Joe Paterno Press Conference
Sept. 4, 2007
JOE PATERNO PRESS CONFERENCE
September 4, 2007
Charlie Weis named Jimmy Clausen as starting quarterback. What are your impressions of him and does that affect your preparation?
Well, it's hard for me to tell you what my impressions would be except the fact that we knew a lot about him as a high school player and he was an outstanding high school football player. I know he's had some athletic injury problems so, I don't really now what to tell you, except for the fact that I thought all three kids that played for Notre Dame that I looked at, are all well prepared and so forth; they just never had the kind of opportunities to do anything because Georgia Tech just played a super football game. Sometimes people are looking at that game as if were Notre Dame was terrible. Notre Dame is a good, solid team. When you look at them and you don't look at the scoreboard, Georgia Tech started almost all of their drives inside Notre Dame's territory. Notre Dame had absolutely no breaks: there were no turnovers by Georgia Tech, very few penalties, and they kicked the ball well. That was a tough game; it was tough football game for anybody to beat Georgia Tech last Saturday. I thought Georgia tech played a super football game and in the process, Notre Dame hung in there tough. A lesser team, giving Georgia Tech the kind of field position they gave them, would have been way out of it. So when you relay that back to what the quarterbacks did, the quarterbacks never had a chance and the coaches never had a chance to really be loose about anything because they started on the 22, 24, this and that and then they fumble three times, which was really a setback for them. I think they have three good quarterbacks. If Charlie Weis thinks that the young kid is the best one I'm sure he knows better than I do. So we've got to play whomever they start and be ready for them, but if the young kid doesn't do well they'll be innovative enough to get somebody else in there.
How different do you think this Notre Dame team is from the one you played last year?
Their not settled on a quarterback. That's obviously one of the big things. I think once their quarterback, whomever they decide, if it happens to be the kid from California, he gets in there and they get a little better luck on field position, "we don't turn the ball over that's fine, we'll be in pretty good shape" but ordinarily that's not going to happen. I think they're very very comparable athletically to the teams we've played in previous years and particularly last year. They hustle, they've got a lot of poise, they didn't crack, hung in there every play. I think this is a good solid team very comparable to the one we played last year.
How do you think Anthony Morelli has changed since last year's game?
No offense to Anthony but out at Notre Dame, we stunk out the place. I mean Notre Dame was a better team that day than we were, but we didn't do a very good job coaching. When I say "we" I mean yours truly. They ran a fake punt down to the 1-yard-line and we fumbled an option play. We weren't really good and I don't think you can blame that on Morelli, but again I always kind of preface some things with trying to give you a little background material. Morelli is a much better quarterback than he was a year ago at this time going into his second game and we're playing home. That was a tough job for him going out there last year, to take a football team that was still shaky about a lot of things. I think we're a better football team than we were a year ago. I think Morelli is better, I think the wide-outs, the people who you would hope would make some plays, are further along. So I think we're in a little better shape. The only thing that bothers me right now going into this football game is people don't realize how good Notre Dame is. That score is not anywhere indicative of what happened as I said earlier. Georgia Tech just played one heck of a football game. I mean if you were a coach, they did a great job, they really did a great job coaching and everything else, took advantage of every opportunity and didn't create any opportunities for the other guys and obviously they ended up winning it.
How well did your defense play vs. FIU after you looked at the tapes?
We were solid. I think you've got to be careful. Florida International killed themselves with the turnovers they gave us good position a couple times and you know we got to hit them and then they've got to do a couple things that maybe they hadn't intended to do. Most of them time when you play someone who you think is a little better than you, you try to keep it close, you try to keep it close, don't make mistakes, so that your kids don't have to do something they're not quite ready for and than maybe something happens and you get a chance to win it. Florida International didn't give themselves a chance to win it because of the turnovers early in the game so I'm reluctant to talk about whether we played this well or that well I thought we hustled, I thought we lined up properly, we knew what we were doing. Offensively we had some problems with their blitzes but I thought overall we probably played about as well you'd want your team to play in the first game but certainly not by that score. I think Florida International is a lot better than that.
Can you evaluate how Sean Lee has progressed from last year?
It's hard for me to tell you how much he has progressed after the situation we were in this past Saturday. Sean was a good football player last year. Whether he is a lot better or somewhat better...I know he's a good football player and he and (Dan) Connor give us two fine inside linebackers. They are intelligent, they play smart as well as being tough and they adapt to different things that are going to happen and they're great to have there because of the fact again the combination of the young down guys and those two guys have got to keep them together. Sean Lee's a good football player. I don't know how good. I guess we'll see.
How would you assess the performances of your various running backs in the opener?
I thought both (Austin) Scott and (Rodney) Kinlaw did a good job. Early in the game, when we were throwing the ball all over the place, they didn't have much of a chance and we weren't settled on exactly how we wanted to handle some of the blitzes that we got. We went into the game with the idea we could throw the ball, but when we settled down and hit on a couple of plays that we felt handled some of their blitzes I think both Scott and Kinlaw did a good job as did the young kid (Evan) Royster. They're going to get better, let me put it that way. They're going to get better. They all did a good job blocking they did a good job on pass protection when all the blitzes came they were in the game the whole bit. I think Florida International is a little bit quicker and a little bit better athletically than they may have indicated on Saturday. I just think they got themselves into a situation where they had to do a lot of things in order to try to turn the tide and that would kind of mislead you as to what kind of athletes they are. I think they've got some pretty good athletes. Overall I thought they (running backs) were fine; I'm not going to go overboard.
What kind of maturation have you seen out of Chris Bell over the last year and is he any closer to making more contributions on the field?
Until we get into a situation where we've really got to do some things under the duress, I really can't tell you how far we've progressed. I think Chris Bell has potential of being really good. If you ask me, "is he a great receiver right now?" No. He can be, but he's got to be more consistent. He's really practiced well the past five or six days. He pouted a little bit when it didn't look like he was going to play a lot, but he must have played 25-30 plays Saturday. I think most of the times he played well, but you can't tell anything until you get into a tough football game where you've got to make plays. It isn't a question well if you make it "fine, that's ok, but if you don't, that's ok, too. We're just babes in the woods right now we'll find out this week. Notre Dame will come in here with their ears back ready to prove they're a Notre Dame football team...the tradition of Notre Dame and the coaching staff is a good coaching staff. They've got some kids there are some of these best kids. We tried to get (Anthony) Vernaglia. Vernaglia's dad played for us. And Veraglia's grandfather and I were great buddies. In fact, I was at his funeral. It was a disappointment to us that we didn't get him but they've got a lot of guys that are good football players. We'll find out how good we are this week but it won't be easy.
How do you keep the players focused on the game and getting ready instead of remembering last year's game?
Tell me the names of the players that told you that so that I can bench 'em, will you? I mean I don't know...I've got 110 kids out there I don't know what they're thinking. If they're dumb enough to think they don't have to get better than we were last week and if they're dumb enough when they watch tapes of the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game, they don't see some athletes who make some plays and they don't understand that Georgia Tech played a great game and Notre Dame had their backs to the wall because of the fact that they turned the ball over a couple times, we're not going to be very good anyways if we're that dumb so I don't think it should a problem for our guys to sit back and look at it and get ready we got a heck of a football team. It's Notre Dame, for crying out loud. They're not going to come in here with their tails dragging. They're going to come in here with fire in their eyes. The worst thing that could have happened to us was their getting licked last week. They've got pride and they've got tradition and they have kids who went to Notre Dame with high expectations for different things that would happen to them and we just have got to be ready for that. Now, whether were ready for that or not whether were mature enough to understand what we've got to get in there, we'll see.
Is there any concern on your part that things were so easy in the opener that the team hasn't faced the kind of adversity you'd like to see heading into this week's game?
Yeah, there's concern there's always concerns how people are going to react to different things. That's why you play. I think that's why, when coaches say, "well, we're worried about this, we're worried about that," you guys kind of make fun of them. Well, make fun of us. I should say, "yeah, well sure I'm concerned about it. I want to see whether we can. I've with a win that everything went out way play a team that's got very talented athletes and well coached that absolutely went the other way but hung in there tough see if we can play with them. That's why we play the game. That's why I'm concerned. Sure I'm concerned.
You're asking me literally the same question over and over and I know you get tired of me answering it the same way. I don't know. I think Tony Davis did a good job as strong safety. Was he tested hard? No. Were we put in position where somebody had to make a play in the clutch to win the game? Things just went our way early and it made it easy. For the eighth time, I don't kow where we are. We'll find out this Saturday.
Are you surprised Notre Dame is going with a freshman quarterback with a road game for his first game? Have you ever started a freshman quarterback in a similar situation?
We started a guy, Tony Sacca, at Notre Dame way back when he was a true freshman. Yeah, we've started a true freshman. For me to tell you what's best for the Notre Dame team at this time when they're being lead by a guy who's an outstanding football coach, has been around all kinds of successful teams, both in the pros and the couple of years he's been at Notre Dame, I mean you're asking me to answer a question I can't. I think that if they've decided to go with a freshman they know what they're doing. They think the freshman is ready to come and play and the freshman's got to come in there and he's got to get the job done. It's a challenge to him, sure. I think anytime you take a freshman who's never played in a football game and put him in a situation where there is television and the whole bit, yeah sure I think it's a challenge, but they know better than I know about their own team. I don't worry about their team. I got to worry about my team. I worry about their team only in the sense that I hope our guys understand just how good they are and then we'll go from there. If Coach Weis thinks the freshman is the best kid to get the job done I'm sure he knows what he's doing.
Do you know where Appalachian State is located and what do you know about the team?
I know it's located in Boone, North Carolina. I did my basic training in Fort Bragg, North Carolina back in 1945. I probably know a couple girls that have daughters in Boone...or granddaughters at Boone, let me put it in perspective. (laughter) People don't realize how good they are. They won back to back I-AA championships and Jerry Moore is a heck of a football coach. Anybody's that's been around Jerry always talks about what a good coach he is. They have a good tradition and they did a heck of a job. Is it good for us? No. Michigan's a lot better than that. Just what I said. Notre Dame's a lot better than what they (showed). Michigan's got to play Oregon, then they play Notre Dame, then they've got to play us. The fans are all saying, "let's go out there and watch the scrimmage." They're well coached. They did a great job. They were very precise. I think that maybe got Michigan a little out of whack. They didn't realize just how quick they might be. There again, I think everybody that's involved with college football has to understand there's an awful lot of great football kids that don't get to places like a Penn State or a Michigan or a Notre Dame, who are out there and when they get a chance to prove how good they are, they rise to the occasion. When they get the kind of coaching that I saw, and I didn't look at all the game at Michigan I'll look at it when we get around to playing them, but last night or the night before, trying to get to sleep you have the television and everybody's playing the whole thing, "the greatest upset in the history of the whole world" and the whole bit. I always thought when they put the devil down below, that was one of the great upsets of all time.
How did Michigan's loss affect the strength of the Big Ten?
That's up to you guys. I don't know. Wisconsin beat a really good Washington State team and somebody else beat somebody. I don't know. At one time last year we thought we were the greatest thing that ever happened in our lives and we got in a couple bowl games and Big Ten didn't do quite as well. The Southeastern Conference thinks they're the best and California beat Tennessee. I think that's up to you guys.
The 1982 team is coming back for a reunion, can you talk about what you remember about them?
They were pretty darn good. I remember that in '81 we were close. We had a heck of a game in the Fiesta Bowl. I think it was with Southern Cal in the '81 Fiesta Bowl. Is that right? We lost one game. We lost to Miami or we would have been in the national championship in '81. In '82 we got licked by Alabama, big, big. We had a kid back up into the punter down there. They were a great bunch of guys. Great leadership. (Todd) Blackledge was not only a heck of a quarterback, but a great leader. Curt Warner was a heck of a football player. They were good. That was one of our better teams.
Can you talk about insulating your kids from the Notre Dame hype and talk about what the Notre Dame series has meant to you?
I think we've had a good series with Notre Dame. We've had some really good games and it has been a good series. Hopefully they have as much respect for us as we do for them, because I have a tremendous amount of respect. I used to know the people at Notre Dame better than now...Father Joyce and Father Hesburgh. Father Joyce and I spent a lot of time together at the College Football Association (CFA) and I've always felt that Father Joyce was one of the greatest people I have ever met in my life. I don't know Father Hesburgh as well although I know he's not as well now. So being able to have a relationship with not only the game itself but, having that relationship with the people who really made Notre Dame something special, Fr. Joyce and Fr. Hesberg. So I've got tremendous respect and I think the series has been a good competitive one. We've had our days, Notre Dame's had its days, and we'll play now. It's unfortunate we're not playing more. I was disappointed when Big Ten tried to get Notre Dame to come and they decided to turn it down. I always thought that would always be a good school for us to play. That's where I am, I like playing Notre Dame I think it's fun. I like playing all these guys otherwise what are you in it for? Notre Dame will come here with a good football team, with a lot of fans and I hope our fans respect them. I hope we don't get into a lot of nonsense with youth staying in Paterno-, whatever they call that thing, you know where the tents are (Paternoville). I hope they have a lot of fun. I think that's great, that's not great for me, its great for the fact that the university and these kids got excited about their football team and the game and there experience of Penn State. I think it's great. The whole thing is great and I'm looking forward to it.
Do you ever miss being an independent?
That's tough because is being a non-independent the best thing for Penn State? Yes. Would being a non-independent school be the best thing for Penn State football? I don't know. I'd have to look at what we would have done or could have done that kind of thing. But I think when we got into the Big Ten it was a great thing for the University. Not only in the sense of athletic areas of men and women's sports, it also was a great thing for us academically. I think most of the faculty here would tell you their relationship with Big Ten schools have helped them with research, helped them in other ways, colleagues. So I think you'd have to look at it in that light. If we had stayed independent would it have been better for Penn State football? I doubt it. I really doubt it, but I do know that for the whole program it was a good move.
How solidified is Lydell Saergent as a starter and how has that competition with A.J. Wallace gone?
It is a competition between Sargeant and Wallace. I think Sargeant overall played a solid game, not a great game, he played a solid game (vs. FIU). We were playing an awful lot of nickel and when nickel happens then Wallace is in there with Sargeant. Sargeant's has to learn two spots. He's playing a corner and he's playing a nickel and I think he's doing a good job with that. I think we're alright. I thought the secondary played a solid football game, we'll find out this weekend just how good we are. Obviously we're gonna have a lot more problems put on us. We weren't really that worried about Florida International's tight end; Notre Dame's got maybe the best tight end were going play against all year. Really a big time player and some of the things he can do covering the outside people you've got to give up something on the tight end. So, we're going to have some problems this week that we haven't had.
Was being out coached by Notre Dame last year just calls during the game or preparation?
Probably the whole thing, I think probably the whole bit. I think that their performance during the game, we never took anything away from them and I always think if you cant do that that's got to be a little bit of coaching. We didn't take anything away from them and we didn't take advantage of anything. We just didn't play well. We gave the ball up we weren't quite ready for that. I take the blame for it but we had some kids that had been in a situation and they just wanted to take the blame for it but there again that's my decision not put them in a situation if they can't help.
Have you come to appreciate the night game atmosphere?
I really like the night games, except when I've got to go to bed and get up the next morning. I like that the fans like it. Not to get away from your question but I don't remember ever when we played an opening game at 12 o'clock that the students were so involved as they were (last) Saturday. That was a great crowd; they were great. Playing at 6 o'clock at night will be more enthusiastic. It'll be a wild night and I think that's all part of the fun, as long as we can concentrate on what needs to be done on the field.
No true freshman played in the opener, is the plan to redshirt them all?
No, we haven't made any decisions yet. We really have a lot of young kids, good football players who haven't played who are redshirt freshmen and sophomores, that want to get in the game. We have a kid named (Bani) Gbdayu and a kid (Navorro) Bowman, I mean they're all back from last year, so what's going to happen from here on in, I don't know, I honestly don't know. We go out there and try to get this team ready to beat Notre Dame and the guys that are most prepared, furthest along, they're the guys that will play. Now all of a sudden there are a couple kids who start to look like they're better than what we got, we make plans. You guys have to remember one thing about this particular year is how tough our preseason had to be as far as coaching because we had kids in summer school right up until 10 days before (the FIU game). We only had five double sessions so we really didn't have the time to do some of the things that you ordinarily would do in preseason practices in order to challenge some of those kids because most of them were in summer school and I didn't want them to get to wrapped up in the football as opposed to handling what they had to do academically. So were still kind of getting a feel for some of those kids who are real good football players who might pop into the picture pretty quick and don't ask me who they are.
Is there a chance that Andrew Quarless will play this weekend?
I doubt it.
When you determine that Quarless will play, will there be an intense competition with Mickey Shuler?
Whatever we decide, if Quarless will be in a competition, he's going to have to beat out Shuler and (Jordan) Lyons, too. He's not going to get that job...obviously last year he was a starter, but I'm not going to say, "okay, give me a hug." He's going to have to work his way in there, but he's going to have beat them out, because Lyons played better than I expected Lyons to play and I think Shuler played better than the staff expected him to play. Shuler's got a lot of ability and that game ought to be a confidence builder for him even though it wasn't a tremendously competitive football game. We'll learn a lot more about our football team in the next couple of weeks.