SHOOTING THE BULL – NOTRE DAME – SEPTEMBER 19
By Leo Haggerty
NOTRE DAME PREGAME
South Florida hits the road for the first time in the 2020 campaign. The Bulls fly up to South Bend to take on traditional power Notre Dame. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 pm EDT.
Had a chance to direct a bunch of questions to USF HC Jeff Scott this week leading up to their contest with the Irish. Below are his lengthy responses. Enjoy?
LH ; You have coached twice against Notre Dame. One in the College Football Playoffs and the other in a hurricane up at Clemson. Can you take anything from those two games when you go against Coach Kelly this Saturday?
JS : It’s definitely a different situation, for sure. The biggest thing that I can take away from those two games is that I know they will be well-coached. You know that they are going to be exactly where they need to be. They are not going to give you any free plays. They are going to make you earn everything. It’s going to be physical game for four quarters. They are going to come right downhill. They are going to come right at you. My job is to share that knowledge from that experience to our players. Let them know exactly what it will be like when they step out there so we don’t have to wait to the middle of the first quarter to figure that out. That’s probably the only things that I could say to bring to our guys.
LH : When you go into a game like this, when your on the road and the underdog, is the object to get to halftime with the lead or, at worst, within a score?
JS : Let me make sure that I say this the right way. Because this is Game Two of this new era and,with a new coaching staff, we are just coaching our guys on a Tuesday on how we do what we do. Our message to our players has always been, and it will always be, that it is about us. I know you get tired about hearing this but it’s not about who we play but how we play. If all of a sudden you go to play a big team like Notre Dame, and you start talking about Notre Dame, then you have players raising their hands. Now they’re asking me I thought you said it’s not about who we play. You have to be consistent in that. So, for us, it’s so early. I’m more interesting in seeing how our players respond playing a very talented opponent on the road than I am about the scoreboard and all that kind of stuff. You always want to win the game. That’s what we’re going up there to do. There are so many things for us that we are focusing on more than to worry about what the score is by quarter and by halftime or whatever. By and large, you worry about what is in front of you. You look up at the scoreboard at the end of the game and you’ll see how you did. That’s the mindset that our guys will have going into this one.
LH : This has to be a nightmare trying to plan travel for a football team during Covid. How much of a distraction to you and your team?
JS : You know, it’s just a different year. You know, for us as coaches we have, obviously, been dealing with this for several months. Where I try to come from, philosophy-wise as coach as well as for our coaching staff and our programs, is a position that three months ago we didn’t even know if we would have a chance to play. In fact, we probably thought that we were not going to play. If someone would have given us the option three months ago that we are going to let y’all play but you have to understand that there are going to be some challenges with this and that and the other and travel and all these things. With that, do y’all still want to play the answer would have been yes. If we do it safely, we would be willing to go through all the stuff. Trying to come from that frame of mind as opposed to, maybe, gauging where we are, from a frame of mind of a normal year like 2019. If you look at it that way, it can drive yourself crazy. You won’t get any sleep. You’ll just worry yourself to death. Again, we are just try attack it. One of our principles in our program is to maintain a positive attitude. Have a positive attitude no matter what the circumstances. So, we are getting a lot of practice at that. Is it different? Is it inconvenient? Is it challenging? Yes and especially to programs across the country, like our own that are very thin with no depth, it’s a problem. When you’re already thin with challenges this creates more challenges. I think we have accepted that, if you will. To directly answer you question, with the traveling piece and that, I spent about two hours in here yesterday with Albert Boone, our fantastic Director of Football Operations, placing everyone on the plane. We were figuring out how many people we can protect by putting people around them that had already tested positive to Covid. If we did have sometime that occurred when we got up there, the contact tracing through the plane would not eliminate other players. It’s definitely different. It’s a challenge but we’ve accepted it for what it is. We are going to have a positive attitude about it and have fun. If not, the whole year will be miserable and life is to short to do that. We are going to have fun in the midst of a pandemic. We been doing that so far and we will continue to do that.
LH : You mentioned on Tuesday that you may not be able to do a walk-through on Friday. If that’s not possible, will that change your itinerary on Saturday to move things up to accomplish that?
JS : We did have to change our itinerary. I won’t go into detail as to what we had to move around. We are going to be able to do everything that we want to do and everything that we did last week. It just may be at different times and at different places so we can get out of here early enough tomorrow. I think we leave tomorrow before 11 and that we will get up there somewhere around 1:45. That give us plenty of time at the hotel and, hopefully, get a chance to walk through the stadium.
LH : If I’m Coach Kelly, and I’m looking at your game film, I’m lining up in 12 formation and I’m just coming right at you. Your defensive is built on speed and quickness and not size. How are you going to stop that?
JS : Well, there is no question that Notre Dame has one of the best, if not the best, offensive lines in the country. I saw something that came out this week that they were voted the best offensive line in the country. That’s what you expect when you go play Notre Dame. You expect that Coach Spencer understands being all the different schools that he has been at. Honestly, I think there are maybe eight to 10 programs in the country that really have a strong defensive line with big 300-pounders that line up. Your talking about 10 programs out of 130. So, the other 120 of us, have to find a way within your scheme to create some advantages that will hold up and make plays. A lot of that is, within the scheme, how you move people. I though Duke did a good job of that last week in what they did up front. I don’t want to give too much away as to our game plan but we just can’t sit still and expect our guys to hold up when the opponent is 300-plus pounds across the board. As coaches, that’s our responsibility. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. We have to play to our strengths and find a way to attack them and understand the different ways we expect them to approach our game when they come at us on Saturday.
LH : When you play Notre Dame, you expect the 67,000 fans and the tradition and Touchdown Jesus and that’s not going to happen. Is that an advantage to your guys because it won’t be that type of intimidating atmosphere?
JS : I really haven’t thought about it until you said it. I have no idea. I really don’t know. I keep going back to this, and I hate to keep giving the same answer, but we have already adjusted for 2020. It’s so different that we don’t even think about those things. We have to accept it for what it is. Again, I go back to one thing that we talk about to our team all the time. For us to be a consistent winner, and to end up becoming a championship program, and that’s one of our big goals as a program, we have to get to a point where outside environments and outside circumstances don’t have an impact on how we play. That’s easier said than done but, when you really make that the focus and you don’t really talk about the other things, I’m sure that would be different. I wish that it was a full stadium. I really do. That way, our guys would get the opportunity to play in a full stadium in South Bend. I understand that, reading some of their players comments from last week, that it was louder than they expected it to be with the smaller crowd. I’m sure there will some atmosphere there. When that ball is kicked off, we have enough challenges just lining up and playing the 11 guys across from us.