liked Notre Dame and Penn State. How did you feel about Michigan growing up?
Tom Zbikowski: I’m going to leave that one unanswered (laughter).
Q. You talk about a lot of guys don’t know what to do when they get a ball in their hands on defensive. Does it make it more fun when you get the opportunity to score?
Tom Zbikowski: I think so. The best thing about it is, as I said after Saturday’s game, when you see a defensive lineman, linebackers, that are in a dead sprint for you in the end zone trying to take your head off, that’s how happy they are trying to celebrate with you. That’s what makes football football is celebrating it with the other guys.
Q. A lot of guys have kind of made a statement that games like this are why you come to Notre Dame. Can you speak about that?
Tom Zbikowski: It definitely is. It’s a game that’s been going on annually for a long time. It’s a physical game, I love playing games like this. That is the reason why you come to Notre Dame is big games. You try and stay away from the hype, but it’s one of the biggest things is you’re going to be eyes watching this game.
Q. Do you see Michigan in maybe the same light as you guys last year? It seems like they’re hungry. You guys were coming off a rough season a year ago.
Tom Zbikowski: Pretty much everything is hungry. We’ve got the bull’s eye on our chest and people are going to be gunning for us all the time. It’s going to be like this week in and week out.
Q. When you scored the touchdown and you crossed the end zone, you kind of crossed your arms. Was that a symbol or ad lib or what was that about?
Tom Zbikowski: I mean, one of my buddies played football, broke his ankle last year and wasn’t able to play again, so I kind of did something for him just to let him know I’m still thinking about him.
Q. Who is that, Tom?
Tom Zbikowski: Scott Klein, who played division III in Augustana. I’ve known him since I was two years old. He might come to the game this week, I don’t know.
I did it for everyone I used to play with. I don’t want to be selfish or anything, but any time you’re around the house and all the boys are around, they always want you to give them a shout?out or something when you’re on the field.
Q. What about these receivers? You guys did a good job against the Penn State receivers and Tech receivers. What’s different about the Michigan receivers?
Tom Zbikowski: Good receivers, like always. I mean, same with Michigan history and same as what we’re going to see week in and week out. They’re receivers, we’ve got to pretty much just worry about ourselves and keep working on being physical receivers. That’s our goal pretty much any week no matter who we’re playing, just making sure we’re physical.
Q. You talked about being physical. After the game, those two hits you guys had back to back, that’s a statement that we want to set a new tone for our defense. Is that how you feel when you put the hits on?
Tom Zbikowski: I think so. Looking at the past people have been putting up a lot of yards against Notre Dame and there’s been no fear to just lay up the ball and let receivers make plays now. When you get hits like that, you get receivers looking around their shoulders not wanting to catch the ball and worrying about getting hit. You definitely want to put some fear into receivers.
Q. You’ve been doing a lot of publicity this summer about your boxing career. Does that translate to football at all, just the toughness or anything?
Tom Zbikowski: Yeah, I think so. A lot of it has to do with just the hand?eye coordination. It’s always a physical sport when you’re one?on?one with someone else. As I said before, football is 11 guys on a team, but it’s basically making sure you win your individual battles. It just gives that aspect of one?on?one competitiveness.
THE MODERATOR: We’ve got Brady Quinn at the table, so we’ll open it up with questions from media here in attendance first and then we’ll take callers after that.
Q. You guys talk about games like this and you often say this is why you come to Notre Dame. Can you talk about that?
Brady Quinn: Obviously we’re excited about this, but I think really if you look at where we were the past couple weeks, I think we know we can improve on a lot. Right now our biggest focus is just individually trying to make ourselves better, sticking with working on your fundamentals and techniques but also just really focusing on how to get better as a unit, whether offensively, defensively, or special teams, as well.
Q. Growing up in Ohio, there’s not a lot of love lost for Michigan. What are your thoughts on their program?
Brady Quinn: Every game right now is just the same to us. We look at this game like we did all the others.
Q. You probably don’t have an opinion, but there are folks that want to know since the two schools have the same colors, what should the fans wear? Any thoughts?
Brady Quinn: I would say it’s a great question. Hopefully they come out in green. I’d say that’s probably the variable that we can throw in there.
Q. You’ve prepared for this Michigan defense for three years now. They’ve got a new defensive coordinator. Does their defense look different scheme?wise, different things they’re doing, or the same Michigan defense as every year?
Brady Quinn: Obviously it’s going to be tough, but at the same point in time we’re not focusing on that stuff. We’re focusing on our play, our scheme, and what we’re taking into it this week.
Q. After the two sacks last week, you went over and met with the offensive line. What kinds of things are being talked about there, and what was their reaction because it doesn’t seem like something you do a lot of?
Brady Quinn: No, obviously I’ll go over and say things like I think there’s something that needs to be said, and at that particular point in time, I noticed a certain, I guess ?? you know, I guess the way I felt like they were at that point in the game, I felt like something needed to be said because where we were in this game, we obviously wanted to kind of set a tone with our next couple of drives, and I really just wanted to make sure that they understood that there was a challenge being presented in front of them, so obviously we wanted to make sure that they realized it’s going to be on them now. The offensive line always starts up front, but at the same point in time even more so when we’ve got to churn out yards in the defense and the nose is on the ball, it makes it even tougher.
Q. How did they react to you talking to them?
Brady Quinn: I don’t come over a whole lot, so I’m not sure, you’d have to ask them, but I think it helped.
Q. Some players say they hear the crowd a lot and some players say they black it out. When you’re on the field do you feed off of the home crowd?
Brady Quinn: I think you feed off of it, but at the same time when you’re on the field you really don’t hear a whole lot. You’re so focused on what you’re trying to get accomplished out there that there’s really not any room for you to have a lack of attention or focus to detail, and a lot of the time you don’t listen to the crowd or allow it to affect your play.
Q. You’re obviously a target for opposing defenses. Sometimes players yap a little bit. What’s maybe the most interesting thing that a defensive player has said to you?
Brady Quinn: I don’t know. It always befuddles me when players talk trash when they’re down by a large margin. I just don’t understand that. It’s like I think last year I had a player one time who was happy about almost kicking a ball off, yet they were down by 30 points. I’m going, wow ?? really I didn’t have to say anything. I’m not one to talk anyways, but I think if you look at the score board, it’s a pretty strong statement in itself.
Q. Over the summer you and Rhema worked quite a bit together, but on the field has it been as smooth as you thought it would be, the chemistry with him?
Brady Quinn: I think so. Rhema is one of those guys that sometimes he’s shifty and hard to read, and it’s really tough to just grasp that consistently. Again, that’s another thing that obviously week in and week out we’re putting in different schemes, different types of things we’re trying to do. You’ve got to work on that. You’ve got to get a lot of rest at it so you get comfortable in all different types of situations how it’s going to react or run around.
Q. Different than it was a couple years ago when he was there every game, how does that shiftiness make it hard?
Brady Quinn: It just makes it tougher to read which way he’s trying to move the defense or which way he’s trying to leverage the defender. It’s just tough. A lot of times our routes are based upon different coverages, and at the same time they’ve got liberties to do some things where they can almost ad lib. When that comes into effect there’s got to be a strong communication between you and the wide receiver that’s a lot of times unspoken. You’ve got to be able to read his body language. Rhema is one of those guys that on the field it’s tough but off the field it’s easier.
Q. With the amount of practices you guys did in the off season, did you have a chance to evaluate Maurice Crum?
Brady Quinn: I think he’s extremely athletic, he’s got a lot of speed. He’s able to break a lot of those run holds very quickly. He’s got a great sense of how to play the game. There’s some things you can’t teach players and it’s just inbred in him. He’s able to fill the hole so quickly. I guess somehow, I don’t want to necessarily say guess, because a lot of times he’s right on what they’re doing up there or what they’re trying to get accomplished by certain setting formations, he’s an extremely heady player but so physically gifted that he’s able to have this big impact on the field.
Q. Does it surprise you at all only in the sense that he shifted positions last year and he was a first year starter last year already?
Brady Quinn: No, I think obviously having that football sense or football know?how, I knew he’d be okay coming into the season, being able to deal with the transition, especially because of the type of person that he is and how he deals with change and transitions like that. I think if you look at him he’s a very soft?spoken young man and he’ll just handle everything in stride. There’s not enough good things you can say about him.
Q. What do you remember about Leon Hall and what stands out about him?
Brady Quinn: I mean, right now, again, we’re not necessarily focusing on that now. We’re focusing on ourselves and the different things we need to improve coming into this week. We can’t really focus on a whole lot of different things about our opponent before unless we’re working on things we need to work on going into this game.
Q. You don’t really remember a lot about him from last year?
Brady Quinn: Really it’s kind of still early in the week, too.
Q. Ronald Talley, what were your first impressions of him?
Brady Quinn: He’s obviously a pretty big man. He’s a kid out of Detroit, Michigan, so he’s a tough kid. I think he’s just kind of lived up to that since he’s been here. He’s been a powerful type of rusher but getting a lot of penetration and being pretty solid on a lot of different runs.
Q. You talked about people trash talking. Does he ever trash talk?
Brady Quinn: I don’t remember hearing Talley say a whole lot. There’s different guys that try to talk, Vic, Tom every once in a while, but he doesn’t really have any witty come backs so he’s an easy target, especially with that mohawk ?? gosh, that’s awful. But there’s different guys. Talley is a little more quiet.
Q. How much do you think for you as a player, since the last time you played Michigan, how much do you think the offensive schemes have improved since last year?
Brady Quinn: I think we’ve improved a lot. Again, I say this all the time, we’ve got a different group of players this year, so I think we’re still trying to figure out what type of offense we have, and I think the team faces that every year obviously with different personnel changes, people graduating. It’s tough because even though we have a lot of veterans coming back, I think we still face that year in and year out, trying to adjust with the new changes that have occurred.
Q. One of your first games when you saw more than a snap or two was the game with Michigan. What are your recollections of that game?
Brady Quinn: Obviously I felt like at that point in time the speed was kind of fast but at the same time that was one of the first times I had a completion, so it was kind of cool. If I can remember correctly, right when I got in there I think they ended up throwing a pass the first play or so, first play, second play, something like that, but I was still excited to get in there, and knowing that the coach has confidence in you, more than just handing the ball off and just running some of the operations that they were willing to take some risk in that.
Q. As a starter, you probably would admit that two Michigan games haven’t been your best statistical games. Can you talk about that and how you go about moving on after those kind of games?
Brady Quinn: I don’t think it’s about moving on after. Michigan, they’re a good team, but at the same point in time, we’ve got to win. That’s what it comes down to; all you really care about is the win. Looking at this right now, we’re trying to prove everything we can to ourselves in order to fine tune and everything, so we make sure that we’re ready coming into this week.
Q. Can you talk about Ryan Harris a little bit? He’s the guy that has your blind side and the confidence that you have in him and maybe anything about him off the field that strikes you?
Brady Quinn: Obviously Ryan is a solid player. He’s just, again, another guy that’s extremely gifted with ability and an exceptional quickness and athleticism. I think you don’t really see that too many times in an offensive lineman. He has a lot of different characteristics that kind of fit the mold of being somewhat of a leader even though he maybe doesn’t have that title necessarily. I think he’s someone who stands strong by his faith and also someone who provides somewhat of a different personality. Ryan is one of those guys that tends to be soft spoken and at times can be a little more outspoken and adds a little bit of humor to things, especially with just the different things he does in the locker room. There’s some pregame rituals we can’t go into.
Q. Having grown up close to where you did, I know it’s impossible to be an Ohio State and Michigan fan growing up. I know you were recruited by both, but when you were little, did you have a preference?
Brady Quinn: No. I mean, obviously being here you’re going to be an Ohio State fan, but like I said, again, Notre Dame has always a team I’d watch when I was young and my dad kind of brought me up on that. I realized that those were more or less the two teams I was kind of rooting for at that time.