Sept. 20, 2007
COACH WEIS: Let's talk about Michigan State. Coach (Mark) Dantonio comes over from Cincinnati. He has a great reputation as a defensive coach, but he's really done an excellent job getting this team playing consistently.
Michigan State game is always a close game. They've won seven out of the last 10 times. Over the last seven years, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less. Fortunately or unfortunately, one statistic that concerns me is the road team's won the last six games of the series.
They returned 13 guys from the team, six on O, six on D, and a specialist. Coach (Don) Treadwell, he runs their offense and coaches the receivers. They're getting a lot of production on offense this year. They're averaging over 33 points a game, rushing for 195, throwing for 242. They're averaging 437 a game, they're converting about 50% of the time on third down.
I think Tim (Prister) brought it up yesterday. They haven't given up a point in the first quarter. It's 28 0 in the first quarter this year. As a matter of fact, in the first half it's 73 24. They've obviously done a good job in the first half of games as well.
(Brian) Hoyer is their quarterback. For two years he was the backup to (Drew) Stanton. He's more than serviceable. Averaging over 60% completions. Averaging 211 yards a game throwing.
(Javon) Ringer and (Jehuu) Caulcrick -- they split times as the main back. Different type of backs. Ringer is the smaller, quicker guy. Caulcrick is the bigger, stout guy. Caulcrick is the captain. Right now, Ringer is leading the team in rushing, averaging 4.6 a carry. Caulcrick, he's second. You have to be ready for the big guy and the small guy, the quick guy and the pounder. Two totally different runners.
(A.J.) Jimmerson, you probably see him a little bit on third down, as well. He's more of a third down back and special teams guy.
At fullback they use three guys. (Jeff) McPherson and (Andrew) Hawken, they split time as a starter, but I've also seen (Devin) Pritchett in there as well. Tight end, Kellen Davis, he's an interesting person here. This is the guy who starts at tight end for them, but he also lines up at nickel and pass rusher. So here is a guy who is playing both ways. (Eric) Andino, he's the second tight end. He'll show up as well.
At receiver, it all starts with Devin Thomas. I'll talk about him as a returner here in a second. All starts with Devin Thomas. He's third in the Big 10, 16th in the NCAA in receiving yards. He's their go to guy. Mark Dell, true freshman, starts opposite of him. When you go to three wide receivers, it will be (Deon) Curry or (Terry) Love they put inside.
On the offensive line, it starts with (Pete) Clifford. He's their captain at left tackle. It was interesting because going into the season, I wasn't sure whether (Mike) Gyetvai or he were going to be the starter at left tackle. But Gyetvai, he's listed day to day. He's had a shoulder injury, hasn't been able to get out there yet. Eventually see him out there. Just hopefully won't be this week.
(Kenny) Shane and (John) Masters, they return -- should I say Shane and (Roland) Martin return at guards. Right now, (Joel) Nitchman, he was injured last week with an undisclosed injury, but I expect to see him. If he couldn't go, Masters will end up playing.
Over on the right side, (Jesse) Miller, he's starting again. Basically there's four guys that have played a whole bunch either/or at the center position.
At defense, Coach (Pat) Narduzzi, he's done a nice job. He kind of follows the lead. These coaches were all together at Cincinnati. Only giving up 16 points a game, which is 19th in the country in scoring defense. Only given up 88.7 yards rushing and 2.8 per carry. That's 28th in the country in rushing defense.
They're ranked 19th in the country in pass efficiency. They're only giving up 28.7 total yards, which is 21st in the country. They're giving up less than 30% conversions on third down. They have 17 sacks, which happens to be one more than they had all of last year. And, as I said before, they have not given up a point in the first quarter.
On defensive line, it's kind of interesting as I look through this. You have (Jonal) Saint Dic. He was the Big 10 Co Defensive Player of the Week. He leads the team in sacks this season. He played in all the games last year. The only game he didn't play was against us. (Brandon) Long will also see some time backing up him.
(Justin) Kershaw, he'll start at their three technique. (Ogemdi) Nwagbuo, he's the bigger body, nose tackle type that will start in there. When you look at their defense, the fourth guy obviously we'll see is Ervin Baldwin. They do some creative things with him when they go into their nickel package, sometimes even lines up inside.
Two veteran, very veteran linebackers, you know, in (Kaleb) Thornhill, he's their Mike linebacker and their captain, and SirDarean Adams, a converted safety. He's 230 pounds. So he's a linebacker to me. Those guys kind of spearhead their defense.
At Will linebacker, they play two guys. They're both good because they're both tied for third on the team in tackles with 18 -- (Eric) Gordon and (Greg) Jones. They both show up in there.
In the secondary, (Otis) Wiley is their free safety. He anchors their secondary. At strong safety, I'm not sure whether (Nehemiah) Warrick or (Travis) Key will show up. Key is their captain. Warrick didn't play last week against Pitt because of a leg injury. I'm not sure who we will see. Key is going to play anyway because he plays the nickel. If Warrick can't go, then Key would start at strong safety.
At corner, you got (Kendell) Davis Clark starting at the boundary corner. Ross Weaver didn't play last week as the field corner. They used (Chris L.) Rucker, who is a true freshman. I'm not really sure which one of those guys we'll end up seeing.
Then last but not least on special teams, Coach (Mike) Tressel, yes, that name is familiar. His dad is the running back coach at Ohio State, and his uncle is the head coach. He coordinates the special teams. They have their kickoff guy, (Todd) Boleski, he's back. This is his third season as the kickoff specialist. Their place kicker, he's back. (Brett) Swenson, his second year as the place kicker. They do have a true freshman punter in Aaron Bates. (Alex) Shackelton, he's their snapper.
In the return game, you better be concerned, especially with (Devin) Thomas when you're talking about kick returns. He's averaging just under 30 yards a kick return. (SirDarean) Adams will be back there and I think I've seen (Andre) Anderson back there with him at least once. Punt return, Mark Dell, the true freshman wide receiver, either him or (Terry) Love back there returning punts.
Q. When you look at the future of your running game beyond this year with (Armando) Allen and (James) Aldridge, are you looking to form the same kind of combination as (Javon) Ringer and (Jehuu) Caulcrick?
COACH WEIS: I would have to include Robert Hughes in that as well because you do have the contrasting styles of the bigger bodies versus the smaller guys. I think they're definitely versatile in the fact it gives you versatility when you're play calling.
Q. What does that do to a defensive front when you go from one style of back to the other?
COACH WEIS: Usually when you have guys in there, they don't do the same thing. If you don't have cognitive awareness, if you're not mentally sharp, you could get yourself caught short. Every back has their things they're best at. Usually coaches try to put them in position to do the things they're best at.
Q. You mentioned yesterday about your top 10 list, number two on your list being fast start. Number one?
COACH WEIS: Physical play. I think that was the biggest point of emphasis of the week. You have to prioritize each week what you think are the most important things going into a game to win that game. If we were going to practice and go with the mentality we had this week, that clearly had to be No. 1.
Q. The players were thrilled with the prospect of winning the game and then obviously if you win, that means it's working so they have to go back and do that again.
COACH WEIS: That's something we're definitely going to have to consider because even if we win the game, you can't just say, "okay, well, everything is all better now." That doesn't mean all your problems go away just because you win one game. It means that you have a better frame of mind and you're more receptive to constructive criticism than when you lose the game. You only can get beaten down so many times as a player.
Q. You mentioned better frame of mind. A lot of the guys were saying "we have to forget about being 0 3." Is that hard with everybody talking about it? How can they do that?
COACH WEIS: The best thing for them, and like I said, I'm more sheltered, I'm more sheltered because the only information that gets to me is what (Notre Dame director of football media relations) Brian (Hardin) or somebody else gives me. I'm in here early. I leave late. Other than talking to my wife, really the outside world right now isn't very significant.
With these guys, the fact they have to go to class every day, they're walking campus every day, I think I feel a lot more for them than I do for me because they're out there on the line taking it every day.
I think the best solace, the greatest peace of mind they get is when they get here, when they get back to this building, they get into the meetings, they get onto the practice field, because that's when you can pull together. You got a hundred guys, another 15 coaches, everyone kind of on the same page. That's where they get their unilateral support.
Q. Not a lot of change in the depth chart. Did that mean the starters all showed you something this week?
COACH WEIS: The most important thing for us was not to create sacrificial lambs. That doesn't mean that there won't be quick hooks in some cases, okay? But if I all of a sudden start pulling people and say, `"this guy is going to start, this guy is going to start," the obvious thing that goes with it is, "well, it's their fault." I think we're all part of the problem. I think there's a lot more bodies that you might see show up in the game this week.
Q. If Notre Dame weren't off to this 0-3 start, the issue we would be talking about is the flag, all the other stuff. Do you bring that up at this point?
COACH WEIS: No. That would be so far from our mind this year. You're right, if everything was going great, that would be the type of things people would be talking about. But we're worrying about Notre Dame. It's not just a coaching phrase. You can understand why. We're worrying about Notre Dame.
Q. You've talked in past seasons about the need to make Notre Dame a tough place to play. Notre Dame is a tremendous underdog against a program that has had one winning season in the past five years. What does that say to you?
COACH WEIS: It says that they're 3-0 and we're 0-3. That's what it says. It is what it is. It's a very practical thing. From where the teams are, based off the evidence you have right now, that's how you'd see it. As I say all along, the only way you can do anything about it is by changing it out on the field.
Q. Have you felt like the players have really embraced your approach this week?
COACH WEIS: Say that one more time.
Q. Do you feel like the players have really embraced the change of tactics this week?
COACH WEIS: More importantly they haven't complained about it. So I don't know if they are doing cartwheels, sitting there going full speed in practice. But they realize that something had to change. I didn't do it to penalize them. I didn't do it to hurt them. I didn't do it to punish them. I did it to try to fix the problems.
And I think they were on board with exactly that. I'm not cognizant of what the conversations are in here when you've had them (for interviews) the last couple days. I would imagine that's probably what they've said to you, too, that they knew something had to change. This was the best way. If you want to emphasize being more physical, then you better go out there and practice it.
Q. In comparison to the other preparation weeks, what have you seen in terms of differences out there?
COACH WEIS: There's a lot more banging going on. It's more hearing than seeing. Anyone who would be out there could tell that the tempo is different. When you're practicing in full pads, but you're not taking them to the ground, there's still that point where impact would take place that doesn't take place. But that's been taking place. Obviously you hear practice a lot more than you normally do.
Q. Are you satisfied with the leadership you're getting from your seniors right now?
COACH WEIS: Yeah, I have no complaints with the leadership. And I really have no complaints with the unity of the team. Those two things I think have stayed strong. Really, they're always one of your biggest concerns -- people going in their little groups, not being on the same page. But I've not seen one little speck of that.
Q. Could you talk about the schedule (this week)? Is it kind of a cram session trying to prepare for Michigan State?
COACH WEIS: Yesterday, we gave them the scouting report and the first and second down game plan. So today it forces you to spend time on third down, red zone, goal line, short yardage, two minute. Now, one of the things we normally do on a Thursday is -- because we practice at Loftus (Center) -- move the fields, which are simulating drives from the games. We actually have an alternating schedule on a normal Thursday where after halfway through practice, the offense will go, then the defense will go, the offense will go, the defense will go, the offense will go, the defense will go. So really there's three periods of the day where you're not even in, you're just kneeling on the sideline.
We're going outside today because I need two fields because we're nixing those normal three periods where you wouldn't be doing anything, you'll pick up the three things that we missed. So going outside, going on two fields, it allows you to pick up the things we haven't been able to cover at this point.
Q. How dangerous of a game is this for your offensive line with them (Michigan State) having so many sacks, 17, and you giving up 23? Seems like they're going to be coming at you as hard as anybody.
COACH WEIS: I would come after us, too. How dangerous? It's going to be dangerous `til you start stopping them. The (Michigan State) coaches aren't dumb. They've sat there and watched the tape. They see what works. They're going to do it `til you stop it. That's just the way it is. And it's going to be that way every week until you've shown you can handle it.
Q. Do you see any evidence in practice that your guys are ready in a close game, if it comes down to it?
COACH WEIS: I think they would welcome a close game at this point after the first three games. (laughter)
Q. The physical practices, I would think, would lend themselves for some players to look better than others just based on their style of play being more physical. I would think James Aldridge is a back that this is a week where it would be a chance for him to shine.
COACH WEIS: This is a James Aldridge-type of week. That's exactly right. I would expect to see James early and often.
Q. How has he relished this opportunity? Do you see him as a guy that knows this is his chance to step up and do something?
COACH WEIS: He knows that he's going to get plenty of opportunity. That's what he knows. So I would imagine he's very excited.
Q. Coach (Mark) Dantonio worked under Nick (Saban) at Michigan State for about five years. Do you see fingerprints of that in what he runs?
COACH WEIS: It's interesting because, in the past, I'd never seen him be a big odd guy on third down. If you watch him now on third down, they have this odd defense and then they have this other defense where they don't have one defensive lineman with their hand on the ground. From their past, I don't remember ever seeing any of that stuff. I would say this is a new one here. This is one that makes you do a lot of thinking and causes some serious confusion.
Q. They're unveiling a statue of Ara Parseghian on Saturday. Thoughts on that?
COACH WEIS: Ara Parseghian, a lot of people look at him as a legendary coach, great ambassador to Notre Dame. To me he's been more than that. He's been much more of a mentor. He's the first person that calls me after a loss. It's easy for people to call you after a win.
But he's always there. He's always there to give me advice on the good and the bad. I can't think of anyone that is more deserving to be honored than Ara. He's been just great to me.
Q. Describe the overall mood of your football team, the attitude they take going into this game.
COACH WEIS: Outside of this building, the mood probably has been pretty solemn because you go to your dorm or you go on campus, you could feel it. You're 0-3, you haven't played very well, you can feel it.
But when they get here, when we get here back in this building, when we get to the (Guglielmino Athletic Complex), Loftus (Center), over to our practice field, I think the mood has been great. It's really what you have to play off of. When you pull them here together, you say, "this is it, fellas. No one believes in you but you. You're it. There isn't one person out this that thinks you're any good. This is where all your supporters are probably sitting right in this classroom right here 'cause you're not going to find a lot of people outside until you start doing something about it."
I think the best part for them is when they get here. The toughest part of their day isn't football practice. The toughest part of the day is getting through the day to get to football practice. I think once they get there, it's almost a relief.
Q. Given that, how much pressure is there on this football team going into Saturday?
COACH WEIS: I think they just got to go. You can't look at it from pressure. I've never been a person who responds to pressure. I think what you have to do is we have to go follow the script, play a physical game. It all starts there. There's several factors this come into game: getting off to a fast start, doing a better job of taking care of the football. There's so many things that you could talk about.
It was sort of like when we were at Michigan last week. You kind of felt that Michigan going in, if you got on top of them early, you could have turned it into a really good situation for you. But just the opposite happened.
Q. Armando Allen no longer returning kicks?
COACH WEIS: He might be back there some returning kicks. Most of these kickers kick it to one spot, like this guy usually kicks it to one spot. Golden (Tate) will get the brunt of it. And with Junior (Jabbie) back there, Junior is a good returner, but he's also a very good blocker. So if you're going to feature one guy, we'd rather not Golden or Armando be the lead blocker. We'd rather them be the guy with the ball in their hands.
Q. Do you always want to have one blocker?
COACH WEIS: No, you want two returners if the guy sprays the ball all over the place because you would like two equally good returners. I think with Armando and Golden, we have two guys that are explosive returners. If a guy is going to hit the ball one spot all the time, that's when you use a returner back there with better blocking ability.
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