This might be the biggest press conference I've ever seen. [Ed: There were about 50 of us and Harbaugh has coached in a Super Bowl, so I doubt this.]
I was really pleased by our players and our coaches. I'm as fired up as anything about our kickoff coverage. I thought Brian Polian did a tremendous job, with the exception of the fumbled punt. Whitaker had a school record, so the play of the special teams, I'm really pleased.
The way our defense played was really outstanding. It's hard to pressure Dayne Crist, he gets it out so great and so quick, but we did it. We made plays in the back end. Delano Howell was changing momentum with his hitting. Chase Thomas. Owen Marecic, I gave a game ball to him. He scored on defense, and then scored on offense, and was in on a lot of the plays you don't see inside, the way you block. It was a great, great game from him.
I gave way a lot of game balls. I told the team at USD, if you gave away that many, you wouldn't play next week.
Q: What made the defense so effective?
Our defensive game plan, we really wanted to get penetration. We were chipping Kyle Rudolph on the line to keep him without the ability to get free access into our defense and our secondary. We did a good job containing him. We tried to get pressure which is really hard because Crist gets the ball out so quick and has weapons, but we made plays in the secondary and out in front. At linebacker, Shayne Skov had a heck of a game so did Marecic, and our two OLBs played as well as they have. It was a great job from our defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, our defensive staff, and our players for executing. To try to go on the road and win in a really tough place, to win game in hostile but classy environment but hostile for the visiting team, you really have to bring your defense. We talk about packing your D and we did that today.
How would you assess Andrew's day?
Andrew made some terrific throws all day long, including the touchdown. They brought everybody except four, so a cover 0, and he bought time and threw to Coby Fleener. Fleener must have had 1.5 seconds of hangtime in the air from what it looked like. A heck of a catch. Andrew got the ball downfield and made throws to Konrad Reuland, to Griff Whalen, a big one to Stepfan Taylor who was free out of the backfield on a halfback post. It was a very good day and he managed extremely well. On the interceptions, those were really good plays by Notre Dame. They were both tips and you may talk about those, but it happened to go to a guy who played it off a tip.
On the importance of the win and possible momentum moving forward
It's been a lot of hard work by our players, who play to win and play for each other. It's big. It's a big win for us. We just look at every game like it's a championship game, and in order to win the championship, you have to win the next game. This was the next game, and to come in here and execute well and win on road is extremely important if we're going to be a championship team. Now next week is the big game. We'll be excited for Monday's practice and meetings and getting ready. This team will move forward w humble hearts and get ready for Oregon.
What about the offense line? There was a drive in the third quarter where you ran all of the time.
When we needed to grind some meat, I thought they did a heck of a job. Taylor got stronger as he went along. None of our backs have had that many carries. I thought he had 30 [28 for 114 yards], so it was kind of uncharted waters. The offensive line was doing a good job. I don't know who won the battle up front. It was a real fight with both sides up front knocking each other around. It was tough up front, but when we needed to grind, we hunkered down and treated each play like it was important. Some of our drives ended in field goals, but those were important points.
How about Nate Whitaker?
It was a great day by Nate. He had a really good week of preparation. This game meant a lot to him and his family. Really, the way he kicked off was equally as important in the ball game. He kicked every one deep. Every one, he hit it true. He allowed us to get good coverage, and I'm really fired up about kickoff coverage. It's really important in the field position game.
How about Owen Marecic?
Owen Marecic, I've called him lot of things, a perfect football player. I've never been around a guy like this in my 30-some years of football college and pro. Coaching, he does everything right, the conditioning to play that kind of football game, and then to consider mentally what that takes to learn both systems, offense and defense, and execute and make plays. He's the perfect football player and a couple of other things about Owen are that he's very humble and quiet, but he takes a lot of pride in whatever he's doing. He's proved that in the past and now he proved it again. It's uncharted waters as no one is doing it except for him. The big thing is he's playing the two most physical positions in football – fullback and middle linebacker.
Will this win carryover into next week?
Carryover – it's big. Football is a tremendous game that tests a man's courage. To win a big game in a hostile stadium, nothing makes you feel like a man quite like that does. But every week in college football is a new week, and a season can turn in one week, so we'll get ready for Oregon and keep going with humble hearts.
Have you found a No. 1 back in Stepfan Taylor?
Gaffney had to come out of the ballgame [ankle sprain] and Stepfan really stepped up. He caught out of the backfield and did a nice job in protection. He's a young back, only his second year, but this was really one of those games for him.
The Bootleg: What are the biggest positives you take from today?
Special teams. Defensively, the way we played physically, the nature of our D with Chase Thomas, with Thomas Keiser, with Sione Fua, with Brian Bulcke, and then in the secondary, Howell was triggering [on reads] and coming up fast and then his big hits, those are big momentum changers. The coverage was outstanding against a quality quarterback, quality receivers and a system that is extremely tough to defend, especially on one week's practice notice. Then the linebackers, Skov out there with Marecic -- so many pos there defensively, and then special teams as well.
(Pause.) I thought the players executed well. I thought they really took an approach of every play was important and played that way from start to finish. Maybe that's the biggest positive of all.
How about Crist?
His poise, his stature, the way he sees the field and gets the ball out, his accuracy. I think he's a heck of a competitor. We saw that he took some shots but never lingered or adjusted his pads or anything -- he popped up and kept firing. He's outstanding. That's a good football team we played today.
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