Nov. 1, 2011

COACH KELLY: Welcome. A week for us where we want to build on playing very well this past Saturday. We felt like dominating the line of scrimmage, obviously executing against a very good option offense was important.

Played well against a good team. We’re excited about carrying that over to this week. Wake Forest is skilled, athletic, and playing well. Great win against Florida State. Playing at their place should be a great atmosphere.

So, again, from our standpoint, play consistent football. That’s really what this is about. Had a good day yesterday. Come back today and get back to work.

Q. I wondered what your plans were in the future moving forward with Andrew Hendrix at quarterback with him not getting in last week?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I wouldn’t read into it too much. I think each game is a different game, and the flow of the game is such that we continue to rep him. We continue to put a package in there. We like where he’s going, we like his development, but, again, we’re still looking for the right opportunities to get him in.

Q. Those swing screen passes that you’ve thrown the last couple weeks and had a little bit of difficulty with it, how is that supposed to be executed. Is it supposed to actually be a forward pass? What’s the actual expected execution of that play?

COACH KELLY: Take the proper footwork, catch the ball, and if we do those two things, then all those other things fall into place. All those things are things that we have to spend more time on and make sure we get right, because to have ’em back to back or have ’em twice is way too much.

Q. By design, it’s a lateral, is that correct?

COACH KELLY: No, no. We want it to be a forward pass. Both of the times they’re right on the line each time, and if we’re doing the right thing in terms of getting proper width, if we’re doing the right thing getting the proper footwork down, then those become forward passes.

Q. And Jonas Gray got the start at running back last week. I know they’re interchangable, how will you go forward from here?

COACH KELLY: I don’t know. We’ll see how the week goes. Let those guys compete. They’re both going to play. I think that’s something we’ll decide during the week.

Q. You guys have faced a lot of talented receivers this season. Obviously Wake Forest brings another one. They have a very deep and talented group of pass catchers. Can you just talk about the skill-set that those kids bring to the table for Wake?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s the strength of their football team. There’s no question. Givens is a playmaker. With Harris and Pendergrass at the running back position, you know, they’ve got a quarterback now with a little bit more experience. Obviously getting the ball to their playmakers is how they call the game.

So each and every week we get different players, we get different skill-sets. This is a deep and talented group that we’re going to be challenged with on the back end of our defense and on our linebacking corps. We’re going to have to get the ball out of their hands quickly.

Q. And defensively they’re obviously an undersized group but very fast, athletic, and active and try to create a lot of mistakes. How do you go into a game plan against a unit like this that wants to create turnovers and your team is trying to focus on protecting the football?

COACH KELLY: Well, it’s part of our never ending process of protecting the football, picking up pressure schemes. You’re right, they’re athletic, experienced secondary. They bring a lot of different pressures out of their 3 4 defense.

But all the things that we have to prepare for, we’ve had before in front of us. So they’re a good football team; great win against Florida State. Athletic, as I said, and try to be disruptive. Those are all the things we’ll practice and keep working on during the week.

Q. You mentioned Sunday maybe kind of look to see where Stephon Tuitt, his future or at least short term future this year in turning your base into even or odd front. Would you go over that? Is that something you can share that’s not to a tactical advantage?

COACH KELLY: No, all those young guys will play. You’re going to see Tuitt, Lynch, Nix, and Hounshell. All those freshman players are going to be playing.

As you know, we play both three and four down, so they have to have the ability to play a couple of different positions.

Q. Does the return of Ethan Johnson change that at all? I know it changes playing time a little bit.

COACH KELLY: Well, it helps us, no question, in the depth. We’ll see how much he can do. Yesterday was not a practice day. It was more just moving him around. We’ll see how he goes in the week.

Q. And how would you evaluate TJ Jones this year?

COACH KELLY: A very solid player for us. Probably could make the case that he’s underutilized. I like the way he plays. Plays fast. Kid who loves to play the game.

So within our structure if you spend too much time on one guy, he can hurt you as well.

But he’s a good player.

Q. First back to Jonas a little bit. There were things he did just to get on the field for you guys. Have there been things he’s done to just get better here as the season’s gone on?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. I think our job as coaches is to develop our players. It has to be a 50/50 relationship with them. We can only do so much. Jonas has really focused on being a better teammate, a better player, being a better student.

Everything he does is better than when we first got here. That’s his decision. He made that decision, that he was going to up his game in all areas, and I’m proud of what he’s been able to accomplish.

I think Coach Hinton has done a great job with him. He’s finishing his runs. He’s playing like a 230 pound back. It’s fun to watch.

Q. Is that what you would maybe pinpoint him doing better from game one to game that power? Are there other things, too?

COACH KELLY: Well, he was coming along. He hadn’t had a lot of carries. I told him yesterday, I said, Look, you might not see it right all the time, but don’t worry about it. Just lower your head and keep running the way you one run. Because he doesn’t have a lot carries relatively speaking for a senior.

So I think his focus has been on finishing runs, being physical and being that physical element in our running game. It’s really helped our offense.

Q. Going back to Chris Salvi a little bit, him being the captain and leading the fight song afterwards in the locker room, how do you think that resonates to the rest of your team?

COACH KELLY: Well, he’s respected by his teammates. Any time one of their teammates is recognized for their work without scholarship, it goes to morale, it goes to recognizing all those that are in the program that pull their weight.

He certainly does that. I know our guys were excited. I know our coaches were. It was good to see him get out there and lead our football team and be one of our game day captains.

Q. After three home games you go on the road, and you go on the road for three of your last four games. Is it a good idea to kind of develop a “road warrior” mentality? There are some positives sometimes.

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I probably would give that some thought. But we’re so far into it right now that we’re developing in areas that go to winning. So we played well on the road. I like our maturity on the road. We’re really focused.

So I didn’t talk much about that. I have in the past with other teams. But I think nine games into the season, they know what to do and how to do it.

Q. Notre Dame always talks about how important it would be no matter what the future situations would be that they can still play on the east coast and the west coast and that kind of thing. You’ll be on the east coast for two games and end up on the west coast. Talk about the value of that opportunity for you to play in different regions of the country.

COACH KELLY: Well, it’s part of one of the things at Notre Dame is that we’ve got that great alumni base that allows us to go to the east coast and sell a lot of tickets and play in those venues where we have great alumni groups and great alumni organizations.

Only at Notre Dame do you do those things. That’s the great thing about Notre Dame, you get those opportunities to play in Washington D.C.

So I think it comes with the scheduling. You look at it each year and you’re always looking, All right, where are we going to play this year? Just happens to be Washington D.C.

Should be fun.

Q. Tanner Price is a sophomore. He had kind of a tough game last week. Is it fair to make he and a Tommy Rees comparison?

COACH KELLY: If Tommy was lefty you mean?

Q. Other than a mirror imagine then.

COACH KELLY: A lot taller. I think to go to your question, they’re both learning. They’re both experiencing. They’re both young in the process, but they’re both the starting quarterbacks. Both teams are having some success. We want more; they want more.

But I think that’s the nature of a quarterback that’s gaining experience. So I think there are some similarities there.

Q. I know you don’t want to return to the family crisis much, but how do you think Harrison Smith handled that situation?

COACH KELLY: Well, I’m not going to get into too much about this. I think you’re making one guy sound like he was the man. We had 108 guys in the locker room plus coaches.

I think more than anything else, those things stay in the locker room and we don’t single out any one individual.

Q. Can you talk about Manti Te’o, after watching him on film, his performance, what added perspective you’ve got? And you’ve talked in the past about his pride. We didn’t get a chance to talk to him last week. Was that pride kind of wounded somewhat after USC a little bit?

COACH KELLY: I didn’t ask him if his pride was wounded so I can’t answer that question. But I can tell you this: He’s always looking to be a better football player, a better teammate, each and every day. He has that drive.

He has an immense amount of pride. I couldn’t comment on whether it was the USC game. He’s on, as well as everybody else now. The four guys in front of him were on which allowed him to be on.

He’s got a great amount of pride in the work that he does. He loves the scheme. He loves being part of our defensive structure. That was on display on Saturday.

Q. With Hendrix obviously you want defenses to prepare for a new look with him. Not playing against Navy, is that simply maybe not wanting to give an option look to an option team?

COACH KELLY: I want to be careful not to pigeonhole Andrew Hendrix into an option quarterback. That’s not what he is. He adds a little dimension to that position with his ability to run. Quite frankly, we didn’t need another dimension to the game. Thought we were just fine.

Maybe this goes to Tim’s question earlier, but finding a place for him in our offense isn’t just to run option. It’s to keep the defense off balance and provide them with many different facets to chose from.

I think in the Navy game we were doing pretty good.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about your offensive line. They haven’t given up a sack now in several games and you’re running the ball so well. Kind of a broad question, but can you just speak to how solid they’ve played and how much of a foundation they give your offense.

COACH KELLY: Well, they’re good players first of all. You start with five good players. You’ve got a really good offensive line coach in Ed Warinner. Then you have backs that are committed to blocking. Because this doesn’t work without Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood. Then Tommy Rees gets the ball out of his hands really, really quick.

So you got a number of things coming together there. You do not give up a sack in October just because you got five guys. They are, no question, the core and the center of this, but there are some other pieces work together as well.

Q. How good are they, those five, if you assess the way they play together?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think the strength in the offensive line lies in that each one of ’em works well together. Secondly, there’s been a consistency in games played together.

This group now has played all their games together. When you develop this consistency and are able to put starts together, you build obviously more than just five guys. There’s a unit there that has strength. All those things are playing out.

Q. Most of the teams you’ve played so far this year are teams that you saw last year. Now there is a stretch here where you haven’t seen these teams. How does that affect the way you prepare?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think if it was earlier in the year, there is a little bit of uncertainty. You are who you are going into the eighth and ninth game. There is so much film, you know what I mean? You can get all, This is what they do; this is how they do it.

They’re not going to come out and be so far away from profile. Earlier in the year you may get that.

Q. There’s talk every day – and I know you’re focused on different things but there is talk every day about what Notre Dame’s football future might be, still independent or going into a conference, maybe even the ACC. You’re playing some of those teams. If those conversations happen, do you want a voice at that table? Do you want an opinion in this conversation?

COACH KELLY: Sure. I think I have an opinion. Jack’s always been great in communicating with me about what my thoughts are. We look at everything. We look at, all right, recruiting. Your offense. Is it unique within that particular conference? Your defense. All of those things go into the conversation.

But I think it’s been stated several times: We’re going to do everything we can to be independent. We believe that that’s our future. We just have to see what the future of college football looks like. I think that’s probably the bigger question.

Q. And as you go into this week, what’s your read on your team’s mood and psyche this week? Is it what you hoped it would be?

COACH KELLY: Every Monday I have to gauge our football team. I have to feel the pulse of them. Big win, big loss, you know, all those things.

So every Monday I try to gauge our football team, just like I did this Monday, and then we go to work from there.

Q. Can you share what you gauged?

COACH KELLY: No. I could just tell you that I’m on this every week. It happens every Monday. If you can’t get the sense of your football team, they just might as well stay at home and teleconference it.

Q. I want to follow up from Sunday about the recruiting in the Carolinas. Why do you think that area’s been maybe more receptive to Notre Dame?

COACH KELLY: Well, I don’t know historically. I haven’t done the research. But I can tell you recently a population growth has led to more recruitable Division I football players.

So when I was at Central Michigan, we went into that area. We had some really good success. Had some receivers and DBs. Just have always felt when I was at Central Michigan and Cincinnati – kind of an under the radar state or states. It’s not that anymore.

So I’ve always felt the importance of it because it was it because a big growth area demographically. Then I think Notre Dame has always been in that area. We have just kind of carried that on from my beliefs that it’s a very good football state.

Q. The fact that you have a toehold there, does that help when guys come up when you can say, Hey, you’re from North Carolina; here is R.J. Blanton, or, Hey, you’re from South Carolina, here’s Gary Gray.

COACH KELLY: It helps, there is no question, when they have that familiar face and know that school. But I think what’s more important is they can take that and then they’re going to assess that person that’s in the program, what that person feels being here at Notre Dame.

It still has to do with them feeling comfortable here. They have hosts. They talk to the players. They get a sense if this is a place that I would fit in.

Q. Evaluating Michael Floyd is difficult from the outside because there is a perception that every game he should have ten catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Obviously that is not realistic. But how would you evaluate the season that he’s had?

COACH KELLY: Spectacular. He’s a dominating football player. You throw a three yard pass to him behind the line of scrimmage and he’s got a burst. You guys have been following him longer than I have.

We threw a little and I gave Theo Riiddick a hard time about this we threw a pass out I think second series to Theo and he went down the sideline. Michael was on the other side of the field, and he might have caught him. That kind of speed, that kind of flat-line, run out speed at 225 pounds, pretty spectacular.

Tough, physical, catches the ball over the middle, catches the short passes. He’s had an incredible year.

Q. Is there something that you point to that he’s exceeded your expectations or a place where maybe he’s improved most during the course of season?

COACH KELLY: When he decided that he wanted to change his life. He made that choice, and he’s benefited from it greatly.

Q. I think everyone thinks that if you run a 3 4 you got to have Louis Nix III at your nose otherwise the defense implodes a little bit. Wake Forest has the opposite of that. What does Whitlock do to be successful and what kind of challenges does he present?

COACH KELLY: Well, he’s not going to stay blocked. He can’t. At his size, he’s not going to lockout and throw linemen around. He’s just always moving; he’s always on an edge. They do do a lot of things that we don’t do in our 3 4 relative to pressures.

So there are a lot of pressures where he’s not staying on that nose. He’s moving a gap. So they do a great job of utilizing his strengths within their 3 4 defense, but really not similar to what we do.

Q. With the philosophy of your punt returns, how do you approach that and game by game how often does that change?

COACH KELLY: Well, it hasn’t changed, other than adding Mike Floyd. Anybody know what the leading punt return average is in the country in here? 27, but 2 and 6. The point that I wanted to make is that do we want to be more than .03? Yes. There is no question.

But we’re really going to have to hang in there where we are right now. We’re not going to change anything relative to the personnel until we get into the off season and really evaluate some of the key numbers.

Wake Forest is 4.0, and they’ve got some dynamic guys back there. It’s a difficult team right now in college football. Very, very difficult because of the ability to get down there before the ball is kicked. It’s not like the NFL where you’ve got to wait until it gets kicks and now you’ve got an explosive guy out there.

So we really have to figure out, Al, how we maximize that in the off season. Right now, hold the fort, do a great job with John Goodman catching the ball, and if we get a long field – and of course we didn’t put or punt coverage team on the field with Navy and their ability to go for it on almost every fourth down, but then try to get Mike Floyd in there.

Q. With Robert Blanton, what’s been his development, and when in the last two years did you say, I trust this guy to be there? What did he show you and when?

COACH KELLY: Well, he loves to play, and it rubs off on everything. He’s extremely confident in his abilities, so it was we as a staff. Coach Martin, Coach Cooks have done a great job of developing his skill level at the cornerback position.

As you know, he played a lot of safety for us. So he’s made that transition seamlessly. He’s a really good athlete and he loves to play. I think when you have that combination, those are the guys you love to coach.

Q. What type of atmosphere are you expecting on Saturday night? It’s a small stadium, only 31,000, but their media release is calling it one of the biggest games in the history of their stadium.

COACH KELLY: I’ve heard that before, and we recognize that it’s going to be a great atmosphere. But we get that everywhere we go, so our guys are prepared. They know that Wake Forest is going to play their best.

Regardless of what the size of stadium is, it’s all in your preparation and how you play the game.

Q. There isn’t a coach in the country that doesn’t talk about finishing strong in the month of November. You actually have been unbeaten the last three Novembers. Past players have said that one of the first things you said is, ‘We got to win in November.’ What do you do during the season? How did you build the program to where November is kind of your peak month?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think a lot of it is, mentally, I think if you’re mentally strong in November, your body feels good, your mind is right, you have a chance to carry that over on Saturdays.

So we want to keep our guys fresh. We keep our practices to a minimum. We really try to take care of our guys from an injury standpoint and give ’em the best care. So I think the mental and physical development over a long year and understanding that, yeah, we would like to start better, there is no question.

But I think my philosophy is always about how you finish and not how you start. Clearly our teams have played well in November. Each year is a different year, you know what I mean? Our starting defensive end is out. We’ve gotten injuries, like other teams.

But I know the kids, when they go to practice today, they’re mentally and physically ready to play.

Q. How do you create the mental culture throughout the year? The physical maybe with the shorter practices, but with the mental, even last year you were 4 and 5 going into November and maybe there were some signs that the team would perhaps quit and it didn’t.

COACH KELLY: You would have to be here. You would have to be here. I mean, it’s not just one thing. There is no answer to it. It’s just our approach every day. The way we weight train, condition in the summer, the way we practice. All those things of a net effect.

The relationships that are built with the players, and they know that we’ve got their back when we get to November. So all those things play a part in how you play in November.

You’ve got to play good football. Let’s face it. All those things are great. They sound great, but you got to play well in November, too. So your practices have got to be right on, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job. We’ll see how it goes this November.

Q. You mentioned last month that Jamoris Slaughter is beginning to get that separation there. He kind of displayed the versatility that Robert Blanton did last year.


Q. What do you see as he moves along into the future? Maybe corner? Is that where he might be able to help? Is he versatile enough?

COACH KELLY: I wouldn’t say no, but it hasn’t been something we’ve thrown around, ‘Let’s look at Slaughter at corner next year.’ We like Lo and Bennett, their development. It should be right now we think of him as a safety.

Q. Just wanted to ask you about the strides Jonas Gray has made since the USF game, since that fumble.

COACH KELLY: He hasn’t had somebody make a great play like USF made against him. I mean, he does everything the same way: he practices hard; takes care of the football.

Sometimes we got to give the other team credit. USF made a great play in getting that ball out. But I think if you look at it from bouncing back, you know, he did not let this affect his preparation. The next week he came back and was outstanding.

Q. With Ben Turk, he didn’t get much of a chance against Navy but against…

COACH KELLY: That’s a good thing. You know that, right?

Q. Yeah. He really boomed a couple punts against USC. Has he started to translate that punting in practice over to games now?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think I’ve said it a couple times: We’re kicking better. We weren’t kicking very well, you know, and he’s kicking the ball better. David Ruffler is kicking the ball better. Special teams are covering better. All the things that we need to do, we weren’t doing. Those guys are starting to kick the ball better. They’re the best guys we’ve got.