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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 5, 2006
COACH WEIS: Watched a couple times the tape this morning. There's several things that stand out in the game. Let's start with special teams. One of my biggest points of emphasis for quite some time has been our return units, how we really haven't gotten them going. Yesterday I'd have to say for the first time in a while we finally got some production on our return units.
Our kickoff return unit averaged 34 yards on deep kicks, 36.2 average for drive start. North Carolina really came into the game as third in the country on kickoff coverage. I thought that was a pretty good performance.
I thought there were some good things, but especially the running of David Grimes on the one kickoff return to the right. The one to the left was very well-blocked. I was pretty happy with our kickoff return unit for a change. As well as the kickoff return unit, punt return. We finally get a touchdown on the one with Zibby, shoestring away from a another one. It was real close to having a two-touchdown day on punt returns. It's been a while since we've had that type of production on our return units.
Before I get to the negatives, Landri blocking those two PATs, I thought they were both high-effort, big plays by him. A lot of that comes from effort. It was definitely him who got both of those plays.
Obviously on the flipside of that, we gave up a touchdown on the kickoff coverage. It's kind of a shame because although we didn't kick the ball exceptionally well, our kickoff unit, our kickoff coverage unit, was basically pretty strong on eight out of nine kickoffs. But they count all of them. They count all the kickoffs.
The one that goes for a touchdown, three guys had an opportunity to make the play. It wasn't the fake reverse that had anything to do with it. People have an opportunity to make a play, we just didn't get them down. That otherwise negated a pretty solid day on our kickoff coverage just by that one play.
We did have the one turnover with George on the fumbled punt. As I said yesterday, you know, caught him a little off guard. I was putting him in there. He still has got to catch it. I think I caught him off guard. I'll take some of the blame on that one.
Our punt coverage team, you know, we had a couple of our punts kicked into the end zone on plus 50 situations. We needed to do better than that. The one time they did catch, they fielded a punt on the five yard line. I think some of our guys might have taken it a little for granted that that ball was going into the end zone. Next thing you know, the guy's catching it and returning it outside the 20 yard line. We got to make sure we don't take the play off.
We did get the one penalty on Cullen for offsetting personal fouls. It doesn't really show up. A little pushing going on with he and another guy.
The three guys, once again, who I thought stood out are the returners. Both Grimes on the kickoff return and Zibby on punt return. Then I obviously have to give kudos to Landri for those two blocked extra points.
On defense, I thought we played really hard and physical up front. We stopped the running game for the most part. They had one 35-yard run, but only 31 yards rushing for the game because we had four sacks and five tackles for loss. Those nine negative plays were a minus 54 yards from those nine plays.
We had eight three-and-outs. We finally stopped a trick play. Hurrah. We were good on sudden change after we fumbled the punt. We came out there and stopped them and didn't give them any points. We had them in second-and-nine or longer 10 times in the game, which usually bodes pretty well. We were 70% on third down as far as getting off the field.
Now, for the game, they had 244 yards offense for the game. 221 of those 244 yards came on eight plays. 72-yard play, which in reality, if we just tackle him at the 50 yard line, we have an opportunity to tackle him, it negates a long play, still have half the field to go. 72, 42, 35, 21, 15, 13, 12 and 11. While the other 41 plays in the game, you know, because they only had 49 plays, the other 41 plays went for 23 yards. They all count the same. All those plays count the same. You want to talk about highs and lows, I mean, that's definitely some really good plays and some really bad plays.
We had no turnovers in the game on defense. We always shoot to try to get at least three. We didn't get any. We started the game, the first drive, the way I'd like to. The second half we come out there, we give up two touchdowns in the first two possessions, which was about as bad a situation as you could ask for, giving up two quick ones in the third quarter.
Overall I thought our tackling was average. I thought we had a bunch of missed tackles in the game. The thing that bugged me, as well as we played on third down, there were three third-and-tens that they converted. One was for a touchdown, one was a 42-yarder, one was a 14-yarder. There's ups and downs on third down just like there are in regular plays.
We only had one punt penalty on defense. That was an incidental facemask on Crum. The two guys who really stood out for me on defense, I thought that created havoc most of the day, were both Abiamiri and Crum in watching the tape. I thought the front four played well, but I thought those two guys in particular were creating a lot of problems up front.
On offense, the good part is I thought we executed our two-minute offense fairly well. We didn't turn the ball over. In our first five possessions, we scored four times, three touchdowns and a field goal, which kind of got control of the game.
On both offense and defense, we were in single digits in mental errors again, which at least it looks like we're starting to know what to do. Just like last week, we had a number of big plays ourselves where I read off those eight big plays. We had 14 big plays on offense. Any time you got double-digit big plays for the offense, that's usually a pretty good day.
The red zone, we got down there five times. We only scored four touchdowns. We kind of count on scoring every time we get down there. What bothered me the most is we get down there inside the five yard line, we get a penalty, all of a sudden you're back on the 15 yard line. Then we throw a corner rout. We drop that ball. Then we throw another play-action pass. We drop that ball. I just nickled and dimed them for a couple more yards to get a little closer to kick the field goal.
The one time we didn't score the touchdown, I was probably as disappointed as anybody because I thought that we had multiple opportunities, the holding penalty, a chance to get back inside the five, then we had a chance to catch one in the end zone.
When it's all said and done, though, we can't come out, get in the red zone, not come out of there with a touchdown.
The quarterback got sacked three times, got hit about another three times when he's not running the football. I don't count when he's running the football as a quarterback hit on anyone. We'd like to have him be standing up, not being knocked down.
We were a little bit better on third down. We were 8-of-14 for 57%, which how we've been playing this year would be very good. There's a couple of plays. We had a third-and-three. We couldn't complete a slant rout. There was another third down. I forget the other one. There was another one I was whining about this morning. I was only whining about a couple of them. After watching this morning, I thought that we should have come out of there 10-out-of-14. But 57% is an upgrade from where we've been.
We had four penalties on offense. Actually, we had five, four that they really took. Santucci got called for a couple. Sully got called for one. Darius got called for one. Intentional grounding on Brady was intentional grounding. I agree with the call. He threw it over Carlson's head, but Carlson was blocking on the play. I couldn't whine about that call because I agree with it.
The four guys I thought really played well on offense, I thought Quinn played very well again. I thought Samardzija stood out. I thought Carlson obviously stood out. I thought Ryan Harris had another big game.
JOHN HEISLER: Questions from here in person.
Q. The late hit along the sideline, is there anything that can be done within the context of the rules of the game to avoid those kind of situations? The emotions fly. Michigan State reacted the same way when their quarterback got hit. Anything within the rules of the game that can be tweaked to help avoid those kind of situations?
COACH WEIS: Both in Ndu's play at Michigan State and this play yesterday, in both cases it was that gray area where the quarterback is clearly running out of bounds, in both cases. Stanton was clearly running out of bounds. Brady is clearly running out of bounds. In both cases the hits were unnecessary. More than late, they're unnecessary.
I think it's really important to protect players, but especially to protect quarterbacks. Unless you start throwing people out of the game for violations like that. You want to end them in a hurry, start throwing people out of the game. Next time that happens, people will think twice about having that happen.
As far as people going to protect their player, I thought yesterday was handled about as well as could have been handled. I mean, Rhema went over there, probably gave the guy a little push after they started mouthing back and forth. But realistically no punches were thrown. The only ones who came running off our bench were the training staff to get to Quinn. I was glad they were running over there. That could have been something really bad.
But I thought that for the most part, there weren't any punches thrown. I thought both our players and North Carolina players really handled it pretty well. But there's not much room on these sidelines. It could get ugly in a hurry. I think the only thing you could do is to have that big a deterrent where if you get called for what they feel is an unnecessarily violent hit on somebody either in the field or off the field, you throw 'em.
Q. Would you advocate that?
COACH WEIS: Well, I mean, whether it was Brady or anyone else, I'm always big on sticking up for quarterbacks because I think that usually the drop-off from the first quarterback to the second quarterback, any program at any level is significant. I think it changes the game more than any other player at any position.
So just like the NFL went to great lengths to protect the quarterback, I think the answer to that is, well, once he's out of the pocket, he's no longer like a quarterback, he's now like every other player. But I think it's important, whether it's my quarterback or somebody else's quarterback, to make sure we try to keep them playing, not getting hurt by something that's questionable.
Q. You talked about 14 big plays yesterday. What do you consider a big play?
COACH WEIS: I think any time you have a run for 10 yards or a pass for 20 yards, that's a big play. I think we had several down-field throws in this game or a touchdown. Touchdown no matter how many yards it is always has to be considered a big play. Carlson's big pass didn't go for 20 yards, but that was a big play. That was a high-effort play where she's scrambling, twisting, torquing his body. Next thing you know he's in the end zone.
I think in the field, any time you have a run that goes for 10 yards. Any time you have a pass that goes for 20 yards, that's one less first down you have to get running it and two less first downs you have to get throwing it.
Q. Brady had an awful lot of time to throw, the grinding play, didn't have anybody. Is that a knock on somebody?
COACH WEIS: No. The protection was great. As a matter of fact, he was waiting for Jeff. He has an option on that rout to either bend to the inside and turn to the outside or bend to the outside and turn to the inside. When he took the inside track, which was the right read based off of the coverage, he got pushed so far inside that Brady was going to have to wait a long time to get him the ball.
If you go back and watch the play, you'll see Jeff bending back to the outside where, you know, we probably could get the ball to him. But this is after about five seconds. You know, we're trying to get every ball off within three seconds.
Q. Is there a point where you'd like him to pull the ball down and go?
COACH WEIS: What I normally prefer he do is throw the ball out of bounds. The only problem is there was no short receiver to throw the ball out of bounds to on that play. Our halfback got used in pickup because it was a blitz zone. Usually you could throw it in the direction of the halfback, throw it out of bounds. Our tight end was blocking on the play. That's where he threw it.
Really if there's no flair control because your guys that are in flair control are getting used up because there's a blitz zone, you have three guys going vertical and they're all down the field. You can't just throw it out of bounds because now they're going to call intentional grounding because you're throwing it at nobody.
Q. Everything you see Brady doing, what he has accomplished this year, do you think there's a better player in college football?
COACH WEIS: Well, I haven't seen everybody. I haven't seen all the defensive guys. There might be some frontline defensive guy that I haven't seen yet.
I just go by what the people at the next level tell me. They tell me there isn't anyone better. I'm not in the business of having to evaluate them any more because I'm on this level. All I have to do is worry about our guys, the guys we're going against. But they tell me there's no one better.
Q. You visited this yesterday, but talk about Jeff's accomplishment, he's been able to do it in such a short amount of time?
COACH WEIS: When you catch 23 touchdowns in 20, 21 games or so that he's got that in, I mean, that means you're averaging over a touchdown a game. That's pretty high numbers at any level, to be able to do that.
I think there's a guy, a perfect example of a guy who is making the most of the opportunity when it's presenting itself. He's running with it. He's putting himself in a position to not only have a great career at this level but go on and have a great one at the next level.
Q. You just mentioned Ryan Harris as one of the four guys that stood out to you yesterday. Can you go into further detail about that.
COACH WEIS: What happens with an offensive line, a lot of times you watch the offensive line, you look to see where the guys that he had the least amount of problems were. Usually I can just look at him, and that's usually where they are. Ryan is a very good football player. But sometimes very good football players at that position get exposed a bunch of times. I'm not saying he had a perfect game, that everything was perfect. It's a few weeks in a row now he's just really stood out as the most consistent guy we have up there.
Q. Beginning of the year, you have a sign that says 9-3 is not good enough. Now you're 8-1. Do you change that goal at this point in the season?
COACH WEIS: That was a symbol of more than just a record. You know, I think if we ended up 9-3 right now, I think we'd be very disappointed, okay, based off of where we are right now. It's also a symbol to let these guys know I felt that the end of last year, you know, coming off of how we ended, especially with a disappointing loss in the Fiesta Bowl, I thought that the most important thing was to get our players thinking higher than that.
There's still a lot of work left to be done here in this season. We'll start with Air Force and we'll go from there. I would like to think the mentality of our team has continued to move along those lines to think that same way.
Q. It hasn't happened every game, but do you find a trend of trying to outscore the other team?
COACH WEIS: No, I thought that our -- when you think about it now, the defense gave up 19 points. I mean, the defense gives up 19 points, we score 20, we win. I'd like to think that most of the time we're going to score 20.
I wasn't really thinking about having to outscore them. I think what I wanted to do was I wanted to get us playing better in the first half. They had one drive in the first half, went down and got a score. That was about it for their offense. Really the first half was seven. We both had a special teams touchdown. You can throw those out, say they counter off right there. If you're sitting 24-7 at halftime without either team scoring a special teams touchdown just by playing solid play, I think I would have been pretty happy with that.
Q. You mentioned Mo today and yesterday. Can you talk about the evolution of him from an outside to middle back?
COACH WEIS: Well, just watching the number of plays today 'cause, to be honest with you, when you asked that question yesterday, I knew he was involved in about 10 tackles, but you don't know if they're good tackles or if he's late on tackles. Until you've seen the tape, you really don't know.
He's developed a nice feel for the position. He's not 250 pounds hike some middle linebackers. Every once in a while he'll get one of those big guys on him. He's trying to avoid them. He has a nice feel for the position. Now he's just continued to make plays. At first it was due to his athleticism. Now he's gaining more and more experience how to handle the reads from inside versus the reads from outside.
Q. He looked a little gimpy walking off the field.
COACH WEIS: His back tightened up a little on him. Remember now, the kid came off that last year. Every once in a while he walks like me. He was walking like me last night. He's probably looking for a day off from running today. He'll probably get one.
Q. The highs and lows you talked about in terms of the defense, big plays, dominant play, how do you as a coach account for that? Is it play calls, focus?
COACH WEIS: A few of them were missed tackles. I'm never one to like give up players or coaches or anyone. I think we need to do a better job fundamentally at tackling. I think this would have been avoided some of the damage.
Every once in a while you get guys isolated. I found watching the tape, I didn't notice this much during the game in person, but watching the tape, it looked like there was a lot of people slipping on the field yesterday. I don't know if you guys noticed it, I just hadn't noticed it very much. Watching the tape, there's a lot of people falling down. I was a little surprised. I've addressed that with the coaching staff this morning. We're going to have to make sure we check what kind of shoes we're wearing as far as spikes, length, what's allowed, what isn't allowed. I think that we have to be careful because I found not only us, to be honest with you, both teams, I found a lot of guys as I watched the tape slipping and falling.
Q. If you could take the team that played Georgia Tech and the one that played yesterday, where do you see improvements, places where you're still concerned?
COACH WEIS: It's been a while since I've had positives to say about the return units on special teams. Yesterday's is the first time in a while that I've been able to sit there and say something favorable.
I think that our coverage teams have been pretty solid most of the year. I mean, then we gave up a big one yesterday, which was disappointing.
I think that we're much better offensively now than where we were then. I think that our defense, we have a lot more guys that know how to play their positions. In the beginning of the year, that game against Georgia Tech, I thought our defense played pretty stout if you go back and really review that game. That game could have gotten away from us when we were down by 10. I think our defense played pretty solid.
I think you could talk about a lot of different things, but I think it really comes down to playing more fundamentally sound to not give up big plays. I think that's probably the biggest issue we deal with on a weekly basis, and I think that's what we'll continue to be working on.
Q. Could you talk about the balance of your offense, where you feel you are.
COACH WEIS: Well, balance sometimes comes within a game. The game plan yesterday was to come out slinging it until the game was under control, then go to a pound-it mode. That was exactly how it was laid out. That's how it played out.
Now, fortunately/unfortunately it doesn't always play out the way you design it. Sometimes you say we're going to run it right down their throats, and they're stomping all over you, so you change to something else.
I think our coaching staff has enough versatility within a game plan where if something isn't working, I've always said I like to be 50/50 in every game, if I had my druthers. Some games just don't play out like that.
I think it's really important for you to try to exploit what a team is doing. If you think that the team has some weaknesses, you should try to get after those weaknesses because our job isn't to try to please the fans, our job is to try to move the ball and score.
There's nuances of every game. Those nuances help dictate what you're going to do as far as balance, as far as runs and passes are called.
Q. Is it fair to say balance in some ways is secondary to following a game plan, attacking what you want to attack?
COACH WEIS: We don't go into a game and say I'm going to run it 10 times and throw it 10 times. We go into a game, we set up plays, then we see what's happening. Once we think we find a weakness, we go after it. When I opened the game in two minute yesterday, it might have only been for one drive. You know, I had openers ready to go for the next drive. We ended up using the openers a little bit later, okay? Because I felt good about our chances, I stayed in it.
You know, when we go in a two minute, I have no play scripted. That's just me and Brady. He just waits for me to dial another one up. As long as I feel things are moving along that way, we'll stay in it. If not, we'll get back to our openers.
Q. The amount of pass attempts that Brady has had over the last few games, are teams still playing to take away the run first, the pass second? Does that surprise you in any way?
COACH WEIS: I think you have to pick what you want to stop. Do you want to sit there and play cover two the whole game, play where you don't have any extra guys in the box? I think if you do that, you know, then you're counting on your front six or your front seven based off what the formation is to be able to shut down the run game.
Usually there's very few teams that can hold up for a whole game with no safety or corner support. There's very few teams that can hold up for a game like that.
Q. This isn't second-guessing, just curiosity.
COACH WEIS: Go ahead. You can second guess.
Q. When you're playing a team with the fifth worst rush defense, why do you go after their passing?
COACH WEIS: Because I anticipated them to blitz more than they'd been blitzing, and they did, so I was right. In a nutshell, I didn't think that they would just lay back and say, okay, ram it down our throat. I didn't think that they would do that.
Just like we talked about last week, how when you got nothing to... All of a sudden you're going to see more than 50% of the time pressure was coming. That was way, way, way higher percentage than they've done in any game. That's what we anticipated. That's why we were throwing it.
Pretty good, huh (laughter)?
Q. Talk about Carlson. You said he's been on the constant rise this season. Where is his game compared to Anthony's?
COACH WEIS: They're a little different player. I was asked that question from somebody yesterday. One of my friends was asking me to compare them. They're a different player. Anthony was your tough, rugged, hard-nosed, smack you in the mouth guy who seemed to -- everyone says, I don't know how fast he could run, but every time you turned around, he was opening. If the ball was anywhere near him, he would catch it. If you threw it near him, didn't have to worry about whether the ball was bad or not, he was going to catch it.
I think John is a little bit different in the fact that John, I believe, is a little bit better of a vertical threat than Anthony was. He might not be as good as Anthony at some of the other things at this point right now. When it's all said and done, he might be better than him at those things.
The thing is, he's such a big target going down the field, I mean, it seems like every game at least we got one time where there's that big guy running right down the middle of the field. Quarterback likes running to those big guys running right down the middle of the field. He's a big body. It's tough to miss him.
Q. Can you talk about the big plays against the defense. Pretty steady conversation all season. Do you think for the defense to have the kind of game you're looking for, you can't say, They played well but...
COACH WEIS: Yes. I think that's a very fair question. I think I think that way. I think Rick and the defensive staff think that way.
You can't sit there and say we had 41 good plays but we had eight bad ones. Just like on the kickoff coverage, you can't sit there and say we were great on eight of them, but we were terrible on one of them or whatever. You can't do that.
For you to have to have a good game, those have to be at a minimum because if not then you really haven't achieved your goals.
Q. I don't recall seeing a stat sheet at this point in a season, one receiver has 52 catches, another has 49, runningback 47, a tight end 45. How much of a testament is that to Brady being able to go through his progressions, read everything?
COACH WEIS: That's another good question because it's a big testament towards him to be able to spread the ball around that evenly. Most quarterbacks tie on to favorite guys and they look to them all the time. How many times have you watched a game where guys double cover, triple cover? You say, Why is he throwing there? Usually the reason why he's throwing there is because the quarterback has confidence in those one or two players and they're just trying to force it to them no matter what.
Really good quarterbacks are the guys that don't go in with a preconceived notion where I'm throwing the ball to Samardzija. Jeff had a big day yesterday, but the week before was Rhema. The week before it's Carlson. Carlson had a big day yesterday, too. But I'm saying, oh, we're dumping it off to Darius because everyone is dropping out of there, (indiscernible) nickel and dime you.
I think that's probably the greatest thing he's done since I've been here, is to learn where to throw the ball despite the fact that every quarterback by nature is a gambler and would like to be throwing the ball down the field. There isn't one quarterback I've come across that doesn't want to sling it down the field. The really good ones are the ones who throw it to the guy who is open, not just throw it to the guy who is down the field all the time.
Q. You also mentioned with James Aldridge, he's beginning to get a grasp of the total package, the blitz pickup. How about as far as the receiving aspect? He mentioned that Darius has a feel for that.
COACH WEIS: He doesn't have the nuances at running routs that Darius has, but James has very good hands. I mean, James has a big upside as a receiving back because he has no problem catching the ball.
Q. In terms of not just the numbers, but the whole picture, if Jeff Samardzija is not the best receiver you've ever seen in your lifetime at Notre Dame, who is?
COACH WEIS: The best one? I mean, I haven't studied all the receivers at Notre Dame. I think Jeff is a really good player. I think Jeff is a first-round draft choice. I think Jeff could go on and play football in the NFL for a long time. I think he's pretty darn good.
I knew Mays a little bit. I came here, one of the few times from the time I graduated till the time I got this job, one of the few times I was at Notre Dame was to work out Mays. I thought his biggest strength from what I recall, I didn't follow him that much in the NFL, I was on the other side of the ball when we played him, he had huge hands. I remember how big his hands were. They were huge. I don't know 10, 11, whatever they were, but they were big. He could pluck it.
Q. Does he remind you at all of Chris Haines?
COACH WEIS: No. Chris was about this tall, from what I recall. He was here when I was here. Chris was a much smaller player. 5'10". I don't know, what was he? Anyone know? Wasn't real tall.
Q. Based on what the NFL scouts tell you, is it fair for us to say maybe six or more players are potential first-day drafts next year?
COACH WEIS: The more the merrier. I don't know. The more that go, the better it is for them, the better it is for the program. But I'm not going to judge that.
Q. Less than two years ago the big thing was Notre Dame can't get guys here any more. People are going to say now you underachieved. Is it a Catch-22 for you as a coach?
COACH WEIS: I'd rather have guys every year going out - every year. I'd rather have guys graduating and going on and playing in the NFL every year 'cause it's good for them and it's good for the program, too.
Q. The next two teams you're playing, you won't see the kind of quarterbacks you need to see to prepare for Southern Cal. How do you keep your defensive backs sharp?
COACH WEIS: We're not talking about USC. We will not even breathe one word about USC until it gets to that week. We will just be talking about Air Force.
Have you watched this quarterback from Air Force? You want to go stop the option for us? This kid's pretty good now. This quarterback is pretty good. There will be some restless nights around here because this quarterback is pretty good.
We don't think that way. We don't talk that way. We know that that game is three weeks away. We're cognizant of that fact. It isn't like we're oblivious to it. Our film breakdown guys have their weekly games to break down. We know what they are.
Realistically, we lose to Air Force, Army, think about how much less importance that game will have. You better be worrying about Air Force. That's what you better be worrying about. That's what we will be worrying about. We'll be worrying about Air Force.
Q. (Question regarding Carlson.)
COACH WEIS: That's what I was talking about with the vertical threat down the field. There aren't very many tight ends that threaten what we call the three levels of coverage, the underneath, intermediate and the deep. He's one of the few that runs well enough to threaten all three levels.
There's been tons of tight ends that are very good in the short to intermediate areas, but there's not very many of them that get very involved in the deep ball. Most of the ones that are just the receivers who ate themselves into tight end, they just attach, go ahead and let them run routs all the time. He actually is a tight end that can do it. That gives you definitely a nice weapon to go ahead and use.
End of FastScripts