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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 17, 2006
JOHN HEISLER: Coach Weis is here. He'll make some opening comments then take some questions.
COACH WEIS: Good afternoon. Obviously I'm very disappointed with the outcome of that game. I've had a time to watch everything a couple of times over this morning, then also had an opportunity to meet with the staff to make sure what I was seeing was the same as what they were seeing.
Let's start with the obvious. You know, any time you're minus four in the turnover ratio in a game, with our five turnovers to their one, you really have no chance of winning the game.
Going into the game, we always emphasize ball possession. We obviously did a very, very poor job of that starting with that second play on offense, interception for the touchdown followed by the kickoff return of which unit we were horrendous the whole day on. We'll get to that here in a minute. That's another turnover.
Then we got hit one time on a pass for a turnover. Then we threw across our body one time for a turnover. Then to put the icing on the cake, the fumble return for the touchdown at the end of the game. You're basically giving 24 points. When you're playing against a formidable opponent like Michigan, you can't do something like that and think you have any chance of winning the game.
I think as I've always said and people have asked me sitting in this room, what's the biggest factor in any game, and it's always turnover ratio. It came to -- unfortunately, the came to fruition on the negative side for us in this game.
I'll briefly talk about all three facets of the team. I'll start offensively. I'd say the only positive I saw for the day was the two-minute drive right before half. We were down big. Came down and scored, at least got to it a three-score game, to a 20-point margin where you still felt it was manageable, that you had a chance -- that you'd have a chance.
One of the biggest problems in the game, we can talk about a lot of the obvious things like seven drops, 12 pressures, three sacks, the four turnovers, two for four on 13 -- two for 14 on third down, rushing for a very low average, having some mental errors, having four penalties. We can talk about all those things.
But I think that one of the biggest stats of this game that can't go unnoticed is eight times in the game going three-and-out. When you go three-and-out, you're putting pressure on the defense just as much as putting no pressure on your own defense as much as not putting pressure on your opponent's defense. You can't go three-and-out.
A perfect example is the start of the second half where we go into the locker room, I think we got things under control. We have a chance, we're getting ready to make a mild rally. We get the ball the first two drives of the second half, we go three-and-out, three-and-out. When that happens, it doesn't bode well for your chances of winning the game.
Defensively, obviously Ndu's interception return in the game down to the three or four yard line put us in a position to negate the turnover touchdown we had already given up, which we were able to capitalize on and score to get it to a 7-7 score. That was obviously a big play. In the second half, I thought our defense did a nice job in the second half of getting off the field. They were six out of seven opportunities on third down. They got off the field when we were trying to get the ball back. The other obvious positive is when they got the ball on the three yard line, we held them to a field goal.
Conversely, their running game, they had five plays, their runs, four of them were inside runs as I had mentioned after the game yesterday, but five of their runs accounted for 73 of their rushing yards. I think the other 32 runs were about two yards a carry. But five of their runs accounted for 73 rushing yards which allowed them to keep on moving the sticks.
We obviously gave up three touchdown passes. Not one of them, in looking at it, was one where what happened should have really happened. So that wasn't very good.
We did get the one take-away. When the other team gets five take-aways, it doesn't bode very well. We had three defensive penalties. So far we're talking about four offensive penalties, three defensive penalties, we might as well add the four on special teams and make it an even 11. We had three defensive penalties. Obviously, 11 penalties in a game is a lack of discipline of your team, which ultimately goes back to the head coach.
On special teams, I think the three positives I saw on special teams, once again Geoff Price had a big day punting. I mean, he was booming the ball all over the field. He netted 40 yards. He's really been kicking the ball well.
Our kick-off coverage unit was pretty good. We were kicking the ball away from Breaston, as you noticed, kicking it to the other guys. We weren't getting touchbacks. Averaged 16 yards a return, that's not including the one where they had their on-side kick team out where we kicked it deep. Then Landry did come through and block that PAT, which put a little gas in our tank at the time as well.
On the negative, we put a big emphasis on our return game this week and didn't get much out of it. Our kickoff return was awful. The big fumble. Plus we had two penalties, communication problems between the returners. We had a couple mental errors that led to a couple problems there.
On punt return, they had a couple short ones. That rolled around the ground for a while. Probably try to have to get Zibby up some, get him to fair catch a couple of those balls so we don't have those balls rolling around on the ground.
That's a quick synopsis on the of offense, defense, special teams. I'll open it up.
JOHN HEISLER: We'll take some questions from people here in person.
Q. Obviously you're very confident, very confident coach, been in situations like this before, although probably not as a head coach. Is your confidence shaken in this situation? If not, how do you avoid that and put on the best face for a football team that probably is a little shellshocked after yesterday?
COACH WEIS: First of all, my confidence is not shaken one bit. You've known me well enough by now that that's not a façade. I'm not a liar. I'm a very truthful person. 'Not shaken but stirred.' Remember that? I might be stirred, but it's not shaken (laughter).
But I can tell you this: the first thing I did -- well, I obviously had to think this through before I went into the locker room because the most important conversation you have with your team is the one you have walking into the locker room because you need to already have a game plan for how you're going to address the team.
Obviously, there's problems. Besides the team being shellshocked, they just lost a big game at home, you have to have your approach ready where how you're going to rally the troops.
I very matter-of-factly told them how I was going to approach this game with not only them but with the media as well. I wanted them to know exactly what I was going to say when I walked in there, which I told them.
Then I also in a very matter-of-fact way made them look at me when a couple of the heads were drooping, let them know in no uncertain terms that it's not okay, it's not okay to perform like that. I don't believe in that we'll-get-them-next-time mentality. I think they have to understand that it's not okay when you perform like that.
One of the things that gives you a little credibility with your team is when the first person you blame is yourself. I think when you're willing to make yourself a human dart board, put it on your own shoulders, take some of the pressure off of them, you gain some credibility with the players.
I do that publicly. Privately, that gives you an opportunity to share the blame in a situation like that because I think as the head coach it's your responsibility to lift them. It's not just them you have to lift. It's the coaches you have to lift. It's everyone in the organization you have to lift. I think it's really important that you know if you don't stand tall, you're not ready to stand up and take ownership when something goes bad, it's easy to take the kudos when things go well. You need to be ready, how you're going to rectify the situation.
We started it in the locker room. We'll continue it big time here at 2:00.
Q. You said you're the human dart board, you take responsibility. What did you not do yesterday? What did you do wrong?
COACH WEIS: Well, when you come out and you have your point of emphasis, your points of emphasis, and none of them come through, obviously who else can you point to? You say you want to take care of the ball. We have five turnovers. You say you want to run the ball. You run the ball for less than a yard average. You say you want to stop the run. For the most part, you stop the run except for five big plays. We always try to stop big plays on defense. Three touchdown passes.
It's a whole number of things that you put them all together. But probably the biggest telling tale is when your team as 11 penalties in a game, okay? A lot of those penalties come from a lack of discipline. Who else can you fault for the lack of discipline but yourself?
Q. In moving forward, what is the best way to go about? Threatening personnel changes? Sticking to your guns?
COACH WEIS: Well, the first thing you need to do is you have to make sure you don't beat 'em down. That's the first thing you have to do. But you also have to let the people who -- there's certain players who, in every game, when you watch tape, there's certain guys that play great. Even in a game like that, there's certain guys that really played well. There's a lot of guys who didn't.
But more importantly, the guys that didn't play well, that have no reason for not playing well, are the guys that you have the biggest problem with. I think I have those meetings one-on-one. I don't do those publicly. I let them know that, hey, it's going to be this way or we'll just have to move you out, move somebody else in.
What you don't do is you don't want to threaten five guys out of 105 guys on the team because then what you're doing is creating scapegoats. They're sacrificial lambs. 'We didn't win because of you.' You just don't do that. That's not the way a professional handles that.
Q. In the big picture in the pro game, you lose a game here or there, you can still win the Super Bowl. In college, a loss puts you in jeopardy of the national title. Two losses really takes you out of it. How do you approach the big picture with yourself and with your team?
COACH WEIS: Well, fortunately for us we have an opponent like Michigan State coming up. That really helps, to be honest with you. It helps having somebody of the caliber of Michigan State coming up because it gets their attention right off the bat.
If you're playing a team that was 0-3 in the next game, sure, you might get them up in a position to win that game. But when you're playing with a team that just put a butt-kicking on Pittsburgh yesterday, and they're riding high, they have a lot of confidence playing against us, they've had a little roll going against Notre Dame. There's a lot of factors that get the players' attention.
I think it's really important. It's almost a good thing that we have a team that we're going to play against that will immediately draw their attention.
Q. How does your job change the coach after a loss like that as opposed to the closer losses you had last year? How do you have to take a different mentality with the team this week?
COACH WEIS: Well, when a loss is close, you're just trying to lift their spirits because sometimes there are more positive things happening in a close game than a loss like that. When the loss is by a wide margin, okay? But if you really analyze this game, take one play at a time, flip it to this not happening, okay? Let's say you don't throw the interception on the second play of the game, incomplete pass, or maybe John catches the ball. Game changes. David's fumble on the kickoff return. He doesn't fumble on the kickoff return. They just block the extra point. Maybe we go down and score, we're up 14-13. You have to take it play-by-play rather than putting it all together because if you break it down like that, analytically give reasons how things could have been different if you changed a half dozen plays.
Guess what, you don't get to change them. You don't get do-overs. I don't know how many times I say that in practice, You don't get do-overs on Saturday. When we go and repeat a play, that's one of my favorite sayings, You don't get do-overs on Saturday. Unfortunately, we don't get do-overs. Saturday is gone.
Q. Of the game the players talked about X's, O's, mental mistakes. They talked about getting physically beat up by Michigan. How do you correct that? Is that a toughness issue?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think the one thing that happens, it depends what side of the ball you're on. One thing that happens, when you become one-dimensional on offense, which is what the game became, you allow the opponent to just tee off on you. Really, that's never what you want.
I think if you look at our first two games, it's about 50/50 run/pass. Now it's a game where we're throwing it a heck of a lot more than we're running it because we're down by a hundred. I'm never going to be one that throws in the towel until it's the side of safety. At the very end of the game, when I finally pulled Brady, I just didn't want the kid getting hit any more. After that fumble, they ran it for a touchdown, I felt we need him for Michigan State at this point.
I think you have to be cautious in your approach in those situations.
Q. Brady is a quarterback that will take more praise from people, more criticism from people. What did you make of his performance? Any explanation for some things that were just very uncharacteristic for him?
COACH WEIS: There were a couple things. The one that bothers me the most, out of all the turnovers, is probably the one that cost us the least, that's when he's rolling to his right and throwing the ball across his body. You just don't do that. That's not very good football.
Every other play, if you think about it, okay, the fumble, the ball slips out of your hands. If this were the NFL, they've had the tuck rule, it would be an incomplete pass. That's what they would have called in the NFL, incomplete pass. But it wasn't. It was a fumble. It was returned for a touchdown.
The first one, I mean, that's unfortunate. The one where they catch it in the middle of the field, he's gets drilled as the ball is being released. I mean, the first two interceptions, not nearly as much blame as the one that cost us the least when he was rolling to the right throwing the ball across his body instead of throwing out of bounds, or running out of bounds.
We have to make sure we have do the little things right. If the ball gets intercepted because it bounces off somebody's hands, bounces up in the air, sometimes that's going to happen. But we have to make sure we minimize those as much as we possibly can.
Q. It seems like this team so far this season has been in a lot of difficult down-and-distance situations, especially on third down.
COACH WEIS: You are correct.
Q. What do you attribute that to? How do you get over that hump?
COACH WEIS: First-down production. See, whether you call a run or play-action on first down, if you don't come up with four yards, that's what -- whether it's a run or play-action pass, you want to make sure you're coming up second in six or less. Anyone who is scheming on defense treats the distances on second down as separate entities. Second-and-short, second-and-medium, second-and-long, they're all separate things, okay?
What we're not doing is we're not getting in such second-and-mediums, which then allows you to play the game differently than second-and-tens or second-and-nines.
Q. When you have as many mental mistakes, as you call them, two out of your three games you've had them, is that unnerving to you? With a veteran team, you feel like you should be past that?
COACH WEIS: Yeah, I'd say that's a fair statement. But what you have to then do, which I just met with the coaching staff, is tell them what we need to do is simplify it then. That's what you need to do. You just do less instead of doing more. You do less better. That's why we'll spend a lot of time in the next 24 to 36 hours as a coaching staff making sure that the plan that we have ready to go for Michigan State is one where there's minimal opportunities for "yeah, but's".
Q. When you go in the locker room after the game, let them know it's not okay, then at the same time they need to be ready to play this week, where is the line drawn that it's not okay but?
COACH WEIS: It was all tied into the same conversation. It's a long conversation. You start off with addressing the game. Then the approach that I'm going to have with the media, tell them exactly what I'm going to tell them. Then you let them know it's not going to be acceptable, we're not going to stay status quo, that something's going to change.
At that point you always take it to your next opponent because you have to have some preparation in your mind for what you're going to say about the next opponent. You need to have that whether you win or lose because eventually that conversation in the locker room, before you turn them loose, okay, is going to be tempered to your next opponent.
Q. You don't let them hang their heads, but is there any leeway in terms of getting over this or is it time to go again?
COACH WEIS: That was the first thing I did when I started talking. I said, Look at me. 'Look at me,' means pick your head up. I said, We're not going to be here sulking, fellas. We all win as a team, we all lose as a team. We're all accountable, starting with me.
I think this team is resilient. This team has shown an ability to bounce back. That's what I'm expecting them to do here. They're going to be just like my kid. My kid is going to go to school tomorrow. A couple wiseguys are going to say to him, What happened in the game? He's going to be in the tank tomorrow. But our guys are just the same way. They're still college kids. They're going to go to class tomorrow and they're going to have all these people, Hey, what happened?
Remember, they're still college kids. They still have that happen, too. I think I have to be considerate of that and try to do all I can to leave them with the most positive frame of mind I can.
Q. Is there a need to tell them that one loss isn't the end of the world?
COACH WEIS: You have to tell them that no matter what that one game doesn't make or break a season. I think it's been pointed out before, the ramifications of a loss. But I think that if you really stick with my philosophy, which is breaking the season into a bunch of one-game entities, once again, because we have a formidable opponent like Michigan State on the horizon on the road, it's going to get their attention in a hurry.
Q. How serious is Schwapp's injury? Will he be back?
COACH WEIS: We thought that we had a chance of playing him Saturday. When he went on Thursday, I told him I had to see something on Thursday. I just didn't see it. Tuesday is two days away yet. We'll wait to see how it goes this week.
We thought we had a chance of playing him this past Saturday. When you haven't practiced any meaningful reps, he practiced on Wednesday, but not really meaningful. If you haven't practiced any meaningful, I'm not one on letting somebody play who practiced. I think you have to practice to play.
Q. Do you feel you missed him blocking?
COACH WEIS: I think actually played okay, to tell you the truth. We weren't in a lot of two-back sets as the game turned out because as the game got away from us a little bit more we were in more three wide receiver packages with him not on the field. Really I don't think it actually was a detriment in the game at all to tell you the truth.
Q. With Rhema, you said it could be -- he could come full circle with this game. Do you feel he maybe lost focus or was concerned about getting hit?
COACH WEIS: I don't think it was about getting hit. I think there were several players on the team that things didn't go well. He had a few drops in the game. I think sometimes one can lead to another. Sometimes there's a little bit of a snowball effect. I think there was just a frustration across the board.
I tried to keep a calm demeanor on the sideline, tried to keep a calm demeanor in the locker room, to tell you the truth. I still thought we had a chance - not a good chance - but I thought we had a chance at halftime when we cut it to a three-score game, that being 20. When you go three-and-out, three-and-out on defense, the turnovers crank back up.
I think for the most part the second half, the defense played pretty solid in the second half. I think most of the plays they gave up, most of them were in the first half.
Q. After three games, can you pinpoint why the offensive line has struggled somewhat?
COACH WEIS: Well, I think it would be tough to just give an overview of that because each game's had a different set of circumstances. I think that the first game was a little different than the third game. The first game, Ryan just getting back practicing full-time. I'm reluctant to even say this because it almost sounds like making excuses for the first game. Ryan is just getting back playing full-time. Bobby is getting back from his dad's funeral. Sam is new. Really those five guys that are playing had not really established some rapport or continuity yet.
I thought that last week the continuity and rapport improved drastically. Then to have a setback at this point I think I'd have to go back and -- even though I've watched it a couple times, I'll have to go back after meeting with John and the rest of the coaching staff, go back and see -- I wouldn't say go back to the drawing board, but I think we're going to have to go through a heavy analysis period here in the next 24 hours.
Q. You talked about how you have to think about what you're going to say to the team going into the locker room after the game. With a large number of recruits here, do you have to talk differently to them?
COACH WEIS: No, we don't let the recruits in the locker room until after we're done with our talk. We have a private locker room. There's very few people in this locker room now other than the team. The only three people other than the team are that allowed in there are the president, the AD and the associate AD, deputy AD, who football under his jurisdiction. Other than that, we have no one in there. There's no other people in that locker room.
When I talk to the team, I'm just talking to the team, okay? When I talk to the recruits, we had a bunch of recruits that we had a big dinner for last night, that was really a bowl of cherries having to do (laughter). I had to talk to them. I had to talk to all of them last night. I talked to them very matter-of-factly just like I'm talking to you. You can't hide the fact of what just happened. To be honest with you, having gone through appointments with a lot of these guys today, I was very encouraged at the positive response. They like the fact when you don't sugar coat it. You just be brutally honest with them.
Q. The defense held up pretty well the first two games. You said you liked the way they played in the second half. Might be a little bit fragile psyches because of the criticism they got. This is the second most points allowed.
COACH WEIS: They didn't give up a lot of those points. Second most points allowed? We had an interception for a touchdown, a fumbled return for a touchdown, another fumble in the fringe, then another fumble returned to the four yard line. If you're looking at it from that perspective, take those all off the defense. As a matter of fact, the one to the four yard line, they held them to three. Other than the first turnover with David that ended up leading to a touchdown, a lot of that responsibility is off their shoulders because a lot of those points don't really get credited to them.
Q. You're not worried about them?
COACH WEIS: I think we have a veteran group of players at both the front and back end. I think they'll rebound.
Q. Was the most disturbing stat the four yards rushing?
COACH WEIS: How about the less than one yard line rushing by us. Their rushing average -- you mean our rushing average or theirs?
Q. Four yards total rushing.
COACH WEIS: Tell me about it. I saw it. That 2 for 14 on third down didn't exactly fire me up either.
But it goes back to the question, I forget who asked it before, about third down conversions. Well, if you run the ball 20 times in a game, you're averaging less than a yard a carry. Darius did have a few runs in there. He had the one draw that went for 30 that got called back, which taints his day a little bit. He had a couple hard runs in there.
When you call a number of plays, whether it be run, play-action, whatever, you come up empty or very light on first down, usually it has a detrimental effect as it goes towards third down.
Q. You mentioned there were a couple of bright spots. Can you say one player who you thought played pretty well?
COACH WEIS: I thought Ryan Harris played great. I think if there was one guy that I looked at on the offensive side of the ball, it was him. You knew a lot of stuff was happening. As you watched the tape, I saw him get beat across his face one time on a gap or slide protection. I'm saying for the most part he had a nice solid game. I wouldn't say perfect, but he had a nice solid game. Just we didn't have enough of those nice solid games.
Q. The long Manningham touchdown, you said you were on an alert right there, which I took you were in the coverage you wanted to be in.
COACH WEIS: What happens is you say alert, take a shot, which basically gives guys a heads up. Regardless of whether it's a blitz coverage or zone coverage, this is a take-a-shot situation. A lot of times after a third down conversion in an obvious running situation, as you start to move out of minus territory, get into the 30, 40, 50 yard line, it becomes a lot more of an area where people statistically look to take a shot, look to change field position. That's what I meant by that.
When you say alert, it isn't what coverage you have on. Doesn't make a difference whether it's a blitz or zone coverage. You're trying to just alert players to know this is a situation where you have to realize that could end up happening.
Q. From here on out any freshmen that play will not be allowed to use this towards a redshirt year. Is that something you pay any attention to?
COACH WEIS: First of all, Notre Dame doesn't talk about redshirting. I know they talk about fifth-year eligibility. In reality, we're trying to win now, okay? If there's guys that we can play on our team that we think can help us win now, we'll play 'em. That's first.
Second of all, as you plan for your future, you have to decide which guys would benefit the most from playing and which guys would benefit the most from watching. Everyone wants to play. It isn't like there's anyone saying, Please don't play me because I won't have a fifth year of eligibility. That's is something that is subjective to us following to the academics anyway, whether they'll give it to them or not. I try to not think along that train of thought.
I'm not going to play somebody just to put them in there for a couple plays. Like I got the two young quarterbacks. Well, Evan didn't play last year because circumstances as the third quarterback never dictated him getting in that position. I'm not going to be in a rush to put those guys in there for three or four plays at the end of the game.
JOHN HEISLER: We'll take a couple questions from the telephone.
Q. How long did it take to scrap the initial game plan yesterday? Was it after the interception?
COACH WEIS: I'd say somewhere in the second quarter we went to more of an aggressive mode to see if we couldn't simplify what they were doing.
The problem, once again, when you get lack of production on early downs, it usually causes you to change your train of thought.
Q. Ambrose you said yesterday was groggy. Was that a concussion?
COACH WEIS: I'll met with the doctors at 1:45. I don't know what the end result of that is. I just knew he was groggy on the sideline. He got back in. We pulled him back out and didn't put him back in. I'll wait till I talk to Jim Russ and the doctors, which I do shortly after I'm done with this press conference.
Q. Consistency, it seems like the team has been inconsistent this year. How do you try to go about fixing that?
COACH WEIS: Well, I'd say that's a fair question, and I think that's consistent, no pun intended, with the mental error conversation we were having not too long ago.
I think one of the ways you do that is by cutting back on some of the stuff you do, see if you can't do it better.
Q. Somebody asked about Rhema earlier, a couple of the dropped passes he had. He wasn't the only one suffering from drops yesterday. Was it a matter of the odds where a bunch of guys were having that kind of day on the same day?
COACH WEIS: I think the only reason they mentioned him was because he had multiple drops. I recorded us having seven drops for the day. You're right. Was he alone? No. He certainly wasn't alone. There were other opportunities laid out there.
That's kind of that group effort that I was talking about in the negative vein. People, it's easy to sit there and look at the quarterback, say he had a bad day. He also had a lot of help in a negative sense.
Q. Was it a matter of it happening on the same day for everyone?
COACH WEIS: When you drop the ball, you drop the ball. If they break it up, they break it up. When you drop it, you drop it. It's not them. A drop is when you have the ball in your hands and you don't catch it. They have nothing to do with it.
Q. This is alert going deep.
COACH WEIS: Touché.
Q. I inferred yesterday that you didn't think the play-caller had a great day.
COACH WEIS: No, you implied, I inferred (laughter).
Q. The gist of the idea was I think somewhere I got the idea you didn't think you had a good day as a play-caller. How do you frame that, process that, move on from that?
COACH WEIS: Well, when you look at the game, you never get ahead of the defense, because it wasn't like you ever got ahead of them. I don't mean in the score. I mean, where you could stay ahead of them. Now, the problem with that is when you get down big in the game, it's tough to get ahead of them because now you're kind of pigeonholed into what you can do.
I felt that that took place more when the game was a competitive game. Not that I ever throw in the towel on the game, but until it got to 47, after that fumble, that was the one time I said, Okay, let's get Quinn out of there. He doesn't need to get hit any more, taking any more shots with a couple minutes left to go in the game. Until that point, while the game is competitive, a two- to three-score game, not being able to get it to a two-score game or get it to a one-score game, that's what ultimately we're trying to do. Because we couldn't get that, I have to share the wealth or share the blame, be willing to shoulder it as well.
JOHN HEISLER: We'll be back at 1:30 eastern next Sunday.
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