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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 31, 2011
BRIAN HARDIN: We're back at Notre Dame. We have Harrison Smith and Manti Te'o at the front table. Once again, we'll start with questions from the media before we take any questions from the callers.
Q. This question is for each of you. Could you talk about the challenges of defending a quarterback who can both run and throw.
HARRISON SMITH: B.J. Daniels has obviously a lot of talent. He's an athletic guy, and he can throw the ball. So there's always that option that he can scramble around and kind of create something, and as a secondary player, that's difficult for us because, when we see him scramble, sometimes our eyes drift to the backfield, and we want to go see if we can tackle him, but really we've got to stay on our guys and leave that up to Manti.
So kind of just staying on your key the whole play is what I would say is the hardest thing about defending a guy that can create something out of a play that kind of goes bad where other quarterbacks can't really get out of that situation.
Q. Do you agree?
MANTI TE'O: I agree.
Q. For a defense that wants to be very aggressive at all times, is it a case of you have to shift down maybe half a gear just because of what can happen if a play gets broken down or if a quarterback gets away?
MANTI TE'O: I don't think you draw back. You just have to realize, you know, his strengths, you know, the quarterback's strengths, and be aware of those. At the same time, you never want to slow down. You never want to draw back. Just pull hard every play and just do your job. And have the trust and faith that the other ten guys on the field are doing their job as well.
Q. To the fans in that stadium Saturday watching this defense play, what will look different to them this year when they compare it to last year's defense?
HARRISON SMITH: Consistency, I think, is the number one thing. I mean, I think last year you guys saw some of the tenacity and just passion that we have for the game. That's obviously got to be there for us. But definitely consistency and just focus, being on top of what we're doing every play.
Q. You guys go ones versus ones, but what difference is it that you see in this offense now at this point, maybe versus what you saw going into the Purdue game last year?
MANTI TE'O: I'd say that I see an offense that understands their scheme, and I see an offense that had a year to kind of have a grasp of what Coach Kelly wants. I see an offense that obviously is a lot better than what they were at this time last year. I see an offense that has a lot of confidence and an offense that has leaders but also followers. And they have guys set in the right place to help us win.
So when we go against them in practice, you know, sometimes before, I'd have to say that the offense most likely would have the upper hand on them almost the entire time. But now when we go up against them in practice, I see more of the better squad's going to win that day. That's the way -- I think that's the way it should be, and that just goes to show the improvements that we made both on offense and on defense.
HARRISON SMITH: I agree.
Q. Guys, just talk about finishing well here, which maybe wasn't done in the past. How important is just getting off to a good start this year after losing some games earlier last year?
HARRISON SMITH: That's something that we've definitely been focused on is when you get the chance, you need to finish games off and take advantage of the opportunities that you have instead of saying, you know, maybe we're up a touchdown and let's get through this game or something like that. You've got to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, and when you can get up on people and stay up on them and end the game, do that.
That's something that's kind of part of the off-season training like strength and conditioning, having that energy in the second half, the third quarter, the fourth quarter, to go ahead and put games away. That's something that we've been very focused on.
MANTI TE'O: And I think, to add on top of that, finishing is definitely something that we've worked on, but as of last year, coming out and starting off with a bang is something that we also really focused on and not waiting and not trying to, for lack of a better word, you know, feel our way through, trying to just fire on all cylinders from the starting kickoff till that clock strikes zero.
So definitely just being an all around, a good team. I think Coach Kelly and his staff and Coach Longo and his staff together have done a great job in preparing us for this Saturday.
Q. Is the idea of facing a mobile quarterback that out of the ordinary now, having faced him last year and you're going to face him again this year, Daniels, down the road?
HARRISON SMITH: I think recently in the college football world there's been, you know, with the spread offenses, the more popular that's become, I think the idea of a more dual threat or a mobile guy is more popular. We've definitely seen our fair share of mobile guys. We have an idea what it's like, but all of them bring different things that they're stronger at, they're weaker at. So you've got to focus on who you're facing.
This week it's B.J. Daniels, and he's a guy that's not only can he throw and run but he's a big guy too. So he's not like most quarterbacks that are easy to bring down. You know, he'll fight for that extra yard. He's almost like a running back. So that's almost another dimension that you've got to focus on.
MANTI TE'O: I agree.
Q. People, coaches talk about defending ghosts in the first game of the year because there's so many things that the opponent brings from last year. Two of their top receivers, Griffin and Love, didn't play last year. Have you guys looked at the 2009 tape?
HARRISON SMITH: We've kind of just watched as much tape as we can, going back, you know, to what Coach Holtz does is kind of what we focus on. We just watch what they do, pretty much just kind of see how they run the game.
As far as the players go, you know, we're always trying to see who's going to be in the game and what they bring to the table and what we should expect out of them. So we've definitely had our eye on pretty much everything that we can.
Q. What do you know about Scott, their running back? He's another guy that transferred from Colorado and hasn't played here yet. What do you know about him?
MANTI TE'O: I know he's an explosive running back. He's 30 pounds heavier, and he's explosive. So we just have to approach the game with intensity and with energy and just everybody doing their job. As long as everybody's doing their job and has the intent on making a hit on whoever's carrying the ball, I think we should be fine.
Q. Has the tackling approach ever changed depending on the type of back? He's obviously a big back. Facing a little more of a scatback, is there a fundamental change in the attempt to tackle someone like that?
MANTI TE'O: No. Just whatever it takes to bring him down.
Q. A question about when you guys were recruited, for both of you. First of all, Manti, what time of year did you visit?
MANTI TE'O: It was Thanksgiving, around Thanksgiving.
Q. And how was your visit maybe different than what your perception of what Notre Dame would be like prior to arriving?
MANTI TE'O: Well, for me, I didn't know that much about Notre Dame. I really didn't know anything about Notre Dame.
Q. So you didn't have necessarily any preconceived notions?
MANTI TE'O: Yeah. So for me it was kind of a first thing for me. So it was different, and it was cold. That's all I remember.
Q. And when you left, how certain were you that you were going to come here?
MANTI TE'O: I wasn't really certain at all. I had a good experience here, and I just left it at that. I didn't really think about it too much. I just -- I guess since I was in the middle of my season in high school and we were approaching the state finals, I was more concentrated on that more than anything.
Q. So ultimately, what tilted you to come -- tilted you in this direction?
MANTI TE'O: I prayed about it. To be perfectly honest, I was going to go to USC. On the day before signing day, I prayed about it, and everything led to here. I'm very glad that it did.
Q. Harrison, your experience.
HARRISON SMITH: I came in the fall to the Penn State game. When I left, I had a pretty good idea that this is where I wanted to be. I wasn't positive. I was kind of like Manti, where I wanted to finish my high school season and then really figure it out. After the season was over, this is just where I felt most comfortable and where I really wanted to go. So that wasn't too hard of a decision at the end of the day. It just kind of shook itself out.
Q. And was there anything about your visit where you said, wow, that wasn't what I anticipated?
HARRISON SMITH: Well, kind of like Manti said, it was cold when he came. When I came, it was very nice. It was really good weather. So for me it was, wow, it's nice out here. And you know, I guess the really nice weather was kind of a surprise, but it was a good surprise.
Q. Was there maybe a misconception that you had about Notre Dame prior to coming here that was alleviated?
HARRISON SMITH: Not really because I'd actually been up here when I was younger. I was a big Tennessee fan, and they played when I was younger. So I'd been up here. Kind of already went on the tour and everything.
Q. For either one of you, just wondering if there's been an emphasis put on Landi, who moved from wide receiver to tight end. I think by all accounts it's been a pretty successful move. I don't know. There's probably no tape on him from last year at that position. What have you seen from him?
HARRISON SMITH: Like you said, we've seen him on film, but it was at receiver. You know, and he's a guy that can run, and he does a really good job catching the ball, using his hands. He's not a body catcher. He'll go up and grab it, which is something a lot of tight ends aren't capable of.
Having him at that spot, I would imagine, gives them some versatility to throw more passes to the tight end position and just kind of use him in different ways. They probably move him around and things like that that they probably didn't do last year.
MANTI TE'O: Definitely, like Harrison said, we've seen film of him at the receiver position, and I'm sure that transition for him to go to tight end, he's gotten comfortable with that. So that will be also something new that we'll see come Saturday. So we'll see how it goes.
Q. A handful of guys on this team are going to be taking their first real life snaps. What advice do you give them about keeping their emotions in check, just getting ready for that moment.
MANTI TE'O: I'd say -- we're talking about the freshmen?
Q. Freshmen or maybe guys who haven't played a whole lot, getting their first reps.
MANTI TE'O: I told a lot of them that, you know, it's -- they're going to get nervous when they step out on the field. It's going to feel like everything's going at 100 miles per hour. But I tell them to embrace it. Embrace it. Don't feel like you're the only one out there that they're experiencing it. There's a lot of people out there that are experiencing the same thing. I told them just my experiences are being out there.
Just embrace it. And as soon as you get into the game, as soon as things start to get a little comfortable for you, you know, it will become football again. But at first they'll be nervous, they'll be wide-eyed, and it's part of that whole transition. A lot of them haven't played football in one, two years. Some of the redshirt freshmen haven't played football in two years.
It's like riding a bike. It's something you can always do. You've just got to get back in the groove.
HARRISON SMITH: Yeah. I would definitely say take it all in. Not a lot of people get to go through what they're going to go through. So take it in and definitely embrace it. But at the same time, don't get too caught up in it. You know, I think even I'm going to have that excitement. This is my fifth year doing it. I think, if you ask Ray Lewis how he feels before games, he would say he gets that feeling. You can't really describe it. I think that's something that you want to embrace, but at the same time, you know, be who you are.
Be the player that you are, have the confidence that you're here for a reason and you're playing for a reason. Just go be who you are and play the game you've always played.
Q. Do either of you guys remember your first snap here?
MANTI TE'O: Yeah.
Q. What happened?
MANTI TE'O: I remember Coach calling my name of the at first I didn't really want to accept the fact that he was putting me in the game because I kind of wanted to tell him I don't want to go in the game. But I went in the game, and it was a blitz to the right. We were playing Nevada. And Heffernan decides to scramble. All I remember is just being all tense and running as fast as I could, and fortunately I made a tackle.
So quickly it became reality that I was playing college ball.
HARRISON SMITH: I actually don't remember my first play. I know it was against San Diego State, but I can't tell you what happened. That's probably how much of a whirlwind I was in. That can happen to young guys. You've just got to stay calm.
Q. How do you guys manage to keep your emotions in check against a USF offense that has a footprint that's pretty slow and prodding?
HARRISON SMITH: I didn't really understand the last part of that question.
Q. Sorry. How do you guys manage to keep your emotions in check against a USF offense that has a footprint that's fairly slow and prodding? Like just the emotions from the first game of the year.
HARRISON SMITH: Well, you know, just keeping your emotions in check is part of the game no matter if it's the first game or the last game. You just got to -- at the end of the day, you're playing football, and that's what we've done since we've been here. There's nothing different besides the amount of people that are watching.
So if you can have that mindset, then you're just going to play like you always do. You're going to read your keys and react to them and just make the plays that you're supposed to make.
Q. Just last Friday night going to a high school game here locally, does that kind of get you guys maybe in tune with the big crowd and maybe the excitement, maybe even taking you back to when you were in high school.
MANTI TE'O: I think the main thing that I wanted to do thing is just to go back in, kind of relax, and kind of unwind from camp. Most importantly, to just be around the guys and just to relive those days, those glory days of being in high school, and there's nothing like high school football, and there's nothing that's going to be like college football, and there's nothing like the NFL.
Every level has something unique to it. Like Harrison said, it's still football. I think, relating back to the other question, that's something that the freshmen always have to remember. It's still football. The only difference is the amount of people that are in the stands and how long it's going to get. It's definitely nice to be with everybody, and Harrison didn't want to go. He's a party pooper. So yeah.
BRIAN HARDIN: Thanks, everyone. We'll have transcripts of the press conferences posted on the website, und.com, later this afternoon.
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