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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 30, 2009
Q. Regarding Washington and Locker, if you could comment on, first of all, how you've seen their offense change from last year.
KYLE McCARTHY: Their offense is much different than last year. I think their head coach and their offensive coordinator have done a real good job. It's a little bit complicated on film. They do a lot of different things, and I think they use their personnel very well.
Obviously everything starts with their quarterback. Their quarterback is a tremendous player and great athlete. Biggest thing about him, I think, is he's just a playmaker. He's one of those guys that knows how to make plays and play football.
We have a lot of work on this week, and it's going to be a big test for us. We're excited.
SCOTT SMITH: Just echoing what Kyle said, with Locker the type of player that he is and the type of athlete that he is kind of gives them a different dimension than when we played them last year when he was out, just what he brings to their offense and the kind of plays he's capable of making brings something different.
Q. Not to disparage the guy that played in his place last year, but with a guy like that, when you find out he's out, it doesn't break your heart, does it?
SCOTT SMITH: I mean, we weren't too upset about that. I mean, obviously that helped our team out. But this year he's there and he's the leader of their offense. You know, hats off to him for coming back from injury and being able to step in there and really like he never left. He's a great player. We're going to have to try to contain him.
Q. Is there less to contend with, not saying that the offense now isn't formidable, which of course it is, but because of the style of offense is there less to deal with this year as opposed to last year, less on your plate in terms of preparation?
KYLE McCARTHY: No, I think there's more to do this year. He's a great player, but he has some very good players around him. Their running back who was injured last year, he's back, and he's a very hard runner. He can take it to the house at any play.
Those are the two guys that I've been most impressed well as well as some of the receivers. They catch the ball well with their hands and run good routes. You know, obviously it's a tribute to their coaching staff. They've done a great job this off-season, and I think their guys are really buying into the coaching staff and they're playing well right now.
Q. How did they beat USC? What did they do?
KYLE McCARTHY: They didn't do a whole lot of trickery. They just kind of lined up and played football. Both sides played their butts off, and you know, Washington made one extra play than USC did.
Q. In practice yesterday it seemed like you guys were working on tackling maybe in a different way in the early portion. Can you just talk about the emphasis on that last week and then maybe where tackling last week wasn't up to the standards you wanted it to be?
KYLE McCARTHY: I don't think it's any secret that our defense feels like we should tackle better than we did. That's an area that we can improve and that's what practice is for. So we had a much more physical practice, at least in individuals, than usual. We were working on our tackling, and hopefully that translates to better tackling on Saturday.
Q. Is there anything you can point to why it didn't get to the level you wanted?
KYLE McCARTHY: You know, not really. Obviously game speed is a little different than practice speed. Yesterday we were just trying to replay game speed as best we can with going full speed, tackling drills and individuals. I think it helped out a little bit. It was nice to see up-tempo drill. I think it'll help us on Saturday.
Q. In a standard week of practice, how often do you go full speed like that?
KYLE McCARTHY: We do it in team period, you know, every week. But as far as individuals, it's usually just kind of a fill it up period and try to get technique down. But I think Coach Brown has seen enough of missed tackles, so he was trying to emphasize to us how important tackling is, and I think we got the message.
Q. For both of you guys, Purdue calls it a jailbreak screen or bubble screen or split screen, but what is hard to defend about that play and what do you guys need to do to beat them?
SCOTT SMITH: Well, I think the first thing is there's a lot of moving parts, just based on -- especially you can run a screen in both directions. You've got a lot of guys going a bunch of different ways. So I think the biggest thing is just trying to attack the line of scrimmage the best you can and try and keep forcing the ball to go east and west because on screens like that, kind of the main goal is to get the ball -- once he gets the ball, get north and south as quickly as possible. That goes with any defensive play; the more you can make the offensive go east and west, the better chance you have of bringing them down.
Q. For a safety how difficult is that because you essentially have an uncovered offensive lineman running right at you.
KYLE McCARTHY: Yeah, I think one of the biggest things is it gives the receiver room to work in space and make plays. The jailbreak screen spreads the defense out really well. Obviously there's linemen down the field trying to cut block you and block you. The biggest challenge as a defensive player is making a play in space when that happens, and that just comes out of tackling like we talked about earlier, and hopefully we're going to do a better job of that this week.
Q. Scott, I want to ask you about Darius because you guys at the same spot. How have you seen him come on? It seems he's taking more of an active role in the past couple weeks? He had a bunch of tackles behind the line last week.
KYLE McCARTHY: I think the biggest thing with Darius is he's extremely disruptive, just whether he's in a three-point stance playing or whether he's standing up playing Sam linebacker, he always seems to be somewhere on the opposite line of scrimmage. You saw him in the Michigan State game getting the pressure, and then against Purdue in the backfield a whole bunch with a lot of tackles for loss. I think he's definitely more comfortable playing Sam.
But I think just having that versatility and understanding of the schemes just is kind of a real testament to him on how much he's worked and gotten himself in position to contribute with the multiple packages.
Q. For either one of you guys, obviously last year Washington had a tough year. Is there anything you can say to younger players to make sure you don't overlook them at all?
SCOTT SMITH: I don't think there's any concern we're going to overlook them. They beat USC this year. USC is a pretty darn good team. They're more than capable of coming in here and leaving with a victory, and we're well aware of that. That's why we're working to try to stop that and try and get the W.
Q. Does that actually help a little bit, just the fact that everyone knows this isn't the same team that you played last year?
KYLE McCARTHY: A little bit, but also every guy on the defense I know for a fact has seen their tape from this year, and they're a completely different team than they were last year. You can just tell from watching the tape they're much more explosive, they have much more big plays, and they're a whole different ball team.
Q. I know he's not your coach, your position coach, but Randy Hart was there for a long time. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what he brings to Notre Dame.
KYLE McCARTHY: I mean, it's a pleasure to play under Coach Hart. His enthusiasm and his excitement is contagious. He obviously loves the game, loves to coach, and you know, his tempo is contagious. He always -- he's always upbeat and getting us going. He obviously has a long history at Washington, and they love him there at Washington. So we hope to play well for him this week.
Q. Scott, your run defense has gotten stronger over the last couple weeks. What are you guys doing better against the run than say the earlier part of the season?
SCOTT SMITH: I think just being able to stop the run has a lot to do with just attacking the line of scrimmage and kind of moving the offensive line back so we're trying to get to the heels of the offensive linemen as quickly as possible. So I think just kind of what's different than we did in a couple weeks, just staying in gaps, playing better technique, better fundamentals, but one thing, when you start playing on the opposite line of scrimmage it kind of cuts down the running backs' angles and the lanes that they might see. Just like I talked about earlier, kind of trying to force the ball east and west and not let them run straight down the line because that's the easiest way to score, just run straight down your throat.
Q. And Kyle, you were called out by the ESPN analyst as making a mistake on the big Purdue score at the end of the game. How frustrating is that? Coach Weis clarified that it really wasn't your responsibility. But how frustrating is that for the entire nation to hear that you screwed up when, in fact, you really didn't?
KYLE McCARTHY: It's not too bad. I mean, I don't know. I know that I didn't get any phone calls saying, "Good game." They were all just like, "Man, what happened on that play?"
But we're a team, and I'm the leader of the defense, so obviously I take full responsibility for that play. You know, it's just football. Guys make mistakes, and you know, that's what we're in the film room trying to correct. Getting called out on national TV, it's not really cool, but I guess it comes with playing football at Notre Dame.
Q. Was that a situation, were you in any way like a safety on that coverage, or did you just happen to see the ball going forward, because you were one of the few guys to react to it?
KYLE McCARTHY: Being one of the guys that's kind of back on that shield, I kind of have an opportunity to see things a little better than guys who are just kind of sprinting down the field. So I was kind of getting out in my lane and all of a sudden I see the returner just seemed like he was at full speed just sprinting up toward this punt. So just kind of changed direction, just try to get in his way and hopefully not let him get too many yards.
Q. Would you have had him if he had two more yards on you? I saw the speed from behind so I was wondering if --
KYLE McCARTHY: I'm pretty sure I would have.
Q. Scott, the last two weeks you've kind of come to the game, I think the first time in the fourth quarter from the scrimmage. How do you kind of stay prepared and into it? You're obviously loose from playing in special teams but you're kind of inserted into the game in crucial times both times.
SCOTT SMITH: I think everybody who's not necessarily a starter has to keep themselves in the game, be aware of the adjustments that are being made and understand that whatever the situation is, your number can be called at any time. That's one of the things like I to try and get in guys' heads during practices. Even if you're not on the field taking those physical reps, you need to be taking those mental reps on the side so if a situation in practice happens in the game and you weren't necessarily in there, you have the ability to react to it just like you have seen that play in practice or something along those lines.
So just staying focused on the game and just being able to -- like when your teammates make a great play, be able to recognize that, and if there's something you see on the sideline, I can go tell one of them this may be coming later or something like that.
Q. Kind of following up on that, Kyle, how much is it on you and both Herring when you're bringing in new corners, I know Derrick gray played a little bit, in a couple of the home games rotated you five corners in. How much communication falls on you two safeties?
KYLE McCARTHY: I mean, every play. We're always communicating and taught to communicate. If there's a breakdown in coverage or whatnot, in the end you have to point to the safety. It's our responsibility to get everyone as well as the linebackers, kind of get everyone lined up and kind of let everyone know the play call. It's just part of being a safety.
Q. Can you guys each just talk about the wackiness of the last three weeks to have every game go down to the wire and just how unusual and crazy that kind of is?
KYLE McCARTHY: Yeah, it's been a crazy three weeks. Each game kind of came down to the wire, and I think it shows the character of our team to be able to fight through some adversity, especially the last two weeks come out on top in the end.
SCOTT SMITH: I think, too, you saw the defense make a play with Kyle's interception, and then last week you saw Jimmy and Kyle make that big 4th down touchdown. I guess I'm just wondering if it's the special teams' turn now because we haven't really gotten a chance. I'd rather not wait until the last minute of the game, I'd just as soon do something the second or third quarter.
But it's definitely a good feeling, especially with guys in the locker room, to just have that confidence that if we get into the situation we have a bunch of guys that can deliver when it counts.
Q. Do you guys joke around about that a little bit, about the special teams within your unit of, hey, is it our week?
KYLE McCARTHY: That's something I might say kind of going into the game. But you never know which player, which phase of the team can really take the difference between winning and losing, especially with special teams when you really don't get a 2nd down in terms of punt or kickoff if you let up a big return. It's one of those things if you can make a play it's just kind of an added bonus.
Q. How much does that help having these games in the long run coming down to the wire that you can emphasize in your mind that hey every play does count when these games that go down to the wire because you guys are a heartbeat away from 4 and 0 and also a couple from being 1 and 3.
KYLE McCARTHY: Just to echo what Scott said, I think it gives our team confidence to know if another game were to come down to the wire, which I'm sure one will, that we have the confidence that we as the guys in the locker room to be able to pull it out and make the play at the end of the game to win.
Q. I'm wondering if it seems worth it or how much time you're spending watching Washington film from last season, and also, is there a quarterback that you guys have played who reminds you at all of Locker?
KYLE McCARTHY: I haven't watched too much film of Washington last season, just our game obviously. And they have a new coach, a new offensive coordinator, so obviously have different schemes. So we're busy with focusing on their games from this season and USC from last season. That's what we're kind of zeroing in on film-wise.
And as far as the quarterback like Locker, I can't really think of one off the top of my head. Nevada's quarterback poses a threat, to be able to be athletic and run around in the pocket as well as throw, but Locker is kind of I feel like in a different class. He's got the arm to be able to -- an NFL-type arm to be able to stand in the pocket and make any throw, but as well as a big guy who's athletic and can run the ball.
As far as this season, we haven't seen anyone like Locker yet.
SCOTT SMITH: I just agree with Kyle, just the physical tools he has and obviously the ability to make plays, especially at the end of that USC game, making some big throws. Just his overall athleticism, ability to throw the ball and play make ability kind of separates him from other guys we've seen.
Q. And the second question, you guys have had some long, quiet bus rides home the past couple years but I imagine Saturday night was a lot different. When you got back to campus was everyone asleep or were people ready to say hi to you when you got home?
KYLE McCARTHY: There's always a few fans when we get home from the bus ride. But last week's bus ride was much better than Michigan's, much better than in years past. We've had some rough bus rides home. So it was nice to be able to come out of a close game on the road with a win, and I'm happy for our team. I believe we deserved that win.
Q. Just to follow up on Darius Fleming, can you comment on what it means for a young guy, a sophomore like he, to just take on such a big role on your defense?
SCOTT SMITH: I think Darius is ready for everything that he has to do. I'd say he's one of the most athletic guys that we have on defense and probably has one of the best understandings of the playbook just based on all the things that he's asked to do. Obviously I've gotten to spend a lot of time with Darius. We work out together back home during our summer break, and just kind of being around him, just kind of being able to see day-to-day how he works and how he approaches football and trying to get himself better, it's just been fun for me to see him develop in that way and then try and help him in any way that I can.
Q. And also from the defensive perspective, when you look at a guy like Dayne Crist walk into that situation, and Coach Weis said he managed the offense well, but from a defensive perspective, how does he differ from Jimmy?
KYLE McCARTHY: I'd say the biggest difference between Dayne and Jimmy is Dayne's physical makeup. He's a pretty big kid, very strong kid, and you know, he can run a little bit. I don't know, he's harder to tackle than Jimmy.
Q. It must give the team a lot of confidence to know you have a guy that can step in and do what he did on Saturday.
KYLE McCARTHY: I think with any guy who steps in any position, just to watch them play and especially watch them play well just kind of sets the tone throughout the team that if other guys need to step up, too, we'd hope to have the same confidence in other guys that obviously we had in Dayne on Saturday with his performance.
KYLE McCARTHY: Yes, Manti is a tremendous athlete, football player. He's got all the tools to be a great player. He's got great football instinct. So he's doing very well for us this year. Obviously it's tough for a freshman, any freshman, to come in and play, but I think Manti, when the coaches have called on him to get on the field has done a nice job for us.
Q. How does he handle the adjustment being that far away from home and to college and everything?
KYLE McCARTHY: As far as I know he's handled it very well. He's one of the -- he's a great kid to be around. He's always upbeat. He's always got a smile on his face and someone that you like to associated yourself with. I'm very happy he's part of our team, and I hope he feels the same way.
Q. Do you have a favorite Manti story, or is there something about his personality or just something that jumps out at you?
KYLE McCARTHY: Well, I got a chance to hang out a lot with Manti and kind of room with him in different situations, and if there's anything that you don't want to have happen, you don't want to have him start telling you a story. We've just been sitting around talking, and all of a sudden he'll get into one of his Hawai'i, football or Samoan stories, and next thing you know it's about 20 minutes later and he's still going. When he gets on a roll, he definitely gets on a roll. That just kind of shows him just wanting to be able to share his experiences and just real excited and proud about being from Hawai'i and things like that.
Just one of those things you just kind of have to sit down, and if he ends up going for too long, I've had to kind of cut it short or tell him to wrap it up. But there was always a continuation either the next day or the next night so I was sure to get the full story.
Q. Have you consciously taken him under your wing like a little brother?
SCOTT SMITH: Well, when I was a freshman I had -- I was fortunate enough to have two fifth-year senior linebackers from Corey Mays and Brandon Hoyte who really kind of took me under their wing and kind of taught me what it was to be a college football player and to be a student-athlete here at Notre Dame. Definitely some of the things I learned from them I've tried to pass along to Manti.
But the first thing that kind of strikes me about him is when he walked in the door, he obviously had all the physical tools to be ready to play just based on his size, speed, athleticism. But just the type of person that he is, he generally cares about his teammates and has really put the work in studying film and trying to learn the play book to put himself in a position to play.
So whatever he's done here and will do here, whether people like myself have tried to help him along the way, he really deserves all the credit for everything that he's accomplished.
Q. Have you tried to sort of initiate him or razz him a little bit just to let him know he's a freshman?
SCOTT SMITH: I can't really think of anything to date that I've done, but I think I might have to think of something now that you brought that up.
Q. Any pranks or just anything just to let him know that he's a freshman even though he has the big rep?
SCOTT SMITH: Not really. I like to give him a hard time sometimes, especially with the whole thing about the stories and things like that. But he's definitely a part of the team and definitely starting to earn his stripes by -- he has no problem messing with other guys, and other guys don't have any problem messing with him. Just like everybody else on our team, we're pretty close and just kind of enjoy being around one another.
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