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December 28, 2015

Luke Fickell

Glendale, Arizona

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. What is the thought on how Tommy not playing affects what you might do with Joey that might be different?
COACH FICKELL: The tough thing is we've been planning for this all year. Not that you're planning for guys to get hurt, that's what the game is about. We have plenty of guys that can fill in.

Unfortunately for Tommy, Tommy hasn't been healthy probably the last four weeks with his hand and a bunch of stuff that he's missed. We've had a lot of opportunities to get a lot of our guys, Michael Hill, Donovan Munger, Tracy Sprinkle and those guys a lot more reps, even game time, inside there.

Again, we'll try to find a way to put our best 11 guys out there. If that means moving the guys around, we might do that a little bit.

Q. How would Joey be affected? Would he take more reps at tackle as a precaution?
COACH FICKELL: He's done it all year. A lot of that is in the third-down situations. We want to stay as close to what we do as possible. It's a great opportunity for Michael Hill, for Donovan Munger, for Tracy Sprinkle and those guys to get a little more of a pressure on their plates, so to speak, to help them grow, so...

Q. In terms of an offensive line for Notre Dame, where does this group rank?
COACH FICKELL: This is as good of an offensive line as we have seen all year. We see some good ones in the Big Ten. Collectively across the board, this is as good of a group as we've seen all year.

That's going to be the key to the game, like it is a lot of time. The guys up front are going to determine the outcome of these games, more so than the ones we've had in the past.

Q. With Kizer in particular, he seems to have embraced the role. He's running the show. As you evaluate him, there is a little bit of a run threat with him as well.
COACH FICKELL: We've known him well. He's an Ohio kid, Toledo, Ohio kid. People say he was the third-team guy last May. The reality is that's just waiting for an opportunity. Kind of like us last year with Cardale Jones. To put that tag on him is really difficult. The reality is he's got a lot of talent, he's a real good football player.

He has all options. He can throw the ball really well. For a young guy he manages the game, very calm under pressure. Not to mention he can run the ball well, too.

Q. Without Adolphus, Tommy, in the game, some teams rally under adversity, some teams feed off of it. Seems like Ohio State is one of those teams.
COACH FICKELL: That's what we've been planning. When stuff like that happens, you can't account for it. To lose Adolphus Washington is a huge hit. The reality is, again, all year you've kind of been preparing yourself. Those guys that are young guys, by the time it's mid to late season, they're not considered young guys anymore. They're not freshmen, sophomores, they're a year advanced.

We take a hit, that presence of having Adolphus and Tommy, seniors that have fought themselves through, led this program in a lot of ways, their presence is missed more than anything.

Q. Studying Notre Dame, interesting, big-play ability. Six plays at 70 yards or more this season. How does that affect a defense?
COACH FICKELL: Well, it's a game of momentum. That's probably the most underrated thing sometimes, is people forget to really think about in the midst of doing all their statistical analysis of everything that happens, announcers, all that stuff.

The reality is, it's a game of momentum. When you're dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds, if you don't have it, you have to find a way to get it.

Coach Meyer says it all the time, With a young team, momentum is worth 14 points.

With an older team or savvy team, maybe it's only worth 7. The reality is they have been a big-play team.

Look at us last year defensively, last year the beginning of the season, our biggest issues were big plays. Gave up a bunch of them early in the year. As we got better, got more of a grasp on what it is we're trying to do, we did a better job at eliminating the big plays. That's going to be a big key for this game.

Q. How well does Notre Dame run the football?
COACH FICKELL: I think it's very underrated. With the offensive line they've got, I think you have an opportunity to put a bunch of different guys back there, have success. Not saying they're really good, but the reality is, the strength of what they do is the guys up front. You have to be able to run the football.

They're a team that wants to run the ball. The statistics and things show they're throwing it. A lot of those throws are released because they run the ball so well, they're so good up front, the guys got to load the box which gives them a little bit more opportunity to throw the ball.

Q. In terms of your linebackers as a group, the three together, how good is this group? It seems like a group that is an elite group.
COACH FICKELL: I've been fortunate enough to have a group of three guys that were Hawk, Carpenter, Schlegel, who were two first-rounders and third rounder in the same year, all were seniors. They're a lot in the lines of what that is.

I think the unique thing we have with the whole linebacker group is we're as deep as I think we've ever been. I mean that, from nine guys back.

I know nine guys don't play, so it's not as big a deal to everybody outside of the people that are inside our program. But the reality is, that makes us all better. Those guys are on special teams. They're a big part of what we do on a daily basis. You have confidence that if something happens, you have the next guy able to go in there.

For the top three guys, it's as good a unit and as good of a potential of a unit as you go back all the way to that '06 group.

Q. Jaylon Smith was also almost a Buckeye. When you evaluated him as a linebacker, what stands out?
COACH FICKELL: The unique thing is, a lot of times what you're looking for at linebacker is if you can find a guy that can truly be recruited as a tailback. Most of those guys that are tailbacks, they want the ball, always want to be a tailback.

If you can ever convert some of those guys that were legitimate tailbacks to play linebacker, you're looking at a different athlete, a different cat, guys that can do different things.

Jaylon Smith, in high school that guy was a heck of an athlete. He was a runningback. You didn't know what he was going to play.

You take a Darron Lee, you look, he was a high school quarterback. A lot of teams in high school, if you have your best athlete, where are you going to put? You're going to put him at quarterback so he can touch the ball every snap.

You got a couple other guys, Raekwon, he'd like to tell you he was a heck of a tailback. Until I saw him play live, I wouldn't say he was a heck of a tailback. Guys that can carry the football become difference-makers. That's something unique.

In the whole time I've had a lot of great linebackers, I don't know if there's a ton of them that can truly play tailback at the college level. Shazier may be one of them, maybe Darron. There's a few of those guys out there. They can do that. They're a unique breed.

Q. What stands out on the Notre Dame offense that you have to be prepared for?
COACH FICKELL: I think it starts with their offensive line. Like I said, this is as good of an offensive line as we've seen all year. That's what makes them go. People look statistically at a lot of different things, but the reality is when you can run the ball as well as they can, that opens up everything else.

That's where people don't realize sometimes the big-name guys, they talk about the quarterback, receivers, runningbacks, this is their other quarterback. But the reality is what keeps everything rolling, keeps everything together is the strength of their offensive line.

Q. How big of a matchup is the Stanley versus Bosa matchup?
COACH FICKELL: It's great. That's the beautiful thing about football. You can't get tied up into a matchup. It's not the NBA. Let's clear them out, let them go one-on-one. There's not going to be a stoppage in action. There will be matchups here and there. The reality is, whichever guy is best for his team, does the best things for his team, will help his team be victorious.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH FICKELL: I think defensively in general, this is one of those teams that's probably a little bit closer to our offense than we've seen most of the year. So to go against it daily, it's obviously a benefit. We don't see a ton of quarterback run game from our own guys during practice. The reality is a lot of things they do with the RPO's, if you try to load the box, taking the shots outside, there's a lot of similarities of things that it's been good work for us.

Q. Six meetings between the team. Talk about the tradition.
COACH FICKELL: They understand. They understand the tradition of Ohio State. A lot of these guys, 70% or some of our team is from the 250-mile radius. I would imagine a lot of those guys were recruited or thought about Notre Dame, visited over there. We have a lot of Catholic school kids ourselves.

They understand the tradition. They understand our tradition. I'm not sure every single one of them understand the history of the six games that have been played, how few and far between those six games have been. They definitely understand the tradition of both places, the matchup that really brings this thing to the top of the list.

Q. When you look at the way you lost to Michigan State, their loss to Stanford, you both could have been there. Do you think there's a case that could be made from four teams to eight teams?
COACH FICKELL: That's way above my pay grade (laughter).

We're excited to be here. That's the thing. We can't spend a lot of time worrying about that. College football in general, that's what's beautiful about it. I think they've got the monopoly on the ability to keep everybody talking about this whether it's a four-team playoff, whatever it is. The ability to talk about this for 10 months out of the year, talk about basketball for the month of March, a few other sports here and there during their time, the reality is, they're still student-athletes and there's a lot of things that go into the matchup of that.

I know this, I know both of us feel like we're a play or two short. But that's the name of the game. We both have something to prove. It's going to be a heck of a matchup.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH FICKELL: That's the beauty I think I said before about football, it's not a one-on-one sport like basketball. They can clear the lane out, put the cameras on them. That's something for you guys to throw the cameras on them when they are matched up.

The reality is whoever does the best job for their team, a lot of different aspects, a lot of different ways, whether it's a one-on-one with each other, is going to benefit their team to have a chance to win.

There's going to be a lot of good matchups out there, good corners matching up on some good wideouts, ends against defensive tackles as well.

That's the beautiful thing about football, you can't just focus on one matchup. Might be easier if there was a true outside guy on a corner that you could focus on. The reality of the strength of what we do is sometimes the ability for Joey to be able to move around, too.

Q. Not a typical game for him.
COACH FICKELL: We don't want to change exactly what it is that we've done. We've been very successful at it. We talk at the beginning of the year, everyone wonders how you're going to be judged, what are our goals, how are you going to do things defensively? We don't have goals, we have objectives. Objectives are what we focus on every single day. But we'll let the goals kind of fall away at the end of the year when people start breaking down the stats.

The most important thing for us is to play our best ball at the end of the year, and the only way to do that is to play consistently. To move guys around a ton doesn't help with your consistency of what you do.

We know there's some things we got to be able to do, but again, we have to be able to do who we are. That's why we prepare these younger guys to step into those roles as well.

They have big-play ability. They lead the nation in plays over 70 yards. They're concerning, but it's the 20-, 25-, 30-yard plays that are the momentum changers. Really, to be honest with you, we lost the Michigan State game because we let them flip the field on us. A 24-yard run with seven minutes in the game coming out of the end zone to me is the difference in the ballgame.

Those are the kind of things that keeps you up at night, whether they have the ability to break that in a run, a bubble pass.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH FICKELL: That's what we make sure we understand, this is about a journey. If you're only focused on the destination, there's going to be a lot of disappointment. This may not be the destination we want.

Everybody wants to be in the National Championship or the Playoff, but the reality is, there's a lot of pride in what these guys have done. This is a chance for the seniors to go out with 50 victories in a four-year span. There's nothing short of what this game means and what this game can do to both programs.

Q. You played Notre Dame twice, coached against Notre Dame. Do you get a little bit more umph when you know they're across the field and you're playing them?
COACH FICKELL: Like I said, I think the traditionalists, the guys that have a history of Ohio State and Notre Dame, schools that are not too far apart, within four hours of each other, recruiting the same kids in a lot of aspects, a lot of ways, they do a great job of recruiting in the state of Ohio. So we're after a lot of those same kids.

I think that's what today adds, not just the traditions, but to the matchup, to the little extra to the game, is the history of it. To these kids, probably not as big a deal. For the last five, six, seven, eight years, to be on a similar level, recruiting the same types of guys, makes it that much more special.

Q. How do you translate that to the guys?
COACH FICKELL: Our guys understand. We do a great job of educating them not only about football, the history. Believe me, they know more about the last five, six, seven years because of recruiting, because of everything else.

They might not know the history of Notre Dame football from the 1920s. They don't know the history of Ohio State football unless we tell them. The reality is they know the last 12, 15 years. They know what that means to everybody.

Q. What did playing in the '95 game mean to you?
COACH FICKELL: It was the first matchup, the first time we played since maybe the '30s, something way back. A lot of these guys don't look back that far on those things.

The reality, growing up in Columbus, Ohio, being a Ohio State fan, being a Catholic school kid, recruited by Notre Dame, having similarities, it was something special. One of those first teams to play at home in that '95 game was obviously great. Obviously the way it ended is something the you remember being a play there.

Q. Did you visit there?
COACH FICKELL: Yes. It was one of those three or four schools, when they dropped wrestling, helped me take different places, different things off the map for me.

Q. How do you do without two of your regulars this week?
COACH FICKELL: Again, that's what you practice for all year. An opportunity for these guys to step up. The biggest thing we miss is their presence.

To have two seniors, guys that have been there for four years, since the very start, obviously you miss their play on the field on game day, Friday, but what's really missed is their presence every single day, for those guys to be out there. They are a part of this, they're a big part of this. To not have them out there on a daily basis I think is the toughest thing.

Q. Who gets the first shot inside?
COACH FICKELL: I don't know that we know for sure right now. Michael Hill will be the guy that will play at the nose spot for Tommy. Donovan Munger, Tracy Sprinkle will be the two guys that will be more at the three-technique spot.

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