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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 18, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with an opening statement from Coach Weis.
COACH WEIS: I have two matters of business to clear up before I go on to Syracuse. First of all, this Saturday I would like to encourage all fans to wear green to support the university's Green Week initiatives. We'll be playing the first carbon neutral game in Notre Dame stadium history. And for more information fans can look at Notre Dame's website. So I encourage you to wear something green to the game this week.
As far as play calling goes. This week, Mike Haywood is going to be missing some practice for personal reasons. I support these personal reasons. But he'll be missing some practice again. And with that being said, followed up by a short week next week for the rest of the regular season I will be handling the play calling on offense.
On to Syracuse. Coach Robinson was told on Sunday that he's not going to be returning but is going to coach the final two games against us and finishing up next week I believe against Cincinnati.
He also serves as the defensive coordinator, co-defensive coordinator. We'll get back to that in a couple of minutes. Coach Browning handles the offense. And one thing you cannot sell short on Syracuse offensively is you better be ready to stop the run.
They're averaging 146 yards rushing a game. Averaging 4.4 a carry. We're going to be talking about Brinkley here in a second. But I always start with the quarterbacks. But you better be ready to stop their running game or you could be in for a long day at the office.
They played two quarterbacks last week. Dantley, who is a former walk-on, who earned a scholarship in 2007, started last nine games. Has a strong arm.
Robinson was the returning starter entering the season but lost his job but he's got more into the mix the last few weeks. They both have been playing.
Getting back to Brinkley. Brinkley is a very good player with very big numbers. He's a returning starter. He's rushed 204 times for 1,060 yards, 5.2 per carry. He himself is averaging 106 yards a game rushing.
The one thing, as you watch the tape, you'll see two things that stand out about him very clearly. He has very good vision and he runs very hard. Now, they have two other backs that splay significant time. Hogue, he's the bigger back, but he's also -- they also like to throw it to him out of the back field a whole bunch more.
And then they have their Mr. Versatility in Bailey. He's a true freshman who they line up at wide receiver. They line up at running back. They line up at wing. He's the fastest of these three guys, and they do all they can to get him involved with at least a few plays a game from different spots. So one thing you're going to have to do, and our defense is going to have to do, is identify where he is.
Now, I'm going to talk about the fullbacks and the tight ends because when I talk about Maljovec, I'll talk about him both at tight end and at fullback. Fiammetta, he's their fullback, big guy, 250 pounds, has good hands. He's a threat out of the back field. He's got decent speed. He's backed up by Maljovec. But Maljovec also plays tight end as well. The tight ends are listed as Owen, who is second on the team in receptions as a receiver.
But last week I didn't see him a whole bunch especially in the second half, and I'm not sure why. I saw Provo show up a little bit more in the game when Owen was out. So a combination of these fullbacks and tight ends, they usually have a combination of two of them on the field at all times.
Wide receiver, Davis, he's their most productive receiver. He starts at X, but when they put three wide receivers, he usually moves into the slot.
They also have their biggest receiver is Lobdell. He's also the most physical receiver. And the guy who you should keep an eye on is Sales, a true freshman, and seems like they've been playing him more and more each week.
Up front they do a pretty good job, especially as run blockers. Baumbach starts at left tackle. He started every game there this season. Batholomew, their left guard, he likes to play with toughness and strength.
McKenzie, he's the heart of their defense. He started every game at center this season. He's a really try-hard guy and he's a finisher. And that stands out on tape.
Durand, he's a returner at right guard. And Chavers moved from left tackle to right tackle in the spring. But, once again, against UCON, I didn't see him much in the second half either. Meldrum was the third tackle, shows up in the game. So I think we'll end up seeing a combination of three tackles in the game somewhere.
I mentioned Coach Robinson is the defensive coordinator. Coach Jackson is co-coordinator and also coaches the defensive line. Might as well start with defensive line.
Their two defensive ends are two totally different guys. Giruzzi was a converted linebacker who moved to defensive end who is the smaller, faster guy. He's your try-hard guy, hustles all over the place. A lot of times, as a matter of fact, he's in a two-point stance, where Kimmel is a bigger guy that plays on the opposite side.
Inside, they play Jones and Santiago. Both of them can be disruptive, especially Jones, because he's disruptive both in the running game and in the pass game.
At linebacker, they moved Derrell Smith back and forth from linebacker to running back and then back to linebacker. He's a very athletic linebacker. He's their adjuster. If they decide to stay in four-three people, they can adjust out and use him as an adjuster because he's a very good athlete.
But they'll also bring him off the edge and put his hand on the ground some as a nickel pass rusher. Flaherty and Mele are the other two linebackers. The thing about Mele is he's from Manasquan, New Jersey. He went to Manasquan High School. They list him at Sea Girt. I'll have to run him down, see if that's really where he's from. That's my home turf where I met my wife. I'm looking forward to running into him.
And the secondary, they're solid at corner and experienced at safety. Holmes and Scott are very solid corners for them. And they have two senior safeties, both Brown and Williams, who are not afraid to come up and hit you.
Now, the two other safeties show up and they're substituted packages, Chiara and Suter, they both show up as down guys in their nickel look. So we expect to see six guys involved in that mix.
On special teams, they don't list a coordinator, but there's two units that they're very good at. First of all, they block punts. And, as you all know, we've had some problems at punt protection over the last month of the year. So I think that we can see a heavy dose of punt rushes in this game and also they're very good on kick-off return.
They've gotten very good production on kick-off return. Their specialists are solid. Shadle is their field goal kicker. He's 21 of 21 on extra points and 12 of 14 on field goals.
Rechul is their kick-off guy. He has definitely above-average hangtime. You'll see the ball kicked off down by the goal line. Long is the punter, no pun intended. He also serves as the holder. He's punted the ball 54 times this year for 46 yards and 14 inside the 20.
Leo is their long snapper and Phillips is their short snapper. And on returns, kick return, they've done a really good job on kick-off returns. Holmes and Suter both have had fairly good production. Holmes took one to the house for 90-yard touchdown, and Ryan Howard will handle the punt returns.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Wondering what you were going to do at the inside linebacker positions. Toryan Smith obviously had a good game. And you talked about stopping the Syracuse running game. Do you want to get Quinn involved and maybe have Crum swing between the Mike and The Jack?
COACH WEIS: I think the three of those guys will play. I think it will be Toryan and Crum with Quinn being the swing guy. I think you can see Scott Smith some. If we need to get a fourth inside, I think you could see Scott Smith some in there as well.
Q. Brandon Walker obviously has done a good job of straightening things out. You've got to give the kid a lot of credit for handling a really tough --
COACH WEIS: I think he's a perfect example. We talked about three or four different kids Monday morning on the team and Brandon was one of them.
We talked about Ryan Burkhart, who had his best game kicking off since he's been here this past week. What we talked about, we talked about Brandon, how earlier in the year it would have been easy for the team to either throw the towel in on him or him to throw in the towel. Neither of those things happened.
When good things like that happen, whether it be Brandon Walker, whether it be Ryan Burkhart or whether it be Toryan Smith, a guy who hasn't played a whole bunch since he got here and all of a sudden he goes in there and has a good game, we're really happy with the way things have worked out with Brandon.
Q. You probably didn't have a bunch of -- you didn't have a bunch of alternatives at kicker with him. But is there something in Walker's makeup that led you to believe that he would overcome the struggle he was going through?
COACH WEIS: Yeah, because he was a great practice kicker. I think that he's transformed that practice kicking to game kicking. And I think that is never a question of whether or not he had the ability to do it. It was a question of whether or not you could transfer performing in practice to performing on a game field. And that's come around.
Q. You were asked some tough questions last week, and I'm sure last week was not the time to address that issue with the players, but if -- and maybe you did, I don't know. But if down the road you're in a situation where there is a lot of controversy swirling about the program, is that something that you will discuss openly with them?
COACH WEIS: I talk about everything openly. But, once again, because the media says it, doesn't mean there's any fact to it. That's not being disrespectful. I mean because a lot of times speculation is conjecture. Sometimes it's based on facts. Sometimes it isn't. But I'm big on always telling the truth. I try not to hide anything from the players.
Q. But they hear the media's speculation, so does that then in turn prompt you to address it with them?
COACH WEIS: No. No. The answer is no.
Q. Chop blocks, cut blocks, get a couple of players hurt in the process, it's got to be frustrating as a coach coaching against that style of play.
COACH WEIS: It is frustrating. I've been involved at different levels where that's the MO of the team you're going against. Teams hate going against the Denver Bronco's offensive line, always did, because they were a cut blocking team. Players hate going against them. Coaches hate going against them.
They try to take things to the letter of the law and do them as legally, do things legally. Unfortunately, you end up, if there's injuries that happen from things like that.
Q. Should they be disallowed?
COACH WEIS: I think that in football so many things have happened, they've taken so many precautions. They've taken so many precautions on so many other issues; is it something that they could address to make people do, I'm sure they could. I just don't know if they ever would.
Q. As far as Michael Floyd goes, I know I asked this question Saturday after the game. I want to reask it. How much do things change now that Michael's not out there? Because he seems to deflect a lot of attention from Golden as well, and the team seems to maybe have two guys they're really worried about.
COACH WEIS: One thing, we really didn't have a very healthy David Grimes around this year for a while, too. Remember when Michael really started playing was at the expense of David Grimes early in the year. So now that we have a healthy David Grimes back, David and Michael are not the same body type and not the same player but certainly lessens the loss.
Q. I'm guessing Duval will get a lot more playing time?
COACH WEIS: Absolutely.
Q. Is George West involved in this; is he hurt?
COACH WEIS: No, George had his knee scoped. No, he's not in that mix.
Q. I remember you saying mid-year season, it's later in the year, you said if injuries happened you might need to use Goodman or Walker; is that a possibility?
COACH WEIS: We would do everything we could to not have that happen at this time.
Q. With you calling plays, how did it feel last week now that you've had a chance to -- feel just right back at home?
COACH WEIS: I think that it felt very comfortable doing it. I think that probably the thing that was easiest thing for me to do is to come in at halftime and be able to whittle through the game plan and get back to what we needed to do to win the game. And I think when you're not involved in that whole process and all the play calling, that's a much more difficult test to do than when you're actually involved in the play calling.
Got a lot of help from the offensive staff. So let's not -- but I think that more than anything else the biggest comfort zone was being able to, because we were involved with the whole process, be able to tweak some things at halftime to kind of get it right.
Q. You said obviously the rest of the regular season. If this goes well over the next couple of weeks, is it just --
COACH WEIS: We're just trying to get through this week and then it's a short week to USC, with Thanksgiving and we're practicing 8:00 in the morning or whatever on Thursday.
I just want to get through these next two weeks, because then we have another game that we're anticipating and we can revisit it at that time. But right now we just want to get through Syracuse first, and we understand that right after Syracuse, you get followed up quickly with a short week.
Q. And just with Lambert, obviously you guys practiced yesterday. How did he look?
COACH WEIS: I'd say doubtful for this week; probable for next week. I think this week it would be a real stretch to put him out there. But, I mean, he actually was out there starting to jog some, if you were to have seen him Thursday night you would have said there's no chance that that was happening. I would say doubtful.
Q. I know you said there was a couple different issues, turnovers, but is there any way for you guys to continue addressing that, or is there anything extra you guys can do to try to prevent it?
COACH WEIS: On two of the three turnovers, it would have been nice if we would have blocked the guy that hit the quarterback. And on the other one, the quarterback it was covered two and he shouldn't have thrown the ball where he threw it.
Jonas, the one at the end of the game, even though he's getting hit inside the 5-yard line, that's just being careless with the football. But the first three earlier in the game, the quarterback gets hit twice and you have to take care of the ball. But I think he was surprised on both of those hits. The first interception, that's on him.
Q. And the second half of the game, was that kind of the way you envisioned this offense before the season with the three running back kind of style of play?
COACH WEIS: No, in this game -- it was this game. There's other games where you're going, Asaph Schwapp's out there and you're going to be going in that direction. But earlier in this year, I thought this would be -- the running game, the way we were going in the second half, I thought was something that we were at least capable of doing.
We haven't shown enough consistent evidence at this time. But we have at least shown capability of going ahead and doing that.
Q. How much more confidence does that give you for the next couple of games overall?
COACH WEIS: I think it helps them all be more confident. But still it's still one game. You have to keep it in its proper perspective. It comes down to can you consistently keep on getting that going.
Q. Charlie, is this the same personal issues Mike was dealing with last week, or is this something altogether new?
COACH WEIS: I support his personal issues. So this is not like there's any friction with anyone right there. He's got some things that he needs to deal with, and I'm supportive of that. And he asked me to relay that. And so I told him I would.
Q. It's been a while since Kyle Rudolph has really been involved in the offense. He had five catches for 70 yards early on in the game and since then a couple of catches a game. Is there a reason just not getting the tight end open? Is it what other teams are choosing to take that away from you?
COACH WEIS: He was involved last week because we were running right at him on about every play. But we weren't throwing the ball. It all comes down to whether you're throwing it or not throwing it. And last week was a game where he was very involved because most of the runs were run right at him.
So would I like to throw the ball to Kyle Rudolph more? You betcha. I think he's got a chance to be a dynamic tight end. But it's a week-by-week basis and last week his number one responsibility was to block at the point of attack and at the beginning of the year that would have been one of the biggest questions about him. So I think that he's made drastic improvement in that vein.
Q. He's becoming a good blocker; is he coming around?
COACH WEIS: He's become pretty good at the point of attack. No disrespect, in just saying it was just Navy. It's not just Navy. He's been a pretty productive blocker for us at the point of attack, which has given us a lot more versatility than we had earlier in the year when he was a little bit -- he was a bit more of a question mark.
Q. How much even before that, though, how much do teams try to take away your tight end because of how effectively you've used them in the passing game, going all the way back to Anthony?
COACH WEIS: I think tight ends should become more and more of a factor as we go forward because of the two guys lined up outside. I think that, for example, the last three or four weeks people have gone to a lot more cover two, which there's two things you do in cover two or any time you have split safeties. Any time you have split safeties, whether it's quarters or halves, the best two people to throw the ball to are the tight end and the backs. And run the ball. Whereas, when you have post safeties, the best thing to do is to try to isolate those people outside one-on-one.
So I think that the better that Golden plays, the better that Michael plays, the more that Armando and Kyle and those guys become involved in the passing game.
Q. This senior group is going to be playing their last home game this week. What do you remember about recruiting those guys, not a lot of four and five star guys in the bunch; just your experience in trying to pull that class together?
COACH WEIS: Let's take Mo and Justin and Terrell out of it, because they were already here. But what I really remember is the month of December where I was kind of like a one-man gang, and I'm calling these guys and I'm talking to these guys. For example, I can remember the conversation with Pat Kuntz. Pat Kuntz was already -- I think he was going to head to Purdue. I'm pretty sure that's where he was going to go.
He always wanted to go to Notre Dame but Notre Dame really wasn't on him at the time. And I went and I watched tape on him. I said, look, I don't care how big you are. I just like the way you play. And I want you to be here. And he quickly, in a matter of days, we got together and ended up jumping on board. And it's good to see a guy like that who was more of an unheralded type of player, Eric, that wasn't 18-star player. Go through his career and be a nice productive solid player who will probably have a chance to keep on playing after he leaves here.
Q. With that being said, and not having the 18 star players in that class, you knew, or you probably felt at some point you were going to be able to recruit that caliber of kid, you were going to be recruiting over some of these kids, yet you didn't really have much attrition in that class at all. What does that say about them? What does that say about the way you were able to handle that?
COACH WEIS: I think that together with my staff that ended up coming in here, you think about it, we brought in 15 kids that year. And two of them ended up -- one of them transferred and two of them ended up going on medical. I think something along those lines.
But look at who you ended up left with. You got David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy. And Ray Herring, all three of those guys, that have all been obviously significant players.
I think the only two defensive linemen were Kuntz and Durrell, who is on medical. But a guy like Scott Smith, who was in that class, Steve Quinn who was in that class.
There are guys, even though their roles may not be as full-time starters, they've become productive players for us, productive players for us. Mike Turkovich, an unknown, who has had a nice solid year for us. Paul Duncan. Paul Duncan, David Grimes. Asaph Schwapp. So you look at a bunch of these guys, and I didn't name everybody, but I'm just going through that list. There are a bunch of guys who have become nice productive players for us here even though it was a little bit of a scrambled year.
And you've got to give them -- I give the staff some credit, but I give those guys credit for coming on board when it was a very, I would say the situation was volatile and jumping on board and being part of the long-term solution here.
Q. Is there anybody in that class that really surprised you, where you said wow, that guy...
COACH WEIS: David Bruton. David Bruton was a skinny little track kid. He walked in here I thought when the wind blew he was going to fall over. Seriously. Maybe he was 180 pounds. Maybe. Soaking wet he might have been 180 pounds. Now he's 210. Runs like a deer. Doesn't run any slower than he did when he was 180.
He's jumping 41 inches vertical jump. Running under 4.5 in the 40. And having a nice long career on Sundays. If you would have told me that looking at him walking in the door, you could have won a lot of money off me on that one right there.
Q. Talking about guys playing on Sundays. Brady's had a couple of starts. Wonder how many of those you've seen, and if you've talked and what your impressions were?
COACH WEIS: We've talked. And unfortunately I watched every snap. That was painful. I don't know how many times he got hit last night, but it was a lot.
But I had to stay up and watch the end of the game because if he's going to get his first win and I didn't watch I thought that would have been the wrong thing to do. It was past my bedtime, I promise you, but I had to make sure I got out of bed to send him a text so he knew I was watching.
He got it and acknowledged. I noticed the response early this morning. So I think he was happy to know that his supporters here were happy that he could complete a couple of passes in that last drive to set up that chip shot field goal (chuckling).
Q. Charlie, a lot of coaches come into the program to evaluate the commitment on board. Sometimes they say you're welcome to come. Sometimes they say look elsewhere. What was your mentality with this senior class when you took over? Was your mentality sort of if they want to come to Notre Dame I'm happy to have them or how did you look at that?
COACH WEIS: I felt, first of all, the guys that had been offered scholarships at Notre Dame I felt it was an ethical responsibility to anyone who was committed to do due diligence and try to keep that as is. I felt that that was the right way of doing business.
And then after that there were a few guys that kind of fell in place. Steve Quinn, for example. That fell in place in about 15 minutes. I mean, they kind of just fell in place. There was a phone call from somebody. A phone call from somebody.
Next thing you know I'm talking to somebody on the telephone somewhere in some hangar somewhere, and during times when you could go ahead and call. And the next thing you know he's coming on a visit and he's committing.
Now, he might not be the most front line player in the whole world but he's been a productive special teams player, and this year he's helped us on defense as well.
Q. Aside from Kuntz and Quinn, McCarthy was the third guy you guys made a move on after you started. Knock on wood this won't be his last home game, but can you talk about your recollection about that improvement?
COACH WEIS: Here's a guy that, probably coming in with Cibby leaving, that was probably one of the biggest questions, what are we going to do with strong safety. I think there's not too many people asking that question at this time.
Q. This is kind of a follow-up to Jeff's question about coverages. I know North Carolina dropped a lot of coverage. BC plays that way. And you talk about the coverages you're seeing more. Those changes in coverage, does that kind of explain Jimmy relearning some things now where he's seeing some different looks that maybe he wasn't getting earlier in the season?
A. Even North Carolina, they were drawing some things up in the dirt during that game to adjust to some of the things we were doing because they had never played a dime defense. They had never played more than nickel the entire year, not once. Not one snap of it.
So I think that there's a learning process. But with any quarterback, what happens, as you see things, the more you see them, the less it confuses you when you do see them.
Q. As far as you had some older guys beaten out by younger guys. For an older guy, what do you say to him in that situation and I guess how do you try to keep them with it? Because I would think that it would be difficult sometimes in that situation?
COACH WEIS: I'm going to give you a perfect example of that, too. Obviously as a coaching staff we always talk about the value of a Notre Dame education. So when somebody does leave to -- there's been a handful of guys that leave to go to another school. It's always because of the depth chart. We can say whatever we want. But it's always because of the depth chart because, trust me, if they're starting they're not going anywhere.
So end of the day, you have a guy like Kevin Washington, Kevin Washington has been here for four years. Hardly has played at all. A little bit on special teams. I can tell you this year if we wanted to, we could make him the defensive show team player of the week every single week. And what we do is we use guys like him as examples with our young linebackers and the other guys on defense. Fellows, this is the way it's supposed to be done. This is the way you practice.
This is the tempo you practice at. This is how it's supposed to be important. And when a guy realizes that, hey, his time has come and gone as far as productive playing time. But rather than complain about their role, accept their role and do what they can do to help the team win, why of a lot of respect for players like that.
Q. Is it important, the receivers as well, with Floyd and Tate coming in, they flew by a lot of older players?
COACH WEIS: But some of that was timing of injuries as well. Because Robbie was banged up and George was banged up and then Grimes got banged up and these guys started playing more. Then they were playing too good to take them out.
So sometimes a younger guy just comes out right ahead of people. Others, they get an opportunity to go by a guy and then it's tough to take him out when the time comes.
Q. Do you worry at all, last time your team was heavily favored at home, San Diego State. They got off to a slow start. USC, do you have any different mentality going into this game at all?
COACH WEIS: The last time we played Syracuse, we played solid on defense and we were kind of flat on offense, if we go back to that game. I remember if it wasn't for an interception early to start off the second half, I remember Leo got a tipped ball and ran it in for a touchdown to kind of give us a little separation.
One factor that people don't see, media or fans don't see, are the emotions that are involved in this game. That's the one underlying thing that you can't explain to people.
This is a tough game for a lot of players, personally, because you see them in the locker room before and after the game, you'll see kids after the game that you didn't even know how much they cared just sit there bawling, just crying, because how emotional it is.
I think some of the psyche that is involved in the game, besides the Xs and Os, is the anxiety about going through the tunnel for the last time. I think that's one of the things you have to factor in in this game besides whomever you're playing against, in this case, Syracuse.
Q. How do you try to manage that?
COACH WEIS: I think the first thing you try to do you try to make the freshmen, sophomores and juniors play the game for the seniors instead of playing the game for themselves.
Because the last thing you want to do is have their last game at home in their career be a loss. I think a few years ago, and I don't know who started it, I don't know which player started it when they kind of took a lap around the field and were high fiving fans, it's probably an alumnus of the school and the head football coach, one of the most touching things you could watch when they're sitting there doing that and just standing back, it's almost surreal when you know it's the last time they're going to get to do it. And a guy like John Carlson jumping into the stands like he's in Green Bay. When would you ever see John Carlson doing something like that?
It's a really unique experience. And I think that one of the things you do is you put it on the younger guys that this game is not for you; this game is for them.
Q. Is this a bit of a trapped game because relief of beating Navy and USC -- is it a little bit of a trap game?
COACH WEIS: I think the last home game could hardly ever be put in that category. It wouldn't make a difference who you were playing. I think there's still going to be a ton of reason to play well, a ton of reasons. But most importantly because it's the last one for those seniors.
Q. Can you talk about on Sunday about Syracuse, the coaches are loose and all that, don't know how the players will react, are you worried at all that they might come in on the first play with an onside kick or something --
COACH WEIS: I promise you on my top 10 it's on there. It's one of those things -- and we're going to have a period tomorrow, okay, on Wednesday, we're eliminating one period in practice and we are going to go nothing but full speed onside kick for an entire period. So I can promise you one thing, if there's one thing that will be practiced, full speed this week, multiple times, that will be it.
Q. Now that you're bowl eligible, do you talk to the team about that?
COACH WEIS: We haven't addressed that yet. I know that they know. They were talking about it before I got in there. I got in there kind of late because of the way the production crew handles, different networks handle the production a little bit different on the games. So I got in there a little bit late after the game.
I know a bunch of them were talking about it. But when the time comes where we know that we're going and where we're going and I think that that's the more apropos time. I have to make plans accordingly. It's not like I can't make plans, but at the same time we've got to worry about Syracuse and I think that's where all our energies are going.
Q. Mentioned earlier about what you see with media reports, but one of the names that popped up as possible replacement at Syracuse is Rob Ianello, could you comment on --
COACH WEIS: I hate to lose any of my coaches, and ever talk about losing a guy. But I think there's several guys on my staff that I think would end up being good head football coaches. But Rob has a unique niche in the fact that he's got a reputation of being one of the best recruiters in college football. I think any time you're building a program, one of the things you'll have to be able to do is recruit.
I'm not in the market of trying to push people out the door, because I need Rob. But if they were to come calling, I would give him my blessing.
Q. What do you credit with the change in your offensive line this year?
COACH WEIS: They're a year older and a year more experienced. I think last year we were playing -- a lot of the guys were playing for the first time and it wasn't very pretty. And I'm not saying that this is actually been a bouquet, either. But it's much improved from where it was, and fortunately with the exception of one player, you know, I'm going to have them all back next year, which bodes well for continuity.
I think in the offensive line position, I think that continuity is one of the biggest -- continuity and experience are probably the two biggest keys to success and hopefully that bodes well as we finish out this year.
Q. What did you work on, was there anything specific that you worked on with them to get them to where they are now?
COACH WEIS: I think that playing the same guys together all the time, I think, was one of the things. Last year, we were shuttling people from the right side to the left side and getting people in and out. This year we kind of settled in on the one group of guys with maybe one or two guys getting some time in there as a starter.
And I think that it's really helped with the cohesiveness and continuity of the group.
Q. At what point this year did you recognize that this was going to be a stronger offensive line and it was going to be a different year than last year?
COACH WEIS: Right off the bat we could tell we were going to be much improved in pass protection, because last year probably as bad as we were in many facets, probably the biggest area was in pass protection.
And we could see early in the year that that problem looked like -- I wouldn't say it's been resolved but it's been minimized. I think we're still a work in progress as far as the running game goes.
Q. I wanted to ask you about that, why is it that the running game seems to take longer to catch up than the passing game seems to be impacted immediately?
COACH WEIS: Because it all depends on the style of the players you're playing against. I think when you're playing against a bunch of -- like road grader type of defensive linemen. For example, let's talk about Michigan and Michigan State early in the year for us. Both big, physical, defensive line.
I think that it's a little bit easier with big physical defensive linemen to pass block them than it is to run block them. But I think at the end of the day you have to be able to -- if you ever want to be any good, you have to be able to do both.
Q. So how are you planning on building on from this weekend with Navy? Are you going to try to run the ball as much against Syracuse?
COACH WEIS: We're going to have to wait and see what they do. We intend to do both. And going into this game we're just going to have to see how it goes.
Q. And, lastly, what role has Eric Olsen played on your offensive line this year?
COACH WEIS: Eric Olsen has been a very good player for us. He started at left guard for us, the entire year. He's very athletic and plays with a lot of passion.
Q. Golden has zero catches. Last week you mentioned the soft coverages. Jimmy's talked about them doubling the outside guys when Michael was in there. Specifically in the passing game, how do you get Golden more involved if they're basically rolling everything to him?
COACH WEIS: We're going to formation a few things this week that, formation a few things this week that put him in a couple of different positions.
Q. He's gotten to the point where he can pick that stuff up? We've talked a lot about his development.
COACH WEIS: Mentally he can handle that. That's a good question, because they're the type of things that earlier in the year you slapped him at one position, just put him out there and said let's see if we can get this right. But I think that he's progressed nicely as far as the mental aspect of the game goes.
Q. Losing Michael, I know this has been asked multiple times now, and you've mentioned you've got guys that can step in. But obviously that's a big loss. I mean this is a guy who can stretch the field and your leader in catches, right?
COACH WEIS: Definitely, because of his size. But now Robbie is playing more and Duval is playing more and David is healthy.
So if you look at that combination of guys, I think that with those four front line guys playing, I think that, hey, we'll miss Michael. Just like we'll miss Brian. We'll miss those guys, but I think I feel pretty confident that the players we're putting in there will play well.
Q. Just some housekeeping stuff, I guess. You mentioned there were knee strains, which not being a trainer, kind of surprises me they would be out for a month. Is there anything structurally wrong with the knees? Are they undergoing any kind of procedures?
COACH WEIS: As a matter of fact, they're both getting MRIs this week. But what's happened with both of them is the knee is a little too loose for them to practice. Like Smith was already politicking yesterday to play next week.
So if this were to the last game of his career, could you tape him up and tape him up and play, probably; but then you'd have a negative residual effect down the road. So I think the one thing we don't want is both of their knees are a little loose and you want them to go ahead and tighten up.
Q. How much will Mike Haywood not be in South Bend this week, how many practices is he missing?
COACH WEIS: It's either going to be one or two. I'm not really sure. He'll obviously be here today. But it will either be one or two.
Q. After the Navy game several players said a win is a win, just glad to get the win. They said the same thing after San Diego State. While I can understand that testament, especially after the Navy game ended, I'm just wondering has this team continues to mature and develop is there going to come a point where they're going to need to expect more out of themselves against the quote, unquote lesser teams to put themselves maybe more in the position to beat the better teams down the road, does that make sense?
COACH WEIS: I think it's a fair statement. I think I'm going to spin off on that a little bit and tell you not from the player's standpoint but from my standpoint. I realized that this year we're not in a position to go play for a national championship. I got that. I got that figured out.
But just like as our team is developing a different mentality, I also understand that as we move forward and continue to get bigger and better and try to get into that position, the game has to -- you're going to have to play the game differently.
And I think that that's important for me to understand just like for them to understand that going for the jugular is part of this game.
Development is all great and everything like that. That's part of the game, too. But like what you're talking about is really just going for the jugular, and I think that that's something that they're going to have to get sooner rather than later.
Q. There were also people congratulating themselves after a playing good third quarter, I'm thinking against a team you've beaten 43 times in a row, going out playing a good quarter, complete quarter, is that a high enough bar?
COACH WEIS: Time out. Really good quarter. It was two minutes and 30 seconds left to go in the game with 27-7. It wasn't a really good quarter. Let's cut it down to really where it was. They get the ball back on the 40-yard line with 2:30 to go in the game. It's 57 and a half minutes. It's not a really good quarter that we're talking about.
Q. Good quarter. Extends almost two quarters. Good half. My point, the same way.
COACH WEIS: I'm not going to argue semantics with you, Neal. You have the pen.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
End of FastScripts