“We’re getting excited about going to South Bend, looking forward to the opportunity. I've been there once or twice in my career, once as a player - I think just once - and at least once as a coach. We’re looking forward to the opportunity. We played Notre Dame in a bowl game as well, I believe when Coach Holtz was there, so a little bit of experience in that regard. Coach Kelly is an outstanding coach. Just to get to Notre Dame, you know what a tremendous coach he is and what a great career he has had.
“I’ll start with their offense, and start with their offensive line. They’re really massive guys. The smallest guy is 310 pounds. They have a couple of guys who have been playing awhile - their left tackle [Mike] McGlinchey and then [Quention] Nelson, the guard, both have over 20 career starts and NFL-type bodies, for sure. The quarterback, [DeShone] Kizer, it says 6-4 and 230 [pounds], it looks like he might be even a little bigger than that, in a good way – just very strong, very physical, very athletics. He has thrown for over 1,700 yards already and for 14 touchdowns. He has rushed for almost 300 yards and seven TDs, and has done a great job in the red zone for them as a QB runner. Done a great job there. Torii Hunter and [Equanimeous] St. Brown, their receivers, both have caught over 25 footballs. Hunter had 25 for 360 after missing a little bit of time, and St. Brown has 611 yards receiving and six touchdowns. He’s a really fast, deep threat. Then [C.J.] Sanders is another great receiver for them, but also their kick and punt return man. I’ll talk about him in just a minute.”
“Defensively, they got some guys that are really super active. You can tell [Nyles] Morgan is a guy that kind of runs the show. A super physical guy who will strike. He's a guy that is leading the team with 56 tackles already. Their No. 2 tackler is [Drue] Tranquil. You can just see nothing but energy. He kind of reminds me of [Braxton] Berrios for us – kind of a guy who just plays hard every single snap. They play different sides of the ball, I know, but just the energy level they bring to the game and the passion you can see coming out of his play, it’s very impressive. Talking about massive linemen, they have some massive defensive linemen as well. Not many people have been move these guys at all. They have a guy named [Isaac] Rochell, a Georgia kid I was trying to recruit a couple of years ago, and he's a senior and doing a great job for them. He has 32 tackles and is the leading tackler of the big men. [Daniel] Cage, interestingly, has six blocked kicks in his career, which is impressive. I’m sure he is licking his chops from what he has seen on our extra point and field goal unit. We have to do a good job there.
“I mentioned Sanders earlier being their punt and kick return man. He’s averaging 14 yards in punt returns almost 25 yards in kick returns. [Tyler] Newsome, their punter, averages almost 44 yards per kick. He has had 11 kicks over 50 [yards] and 11 kicks inside the 20. Those kicks tend to knock your average down a little bit. If he could have nothing but grass, he can hit it as far as anybody in the country. Justin Yoon, their kicker, has hit about half of them out of the end zone for non-returnable kicks on kickoffs. He’s 6 out of 9 with a long of 40 [yards] on field goals.
“It’s another opportunity for us to play the game of football again and to have a performance that we'll all be proud of. We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing Notre Dame. We know there’s a lot of history in this one. Regardless of the record, regardless of what anyone is doing, how we're doing conference-wise – good or bad - this game kinds of stands alone, and we know that. So we're looking forward to it."
On the history of the Miami – Notre Dame rivalry and if he plans on sharing any of it with the team…
"We'll give them a little history. I know think it's important to do that, for them to really understand. I'm not going to spend the whole week just harping on that, but I think it's important for them to know the history of the series and some of the great games that have been played by two teams that have a national brand. That's pretty impressive."
On if it is beneficial to have a team that approaches this game as another game on the schedule..
"It's not like we've played Notre Dame every year. Like I said, we haven't harped on it. By the end of the week, we'll give them a little bit of a lesson. But the reality is, their focus doesn't need to be 20 years ago, and they understand that. We're not trying to make it that, by any stretch. But I do think it's important for them to hear why people get excited about the game beyond anybody’s record. We’ll do a good job of that before it’s over. But I'm glad they’re focused mainly on their assignments and what they're going to be doing in the game.
“By the way, we had a very good practice this morning. I was impressed with both sides of the ball. I really can’t thank the scout team enough, because those guys are warriors. We're trying to get them to go, we’re trying to get a look – the better look we get, the better chance we have. And we're a thin team, as far as numbers. Anytime somebody gets hurt, before you know it, it draws from the scout team - some guy moves up getting reps, so your [first and second string] don’t get too much, then before you know it, there's barely one-and-a-half teams of scout team. I do want to publicly say how much I appreciate those guys, because they’re busting their tails and not getting much of a break."
On if he thinks that there were unrealistic expectations from fans after 4-0 start due to depth…
"I never try to put a lid on any season and what can happen. Game 5 was very winnable. Game 6, very winnable. Game 7 got away from us a little bit more. But even after the blocked kick, we catch that ball and that's a seven-point game with 5 1/2 minutes to go. Could we have won those games? Yes. We didn't win those games. Do we have a lot of depth? No.
You have six true freshmen playing on defense on the same time, in any given game that you're not up by 30, you have some depth issues. We're not going to cry about it. We know we need great players to come. I'll sit here and recruit right now. If great players want to come and play early in their career, come on. Because we're going to grow together and we’re going to do great things together. As it turned out, we lost some close games and now we're sitting in a position where we're trying to stop the losses."
On where the blame falls on allowing eight sacks and the offensive struggles against Virginia Tech…
"We don't blame anybody. We correct…I'm responsible for everything. I'm the head coach. All I can tell you is that when we meet, everybody has a piece of this pie, so to speak. Everybody has a job to do. Everybody has a responsibility to do. It's everybody. It starts with coaches, and it goes through the players as far as maybe an assignment here, or technique here, or whatever it may be. Sometimes you get whipped on a particular play. There's about 10 or 11 battles on offense every snap. You go 60, 70 or 80 plays, that’s a lot of battles. You’re going to win some and lose some. These team that we’re playing, they give out scholarships too. They have good players and they’re going to make some plays. We see the issues, we coach them, we correct them, and we try to make sure they don't happen in the future."
On if he thinks the offensive line needs an infusion of ‘nastiness’…
"The bottom line is, if you know your assignment and get your hat and hands on the right spot, and you run your feet on contact in the run game, good things are going to happen to you. We got guys that will play hard. I don't have an issue with that. In pass protection, if you get into a game like last game where we get behind and we feel like we have to throw the ball a lot – just straight drop back, throw it down after down - that’s tough.
I'm not trying to mess with anybody across the country, but I'm watching the end of Penn State and Ohio State, and Ohio State had to chuck it at the end every down, and they had trouble blocking those guys. These defensive ends are pretty good across the country, and I think Ohio State has one of the better lines in America, so I'm not saying anything bad about them. I'm saying it's hard to pass protect down after down like that. We have to get better on first down. We have to get better on second down. We have to get better at running the ball. There's times we have backs get through the line of scrimmage, the linemen did their job into the perimeter, and now maybe we don't block one defender. It ends up capping off a tackle where we got an unblocked safety, we make him miss, he gets a little bit of us, we're breaking through a tackle, maybe spit for a touchdown, but a guy that should have been blocked wasn't blocked well enough or long enough and that thing could have spit big. Rushing yardage is a little bit hard to quantify sometimes, with just offensive line play. If you do have sacks, your rushing yardage gets the negative - you subtract from the rushing yardage you had. Also, there's times we have gotten our backs through the line of scrimmage, and we have to block better in the perimeter as well. It’s an everybody thing, it's not just an offensive line thing."