Football

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An Interview With: HARRISON SMITH & BRAXSTON CAVE

Oct. 26, 2011

Q. Can you comment on the change in atmosphere in Notre Dame Stadium with the changes in music and everything that was done, what were your impressions and how it impacted not necessarily the game, but to the team in general?

Harrison Smith: Well, the environment was electric to start with. The fans were really into it, and I don't think I've ever heard it get so loud and so frenzied. But we still didn't play good enough with all that, so I'm glad that the fans really accepted everything and had a great time.

On the other end of that, we need to kind of hold up our end of the bargain and make plays when they need to be made.

Q. Long term do you think that will be beneficial? Do you go into other place where is it's frenzied like that, do you think it will have a long term, positive effect?

Harrison Smith: I think it will. Any time that you can get the fans more involved, I think that helps the home team. It can throw the other team off, the offense off and it can just swing the momentum so fast. I think that will really just help the program in the future.

Q. Braxston, what's your impression of that?

Braxston Cave: I totally agree. The atmosphere was electric. Like Harrison said, if we can't get the job done, then none of that stuff really matters. We just have to continue to get better and do our thing and with the fans buying with that with the electricity of that, you know, I think once it all comes together, it will be a special thing.

Q. So many times during Navy week we are asking you guys questions about Navy and how difficult it is to prepare for them. What advantages, starting with you, what advantages do you have in playing a Navy team that you can take advantage of?

 

 

Braxston Cave: Right away, you see that I think we have a physical mismatch. Just as far as offensive line goes, we are a big, strong front. When we get our running game established, that opens up the passing game, as well, which I think we have done a great job of so far this season. It's going to come down to playing a complete game.

Q. What can you guys do to maximize the advantages that you have?

Harrison Smith: Pretty similar to Braxston said. We obviously have bigger guys, faster guys across the board. So really like we say, whenever we play an option team, it just comes down to doing your assignment, and then when you get there, kind of imposing your will against them. If you have the physical advantage, if you can match them mentally, then you can really kind of capitalize on that physical advantage.

Q. When you played Michigan State, there was a lot of backs against the wall, even anger against yourself as a team for how things went for the first two weeks; how would you compare that feeling going into that game versus maybe this week?

Harrison Smith: Pretty similar I would say. Any time you're coming off a loss, I think everybody kind of just naturally gets that mentality that your backs are against the wall, you've got to win. No matter what the week before was, that's what the feeling is.

So it's kind of similar to that. But really, you can't get too ahead of yourself with that feeling. You've got to realize that today is Wednesday and we've got to go out and get what we need to get done today. So you can't just kind of look forward to the next Saturday. You've got to do what's necessary in between to get ready.

Q. How would you describe the mood of everybody?

Braxston Cave: Everybody is up. We are not going to let one game ruin our season. We still have got a lot of football to play and we know that we have got to take it one week at a time. Just like I said earlier, work on completing and finishing our whole game, and playing the way we know how to.

Q. Did you and Dayne (Crist) talk about the exchange that led to the fumble and the touchdown return, is that something you guys go over at all, try to figure out what happened there?

Braxston Cave: We talked briefly. We got a couple of snaps on the sideline after. We snap to each other every day. So to sit here and say, I don't know why it happened, we both take responsibility for it. It definitely happened at an unfortunate time in the game, and just got to move on.

Q. This program has lost some games in recent years pretty inexplicably, unbelievable circumstances; does that get inside your heads in any way when you see two touchdown returns or some of the things that have gone on, are you wondering what might happen next?

Harrison Smith: I think it can get in your head if you let it, just like anything could. But you just can't have that mind set that everything is going to go wrong when we need something else to happen. There have been some pretty maybe inexplicable not unbelievable, because it happened. But you just can't think like that no matter what. You've always got to think that, I'm going to make the next play, we are going to make the next play. And we are going to finish the game out.

So I mean, to me, that's something that's never really crept into my mind. It's just, you know, just constantly thinking about the next play, next play, next play. Braxston Cave: It all comes down to overcoming adversity and got to do your best to keep yourself in the best situation to not let things like that happen. We have had some unfortunate things happen this year and in the past, but we are just overcoming adversity and that's the way it's going to be no matter what. And I think we have done a good job of overcoming it.

Q. Talking to Coach (Chuck) Martin about this yesterday and looking back at the Air Force game, he said it was a bit of an outlier for new terms of your performance. What do you take away from that that might help you on Saturday?

Harrison Smith: They definitely did some similar things but they also did a lot of different things. After that game, I think Coach was talking to some recruits he kind of turned to me and he was like, "Not your best game."

And I was just like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

And the recruits were like, "Wow, I can't believe you said that.

And he was like, "Yeah, he already knows that." That's something that we both knew that I didn't play my best game that game. And so kind of already having those experiences, having to take on blocks, how to take on different angles is something that I think will help this week.

And at the same time, it also makes me realize that I just need to lock in that much more playing a triple option team, especially a team like Navy who just does a great job executing every play. You know, just always, always ready to go.

Q. Do you think that performance the option had a lot to do with or just a bad day and just happened to be against an option team?

Harrison Smith: Maybe some of both. Sometimes you just don't have your best game, and I just can't let that happen again.

Q. For both of you, Coach Kelly mentioned over the week last week and over the weekend and he mentioned it again yesterday, the preparation was just off during practice last week and he wasn't really happy about it going into the game and thought it kind of showed itself on Saturday night. I guess can you talk about what was maybe off, and how that experience helps you maybe prepare better this week or be more dialed in this week? Braxston Cave: I think having the bye week and then having a week off of school, it just kind of changes up your daily routine that you're used to. You've got a lot more free time and it just takes you out of that routine that you're so used to.

Maybe that had something to do with it. I really can't pinpoint something exactly. I think we are back in the swing of things and we had a great day yesterday and plan on having a great day today. And that's the way we are just going to continue to go along.

Q. Did either of you sense that preparation last week was not at peak level while it was happening?

Harrison Smith: Not really, no. Obviously the coaches are looking for more of the smaller things and we are just doing what we do. When you are out there and you're going through it a hundred miles an hour, it's not really something you just sit there and think about.

Q. Coach Kelly was talking when you defend an option team, he was saying he wasn't worried about giving up a lot of yards as long as you're not giving up any points. Do defensive players like yourself, would you rather not give up a lot of yards, or are you okay with giving up yards, as long as you don't break at the end?

Harrison Smith: Well, you obviously don't want to give up yards but at the end of the day, it's points versus points. That's the game. So if you can keep the points down, that's how you win the game. Especially against a team like Navy who average so many rushing yards and they make big plays through the air.

So really, if you can cut out those big plays through the air, don't let them pop the long runs and kind of get them off track and get them into second and long, third and long, that's kind of where you can capitalize and it's almost like they are going to get their yards. You just have to keep them off the board.

Q. The question about the music, I can't remember which one of you said it, but when you're on the road, you can sometimes feel the momentum like kind of be pushed by some of the crowd and the music and the extra stuff. Is there an example that jumps out, like a stadium where the momentum really shot the other way because of maybe the crowd or the music or all the extra stuff that goes on?

Braxston Cave: The Michigan game was probably I guess maybe the most recent one that I can remember. It was kind of a similar situation for them, home game and a night game, and they were pumping the music in and got over 100,000 fans in there. They were pretty rowdy.

Q. What does that do to you guys? Anything of significance?

Braxston Cave: I guess it adds a little adversity to it and makes it a little harder to hear the calls. It's something we practice every day in practice, something we are used to. Obviously not the same, equivalent to 100,000.

Harrison Smith: Yeah, it's probably a lot different for Braxston on the offensive side of the ball. As a defensive guy at away games, I kind of feed off of it. I know a lot of other defensive guys feed off it. It doesn't really affect our play calling or our checks a lot.

Q. Can you talk about the shirts you're wearing today?

Braxston Cave: We are remembering X (former student manager Xavier Murphy). And all of his buddies at his dorm, Zahm, this week they are selling bandanas for the American Cancer Society. And also his high school set up a scholarship foundation and they are selling these shirts. So we want to show them to everybody and let everybody know and try and help out for a good cause.

Q. Did either of you guys have a personal relationship?

Braxston Cave: Both of us did. X was with us every day. Always a great person to be around, willing to do anything for you. Always had a smile on his face, cracking jokes. He will definitely be terribly missed. Just a great, typical Notre Dame guy.

Q. How tough is it to lose someone so quick to something like leukemia?

Harrison Smith: Everything happened so fast. It's kind of unbelievable to most of us.

Especially like Braxston was saying, X was one of those guys, maybe you were having a bad day at practice or you know, you were just not all the way there that day and you're kind of like running around the field and you see X on the sideline and he makes a joke or whatever and he's always got that big smile on his face. So he is just one of those guys that he's always he would always bring you up. He's just always such a pleasure to be around.

Losing a guy like him is tough for everyone that he touched just because he was such a great person. But at the same time, he's something he's somebody that we are not going to forget. We will always remember what he meant to us.

Q. Obviously tomorrow is the one year anniversary of Declan Sullivan, how tough obviously that day was extremely difficult for everyone. What do you guys remember from that day, and how long will that always be something that stays with you guys?

Harrison Smith: Definitely something that's all going to be with us. It was a tragic day and once again, we lost a great member of the Notre Dame family. I think it's great that we have the memorial out front so that every day when you leave, there's a great way to remember him. I think that's also something that we'll never forget he'll always be in our heart.

Braxston Cave: Yeah, obviously it's a tragedy to lose a young man like that. It's definitely a day we'll never forget. But more importantly, it's the person that we'll never forget and what he meant to all of us here.

Q. Getting back to football, when you guys look at a lot of people, fans, 4 3, not what we expected, obviously not what you guys expected, but can you just talk about what there is left to play for, what you guys feel like you have yet to you're able to accomplish for the rest of this season?

Braxston Cave: I still don't think we have played our best football yet. Offensively, special teams, defensively, combining all three units, playing a complete game, I don't think we have done that yet. I think the best is still yet to come.

Like I said, there's we have lost three games. Our season is not over. I have too much pride and I know everyone has too much pride for guys like Harry (Harrison Smith), this is his last time, his last year to go out and put a helmet on and go and play Notre Dame football. I would never let myself or another underclassman give a letdown for Harrison. We have been through too much. We have worked too hard to just throw it away after three losses.

Harrison Smith: I think the reason most guys play, I know the reason that I play, at the start of the year, it's not, in my mind, it's not that we need to win every game. In my mind, it's the next play, I'm going to beat the guy I'm going against and that's why you play the game. Because your ability to beat the guy across from you is so satisfying, that just keeps you going, because you want more of that. And so to me, the next play that I play, that's what I want to do. I don't care who the team is, I don't care what our record is, I don't care how many games we have left. I don't care if it's practice. That's the mind set that I have and I know a lot of other guys have.

So it doesn't matter what the circumstances are. I want to beat the guy that I go against next play.

Q. Every time we ask you to look back at old game, you grind your teeth and get annoyed at us what we do that, so I won't actually ask you about that game, but the mentality, is it something deep inside that motivates that you just lingers there that you can use as an advantage when you have games like happened a year ago against this team?

Harrison Smith: Yeah, definitely. I was talking to somebody earlier. When you have a bad play, a missed play, a bad game that feeling hurts so much worse than the good feeling that you get winning a game. The bad feeling outweighs that. That's what keeps me motivated and keeps me going.

You know, just wanting to kind of right my wrongs, get my errors corrected and make those plays.

Q. Braxston, does last year's game add motivation for you guys this week in addition last week's loss? Braxston Cave: Definitely. Especially the way our offense played last year, it was definitely embarrassing to just sit back and know that we had no control over what we were doing. It felt like we would go out there and we were making mistakes and just not playing our game. That's definitely a motivator to want to go out there and impose your will on Navy and make things go the way we want them to go, because we are doing the right things and not stopping ourselves.

We know we are only going to get a limited amount of possessions and it's going to be huge for us to capitalize every time we have the ball.

Q. You obviously have a very close relationship with Dayne (Crist), not necessarily about the play itself, but just be being there for your friend, how tough was that, seeing what he had to go through yet again, just such a tough moment for your friend?

Braxston Cave: It's tough, but Dayne's a strong kid. Like I said earlier, we talked about it for about two seconds and that was the end of it. So he moved on. I moved on. There isn't really nothing you can do about it.

Q. Some of the USC guys made comments about you guys quitting and I think it had more to do with the time outs not called at the end of game. Coach Kelly doesn't seem like a bulletin board kind of guy worrying what other teams say, but wondering your reaction to those comments. I think Ricky Dobbs said, "We have five star hearts," representing the five star hearts at Notre Dame. How do you guys react to comments made by the opponent publically?

BRAXSTON SMITH: Doesn't bother me at all. They can talk all they want. We are going to do our talking with our pads on the field. If they have got to use verbal language after the game to build themselves up, then that's what they have to do. But we are just going to do what we have got to do on the field.

Q. So it bothers you. Does it bother you Harrison?

Harrison Smith: (Chuckling) I think you're fishing there a little bit. Any time somebody says something about you, that might bother you. But at the end of the day, that's not what wins or loses games. I played against Dobbs. He was a great player, but he's not playing this year. So we just can't let that affect us. And the comments last week, game's over. We didn't win, period. So whatever is said doesn't really matter.

Q. Does Coach Kelly use that bulletin board material? It's an old phrase. I don't know if you guys even know what that is now; is that something that's ever emphasized by him?

Braxston Cave: Not really, no. I can't think of a time that he's really brought that up, because like I said, that's not, that, doesn't win games. It might get hype or it might get your name in the paper. That's not really what we're about.

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