On behalf of the University of Notre Dame, our president Father Jenkins, our athletic director jack Swarbrick, our players and our staff, we’re greatly excited to be part of the 2020 ACC Championship Fame. When we were given this opportunity, we certainly put it on our goal sheet as a destination for us.
I also want to congratulate Dabo (Swinney) once again for a terrific football season. He has his team playing extremely well once again. So congratulations to Clemson University, and we’re excited about certainly playing them again. (It was) certainly was an incredible football game the first time around. I think the fans can look for much of the same in this rematch.
So, again, really excited about the opportunity to be in the acc championship – our players are, and I know our entire Notre Dame fan base is excited. This opportunity doesn’t come along very often at Notre Dame to play for a conference championship, so it should be exciting.
Obviously there has been a lot made about the first matchup, with the absences that Clemson had with Trevor Lawrence and then the players on defense. I know it’s hard to quantify but how much better do you think they look just having Skalski and Davis and Jones back in the lineup?
Well, Skalski obviously is a quarterback for their defense, so you know he certainly makes a difference. The other thing he has is size, you know, so he makes a difference. You have to plan for him, certainly, as somebody that you know physically has a different makeup as well. So his size, his leadership, you know, certainly is going to make a difference.
Jones has obviously got the athletic ability to play in their defense, in a manner that allows them to do more things.
But, you know, I think when we start to look at one player making a difference. I think we might be reading a little bit too much into it. It’s the ability for all 11 players to play at a high level, and if he’s playing well but three or four other guys aren’t playing at the same level, you know, it negates it. But it’s certainly he’s going to help having his leadership, I think more than anything else on the defensive side of the ball.
It’s a rarity in college football to play somebody twice. Winning the first one – is that an advantage, a disadvantage, or just neutral?
It depends on what happens the first time around. This was a double-overtime game where both teams believe that they could have won the football game. Certainly, we did, and I’m sure Clemson believes they could have won the game. So from that perspective, I think both teams leave with a feeling of confidence, though Clemson is not a team that needs confidence, they’ve been the king of the ACC for a number of years.
In the game that we played, I think both teams got a better sense of who they are. I don’t know that there’s an advantage one way or the other. This is still going to come down to the fundamentals, and players making plays. There’s really good players on both sides of the ball. I just think it’s going be a really closely contested football game. I think it’s going to match up the way people think it is.
You mentioned, these opportunities don’t come around very often for Notre Dame Of course they have not ever come down from Notre Dame before. I know Notre Dame fans and certainly Jack Swarbrick have said very passionately, “We believe in our independence. This is something we want to maintain,” and I would not expect it to be any different in 2021, But if sometime down the line they come to you and they say your personal experience based off of this year … Has it changed your thought process any on what the value of independence versus being a part of a league would be in your mind personally after going through this this year?
Oh, absolutely. You can talk all you want about being in a conference. But if you’re not in the ACC – and we weren’t, you know, we were dipping our toe into it – you really can’t talk firsthand about it. We can now, so it’s offered us a different perspective, there’s no doubt about it. And, you know, sitting on this
call right now at this press conference, getting a chance to play for an ACC Championship is certainly the positive of being in a conference.
Losing out on playing some of the traditional rivalries is obviously the negative. (So) what’s the pluses and minuses of this comes down to how we see us as a program moving forward over the foreseeable future. Those are the questions that really, quite frankly, Jack Swarbrick is entertaining at a higher level. And I’ll give him my feedback, but we’ve enjoyed this, this relationship. If they come and ask my opinion I would say that the ACC has been a great relationship for Notre Dame, but independence has been something that is part of who we are in our DNA.
Brian, I wondered if you could kind of catch us up on what you’re looking at center, how Zeke Correll and Josh Lugg are competing, and then just a few of the players you’re hoping to get back. Kramer, Jayson Ademiloola and Lacey – specifically what their condition is.
This has really been about getting Zeke back to a position where we feel like he’s at 100%. I would say that he’s getting really close in practice. You know, we were on the field, as I had laid out for you guys, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and by Saturday, we all felt that he was really close to being 100%. I think it then becomes a situation where has he played enough football for us to feel like, with the one game that he played then got injured versus, you know, Josh playing two games. Can they both help us at that position? I think that’ll be a game day decision. I think they’re both going to continue to get reps at the center position, and then we’ll take that right into game day.
Kraemer’s good to go. He’s been taken all the reps at the right guard position. I feel real good about where he is. And Jayson as well. Jayson’s been getting a lot of reps and he’ll be ready to play. We’re just rounding him back into game shape. Lacey’s much better. As you know, he was slowed a little bit, but we feel really good about the last couple of days. We were banging around pretty good on Saturday, and he came out of it in a really good place. So after talking to our medical staff today, we’re in a green light situation with all these players.
Clemson and you guys have sort of compared notes over the years, and as you’ve sort of gotten a more of a regular routine of playing them, this year, in particular, do you see the programs as similar? Are there are parts of what Dabo has built on there that you feel like apply to what you’ve built at Notre Dame?
Well, (both) are steeped in a process and build a strong bond within their program as it relates to relationships with their players and amongst the players, and I think that’s very important. An having success. So, there’s some similarities there. Certainly, the recruiting to a profile – both programs are looking for somebody that fits into that culture, if you will. I think both programs are looking for that kind of student-athlete that fits that profile.
I think when you when you’re talking about championship level programs, there’s still the ability to look at the nuances of each program. Dabo has some things that he does that are a little bit different than we do at Notre Dame. But by and large, it’s about establishing a winning culture with players that are committed to and are held accountable to it, quite frankly, and I think that that’s probably where the similarities are the most between the two programs.
When you think about the differences between this year and 2018, as far as (each team’s) makeup in similarities or lack thereof. What you notice in their MO of just being able to get stops in, and keep teams off the scoreboard?
Well I think you need to look at … Last night, North Carolina rushed for over 500 yards (against Miami), and they didn’t have that kind of production running against us. I don’t know exactly how many yards they had rushing, but it wasn’t nearly the numbers. 125 yards maybe. I know Clemson was less than 100 yards rushing. So you know look, this is centered around stingy run defense, and making teams become one dimensional. Then it gives you the opportunity to dictate down and distance. and we’ve been really good on third down. We’re one of the best third down defenses in the country because, we get you into some predictable situations. It starts up front with the ability to be really good against the run and that’s where this defense is really been consistent, you know, over the last four years.
Could sum up what how you changed and maybe how philosophy changed after 2016, the 4-8 season and how you got to this place?
You look back at ‘16, it still was my 25th year. I think everybody has to be able to, you know, be humble as a leader and look at what you know what areas they need to grow in. I ask our players to be humble, but if the head coach can’t be humble and look at where he needs to get better, you know you’re not going to get that from your players. I thought an area that I needed to do a better job in was the relationship for our players and getting them to play to their very best.
We lost a lot of games late, where we weren’t able to close. And a lot of that had to do with our players’ inability to have the kind of confidence and the level of confidence necessary in themselves, and then me instilling in them. So I needed to spend more time with our players. I pushed myself back from a lot of the time in play calling and the Xs and Os and spent much more time with our players and their mental performance. It proved to be the right decision.
I wonder if you see any irony in what you came to Notre Dame as offensively in what Notre Dame is now offensively.
Well, I think football is still about players over plays I’ve always believed that, and I think what I’ve tried to do from an offensive standpoint is, as always match my offense to the players that I’ve had. Quite frankly, when I came to Notre Dame I was trying to fit an offense to the players that that were here in place. What we’ve done is, we’ve evolved to the level where we want to be by the recruiting of the kind of players that are, they’re going to obviously be here and develop with our offense and that structure. You can see it’s built on a strong running game, the ability to still spread the field but to be physical at the line of scrimmage. And it’s matching what our philosophy is on defense – stop the run, run the football. Be really good on third down in controlling the football and then getting off the field. Controlling points and scoring points. That sounds like a simple philosophy, but sometimes people are chasing their tail trying to get to that, and we seem to have gotten to that, that point where we all know who we are and what our identity is.
What do you feel your teams’ feeling going into this game is related to the playoffs, do can feel like you’re in regardless of what happens?
We haven’t talked about it. Really, it’s not even something that we consider at this point. We’ll talk about that next week. We’ve got our hands full with really focusing on this ACC championship, so the playoffs, take care of themselves. We can’t control that.
Will our players understand that if they win that they’re going to be in the playoffs? Sure, they get that, but they don’t round thinking ‘Or if we lose …’ That’s just not how we think. We’re not wired that way. We’re wired to think that we’re going to win the football game, and we expect to win the football game. So they don’t go around thinking, ‘Hey, we’re gonna lose the game and then we’re probably still in the playoffs.’ We’re thinking about winning the ACC Championship, so all of our time and all of our energy is about this game and winning this football game.
It’s been a week since you guys have played an opponent. How are they, how are they, how are the guys doing how’s preparation working towards the game next Saturday?
Well, it’s what we’ve mapped out. We gave him a little bit time off. We spent some time in the weight room, I think, maintaining your strength is very, very important. We had some things that we needed to work on fundamentally. We spent a day of practice that had nothing to do with Clemson; it had to do with just, you know, I call it lab work – things that you do in the laboratory. Experiment a little bit work on some things. So we had some lab work to do.
And then Thursday, we introduced Clemson. We spent some extra time on special teams, gadget plays. the bending gadget plays, some tricks exotics things of that nature. And then Friday and Saturday, we got to work on some team time on Clemson, and then Saturday, we tackled a little bit. You can’t go too far away without having some tackling, and I don’t like to go two weeks without tackling. Our guys had today off, we’ll come back tomorrow with some walkthroughs and be in a normal game week situation. Our guys like that routine.
Brian, you talked about recruiting to a profile. Jeremiah Owusu-Kormoah was not a terribly highly recruited prospect out of, out of Bethel (in Hampton, Va.). What attracted him and brought you to Virginia to recruit him and can you describe his trajectory into an all American?
Yeah, I think that’s a good question. We’re looking for guys that certainly have what we believe is the ability to be developed. They’re not necessarily ready-made. In his instance, we feel like he’s a young man that we can develop his talent level. We want guys that love to play the game, I’ve got to see a passion. We loved his. And when we spent some time with him, we loved the fact that there was a real love for the game and a passion for it.
You know, it’s their job to motivate themselves. We hear this phrase all the time that, ‘Your guys weren’t motivated What’s wrong?” We recruit guys that have that love and that passion and that intrinsic motivation, and that’s another thing that he had. Those are some of the intangibles that don’t show up on the you know the recruiting sheet that we look for. So you’re never dealing with teams that play up and play down and can play in a consistent manner and can win 16 consecutive games or win 25 in a row. That’s really what Clemson looks for I’m sure in terms of those traits. That’s what we looked for in him and saw that, and that was really attractive.
Obviously, I don’t want you to give away trade secrets here or anything like that, but when you found out you weren’t going to be playing against Trevor Lawrence (on Nov. 7), how much did you sort adjust the defensive gameplan. Or did you kind of just go about doing more or less exactly what you would have done had Trevor been on the field?
Well, it was actually more difficult, quite frankly, because we weren’t sure what DJ (Uiagalelei)’s skill set was across the board and you know we didn’t have enough film to really evaluate them. And as you know, he threw for over 400 yards. He was outstanding. We kind of said that maybe he wasn’t the same kind of runner, but we had to respect his ability to run, read option and certainly cue runs. We really tried to defend Trevor, and, and then obviously have some things in there that a young quarterback may not have seen before. But that didn’t work so much. He did pretty good.
Can you talk about how you played against Travis Etienne and what you will look do this time around?
Yeah, he’s an outstanding player. You have to know where he is. you have to have your run fits down, and you have to be disciplined. It’s a team defensive effort, and we’re gonna have to have a similar one (as in the first game). He is an explosive football player that we have such great respect for. Obviously, you know when you put your game plan together, the first thing you’ve got to think of is how you’re going slow him down. So, tremendous respect for him. We’re gonna have to get him on the ground and make sure that he doesn’t get out in the second level. You’ve got to get him before he gets started, and that means controlling the line of scrimmage and being strong tacklers.
Obviously, going back when you were celebrating and feeling good after beating Clemson, was there any concern just defensively with what DJ was able to do – passing for over 400 yards – and any changes you feel like need to be made after his performance?
Yeah, we’ve got to play better. There’s no doubt about that. I mean, we did a good job against the run. Clearly, they are a talented football team and we played pretty well in the first half, then they made some plays in the third quarter and the thing got into double overtime. You know, that’s what’s gonna happen when you have two really good football teams but yeah, there’s some things that we’re gonna have to do much better in (defending) the passing game. We’re gonna have to continue to obviously keep their running game in check. Butto the level of giving up 400- plus yards (passing) – no we cannot afford to do that again there’s no doubt about that.
Brian when you have a year like this people are gonna want to talk to your assistants I know there’s been a lot out there about Clark Lea, wondering if you could tell us how he’s handled that particular situation and how your team as maybe try to keep that from becoming a potential distraction.
Yeah Clark’s a professional. I mean, he was in it last year with the Boston College job. You know he’s in it with the Vanderbilt job and, you know, again if it’s the right fit for him … You know he’s in it for the long haul here at Notre Dame so it’s not going to disrupt what he does in his preparation for the championship game and hopefully moving forward. You know that’s a given. You know you’re dealing with professionals that recognize that when they make a commitment here they’re committing to seeing it through so I’m not really concerned about I know our players aren’t as well. As it relates to a distraction, I don’t see that it’s going to be a distraction at all.
Brian just following up a little bit on Jeremiah, the touchdown he had against Clemson – was that an instinctive play, and if so, how or when did those instincts really start to develop?
Well, Jeremiah has fast hands, fast speed, fast eyes — I mean, everything that he does, he does with a suddenness and a quickness and, you know, can, can do these things that are, you know, bang, bang, if you will, in terms of making things happen. And, and he plays at a very fast level, and he just fires that
way in terms of seeing things and reacting, and so that’s what makes him a unique player. We’ve had other players that don’t react quite as fast as he does, but you know what makes the great players is certainly this this unique ability to fire fast. Their central nervous system just sees it, and they can fire
quickly. He can recognize things in that manner, and just recognizing was quick to it and was able to you know make a big play in that situation.
You had mentioned earlier in your conversation answering question about Clemson You said you didn’t think the defense played that well you also said that earlier, when you played Florida State and in both instances you responded with two straight really, really outstanding performances on defense in the games that followed was that just about making adjustments, or is there something from an attitude standpoint that kind of gets your defense really fired up when they feel like they’re not on top of their game?
Well our guys have an immense amount of pride. It starts with Clark (Lea) and you know obviously it trickles down throughout the ranks in terms of all the coaches and how we present that to them. You know we’re not attacking our guys but as I said earlier, I mean our guys are humble workers, they’re coachable. And when they look at those things that they need to improve on. They spend a week in preparation improving on, because on Saturdays, they, they want to go get it. They want to attack it they want to be aggressive and they want to be the best defense in the country so I just think it’s the way that they, they take things and so when we present to them in a manner that allows them to prepare in the right way on those areas that need to you know be improved upon.
Brian I wanted to follow up on something you said last week about Tommy Rees where it was the teaching ability that allowed him to succeed and 30 years of hiring and working with successful assistants. What is it that makes a good teacher makes a good teacher be able to pick that up in short order like Tommy seem to be able to?
Well, there’s a there’s a number of different layers, I would say that it starts with understanding that there are different forms of communication. It’s not just verbal communication it’s the ability to communicate through, you know, different forms and recognizing how you can reach somebody through different forms of communication and Tommy. Tommy understands that. I could see that early on. And I don’t just mean players – I mean coaches and staff alike. (He) just does a really good job of communication, what’s important. And he doesn’t waste time on things that will bog you down. He is able to, in a large degree, g to the point, and eliminate a lot of miscommunication that occurs sometimes. The art of communication is steeped in its ability to reach people in many different forms. That’s at the strength of what Tommy does, and I could see that early on.
“Good to be with you all tonight we’re super excited. I mean, this is, you know what it’s all about this is what we all work toward every single year. This is one of our major goals to try to you know win our league, and you know win the division, and so I don’t know what we call it our division. We won half the league, so whatever we’re calling it this year.
We’re just excited to be in Charlotte, have a chance to compete for the overall championship and it’s been a great year, just really proud of our team to be at this point. This has been one of a kind, hope I can coach for a long time, but I doubt I’ll ever be a part of another year like 2020. Unbelievable what these teams have had to deal with and all these players.
So just proud of our team, our staff, everybody involved in our organization in working to get to this point, but especially our players. And also really excited for Notre Dame, and congratulations to coach Kelly and his staff and their entire team, what a magical year they’ve had. I mean just a great football team, a complete team, in every sense of the word, and you know they’ve been fun to watch. Obviously, we had a great game with them earlier in the year and they made a few more plays than we did.
I think the two best teams have earned the opportunity to go to Charlotte and play for the overall championship, and so it’s going to be exciting. Really looking forward to it on behalf of our President (James Clements) and Dan Radakovich, our AD. It’s an honor to be able to bring our team up there and compete in what I know is going to be an incredible college football game for everybody to see.”
Dabo, going through the last game against Notre Dame...how did Trevor handle that? What kind of emotions did you see him go through and what was the value do you think of having him there on the sideline for you guys even though he was not able to actually get on the field of play?
“Just his presence. I thought he was great for D.J. (Uiagalelei) and I thought he was just a calming influence on the sideline for D.J. and just an encouraging voice. He’s an inspirational guy, so it was great to have him there and he’s a very, very smart guy, you know he sees the game from a quarterback perspective. But also, I wanted him to get the experience. I know he won’t be here when we go back to Notre Dame, I guess in 2022, we go back up there maybe and you know I wanted him to have the opportunity to make that trip with us. He was about a day or so away from being able to play. But, glad he was able to come.”
Coach, what was the main message to your team last week? It’s kind of unusual to have that week off in between the end of the regular season and the ACC Championship Game, what was your message to the team and what were the one or two key things that you wanted to concentrate on during the time off?
“I think in the previous seven times we’ve been in the championship game, we’ve never had an open date, so that’s just how we treated it, like an open date. We’ve been going, this is our 20th week coming up, we’ve been going 20 weeks of football. That’s a long time. It’s been managing a lot, these guys have been through a lot. So, the biggest thing was, we’re going to treat it like an open date.
We had finals going on as well, so we had to really navigate around that. We practiced Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and we had meetings on Tuesday. So, the objective was to get a good head start, get a good foundation to our plan for Notre Dame, and also get healthy. Get some rest. Again, we’ve been going 20 weeks, certainly don’t want to overdo it, trying to want to peak too soon and those things, but we had a bunch of tests on Friday and then they had yesterday off and then we’re back in here today. So, we’ve had testing today, dinner and then we just got meetings this evening and then we’ll start a normal game week tomorrow. Obviously, it’s like coming off of an open date, you’re a lot further along than you would be, if you just played a game yesterday, so it was a great week. Good focus, the guys are excited and looking forward to a great matchup.”
Coach, I was wondering if you could look back when you found out that Notre Dame was a full member this year. What reaction you had to that and then now that it’s about six months removed from that and how this experiment went with having Notre Dame as a full member of the league?
“They’ve been a full member in every sport but football, so that it’s been kind of the norm for the last few years, and then they’ve been playing I guess around five games a year in our league so they’ve been a pretty, pretty steady out of conference opponent, if you will. I think it was great.
It certainly was a unique year, and everybody going conference only and canceling games and things like that, so I think Notre Dame certainly brings a lot to the table from a football standpoint. They’re a great program. They’re a great brand. Awesome tradition, a lot of respect for Notre Dame. So, the powers that be got together; Notre Dame, you know all of a sudden their schedule’s gone, they needed games and, you know, our league wanted them to join the league, for a year at least. That’s what they came up, so I think it’s been good. You know it’s exciting. I think we had one of the most watched games, maybe in a long time, this season especially in the first game, and I’ll be shocked if this ones, not even better. So, it’s been good for college football. It’s been good for our league and hopefully it’s been good for Notre Dame, who knows what they’ll do going forward but it’s been a good year.”
Hey Coach, how did Jake Venables’ surgery go the other day and do you still think he probably will not play this Saturday and also how did Justyn Ross’ visit with his doctor go?
“Yeah, Jake’s definitely gonna be out, he broke a bone kind of long bone right here (on his arm). He had a plate put in and I think he had nine screws in there, so he’s gonna be a still pretty sore. He’s going to come back stronger than ever, but he’s definitely gonna be out.
But it was a great trip for Justyn. We’re still waiting on a couple of bits of information from the doctor up there. But it was a very positive trip. There’s basically, where he is right now there’s kind of, I guess two big boxes that have to be checked for him for them to, say, alright, go get it. But I think they were very pleased with what they saw and, the first big box is this test that they put him through I want to say kinematic or kinematic testing. Basically, measuring his movements before surgery and now post- surgery. They were very pleased with the healing of the area, still not quite 100% but it’s, I think ahead of what they could have expected. So I think, just that first thing he’s in first box and the kinematic test, I think he’s in a pretty good place and then they, they just want to see 100% healing. You know, when he goes back but it was very positive and very thankful for that. He’s in good spirits and hopefully, you know, just continue to move forward in a positive way.
And I’ll tell you, I just can’t say enough about Dr Okonkwo, the job he’s done. He’s an amazing doctor and Justyn’s got a lot of confidence in him, and he’s got a lot of confidence in himself and again, if y’all could see Justyn everyday practice, it’s unbelievable. He does everything, except get tackled. He looks great in practice, and you know doing all the things that they allow him to do is in full pads. Again, he doesn’t get hit, or anything like that. He’s not in competitive situations but does all the routes and drill work and those type of things and he looks great. But you know his injury is one that that we’re going to be very cautious with and hopefully, he’ll keep moving in a very positive direction and he’ll get a full release somewhere in the near future.”
Having faced Notre Dame already this year, how would you measure their growth from the team that you faced in 2018, the growth in their program? And then the second part is, win or lose this weekend, do you feel like these are two of the best four teams in the country, and playoff worthy?
“They were a great team in ’18, I mean a great team. If you go back and look at that game, we made a few explosives that kind of separated it and then once we kind of got to lead it was our defense that kind of won the day there. Book was, I guess, a couple years younger and all these big monster offensive linemen they got, that are all like graduates now, they were a couple years younger, so we were kind of the reverse. We had all those all those vets in the D line and they were a little younger and this year it’s kind of the opposite.
We don’t have any seniors on the D line and they got a bunch of graduates. They’ve done a great job, but they’re similar. I mean they’re a great team, they were a great team then and that’s why they were in the playoffs. That was a game, that three or four plays, three or four explosives, you know where we made some critical plays, especially right before the half. Kind of got the game a little bit out of reach. But, I mean, they’re the same. They’re really good on offense, really good on defense.
This year, just a very veteran team, complete team. Really good on special teams, (Ian) Book’s playing like a senior. He’s incredibly savvy. I think the biggest thing that’s improved from this year, is their confidence in their passing game. From the beginning of the year to now, you know their ability to throw the football has made them even more dangerous because they’ve been able to run the ball well and then defensively, they, they can get pressured with that front.
Their backers are really good, they’ve got two of the best players that you’ll see in college football. So, just a complete team. And as far as I think you said (in reference to being playoff worthy), yea I mean absolutely. There’s no question in my mind, these are two of the best teams in the country.”
Dabo, is it important for your offense to be more balanced and less one dimensional than it was in South Bend?
“I just think we need to be more efficient. I don’t know about balanced. I think efficient is probably a better word, you know we rushed for 1 yard to their 5.1 (per attempt). So, we’ve got to do a better job.
We did a decent job after that first long touchdown run first play of the game, but they were 5.1, and we were 1.0. So, we need to be more efficient than that.
As far as balanced and those type of things, I think you know you do what you do best, and what gives you the best chance to win and what defenses dictate, and all that type of stuff. But we got to take care of the football, that’s first and foremost. We lost the (turnover) margin, we had three turnovers to their one and they got 10 points off of turnovers and we got zero, so that’s where it starts. We need to be more efficient. And if we can be more efficient then, we’ll be better on third down.
We were really poor on third down. We were 4-of-15 and they were 10-of-19, so it’s amazing that we even had a chance to win the game to be honest with you. With the turnovers and how poor we were on third down and how inefficient we were. Our guys fought hard, but those are things that we’re gonna have to clean up. We were poor in field position. We started out, we had a couple of really, I mean first play of the game they score. Our first play of offense, we were on the six-yard line.
There’s just a lot of things that we got to do better to have a chance to beat a great team like Notre Dame.”
In facing the 2018 Notre Dame defense and prepping for them, and prepping for this year’s Notre Dame unit, what do you notice that they do similar or, I guess, different in both being effective units that keep opponents off the scoreboard? Even if it might be slightly different MOs in doing so.
“Yeah, I mean, very similar. You know, they’re very similar. And I would say if they if you ask them the question on us, probably the biggest difference is we were a very veteran group up front, we’ve had to be a little more creative as far as how we manufacture pressure and things like that. We’ve had to have be a little more package oriented than maybe we were in ‘18 with that veteran defense.
But, you know, very similar. I mean they’re built up front. They’re incredibly well coached, this is as good a well-coached team as you’re going to see. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, they tackle well. We just made some big plays on them. In some one-on-one situations, and they’ll still present those things. I mean they’re gonna play man coverage, they’re going to mix it up with their two safety structure. And they’ve got some dynamic guys, just like they did in ’18, so I think it’s more similar than anything.
I think the biggest thing is, they’re really, really good. Probably better up front then they were that year.”
When do you expect to have, do you have a timetable for when you’ll have the definitive availability for (Justyn) Ross, I’m just curious if he’ll play again? And in your mind, what’s the key positional matchup for this game?
“I don’t have any availability; I do believe Ross will play again. He’s not gonna play this year, that’s never been any consideration I know some people have speculated on that, but that’s never been part of the equation. Our goal was to get him back for spring practice, if he came back. He still could, you know if they clear him, I mean he could go pro. But our goal, if he came back here, was to get him out there for spring ball and be cleared. Kind of the Mike Williams plan, you know Mike went through the spring, we didn’t let him get tackled and things like that. Then he came back and had a great year, so that’s our plan for him if he comes back, but you know he’s still got to make that decision. But I am incredibly encouraged and hopeful, based on you know where he is right now. I was your second question.
As far as the key positional matchup, it will be up front in the trenches. We got our butts kicked in the first game. Just that simple.”
With the defensive players that you have back the defensive players you have back, that were not with you in South Bend, what would be your expectations for your defensive performance this time around?
“Well I mean I hope we play better, we fit the run better. I hope we don’t let him run the stretch for 65 yards on the first play, you know, hopefully we contain the quarterback better. That’s gonna be easier said than done. Ian book had a field day against us. He extended plays and he made a lot of off scheduled plays. They’re one of the best. They’re one of the best scramble teams out there. You got to give them credit for that, because that’s coached. It’s not like they’re just out there playing street ball. They coach the scramble drill and they know what they’re doing and on the same page. There’s a lot of chemistry. Ian does an awesome job of managing the pocket and stepping up when he needs to and slipping out and extending plays and then running.
Hopefully, we can do a better job of not giving up some of the big plays. We got a touchdown lead with a minute something to go, they gotta go about 80 something yards and we give up almost all that on one play on a young safety in the game. Hopefully we’ll learn from that, so that’s where it starts. I mean we got to do a better job like I said in the trenches. We gotta do a much better job of containing this quarterback, he’s a great player, he’s gonna make plays, but we’ve got to do a better job than we did in the first game. We got to fit the run better. We missed some tackles, and then we got to make some of the competitive plays, because they’re gonna push the ball down the field, it’s just what they do. I mean, the balls going downfield, and, you know, you can’t sit back and play a bunch of zone coverage on these guys, they’re gonna run the ball right at you. You’re gonna have some one-on-one matchups and we’ve got to do a better job of winning some of those plays.”
For the second time in a week, the SEC Commissioner came out and made comments about the ACC letting Notre Dame and Clemson out of not playing a game before the ACC Championship Game, trying to maybe leave some doubt about whether the ACC should get two teams into the playoffs, but I’m just wondering, from your perspective how frustrating it is to hear that line of “attack” when you all have done everything you’ve needed to do to get in this situation you’re in right now?
“If the ACC was trying to really protect Clemson and Notre Dame, why would we even play the game this week. I mean, if six wins can get you in the playoff, shouldn’t nine get you there, shouldn’t 10 get you there? I mean so if the ACC was really trying to protect Clemson and Notre Dame, we wouldn’t even play this game and that’s not what we’re about.
We want to crown a worthy champion. It’s gonna be an awesome game, it’s gonna be awesome. I would have loved to have played this past weekend. I had no problem with that. I didn’t make that decision. No problem, we, we wanted to play. When we were down in Tallahassee, we were about to get on a bus and go play. So, I have, you know, things happen just like it has all over the place, you know, things you don’t control. All you can do is control whatever goes on, but they made this decision. We’ve played 10 games, Notre Dame’s played 10 games.
We’re excited to go play a championship and crown a worthy champion of this league and go from there. So, I think if the league was trying to, you know, protect that you wouldn’t even play the game to be honest with you, but that’s not what Notre Dame wants, that’s not what we want. We want to go play the game.”
Just checking on James Skalski after missing Virginia Tech, but do you expect him to be back healthy this week?
“Hope so. He had a good week and we’ll see where he is tomorrow.”
You talked a little bit the other day about Travis’s season and I was curious, the same thing about Trevor How do you feel like he is benefited from being out on the field this year I know obviously he was one of the leaders in the we want to play movement I mean he definitely competitively wanted to be out there but how do you think he’s maybe a better person, player, leader, this year? Is there anything that you sort of seen from him this year that you’d said like, I might not have seen that from Trevor last year.
“Absolutely, he’s always been confident, but his confidence is at an all-time high. His knowledge is the best it’s ever been, his complete command of what he’s doing, his leadership for the entire team is different than it was as a freshman and as a sophomore. He is just really asserted himself as a great leader and a great communicator for the entire team. And so just really proud of him. He’s in a great spot physically. He’s stronger than he’s ever been, and the game has really slowed down for him. It’s never really been that fast for him even as a freshman, he obviously was amazing, but just really understands everything going on with an offense, what our problems are and really understands what the defense is trying to do and where his best chance to be successful is each play. Just really proud of him.
He’s done a great job of taking care of the ball. He’s done a nice job of managing the pocket and he’s really not taking any dumb sacks. I think he’s had one, and I think it was in the first game. So, I think he’s just done a really nice job of, you know, leading our team. And it’s been fun for him it’s been fun to watch it. He’s really, I think he’s really been intentional with every practice, every game, every meeting and every bus trip. I just think he’s really, really enjoyed. Even though as different as it’s been, he’s really tried to just stay in the moment and really proud of it.”
It may be six one, half dozen the other to a degree, but back in 2011 you guys had defeated Virginia Tech before facing them in the ACC Championship. How does that compare to losing to Notre Dame versus facing them again in a rematch and, you know, being on the opposite end of the stick, so to speak?
“It doesn’t matter you got to play, it’s a new game whether you won the last one or lost the last one. You don’t get to carry over any touchdowns or sacks or good plays or mistakes. It’s a new game, it’s two great teams and the same things are gonna decide the game. And we’ve got to do a better job if we won’t have chance to come out on top this time.”
Do we know when Justyn Ross’s next doctor’s appointment will be?
“I do not. I’m sure it’ll be sometime after the first of the year.”