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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 29, 2010
Q. Manti, Coach Kelly and Coach Diaco both essentially said, like it or not, you're going to have to be the guy that sets the tone and brings the rest of the defense along with you. How do you assume that responsibility? Does anything change in how you approach things then?
MANTI TE'O: No, not really. Just keep going out there, working hard, help motivate my teammates. It's great to have the teammates I have, like the man sitting on my right.
I'm not the only guy out there doing well. Like I said in the interviews, it takes ten other guys on the field to help me put up the numbers that I did, and so it's a team effort.
But I understand that everybody has a role, and whatever my role is if it's that kind of role, then whatever it takes to win.
Q. I know you talked a little bit after the game, but what clicked in you that you brought that will that everyone's talking about to that Stanford game, and how do you think you can possibly translate that to everybody else?
MANTI TE'O: I don't think I did anything different. I just made the corrections to the mistakes I did in the past, in the past games. And throughout practice we all just worked hard to make sure that when Stanford came along, we were ready. And through film study and all that preparation, I was able to do that.
Q. Harrison, sort of along those lines, you've been here a while. Can other guys follow another guy's lead? As much as everyone wants to say Manti can bring somebody else along, you can't just decide to be a better football player. Just the intangibles, the approach, and that sort of thing?
HARRISON SMITH: I actually think you can just decide to be a better football player. I think for a lot of the guys it's mostly mental with everybody who plays football. There is a point where you say I am going to be a better football player, and I think when that happens is when you start paying closer attention to all of the details and when you become a better football player.
Q. For both of you, you're obviously going to be facing a first time starter this week or very inexperienced quarterback. What are the things you look for when you're lining up against a guy that doesn't have the experience in a major college competition?
MANTI TE'O: I think we take it personally for the defense. We take any quarterback the same. We approach any quarterback the same. But, of course, whether it's a quarterback, an O-lineman, a linebacker, your first appearance in a college football game is going to be very different than the last time you stepped on the field which would have been in high school.
So that quarterback will probably be a little shocked, a little anxious and of course excited. So we'd try and take advantage of that too.
Q. Harrison, what are some of the common mistakes that a young quarterback might make?
HARRISON SMITH: I think sometimes just, you know, like Manti said, just being anxious and a little overexcited. Maybe thinking things that you can make a play doing this where you probably could have in high school, but in college everybody else is faster and reads things quicker. Might not be able to make that play.
But, at the same time, I think they'll still run their offense no matter who is in the quarterback position. It's really watching what they've done up to this point is what we need to focus on. I'm sure they won't change a lot no matter what.
Q. So you guys would expect, obviously they always emphasize the running game, but maybe a little bit more under these circumstances?
MANTI TE'O: Right. I mean, Boston College is a running team, and we don't expect them to change that part just because they're switching the quarterback position. So we're very aware of what they do and just working to stop what they do.
Q. Do you disguise things a little bit more from a young quarterback?
MANTI TE'O: No, I think the main goal for the defense is you have to execute whether you guys the defense or disguise a play or whatever. You just have to execute that play.
Q. This week Stanford's ranked ninth, Michigan's ranked 19th, Michigan State's ranked 24th, so three of your four opponents are ranked. You see these other schools across the country, with Boston College for example, you see Weaver State and you see that throughout. Would you rather have it this way or are you envious of some of these teams that can rack up wins early in the season?
HARRISON SMITH: I think we would rather have it this way. Obviously, we'd rather have more wins than we have right now. But when you play big time teams week to week, that is how you become better and better, and that's how you stay sharp. So, I mean, there is no question that we like the schedule that we play.
MANTI TE'O: Definitely. We wouldn't have wanted our schedule to be formed any other way. Definitely how Harrison said, we'd like a better outcome from those games. But for the teams and the competition that there was in our first games, and we're looking forward to the next one.
Q. Do you think playing that level of competition that you have, three Big Ten schools and a Pac 10 school that it actually does accelerate the progress on your side of the ball?
MANTI TE'O: Definitely thankful when you play a good team, and you see the competition out there you see where you need to be -- of course, to be ranked in the top 25, you'd want to be among them. So you see what you have to do and the corrections you have to make in order to be part of the elite team.
So it's a good experience for our team to go against those Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and Stanford. So we see where we have to be, where we have to go, and the work we have to put into it.
Q. And you?
HARRISON SMITH: He pretty much said it all. There is no other way to play the game than against other teams that they're a little better than you or you're around the same. Because that's how you keep getting better and better.
Q. So what do you guys say to each other when you're sitting around and you see scores flashing up against Alabama playing whoever? You don't have thoughts on that?
MANTI TE'O: Like?
Q. Like a highly ranked team playing a Division I-AA team, and these scores pop up and they win 69-10. Nobody makes a snide remark then?
MANTI TE'O: No. If you're a ranked team, I think it's kind of expected.
Q. Manti, talk about Coach Diaco said as well as you played on Saturday, it's still about cleaning up mistakes and not losing plays. Are there a couple plays you could point to where you did make mistakes like 21 tackles?
MANTI TE'O: Yeah, nobody plays a perfect game. There are a lot of opportunities or a lot of times where I got stuck up on blocks. You know, Stanford had a great O-line. Got up on blocks. Lucky for my team, you know, they made those plays.
I think that's where the whole mentality of a team comes in. You won't make every play, but you trust that your teammates will still be there to make that play.
Yeah, I got held up on blocks. On that one interception I had that clip, and then I had a face mask, too. On that face mask I was going down, and I felt the guy's face mask, and I didn't know if the ref saw it, so I immediately looked at him. I shouldn't have looked at him, because right when I looked at him, he looked at me and he pulled his flag. I was like, dang it, you got me. So I know now not to look at the ref when I accidentally grab a face mask.
Q. Do people sort of, I guess, overlook the play of the defensive line in a situation like that where you're able to run around free and make these stops because of Ethan and Kapron?
MANTI TE'O: Definitely. When it comes to a linebacker, you're only as good as your D-line. A quarterback is only as good as his O-line. It's the same thing. If you don't have a great group of D-linemen that are strong, that's quick, that can occupy a lot of offensive linemen and still make plays, you won't make any plays yourself.
So thanks to them, Ian, all of them, Ethan, you know, Kap, Sean Cwynar, Hafis, they did a great job.
Q. Harrison, I'm curious, as a defensive back what kind of pressure an offense puts on to you when you have to worry about the threat of the quarterback running? I don't mean like Denard. I mean just like a quarterback that can scramble a little bit? How much pressure does that put on you?
HARRISON SMITH: Obviously still we're pass first when it's a pass play. So probably the hardest thing and the thing we've had to work on most in the off-season is when a quarterback has the ability to run and he breaks the pocket and it looks like he's going to run, not to come up and play the run.
We need to stay deep and we need to cover all the men that are down field. Because a guy like Luck will stop and just throw it up. So that's something we did well in the game. When he started moving around, we all stayed in coverage.
But it's definitely against your natural instincts to back up when the quarterback looks like he's going to run. Because everybody just wants to run downhill and hit the quarterback. That's one of the hardest things to do.
Q. The quarterback draw, is that particularly hard to defend?
HARRISON SMITH: The quarterback draw is usually not something that defensive backs kind of are responsible for so when we read pass, we play pass. And that's what we rely on Manti and the front seven guys to take care of. When the quarterback draw comes, they recognize it, and see how the linemen move a little different, and how the quarterback might hold the ball a little different or something like that. So we count on then to make that play.
Q. Is it difficult to defend, and what does that do to you as a defender when you have to respect that?
MANTI TE'O: I mean, it's different for different teams. Certain teams won't run the quarterback draw for the simple fact that it's their quarterback.
But those teams that do run quarterback draw, it's harder. But you kind of expect it the whole game. You have in the back of your mind watch the quarterback draw, because any time the quarterback came around and pass.
Like Harrison said, everybody has their job. Harrison are first. So they rely on us, the front seven to read those things. They want us to rely on them to read those things.
Q. (No Microphone)?
MANTI TE'O: At times it's difficult, but if you're focused, the quarterback draw isn't really (no microphone).
Q. Harrison, talk about your senior class and just what you guys have gone through, and maybe how close you are. Even during recruiting, a few guys backed out and you guy his to stick together through a lot of it?
HARRISON SMITH: Yeah, starting out recruiting, we had some guys commit and decommit. And when we came in, we were all close. We already all knew each other. We met each other at the spring game and kind of got to know each other well.
You know, things haven't gone exactly the way we've wanted them to since we came in. We haven't had as many wins as we wanted. We had a coaching change. But at the same time, we've all learned a lot and we've all grown a lot from when we came in.
Now I think we are working towards where we've always wanted to get as far as football, even though we're not there yet, we are definitely making strides in that area. You know, I mean, it's hard to say that where we are now is where we want to be, but we're definitely working towards where it needs to go and where we wanted to take Notre Dame. So, in that regard, things are going in the right direction.
Q. Are you proud of the guys, a guy like Robert that gets bumped up to number two in the depth chart this week? Are you proud of somebody like him who stays the course? And here he gets an opportunity this week, and you've seen firsthand just how hard he works, and now he gets another opportunity.
HARRISON SMITH: Yeah, that's hard. He played as a freshman. I think he had over 100 yards against Stanford maybe when he was a freshman. And not playing a little bit, and now getting bumped back just shows the resilience that he has, and that hard work that he puts into the game. So that's something that's definitely something.
Q. Do you gain maturity and leadership through some of the other guys that are getting playing time? Just that experience, I mean, being here four years, you do so much.
HARRISON SMITH: Yeah, definitely. Because when you all come in, you're all, you were the man at your high school and you think you're the best. And it kind of goes through your different phases and you grow up and become the team player that you need to become and you buy into what the coaches are teaching you and you show up on time and you do your work.
Everybody has bought into that. So that is something that you don't see a lot, so that's just kind of a testament to just kind of the will of all the guys on this team.
Q. You haven't started the way you want to, but with the teams you've played now, can you see the future and say, hey, we've got a great opportunity here the rest of the season?
HARRISON SMITH: Yeah, we've gone through stages like this before, but it feels different this time. I know one and three is not where you want to be. No matter how you put it, that's where we are.
But just kind of the mentality of all these guys and just wait we're dealing with it now is different than it has been. Where everybody's excited and ready to come out to practice, because we have to win. We want to win. That is the only reason we're here. It's kind of like life or death when it comes to winning, and that's just how it has to be.
Q. About the anatomy of a run defense, are you guys going to be challenged this week by containing their run? Why do things work, and why has there been some struggles statistically this season? What is the break down of the run defense itself?
MANTI TE'O: Well, whenever it comes to run defense it's important that everybody does their job. Nobody tries to overcompensate for anything, because when you do that, the gap that you're supposed to be in then opens. And a great running back like the running back that Boston College has will see that and find those holes that you leave.
The time we were successful in stopping the run, everybody did their job. Everybody was in their gap and everybody was running. And the times that we didn't, whether it be somebody who would try to overcompensate for somebody else or somebody fell or somebody wasn't running. You know, those are the times where offenses were successful in the running game against our defense.
HARRISON SMITH: Yeah, I think we've made progress. I think the one thing that's been hurting us the most is stopping it, stopping it, stopping it, and then giving up a long play. And in the past week that's something that we got corrected. But we really didn't do well on third down.
So it's really, if we were doing well on third down but giving up those plays and then we kind of switched it. So you've got to bring it all together. You can't forget about what you've done well to improve on something else. You have to hold what you have and improve on that. So really just bringing everything together is what we need.
Q. What is the frustration factor when you say, okay, we've got this solved, then this happens? It's like you plug one hole in the dike and another hole starts.
HARRISON SMITH: I think it's something where you see your weaknesses and you want to work on them. You just have to stay focused on what you have been able to do well and make sure you retain that. That is something that's hard to do, but at the same time, that is the only way to be great. So that's what we have to do.
Q. Harrison, I want to take you back to that life or death statement. That's not something that I think you've heard much around here the past few years, and I think that's a mentality a lot of people would like to see Notre Dame take. Is that a new feeling? Is that something that's kind of dawned on you guys this year? That approach, that attitude, that sort of urgency?
HARRISON SMITH: I don't want to say it's new. I think some guys have always had that. But that's what it's like to compete because losing feels like the worst thing in the world, and you don't want to do anything after a loss. You just want to play the next game as soon as possible to move on.
So I think I don't want to say it's new, but maybe there's just a lot more of it right now. After some of the losses that we've had, you can see it in everyone's face that not that we're actually dying, but that's what it's like.
So the next week instead of giving up and backing off and just taking it easy, everyone has ramped it up. It's gotten more intense every week because we're sick of it and we have to start winning.
Q. You guys do what you're supposed to do when you meet with the press. You're very calm and collected and rational, and Brian Kelly's the same way. Behind closed doors is there a fire, especially from some of the older guys? You guys have lost 25 of the last 42 games. Behind closed doors is there an anger and a fire that the fans would have an appreciation of that you guys are as frustrated as much as they are?
MANTI TE'O: I think if anybody's more frustrated about our record and how we've done, nobody's as frustrated as ourselves. As players, we take it upon ourselves to get out there and really do something different. You know, that's part of football.
But we just -- behind closed doors we are, and if you were in our locker room especially this past week, we talked (no microphone), and it does not feel good. It does not feel good at all. We're pumped when can come back to practice. We're more than motivated to go out there and come out with a W.
Q. Harrison, you talked about, and it's a great quote, that you can actually decide to become a better football player. I'm curious in the Stanford game last Saturday was a moment that helped that. You played these guys just five games ago. And it seemed that they were a much improved team than the team you saw out in Palo Alto. Is there some truth to that?
HARRISON SMITH: There is. They've kind of changed their whole persona of what people think of when they think of Stanford, I guess. They're a hard-nosed team. And I think that is their coach came in and said we're just going to change it.
And guys can change. It's not like he brought in a bunch of new recruits and all new guys. He just said this is how we're going to be and those guys bought into that and that's how they are now. I mean, that's just an example of choosing what you want to be.
Q. Sometimes even this weekend, you get humiliated by someone much stronger or something, and all of a sudden that inspires you to go to the gym. I'm not saying Stanford humiliated you guys, but I'm guessing that is the most physical team you played this season. Does a moment like that say to you I need to get more physical, I need to get stronger, in your view?
MANTI TE'O: I think Stanford was definitely the most physical team that we've played so far. They had a great O-line. A physical O-line, a very experienced O-line. It was a different team Saturday than it was back in November.
After that game, I'm sure everybody (no microphone) everybody is saying we have to get better. We have to get more physical. We have to get faster. We have to get stronger. All of those things. There's always room for improvement. Especially after Stanford, we all realized, you know, we have to get better.
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