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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 21, 2011
Q. Both of you were visibly angry or had an edge about you; how do you keep that for nine more weeks since it worked so well for you last weekend?
HARRISON SMITH: I think this is how we play. I think normally when we come in here, Manti and myself are more -- we kind of tone it down. And I think we just kind of let ourselves be who we really are, like when we play football, and that's really how we are on the field. So I think you guys just got more of a realistic taste of that.
Q. Can you each talk about Pittsburgh and the challenges they present offensively?
MANTI TE'O: We know that they have had a change in coach -- Tulsa's head coach when we played Tulsa last year, and we know the outcome that have game. We definitely know what they are going to throw at us and we know they are going to continue to watch film, but it definitely starts with the running back. Ray Graham is a dynamic running back and he's good in space and he's good with the ball in his hands.
Their quarterback seems for more comfortable in this system. He's making good decisions, so we definitely know what they are capable of doing. We just have to prepare ourselves in practice and when it comes to the game, just execute and do our job.
Q. Can you talk about Michigan State's unbalanced line, how much did you guys prepare for it, first of all?
MANTI TE'O: I mean, we prepare for basically anything. So I mean, it wasn't -- it was new but it wasn't something that we didn't know how to defend. So it wasn't a shock to any of us.
Q. And I guess what were the keys for defending that, how is that different from regular stuff?
MANTI TE'O: We just play football. We just line up and get to the ball.
Q. You guys were a lot more multiple on defense last week than maybe we've seen in the past, Collinsworth got in there, Troy played, Tyler played a little bit more; how much do you think that just kind of helped the defense overall, when you come out of the game knowing, okay, we have 12 or 13 guys, maybe we have 18 or 19 that are going to play.
MANTI TE'O: I don't think it's an idea of maybe. We know who we have; at any given time, anybody can go down there and we have the confidence of the guy who is backing him up with the guy who is going in after him, is able and capable of doing the job.
So it wasn't something new for us on the defensive side of the ball and the coaches. We knew what guys can do and our coaches do a good job in telling us what our roles are for the game.
So when if ever that situation presents itself, if somebody does go down, we know exactly who is going in. Guys know how to play with him. Everybody is different. Guys know what his tendencies are. So it was nice to see everybody out there and just see everybody working.
Q. Harrison, how do you think that helps the secondary moving forward now that Austin, Lo have some real experience?
HARRISON SMITH: Those are guys that we as players and as coaches know can play since they have been practicing, and I think with him getting out there in the games, kind of frees everybody up, the same thing that we have always seen. But having guys that you can rotate in and out throughout the year, that you know can go in and get the job done is huge.
It's a long season, so you never know what can happen.
Q. What about the prospect of just having a dime defense; seems like you can matchup maybe better.
HARRISON SMITH: Yeah, you can do a lot of different things when there's six DBs on the field. As a defensive back, that's more fun for me, too. There's a lot of things going on, a lot of different looks you can get.
So that's kind of as a DB group, that's something that we really want to have a chance to get them to third-and-long and then get on the field with a dime group and kind of make something happen.
Q. Can you just describe his style of play and what he brings to the defense?
HARRISON SMITH: I mean to, me, with Collinsworth, it just starts with his mind-set, his toughness. He's just at a very high level. I don't know if it's just naturally or if he wills himself to be that way. He's a tough kid. If you guys watch him on special teams running down on kickoff, he's always on the ball and he definitely likes to study the game and trying to understand what offenses are doing. I think the more and more snaps he gets, the more and more you guys are going to see him getting comfortable and making plays.
Q. Similar question about Niklas, how do you think he did and what does he bring?
MANTI TE'O: I mean, first of all, you look at him physically, he has that physical build where you look at him, and you think he's a senior. But as far as his game, he's still getting comfortable. He's still getting comfortable with the scheme where he has to go, where he has to lineup and the more comfortable he gets with that, his natural talents, his natural play-making ability will take over.
I think at this point right now, he's getting more comfortable. He's settling in a little bit. And this game being his first game playing was a great transition for him from high school to college.
He experienced the size, the strength, and now it's him adjusting a little bit. He did pretty good.
Q. Michael was just in here and he mentioned how you last week, didn't win the Super Bowl, it's only one win; can you just talk about that feeling that there's still a lot to prove?
MANTI TE'O: I mean, for this team, I don't think it's ever proving anything. We don't have anything to prove. All we are going to do is come each week and focus on who we have. This week it's Pittsburgh and we are going to not necessarily try and prove to somebody, but prove a point; it's not proving that we are a good team for us.
We know we are a good team. But just proving that, a point. I think for us, we are just going to keep playing our game, keep approaching each week and getting to work like we have been and keep going and relying on each other and just keep our edge sharp.
Q. Any thoughts on that?
HARRISON SMITH: You know, we have had a one-track mind. There is no last week or anything that's happened before. Right now this is it, and nothing matters that's happened before this. The only thing that matters to us is playing Pitt on Saturday.
Q. But do you gain confidence from last week, obviously; how critical is it to keep that going, obviously, this week?
HARRISON SMITH: I think we have been a confident group, and that's just who we are. That's what we do. We are not worried. Like Manti said, we are not out to prove something to people that we don't even know.
We are out to prove stuff to each other, to the people in this building, and that's all that we care about.
Q. Both of you guys have gone up against Cierre in practice; can you talk about the developments he's made over the last three or four years to become the running back he is now.
MANTI TE'O: I think it all starts -- Cierre and I are close friends and it all starts with his confidence. He and I had a lot of one-on-one talks and he would always ask me, you know, 'Bro, what are you doing, what are you thinking.'
It's something that David Grimes told me that I told him. I told him that whether you're in Pop Warner, high school, college or the NFL, at the end of the day, it's still football. It's still the game that you played with your friends in your backyard. It's still the game that you played in the parks. It's still the same game.
So that love, that joy, that swag that you have when you were little, carry that over to college. Sometimes you're lost in this whole college environment and big stadium, faster players, you lose the whole point of the game. I guess he finally grasped that.
Q. Did he ever confide in you any sort of frustration in being the No. 2 the last couple of years?
MANTI TE'O: I think for Cierre, it was never him feeling frustrated with his position in the depth chart. It was more about him being frustrated with himself with the way that he was playing. He knew that he could do better and he was looking for somebody to show him to direct him in a way that he should go.
Now, I'm a linebacker. I couldn't tell him how to run the ball. I just gave him points on how to gain the confidence that he once had that got him here. You know, everybody had something that coaches saw that got them here. I just helped him remember that confidence that got him here and it's translating now.
Q. Have you seen that confidence on the practice field? Is he maybe chirping more on the practice field after a big run, anything like that?
MANTI TE'O: I mean, I think you should ask Harrison about that. He usually chirps as he runs off after he gets hit a couple of times, and then Harrison usually he gets -- he's the closest to him. So I think Harry would have a better --
HARRISON SMITH: Yeah, me and Cierre have a funny relationship. Like we like to joke with each other, like, 'Oh, I would have got you on this play,' and we kind of go back and forth. So on the field, whenever we get a chance to go ones on ones, we are always talking to each other after the plays, like walking past each other. It's just kind of like a fun little rivalry that just keeps practice to a little bit more competitive.
But I think he's probably an example of a guy who got -- at running back, that's kind of a natural position, you get the ball, and you make something happen, and I think when guys get into college, they get caught up thinking about the plays and just thinking at a whole new level and kind of forget what they have always done.
I think you just kind of see him come into his own and just play with that natural ability that he has and that determination to make a play.
Q. Would you say he's just trusting his instincts more this year?
HARRISON SMITH: I think so. I can't speak for him but that's what it looks like to me.
Q. Coach Kelly mentioned last week his pass blacking was better; with your close relationship, have you given any pointers, like what you're looking for as a linebacker, or what he should maybe try?
MANTI TE'O: You know, Cierre is always trying to -- with any good player, they always want to get better. They always know they could get better. And last year, Cierre pulled some guys aside and asked them to rush against him, to give him their best moves. And so, you know, he did that after practice; while everyone is going into the locker room and getting showered, he was doing that.
Towards the end of last year, you could see that change with him, and he continually gets better and better and better, it's that competitive edge that he has, same as Harrison has and Floyd has, that competitive edge that makes him better. It's improved his game, not only in pass blocking, but in running and everything he does. So he's really done a good job.
Q. Your thoughts on that?
HARRISON SMITH: That's something that Manti probably sees a lot more. I don't really get to go against him a lot with him blocking. But yeah, you can definitely tell, that's something that a lot of fans don't really notice is the running back's pass blocking. But if that's something you focus in on, you can definitely tell the strides.
Q. Are you guys friends off the field, do you hang out, like video games or anything like that?
MANTI TE'O: Definitely. That's how most of the team is, yeah. Everybody's like that.
Q. Can you talk about Devin Street, he's their playmaker; does he remind you of anyone you've faced so far in your career?
HARRISON SMITH: I don't really know who exactly to compare him to, but he's a long guy that can run. So he's got a lot of talent. He's got good hands. He can make a lot of things happen.
As far as exact comparison, last year they had Baldwin and he was kind of that big target they had. So I think that's kind of what they are looking for from him.
Q. How does the noon start change your schedule or how do you go about getting ready for the game?
MANTI TE'O: I think it's obvious, just earlier, so just got to wake up earlier. That's all it is. Just earlier wake-up call, earlier breakfast, earlier pregame meal. But it starts at noon. The Navy game started last year at noon -- I don't remember. It was early. Navy was early. Just earlier.
Q. You didn't get off to the best of starts against Navy, is it tougher to get up for a noon game and get yourself fired up; you don't have a whole day to get your mind in that state?
MANTI TE'O: I wouldn't blame it on the time. I would blame it on us not being ready. But that was in the past, and we are just going to come out against Pitt prepared and ready to go.
Q. Do you prefer one or the other, certain start time or does it not matter to you guys?
HARRISON SMITH: I'm actually excited for our early game. It's like -- it's almost like training camp, like get up and get ready to go. I think the whole team is going to have mind-set as soon as we get up that it's game time.
Q. I don't know how much you guys pay attention to this, but the shifts in conferences, do you guys follow that at all throughout the year?
MANTI TE'O: No. We don't worry about that.
Q. Do you like playing independent -- do you like being an independent? Is that something this team takes pride in?
MANTI TE'O: Definitely, I have no say in it, but it's cool playing teams from different conferences.
I'm just glad to play football, you know, whoever it is, wherever it is, just put somebody in front of us, put a game on a Saturday whether it be home or away, just put somebody in front of us, it doesn't really matter.
Q. A little bit off-topic, T.J. went through a tragedy not a lot of people can understand unless they have been through it over the summer with his dad dying, you're one of the first guys to sort of Tweet out some sympathy. How have you seen him bounce back from that? How did you guys from the team try to help him?
MANTI TE'O: I think as a friend, like aside from football, he's done very well. I think if you're going to talk about his performance on the football field, I think you should talk to Harrison, because Harrison faces him and sees him in one-on-ones and stuff like that.
But outside of the football field, I would say he's done well. He's carried that mantle of being the man of the house; he checks in with his family, checks in with his mom, he's always checking in with his mom to see if she's okay.
He's still the same T.J., still joking around, still smiling all the time, still fun to be around. So he's still the same T.J. he's doing well, doing well in the classroom, so I wouldn't -- I would say he's handled it really well.
Q. Harrison, I guess you can sort of use that sort of thing maybe as motivation, get focused; what have you seen in him change that translates on to the field?
HARRISON SMITH: I mean, to me, I've never gone through anything like that, so I can't even imagine what he was feeling and what he still feels.
But just the way that he's handled himself, it's just unbelievable. There was never any time where he was down or gave up. He's just a tough kid and just like you said, it's just motivation. Just doing it for his dad. Just giving him that little bit extra when you might not want to put everything you have into it is something that he has definitely used to his advantage.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports