San Diego State had trouble running the ball. How is this an advantage for your defense?"I think as a defense, the thing we want to do is try to keep them in that same mode, you know, one-dimensional, and you really want to do that with everyone. You definitely don't want to let them start running the ball and throwing the ball. So we will try to shut down the run and force them to throw it; then play ball after that."
The offensive line and the offense in general have talked about how aggressive your defense has been and how it has helped them. Did you and Coach Weis talk about this at the beginning of camp?"We feel as a staff anything we do on defense that is a positive; it will spill over and help our offense. So if we play physical and we play tough - that's what we're going to do anyway - everyone kind of feeds off of that. As a team, we will build and we will grow. I'll take (Eric) Olsen for instance. Olsen's a tough guy so you take that guy; everybody else has to be tougher because they are watching him play. Either you gotta – I have to choose my words carefully here – do your business or get off the pot. You know what I mean? So that's what we like to do."
Have you seen the confidence of the offensive line grow?"I think so, yes, absolutely. I like what I see from those guys and how they play, especially Olsen. I like that and as a staff we like that."
So, the first guy that sort of puts it all together will be the first on the field?"No, coaching-wise, especially at the back end, there's a certain product that you always want to see. There are a certain set of things they have to do. Once you have a guy and he's putting it all together, then you're talking about building and making plays. You're talking about being one of the top safeties in college football; one of the top corners in college football. You are talking about being complete. So what I would like to say is, when you turn on the TV and you watch those guys play, they are an extension of how I think. When I say I, I mean we as a staff, as a defense and a secondary. We have a certain way we like to play so hopefully they'll put it all together."
With John Tenuta in the box and you on the field, how will this work?"I hope good (laughing). It's the same as like it was last year. I'll make the plays and I'll get good input from the guys up top and that's what you need. It's better when you have good communication lines going. It works out pretty good. If you have both guys down and both guys up, it's a little different. If you're up, there are certain things you just can't feel and get communicated. If you are both down, you just don't see it the same from ground level as you do up high and also you are removed. So sometimes, the emotion you kind of eliminate that from your thinking."
Is play-calling more collaborative this year than in the past?"It's the same way as it's been last year. Nothing has changed in that regard. Just like last year, if there was something that Bill (Lewis) saw or the guys up top thought, we put that into use. It's never a deal where you, ‘I want to say this, I'm thinking this, and I'm going to run this and that's it.' I'm not an idiot. If I'm thinking one thing, seriously, and all of a sudden J.T. or somebody on top says, ‘Hey, they're doing this,' or ‘That backside guy is doing this,' or ‘We might want to watch this play,' that's something you always take into account. It was like that when I was in New York. One year I was down and the next year I was up. I saw things differently than when I was down because I sometimes got caught up in the emotion too sometimes. You've got to try and keep that out of it."
With the offensive line getting compliments, what's that say about the defensive line and how they have performed so far?"I think our guys have performed fairly well. It's a deal where I think they have gotten better, progressively better, and that's what you want. I like what our D-line has done, but at the end of the day, we will really find out Saturday. That's when everybody will be excited and you will get to see what the finished product is. You can hit the guys on the other side, but you don't really hit them. If you get a receiver coming across the middle, if that's one of our teammates, we're not going to pull the pin like we are going to pull it Saturday. So it is a difference. It's the same thing with our D-line. When we get in the backfield, we're not hitting Jimmy Clausen, but it's a little different when that guy's in another color because we don't have to answer to anybody now."
Harrison Smith has never played a down in college football. How will you help him stay on an even keel this week?"Just make sure that he plays his rules. What happens to some young guys is their first time out, when the lights first come on; they kind of blow a fuse. But as long as you play your rules and do the things that you have done consistently, I kind of get the feeling that Harrison will do that. He's that type of guy. He's going to play his rules and do that kind of deal. You would like to think a guy like that; he will play like he has played this fall, which has been pretty good."
How has Brian Smith handled the transition from outside to inside?"He's handled it well. He's done pretty well, and he gets itchy to kind of go back and forth. We try to appease him a little bit, but he's handled it fairly well. But like I said, we will see truly how well, come Saturday, when the bullets start flying."
When you say he gets itchy, does that mean he wants to go back outside?"Yeah, come off the edge a little bit. That's a good thing."
With so many young guys on the depth chart, does this bode well for the future?"Yeah, because any time at a young age, early on, the more you can do early on the better. You take a guy that is young and say he is working at this capacity, or you're asking him to do this many things and he is doing them well, then all of a sudden you take a young guy and expand his role like the sky is the limit there. There are so many different things you can do, package-wise, just ability-wise, it helps; it really helps."
What hurdles do the younger players face when they're in a new position and going into their first game?"I think just seeing things. If you're playing a new position, there are some things you just have not seen before. So your reaction time may or may not be as fast as you like. If you're thinking about the crowd and the lights, that's different. But if you just play your rules, those sorts of things, if I just play my rules, it doesn't matter what happens around me. It doesn't matter if I'm playing in South Bend, doesn't matter if it's the Super Bowl, or it really doesn't matter if I'm playing back in Knoxville, or Kansas for that matter; what matters is the guy that is over me, what he does and what my rules tell me to do, and then do I apply it or not. So the guys that can do that, those are the good ones. Bobby Taylor was a guy at a young age; you threw the ball on Bobby Taylor, it didn't matter, he was going to intercept it and run it back. That's what I remember about that guy. Todd Light was the same way."
Is Harrison Smith pretty level-headed?"Yep."
Are you uncomfortable upstairs? Do you feel too far removed?"Uncomfortable is not the right word, but I just kind of like to be down there. I just kind of like to be in the mix. So if I want to punch somebody, I can punch one of the other coaches (laughing). We'll see. I like being down on the sidelines. I can communicate with the players. As long as I have good eyes up top, I'm fine."
Is it a non-issue with Jon Tenuta up there?"Right, right, so that's good. So that way, everything jives."
With the new quarterback making his first start on the road, how does this influence your secondary?"Just like we have been talking, there are certain things he hasn't seen; he hasn't experienced. We will try to magnify that, of course. We will try to make it uncomfortable for him, of course. We'll see what happens. But those are things we are going to do anyway. If there's one guy on every team we want to get after more than anybody else, it's the quarterback. We want to get after the quarterback; that's what we want to do. We want him to be uncomfortable and, when he leaves our stadium, we want him to feel a certain way. That's what we want to do. So we will see."
What's that way?"They would probably be saying I'm a bad guy if I said it. So I'm going to watch what I say."