Irish Down Volunteers

The Irish downed the Tennessee Volunteers 41-21 to improve their record to 6-2 while the Volunteers fall to 3-5. Although the game was tied 21-21 at the end of the third quarter, and several of the stats were close, the only stat that really counts is the final score.

Irish Eyes was able to get quotes from the happy, yet poised, Irish players after the game.

Junior defensive end Victor Abiamiri

How would you assess the game?

"I think when things got tough our defense rose to the challenge. Tennessee made a little comeback there in the second half. And I think we took all the shots that they gave us. They're a good football team and I think we rose to the challenge near the end of the game."

What were you thinking when the game was tied at 21?

"Coach Weis always talks about composure and keeping our composure and he mentioned at halftime and he kept on saying it on the sidelines – keep your composure. So if things don't always go your way in the game, you can't wig out and not play to your potential, so we kept our composure."

What did you learn about the team keeping its composure today?

"I think we know we have talent on all three phases of the ball, scoring on special teams, defense, and offense."

How does it feel to be bowl-eligible and maybe BCS-eligible?

"We're not looking ahead. I'm sure Coach Weis has told you that we just focus on week-to-week. So, I'm looking forward to that."

Do you think the defense took a step forward today?

"I think so. We played a good football team today. They've got offensive talent at every position and I think they have just been a few mistakes away from being a top ten offense. I think we played them pretty tough today and came off with a W."

Junior wide receiver Jeff Samardzija

Describe your touchdown catch.

"It was a simple swing. We knew they were going to be man-up, so Brady just made a read and got it to me on the outside. I didn't try to put any moves on or anything; I just tried to get into the end zone."

On your 73-yard run and catch, do you think this is when the momentum took a swing?

"Yes and no. At that time it was sort of hard to feel it. But at the time, you just knew it was a big play because they had tied it up and we were back in our end zone and we were just trying to get out of the hole. Anytime you can change the field like that, it's a big play."

Is this a big mental win for you guys – it's a different way to win with the special teams coming up big.

"You know, it's a big win and that's how we are going to take it. That's a talented team. Tennessee has a lot of players on the team that have a lot of talent. They can run around and they can tackle, and they can make plays. So whatever their record is, we knew we were in for a street fight with a great team. So we just came out there trying to match their enthusiasm and their speed and play smart football."

How well did Coach Weis have the team prepared?

"You know, Coach gives us a lot of stuff in the game plan. Certain times it could be where it's not that much, but most of the time, there's a lot of stuff going in, especially coming off a bye week when Coach has a lot of time to sit in a little dark room and scheme up plays. He's going to come out there with a lot of good stuff that's going to keep everybody on their toes. So you have to come out mentally prepared for any week and be ready to go. The biggest part of it is, you have to be mentally ready to play or the mental errors will kill you."

You and Coach Weis both have strong personalities, how do you get along?

"I think we get along pretty well. I think Coach Weis is a player's coach, period. No matter what the personality of any guy, I think Coach knows how to adapt to different players on the team. And Coach Weis is Coach Weis and you know what he demands, and you're out there to give it to him. I think that is what everybody is trying to do, just to do their part and live up to the confidence that Coach has in us. Because he puts a lot of pressure on us and has a lot of confidence in us, and we just try to give that back to him."

Junior Defensive Back Ambrose Wooden

What was your reaction with the interception?

"I was shocked when I got it, and then once I got it, I was trying to run and I didn't think about cutting back. I haven't had the ball in my hands for so long, I was excited."

That was a huge play. Did you feel momentum shifting then?

"They just kept coming at us. They were a great team with great receiver speed. Their record doesn't matter, they are a great team. You look at them from top to bottom; they have all the talent in the world. They came out and fought and that is what we expected. We expected a street fight and that is what they gave us. We kept playing hard and came out on top."

You and several guys were fighting through injuries all day, but you never flinched.

"That's one thing that Coach Weis has brought here is a sense of toughness. When you get hurt and go on the sideline, you look at him and you just get that feeling, I am fine and I can go out and do anything. He is my inspiration and keeps me going."

Where does this defense get its confidence?

"It starts with the seniors and trickles its way down through our defensive coordinator and to the coaches. It's like a sense of toughness, you know, and not giving up. You never know what can happen. We just came out and worked hard and we came out and got a couple of stops and the offense did their thing."

Where does this defense go the rest of the season?

"We just have to keep going up; we can't go back. I don't know what their stats are but they passed the ball well and ran the ball well. We've just got to build on the little things we did well and come together and keep doing the things we are doing. The offense is good so we just have to keep playing our responsibility and things will take care of itself."

Senior linebacker Corey Mays

What were your thoughts when Tennessee tied the score at 21?

"It really was just about making plays and having things go our way. It's a football game and there are ups and downs and momentum changes so we are just happy to have the win right now."

Does this defense ever flinch?

"It can't. It can't."

How do you think the defense has grown to this point?

"Really all year it has been our resiliency and trying to make big plays when it counts, like it's the fourth quarter and they are driving and we have the opportunity to make big plays and we have to make them."

Did Tennessee do anything different today – or surprise you?

"No, not really; we just had to play fundamentally well and make tackles, bat down balls, and everything."

Junior safety Tom Zbikowski

Tell us about your punt return for a TD?

"I couldn't ask for anything better. The guys did a great job of blocking. I saw an opening and ran for the end zone."

Do you have a certain mental attitude when you're back there catching punts?

"Just as long as I get blocks, I'm not going to go down on the first hit. I'm going to try and make the first guy miss any way I can and get as many yards as I can to help out the offense any way I can."

Did you see anything specific in their coverage coming into this game?

"Coach Polian did a great job seeing that the center is a good snapper but kind of average in cover and he put the right personnel in and they had a lot of speed on their team. He got the right guys on the field and they did a great job."

Are you happy running back punts all the time?

"Yeah, I'll get the ball as many times as I can and I'll be happy. Whatever I have to do to help the team, I will do."

Do you ever get tired?

"I'm going to say no. But yeah."

Four touchdowns in three games is a pretty good stretch for you.

"I'm trying to catch up with Jeff as much as I can."

Talk about the punt return and momentum; you guys took the game away with some big plays.

"I definitely think so. As soon as Coach Weis got here, the focus was special teams were going to change; we had to get better on special teams. Just overall you saw kickoff coverage was great; kickoff returns, we had a couple of good ones; and punt returns; just overall special teams have been great this year."

How big were your eyes on that interception?

"I was waiting there. That's a call we have been working on all week just setting up for that under-route and that was the first time we called it so I was waiting there. Ambrose Wooden called it out too and was yelling my name just before the ball was thrown."

Junior Left Tackle Ryan Harris

What do you think of Jeff Samardzija's play?

"He is a big-time player. He made big plays, especially that last touchdown drive we had. It seemed like it was him all the way, between that run and finishing off with a touchdown, so we are tremendously happy to have someone like him playing for us and he is definitely one of the best players we have seen."

Do you think you guys were more physical than they were today?

"We'll have to look at the film, but all I know is it feels good to win. I don't think it would feel as good if we weren't physical. At times, I think we were physical; obviously, at times we didn't execute to the ability we wanted to, but at the end of the day, I haven't been this happy in a win for a long time. I think it's because as an offensive line and defensive line, we played real physical and we beat a good team in Tennessee."

Did you see Coach Weis get the Gatorade bath?

"Yes, I saw the end of it. We were just really excited for this win. We had two weeks to prepare and we kind of heard everybody say that this is the best defense. This isn't a 3-4 team and they didn't really play like a 3-4 team. But to come out with a victory and win one like we did, to have them tie it up and really have to go back and forth like that, there's a lot of emotion in a game like this and we very happy to get the win."

Give us your thoughts on the defensive play today?

"They just played outstanding today. That's the best performance we've seen – a Michigan-like performance. But they stepped it up a level. Tennessee was really doing some things on offense but they came up with some plays at clutch times that really took the momentum, and gave it back to us when we had lost it as an offense. We as an offense can't be more grateful to our defense today."


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