What is the status of David Grimes and Mo Crum?"Grimes looked better today than he did yesterday. I didn't see Mo today, but Mo was going to try and go as much as he could today to see what he had. He went limited yesterday, but I told him let's see what you've got today. If he looked okay, I would probably hold back on him a little bit tomorrow so I can have him full-go on Saturday. To be honest with you, I don't know about Mo yet because I didn't see enough of the defensive practice, the last half of practice."
How has Travis Thomas dealt with going from preseason number one to a small package role now?"Well, I think he knows with James Aldridge banged up, it gives him an opportunity to be much more involved with the possibility of getting more carries. If I didn't think he was reliable and dependable and ready to go, I wouldn't have brought his name up when I was asked a question the other day."
Has he had a good attitude throughout this season?"He has been typical of the leadership that we have on the team. They haven't wavered a bit. It has been a really good sight to see."
Could you comment on the Southern Cal running backs and their different styles and especially Joe Knight?"We spent a lot of time down at Curtis High School. We spent a lot of time with their high school and JT, their coach. The kid has a lot of similar qualities to Armando Allen. I would say that's the best frame of reference for us. He's very similar to Armando."
Is it difficult preparing for the two different quarterbacks?"I think Bootie's experience expands the playbook. I think Mark Sanchez probably has a tad more athleticism but I think anytime you have the more experienced guy, you can do more things. Obviously, if they go with Sanchez, it is not going to stop their offense from running the same offense. They wouldn't change the offense; I just don't think they would do as much."
USC is ranked No. 13. Do you think people overlook them a little bit?"This is typical for them because sometimes people take USC and their program for granted. They have been so good for a while, when they're not winning by three or four touchdowns, everyone thinks there's a problem. You have to remember when you're at the perch where they have been, everyone's gunning for you every week. It isn't like, ‘Oh, it's USC. Ah, it's just USC showing up.' I don't think sometimes people give USC their just due because they have been so good so long."
Can you talk about John Ryan and the progress he has made?"Well, I anticipated John being a nice solid outside linebacker for us but what he has also been able to do is stay on the field in nickel and not force us to take him off the field. He has shown enough athleticism to be able to go between that outside linebacker/defensive end that we described in the beginning. That's truly what he has shown he is capable of doing which keeps him on the field more."
What kind of kid is he? He's always quiet when we talk with him."That's not John. He's very reserved but he has a lot of moxie. I'm giving you the clean version. Okay, he's got a lot of moxie."
Can you talk about Ambrose Wooden?"Ambrose has always been one of our better cover guys in slot receiver sets. He's always been one of the better ones. When Mike (Richardson) left, that was like his job last year. Ambrose has stepped in that position right there and really solidified. As much nickel as we've had to play this year with all the teams using multiple wide receivers, it really gives us multiple corners that we can get involved in the game with a lot of confidence."
Do you think Ambrose has played his best football the last couple of weeks or has he been solid the entire year?"That's why when you saw the depth chart this week where I listed Darrin (Walls) or Ambrose, I just don't do that by chance. I feel he has put himself in a position where either one of those guys could be the starter at the corner opposite of (Terrail) Lambert."
Looking back at the USC game two years ago, it seems like you did almost everything right………unable to hear the rest of the question."Obviously, I didn't do enough. I have to go back and reflect on it though. But I obviously didn't do enough. We did a lot of good things in the game, but we obviously didn't do enough. So I can't say yes. I'd have to go back and reflect on it and other than watch the game as a reference point, I try not to be analytical with the what-ifs. Obviously, I didn't do enough."
What does the USC game mean to you as an alum and as an opponent?"I always know that Notre Dame has been very big making sure that they show due respect to every opponent. But when you have a cross-country, not an intersectional, rival, when you have a cross-country rival that you play on an annual basis, I understand Pete (Carroll) yesterday or whenever he was talking, talked like Notre Dame is almost a conference game for them because we play each other every year and we have a lot of familiarity; that and the fact that it has been a heated up-and-down type of thing and right now they have hit it for five in a row. It gives a lot of importance to the game."
People still talk about the 2005 USC game even though it was a loss. Does this bother you?"That's a fair question and does it bother me that people remember the high point being a loss? Absolutely, who wants to be remembered for a loss? Taking that aside, I think it was a great football game and you don't get a chance very often in your career to be in a game that was a great football game and it was that. But I would like to have been on the other side of that."
Do you change the USC game plan because of their different quarterbacks?"No, I think if you do that, you set yourself up for a fall because it's not like they're bringing in a read-option quarterback versus a drop-back quarterback. They have their system in place; therefore, you can get ready for their system rather than their quarterback."
Have you seen more out of Evan Sharpley in the last couple days of practice?"When you're not the regular guy in the huddle and you're getting a third of the reps, so to speak, the huddle kind of not belongs to you. It's almost like you are taking time in there. This week the one thing I have seen from Evan is him becoming more authoritative in the huddle because he knows he's the guy. He's getting the reps so I think, as much as anything, you can see the confidence and the guys getting used to him calling the plays and him calling the snap-count. I think he definitely has shown more command this week."
Can you talk about Evan sticking with football and what kind of kid he is?"For example, last year we brought in Zack Frazier and Demetrius Jones and everyone assumed in training camp last year that one of those two guys was going to end up being number two behind Brady. We went through training camp, and at the end of training camp, Evan was the guy who rose to number two. He always showed enough that he could play himself into the mix and he has finally gotten to the point now where he has gone from a guy being number two to showing that he deserves a shot at being number one. That's where we are right now; he's getting his shot."
With Travis Thomas possibly getting more playing time and carries, does the fact that he played well in the game two years ago enter into it?"The fact that we expect a tough, hard-hitting game against a team that is very athletic up front and we know we are going to have to run the ball with power, with James doubtful, that favors the Travis/Robert (Hughes) combination if that's what we end up doing. Armando is involved in this game as well, but I think the one thing you'd better be able to do is hold onto the ball some and not let them have the ball the whole game. Last week's game was competitive but you look at the time of possession and it's two to one. Very seldom are you going to win a game when your offense is on the field half as much as their offense is."
Do you feel that the last two games have boosted the team's confidence and do you think they are practicing better?"You have to look at it as different facets. I think the defense has been on the up-tick ever since the second half of the Purdue game. I think things have continued to show promise. Now, they have had spurts early in the year, but I think they have shown a little bit more consistency since the second half of the Purdue game. Offensively, the one thing we have become better at over the last few weeks is one of the biggest problems we had early in the year with blitz pickup. I think that's one area we have become significantly better at. I think the two biggest areas of concerns offensively, obviously, is production; both in the running game and the pass game, and getting off to a better start than we have. I think we have put the team in a disadvantage by our offensive scoring in the first half of