UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 11, 2005
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. We are going to have three different Notre Dame players joining us this afternoon, beginning with sophomore runningback Darius Walker. We'll open it up to questions for Darius Walker.
Q. How many family members will you have up there on Saturday?
DARIUS WALKER: I think it's going to be about 25 people for me, per se. Everybody back home knows this is a big game and everything. I'm also getting a lot of phone calls from everyone wishing me luck, everything like that. It's just kind of a crazy time up here in South Bend.
Q. No ticket requests, I'm sure?
DARIUS WALKER: More ticket requests than I can handle (laughter).
Q. How crazy is "crazy time" up there?
DARIUS WALKER: I think if I had to put this on a scale of 1 to 10, it's definitely in a 10 right now. Today is just Tuesday. I think if I stay on that scale, it will probably be a 15 out of 10 come here Thursday and Friday.
Q. How do you react to that then?
DARIUS WALKER: Well, I think our reaction is just we knew it was going to be to this extent. Southern Cal is a highly media-ized team, No. 1 in the country. For them to be coming here, I know for Notre Dame fans and everyone, this is just a special event. We're all excited about it.
Q. As a player, how do you view playing the No. 1 team in the country with the longest winning streak?
DARIUS WALKER: It's incredible. It's definitely something that I asked for, something I wanted coming in. That's the reason I think players pick a school like Notre Dame, is because we get the opportunity to play these kind of teams.
Q. We were talking to Coach Weis. He said one of the biggest jobs he had last week was convincing the team that it could win. Do you need to get a collective amnesia about the last three results? I know you weren't around for all of them. Is the team believing now? What sorts of things was Coach telling you?
DARIUS WALKER: I think the team is definitely believing. Coach Weis has always instilled in us confidence in whatever it is we're doing. When we play up to our potential, we can play with anybody in the country. I think this team really feels that way. Last year, and I know the previous years that the games have turned out in Southern Cal's favor, but we also understand that is the past, that really has no bearing on this game coming up here Saturday.
Q. What do the words "fake punt" mean to you after last year?
DARIUS WALKER: I think if I remember correctly, either we tried to fake one or Southern Cal tried to fake punt.
Q. They did.
DARIUS WALKER: The game was already kind of out of reach. Yeah, I remember that. Well, I think it just kind of shows what kind of team they are, what kind of point they're trying to get across. They want to be the dominant team in the country, and they really want to pound teams. In turn, that kind of fuels us up a little bit, that if they want to try to make a statement in a game like they did last year, we can definitely try to do the same.
Q. Coach Weis obviously wasn't there. Has that been discussed among the players at all, a revenge factor?
DARIUS WALKER: Not too much. We try not to look too much in the past because we understand that doesn't have any bearing on this game coming up. At the same time, we do know that the last few years, Southern Cal has gotten the best of us. That also is something that is fueling us to change those outcomes.
Q. Coach Weis made a big deal of the fact he did not want the players -- he wants you to be excited, but he doesn't want you to be too excited. He wants you to be ready to play the game, but not too ready. How do you walk that fine line between being excited, but not too excited?
DARIUS WALKER: I think that becomes a little difficult as a player, I would say, especially at a school like Notre Dame because we have so much media attention and so much fan support. It's kind of hard not to get very, very excited or overly excited about the game. At the same time we understand we can't go out there and play with that enthusiasm every down and everything and be productive as we should be. We understand we need to calm down some and that the game is played with confidence and not too, too much energy. We just try to get out there and play our game, not think too much about who we're playing with Southern Cal and all the hype coming into this game, try to focus more so on Notre Dame, what we have to do to play at our best and win.
Q. As an offensive player, when you look at Southern Cal and all the things they can do, what is your reaction? Are you impressed? Shocked? What do you think about watching their team offensively?
DARIUS WALKER: Their team offensively, it's definitely impressive what they can do. I think just watching it on television, you know they have a lot of talent on that side of the ball definitely with the different players they have and the type of plays that those players can make. It's definitely exciting for one to watch. In a way, I kind of feel that we have some of the same firepower in our offense.
Q. You were there last season, you knew Charlie Weis was coming in as coach. He's known for the passing game. Were you at all concerned about what your role was going to be? I have to assume now you're happy with what your role is.
DARIUS WALKER: Well, not really. In a way, when I heard Coach Weis was coming, that made me watch more New England offense, watch the Patriots, watch them playing different games. I got a chance to see players like Corey Dillon get out there and do what they did, to have the productivity they did. It was actually exciting to hear he was coming up, he had a back like Corey Dillon play for him. It was exciting for me as a runningback because I hoped I could have that same success.
Q. A lot of people around the country are curious about how this team could be so much improved this year with a lot of same bodies. Are you new players under this staff? Are you in a sense reborn? How did it happen?
DARIUS WALKER: That's sort of a difficult question. I think what has happened is that in each of us, I think more confidence has been instilled in us. It seems that when we get in the huddle and we look at each other in the eyes, Brady calls a play, we know that the play's going to work. We know that each member out there on the field is going to do his job. I think that's something important that Coach Weis instilled in us which has helped us gain more confidence in the plays we're running and gain more confidence in ourselves and our own abilities.
Q. Did he tear you down before he built you up? He mentioned the first thing he did was embarrass the team.
DARIUS WALKER: I guess in a way. It kind of depends on how the individual takes certain things and how he takes certain things that Coach Weis says. Coach Weis is very up front and blunt about his opinion, what he thinks about certain situations. From my perspective, I just kind of take it as constructive criticism, that he still wants the best from me and my teammates especially. He wants the best for us. When he criticizes us, just take it as a grain of salt and keep going.
Q. Teams have moved the ball on USC in recent weeks, more through the air than on the ground. Are you encouraged by what you see?
DARIUS WALKER: Definitely encouraged by what I see. I think I'm more so encouraged with our work ethic that we started off with this week as far as the offense is concerned and the team as a whole going out there in practice yesterday, the amount of work and time we put in was very encouraging for me to see. You know, teams have moved the ball a little bit on them. At the same time, just because another team moves a ball on them doesn't mean we'll be able to. We understand we have to work on our game and perfect our game before we can even think about Southern Cal.
Q. Everyone talks about how complex Coach Weis' offense is. When you first got a copy of the playbook, how difficult was it? How long did it take you to fully understand his philosophy?
DARIUS WALKER: I think when I got the playbook, first thing I noticed was the size of it. It really is about the size of a phone book or a dictionary or something. The first few days, that's what it was like looking through there, it was like scanning through a dictionary and picking up a few key things in there and most of the things in there you don't know. It didn't take that long for us to understand the system I think because we had such great coaches and teachers. These coaches aren't just coaches, they're teachers. They help us understand the concepts and our overall knowledge of the game has improved that when we get out there playing, you're so much more comfortable. I understand how the line is going to block on a certain play, what move to make in a certain play and everything. I think my overall knowledge of the game has improved so much because of the teaching and coaching that I received.
Q. You mentioned Corey Dillon. Once you got the playbook, could you start to see why certain things worked for the Patriots?
DARIUS WALKER: Definitely so, because since the playbook is so advanced, so much different things that you can do using this playbook and using this scheme, so many different things that you can do. In a way it really keeps the defense off balance and they kind of have no idea what to expect or what's coming up next.
Q. Do they go over the history of Notre Dame with you this week, let you know the big games they've played in, the big games they've won? Do you hear from former players?
DARIUS WALKER: A little bit. We get that a little bit about the games as such that are coming up, the Southern Cal games, the big Tennessee games, Michigan games, all the rival games. I think we get earfuls of that every week.
Q. Coach Weis was saying earlier he wants his team to take on his attitude. Do you get that sense, that you have become a little more brash in his mold since he's taken over?
DARIUS WALKER: I would definitely say so. A mentality he always tells us he wants us to have is "the get-nasty" mentality. I think what he means by that is our confidence being out there on the field that no matter what play we run, it's going to work. No matter what the defense does, we're going to be able to adapt to that and make our system work. So that's definitely something he has instilled in us is our "get-nasty" attitude. He also talks about walking with a swagger as far as when we're running out on the field and running out on plays. That also kind of helps increase the confidence a little.
Q. Is that something that was missing maybe the past couple years, that swagger that you seem to be developing again?
DARIUS WALKER: I don't know if that's an accurate way to say it. I do think it hasn't been what it is now as far as philosophy goes, as far as teaching and things go. Coach Weis and his staff are a lot different than what I expected.
Q. He was saying a key against USC is you can't let up, you have to -- if you see they're vulnerable, just keep going because they're going to keep scoring, and no lead seems to be too big for them. Is that the thought you take? If you've got them down, keep pushing?
DARIUS WALKER: Definitely so. I think that's an approach we take with anyone we play. When you have a man down, sort of like Coach Haywood says, you got to keep your foot on his throat. That's definitely a mentality we buy into. Once you have a little lead, you're winning by a certain margin, you have to keep increasing that. You may never know what may happen on the other side of the ball. Just watching Southern Cal's past few games, teams have had a lead, they come back and take it away.
Q. What impresses you about USC's defense that the average fan watching on television probably doesn't notice?
DARIUS WALKER: I think what impresses me about them is their speed on defense. Not only their safeties and their corners, but their linebackers, defensive linemen and ends move very well, they can run very well. That always poses a problem for runningbacks and offenses in general when you have a defense that can run and flow to the ball very quickly.
Q. You were talking about how this year when you were in the huddle, a play gets called, you are supremely confident it's going to work. Last year or the year before, was there a feeling of breaking the huddle and kind of hoping it was going to work?
DARIUS WALKER: I don't know if that's really an accurate way to put it either. I guess I can remember from last year just that being in the huddle, I don't know what it was about it, it seems a little different now. I don't know if it's because of the confidence that we received or because of the training and things we received from Coach Weis. I think a lot of it is the mentality he's instilled in us, the "get-nasty" mentality. That's something we definitely buy into, since we buy into it when we're off the field. When we get on the field, it's just natural that we have the swagger and the confidence.
Q. Do you believe in leprechauns?
DARIUS WALKER: Yes (laughter).
Q. A lot of people are thinking that the Notre Dame mystique might be the edge in the game. Do the players think that at all? Obviously you have to go out and block and tackle. But playing at South Bend, the history of the USC series, does that play a little bit into your confidence factor?
DARIUS WALKER: I don't think so too much. What we try to do is just work hard on and off the field and we feel if we put in the necessary time and make the necessary plays, we can play with anyone. We try not to base too much of our practicing and playing off of the luck of the Irish. We just try to go out there and get it for ourselves.
THE MODERATOR: We have Tom Zbikowski. Questions for Tom.
Q. Do you remember the fake punt late last year against USC? What was your reaction to it?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Yeah, I remember that pretty clearly. I don't remember exactly the score. I remember them being close down, you know, kind of in scoring range, then running that fake punt. Kind of put something in my memory for this year.
Q. More than your memory? A little bit of payback if you get a chance?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Yeah, I got a little taste in my mouth for them.
Q. They were up so big in that situation. In a rivalry game, it was almost like, "What is the point?" What went through your mind? Was it discussed among the players?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: You know, a big game like that, there's not much good feelings for both teams. When that happens, I guess when we get our chance, we'll do the same.
Q. Why is this team different this year from last year with basically for the most part the same players?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: You know, I really think the way the season has been going, us just winning, getting confidence every single week, just building up, knowing going into every game we're going to win, having that confidence that we're going to win.
Q. Did that start with winning the first game? When did you start feeling like this team is going to be different? Did it happen before you played Pitt?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Yeah, I think it was in the off-season. Looking at games last year that we probably should have won. Things just didn't go our way. We knew the talent we had on our team. Going through the off-season, making strides in the weight room, getting stronger, bigger, faster, getting in better condition. Waiting for that first game, we knew kind of the season would be that kind -- that kind of set the tone for the rest of the season. I think we went out there and had an exclamation point on that first game.
Q. Where does this game rank for you, them being the two-time national champs, all the history between the two programs?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: I mean, for me personally, this is probably the biggest game I played in, just what you were saying before, this background information. Us being 4-1, 9 in the country. Coming back home, playing at home. Being a chance to be part of Notre Dame's history.
Q. Is this game one of the reasons you wanted to go to Notre Dame?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Yeah, it's the biggest reason. I think everybody on this team, the reason they came to this university, is to play in a game like this against the No. 1 team in the country that just happens to be Southern Cal and playing at home.
Q. Is there anything different about Coach Weis compared to any other coach you've been under, whether high school, college, whatever?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Yeah, you know, I think each coach brings something different to the table. Coach Weis brings that nasty attitude, that confidence, that swagger to his team.
Q. A lot of the media expectations weren't as high for this team compared to how Notre Dame is doing. Did you pay attention to that? Was it a motivating factor?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Yeah, I think it was a little bit of a motivating factor. But we kind of, you know, just stayed in-house and kind of went on the feelings of how we felt as a team, based our feelings off of how each other felt, the expectations we gave ourselves.
Q. Can you talk about your secondary. How much better is it this year than last year, do you think?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: You know, I think it's a lot better. I know a lot of people are looking at our stats, how much yards we're giving up. If you look at the number of pass breakups, forced fumbles, fumbles recovered, interceptions, they're a lot higher than last year. I think we have a lot of confidence and we have guys that are making plays.
Q. What is your impression of Linehart?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: He's very composed. He's very confident. He's a veteran back there. He makes his plays when he has to make them. He spreads it around.
Q. I asked this question to Maurice Stovall. I asked him if there's one play or series of plays that really stood out to him in terms of Brady Quinn, something that he saw that maybe we don't see. He said he has made some calls, audibles, in terms of picking up blitzes that have impressed him. Have you seen him pick up a particular blitz where you said, "I can't believe he picked that up, I didn't see it coming"? Is there something that stands out in your mind?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: You know, there's various things that stand out in my mind. It's tough for me because I'm not sure about all the audibles on offense, what they're looking at. Me being on the punt team whenever it's third down, knowing I got to go out and punt if they don't convert, more than half the time, majority of the time, I stand up, I sit back down because he's converting on third down. That's the biggest thing. It gives the defense an extra break, more confidence we can go out and make something big happen.
Q. Do you see something in Brady this year that you haven't seen in years past?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: You know, I've always seen it. When I came here as a freshman with him, we always saw it in him. I think everyone else is getting a chance to see it this year. That's the biggest thing.
Q. What has changed that we're seeing it now as opposed to before?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: You know, I think a lot of confidence in him being able to spread the ball around to Jeff, Maurice, Fasano, Carlson, the different threats that he has. Like I said before, that third down, just picking it up, moving the chains.
Q. We hear a lot about Coach Weis' swagger, that he's very opinionated, the nasty attitude. Does he show you another side at all? He's obviously a big family man. Do you ever get that sense from him or is it just football?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: No, we definitely get that sense of him. I know that's why he's such a good coach, to let us see that other side of him, you know. When he's around his kid, he's a different person. That's the way he should be. You shouldn't let your work take over in the household. He shows us that other side when he's with his kid and his kid comes to all our games, so it's good to see that family's important to him, that there's a lot more to life than just football.
Q. Has he ever talked to you at all about his experience where he had to fight back from a health crisis, and people didn't know if he was going to make it for a while? Has that been something he kept to himself?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Kind of kept it to ourselves. We kind of heard about that just through like media and stuff before he got here, kind of hearing about that.
Q. Two great runningbacks in Bush and White. What do you see in what they bring in terms of weapons?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Everyone knows about Bush. He can line up at receiver, line up at runningback, hurt you in various different positions. He's a great runningback. He's powerful. He's also got that speed and that burst where he can make a long run. Looking at it, a lot of their yards are coming in the third, fourth quarter, wearing down teams, beating up teams. That's kind of what we're preparing for.
Q. It will be a team effort and the offense will have to carry its part. From a defensive standpoint, are you looking at it, if you can keep them from putting up their average, stop some drives, get a couple turnovers, that could be the difference? Obviously, your offense can put up points. Are you thinking, if the defense can really do a great job, you have a good chance to win?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Yeah, definitely I think so. Our defense is going in with the mindset that all we need is a field goal to win. We're not going in there to just hold them a couple times. We're going in there trying to dominate the game.
Q. It's cool if we say you predicted a 3-0 shutout?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: I'm not saying.
Q. How can you banish doubt and fear going into this game? What is it like on the practice field?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: We went out on the practice field and practiced hard yesterday. Even during the bye week, we were going pretty hard, but staying fresh. This whole team believes it's got nothing to do with what's happened the last three years. We're looking at it as we're the ninth team in the country. It's not like we're an unranked opponent.
Q. You say previous results have nothing to do with it. A lot of the same bodies are on the field at the same time. Do you feel like you're different players with this staff?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Yeah, I definitely think we're different players. I think we play with a lot more confidence. We go into each game thinking about that week, not the previous week or the year before.
Q. Did you see the second half of Arizona State?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: Yes.
Q. Anything to worry about there?
TOM ZBIKOWSKI: We've just got to play our game and worry about what we've got to do.
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