"One thing, I won't let them decide. I know that. They will not decide. We will look at the film objectively. I did see some things I liked. We' ve put A.D. in games before where he was absolutely not productive. I hadn't seen anything that made me want to move him up. Last night, I saw more positive things, which now are going to make me want to take a longer look. You have to look back and be realistic about the game. What if we hadn't dropped five passes in the first half? The other kid might have a sensational day. We might even have won despite what was happening. I've got to look at it objectively, try to work them both and just stay on top of the situation."
Are you more concerned about preparation for your next game, or are you worried about fragmentation within the team?
"I can straighten any kind of fragmentation we have out. I can straighten that out. I think the natural reaction after a loss ain't happy. You can't expect happiness. You can't expect celebration. Our kids wanted to win that game bad. Therefore, there was a lot of disappointment after the game, like there was that year Oklahoma beat us in the (Orange) Bowl, after the Tennessee game (in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl) when they beat us for the national championship. Same reaction, different kids. Probably the same thing happened yesterday in LSU. Probably the same thing happened to Tennessee yesterday. All that's natural. I can handle that part. I'll have a meeting with my players. We'll talk any problems that we see out. I'll make my decisions from that. To me, that's a normal reaction to losing. We just hadn't had a whole lot of losing around here until lately."
Like you said, these kids aren't used to losing. What is there to keep this season from going the other way, from sliding backwards?
"This is where you've got to have the leadership that won't allow that to happen. That's the seniors. Then the coaches. If I saw any individual out of it I'd get him out of here. I'd eliminate any individual that looks like he's a problem."
Does this kind of strong negative reaction from your players concern you?
"I know some of them are more outspoken. It's a reaction to a loss."
Have you ever made a lineup change just to change the chemistry? To try to shake things up?
"I'm sure I've done it somewhere along the line. Nothing jumps right at me right now, but I'm sure I've done that many times. You make a move right here because you think this might be the spark that's missing, something like that."
How much did that 2:21 span in the third quarter -- where you turned the ball over three times -- change the flow of the game? Before that, your defense seemed to be playing well.
"We turned it over. I credit a lot of it to them. I made that stupid statement last night that I made -- I guess I'd had that on my mind all week. Anyway, that's kind of the way they win games. They get you to turn the ball over when they've got you backed up. It's the same old formula. They keep you backed up, you make a mistake, they capitalize and score. That's what they did. The game was decided, no matter what happened, in those two minutes. And you look at their Michigan game, same way. Michigan State game, same way. Air Force game, pretty much the same way. That's the thing I spotted as soon as I started to look at film of them. These guys are something else when you've got the ball. Despite all the other things that happened, that was when the game was decided. Three turnovers, right quick."
Chris' fumble on that run -- he took a shot trying to force that run, right? Do you want him to slide there?
"Slide's what we want him to. We've told him, run until you start to get hit, and then get on the ground. Again -- not trying to make excuses -- but he's a sophomore now. By the time he's a senior, he won't do that anymore. I thought he was about broke."
Does it bother you that he seems to be making mistakes that you thought you had already solved?
"Just remember this. We hadn't had a turnover in three games. He did not turn the ball over against Miami. The only turnover he had was in the overtime against Louisville. But no turnovers (in regulation), in the driving rain. Against Clemson, no turnovers. Against Miami, no turnovers. I was nearly afraid to talk about it last week. I knew, here's a team that thrives on turnovers. I nearly hated to say, 'Hey, we haven't turned it over in three games. That's kind of like having a no-hitter going and talking about it. Sure enough, four turnovers. They didn't have any."
They only had four penalties in the game. How key was that, in addition to no turnovers?
"That's another story. That is another story."
Right before his fumble, Chris seemed to check off to a new play, and there was a lot of confusion. What was going on there?
"We had some problems with communication. Maybe a formation was called wrong. Maybe it was supposed to be called R-Twins, and we called it L-Twins, and people lined up in the wrong place. When Bob (Robert Morgan) was dropping all the balls, we moved No. 4 (Anquan Boldin) over there. That wasn't his normal position, although we had worked him some. I think he got lined up wrong some. All of that was going on. I think -- I'm not sure -- that was a quarterback draw, when he fumbled. We called a draw."
In addition to Chris' mistakes, have you been troubled by the way your receivers have dropped passes?
"I thought that was the biggest mistake we made. Fumbles, you don't want to make. You don't try to make. You've got to give the other team credit for knocking it out of there. The dropped passes -- there's no telling how much that hurt us. There's no telling what we would have done in the first half if we catch all those balls in our hands. I know one of them would have been a 55- or 60-yard completion, I believe. It leaves you in the hole, instead of out."
One of the drops would have been a touchdown -- Anquan dropped one on the goal-line.
"Oh yeah. You talk about seven points there instead of three."
If you had hit some of those passes, would that have helped establish your run offense?
"Sure. No doubt about it. It would have helped field position. We also felt like if they wanted to stop the run, they were good enough to get up there and do it. If they did, they would be vulnerable to the passes. We were hitting the passes, but we started dropping them."
So the game just showed how important it was to complete those passes to keep the safeties back, right?
"You do need to keep people honest, if they bring them up and everything. Number one, Notre Dame -- I guess we proved to the world that they are good. They are not a fluke football team. I can tell you exactly how I reacted when I saw Notre Dame. I knew we gotta play Notre Dame. This time a year ago, I knew they weren't playing good. I'm worried about Miami and Florida, but not Notre Dame down here. Then the season starts, and they beat Maryland without scoring a (offensive) touchdown. I'm thinking boy, they're kind of lucky. Then they beat the next team without scoring a touchdown offensively. Then they're behind to Michigan State with 40 seconds to go and they hit an 80-yard pass for a touchdown. They win, and you're thinking boy, they are lucky. Then it's time to play them and the film comes in. You look at them and say, 'That ain't luck at all. They are good. Then you start checking their lineup. Senior, senior, senior, senior ... They know what they're doing. And they're good. Then you say 'uh-oh.' You'd better play errorless ball. Errorless ball is the way you've got to play to beat 'em. They play good defense, they've got an excellent kicking game, and their offense don't make mistakes. They beat you. That is the formula for a great team, which they've got. With good players."
Do you think that your young players will improve, or do you start to wonder if this is what you have, talent-wise?
"I think that we're a team where there's something -- it ain't that big -- missing. Just missing. If we could find that spark, I think we might could solve our problems."
One thing that really stands out about this defense is the lack of a real shutdown corner, which you'd always had for years and years.
"Maybe they're there and they're young. Maybe it'll happen later. Maybe they're there and they're not quite ready. Maybe Leroy Smith is going to be that guy. He's a sophomore. Maybe (Bryant) McFadden's going to be that guy. Not right now, but there's still next year. It might happen."
How hard is it on you, after 14 years of winning, to go through what you've gone through these last two years?
"It's difficult. When you've coached as long as I have, you've been on the other end of that spectrum. You have to put it in perspective. Here we sit. We're talking about a game we're very disappointed in. We saw mistakes by this guy. We saw mistakes by that guy. We saw this turnover here. You can go to LSU right now and sit in on their conference and here the same questions. The same problems. The same answers. Go to Tennessee today. Same questions. Same answers. 'How about (Tennessee QB Casey) Clausen?' 'You mean you all only scored ten points?' It's football. I've been through it so long, I know there's two ends of it. Two ends of the spectrum. Your question was we went through 14 years. I think one of these days we'll look back and say 'I don't know how we did it.' And I don't. It ain't happening to nobody else going 14 years. It must not be all that. The thing I said about our team last year -- and you know if you give your alumni and boosters any optomism, they're gone. The only statement I made last year was we should be better this year than we were last year. I think we are. We're better than we were a year ago. 'Well, why aren't you undefeated and No. 1 in the nation?' Well, I didn't say that. I said we're going to be better than we were a year ago. That's where we are now. If we could just get that other little part -- whatever it is. We'll keep searching for it. Maybe it'll jump out there. You've got to keep it in perspective."
Your players seemed very clear in the locker room that they're frustrated about the quarterback situation, and the turnovers. It looked like a team that was close to being lost.
"No. I think it was a team that got beat. I think that's a response to losing. I've never heard anybody be cheerful after they lose. You never hear anybody celebrating after they lose. I think it's a natural reaction. There's probably 80,000 people in the stands saying the same thing. I've heard some of the statements some of the kids made. I don't know, 50 years of coaching, I think that's what happens. The same thing was said at Tennessee. Same thing said at LSU yesterday. Same thing at Oregon. All them other beats. I can read our papers here, folks, then go out and get a Southern California paper and read that the same thing happened to so and so. That's the way it is."
What's the difference between your teams of the past and this current team?
"The basic difference is that somebody's not making a play. Back then, it seems like we'd get a play from somebody. We'd get a play that'd win a game. Last year, we played Miami and got killed. We turned the ball over six times. The score was 49-27. You wonder what would have happened. You would have probably lost the game, because they were better. But I'll bet you it would've been pretty close. Yesterday, you play Notre Dame, and we turn it over four times and they turn it over none. That right there is enough to lose a game. So what's the difference? I think somebody used to make a play. It could've been Derrick Brooks, Marvin Jones, could have been Chris Weinke or Pete Warrick, made a play and won a game for us. The game we played five or six years ago at Clemson, when Tommy West was the coach (a 35-28 FSU victory in 1997. We beat 'em seven points, and Peter Warrick caught three or four hundred yards worth of passes, ran a punt back 90-something yards for a touchdown, caught a pass 80 yards for a touchdown. A guy like that can make the difference. We're close.
"That's why I'm not alarmed. You ask a very good question. I think all I've got to do is have one meeting. I can get any problem we've got straightened out in one meeting. If I think there's a problem. Usually, after a loss -- especially after two losses -- that's meeting time. These kids want to win. They wanted to win this game bad. I think the good thing about it -- they played hard. Our kids played hard. I was worried about execution. I was worried about turnovers. They're very good at that. Just remember, though. They're all gone next year. That (Notre Dame) was a senior football team we played. It ain't like they're sophomores and juniors, like most of ours."
Does it concern you that there seems to be a problem with Chris Rix commanding a lot of respect from his teammates? You mentioned in August that it's hard for a team to respect a younger guy.
"That's a doggone good point. But how would you put your finger on it? Did they drop the passes because they don't like Chris? I want to be a professional football player. I'm not sure about this quarterback, I like this one better. I'm going to drop the ball. That don't happen. Is that an after-game feeling, or is it during the game? This is what happens when another quarterback does good. Again, go anywhere in the country and you'll hear the same conversation. The second-string quarterback is always the most popular football player on the team. It's probably the same thing in pro football. 'Give him a chance! Give him a chance! Boo, boo that other one.' You can't say something's not there, but what can you put your finger on? Do you think they don't block as hard if he's back there at quarterback? I think that our problem yesterday, where everyone's concerned, was we threw an interception and we fumbled the ball. The kids wanted to win so bad. Tomorrow (Monday), I'll get them together. I'll get them straightened out, whatever they're saying."
Do you run the risk, if Chris' teammates aren't behind him, that he plays tentatively?
"It's hard to say the team ain't behind him. Are you talking about two guys or one guy. Is it five guys, or is it 50-50?"
What do you see from Chris Rix? Is he as far along as you expect him to be? As far along as you want him to be?
"I see him as our quarterback. Just remember this. At Florida State University, you do not start until you're a junior. Charlie Ward was a junior and he won the Heisman (as a senior). Thad Busby was a junior and he took us to major bowls. Casey Weldon was a junior. Brad Johnson was a junior. Peter Tom Willis was a senior. These are redshirt juniors, too. Chris Weinke had to start a year as a sophomore because our redshirt junior, Kendra, hurt his knee and couldn't play. That's kind of been our style. I'm trying to answer your question, what do I see in Chris. OK, Chris had to start as a redshirt freshman. He ended up pretty good. The second half of the season, he ended up pretty good. Now he's playing as a redshirt sophomore. He's not accomplished -- he's just a sophomore with a year under his belt. So I expect him to do better this year. And I think overall he has.
"We haven't called on him as much, because our running game has been pretty good. Anyway, he's the quarterback. We've tried to take a look at McPherson. We've tried to take a look at Fabian Walker out there in practice. Fabian got a little behind, he's a little rusty, but he's making some progress, too. Then A.D. -- I've put him in games, but nothing's looked any better than Chris. We put him (McPherson) in against Clemson at a crucial time, and what happens? 0-for-6. You're thinking, well, we're still Chris. We see Chris as the best quarterback we have, that still has everything ahead of him. He's still going to get better, better, better. I do believe that. Anyway, that's what I see.
"The thing I saw yesterday was A.D. come in at the end of the game and really do some good things for the first time. Did some good things. You must realize, they were in their prevent defense, probably. And they were probably pretty tired. Still, even then, he did some good things. I think we'll have to take a stronger look at him. That's the way it is. We didn't feel like Charlie Ward was ready to go as a redshirt freshman. We didn't feel like Casey (Weldon) was ready to go as a redshirt freshman. But we had to rush him (Rix) in there. Again, maybe next year he has a super year, if he can hold off A.D. or Fabian."
When will you decide whether Chris or A.D. starts Saturday?
"Number one, we've got to look at the film and evaluate that thing pretty good. Let me ask y'all a question. If we hadn't dropped five passes in the first half, what would you think of Chris? Just think about it. Then his confidence probably goes, and then our team confidence goes. It's hard to condem a quarterback when people drop the ball."
The ABC crew talked a lot in the first half about dropped passes.
"When I came back on the field (at the end of halftime), Lynn Swann (ABC's sideline reporter) grabbed me for an interview. I said, 'first thing, we dropped four passes.' And he ays, 'No. Five.' What would we all think of Chris Rix, and what would have happened, if we had caught those passes. That's why I can't just take what happened at the end and make my decision from that."
Chris doesn't look like the same football player who threw for nearly 400 yards against a good Virginia Tech team in the Gator Bowl. What's happened? Has his confidence declined that much?
"I don't sense a lack of confidence. That's not like him. I don't sense that."
Would you agree that he doesn't look like the same player?
"Did we drop five passes in the Gator Bowl?"
You actually did drop a few in the first half.
"I do remember somebody dropping a pass on a takeoff for a touchdown. Still -- comparing Notre Dame with that Virginia Tech team is a little different. Those are good questions."
When you say you're considering taking a look at A.D., do you mean in practice, or game-wise?
"Practice. Then we'll decide what to do. We'll try to work them both pretty much equally, and then we'll see what's happening."
So it's not out of the question that McPherson could start Saturday against Wake?
"Nothing's out of the question, but I've got to look at it real good."
Do you see the drops as entirely the receivers' fault? Is Chris throwing the ball too hard, anything like that?
"No. The ones they dropped, I thought were easy. They were all catchable. I did see him throw some passes too hard, but he missed them when he did. The ones they've got in their hands, they're supposed to get. They get them in practice. I didn't think they were too hard."
The last time Chris was challenged like this was probably before Maryland last year. Do you think he'll respond now as he did then?
"I don't know the answer to that. He's got everything you're looking for in a quarterback. He's very confident, good athlete, can throw the ball real good. He's still got a lot to learn. Still stares his receivers down too much. Hasn't learned where everybody is yet. Still has a lot of learning to do. A.D.'s got to learn it too."
Playing Wake this weekend might be pretty tough this year.
"Wake is one of those teams nobody wants to play. They don't have that name, but they'll beat you. They beat Purdue up there. They get the ball -- they've got one of those offenses that keeps the ball all day long. You don't ever get it."
How do you refocus towards what's ahead of you?
"Number one, we've still got some very important games down the road. You've still got a conference championship out there. You've still got an undefeated team out there. You need to get it together and try to win this ballgame this week away from home, get it going again. How good we felt last year after we beat Virginia Tech -- the season still could have a good ending. After you lose a couple of them, I hate to even get into all that 'what we can do' stuff."
What do you do with Leon Washington as a kick returner? He struggled yesterday -- he's had four fumbles in your last three games.
"I don't know. That's that ol' learning process. We could put somebody else back there. He's a dangerous player. I don't know why in the world -- he's caught them so good in practice, so good in the games -- up until now. That bugs me. That's what makes you wonder, and that's what gets you fired, ain't it?"
The way Nick Maddox catches the ball, and the problems you've had at receiver this year, would you consider changing his role?
"We had him in there a lot the other day, with Greg. We had Greg in there, and you might say, 'Where's Maddox?' Well, he's over at the other side. We've got him working at fullback. We've got both of them in there at the same time. He got a lot of plays in. Maybe the ball didn't get to him as much."
Would you consider moving Nick to wide recevier?
"No, because those guys just shouldn't be dropping it. I don't know why Robert (Morgan) had the day he had. Two years ago, he was probably the most consistent receiver we had."
Are you surprised that FSU and Florida have both fallen on such hard times this season?
"I think it is something that will eventually get straightened out. Florida's situation is different because they brought in a new coach, trying to follow a successful coach. Our situation here is different from what it has been. 'This ain't what y'all used to do. What's happened?' I personally feel like we're on the right road to finding whatever it is. I don't feel like we're missing it by too far. Whatever it is, I hope we can find it, get it going. It can happen any game. Any game you can straighten it all out."
"There's no doubt about it. You see by their results the quality that you lost. People must remember -- I wish they would, but they won't. We've got now another offensive coordinator, another quarterback coach. When Mark Richt first came here, and Chuck, it was four or five years before we ever got anything going good. It wasn't like we jumped up and started going undefeated all of a sudden. They had to earn their spurs first. They had to learn this and that. But you see what they are now. That's just like (Bob) Davie, the (former) head coach up there at Notre Dame. Did they fire him one year too early? That's his kids they're playing with. Would he have done the same thing? I don't know. I've got a feeling that Ty (Willingham) came in there with a different personality. That's his (Davie's) players, though. So, you bring in new coaches and it takes a little while to get what you're looking for."
When you talk about that one little thing, whatever it is, that you need to change to win, do you get the feeling that it might not be a player, but a personality, or a feeling? Something you can't see or touch?
"Could be chemistry. Could be one little thing of chemistry. Some of y'all are asking about the quarterback. We're all kind of speculating on that thing. Is there something you can do there that'll make that click? We'll be searching like mad. That might not be it. It might be, that if you catch those five passes, you ain't even gonna have this conversation."
Do you think that these receivers aren't as good as we think they are?
"I think they are as good. I really think they should be."
In Robert Morgan's case, do you think his knee injury has affected his confidence?
"Robert (Morgan) dropped one against Iowa State, to keep a drive going, and he dropped it in front of our bench. Against Louisville, we had a key one that was dropped. I don't know -- the fact that he was out a year with that injury might have lost a little of his confidence. That is not like him whatsoever. All I remember is Bob coming in against Georgia Tech when he was a sophomore and making a great catch for a touchdown. I remember him coming in as a freshman and making some outstanding catches. He was always considered the guy -- don't worry, he's going to catch it. I don't know why he's dropping those balls. I don't know what it is, but for some reason, he's dropping passes, which he did not used to ever do."
Is there any way you can get Robert out of his slump?
"Just keep throwing balls to him. Did we get the ball to 21 (Talman Gardner) at all? (Yes -- Gardner finished with one catch, and was the target of a few incompletions) What happens, a guy has a good game, and the next week the other team doubles him. Notre Dame is good at that. They'll do what we call clamping. They'll get your best player and clamp him -- one on the inside and one on the outside. Then they might rush fewer people and clamp him and clamp him. Or they might clamp this inside guy. You've got to find out who they're doubling. I'll have to go by looking film, but they might have clamped ol' 21 all day."
Notre Dame's corners seemed to play your receivers well -- you missed a couple of jump-ball opportunities Saturday.
"To be honest with you, Notre Dame is pretty good. When I started studying film of Notre Dame, the first thing I noticed was how good they were defensively. In fact, the pros were here, at lot of the pros, and one of the guys I talked to said, 'boy, they've got good corners.' If you've got good corners, you can do a lot of things. You can blitz, you can do all this, do that, do that. We were having a little problem. Notre Dame's got good corners. It allows them to do a lot of stuff with that other nine. You can't do it if you don't have good corners. Again, the first thing I noticed is how good they are. They were good."
Which of their players do you see being drafted?
"I would think both of their defensive tackles. I would think both their linebackers. The defensive end -- maybe one of them, maybe two. It might be the whole six there. The two corners -- probably the two safeties. There'll be a bunch of them. I don't know. The whole secondary could be. That center -- he's going to go very early. They had a senior offensive line. We might be looking at the national champions. I don't know."
Do you see them having a shot at the national championship?
"They sure could. I tell you what, I wouldn't bet against them. I don't care who they're playing. When you watch them, look at all the film, like I've done, it's too good to be luck. It's too good to be luck. You say, 'well, they couldn't have beat you if you hadn't turned the ball over.' Yeah, but they've done that all year. They do that every game."
Somebody compared them to the 1992 Alabama team that won the national championship. They weren't very pretty.
"Very much the same thing."
How do they compare to Miami?
"I think Miami might have a stronger offense. Miami might could attack you with more variety offensively. With McGahee, and those receivers, and that quarterback -- I think they might be more versatile offensively. Although Notre Dame's offensive line could probably play with anybody. Defensively -- dadgummit, I'd give the nod to Notre Dame."
What do you think would happen to the BCS if Notre Dame finishes undefeated and out of the championship game?
"They'll have a playoff in Rome. They'd take 'em over to Rome and say, 'Who wants to go over there and play Notre Dame for the national championship. Wouldn't that be a nightmare, though? You could end up with Ohio State, Miami (or Virginia Tech), Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Georgia. And N.C. State. It's funny. It shakes down every year, but it's mighty hairy. There'll be somebody upset, you know that."
Your defense seemed to struggle as it was called upon so often in the third quarter.
"We did pretty good yesterday except on the first pass and then on the red zone. Any time you turn that ball over on the three-yard line, or the seven-yard line or the 21, something just revs them up. It makes it easier for them to score. Our defense let that first pass get out there, which plays right into their hands. Probably played pretty good most plays, but not as good as we want."
Are you disappointed at the number of points you've given up in your last four games?
"That's not good. That's not what we want. It's total. It's not like it's just one group. All the fun is talking about the offense. That's the fun. We had a 13-point lead against Miami with ten minutes to go. We used to be able to hang onto that. We're just not as good there as we normally are. It's a team. Everybody likes to talk offense, but it's a team. I think it's the defense, if somebody could just make a play at the right time. They run good."