Extra Points

The Irish hit the practice field in the Loftus Center after being off for more than a week as they wrapped up final exams. The Irish will have seven practices during the next five days as they prepare for the showdown with Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on January 2nd. Irish Eyes talked with several Notre Dame players after practice today, and they all have respect for Ohio State but are not in awe of them. In fact the Irish are very confident about the outcome of this bowl game.

Junior defensive end Victor Abiamiri

How will you defend against the quick and mobile Ohio State quarterback?

"You have to stay in your rush lanes as you may see him one second and then he will disappear right in front of you, so you have to play disciplined football and stay in your rush lanes."

Does this make you less aggressive?

"I think you can play aggressively but there is a difference between playing stupid and playing aggressively."

Because of his mobility does someone always have to have responsibility for him?

"Their offense always starts with Troy Smith, and we always have to account for him. He touches the ball every play so if you can stop him and their offense it will be easier for us on defense."

How is the attitude of this team under Coach Weis compared to last year at this time?

"We were all pretty down this time last year so we were looking for any way to improve our football team, so any way we looked, we just wanted somebody to make it better and we bought into his system."

What made Coach Weis's approach acceptable?

"It started with winter workouts. It was a whole different attitude he brought to the whole thing. He tried to establish toughness in this football team and nastiness and from then on we just took it and ran with it."

Did you think you would be playing in a big bowl game this quickly with a new coach?

"I think so. We've known all along that we have talent on this football team. It was just a matter of us manifesting it on the football field. I think with the right guy, Coach Weis, who bought into our football team, I think we are showing the talent we have on this team and we are good football players."

Are you reminded about the bowl history and how long it has taken you guys to win a bowl game?

"Oh yeah. Coach Weis won't let us forget about us not winning a bowl game in over a decade so he definitely reminds us of it every day."

Is he putting more pressure on you guys now than throughout the season?

"I wouldn't say that. Coach Weis is all about maintaining an even keel and treating each football game the same way. He is trying to treat this as just another football game; if you go out, do your job and execute, you will win the football game. So that is what he is trying to let us know."

Do you know where Brady Quinn is from?

"Yea, I know where he is from. He is an Ohio guy, so he has a little added motivation for this game."

What is the key to keeping momentum when you have about six weeks between games?

"It's definitely different, but I think a lot of things that go into a training camp are similar to the things going into a bowl game because you have such a layover before playing your next game so you kind of see the bowl game as your opener. You get all the emotions; you get a little anxious before you play the game; so that's kind of what I feel like right now. It's kind of like a season opener of some sort."

Fifth year senior linebacker Corey Mays

What does Brandon Hoyte bring to the defense?

"He is a great player. He is the energy and spark to the defense. It's great to look over and know that someone has confidence and is going to make the big play when it needs to be made."

Did you buy into Coach Weis's attitude pretty quickly?

"As a fifth-year senior and being through everything, I was ready to really buy into anything he said and being into the last year, and really getting everybody around us to buy into it."

Was there one time in the season when you said, "Hey this is working"?

"Really, before the season when the team was working out and we came together and seeing everybody have the same goal and mindset."

How much has Brandon helped you?

"We fed off each other. He was able to get a lot more playing time and able to get started, obviously, before me but when times are rough, I can talk to him or when times are rough for him, other than football, we can talk to each other."

Are you guys reminded how long it has been since you won a bowl game?

"Really, a lot of them I haven't been here for, but the two we have lost, have really been disappointing. So you really want to go out on a bang."

What was practice like coming back with so much time off?

"It was business as usual. It has been business from the first day we got started here, so you wouldn't expect anything less."

Do you feel there is a sense of urgency getting ready for this game?

"Every day is a sense of urgency. There never should be a need for someone to stop and say, ‘you need to get this done.' It's kind of a given, especially going through the season and back to last January."

What do you know about Ohio State?

"We have watched them, and they are really a great team. So it is definitely going to be a dog fight when we go out there. They don't have many weak links."

Will the defense have a spy on Smith?

"I can't divulge that information, 007 (laughing). In most cases, some people do that, but it really depends upon what they are doing."

Sophomore running back Darius Walker

Will the offensive approach be different because of the Ohio State defense?

"I think we are approaching this the same way as we do every game. They have a good run defense but that still is not going to stop us from running the ball, but we will definitely try to change some things up. The short passing game is always an extension of the running game and like Coach Weis says, we treat the short pass the same as a run."

Do you feel there is a sense of urgency getting ready for this game and how do you keep up the intensity?

"I think keeping the intensity level up in practice - you always have to keep the intensity level up in practice - so that you are always focused and you are always working hard and working toward the goal which is to beat Ohio State. So even though the game is a ways off, we still know that we have to work hard in practice so that we can play well."

What do you think of Ohio State?

"I have an interesting view of Ohio State as they were my second or third choice coming out of high school. I have the utmost respect for that school, and watching them on film, as far as the defense is concerned, you can tell they have big physical guys that like to hit. So I think we embrace that, because we in turn like to hit. So it should be an interesting game."

What was Coach Weis like today?

"Same way as he always is; pumped up and ready to go; very businesslike, like he always is. He is a no-nonsense type of guy."

Did he have a theme for this practice?

"I think he is still keeping us in that ‘get nasty' mentality; letting us know that we can play with anyone, and we feel that we can play with any team out there. So this is just another good team that we have to go against and show the world again what Notre Dame is all about."

Is Coach Weis reminding you guys about the bowl losing streak?

"Always, man, always. He is always going to say something, I think, about the losing streak we have had as far as bowl games are concerned. So I think everybody knows that, and we won't forget that. He reminds us two or three times a day and I think whenever he remembers, he kind of throws it in. He even throws it in the huddle some times just to let us know."

Can you put into words what the last 365 days have meant to this team?

"Well, basically, we have shown what a year can do. How really in one year you can turn an entire program around through hard work and dedication to the game. I think a lot of people say it is very difficult to learn things, especially a complex offense like Coach Weis's in a year. I think we have shown that we were able to turn things around as much as we have in a year."

Are people asking you for tickets to the bowl game?

"Everybody is asking me for tickets. Who's not asking for tickets?"

Senior wide receiver Maurice Stovall

Why has the last year meant to you?

"A lot of things have been different. Our whole program has turned around. Just being here with a lot of older guys - seniors, fifth-year guys - you just see us progress and mature and overcome adversities in the tough times that we've had here. And to have the kind of season we've had; maybe it's not the kind of outcome we wanted as far as our record, but just seeing how things have changed a lot and having the new facilities and seeing the younger guys progress, it's been happy and you have your ups and downs, but it's really good to see guys graduate and get that degree."

So what's it been like getting ready for your last college game?

"It's not that tough. My father usually handles those things as far as agents and NFL. So it hasn't been hard concentrating on the season and finishing my season up well and leaving a mark on my university and being a leader for the younger guys. And at the same time finishing up my academics, getting all my credits done, I only have three more credits this upcoming semester. So I'm just focusing on what's important in the now and present. Right now it is Ohio State and just taking it one week at a time. I just got done with my academics and everything. So I'm just focusing on Ohio State right now and two-a-days and looking forward to coming home for the holidays."

How much fun has it been to be a part of this offense?

"It has been a lot of fun, obviously, because we pass the ball a lot and at the same time, we run a lot and I think a lot of guys understand that and we work as a team. No one is saying I want the ball; the receivers aren't saying that and the running backs aren't saying that. And we are working as a team and executing. And on top of that we have a winning record and that makes it more fun."

You look at this match-up; it looks like a great defense against a great offense.

"We are preparing to play against a great defense. They have big guys all across the board and they are very physical and aggressive. It just gives me an opportunity to play against a tough defense and show how good we are as a team and as an offense and to show that we are not a fluke. The defenses that we were going against weren't easy and we realize that Ohio State is a tough defense and we can use this opportunity to our advantage to show the country that our offense is very effective."

Maurice, how do you think you will be remembered here at Notre Dame?

"For one, I want to be remembered as a well-rounded person and player. As a receiver, wanting to have that total package. I want to be remembered as a leader both on and off the field; just being an example to the younger guys so they will say, ‘Man, I remember how Maurice used to play and joking on the field and off the field and working hard in the weight room.' Hopefully, leaving a mark here at the university for the younger guys."


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