Panther Digest Q&A: Notre Dame

Chas Alecxih, K'Waun Williams, Tino Sunseri, Ray Graham, Myles Caragein, Shane Gordon and Ejuan Price all chime in about the Iowa game, what the team needs to do to move past Iowa, and what they're looking ahead to with Notre Dame.

Chas Alecxih
Why is Notre Dame such a big game?
I think because there's so much tradition in the series. We've played them so many times; I don't know how many. Every year, other than my first year, it's always been a great game. They're a great team and I think we're a great team. We're looking forward to it.

What has been the cause of 4th quarter woes?
Just that we have to finish. We took our foot of their throat. We can't do that if we want to be successful. We're going to finish games from now on.

Any explanation as to why you haven't been able to finish?
I think we got up by so much, so early, we just got complacent. We weren't playing like we were behind. We weren't playing like it was a close game. We were playing like we're up 21—which we were—but as you saw, that's dangerous to do. The key is playing like you're behind, when you're ahead.

Is there anything differently the defensive line can do?
Oh yeah, a hundred percent. There were at least a couple pass rushes where—I don't want to say I wasn't going as hard as I could—but I didn't work my technique as good as I could. I could have made a difference if I had. From a personal standpoint, I'm not going to let that happen again.

Was the defense tired in the 4th quarter?
I don't want to say we were beat. Obviously, we were playing a lot of snaps. We're very well conditioned. It's just that when you're playing that many snaps, it is hard to keep lining up and going as hard as you can every play. We have to work on that. We have to work on finishing games. I like to think we learned a lesson; hopefully better earlier than later in the season, when we're fighting for the BCS bowl (bid).

What else do you like about Notre Dame?
They're a great team. They throw the ball very well. Obviously, Floyd is one of the best receivers in the country; if not the best. We have to get on them quick in the pass rush game; we have to impact the quarterback. Our DBs, I know they're going to play well. A lot of it is doing to be on the d-line.

Is their offensive line as big as Iowa's?
Yeah, probably around the same size. I believe their o-line averages around 6-4, 300 pounds, which is right around what Iowa was. It'll be playing the run game, pretty similar.

Is Notre Dame's offense the same as yours?
Not really, I'm not really sure. Maybe a little bit. They're in shotgun a lot, I know that. We're in shotgun. That's really all I've noticed.

Is their no-huddle different?
I guess not, so that's similar. Throw that in there. That's pretty much all I can think of—no-huddle, and they're in shotgun a lot.

Does it help practicing against the no-huddle this year?
We were a little bit gassed. They came out, and they were running it real quick. We didn't get to go against that in practice like we did this year. I think we are going to be better prepared for that.

How have the corners been doing this week?
We're just preparing; just preparing every day to get better.

Talk about Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd?
He's a big, physical guy. I think as a defense, we're going to come around and we're going to put it together.

How challenging is it to defend him?
We're going to make some game plans; I think we're going to find a way to do it this week.

Do you look forward to tough matchups like that?
Matchups like that is the reason we play this game. That's the reason why I love to play the game. This week is very exciting for me, and the rest of our defensive back corps.

What have you seen from the Iowa film?
The defense wasn't really clicking a little bit. They got a couple quick shots on us. We just have to go in the film room and correct these little issues.

Are there still miscommunications on coverages?
Just minor stuff, like Coach Graham says; little coverages and stuff that he's calling. I think we put it all together. We're going to be good for Notre Dame.

Is it still adjusting to the scheme?
It's not really a scheme, it's just little things like certain calls and alignments, and things like that.

We're playing to the system. Whatever alignment (Graham) calls for, that's what we're going to play. I think we're playing pretty tight.

Did you get injured against Iowa?
I just hurt my leg a little bit. I should be good.

What makes Notre Dame such a prominent program?
It's definitely fair to say. Whenever you would get letters or offers from Notre Dame, you're a top recruit in the country. They go right after everybody from around the country. You can see that on film. They have guys that are big, they have guys that can run. You can tell that they're well coached. It's going to be a challenge for us, and we just have to be able to go out and execute offensively; try to put points on the board.

How would you rate your performance against Iowa?
I would say it's my best game that I played yet. I was very pleased with all my reads. Even the interceptions were the right reads—I just have to put more air on the ball. That was really happy for me because the first two games, I was a little bit cloudy on some of the reads and some of the looks and stuff. That's going to happen when you're into a game situation because you're not into getting exactly the same look that you're getting at practice.

Is the offense coming together?
You have to make those adjustments. When you're able to make those adjustments in the game, you're able to go down the field. You could really see the tempo of the offense really working. That's putting points on the board, but obviously you're disappointed because in the end, you didn't do enough to finish. You weren't able to make that drive near the end of the game in order to put points on the board for you to either win it or tie the game. Obviously, we went back to the drawing board and looked our corrections, and obviously we want to be able to finish on offense and be able to finish games, and be able to play 60 minutes.

What does Notre Dame's defense do well?
They're very physical, they're very fast. They do a lot of things in the secondary. Notre Dame, they're exactly what they're going to do—they're like Iowa. They're in certain coverages and certain looks. They're going to make sure that their rush gets there. We just have to be able to handle and execute.

They disguise their secondary really well. I think the safeties do real well at disguising their looks. Their corners do a great job of not letting you key in on certain movements they give on certain coverages. Obviously, they'll blitz out of it too. You have to make sure that you have your head up; have your head on a swivel to make sure you know what those safeties are doing, and make sure you're making the right reads.

Is the offensive line improving?
Definitely. I felt a lot more comfortable in the pocket last week. The guys up front battled their tails off and gave me a tremendous amount of time to be able to decipher defenses and get balls to the receivers. The receivers were getting off jams . We were able to take what the offense was giving us. Last week, and the weeks prior, we weren't able to get Mike Shanahan and those guys down the seam. Iowa took a big hit on Mike, so we weren't able to get down the seam. We made those adjustments to get the ball to Devin Street and those guys, and let them make plays. That's how this offense works. If they try to take something away, you have to be able to answer with something else. Last week, we were able to answer with a lot of different areas of the game. We were able to put points on the board, but obviously you have to finish.

Does it look like the same Notre Dame defense you faced last year?
We were joking—a lot of guys that played last year—saying, basically, they're the same team. They return a lot of starters. I think they return eight or nine starters on defense that are playing the same position. Obviously, they're not going to change that much, but they have a year of experience and obviously they played the last three games. We just have to be able to go out there and execute. They might be able to add a new wrinkle. We just have to make sure we stay at the top of our game, the top of our reads, our keys and just be able to execute. If they try and do something different, we have to react to what they're doing.

Is the Iowa game behind you?
This is a new week. Being able to play this sport, you have to be able to forget last week and concentrate on this week. I don't know if there's such a thing as a revenge factor. It's not like they did anything dirty or anything. We just want to go out there and play as hard was we possibly can; play high-character football, just put points on the board and just try to win.

Ray Graham
Would you have liked to have touched the ball in the 4th-and-3 in the fourth quarter?
You just have to take what they give you. I like to fight for the extra yards. It was tough. They were keying in on me. We made a lot of things happen on the passing game.

We always can get better doing what we're doing; what we do is to make the best with what we're doing.

Why is Notre Dame always a big game?
I guess because Notre Dame is an independent school. They always have tough games. Everybody wants to play there. Notre Dame has great tradition. Playing against them is a good thing too. Getting a win against them is that much better.

Were you a Notre Dame fan growing up?
Fan of Notre Dame? I have somebody that goes there; a friend of mine, (defensive lineman) Hafis Williams. I became a fan of that. Growing up, I was a Miami Hurricanes fan. Then, I started watching Pitt, but I was a Miami fan. Sorry.

What does the offense have to do this week?
It's more executing the plays. It's third-and-one, we know have to get that one yard, we have to do it. They put a play in front of us we've been practicing, we trust each other, so we have to finish. That's all.

Third-and-one, I'm just thinking one yard. I'm not trying to make that big play. I'm just trying to get the first down.

Can you be more successful in short yardage situations?
It's a play that we run. You just have to stick to it. I have to do my job up front. They have to do their job, and we have to execute. It's there or it's not. Not everyone is going to be accounted for. Sometimes I just have to make a play.

I could have made a play, which I didn't. That's why you get a chance to watch film. You do better from where you watch film so that this week, the same thing won't happen twice.

What was it like last week, building the big lead, and getting more comfortable with the offense?
When we got up there, we were scoring points on a good team such as Iowa. Now, we feel as though we're starting to click a lot. I feel as though it's going to be good for us down the road.

It definitely does. We're putting points up on the board. I'm just happy for us—whatever way we can score, that's how I want us to score. Coach is always preaching that ‘high octane.' He really means it. Whenever we get a chance to score, we're going to try and score.

It's still high-octane. Definitely. We're getting things going now. We're starting to feel ourselves; what we have to do, what we can do, what we can do when we execute plays.

Myles Caragein
What can the defense do to finish the fourth quarter?
Finishing the fourth quarter in practice, but we've been working on the little things. We think the little things will produce big things. On each play, we've been focusing on finishing through the whistle. We'll just see if that will help us to finish out the fourth quarter. It's a lot about our mindset.

Do they have the same personnel from last year's game?
It's pretty much the same offensive line. The left guard is new this year. It's pretty much the same attacking style. They're going to try to quick pass us, screens and try to hit us with the runs. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us defensively.

Does it help practicing against a no-huddle every day?
Yeah, that was something I definitely thought was our weakness last year; we weren't prepared for the no-huddle. This year, going against our offense in practice, it's been a huge teaching tool for us, to learn and practice against the no-huddle, to go against that tempo. I definitely feel we're ready for that.

What is Notre Dame's offense good at?
They're just a high-tempo offense. They like to throw the ball, they like to spread it out. It's hard to determine what they're going to do. They keep you off guard. They'll run, pass, screen—everything to keep you honest. It's just something that we have to catch up on defensively; keep finishing.

We're definitely trying to keep putting pressure on the quarterback. That's one of our big things as a defense; to attack and try to get pressure on the quarterback. It's just a big emphasis we have every week.

Shane Gordon
What do the linebackers need to do to improve?
Reps, we'll learn that and get it down pact.

Do you feel you've improved?
I feel, since spring ball, I've come a long way picking up everything. That's my thing—remembering everything. I got it all down, right now.

Why do you feel you've been demoted to second-team?
I did all right. I didn't make too many big plays. I did okay; room for improvement.

Why are the linebackers doing well in stopping the run, but struggling in pass coverage?
We emphasize that every day; stop the run, stop the run, stop the run. Even on pass days; stop the run. You can say we have to work on the pass a little better; to get better at it. We've been doing a lot of (pass) skelly (defense); 7-on-7. We're working on it.

Is this defense different from last year?
I play SAM, so it's not really too different. It's just certain things like our WILL does if I have someone out of the flat. Nothing too much really different.

What do you have to do to get back with the first-team defense?
It's motivation. You want your job back. Me and Tristan (Roberts) have been rotating with the (first-team defense). Coach has to evaluate film; see how it goes, see how it goes this week.

I'm staying positive about it. If I'm not on the field—the coach knows what they're doing—so they're going to put in a better player.

Ejuan Price
You had two sacks last week at Iowa. Talk about it.
The first one was a ‘gimme,' but I needed that one to get my confidence up. That was good.

Is there a rivalry among teammates, being that several players—like yourself—are tied for the team lead with two sacks?
I don't really think it's spoken, but we all know. Everybody knows how many sacks we have. It's not spoken. We're all competing. I know I am. I know they are too.

How did you react starting in the tough atmosphere at Iowa?
I don't want to say it was a big deal, but it really wasn't. I started against Maine, so I don't really get nervous easily. I was okay. I felt like I was cool.

Is it also challenging starting against a school like Notre Dame?
I don't feel it right now. Maybe when I get there, it will be a different story. I think we'll cross that bridge when we get there. I don't think I'll be nervous though.

Did Notre Dame recruit you?
No, not fully.

What's challenging about facing Notre Dame's offense?
I'll be in coverage a lot more. Everyone knows they have a good receiving corps. They have a good quarterback who can get the ball there. That's a challenge for me. I'll have a lot more pass coverages this game.

Is that how the Panther position works?
Depending on who we play, I have to adjust.

As a Panther, we rush and we cover. We just don't cover as much. People don't really pay attention to that, but we cover.

Myles Caragein said you starting, it gives the defense its best four defensive linemen out there. Are you surprised to hear such a compliment from a senior captain like that?
Yeah, definitely. It's always good to have respect from your peers. I didn't even know he said that. I feel good about that. I didn't know he felt that way.

It feels good. The most important stat; you always want the win. It does feel good to be noticed. Hard work pays off. I enjoy that. That's a good thing.

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