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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 19, 2006
JOHN HEISLER: Coach Weis is here. He'll have some opening comments, then we'll take questions.
COACH WEIS: First of all, before I start talking about Michigan State, this Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the '66 game, the game of the century. I know Michigan State has a full weekend planned to honor their team. We're going to honor our '66 team at the Purdue game. Both teams are going to be wearing a patches on their jerseys. This happens to be the patch we're going to wear on our jerseys, just so that you saw from us what we had. I'll leave it here at the end in case somebody wants to take a picture.
On to Michigan State.
Well, there's 3-0. They've gotten the best of us for quite some time now. They've won seven out of the last nine games. They're a hot team. They're coming off of a big win on the road versus Pittsburgh. Six guys back on offense, six guys back on defense.
Over the last six meetings, this game has really come down to being decided by a touchdown or less with a game-winning score usually coming late in the fourth quarter or like last year in overtime, five of the six meetings.
Coach Smith is in his fourth season there. Just to keep things in perspective, in my head coaching career versus his, he's won 120 more games than me. I think I have quite a long way to catch up to his success that he's had.
David Baldwin is his offensive coordinator, also coaches his tight ends. He's been at Michigan State for the last four years also. They got a lot of offensive firepower. As a matter of fact, last year they were ranked in the leaders of four offensive categories. Rushing offense they were 20th, passing offense they were 11th, total offense they were fifth, scoring offense they were 18th. Previously Coach Baldwin was the head coach at San Jose State. After that, he actually worked for a year Coach Minter at the University of Cincinnati before he went on to I believe Baylor for a year.
This season offensively they got it rocking and rolling. They're scoring 39 points a game, they're about 50/50 as far as their yardage goes, over 500 yards a game, I think it's 506 with 258 of it per game coming rushing at a 6.2 rushing average, 248 yards passing.
Obviously the key person, the one who makes this all go, is Drew Stanton. He's a heck of a player. He's a dual threat who can run, he can throw, he can throw in the pocket, he can roll from the pocket, he can throw across his body. He makes some phenomenal throws where he'll roll to his left, turn back and throw it to his right. He has a very good arm. Top-line player. They do just about everything with him. For example, last week he rushed for 105 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown. He's the second leading rusher on their team. In addition to being able to throw the ball all over the place, can he run the heck out of it.
Three runningbacks they use. Ringer, last week against Pitt, as a matter of fact, Ringer averaged over 10 yards a carry. I think for the year he's 7.7. He's averaging 118.7 per game rushing. Then they have Caulcrick. Go to the bigger body because Ringer is about 200. Caulcrick, as a matter of fact, he had 15 carries and 85 yards against us last year. Sometimes you see a guy who is 260, think he can't run. Well, he can run. He's got deceptive speed in that big body. Last week he rushed 17 times for 64 yards and a couple scores.
They also have a freshman that they are really high on, Jimmerson, who is averaging -- who averaged so far this year I think just under seven yards a carry. In addition, he has three catches, two of them have gone for touchdowns.
We get to the passing game. Obviously, Trannon who killed us last year. He had five catches for 136 yards, two touchdowns, long and 65. He's a big man, 6'5", 235, 235. All you have to do is put on a tape of the Eastern Michigan game, only 14 catches in that game. He's their leading receiver. He has 19 for the year, with a couple of years.
Second leading receiver is Kerry Reed. Last week he was the leading receiver. Had seven for 103. He has 16 catches, a couple touchdowns as well.
Jeremy Scott is usually the guy you see in the slot. Last week he also had six catches, 74 yards.
Three other receivers because they spread you out all over the place. You see Terry Love in there, TJ Williams, Devin Thomas. Besides the big three, the combination of Love, Williams and Thomas show up.
It's interesting, the tight end, Davis, scored against us last year in the game. Then they had Dwayne Holmes, who is shorter, but 277 pounds. He's a converted player from linebacker defensive end where they redshirted him in 2004. It gives them some flexibility between the two players.
Their offensive line, they have some real size in their offensive line, starting with the veterans.
When you look at their tackles, you got Gyetvai, who moved over from right tackle to left tackle. He was their starting right tackle last year. You also have Cook, who started 23 games at left guard before they moved him into center. We might see Masters, as well, at center. Cook has been handling the center so far this year.
Then they have two really big guards. Shane, who is a JC transfer, and Martin, they're the guards. Jesse Miller is another big guy that they have over there at the right tackle. They have very good size and experience on their offensive line.
Going over to defense, Coach Smeland also coaches their safeties. Their safeties are very, very good. I'll get to them towards the end here because I always start with the overall defense, defensive line.
They're only giving up 20 points a game. 78, 79 yards rushing. Under 300 yards total offense a game they're allowing. They got the two speed ends. You have Baldwin and Kershaw on the ends. Inside, their most experienced player is actually Ryan, who moved in from defensive end, defensive tackle. He started 26 games there.
The guy who is penetrating like heck is Nwaqbuo. Another JC transfer, playing inside, causing a lot of havoc.
Last year Stanton started against us. He still gets some time. You also see Saint-Dic and Long in there as well.
Their linebacker group is a veteran group. We all know that. You have Thornhill in the middle, Herron started 25 games, probably the most experienced guy in the linebacker Corps. Adams is probably, every week I always mention a guy that has some versatility. Adams was the guy who does that for them because he was recruited as a safety, plays their bandit linebacker. Because of his athleticism, it doesn't force them to have to go to nickel because he's the guy who can go ahead and play that position very easily without them having to bring another guy in there.
You have Williams and Cooper at the corners. Different players because Williams, this is his second year starting at corner, whereas Cooper, they moved him from free safety to their boundary corner.
Then you have the two safeties who lead the team with tackles. You have Wiley, who leads the team with tackles with 26, four tackles for loss, a sack, four pass breakups and a forced fumble. Warrick, who is second on the team with tackles, which this is unusual to have your safeties making that many hits for them. But they're all over the field, both those guys. Warrick and Wiley.
Special teams, this year they named Coach (indiscernible), who is also the runningback coach, as their special teams coach. The thing that stands out the most is Brandon Fields. They're netting 45.3 yards a punt, which is number one in the country. This guy is an All-American candidate. He's consensus All-American last year with a 49.2 average. Boleski handles the kickoffs. He's kicked off 20 times, got six touchbacks. Brent Swenson a true freshman out of Fort Lauderdale. He only missed one kick all year. 15 for 15 on extra points, and four of five on field goals. The only field goal he missed was over 50 yards.
Bury, third year as a snapper. As I mentioned, Williams, Ringer and Love are the guys we see back there as the kickoff returners and the punt returner.
JOHN HEISLER: Start with questions from people here in person.
Q. (Operator instructions.)
COACH WEIS: This has to be a collective effort. It starts with my message to the players and to the coaches. What you have to do in my case to do my part, I have to put more pressure on the players and the coaches, which I'll be doing today.
Q. Going into this game, you talk about your confidence wasn't shaken. What are you confident you can do? Looking at the stats, Notre Dame, except for punting, is not above the halfway point in every category in NCAA stats.
COACH WEIS: I agree that statistically, if you just judge things by stats, statistically there's a lot of things that I think leave room for vast improvement.
Here is what I do know. We have a bunch of good players on this football team. We have a bunch of players that have been shown to be resilient when negative things have happened before. I expect to see the same thing happen this week.
Q. You alluded after the game on Saturday the flag incident.
COACH WEIS: I did not allude to it. You inferred. I did not allude to it.
Q. I wasn't alone.
COACH WEIS: That's your prerogative.
Q. Are you planning on using that this week as motivation? Do you have to?
COACH WEIS: Here is what I think we have to do. I think we have to put the flag incident and Michigan behind us because if we sit there, and when you use something like the flag incident, try to use that as your motivation for the game, that lasts for about five minutes once the game starts. Once you start hitting each other in the mouth a few times in the game, that stuff is over with.
I mean, you can use all sorts of quotes and things on the board, everything, you to get you through the week. The bottom line is we need to play better. We need to play better than we did last week or we'll lose again this week. We're playing against a team who is 3-0, pretty good, riding high. Just had an excellent performance against Pittsburgh. Really hasn't been tested to this point. They're playing at home. Saturday night at their place, raucous crowd. I mean, they have confidence in beating us. They've beaten us seven out of the last nine. If I were them, I'd feel pretty confident.
Q. I'm sure you saw what a reporter asked, something you allegedly said, John Smith said he heard that, too.
COACH WEIS: It's funny because in the summertime I don't talk to anybody. Somebody told me this summer I talked to somebody. Unless they were talking about my wife. I don't talk to anybody in the summertime. I go on vacation with my family.
I'm not going there. I'm really not going there. I have ultimate respect for the football team we're going against. We're going against Michigan State. I'm not going to talk about flags. I'm not going to talk about beating Michigan State. I'm not going to talk about megaphones. I'm not talking about any of that stuff.
All I know is that we just got soundly beaten by Michigan last week. I just know that Michigan State just pounded Pitt pretty good coming back from being down 10-0 early in the game, went for three quarters of really stomping on them pretty good. Based on the evidence of those two games, based on watching our play against Michigan, watching their play against Pittsburgh, we got our hands full this week this week just to get ready to go. That's a very objective thing.
I don't like to deal with subjectivity.
Q. You've talked about Michigan State being very confident at this point. Where do you feel your guys' confidence is right now?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think after our meetings on Sunday -- I mean, after you lose like that, your confidence is always in question. Not mine personally. But you're dealing with 105 players. You're dealing with 15 more coaches and support staff. There's a number of people you're dealing with. I think it's important that you deal with the psyche of your whole organization to make sure that everyone is resilient and ready to go.
The best thing that happens after a game like that is practicing. Today is the first day they'll practice because Monday is their day off. I think what we need to do is get through our meetings today, get out there and start letting a little anxiety out on the field. I think once we get past that stage, I think we'll be moved in the right direction.
Q. You've talked about learning from your previous losses. What did you learn from Saturday?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think I learned from the previous losses, this is a little different because there was such a wide margin in the score, and people can say sometimes that's a better thing than a disheartening loss. There's nothing more disheartening than losing by a wide margin. I think the important thing is, before I got in the locker room, I had a pretty good clue on what needed to be done.
We have to go about the business of actually doing it now. Lip service just only goes so far. Now we actually got to do something about it.
Q. Could you elaborate on what needs to be done.
COACH WEIS: Where do you want me to start? Give me a side of the ball. Give me something more particular, I'll give you one.
But how about third-down conversions on offense? How about we're converting under 30% on third downs. We have been in an exorbitant number of third-and-longs where we are converting just over10%. Want to go to third and six and nine where we are converting at 33%? How about third, two to five, we're only converting at 44%? If you want me to start, there's one area for you.
Q. You said on Sunday perhaps the solution to the mental mistakes is to kind of dial it back, do less but do it better. Are there specific areas you have in mind there?
COACH WEIS: First of all, let's look at the opponent you're going against. Michigan State has a diversified offense. Let's start with their offense. If you're trying to do too much, they have too many weapons, starting with their quarterback. This is a top-line quarterback now. I mean, they can run it, they can throw it, they can spread you out. They have a lot of weapons. They can beat you a lot of different ways. If you're trying to do too many things, all's you do is open yourself up for mental breakdowns.
Offensively you have to get better at executing better. It's not by putting in more plays. It's putting in plays and doing them better. I think there are the areas we're really trying to emphasize this week.
Q. Ambrose, you said you were going to meet with the doctors. What is his status?
COACH WEIS: I think he's a little limited right now. This like Asaph last week where we knew it would be right to a game-time decision. This is one where in his case it's good we're not playing today because he'd be out there, but he just wouldn't be full go right now. When you're a defensive back, you can't be limping around because people run right by you. We'll just see how it goes this week.
I'm expecting him to play.
Q. You also said Sunday you were going to give heavy analysis to the offensive line. What did you learn from doing that? Did you find areas you can fix?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think as an offensive line, that's really the heart of your offense. Between the offensive line and your quarterback is really where everything starts. I think we're all disappointed. I'm disappointed. Brady is disappointed. The offensive line is disappointed about how this has gone so far.
We need to collectively try to make some improvements, and it's improvements in every aspect. We want to block the run better. We want to protect the quarterback better. There's a number of things we want to work on. I don't want to talk about individuals because we try to talk about it as a group.
Q. You said Sunday you were going to have some individual conversations with guys.
COACH WEIS: I had several.
Q. What was their reaction based on that?
COACH WEIS: I think they were very positive. See, one thing, what you don't want to do after a game like this is you don't go hammer 'em. You don't hammer 'em when things are bad. You have to be very open and honest and objective to them. That's why I mentioned before, I really don't like to get into subjectivity. I just call it, this is the way it is. That's what I did. I don't think there's anyone that was disappointed in anything I had to say. It wasn't like I was looking to make any friends.
Q. David Grimes, he did the same thing last year playing on the opposite team of his brother. Is there something different you have to say to him this week?
COACH WEIS: How about scoring a couple touchdowns (laughter). Actually, David has been playing pretty solid for us. The kickoff return was probably his one bump in the road that we've had so far.
Q. What do you think the most challenging aspect of your job is going to be here the next five days?
COACH WEIS: I think the most challenging part of my job already took place. The most challenging job that you have as the head coach is about the 36 hours right after the game took place because it's not about X's and O's, okay, it's about the psyche of the team. That is the most important thing you need to do, okay?
If they see you (wither?) at all, if they see you're on the fence, you lose 'em. You have to very matter-of-factly come in there and say, Okay, here is the way it is, here what is we have to do. Don't vacillate at all. I think that's what they've seen.
Now, once we get out there and start practicing, now we can make progress on the football aspect. But to be perfectly honest with you, the football aspect is irrelevant until after you get the psyche under control.
Q. The game at Michigan State kind of what the doctor ordered? You don't want to have that loss to Michigan. Road game, quality team.
COACH WEIS: I did say this -- I did mention this the other day. I do remember saying this. I did say playing a team like Michigan State definitely gets your attention 'cause, look, they're 3-0. They've owned us. You're playing them on the road on Saturday night. If that doesn't get your attention, then you're not a competitor. That should get your attention.
Q. How important is it to establish, you talked about first down, running between the tackles at this point on first down? Is that something that needs to get better?
COACH WEIS: How about running, period? How about getting the running game going, period? I think that was one of the things I wanted to do last week which I obviously didn't get done. That's one of the things that will be a point of emphasis again this week.
As I've said in the past, we'll do whatever we need to do to move the ball, that's what we're going to do. Sometimes it's dictated by what they do.
Q. Are there personnel changes that you're contemplating?
COACH WEIS: No. I'm not into sacrificial lambs. I'm not into making scapegoats out of players, okay? If people end up getting pulled, they're going to get pulled by something that happens in practice. They're not going to get pulled because we lost a game. I'm going to sit there and say, You didn't block very well, so I'm pulling you out. Then the whole free world says, Weis pulled so-and-so out, must be his fault. I know where I'll blame first. I'm not going to fire myself, so I'm certainly not going to fire them.
Q. Is James Aldridge healthy yet? Do you need that kind of change at back right now?
COACH WEIS: I told you, I intend -- where I look to see him going is about a week away.
Q. Last week you didn't have the opportunity to use Thomas much. Is he still considered a two-way player for you yet?
COACH WEIS: We were close to using him. See, usually he's our slug-it-out back. The game didn't turn into a slug-it-out game. It turned into a spread-'em-out game. That's not really where we're looking to use him. Because we don't have him practicing on offense full-time, he doesn't have the full array of everything we're doing. He has packages that are like Travis packages that he knows those are the plays he's responsible for, that we can still practice him in a week with taking him away from the defense a minimal amount of time.
Q. You talked after the Georgia Tech game about that being an eye-opener for some of the freshmen, they encountered situations they didn't in high school. Was Saturday at the stadium even more of that for them? How can you evaluate their reaction separate from the team?
COACH WEIS: There's really two sets of guys. You have a guy like Sam Young, who is playing on every down, who doesn't look at it the same was a guy who might not be playing at all or playing one or two snaps on special teams. I think it was probably a different experience for them because so far they've gone through two wins, a close one on the road, and one at home which doesn't turn out to be that close even though we expected it to be. All of a sudden you lose one at home, sometimes you have to learn how to handle that.
I'm hoping we don't have to handle that very often.
Q. Can you assess your defensive line play to this point in the season.
COACH WEIS: Well, even going into that game the other day, one of the first things we wanted to do was stop the outside run. One outside run that went for 19 yards. Other than that, not one run that they ran was an efficient run in the game.
They hit us for four inside runs. We were going into the game, because the whole season they've been basically -- basically had been a stretch team, we went in putting the point of emphasis on the stretch.
One thing they've shown, the one thing we tried to do the most, they've shown they can basically shut that one thing down. The problem you have this week with a quarterback like this guy, if you say, Okay, we're going to stop the running game, he's going to be throwing it all over the place. If you say, We're going to try to shut down the passing game, they'll try running it all over the place. You really have your work cut out because they have the versatility to be able to do both at a very high level of efficiency.
Q. I know Ball put you in a situation in terms of how you wanted to attack him. Stanton, being a more proficient passer.
COACH WEIS: You're preaching to the choir. That's a major problem we have right now because you have to pick your poison. This is a tough task.
Q. In terms of criticism after a loss, you say you take it and everything. Do you read the papers, listen to the radio? Do you insulate yourself from this stuff? Do you motivate yourself from this stuff? How do you process that?
COACH WEIS: I make sure that I don't get info by outside sources when things go too well or when they go too poorly. I'm kind of the middle-of-the-road guy. I like to know when it's right on the cusp either way. If things go real well, I don't read the papers and have everyone tell you you're the best thing since sliced bread. I also don't read the papers when things go real poorly and tell you you're a dummy. In fact, I've gone two weeks in a row, okay, where the papers and I have not gotten along.
I'll give you the best situation. Like around Georgia Tech, that's the time you want to read it because there's a lot of things that went wrong, but you still won the game. There's a lot of things you can gain on both sides right there.
The only thing I need to do is I need to be aware of some things that come up, like Tom was pointing before. That's what John and Brian and those guys do. They try to say, a couple issues that are going to be addressed just so you know how you're going to respond to them.
But, no, other than weatherchannel.com, accuweather.com, and Hannahandfriends.org, this has been a very poor week for me on the web (laughter).
Q. Veteran offensive line, great chemistry, hangs out with each other when they're not here. How surprising is it? How fixable do you think the problems are?
COACH WEIS: Well, the good thing is this is week four, okay? This isn't week 13. This is week four. I think these guys have a lot of pride. They care for each other. I expect a big bounce-back out of 'em.
Q. Earlier in the year you talked about the show teams, that having a really good freshman class has helped create better looks. Who is creating the look of Drew Stanton for you?
COACH WEIS: I think Double D better get loosened up here today. He might get himself a workout here this week. That's Demetrius' code name. I think we expect a lot of him on that show team. I hope he's not scout team player of the week (laughter). I'm doing this with a smile on my face. I can't believe it (laughter).
Q. Over the last two or three days, so much focus on Michigan, what went wrong. Do you take time to remind players you won at Georgia Tech, beat Penn State in a team win?
COACH WEIS: First thing I'm going to talk about today when I go in with the team, I'm going to talk about two things that I want to get put behind us. I know that people are going to want to talk about the flag. I know people are going to want to talk about Michigan. I don't want to talk about either one of those things. It doesn't do anyone any good to talk about either of those things.
The thing we need to talk about is how can we correct what happened last week and apply them to a team like Michigan State who is pretty darn good. That's really the bottom line. I hate to be so simplistic, but that's really where we are.
Q. It's not a situation where you feel like you need to remind them you've done good things this year already, keep that in mind in terms of confidence?
COACH WEIS: I think they know we expect to be better than that. I think everyone knows that. They know it. I know it. You know it. Our expectations are much higher than that. I'm expecting us to rise up this week.
Q. I think the last time you were on a coaching staff that suffered a lopsided defeat --
COACH WEIS: 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh. Won 21 in a row. We're down 21-3 at the end of the first quarter. It wasn't that close. Trust me, I remember the day.
Q. What did you take away from the way Coach Belichick handled that, kind of spun that forward?
COACH WEIS: I remember calling home, wanting to say hello to my wife when I was on the bus, her handing the phone to Charlie, him saying how sorry a performance that was. When your own family turns against you, you know you got some problems.
I think when we got back there, the one thing we did do before anything else, the first thing we did was address the team. Say, Look, fellas, this is not a funeral we're going to, okay, this is a football game we just lost. We have another opportunity to go out and play. The next week I remember we went into St. Louis, who was supposed to be pretty good, we stomped them.
I'm not saying anything like that is going to happen at Michigan State, but that's what the follow-up of that game was. Everyone had written us off. You just lost there. You just won 21 in a row. I think if you go back and check, we went into St. Louis on the road the next week. It wasn't close because the players, different, pro players, different mentality, but I think I tried to address the team very similar to how Bill handled it at that time.
Q. Did your family turn against you this week?
COACH WEIS: They were very nice to me. I can tell you laying on the couch Saturday night watching a little college football, there wasn't a lot of conversation going on.
Q. How is it different handling the NFL player after a situation like that versus maybe the college guy?
COACH WEIS: The biggest difference is you have them all together here all the time. There, they go to their families and everything. Your families really suffer in the NFL because you get hammered on all the time. The biggest issue that I deal with personally, to tell you the truth, is how my kid is going to handle it when he goes into school and people start getting on him when he goes to school. I worry more about Maura and Charlie than I do myself, I can promise you. In the pros, that's what happens because they all have families. A lot of them are married and have kids.
Here everyone goes back to the dorm. You kind of have them all together. They have each other to lean on. Whereas there, they all kind of go their own separate ways. That's the biggest difference. It's not the maturity factor, it's not the age. It's the camaraderie that the guys have in college because they're actually living around each other, in addition to playing the game together.
Q. Seems like that could be a benefit.
COACH WEIS: It's definitely a benefit. That's what I'm saying. That is a big benefit. You can see the guys yesterday. Besides feeling bad, you could see they felt for each other, not just for themselves. Wasn't a bunch of selfish people in here. I think that's always a positive sign.
JOHN HEISLER: Questions from the telephone.
Q. You mentioned how much better Michigan State -- how good their defense looks this year. What's the difference you see in them this year from last year?
COACH WEIS: See, last year, they really had us pretty good until we went into just throwing the ball because we had gotten behind 38-17. The game had gone all right, then we got down 38-17, rallied back.
I think this year they've shown already because they can stop the run, they've started to make teams one-dimensional and their pass coverage has gotten significantly better.
JOHN HEISLER: Thank you very much.
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