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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 14, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. What do you remember about the '05 game, that experience, the atmosphere around that game?
SCOTT SMITH: Probably the most hyped-up game since I've been here. I forget what we were ranked, what they were ranked. Just coming in, a buzz around campus something special was about to happen.
I think throughout the game, our team just kept believing and believing that we had a chance to win. Unfortunately, things didn't go our way at the end. Obviously, to do with the whole Bush Push, whatever you want to call it, just the atmosphere surrounding that game.
Being a freshman, being my fifth or sixth career game, just really showed me what this place is really all about.
Q. Kyle, what do you remember about that?
KYLE McCARTHY: My first memory of that game is sprinting onto the field afterwards when we thought we had won and jumping up and down, and then being told to get off the field immediately.
So, you know, obviously that game was a tough loss. But, you know, there's some similarities between that game and this game going into it. Obviously USC is one of the top teams in the country, we're a big underdog, we know we have to play pretty close to perfect if we have a chance to win. There's definitely similarities, but hopefully there's a different outcome this time.
Q. Even though you lost that game, is there a source of confidence that despite the fact you are big underdogs, it can be done?
KYLE McCARTHY: Well, you know, we know we're big underdogs, but our team, we believe in ourselves and we go out there and work hard every day and we see the progress that we're making. I think that's where we get our confidence from.
Q. On the point of confidence, if I asked you going into the USC game last year, Do you believe you could win, everyone would say yes. Why is it different? Why is that yes maybe a little bit more genuine now?
KYLE McCARTHY: Well, you know, we're a different team this year, just as USC is a different team this year than they were last year. We have different guys. We have new leaders on this team. We have younger guys that have stepped up into a leadership role and worked hard in the off-season. I think that's shown on the field this year.
Just this team has become real close over the last couple years. We've had our bumps in the road, we've learned from it, we've all grown and matured. We feel confident going out every day and going out every week and we think that we can improve every week. Hopefully it shows Saturday.
Q. Scott, are there things you'd point to about why the confidence is more substantial now than it was maybe going into the USC game last year or two years ago?
SCOTT SMITH: I think this year we have a lot more mature guys, guys that have kind of been around the block, it's not necessarily their first time playing in big games like this. Just that maturity factor. Like Kyle said, how close we are as a team. When you have that close-knit group, it's a lot easier for you to believe in one another and believe in yourself. We have a ton of guys who believe in each other and believe in what other guys can do. That's what's really going to carry us through this week.
Q. Kyle, you said it's a different year. It is. Clearly teams are different. College is different than the pros. You lost by 35 last year. Specifically where do you guys think you've narrowed the gap the most?
KYLE McCARTHY: You know, I'd probably have to say in the trenches. You know, being on the defensive side of the ball, I don't really work with the offense too much, but I see how they work every day. I think our offensive line has improved greatly. Obviously our offense is playing great this year. Last year I don't think they were ranked in the top 10 in the country, but I think they are this year.
Obviously there's different stuff going on. Guys are making plays this year that they weren't making last year. Got to tip or hats to those guys. I've seen how hard they work each and every day. I think it's shown on the field.
SCOTT SMITH: I think one of the biggest things we have going for us is the way Jimmy has been playing. He put us in a position the way he's played since the start of the season to win every single game. Just looking how far he's come as a leader from our perspective, being able to take this team and put it on his shoulders, you know, he's a big reason why we're in the position we're in.
Q. The two defensive guys mention the offense. Anything you can point to on your side of the ball that gives you some confidence going into this situation?
KYLE McCARTHY: I think we have a lot of the same guys we had last year. The new guys stepping in have also brought a new confidence into our defense and a little bit more athleticism. So, you know, we're a relatively young group, but those guys have the confidence. Younger guy has a shorter memory than an older guy. They'll get out there, last year is not going to be a factor when we're out there playing, I can tell you that. We're just worried about this Saturday, this USC team, doing what we can do to help this team win.
Q. Nobody wants to say it's great playing against a freshman quarterback. Considering the alternative, I'm sure it's better to do that. What will you do to try to throw him off his game?
KYLE McCARTHY: Well, we can't tell you. Barkley, obviously, he has all the tools to be a great quarterback. He is young. He is a true freshman. You know, I think we're just going to really prepare like we normally do. We have a pretty complicated defense. We're blitzing from all angles. We're not going to change our game plan just because he's a freshman quarterback.
If the time comes, he makes a mistake, we just have to take advantage of it. I don't think he's going to make too many of them. When he does make one, we need to take advantage of it.
Q. I'm sure it's a technique issue, but can you pinpoint the issues you have had tackling, does it come down to technique? At the end of the day when you're not tackling well, does it come down to technique?
KYLE McCARTHY: Yes and no. Obviously there's technique in tackling. When you miss a tackle, it all comes down to technique. But then again, I think guys also are just excited to try to make a play and they need to calm down and regroup and get their feet under them and just explode and make a tackle. We've been working on that. I think we've been improving slowly every week and hopefully that continues.
Q. Scott, what is your perspective?
SCOTT SMITH: I think, just like Kyle said, it comes down to fundamentals, bringing your feet. Something we work as linebackers every day, tackling a lot, bringing your feet, wrapping up, grabbing cloth, not letting go. Not every tackle has to be the knock-out shot like they say on special teams. Any tackle is a great tackle. So as long as you get 'em down, you live to play another down, that's the biggest thing. Just keep focusing on those fundamentals to get better.
Q. Scott, your evaluation of McKnight, what kind of back do you see there?
SCOTT SMITH: First thing, he's extremely fast. Just that speed factor alone really makes him special. You know, he has the ability to make you miss in the open field, which is something tackling-wise you're going to have to make sure to bring your feet, come to balance. He's one of the better runningbacks we're going to have to face.
Q. I know you're faster than him, but...
KYLE McCARTHY: You know, McKnight is obviously extremely talented. You can draw comparisons to Reggie Bush or whatever. But at the end of the day, we just need to as a defense get in position and you can't really worry -- can't really game plan around one guy because they have so many weapons. It's just going to be up to our defense. When it comes to one-on-one opportunities, who is going to make the play. Is he going to make the play or is the defensive guy going to make the play? At the end of the day, that's all it comes down to.
Q. Kyle, when you're in a game of this magnitude, the media attention, I'm sure you're seeing it from the student body, do you want to cut to the chase and get to Saturday, or can you enjoy the process of getting to Saturday?
KYLE McCARTHY: In all honesty, I'm pretty anxious just to get to Saturday. I actually thought today was Thursday all day until about an hour ago. But, you know, the atmosphere on our campus is great. Practice, we've had a good week of practice. But as the competitor and the football player, you just want to get to the game. Hopefully we can enjoy the game and enjoy it afterwards.
Q. As far as the atmosphere on campus, students, anything out of the ordinary or unique that you've seen this week?
SCOTT SMITH: I can't say that I have. There's some chalk. Students chalked up the sidewalks. You can just tell. There's a feeling around campus, everyone is real excited. They have high expectations for us. Hopefully we can live up to them.
Q. I know neither of your units' primary objective is to score, but in a big game, especially involving Notre Dame, defensive teams, touchdown, turning the momentum, how much of a momentum has that been for you guys this week?
KYLE McCARTHY: It's always an emphasis for our defense to score. I know we haven't lived up to that yet this year. You know, our guys are playing hard. I think that either comes sooner or later, hopefully sooner. Our guys are working hard. We work on that every day. Hopefully the big play comes this week.
SCOTT SMITH: Special teams-wise, not necessarily scoring, there's a lot of things you can do to help change field position. There's a big difference if you have a talented offense like USC having to go 85 yards to get in the end zone versus going 60 or 65 yards. Same thing on the return units. We can pick up a couple first downs for our offense, that's less plays they have to be on the field, less they have to move the ball to get in scoring position. Anything we can do to put special teams put the offense or defense is really going to be a big win for us.
Q. I guess both you can answer this. Stanley Havili, we've seen this guy getting so many touchdown passes which is odd for a fullback. I'm sure the coaches have mentioned it to you. How do you prepare for this?
SCOTT SMITH: First thing, he's probably one of the better fullbacks in the country just with what he's able to do and the versatility that he shows. Not only as a lead blocker, being able to carry the ball, but also as a receiver out of the backfield. It's definitely something you have to be aware of, just the fact he's an option that they're very willing to use and have had a lot of success with. He's just another one of their talented guys on offense that's going to be difficult to stop.
KYLE McCARTHY: Yeah, I know we're well aware of his talent. Our coaches are well aware of his ability. You know, we know the kind of ability he has. We know he has -- as a fullback, he has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and go the distance.
Obviously our game plan will be tailored a little bit to that and hopefully we can stop him.
Q. Kyle, I'm guessing you were sitting in the student section as a true freshman or were you on the field?
KYLE McCARTHY: I was on the field in my equipment.
Q. Are either of you hosting recruits this weekend?
KYLE McCARTHY: No.
Q. Coach Weis said there's a wealth of recruits coming in this weekend. Can you kind of walk me through, if indeed you were hosting from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning, what happens, what your responsibility handling recruits would be? Do you go to dinner? What do you do?
KYLE McCARTHY: Yeah, go to dinner, spend time with the guys, obviously do all the football activities on Saturday, probably go to the walk and all that stuff, and then go to the game. Come to the locker room after the game, see the guys. You know, after the game, hang out with the guys. Then meet with coach on Sunday.
Q. I know it's a necessary evil because the program doesn't stop once you guys graduate, but is it a distraction in a big weekend like this one if you have to be responsible for hosting a recruit and you're still trying to maintain focus on the game?
KYLE McCARTHY: No, I think this staff does pretty good about leaving the frontline guys out of recruiting until after the game. They usually have a guy that's not traveling this week spend time with them on Friday and then Saturday after the game hang out with all the guys. It's not a distraction at all.
Q. Growing up in Ohio, was the USC-Notre Dame game a big deal for you? Were you more Ohio State follower? What did you watch growing up?
KYLE McCARTHY: No, I was a brainwashed Notre Dame fan, diehard. USC-Notre Dame, I've followed it very closely ever since I was little. You know, I know what kind of rivalry it is.
Q. Who brainwashed you and are there any particular games that jump out at you?
KYLE McCARTHY: Well, just being an Irish Catholic kid, last name McCarthy, I didn't really have a chance. My grandfather went here. Just the whole McCarthy side, pretty big Notre Dame fans. So, you know, as far as any specific memories about Notre Dame-USC, you know, I don't have any specific ones. I've seen pretty much all the games since I was little. You know, I'd like to end this streak that they have against us.
Q. Coming in when Charlie was the new coach and stuff, both of you were in the first recruiting class, what is it like to be playing in such an important game at the end of your career? Do you foresee something like this happening to you in your career?
KYLE McCARTHY: I think this is one of the reasons we came to Notre Dame, is to play in games like this. Sure we had bumps in the road the last couple years. But we're back in the national spotlight. We have some things to prove. I think it's fair to say that not everyone believes that Notre Dame is a good team. That's what we're going out on Saturday trying to do.
You know, for Scott and myself, I think as seniors, this is our last year, this will be a big game for our last season, making a mark on this program.
Q. As you've evolved from a high school option quarterback, I know you played defense in high school, but into a frontline safety, is there anything from that quarterback experience that helps you reading the quarterback's eyes that comes into play for you?
KYLE McCARTHY: Not a whole lot. Obviously I know where offenses like to attack the defense. You know, it helps me with my tackling a little bit. As an option quarterback, I ran a lot. I kind of pay attention on how to make guys miss. In that sense it helps.
But I think, you know, the success that I've had at safety kind of has gone back to the high school where I was from, the program, taught me about hard work and preparation and all that.
Q. You touched on the '05 game. Can you talk about obviously the mood that was in the locker room, the despair, what that was like as a freshman to see and be a part of?
SCOTT SMITH: I'm sure it was a lot more difficult for the older guys. Not to say that as freshmen we weren't invested. I know our class, we were all in from the very start. But especially not having a huge impact on the outcome of the game, you know, we still felt down and upset, but at least for me being upset for the older guys, especially Corey and Brandon Hoyte, after all they'd done for me, just to see them with that dejected feeling after the game, was something that really pushed me to work hard the rest of the year so hopefully they wouldn't feel like that again.
KYLE McCARTHY: The feeling after the 2005 USC game was awful. I think I thought the world was ending because, you know, I was just depressed for quite some time. My older brother was a senior here at the time, an undergrad. He took it pretty hard himself. He didn't even play football.
Obviously it was a terrible feeling to be that close. But I think it made that team hungry. We went on to win the rest of our regular-season games after that.
Q. And then obviously you talked about how big of a game this is. How big of a win would this be to come full circle for your class, for the program as a whole, to end this streak against USC and get a win over them?
KYLE McCARTHY: This would be a huge win for us, especially for our seniors and this football program, this university. Obviously, you know, we've had some rough patches last couple years. To beat a top-tier teams like USC, one of the top teams in the country, would mean a lot with us.
SCOTT SMITH: Just to agree with Kyle. We're not just playing for the guys that are in the locker room, we're playing not entire Notre Dame nation. The whole Notre Dame nation really, really wants to beat USC, and we're no different. And we believe that we can. More people are starting to believe in us that we can. That's the most important thing, just keeping that confidence and that belief all the way through Saturday.
Q. Obviously the last four games have been crazy for you guys. During the bye, did you at all kind of stop and think about what the heck did we just go through the previous month?
SCOTT SMITH: It was nice not to be stressed out at about 7:00 on a Saturday night, just kind of hanging around.
But I think really those experiences are going to be so valuable for us moving forward, just the fact that we're in close games, tight games, that come down to the finish, we have the confidence and the belief in ourselves that no matter what happens, we have the opportunity and we can come out on top.
KYLE McCARTHY: I really didn't think the last couple weeks at all. Really all our focus has been on USC to be honest. That's just what we're preparing for.
Q. Can you just talk about the heart of the team. Never die till the end.
KYLE McCARTHY: Yeah, I think the best example of that would probably be last week in the goal line stands that we had. I don't think anyone believed that we'd be able to stop 'em. I've heard numerous times that people were just kind of hoping they'd score quick so we'd have time to score. I think the only guys that truly believed we could stop them were on our team.
You know, to put up with that goal line stand and then get a penalty and do another goal line stand, that's a perfect example of the character and heart of our team.
Q. Scott, you talked a minute ago about Jimmy. Can you give an example of how he's become the leader.
SCOTT SMITH: I think just kind of the presence that Jimmy's developed, just the fact that you always kind of know he's around, but you don't always necessarily have to hear him. A lot of leaders, they have to scream and yell, always be ranting and raving at guys to be heard, be understood, get their message across.
But just the fact, based on how he's playing, the fact that I think you could argue there's been no quarterback in the country that's played better than he has through these first five games. Just the fact with how he's played, then just how he conducts himself, handles himself around the locker room, you know, fellow captains, it kind of makes our job a little easier when somebody's performing like that.
Q. Kyle, can you talk just a little bit about what you've been doing this year that you've been able to be in position to make so many big plays? Is it experience? What has enabled you to be at the right spot so many times this year?
KYLE McCARTHY: I think it's a combination of a couple things. Obviously experience, preparation, things like that. Maybe a little luck. Maybe a little, you know, help from the other guys on our defense.
Obviously, you know, if I'm making a big play, that means someone else is doing their job and making a play as well. I mean, on a couple of my interceptions, I think the quarterback's been under pressure, so the D-line, linebackers, have been getting after 'em. Last week, at the end of the game, Harrison was right there with me.
You know, if I'm making a big play, that means someone else is doing their job, making a big play as well. I give credit to the whole defense.
Q. Kyle, you addressed this a minute ago, about how you always seem to be where you need to be to make the big plays. Do you see yourself as trying to be the guy who makes sure, especially back there in the secondary with some of the younger guys, they're where they need to be? Are you maybe the glue of that group?
KYLE McCARTHY: I do view myself as a leader on the defense, as the captain of the defense. You know, I know that the defensive backs and linebackers and defensive line, you know, work hard. The biggest goal is to be on the same page so that every play we can go out there and compete and try to win every play.
At the end of the day, that responsibility falls on me as being the leader of our defense.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
End of FastScripts