UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 11, 2005
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. We have several Notre Dame players who will be joining us on the call. Right now it's 11 a.m. central time in South Bend. We'll begin our call this morning for 15 minutes with tight end Anthony Fasano.
Q. When you were growing up, did you have any particular memory that stands out of Notre Dame, Southern Cal football, any game, what it meant when you just heard about that rivalry?
ANTHONY FASANO: No. Growing up I really wasn't a big Notre Dame or college football fan so I really don't have any memories of our past meetings.
Q. When you think about it now, what does it mean to you in terms of college football and two programs, this kind of intersectional rivalry?
ANTHONY FASANO: I mean, I think it's one of the best rivalries out there. Everybody talks about Michigan-Ohio State. I think this is one of the best rivalries. When both teams are in the top 10, you can't ask for anything more.
Q. I know it's not your side of the ball, but you look at USC's offense, they're averaging 640 yards a game midway through the season. As an offensive guy, what do you think of when you hear a number like that?
ANTHONY FASANO: Yeah, they put up very impressive numbers on offense. They do a great job of what they do. But, again, I really haven't looked in-depth into their offense, only what I've seen on the television games I've watched.
Q. Big test for your DBs?
ANTHONY FASANO: Definitely. I think we're going to go as far as our defense takes us this week.
Q. Is there a quality about Coach Weis that kind of separates him from any other coach you've ever played for?
ANTHONY FASANO: Yeah, Coach Weis is different than any coach I've ever played for. He just has a great way of teaching his system, a great way of getting you in a right mindset to go play every Saturday. I think he comes out with a great confidence and it shows within his teams.
Q. How long did it take for him to get the players to believe they could win any game on the schedule?
ANTHONY FASANO: I don't think it took long. Had a little bit of attitude change in spring ball. We pretty much knew what we were in for coming into camp. Once we got things gelling in camp, got rolling, I think no-one had any doubts on our team.
Q. What do you think the best story was on the team? The reason I ask that is so much is written about your coach. Sometimes the stories about the guys that are actually doing this get lost. To you, what is the best story on this team among the players?
ANTHONY FASANO: Well, we came back from so much adversity, and people had us going O and six. So many people had us struggling all this season. Us coming together as a team with the same players that we won 6-6 with last year pretty much, just to come out and start hot, start well, be 4-1, be in the top 10.
Q. How much of this, being here now at 4-1, how much is just you guys being a year older, a year bigger, more mature, and how much is it the change in the coaching staff?
ANTHONY FASANO: Like we always said, we always had talent here, even when we went 5-6, 6-6. We had talent. It's just our attitude and mentality wasn't where it needed to be. I think Coach really helped that out. He also puts us in great positions on the field to really utilize our advantages and our techniques and our skills. I think it's a combination of both that puts us in a good position.
Q. Could you talk about the difference or if there has been a difference in the pride or confidence that you have in your program this year versus years past.
ANTHONY FASANO: We've always had pride in Notre Dame, in our program. But this year I think we come to games expecting to do well, expecting to win, just stepping on that field, stepping out there on every play with confidence is what is the biggest change so far.
Q. How much has Coach Weis had to do with that?
ANTHONY FASANO: Pretty much entirely. We had confidence last year, but it really wasn't where it's at right now. I think he prepares us mentally so well that we're at a big advantage.
Q. You mentioned you weren't a big Notre Dame fan growing up. There's so much made about the lore of Notre Dame, stories of the past. Do you buy into any of that stuff or do you think it's kind of silly, the fact you weren't a fan? I'm curious where you fall on that scale.
ANTHONY FASANO: I mean, coming here and seeing all the great things that happened and all the spirit, the pride people have around here, it definitely is easy to buy into, and I have. But, I mean, I don't think it changes what we do on the field for me or any of my teammates because of the past or tradition.
Q. Could you tell me what you see different in Brady this year as opposed to past years.
ANTHONY FASANO: I mean, he's so relaxed in the huddle, he's so confident in what he's doing. He knows where everyone has to be and everyone's going to be. He really puts us in -- Coach Weis gives him the freedom to put us in his own checks. What he thinks best is at the line. Him doing that and doing that successful I think is the biggest difference so far.
Q. Can you recall an incident either in the huddle, I would assume that's probably the best time when it might have happened, you guys were facing either a key third down or a key series, where he came in and either made a joke or grabbed attention in the huddle, just something that you hadn't seen from him in the past that you said, "He is definitely our guy now"?
ANTHONY FASANO: We've had so many long drives where it started back in our own territory. I think when you have to drive 98 yards, important possession after another team scored like Purdue, he just would come in and say, "Relax, this is our first drive, let's get going." It's not big rah-rah, a fake speech. You know he's serious and to the heart. I think that's the biggest change.
Q. Everybody talks about the offensive line, Brady, all those people. Tell us a little about Darius Walker, where he fits into the scheme of this offense.
ANTHONY FASANO: Well, he's doing a great job for us this year. I think it's great because teams have to prepare for him so well because along with Brady and our passing game, our offensive line, I mean, Darius is such a big threat. I think people preparing for him, and him just being able to make plays on the field is really beneficial for our offense.
Q. You said earlier the coach has a great way of teaching the system. Can you elaborate on that? What is different about the way he teaches compared to some other coaches you've been with?
ANTHONY FASANO: Well, he has a very complex offense. When he came in in the spring, I mean a lot of guys were overwhelmed by it. I think he did a great job of taking it piece by piece and breaking it down to the bare nuts and bolts of it, of the offense. He really made us learn the philosophy of the offense, what he's trying to do, instead of just learning what you do on which play. I think that helps in the overall scheme of things.
Q. When did you notice everyone kind of buying in and having the confidence you needed to have in his system?
ANTHONY FASANO: Towards the end of spring ball, when our offense was really doing well against our defense. Our defense would get us a couple days. I think just that back and forth, seeing success against our own defense. Coming into camp, realizing everything got together, started gelling, I think everyone had confidence.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by Dan Santucci. We'll open it up for questions for Dan Santucci.
Q. I asked Anthony, but who to you is the best story on this team right now, player-wise, and why?
DAN SANTUCCI: You know, I think Jeff Samardzija, he's just having a great year. Last year a lot of people didn't know about him. I think he was just as talented last year as he is this year. He's just making some big plays for us, a huge contributor to our success right now.
Q. You look at him. To me, maybe you'll agree, when you first look at him, he looks like the typical possession receiver. Does he fool teams in that he can get down the field and make big plays?
DAN SANTUCCI: Yes. I think he's got great speed that people don't see, like you said. A lot of people think he's a possession receiver, but really he's a big play-maker with great hands, just a great ability to know where defenders are, which way to turn after the catch. Unbelievable hands and speed and great vision. All aspects, you know, you need to be a great player.
Q. Could you tell me what changes do you see in Brady Quinn this year as opposed to past years?
DAN SANTUCCI: I think Brady, you know, he's a lot more focused. He just understands this offense so well. He's the type of guy that he does everything for football. I mean, he watches tons of film. He just took this offense into his hands. He knows he's the leader. He goes out there every day and performs like it.
Q. I'm wondering if there was one anecdote or incident in the huddle. You obviously have had a lot of long drives, crucial third downs. Was there one particular time when he came in and made a joke or said something where you said, "He's got it now"?
DAN SANTUCCI: Yeah, he does something. If we're having a couple plays, aren't clicking like we would like them to be, things aren't going so well one or two plays, he'll come into the huddle and get everyone together and say, "Let's go. It's time." He's got that look in his eyes, that leadership role. When we listen to him, we just all believe in him. We're like, "Yeah, it's time to go." He just keeps everything together.
Q. What changed with the new coaching staff?
DAN SANTUCCI: I mean, Coach Weis has brought in a great group of guys that really understand the game of football, just brought in an attitude that we're here to win, and that's all -- that's all he's going to accept, is winning. It's just an attitude that is, you know, in all of us, confidence and attitude that we expect to go out there every Saturday and win.
Q. As you look at this game coming up, is SC this monolithic, unbelievable thing or is it a deal where if you go out and execute, you can win the ballgame?
DAN SANTUCCI: USC's a great team. You don't win all those games in a row just being an average team, don't win two national titles in a row. They're a great team. But we focus here on what we need to go do to win the game. We put it on us rather than what they're going to do or putting it on them.
Q. Everybody talks about Charlie Weis and the offense, Brady, a great offensive line. Where does Darius Walker fit into the mix of all this?
DAN SANTUCCI: I mean, Darius is a huge essential part to this team and this offense. I mean, he's got great vision, a great back that runs hard. He puts our running game on the map. Without a good running game, you know, it's hard to have a great passing game. You know, he's our workhorse back there. He carries the ball, makes big plays for us.
Q. There's a lot of talk about the ghost of Notre Dame, this sort of stuff, the fact you have the game at South Bend, does that give you a little extra edge as far as confidence-wise, just knowing there's kind of a history there, or do you just forget that totally and play the game?
DAN SANTUCCI: Me personally, especially, I kind of don't worry about that stuff. I just focus on, you know, the week of practice, the week of preparation that I need to have, and our team needs to have, in order to just go out there and play no matter who it's against. Play a great game, do everything we can to win.
Q. Is whatever confidence you guys might have, from the fact that Coach Weis apparently is a guy that is obviously very prepared, he's going to have you in position to win the game, is that maybe where the most confidence you guys are going to have is going to come from?
DAN SANTUCCI: Yeah. We have confidence in ourselves right now. We've been playing some good football. We just believe in ourselves, believe in the plays that are being called. Just go out there and perform so that we can win.
Q. You returned a lot of guys, especially on offense. In your mind, what is the biggest reason for such a fast start for this season?
DAN SANTUCCI: You know, we just got a bunch of older, experienced guys. We just want to win. We just put that as our No. 1 goal. We go out there every day to practice hard, work hard, to do everything we can to perform on Saturdays. That's what playing football's all about. We just got a bunch of experienced guys that are just striving for the same goal.
Q. How much has the success been due to Weis' attitude about win right now and how much to his offensive mind that he brought from the Patriots?
DAN SANTUCCI: It's a huge part. When he came in, that's what he said. A lot of us are seniors, older guys. We don't have four years to wait. We were really excited when he said he's here to win right now, and that's all he expects out of us is winning. He told us, you don't get anything for second place. That's the new attitude and confidence that this team has.
Q. You mentioned you don't worry about some of the ghosts of Notre Dame, the history. Do you suspect the USC players also don't care about that stuff? Beyond the fact you'll have your home fans, is there any advantage to the fact you're playing this game at home against the No. 1? Does that mean anything or do you think the USC players are like you and that doesn't mean anything?
DAN SANTUCCI: You know, I think a lot of football teams are just like, that they just go out there to play the game. Everybody loves playing at home. I mean, at home you're supposed to have an advantage. You got more of the fans there. I mean, it's easier, you don't have to fly anywhere. You don't have all like the distractions of transportation-wise. I mean, it's nice to play at home. But I think most of the teams around the country, they go out there and whether it's at home or away just prepare and play the game like they usually do no matter where it's at.
Q. Going into this game, beyond the fan reaction, you're not going out there with a ghost for the 12th man?
DAN SANTUCCI: I go out there and I focus in on what I need to do, what the team needs to do, just play our game, go for that one outcome, which is the win.
Q. Can you take us through with the bye week what Charlie's schedule was in terms of when did you actually start focusing on Southern Cal, how you used the extra days?
DAN SANTUCCI: Yeah, we actually -- we went out there and had a couple fundamental and individual technique practices to focus on the little things. Every day we would watch film on USC. We basically started focusing on them right away. We had a couple days off on the weekend here to just kind of get your mind away from football and to come back with great energy for this game. It was a great week. He gave us a chance to heal up our bumps and bruises, just kind of get our mind away from the game a little bit.
Q. How much do you feel that extra week has helped you in terms of preparation? Do you feel like you know Southern Cal as well as you can know an opponent?
DAN SANTUCCI: Yes. I think whenever you have more than the normal one week to prepare for a team, you'll be able to know them a better. Like I said, I watched a lot of film, things like that to prepare. Now it's game week. It's going to be here before we know it.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by wide receiver Jeff Samardzija. We'll open it up for questions for Jeff.
Q. Are you going to be able to play baseball and do spring practice at the same time?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: You know, I guess that's to be determined. Haven't really talked about it too much. Just trying to concentrate right now on the game at hand and the football season. We'll kind of cross that bridge when we get there. Right now we're just looking forward to Saturday.
Q. Is that something you don't want to bring up right away with a new coach, kind of see where your standing is on the team?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: Yeah, I mean, whether you're stepping on toes or not, that has really nothing to do with it. It's just more respect for coaches and your teammates, too. I think, right now, I'm not really even thinking about anything like baseball or spring ball like that right now. I think all my attention's going to Saturday and the season. That's No. 1 on the list right now.
Q. Why don't you think you were thrown to much your first two years? This has been a breakout season for you so far.
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: You know, I think a lot of it has to do with just making plays. I think I had a couple chances my freshman, sophomore year to make some plays, I think I kind of let them slip away. It comes down to when you get the chance, you've got to take advantage of it.
Q. It seems like it's maybe been a while since the two teams have come into this game with this degree of attention from fans and the media. From your point of view, is there something special with the rivalry or does it blend in with other games on your schedule?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: No, I mean, just looking at it from a fans' point of view, not a player, it's a great rivalry. I think there's always great games and it's always kind of hyped, you know, within the public. I think it's something that's great to be a part of, especially when you're playing a team like USC that has so much talent on both sides of the ball and on special teams, it's just great. If you're a true athlete and things like that, you know you love challenges. Like I said, I'm just trying to concentrate on this week and on Saturday and just trying to be ready for the game 'cause you know they're going to bring their best. You got to go out and play your best game of the year. I think that's all we're trying to do.
Q. Does it add something that the two teams are so highly ranked? Is there something more to it than there has been perhaps in the past?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: I think on the outside definitely. I think as a team, though, we're just trying to approach it like another game. I think you have to. I think it's real important that you don't let everything on the outside affect what you do on the inside. I think we're just really trying to concentrate on just the game, you know, whether it's the schemes or anything, just trying to concentrate on the game. Everything else on the outside's great, but just kind of take that as it goes, not concentrate too much on it or else you can get distracted pretty easily.
Q. Can you talk about your background as a baseball player. What was it like when you first came here?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: Well, out of high school, I was looked at to play some ball in the professional leagues and everything, they were talking about getting drafted. I just kind of let them know that I wanted to come here and play football. I think it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. I actually wasn't going to play baseball here at the beginning until the interview happened, and they asked me the question. I said, yeah, I would love to play baseball at Notre Dame. Coach Mainieri actually read it and contacted the coaching staff. Everything kind of worked the out. It was kind of weird. I didn't even know about it till one day they let me know I could play baseball. Yeah, I guess things just kind of worked out. But it was kind of funny.
Q. I was told that your coach told Coach Weis this spring, your baseball coach, told him you could make a big impact. He was out there hyping you.
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: Yeah, I guess he was throwing his little word in for me. I guess I should give him some (indiscernible) or something. Coach Mainieri is a great guy. He's going to say what he thinks. I guess that's what he thought at the time. I tried not to disappoint him, I guess.
Q. Can you talk a little about what Charlie Weis has meant to this team, how your role has changed on this team since he's taken over?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: I think Coach Weis has brought a confidence to this team that's just kind of bled through the team. I think it's kind of something we're trying to feed off of, too. It's just a mentality that a football team has to have in order to be successful. I think he's brought a lot of things, but I think the mentality he's brought has just been probably the key part. I think we're just trying to go out with the confidence each weekend that we can get a victory.
Q. How has your role exactly changed since he's taken over?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: You know, I don't think it's changed too much. I just think I took advantage of some situations, and it's just kind of grown from there. I think when there's a confidence within the team, within the quarterback, and within the coaching staff, that you'll make plays, you might just get a couple more opportunities.
Q. Do you recall a particular series or play when you realized that Brady had really come into his own?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: You know, I think if I had to hone in on one thing, I think was that Pitt game. I think we had a 23-play drive. It was a big part of it. We had some penalties, we had some adversity on the drive, but we still ended up getting seven points out of it. Obviously, there's a lot of things that go into it. I think if there's one drive, I think that's the closest I could get because, you know, there was a lot of adversity on offense. We had a couple of penalties. But he kept everyone levelheaded and he stayed levelheaded and still drove us down there and we still got six points. I think that was a big exclamation point on the whole situation.
Q. Have you seen a change in him in the huddle? Was there one time you can recall where -- doesn't sound like he's much of a joke cracker, maybe I've missed something, has he said something to loosen you guys up at some point?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: You know, I mean, you got to understand that Brady's going to be Brady in the huddle. I think the biggest part he's brought, just like I said, is a confidence in the huddle and for the offense, that when he comes in, he calls his plays, I think everyone listens and everyone is just going with what he has to say. They have confidence in the plays he gets from Coach, and they have confidence in Brady to run the plays. I think just an overall confidence kind of bleeds through the huddle.
Q. Comic relief is not his thing?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: You know, I think he leaves that up to some other guys (laughter). Brady throws a zinger in there. Brady, comedy and joking isn't necessarily Brady's thing. That's on some other people's shoulders in the huddle.
Q. Tell us something about your family. Do you have brothers or a dad that played? Are you a Homer Drew fan?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: My dad played hockey. I think he played in high school, semi-pro team in Chicago. My brother, you know, he was -- my brother was a D1 caliber DB in high school. He was a little shorter than me. Things just didn't work out. He just took a different route. I think sports have always been in the blood. Just kind of something we've always done. As in the whole Homer Drew fan. I think growing up in Valpo, there was a whole big Bryce Drew and I don't know if you ever heard of Tim Bishop before, but there was always a big little buzz behind them. Growing up, we kind of watched them and then to see that Bryce developed and did everything that he did. It's kind of funny to see, kind of cool to see someone from my hometown do that. More of a fan of the family. Always watched all my brother's football games, what he did growing up, just kind of tried to be like him and everything.
Q. I think your last name is Croatian. Is there some history there where some grandparents came across?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: My last name is actually Serbian. My grandparents actually came over I believe in the early '40s from Serbia. They actually came over from Germany. They made the Trek from Serbia over to Germany so they could catch a ride on over. A couple of my uncles were born over there. My dad went to school in Maryville after his uncles went to Gary Lou Wallace. We've always been in the area. There's actually a rich history there with the family. We're real close-knit group. I have a lot of respect and love for what they did to go through everything they went through. Both sides of my family, my mom and dad's side, are real close. I think it's a big part of what I am and what we're about.
Q. Did you speak the language at a young age?
JEFF SAMARDZIJA: Most of my family member's do. My dad understands it. I know some of it. I can't speak it. I can pick some of it up. When my grandma talks, it's a little mix of English and Serbian, so you gotta have to know a little bit about it to really pick up what she's saying. We love her. She makes some great food. You know, just like I said, we're a close-knit group and everyone's always keeping in touch.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by wide receiver Maurice Stovall. We'll open it up for questions for Maurice.
Q. Could you tell me, was there one particular play that stands out in your mind that Brady has made this year where you said, "He has arrived"?
MAURICE STOVALL: Is there one play? I don't think there's only one play. Brady's done a number of plays. I don't think it might not even be noticed by fans or even television. I think it's mostly calling out blitzes, you know, calling out who is the Mike linebacker or audible in plays. Those things are key factors that keeps us in drives. He's done that a number of times this year.
Q. Just watching SC the last couple of weeks, they've shown they'll give up some yardage through the air, Arizona State a couple weeks ago, to a lesser degree Arizona last weekend. To the extent it's possible, are you encouraged by what you see of their secondary?
MAURICE STOVALL: A lot of people, a lot of fans, a lot of other teams say that USC has a very weak secondary. But from watching film, I feel as though they're very solid. Yeah, they gave up some big plays like any other team, but I still feel as though they're a solid secondary. They have big corners, very physical safeties. They have a solid defense overall.
Q. This series has been so lopsided for the last three years. There's a sense it's going to be a closer game this year. Jeff Samardzija talked about the confidence that Coach Weis has given you. What else is the difference this year? Does it all come from that? Can you talk about different schemes? Why is this team so different?
MAURICE STOVALL: I think it's just a change overall in our program, the way we approach the spring ball, the way we approach the off-season workouts, the way we approach practice. I think that plays a big part in. How we work in the weight room, overall what we do in the classroom, what we do off the field, everything just has changed. A lot of that has to do with Coach Weis and how he's changed the program around.
Q. In light of the fact you think USC has a good secondary, why do you think Notre Dame has the type of offense that can make USC's defense vulnerable?
MAURICE STOVALL: I think that all has to do with Coach Weis' scheme, how he will approach USC's defense. Obviously, I can't tell you how we'll do that. But, you know, I think any team we play, we change our scheme a lot. Some games we might run the ball a lot. You have games where we pass a lot. We'll also have games where our run and pass is balanced. We'll look at USC's defense, watch them on film, and we'll just take what they give us and go from there.
Q. It looks like it takes a really balanced team to beat them. You can't just be run heavy or pass heavy. They don't have any weaknesses on defense. Do you see any places vulnerable?
MAURICE STOVALL: Well, a lot of people say their secondary is very weak. Like I say, I think they're pretty solid. I don't think it's so much what they do, but what you do as a team, if you're executing your plays, if you're staying on your block, running the right depth in your routs, quarterback making the right reads. All of those things play a big part in playing a good defense, especially the No. 1 team in the country.
Q. Talking about people expecting a close game this year, all the attention that this game is getting, from your point of view, is there still something to this rivalry or does it kind of just fit in with all the other games on your schedule?
MAURICE STOVALL: I think there is a little bit of both. Notre Dame has a few handful of rivals. Any time you have the No. 1 team coming into your house, especially when it's Notre Dame versus USC, that's a big game in all of college football, that plays a big part, being rivals. At the same time, you can't succumb to the hype too much, allowing all that media hype or hype from fans to take you out of your game and focus, realizing that it's still football. It comes down to offense versus defense, special teams versus special teams on Saturday.
Q. Does this game feel any different than SC-Notre Dame games you've been a part of?
MAURICE STOVALL: Personally, I don't really remember the feeling playing USC our previous years. Worrying more so about this year. I feel as though we have a lot of confidence going into the game. From an offensive standpoint, we have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We realize this is an opportunity that we can use to show the country that we have a solid offense, we can be consistent, use it as a stepping stool into making ourselves better for the rest of the season.
Q. When you first got a look at Coach Weis' playbook or offensive system, was your first reaction that it was really complicated? In the spring when it started to click, did you start thinking, if we make this work, we're going to have an efficient offense?
MAURICE STOVALL: I feel as though any time you have a new offense brought to you, it looks like Arabic, you know. Yes, it was very thick, and it was complicated. At the same time, you know, after repetitions in the springtime and him, the way he explains it to us in the meetings and on the field, doesn't make it seem as complicated as it may look on paper, maybe even on film. Coach Weis is a great coach. At the same time he knows how to relate things to each individual as players and as a whole offensive unit and as a team. When you have a difficult offense, difficult terms, schemes, a lot of audibles, just everything is different from your previous offense, in our case, which was the west coast offense. It helps to know that your coach has confidence that you understand it. He's patient enough to explain it to you.
Q. As far as preparation you've seen thus far, going into the USC game, do y'all feel like the game plan he comes up with is going to be the game plan that's going to find the weaknesses on whatever defense? Have you gotten the confidence now in him he's going to come up with the scheme that's going to give you the best chance to win?
MAURICE STOVALL: We definitely do. Our confidence hasn't changed any bit at all. We have a lot of confidence in Coach Weis and his schemes. We have a lot of confidence in his assistant coaches, our individual position coaches. We also have confidence in each other that we'll execute those plays.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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