Offensive coordinator/Quarterbacks coach Charley Molnar and Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco - Notre Dame Fighting Irish comment at the Hyundai Sun Bowl Coordinators Press Conference.
What are the things you’ve been working on with Tommy (Rees) since the last game (USC), which he struggled quite a bit?
He did struggle a little bit and some of that was due to the big arena that we played in and, obviously, the talented defense that we went against. Really, what we did at the beginning was get Tommy’s confidence back and went back to basics while we were back in South Bend. We did things he was comfortable with. And then we, slowly but surely, instilled a game plan as the week went on and he’s, really, had a good 12 days of practice so far.
Miami’s reputation is not to blitz a lot, they get their pass rush through their defensive line. What are you anticipating after Miami has had time to look at the USC game film?
I wouldn’t think that was dissimilar from what USC did. They got quite a bit of pressure just from their front four and Miami’s is every bit as good as USC’s (defensive line), if not better. I would expect much of the same thing. Really what Tommy has to do is go through his reads and get the ball in and out of his hands as fast as he can to avoid heavy pressure, and also be sure of his decisions. I think that’s where the quality reps at practice come in.
What is Tommy’s personality like and how does he react to the type of adversity that he faced at USC?
I think he’s really got the makeup of an outstanding quarterback. He never gets too high. Never gets too low. After the USC game, he was jubilant over the win but also disappointed in his performance. But generally as we go through our day-to-day, if he has a good game or a good practice or not-so-good practice, he’s pretty much the same. He’s very even keel. I think that’s a good trait for him.
You said that when Robert Hughes started running North to South, that’s why he began to make strides. Is that something you saw or did it click with him? What did you see?
I think coach (Brian) Kelly and I had the same observation. Robert Hughes initially, as we went through spring ball and summer camp; he ran like he was a 172 pounder, always looking for cuts and trying to out-run people around the corner, rather than lowering his pads and taking on tacklers and getting tough yardage that way. Really, now, he’s using his God-given skills and his natural strength and power, he’s really started to utilize that. Hopefully we’ll see the same thing from him in this game.
How much of a help is it to have him running well and take the pressure off a freshman quarterback?
No question it couldn’t have happened at a better time, to really get our running game cranked up and, not that Tommy can’t carry the team on his back. We don’t want to find out if he can. We would rather have our offense be balanced at this point, be able to run the football effectively and throw the ball not when we have to, but when we want to take advantage of things we see from the defense.
Within the confines of your offense can you make Tommy a better runner than he is, or a better running threat?
Tommy has had some options to run the football and because of the receiver selection, guys being open, he’s taken the option to throw the football. But, Tommy can run the football and run it effectively if we needed him to do so. During summer camp, in fact, he snapped off a couple of long runs as we went through camp. He can do it. Right now he just feels very comfortable in the pocket, getting the ball out of his hands quickly. He’s not looking to run the football like some other quarterbacks might.
In your offense, does it help to have a quarterback that does look to run?
I think that helps in every offense, to have a quarterback that can run, so when things breakdown the quarterback can keep the play alive and look to extend the play and find a receiver down the field, or be a real threat to tuck the ball and run. Will Tommy all of a sudden decide to become a running quarterback in the Sun Bowl? I don’t think that he will, but he’ll have some options where he can throw the ball or keep it and run. We’ll see what happens.
Coach, how does the absence of Duval (Kamara) affect your guy’s offense?
I don’t think it affects us very much. The way that practice had been going, (freshman wide receiver) T.J. Jones was slated to get back into his starting role anyway. Everything just worked out smoothly as Coach Kelly, and we all say often, and always is, ‘Next man in’. The next man in is T.J. and backed up by him is (Bennett) Jackson. We don’t blink, we don’t think twice. That’s just the way it goes.
Who are two or three guys from Miami’s defense that keep jumping out at you (on film)?
Well they really have two outstanding cornerbacks. No. 1 (Brandon Harris) and No. 13 (Ryan Hill). I think No. 1 is about as good as anybody that we have faced all year. There MIKE linebacker, No. 44 (Colin McCarthy) is outstanding and both of their defensive ends, I would put them up in the same classification as Pitt’s or USC’s defensive ends. These are guys you really have to game plan and have to know where they are and do some things to take the pressure off the guys that are matched up against them.
Can you use their aggressiveness, or their desire to get up field or to get around the edge, to use that against them?
Well I think we’ll do things that everybody else has tried, some people more successfully than others. But the big thing that we do, that other people don’t, is No. 1, we really do a lot of different things on offense; we’ll keep them off balance. And our ability to play fast and have shorter duration between plays. When it’s worked for us in the past is potentially getting those guys off the field to get a (rest). Usually the guy that goes in isn’t quite as good as the starter that’s on the field at that time.
What are some of the more memorable moments from the game, do you recall?
We won the game, so that was memorable. My last football game, the last time you identify yourself as a football player your whole life. Walking off that field is a different kind of feeling.
You, personally, had a good game?
I don’t statistically remember how it went, but I feel like I was productive in the game, served the overall team and unit well.
If there is a specific quarterback named for Miami does that narrow things for you guys?
It has happened a couple of different times, during the course of the year, where you see a team that has a real plan and plans their positions accordingly. Their tangible traits seem very similar. So as stated as a couple of weeks ago, the plan is the same when either one comes in. They’re athletic, they’re fast, they have good arm strength and can make all of the throws. Both throw really well when on the move.
What did you see on film in regards to freshman quarterback Stephen Morris?
I think that he came in and represented what they were looking from the quarterback position. Again, he’s got similar tangible traits to Jacory (Harris) as it relates to how he throws, how he runs, how his body moves and how he operates and conducts the offense. Not much seemed to changed when one went out and one came in. I thought as a young guy he did an admirable job and he’s going to be a productive player and have a wonderful career, I’m sure.
Miami has thrown a lot of interceptions over the past couple of years. How do you look to take advantage of that?
We won’t do anything outside of working out system. We’ll just operate within our framework as it relates to how we cal defense and how the player’s play structurally as the game unfolds and we’ll see how it goes.
Do you get a feel the excitement of the people in El Paso, with the stadium selling out, and that they’re really embracing Norte Dame?
I would anticipate that both teams are being met with the same reception. The reception is awesome. Immediately, as we’re getting off the plane, 10 steps there’s a band singing and people all around. In terms of the energy and excitement, it was immediate. The people and the city have been great.
Where is the confidence level from being 4-5 to when you are now (7-6)?
I would say that true. We’re not home from Christmas. We’re here at a bowl and that’s exciting. The players are improving and the team is moving in the right direction. So we’ve had an opportunity to get everyone on the team a lot of work. To play in another game is a great learning tool for everyone in the organization.
How is Ian Williams fitting in with the defense after returning ? Has he disrupted the chemistry?
There’s no disruption of chemistry in the middle. The players know exactly where everyone fits all the time. That’s our core belief, that’s how we operate. We communicate clearly everyday with the players, as it relates to where they stand. So there’s never any loss of energy and team building. Division is clear, so there’s no back door, behind the scenes conversations because every single person involved in the organization knows exactly what their evaluation is that particular day. As it relates to Ian, there’s no loss of chemistry. We’re excited he’s back. He’s got an opportunity to play his last college football game. That’s an awesome thing that he was able to grind it out and work hard to get himself back into position and healthy enough to contribute.
How has Brian Smith improved as the season has gone on, particularly down the stretch?
He was excited about a position change from ’09 to ’10. The change really suited him. He hadn’t had a lot of training out there, but as it relates to his body type and how he moves. You know, it was good fit. He didn’t get upset when he was splitting time with Kerry (Neal). Really, I saw him as a starter the whole year.
When Carlo (Calabrese) went down, who first suggested that he would move back inside?
We look at the personnel all of the time. We meet as a defensive staff under the direction of coach Kelly. It’s a staff decision.
Another guy playing his last game in a Norte Dame uniform is Darrin Walls. What has he meant to your secondary and cornerbacks?
Darrin is a benchmark for professionalism. He is someone that you can point to on any given day and say, ‘this is how you come to work, this is how you come to meetings.’ He’s clean cut, he looks good, and he wears nice clothes. I don’t know whether he has the approach that any given day he may meet someone that might change his life so he better be ready for it, but that’s how he conducts his business.
Can you talk about the Miami offensive line and any challenges they present?
It’s a big, physical group and they’re athletics. It’s a hard offensive line to do all of the things that you would want. It would be easier to engulf a smaller player. So we have to be careful and creative with how we attack those players because they are very large-bodied guys.