Sept. 7, 2014
THE MODERATOR: We’ll begin with questions, please.
Q. Considering all the different blitz packages and looks and personnel that Brian VanGorder puts out there, how do you balance that with not overloading all the young players? Doesn’t seem to be there’s any confusion on their part.
COACH KELLY: Well, obviously this has been a process for us that we began back in January. One of the things that we took full advantage of is the ability to install the entire package, our entire defense in the spring, then took full advantage of what we considered our OTAs, installing the defense again a second time, and then a third time in pre season camp. We think that has benefited us greatly. Then, again, I think we have some kids that have really done a great job of picking up these schemes and have been extremely conscientious. I think both of those things combined.
There’s still a lot of room for improvement. We made some mistakes out there that we didn’t get exposed, but I think those two things in particular.
Q. Talking to Cody Riggs after the game, he made an interesting comment. He said Coach VanGorder has a way of making the complicated stuff sound simple. Do you see any truth in that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Brian is very, very good at taking a scheme which he is very familiar with, and has run quite a bit of this stuff for a long time. Because he’s so familiar with it, he can use words that allows for simplification.
It’s not complicated to him, so it’s so easy for him to describe it and communicate it to his players.
Q. Kolin Hill seemed to play a pretty big role yesterday. You didn’t play him in week one. Were you thinking about the possibility of preserving a year for him, then figured you needed a little bit more pass rush?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. We just felt like he fit better in what we were doing in our third down package than Rice. As I mentioned to you in the Rice game, we were more interested in stopping the run than we were necessarily getting a dynamic pass rush, where we knew a pass rush was absolutely necessary in this game. That put a guy like Kolin Hill in more of a role for us against Michigan.
Q. Jarron Jones, would that be one of his more productive games in a Notre Dame uniform?
COACH KELLY: Solid. Very solid game. He played with better leverage. Pad level was much better. Again, I think with him it’s can we get that week in and week out.
This was a good game for him. We’ll look to try to duplicate that.
Q. Could you talk about Jaylon’s presence in the middle, maybe how it affects other team’s dual threat quarterbacks.
COACH KELLY: Well, certainly his ability to close changes so much in terms of what you want to do. He has that incredible ability to slow play a quarterback and then come back and obviously make plays with him in the zone read game.
He’s playing almost dive and quarterback because of his ability to close. He’s a unique player. I think there’s a handful of guys out there across the country that can do that. So he affects obviously the zone read because of his athletic ability and he’s really got good football instincts.
Q. You have gotten off to a very strong start in terms of not committing penalties. Is there some randomness in that or do you feel like this is by design your staff has been able to effect in games?
COACH KELLY: We hope we’ve laid the foundation for it in everything we do in terms of attention to detail, from weight training, to conditioning, to how we handle things on a day to day basis.
It’s never an accident. We’re not a sloppy group. We pay attention to detail. There are going to be times where you’re going to have some penalties, more in certain games. By and large, it’s something that is emphasized and talked about every single day.
Q. I know on one specific penalty Saturday night, it wasn’t something that affected the outcome. But Max Redfield felt like he did what he was coached to do and felt like he had a clean hit. How did you see that? Is that what you want Max to do on an interception?
COACH KELLY: You know, we didn’t think he took a shot at a kid who is 6’4″, 220 pounds. Max did not size up somebody or target a player. We felt like in that situation he was doing his job.
Q. How would you evaluate your cornerback play against Michigan?
COACH KELLY: Except for the one long pass, I thought we played much tighter coverage. We’re starting to break on the ball with the kind of eye control and discipline we’re looking for. I thought we had a shot at one in the fourth quarter with Cole Luke. If he triggers a little bit quicker, we get another one. But we’re getting that much more aggressive kind of corner play that also allows us to play over the top, as well. I think it’s evolving and getting better each week.
Q. I believe on the season no one has returned a punt on you yet. Can you talk about your punt coverage, Kyle Brindza, his whole game he’s brought so far?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’s been obviously really big in flipping the field position. His hang time has been obviously the biggest piece of his punt game. Obviously the kickoffs, I think he’s only had a couple returned this year.
What else can you say about him? He does everything for us. We’re getting the great effort that we need on all those units.
Q. Yours or his, Brian VanGorder’s decision to be on the sideline, looks like he brings a lot of energy. Do you like having him down there?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, that’s his style. Brian and I have known each other a long time. When we first coached together, we felt comfortable with both of us being on the sideline. That’s kind of how we wanted to operate.
Q. I know you talked about this in the past, how important it will be to put up more points this year. As a play caller, coach, how liberating is it for you to kind of see Everett take control of the offense this way and to be putting up 30, 40 points a game and not essentially have to defend winning the game 10 7 every week?
COACH KELLY: You know, it’s taken us a long time to get here. When I came to Notre Dame, I didn’t think it would take us five years to kind of get to the offense that we wanted to run. It’s just the circumstances have been such.
But we’re starting to evolve into the kind of offensive and defensive structure that allows us to play fast and play aggressive, play the kind of style of football we want to play.
It’s taken some time to get there, and we’ve still got a long way to go. But it’s obviously been a good start.
Q. Last night I’m not sure if there was rhyme or reason to it, it seemed like Lombard and Hegarty were alternating at right guard. What was the reason for that?
COACH KELLY: Lombard has been nursing a sore right ankle. Hasn’t had that ability to push off aggressively there. That’s really been the reason behind it.
Q. Tarean Folston fully healthy?
COACH KELLY: He got landed on. It wasn’t a sprain. He was landed on by a defensive player. More of a bone bruise than anything else. He shouldn’t have any ill effects. But it definitely affected him a little bit during the game.
Q. Any updates on the five suspended players or the process, to your mind?
COACH KELLY: No, I have not gotten any further updates from our last press conference.
Q. Michigan had nine yards more total offense. I can’t remember a team winning 31 0 and have the other team get more yards. How does that happen? What was the key there?
COACH KELLY: Well, obviously there’s turnovers that play a huge part in it. Turnovers obviously have a major influence in how games are won and lost at all levels.
Starting field position has a huge play in it. That’s your special teams. They play a large role in wins and losses.
Then for us, you know, opportunistic, we were able to finish off drives where Michigan was not able to finish off drives.
Those key statistics, the three that I just pointed out, go to winning football games. We keep a close look at those three stats in particular: When you cross the opponent’s 40 yard line, you have to score points. Michigan did not do that. The turnover take away, being plus two gives you a great chance of winning. Then average field position. Those three are largely the best predictors on winning and losing, not total yardage.
Q. Looking at the tape, any one area you see you have to focus on or are most concerned about heading into next week?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I could give you a lot of technical things that we’ve got to clean up. I’d say we were out of our fits a lot of times in terms of running the ball. Michigan is a group that moved a lot on us, and we weren’t able to sustain. We’ll have to do a better job of sustaining our blocks and our combinations from an offensive standpoint.
We’re going to have to be a little bit more efficient with our short passing game. Even though we were really good in our quick game, there were some things we missed on that we’ll have to be a little bit better on.
Then defensively, you know, there were probably three or four times where we were not lined up correctly on some looks. Again, Michigan gave us a ton of different looks. But there are plenty of things for us to clean up moving into the Purdue game.
Q. I know Will has always been viewed as that over the top burner guy. Specifically that fourth and three slant he had, how impressive was that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we really like that match up on the outside. As you could tell, we kept going back to it. Really, for us, we think that the emergence of Will has been in that he’s using his hands. We knew his ability to track down the deep ball. He had real good eye control, and his ability to track the ball vertically was really good.
I think where he’s made great progress since the spring is his ability to flash his hands and really aggressively go get the football. Once he started to do that, we saw that through camp, we felt a lot more comfortable being able to take advantage of those short matchups, as well.
People are going to play off him, so he’s going to get some of those quick game slants because of his outstanding vertical speed. That development we saw in pre season camp, and that’s why he’s getting some of these opportunities on some of this quick game.
Q. Steve Elmer seemed to play a lot better last night on the edge in pass protection. Can you talk about what you saw from him last night in the second start at tackle.
COACH KELLY: His pass protection was better. I think a couple of things. One, he was using his hands so much better. Last week he had a tendency to stop his feet on some of the pass rush situations that he had. It was a big point of emphasis this week, is to really work on his sets. I thought he did a much better job working on his sets.
Secondly, a little bit of the guard in him in the first week was that he was always looking to help inside. He became a little bit more focused on his own job. And really with Clark there, you got to focus on him. I thought he did a pretty good job of focusing on his own job.
Q. First two games, it seemed like your team from start to finish played with a far greater energy level, a lot more emotion and passion. Do you see it that way? If so, what is the reason behind that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’ve played with great energy. It’s the mix of personalities that you have on the team. We don’t have a lot of seniors.
We got a lot of juniors. A lot of juniors want to play, they want to win. They’re not thinking about graduation. They’re not thinking about anything else but winning games. We got a lot of sophomores who just want to play. We got a lot of freshmen that just don’t know any better. That’s usually a good mix.
It’s a new year, but it’s a new mix. I think that mix is pretty good for us right now.
Q. Talking to Fuller last night, he said that Michigan’s press coverage was a sign of disrespect. I don’t know if you can comment on that. The receivers’ ability to get off that, Chris or Will, how do you feel they graded out in that? Motivational factor for those guys there to counter that.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think all wide receivers need to have that kind of demeanor when it comes to press coverage and man to man coverage. Look, it’s you against the defensive back. We’ve kind of obviously taught these kids from day one when we’ve installed this offense, Look, if they’re going to take away the run, we’re going to throw the ball as many times as we have to win football games, and you have to win.
That’s the demeanor we want from our wide receivers. If we call your number, you got to go get the ball. On third down or fourth down, we call your number, we expect you to make a play.
We want that demeanor. We want that attitude. They’ve got to have that edge to them when it comes to man to man coverage.
Q. You talked about the integration of youth last night. For coaches there’s no other way to do it, you have to do that. When it comes to your veteran players, what is it about their personalities that they’ve been able to trust in younger guys to go out and make a play when these younger guys haven’t done it before?
COACH KELLY: Because they’re part of it, as well. They’re fully invested in part of what we’re doing. Our veterans are playing for us. Our veterans are leading for us. We have two captains, Justin Utupo is playing a lot of football for us, Christian Lombard is playing a lot of football for us, Kyle Brindza. I could go on.
Those seniors, they’re getting help. With such a small class, they’re looking for some help. They want this to be the great year they want. They want to win a championship. Cam McDaniel wants to win the national championship. So he’s counting on these young guys. They’re stepping up for him.
Q. The question about energy and passion. How much of that do you maybe trace back to Brian VanGorder, he’s fairly animated on the sidelines?
COACH KELLY: There’s definitely energy there. But the players provide it. I mean, I think you look at coaches, and their energy is only going to take you so far. The players have to provide it. We have to provide a great environment starting in January that has put our players in a position that they have that energy for 12 weeks.
I think we’ve got a plan that works well to allow our kids to play with energy on Saturdays. I think the chemistry of this group is such that they really enjoy each other, they enjoy being around each other, and they really love playing the game.
There’s a lot of things that go to that. It’s recruiting guys that love to play the game, that are passionate about it, and having coaches that are, as well. I think all of those things together, I don’t think there’s one specific thing, I think all of them working together.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Talk to you later in the week.