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September 21, 2016

James Onwualu

South Bend, Indiana

Q. James, I'm sure you're dealing with the issues and the negatives that have come up. As you move forward into Game 4, and as a leader of the defense, what do you feel good about what you guys are doing defensively?
JAMES ONWUALU: I feel good about a lot of things. One of them being just the effort and how committed a lot of the guys on our defense are right now. But I mean, you watch the film and there's no question on effort. There's D-Linemen running down the field, you see that play, Jarron Jones running down the field for a tackle, that's unheard of.

So you've got to be proud of that. I think that's something that you can really build off, no matter what it is. There's some things that you can't fix within a defense but that being -- you know, that already is, like I said, something you can build off.

Q. How do you bridge that gap between effort and productivity? How do you narrow that gap?
JAMES ONWUALU: I think you just keep working on that every week and focusing. As long as that's set in stone, that effort aspect of it, you just continue through practice to try to continue to get better, like I said. Work on the things we haven't done as well and try and bring that and show that within the game.

Q. As a captain, your message to not only the wide backing core but the defense in general?
JAMES ONWUALU: That we've just got to keep working to get better every single day.

Obviously we didn't start the season exactly how we had imagined, but a lot of guys on the team, it's not like we're like a lot of other teams in the country where after you lose a game or two, you just continue to go downhill. A lot of guys have high character and want to win no matter what, very competitive defense. You don't have to really say much to them. Just have them to continue to compete and remember that we're representing the university and our families.

Q. You individually, what would a nuance or two be, something that you need to improve upon in your game?
JAMES ONWUALU: In my game, I feel like I've made the plays that have been presented to me this year so far. Just continue to make people around me better and continuing to expand my game into different areas where we might be hurting a little bit.

Q. As a freshmen on that 2013 team that had two losses in September and having a captain in your unit, TJ Jones, what was the message that he gave to you guys after that second loss? And while you said you don't really need to say a whole lot to these guys, do you relay some of that message to the freshmen and sophomores this year?
JAMES ONWUALU: After those losses, I can remember TJ Jones always being positive. You get a lot of negativity from the outside and you feel the vibe a little bit change from fans and reporters and everything like that.

But within the team, I just remember TJ being positive. I've tried to do the same and just be as positive as I can in the locker room, continuing to encourage guys and still give them the idea of how great a season can be, even starting out not exactly the way we wanted it to.

Q. Have things kept up positive since the Michigan State game?
JAMES ONWUALU: I think so. I mean, everybody came in, at least I can really only speak for the defensive room, but I thought the film session and the review of the game was positive and we learned a lot from it. And then continuing into practice yesterday, it was just like a normal day. We've moved on and are looking forward to Duke.

Q. Does it help from the younger guys -- not reading into stuff from Twitter and anything like that, is that a concern of yours at this point?
JAMES ONWUALU: A little bit. I think everybody, even if you say, I never look at that stuff, you're tagged in stuff and it pops up here and there. They are going to have some involvement here and there but just continue to focus on their own game and focus on what we're trying to accomplish is key. Letting some of those guys know that, but they all pretty much know it.

Q. Circling back to 2013, you went out, I think it was the week after Oklahoma and beat Arizona State, beat a ranked Arizona State team. The positive leadership of TJ and Zach Martin and Bennett Jackson, some of the other senior leadership, the how did that help you guys go out and win that game the next week and ultimately win nine that season?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah, again, just like focusing on the next week. Trying to let the past just settle and be in the past and just taking every game as another opportunity to compete and to show your skills and show what you're improving on and continuing to work on your game.

Q. Your defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been criticized quite a bit from fans and media. What's your reaction as a player on the team when you see something like that about your coach?
JAMES ONWUALU: You know, I don't really look too much into it. I mean, people say that the defense is too complicated and that he does too much, too exotic and it doesn't work. But you know, as a player, you know, I respect what he does and I think that his system is one that I have enjoyed playing in.

It's important to me that I have a coach that's going to continue to give me as much information as possible and give me the opportunity to do as much as I can in the game, and I think that he does that.

So obviously, you know, there's things on every team that you can fix, and the players have to execute certain things no matter what defense it is. So those are things that you can clean up, but overall I love playing for Coach VanGorder.

Q. When you look at last week, Cole struggled a little bit against Michigan State. What do you see to a guy like that that you know has the ability, maybe some words that you have to say to him to get him back on track?
JAMES ONWUALU: Not really. I mean, Cole is a veteran guy. He's played in much more defense than I have. He knows, you know, he's hard on himself, just like any coach would be. I'm sure he's been on the film and correcting those things.

Unfortunately some guys have off days. He had the ball in his hands on the first play in what could have been a pick in the end zone. So just executing a little bit more and just making that play would be important for him. But he knows what he's got to do. I mean, as a good friend, I don't think I really need to say much to him.

Q. Saturday night when you got home or maybe Sunday afternoon when you sit down and you realize you guys are 1-2, what crossed your mind? Was it anger or disappointment? What went through your body?
JAMES ONWUALU: It's never a good feeling. Obviously it's not exactly how I imagined starting off the season, my senior season, and obviously a team that I'm trying my best to lead.

I know we have a lot of games ahead of us which is exciting and I have a couple more games that I get to play at Notre Dame Stadium. There's so much more to come from this season and so much more I can learn and my whole team can learn. You know, you look past those games already and you take what you can from those and learn from those experiences. But just really trying to look forward and focus on these games that we can get some great wins in.

Q. You gave up 50 points against Texas, 36 against MSU, as a defense, do you guys feel like you let down your team?
JAMES ONWUALU: I wouldn't say we let down our team. All the units have their own job to do and obviously the defense has struggled a little bit. We're trying to correct those things and play the best ball we can, and I think that like I said, comes with consistency and just working to do a better job with that.

You know, we don't feel too much heat from the offensive side and special teams, I think we do a pretty good job of all working together and knowing that it takes every unit.

So I mean, the defense is obviously going to have to continue to improve each week, but I don't feel too much pressure from the other units.

Q. And then what do you guys see from Duke as their offense, as you prepare for them this week?
JAMES ONWUALU: You know, very well-coached. They have their different concepts. They are a very conceptual offense, so just trying to just understand their concepts and get a good idea that it can come out of a few different things. Younger quarterback, but he's a pretty good player and has some sets that he can really use. Just trying to get a good understanding of their offense and play some good ball.

Q. What are the biggest challenges that younger players face this season?
JAMES ONWUALU: I think the biggest challenge is just trying to understand the whole concept and really get -- I mean, sometimes you can focus in on what my job is. But it gets difficult sometimes when you don't know exactly how all the pieces around you are working. So trying to, you know, share knowledge with the people around you is important in our room.

Q. Have you seen the other guys who are obviously getting a lot of playing time getting a hold of it quickly, or are they struggling with it? What do you see? We obviously see it within the game but what are you seeing?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah, I mean, it's just more -- there's more to it than just understanding the playbook. These guys have put the time in to understand the playbook but I mean, these offenses are throwing more at us than they have ever, you know.

The offensive game in college football is continuing to evolve, and like you see in Michigan State, they were throwing new stuff at us all throughout the game. Usually you get maybe a 15, 20-play script in the beginning of the game, trying to see what we are trying to go against their motions and their different types of offense.

But MSU gave us a bunch of stuff throughout the game, so it's difficult for a guy who does a great job of studying but really putting our concepts and trying to match them into new looks throughout a game.

Q. And when that happens, like on Saturday, what are you guys, the veterans, telling the younger players, so they don't get frustrated and make mistakes?
JAMES ONWUALU: Yeah, I think it's important. Sideline talk becomes very important, sharing information at that point. Coach does a great job of getting the white board out and explaining what happened on the last series and talking through that with some of the guys and making those corrections.

Trying to stay positive on the sideline, even though some mistakes may occur, and fixing it for the next drive.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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