Nov. 24, 2013

Q. Any update on Nick Martin or Kona right now?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, Nick has a significant knee injury. He’ll be out for this game, and he will not be able to play in the bowl game. We’re still getting a little bit more information. We had an MRI. I’ll probably have a little bit more specific details, but he’s out for the season.

Kona, this is still the high ankle sprain that he’s dealing with. You know, it probably didn’t take that much of a setback I would say. He’s still going to work on giving everything that he has this weekend. So he’ll still be able to compete, we’ll just have to see how much he can give us on Saturday.

Q. With Matt Hegarty in there on pretty short notice, how do you think he held up?

COACH KELLY: I thought he did a pretty good job. Certainly going in there first time, you know, against a 320 pound guy on his nose, I mean, he did not go against a four down where he was uncovered. He had somebody on his nose virtually the entire three quarters that he was in there, snapped the ball without any mistakes. I thought the big series for him was when we were backed up on our goal line, and did a very good job under those conditions, and I thought he held his own.

I thought for the first time in there, did a nice job.

Q. Lastly, changing gears to Jarron, he mentioned yesterday that he was moved down to scout team the week after the Arizona State game. When you brought him back up off of scout team, what were some of the things you were looking for out of him?

COACH KELLY: Well, you know, when they go down on scout team, I get eyes on them because I’m over with the offense. So I was able to evaluate his demeanor, the way he came and worked every day. We were looking for consistency, a consistent effort. We think he’s got a lot of skill, great size. We wanted to see that fire every single play, and I liked what he did in the couple of weeks that he was down with us, and that’s why we elevated him back up with our varsity group.

Q. DaVaris said yesterday that he feels as good as he’s felt in a while physically. How much of a grind has it been for him physically? What has he kind of worked through along with the mental stuff that he’s always working through?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, you know, I think he’s a young man that…I think the wide receiver has that tendency to get those soft tissue injuries that I think they have to acclimate themselves to not being 100 percent. Maybe it’s not a great analogy, but they’re thoroughbreds in the sense that they want to run and they want to feel great all the time, and quite frankly sometimes they’ve got to get by at 80 or 85. And TJ has been able to do such a great job of understanding that, and I think TJ was very similar to Double D early in his career where he’d get banged up a little bit and it would affect his psyche and the way he played.

I think Double D is getting through that now and understands that he’s not going to be necessarily 100 percent all the time, and he’s got to play through those things. I think it’s I think we’re at that point now with the week off, he felt really good, obviously physically, as well. But I think that’s what we’re seeing with him, the grind of a long year. He’s not going to be 100 percent and he’s got to fight through those things.

Q. How pleased are you just the offensive line depth you have, there hasn’t really been that much drop off or missed beats with a lot of guys shuffling in and out. How pleased are you with those guys being almost interchangeable in some ways?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think it could be an absolute disaster, right, if you think about the entire right side as well as missing Chris Watt for a game. You’re talking about three and four different guys going in there on the offensive line at times, and Coach Elston has done an incredible job of putting this together as a unit.

I’ll go back to their summer workouts where they stayed together as a unit during the summer and really worked hard together, and I think that unit mentality has really served us well. Matt Hegarty going in at center and really rotating both Conor Hanratty and Steve Elmer at right guard, that says a lot about the unit and playing a lot of guys there and playing effectively.

Q. I wanted to follow up on Jarron. As a guy like him is climbing in terms of trust from the coaching staff, is it a matter of Jarron being in the right place, or is it about his motor being consistent?

COACH KELLY: Well, you have to do other things in this program to earn trust, and it starts with off the field. You know, Jarron needed to earn some trust relative to his schoolwork and doing things the right way off the field. You know, and that’s just part of the entire process of developing within the program. You know, he had to attend to making sure that he was making good decisions in the classroom and taking care of the little things, and then I’ve always seen a direct correlation that when you’re doing the right things off the field, it generally starts to show itself on the field, and that’s what we’re seeing with Jarron.

We knew about his size. We knew about his physical capabilities. It was a matter of him maturing and paying attention to detail. Once he’s started to buy into that and understand how important it is, I think he’s starting to blossom into the type of player he can be.

Q. I wanted to mention Eilar Hardy. He was a guy that got a lot of work when you were playing the service academies and has kind of stayed active when you’ve gotten back to more traditional offenses. Can you just comment on where you feel Eilar is right now?

COACH KELLY: Well, he’s definitely worked himself into the rotation of safeties with Collinsworth and Hardy excuse me, Collinsworth and Farley. You know, he’s a pretty heady player. He’s got a pretty good nose and sense for the game, and I think that that has earned some trust with the coaches in terms of his knowledge base, maybe has kind of edged him out a little bit in terms of Elijah is a very gifted athlete, but Eilar is in the right place, and I think it’s earned the trust of the coaches because he’s pretty sound in terms of assignments.

Q. You’ve gone against two of the premier sack guys in active NCAA, No. 1 and No. 3, the past couple weeks and have kind of left them off the board, and they’ve not even really been factors in the games. Is that a game planning thing? Is that just a testament to your offensive line, that they’ve been able to keep them kind of off the board?

COACH KELLY: Oh, there’s no question it’s first of all, understanding where they are, and as I said to you last week, you have to game plan for those guys, so part of it is in understanding where they are and how your protections are set, doing some things that cover them up and don’t give them short edges, but also it comes down to players obviously blocking them, as well.

So I think it’s a combination of all those things. You know, you need to know your own strengths and weaknesses, and then you need to know your opponents’ strengths. I think it’s important that each and every week we recognize some of the strengths and make sure that we don’t get beat in those areas.

Q. I know that you had a little fun with when you were asked about preferences with bowl site, and obviously Notre Dame is going to have some choices, but I’m curious, do you feel just from your years at Notre Dame, do you feel like you get a bump recruiting when you’re in that area, that recruits seem to notice that Notre Dame is in town for the week?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it really depends on what area it is. If we’re in Hawai’i, probably not, though if we’re in Dallas or if we’re in a certain geographical area in Florida, we can entertain more coaches in those areas relative to practice sites. I think it’s more of a networking opportunity with coaches and then the opportunity for them to see you at that site.

But I really do believe it’s more geographical than it is the particular bowl itself. I think it really just depends on where you end up geographically.

Q. And would you put your input towards that? When you guys are looking over these choices, would you say, Jack, I kind of like the fact of being in X location from a recruiting standpoint?

COACH KELLY: I could, but in this instance I’m not really concerned about it from a recruiting standpoint. I want this to be a reward for our seniors, and so the bowl opportunity for our team is going to be in large degree based upon the input that I’ve gotten from our seniors and where they’d like to go and where they’d like to play.

Q. Behind Hegarty, is it Harrell would be the backup now at center?

COACH KELLY: That’s correct. As it stands right now, that’s what it would be, though we do have the opportunity to move Conor Hanratty in there or Chris Watt. I’ll be able to give you a better and a definitive statement on that on Tuesday.

Q. You mentioned after the game yesterday about focus on Monday that you talked about. Can you give a couple examples of where you saw that yesterday manifest itself? What were the little things they did that made the difference?

COACH KELLY: Well, when we walk out of the hotel, generally I get a sense for our team and their focus. Some guys may be on their phones, Facebooking or talking about the weather or you can get a sense and feel. We walked out of the hotel, and it was blustery and cold, and not a mention of the weather. It was a single minded focus, and I knew our guys were ready and locked in on playing the kind of football that we needed to play. I had a pretty good indication of the way we were going to play and the way we need to play.

Q. Did you think that was one of the better if not the best physical performance on both sides of the ball for this season?

COACH KELLY: I think it was in terms of physical, mental toughness, it could have been our best of the year.

Q. I assume that would be a good thing going into Stanford since Stanford as known for being a tough, hard hitting team. Is that something you can build on going into that game?

COACH KELLY: There’s no question that we’ll have to have the same kind of demeanor. You cannot play finesse football against Stanford. Oregon has shown that you can’t go in there and try to finesse them and play fast break football. You’ve got to play physical football against Stanford if you have a chance to win against them.

This was a step in the right direction. What we have to be able to do is prove that we can do this consistently.

Q. Obviously three wins already against top 25 teams, but Stanford is probably considered the best team on your schedule. What would it mean to just finish off the season with a win like that?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think clearly our kids recognize the importance of finishing the season with a win. It does so much for you to finish strong, especially against a team like Stanford and a ranked opponent. They know the wins that they’ve had this year, and they know the disappointment in the losses that they’ve had. Although they try to avoid a lot of the noise, when you go into the last game, you know who you’re playing and you know what the significance of that is.

I think what they clearly know is the kind of game they’re going to have to play against a great team like Stanford. They know they’re going to have to play physical, smart football if they want to win.

Q. Just to double back to Jarron, I suppose we could make too much out of one performance, but how significant is that in terms of how you view him and what you think the defense could be going into a physical offense, against Stanford this weekend?

COACH KELLY: Well, obviously with Kona being such an uncertainty, you know, when he plays the kind of football that he has the last few weeks, this was not just this week, he played pretty darned good against Pittsburgh and he played really well against Navy when he was in there against Navy. So we saw this coming on.

So clearly with us being short handed at that position with Louis out and certainly now with Kona being such a question mark, it gives us a little bit more stability at that position, so we feel a lot better with that rotation now takes on a better look for us than it maybe did when we thought with Louis out.

Q. All your running backs do different things well, and I was curious if you’d speak to Tarean Folston’s ability to make the first guy miss. Is that just a natural skill set of his? Is that coachable, or do guys either have it or they don’t?

COACH KELLY: No, I don’t think it’s something that you really spend a lot of time coaching as much as just his natural ability to understand he had a great play along the sidelines, the visiting sidelines where he needed to make somebody miss just to pick up a 1st down, and recognized that he just needed another yard. He just has a good instinct, the ability to make somebody miss, and he knows the things that he’s got to continue to work on. He’s got to still trust the offensive line. He’s still in the learning curve there. But I think his natural ability certainly comes out when he runs the football.

Q. After the game you mentioned the physical brand of football you played. How do you think the play calling offensively affected or enhanced that physical brand of football when you run it 47 times, a season high?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s on display all the time. I don’t attribute it to play calling as much as to an attitude that we want.

You know, we want tough gentlemen, and I want tough guys on the field and I want gentlemen off the field. There have been times that we’ve played like gentlemen, and I don’t want to play like gentlemen. I want to play like the way we played on Saturday. We’ve got great kids, and we’ve got to be able to turn the switch on and play physical football regardless of whether we throw it 60 times a game or run it 70 times a game. It’s an attitude. It’s a demeanor, and we’ve got to continue to work on that with our group and play this kind of brand of football regardless of whether we throw it or run it on both sides of the ball and special teams week in and week out.

Q. I think there’s an assumption that if you’re going to be a throw it 60 times team you’re going to be naturally more finesse. How does a team be physical when they’re pass first?

COACH KELLY: Well, you can knock people off the ball when you’re throwing the football, great pass protection, and then when you do run the ball, you have a physical demeanor when you’re out there.

Again, I think it all depends on how you’re blocking on the perimeter, what’s your demand from your players. I’ve had teams that can intimidate their opponent if you’re throwing the football, and then when you obviously spread it out, you don’t have to be considered a finesse team just because you spread the field. You can still attack and be physical. And again, we’re not going to throw it 60 times unless you want us to throw it 60 times and we’re going to beat you. Again, I go back to you don’t have to run the football to be considered a physical football team. You can be a physical football team in all areas by your demeanor and the way you approach the game.

Q. I wanted to ask you a few questions about Jaylon Smith, just coming into this final week of the season has he lived up to the expectations you’ve had for him since you put him in as a starter for that first game?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think he’s surpassed any of the expectations that we’ve had for him. We weren’t certain that he was going to start. Danny Spond was a returning starter for us and Ben Councell, both of them were guys that quite frankly we didn’t think that Jaylon was going to be able to beat those guys out, even though we knew he had exceptional athletic ability. He was playing a position that had a lot of moving parts to it. So he’s exceeded all of our expectations.

He’s been able to take on a very complex position to the field, the drop linebacker position, and also bring along an incredible athletic skill set and make a huge impact as a true freshman.

Q. How do you nurture somebody like that and help him continue to grow as a player and have him blend that athleticism with what’s demanded of him?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s like anything else; there are things that are going to be part of the learning curve, and we recognize that there are going to be mistakes made. You know, he’s had a great mentor, and Danny Spond has been there, and obviously as you know he recognized that by wearing Danny’s number on Saturday, so he’s had somebody there that has helped him. Coach Diaco has done a great job, and I think quite frankly he’s a young man that has not let any of this affect him too greatly. He knows that there’s going to be some learning curve to it and hasn’t really gotten frustrated, knows that I need a blow, I’m coming out, or if I make a mistake I’m going to learn from it.

I think his ability to be coachable has allowed this to happen as quickly as it has.

Q. KeiVarae Russell it seems the last few weeks especially, the tackling has improved, the play he made tackling at the 6 yard line late in the game, a couple of the hits he had, can you talk about his progress and his own development into a physical football player since we’ve kind of been on the topic of physical players?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, this has been a if you ask KeiVarae himself, this transformation has been ongoing during the year of the tough gentlemen. We’ve used that phrase, and I’ll bring that up again. KeiVarae is a gentleman, and off the field he’s just a terrific young man with a great personality, fun to be with. You can’t marginalize him as just a football player. He is in the lead in the play, great student.

But when it comes to playing this game, you’ve got to have a toughness to you, and he’s had to adapt to that. He came in as an offensive player, and so moving over to the defensive side of the ball, he has had to bring an attitude and a demeanor when it comes to game day and practice that has been a little bit of a change for him.

I think we’ve seen that develop in him, and I saw it in his eyes in pregame. I saw it Friday night, that he’s understanding how he needs to prepare himself for Saturdays. It’s starting to take hold because we’re seeing it play itself out on Saturdays.

Q. This is kind of just a general football question, but on the Hail Mary pass Brigham Young threw right before halftime on the Collinsworth interception, football purists are always going to say you need to bat the ball down in that instance. If there’s a legitimate chance to make that interception, there are so many crazy things that can happen even when you try to bat it down, it can carom off somebody else and it can be cradled by an offensive player. What was your reaction to that? Do you want him to bat it down in those situations, or if you have the chance to make that interception, do you still come down with it?

COACH KELLY: If it’s a clean catch and you have a clean opportunity, we catch the football.

Q. Did he make the right decision on that one?

COACH KELLY: In our estimation, we feel like he made the right decision in that situation because it was the last play. If he felt like he had a clean opportunity to catch the football we don’t want him batting the football in that situation if he feels like he’s got a clean catch.

Q. Question about the advantages. I know it’s obviously an advantage to have guys like Zack Martin and Chris Watt on the offensive line, but what specifically going into a war you’re going to see against Stanford can those guys help out with the younger guys on the right side including the new center?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s going to be for us, because they’re a multidimensional defensive team, and what I mean by that, they’ve got a lot of moving parts. They’re going to bring a lot of pressures from different looks. They’ll trump a lot of the calls from the center most likely. So Chris and Zach will talk a lot. Chris being right next to Matt will probably make sure that the right things are being communicated. So there will be a lot of communication between Chris and Matt.