Oct. 27, 2013

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Kelly.

Q. I guess maybe could you start with an update for Ishaq and Sheldon from yesterday.

COACH KELLY: Yeah, Watt and Day, Watt had the knee, Day had the ankle. After talking to our doctors, both those guys will be probably for this weekend. Williams has a knee and he’s doubtful.

Q. Could you talk about the importance of finally, after so many close games, having a game where you could get so many guys in yesterday.

COACH KELLY: Well, certainly those are the kind of games that gives you an opportunity to see some of your younger players, gives them confidence, gives you an opportunity to get some reps off of your veterans that have played so much football.

Just an example, Matthias Farley was close to a thousand reps coming into this game, which is unheard of. Certainly confidence, young players playing, then getting a load off of some of your veterans, is very important.

We would just like to do that earlier in the season once in a while.

Q. Folston is a guy that we hear questions about all the time. Where is he right now in terms of his overall development as a freshman?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, we think he’s making nice progress. Look, he’s trying to take reps away from George Atkinson, who has been in the program for three years. Amir Carlisle, who is a kid who played at USC as a freshman, transferred in with very good ball skills. And Cam McDaniel, who has been a tough, physical runner for us.

You have to be really good to take reps away from each one of those guys. But he’s done that. He’s ran the ball well, effectively. He continues to get better each and every week.

Q. What about in terms of blocking, that being such an important aspect?

COACH KELLY: Well, we haven’t asked him to do a ton of it, quite frankly. As he continues to grow and mature, is getting more reps, he’s going to have to do more of those things. We haven’t put a lot of that on his plate.

As you begin to take more and more reps, you’re going to be asked to do more of those things. But that will be the next level for him.

Q. How do you feel like Luke Massa’s chances are of playing this weekend?

COACH KELLY: I’d say he’s questionable for the weekend. It will really depend on his practices and the quality of his practices. It’s really hard to say until we really get out there.

I think he’s right now questionable until we get a chance to see him practice. When you’re playing an option team, as I said to you last week, it’s really about getting out there and getting acclimated to what you’re going to see.

If he has a few days of practice where we really like it, I could change that. But I would say it’s questionable right now.

Q. Given that you said it’s tendinitis, is there a hesitancy to throw him in against a team that’s going to cut block so much where his knees are going to get a workout?

COACH KELLY: I don’t think so. The guys do a really good job with defending themselves, not putting themselves in awkward positions. We’re not talking about chop blocking illegally.

Again, they don’t like it. Clearly they’d rather have teams that don’t go below the waist. I think they’ve become so much more aware of how to defend and take on those blocks that it’s less of a concern. I wouldn’t say it’s the kind of teams they enjoy playing against, but I don’t think they fear injury when they play option teams.

Q. You mentioned that it was pretty gratifying to see young guys doing so well yesterday. Obviously some of the offensive guys had breakthrough days. How about defensively, was there anybody that got in maybe late where you said, Whoa, I’m impressed with what he was able to do defensively with the time we gave him?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think our corners. I thought, in particular, you’re looking for me Cole Like played the edge of our defense very well. I thought Isaac Rochell had a key play on third down. I thought he played well.

I think when you look at the true freshmen that are playing a lot of football for us on both sides of the ball, I think defensively those are the two guys that have made some plays for us that stood out.

Q. Kind of going into the stretch run, what do you hope to see from your runningback rotation? Do you hope to see more of a defined pecking order or are you happy just kind of finding who the hot back is and progress as the game goes along?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think we want to continue to get as much out of each player as possible. We never want to get to that point where we’re saying, All right, we’ve decided on A, B or C. I think we’re far enough in the season that we still want to be able to maximize the talents of each player.

Having said that, if we feel like we’ve got a guy out there that is hot, we’re certainly going to ride him as we close the month of November.

Q. You mentioned last night you switched blocking schemes and felt like that helped your running game in the second half. As far as George is concerned, were you concerned that maybe he wasn’t running through tackles, running through ankle tackles, early in the game?

COACH KELLY: I think there’s a lot of factors. When I talked about schemes, I think we just have to keep changing them up. We have to run zone schemes, we have to run gap schemes. We did a better job of mixing those up.

As it relates to George, we keep coming back to we want him to be physical. We want him to use his size and strength with his speed. We’re always consistently reminding him of that.

I don’t know if there was a particular instance out there as much as that will be the area that we continue to look for development from him.

Q. Could you talk about how you thought Steve Elmer did yesterday.

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I thought for his first start, he did some pretty good things. He’s a big kid that can move his feet. Pretty athletic. What I like about him is he’s easy to talk to on the sidelines. He can come back and pass on information. The moment does not seem too great for him as a true freshman.

But, again, I think it was his first start. There’s a lot there to learn from. He did some pretty good things out there. But I think the thing that I would probably underline is he doesn’t play like a true freshman out there.

There’s a lot to learn, but I really like his demeanor and the way he handles himself.

Q. You talked about the freshmen. I think there are 10 or 11 in your two deep. Is that a good thing that they’re earning their way in or is it that there’s injuries causing them to be in there?

COACH KELLY: I think by and large, all of these guys, we had made a decision that we were going to play. You didn’t see Michael Deeb. You didn’t see Malik Zaire. You didn’t see Mike McGlinchey. Those are guys we don’t want to put on the field unless it’s a catastrophic situation with injuries.

By and large, these are the guys we decided we wanted to play. We felt they could help our football team in 2013.

Q. This week you’re 25 in the coaches and unranked, just outside, in the AP. Are you surprised that you’re behind two teams that you’ve beaten? Is that worrisome at all?

COACH KELLY: No, I don’t think so. I think we’re still in a pretty good position as long as we win. We’ve got to win more football games. We’re only 6 2. I think if we take care of business and win week after week, we’ve got some quality teams in front of us, I think we’re right where we need to be.

Just keep winning football games. I really believe that as long as we just take care of week to week, we’re going to be fine when it’s all said and done.

Q. Brian, you started Ishaq yesterday, felt like he would have a prominent role against the option. Where do you go if he’s not available? How much of an impact is that, not having that guy out there?

COACH KELLY: Well, we lost him really in the first couple drives. We played Romeo quite a bit. We played Ben Councell. Justin Utupo played very well for us. We got a lot of guys involved.

Again, I don’t want to provide too much cliché, but for us ‘next man in’ really went in there and showed well for us. I think we just continue to roll those guys out there, I think we’re in pretty good shape.

Q. On the offensive line, obviously there’s a little bit of shuffling.


Q. At that spot where chemistry is so important, five guys working with one brain most of the time, how delicate a situation is that, how tricky is that as you move through the season?

COACH KELLY: Certainly that’s one of the areas that you want to try to keep your five together. If there’s any concerns on the offense for us, it would be trying to keep that group together.

Chris Watt is a senior, he’s a tough kid. We think he’s going to be able to answer the bell. If we can do that, we feel like we’ve really kept a lot of continuity there because Elmer has played a lot of football off and on, he’s been with that unit a lot.

If we can dodge a bullet here with Watt, we should be okay. If not, Conor Hanratty has been here. The guys know him. Got a good relationship with him. Those guys spend a lot of time together. We feel like we can overcome that.

Q. When Ronnie Stanley was out yesterday, was that a matter of getting other guys in, or was he banged up a little bit, too?

COACH KELLY: He was banged up a little bit, but nothing that really concerns us.

Q. As we discuss all these injuries, how important has it been that you’ve developed a depth you have guys you can plug in there when you perhaps haven’t had that depth in the last few seasons?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s part of what college football and the NFL has shown. If you don’t develop your players, have them in a position where they’re ready to play for you, it’s going to be a long year.

We’re not there yet, but we’ve made some significant progress in terms of the depth. I think we’ll get close to being where we want to be after this next cycle. I think we’ll be at 85 scholarships. We’ll continue to develop the depth within our program. It’s going to be that part of consistency and winning. These guys can now step on the field and continue to help you win.

Q. By my count in your last six seasons as head coach, you’re 20 2 in the month of November. As we head into this month, what are some of the reasons you’ve had so much success at the close of the year?

COACH KELLY: I just think within our program, we really focus on year round conditioning, nutrition. We make it such that it’s not a grind, that it’s not a sprint, but a marathon. October is for pretenders and November is for contenders. We try to ingrain that within our players’, coaches’ minds that this is now the time to kick it into gear ’cause this is where you get the opportunity to play for championships.

Q. You led that answer off with conditioning. How much of a role has Paul Longo and his program played in that success?

COACH KELLY: Well, he’s part of our team. He’s been with me a long time. Part of the foundation of this program is built in the player development area. You can’t have a great November without a great plan as it relates to your conditioning.

That goes back to January. That goes back to what you do in June. If you’re trying to win the battle in June and July and August, you’re probably going to come up short in November.

We want to make sure that the tank is full in November. We’ve done a pretty good job of it. You’ve got to be lucky, too. You have to stay away from the injury situation, make sure that your players are developed, count on guys like we’re going to have to count on some guys to step up and play big roles for us in November.

Q. You touched a little bit yesterday on Ben’s contributions. He was somebody who came in with some staggering numbers receiving wise from his high school days. Seems to be contributing more that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. Can you comment on how much he’s meant to the overall offense.

COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’s been an important piece to our development. He has been an outstanding run blocker. You can see in a critical fourth down situation, he was on the field. He’s a guy that has really earned the trust of the coaching staff. Again, really like the progress that he’s made.

He’s really, really stepped up in so many years: maturity, work ethic. He started off last year, if you go back to the first game of the year against Navy, dropped a couple easy passes, and never really got his confidence back. This year he’s got his confidence. He’s stronger. He’s faster. We’ve always felt he’s had really good hands.

It’s nice to see him developing because I really think that he’s got so much more out there that he’s going to be able to give to this offense.

Q. It seems like your offense has been most effective with the two tight end looks. Have you seen that kind of pattern, where that seems to be the most effective?

COACH KELLY: I think it’s definitely added to our offensive consistency. It tends to give you some more basic looks because of the two tight ends. You can’t run a lot of different subpackages because of the two tight end look.

Certainly something we ran a lot with Everett last year and I think we’ll continue to have that as a key part of our offense.

Q. By my count I have the cornerbacks with 16 solo tackles yesterday. That seems to be an area, the tackling, especially from the corners, that has really progressed this year. Have you seen similar type of progress?

COACH KELLY: Yes, I think we go back to about mid season where we felt like our corners needed to be better tacklers, more aggressive. I think Coach Cooks has done a great job of really taking on that role of demanding more from our corners.

They were a huge difference in the game on Saturday. They were physical. They whipped the blockers. We didn’t get a whole lot more out of our inside out pursuit, so our corners were having to whip blockers on the perimeter. They did a very good job. I think Coach Cooks needs to take a lot of that credit.

KeiVarae and Bennett, Butler, Lo Wood, Cole Luke, all those guys have really stepped up and done a very good job. Thank you.