Sept. 6, 2006
Q. Coach Weis said after the game that he felt like your communication on defense ?? was not what he was looking for. Where did you see that and did you agree with that and where did you see that?
Tom Zbikowski: I definitely agree with that in retrospect when we had the team meeting and he told us there was (audio drop.)
Q. Did you notice any difference on the sidelines from a communication standpoint?
Tom Zbikowski: I think it just helps having him there as soon as we get off the sideline talking about what we saw. He can write up the routes that may be coming up or formations that we didn’t see; whereas last year it was pretty much him in the press box just talking to us and trying to communicate. It’s definitely helped out having him on the sideline.
Q. Would you say you feel more comfortable with him down there?
Tom Zbikowski: I like either/or. As a defensive back, I like having my coach down there just to be able to draw up the passing plays. I know if you’re going to have the linebacker, linebacking coach is going to be on the offensive line and defensive line is going to be on the defensive line. It’s good to have your position coach down there.
Q. How has Chinedum Ndukwe improved?
Tom Zbikowski: I think with the weight that he dropped, he looks a lot faster. He’s running around, a lot of it has to do with the weight loss. And as we were saying before, a lot of it has to do with that year of experience where he really has that confidence of playing, and I think he wanted to come out and prove when he made that switch, that it was for a reason and that he’s going to be a good ballplayer. And so far with the first game I think he did that.
Q. Are you any more comfortable with him from this year to last year?
Tom Zbikowski: I’ve always been comfortable just because me and him are pretty close on and off the field. Now I feel a lot more comfortable with looking over there and him telling me what to do sometimes; whereas in the past it was just kind of you, you know, communication was like we said last year, there’s a lot of mishaps and that’s why big plays happen.
Q. You mentioned the communication, do you feel like that was a lot better on Saturday?
Tom Zbikowski: Yeah, it definitely was. Like I mentioned before, any time when you’re only making one or two mental mistakes, your physical play takes over and that’s what we showed.
Q. Did Penn State recruit you? Were you interested in Penn State at any point?
Tom Zbikowski: They recruited me a little bit, they offered. I didn’t commit. I think it was like a week or two before I committed, so I got a little interest from them.
Q. What’s your impression of their program and what were your impresses growing up?
Tom Zbikowski: I was a little bit of a Penn State fan when I was younger, I was Penn State and Notre Dame. It’s a pretty big game for me. I have no idea why. I have no idea why.
Q. What interested you, was it the consistency of the program?
Tom Zbikowski: I think a lot of it had to do with consistency, and obviously the two programs have a pretty deep tradition and success. A lot of times, that’s what you get to watch, Penn and Notre Dame is what you get to watch.
Q. Did you like their jerseys?
Tom Zbikowski: Yeah, there are kind of boring, kind of like ours, but it’s tradition.
Q. Notre Dame is undefeated on the road under Coach Weis. What is it about playing on the road that you guys love so much?
Tom Zbikowski: I think it’s just a certain mentality of us walking in. It’s fun to get booed and harassed early on in the game, and then fourth quarter it’s dead silent and people are starting to leave the stadium. That’s something that’s fun.
But we’ve got to make sure, obviously last year we didn’t start off well at home and with two losses. So we’ve got to bring that mentality and definitely live up to the hype that’s on campus. A lot of people are excited, the fans are excited and we’ve got to, you know, not necessarily look at that as a bad thing but kind of play into it and have fun with it.
Q. In ways can it be easier on the road because it’s just you guys?
Tom Zbikowski: Yeah, there really is no distraction. I know it being Notre Dame, everyone is from pretty much all the over the country. There’s a few kids from wherever we’re playing away games that will have that issue. But pretty much as a whole as a team, there’s no distraction really.
Q. That silence in the fourth quarter, is that what’s the best part of a road win for you?
Tom Zbikowski: It’s probably that point. But also at the beginning when we first ?? when the bus rolled up, how many Notre Dame fans were waiting for us. It was pretty exciting. It was almost like a home game with how many people were waiting outside. You know, to greet us when we first got us.
Q. Last week with Calvin Johnson didn’t have much around him on offense, quite frankly, he doesn’t have as much around him as Derrick Williams, talk about the different challenges.
Tom Zbikowski: They are all over the field. It’s hard to set your coverage just to one person like we were able to do last week. It’s kind of an offense by committee. Everyone has got talent. Everyone has got speed on that offense and, you know, we’re going to have to come to play and bring our best game.
Q. People talk about Williams and compared him a lot with Johnson, what do you see?
Tom Zbikowski: I know really as a whole offense watching, you watch their last game against Akron, they have some firepower, the first three or four plays in the game, they have touchdowns on the board. You can’t take a chance; their quarterback is good and all their receivers are good.
Q. Last week you were a step away from going the distance, did you feel that way?
Tom Zbikowski: Yeah, I definitely felt that, just this one time just got tripped up like a shoelace tackle. Just trying to get better each return and every week, so hopefully we’ll get a big play out of the punt return team on Saturday.
Q. Finally what prompted you to go with the racing stripe?
Tom Zbikowski: I’m not sure. The long hair, my first year playing, shaved it last year, and my dad did this to me when I was like in third grade. So I figured I would just bring back a little tradition I guess of my own.
Q. What do you see in Morelli?
Tom Zbikowski: He’s very good, very poised for his first start against Akron at home. We’ll see what happens when he has to go to a little more hostile environment.
But he’s got a strong arm, a very strong arm, and for the most part, he looked pretty accurate for most of the plays I got a chance to see. We’ll look a little in the film and see what kind of tendencies we can get from him.
Q. Looking at Brady compared to Morelli, Brady had better passing numbers but was considered to have played a bad game. Does he have to throw five touchdowns a game now for it to be considered a good game because of the standard he’s set for himself?
Tom Zbikowski: I don’t think that’s going to be good enough. That’s kind of what’s expected out of him now. As long as we win, it doesn’t really matter. The best thing about Brady is he understands that. He didn’t care about the stats. All he wants to win and that’s all that’s important.
Q. Playing on the road ?? do you think about the fact that you have to ?? inaudible?
Tom Zbikowski: I definitely think so. You know, early on in my career, like you were saying, just didn’t seem like that was the type of place to play when you go into other stadiums. Obviously we don’t get to see it as an opposing team playing at Notre Dame Stadium.
I think it’s more the team than anything. It’s not really the atmosphere. The fans are always great. They are always going to be loud. It’s got to be the team coming in. It’s going to be fear to play Notre Dame, not necessarily to play at Notre Dame Stadium. A lot of it has to do with the team’s success so we’ve definitely got to start off early and win home games and not go 0?2 like we did last year.
Q. How would you evaluate Darrin Walls’ play?
Tom Zbikowski: He looked pretty good. He gave up that one against Johnson, but the kid’s a freshman, first game going against Johnson is going to be tough. I think he’s actually going to get a lot of confidence from that and keep getting better. Just watching him every day, the kid is going to be a very good ballplayer. I told him, I had him on the sidelines, when he gets in the game, people are going to try to throw to you because you’re a freshman, but he’s capable of making a big play and hopefully they will keep testing him and he’ll make a big play.
Q. The punt returns near the goal line, what’s your thoughts on that?
Tom Zbikowski: Just making better decisions. The one where I got tagged on the 5, that was a big?time punt. I have to be a little more conscious where I am. There are certain points, at the 10?yard line if it goes over your head, you have to just let it go. Lining up on the 20, it just kicked over my head, so it was not a smart decision, if I had made a better return, it might have been a good decision but it’s not going to be a good decision when that happens.
Q. Do you feel Notre Dame should be ranked higher?
Tom Zbikowski: Actually I didn’t really know where we fell until I was watching and we saw Texas ranked two. It matters at the end of the season not right now. We have to worry about beating Penn State and that’s it.
Q. You said your dad did the mohawk to you in third grade?
Tom Zbikowski: Yeah.
Q. Was that for punishment or being good?
Tom Zbikowski: I don’t know what it was. We were going to shave my head, so we just left it.
Q. Did he do it himself?
Tom Zbikowski: I don’t think he shaved it then. I think he just told somebody to shave it for me.
Tom Zbikowski: I don’t think so. Just looking at, you know, you get a feel of what type of quarterback he is, a little bit more pro?type, drop?back person. Obviously not like what we had last week where he’s going to be a little more scrambling, a little more option. Obviously they get their shot and even the receiver is involved in the running game. So just looking at kind of what their offensive philosophy was last year and what it looked like against Akron and then seeing what type of quarterback he is, taller, with the big arm, you know, they are going to chase him, take some shots.
Q. Going back to Ndukwe, did his hit on the pass down the middle to Johnson, did that set a tone for you in the way you were defending him?
Tom Zbikowski: I think so. I think it just set a tone for opposing receivers that are going to be making, you know, catches over the middle. If we can make a hit like that, I think it sends a statement to whoever is watching the game.
Q. Going back to punt returns, are you always thinking about ?? inaudible ?? what goes through your head right before the punt?
Tom Zbikowski: Really our main goal is just to pick up ten yards. It makes it easier for the offense. That’s a first down that they don’t have to pick up. So anything more than that is a bonus, and I think you have to look at it that way. You can pick up ten yards, you get past that first wave, usually you’re set and you can take off.
So you’ve really got to concentrate on getting your first ten yards, and that’s my mind?set because that’s our goal as a punt return is to make it a little easier on the offense.
Q. Is there a key to getting past that first wave, is it a move by you or a block?
Tom Zbikowski: Usually it’s a block and a return, just making a move off that block, really seeing. You have to run that block while he seals that block off. It’s more punt return off (ph) the team than a punt return. My job is easy, I just have to run off of someone’s block, they have to do all the work and the returner gets the credit.
Q. With the interceptions, sometimes you get it and there’s nobody in front of you, but when there’s another run and you’re breaking tackles and weaving in and out, is it by luck or chance or do you practice that?
Tom Zbikowski: We do practice that. Usually you try to get to the nearest sideline because that’s what the defensive line has taught the linebackers to get over there and seal blocks. So it’s running off your blocks and kind of having a nose for the end zone or sense for the football.
Obviously if you have a cut back, you want to take a cut back because usually offensive players are not practicing tackling during practice. So you get a chance, you try and cut back. But you get the yardage you can.
Q. Do you believe in that kind of nose for the end zone theory, because as a defensive player you’ve had good success in finding the end zone?
Tom Zbikowski: It’s hard to say whether it’s luck or good situation or what it may be. It happens and hopefully it will keep happening in the future.