Brian Kelly talks to quarterback Tommy Rees.

Brian Kelly Oklahoma Preview Press Conference

Sept. 24, 2013

COACH KELLY: We finish off the month of September with another great challenge in Oklahoma. Bob Stoops’ program has been a benchmark for consistency and success. Our players are really excited about the challenge and the opportunity to play Oklahoma. Great game last year in Norman, and now they will come up here to South Bend.

Hard fought victory last weekend, physical game. Our guys have recuperated and are excited about getting back out on the practice field today. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

We’re going against an extremely skilled and talented football team. Their offensive depth at the skill position is as good as I’ve seen across the country. Their wide receiving corps in particular, they can roll out as many as six to seven wide receivers. Again, extremely talented wide receiving corps. Depth at the running back, veteran offensive line, top two running backs returning. I could probably go on and on.

You know, the quarterback position now seems to be solved in their minds, and a challenge there, as well, with Bell. He’s a guy that obviously can give them the dual threat that you’re looking at at the quarterback position today in college football.

Defensively very athletic, again. Corners that can cover, linebackers that can run. Very, very good in the special teams, the return game. I don’t know of any more superlatives that I can use. It’s just a well coached, deep and talented football team. We’re going to have to play extremely well. We’re going to have to be in great position, extremely disciplined across the board and play our best game of the season.

With that I’ll open it up to any questions.

Q. You touched on Bell a little bit. This will be really the fourth game in a row that you’ve seen a quarterback with the threat to run, and I would say maybe you’ve done a progressively better job week by week. Could you talk about how your defense has kind of improved against that and what sort of challenges they face this week in that regard?

COACH KELLY: Again, I think from a scheme standpoint, they put you in a position where you have to cover a lot of different scenarios. You know, you’re put in a very difficult position when you can be running the football and have options to throw, as well. You know, that constant bind that the running quarterback gives you is a stress on your defense.

We’ve had that for the last couple of weeks. Our staff and Coach Diaco has done a great job of formulating the plan, and we’re going to have to have another great one this weekend.

Q. What have you been happy with what you’ve been able to do the last couple weeks in curtailing that?

COACH KELLY: Well, again, I think a lot of it has to do with our ability to not give up big plays, and keeping the ball in front of us has been one of our mainstays defensively. You start there. There’s going to be some completions. You’ve got to minimize the big plays off of that attack. You’ve got to be sound and fundamental and contained. You can’t give up easy runs. I think that’s really what it comes down to; when the quarterback is running the football, you’ve got to make sure that you’re minimizing their ability to get big plays.

Q. I think your record is 10 1 in your last 11 games decided by a touchdown or less. How do you coach confidence in those moments when you’re in a game that can go either way at any point? There’s got to be something to the fact that you guys are pulling those wins out over and over again.

COACH KELLY: I just think it happens over a period of time. You know, when we first got here I don’t believe that we were able to win some of those games, and I think it’s just a matter of time. We’re four years into our program. Our kids believe that if they prepare the right way and they take care of the things that they’re supposed to do that they have a belief. Look, it’s the will to prepare and it’s the belief that they can win. You carry those with you.

You still have to perform. We didn’t perform late against Michigan; we lost the football game. Even though we prepared and we believed you can win, you still have to perform. We were able to perform to win football games.

But you have to have those two things. I know our guys have confidence that they can win each and every game they play, but they also know that they have to make plays.

Q. Just following up on that, how much of that comes from just having done it; they know they’ve done it 10 of the past 11 times, so when they get into that position they’re not thinking, oh, no, are we going to win? How much do you think they believe that they’re going to win those games?

COACH KELLY: Well, there’s definitely a positive reinforcement in the belief that they can win. Look, we’ve won a lot of football games, 15 out of the last 16 games, 10 in a row at home. Those things all go towards that belief that they can win. They believe that they can win no matter what the circumstances are. But again, I would caution you to say that it’s still about you’ve got to make plays. We made a couple more plays at the end, and we’ll have to make a couple more this weekend. But there is that belief system. There’s no question that that foundation has been laid.

Q. Last year against Oklahoma one of the keys was the defensive play. Talk a little bit about what you think they did well and how important is that going to be in this week’s game?

COACH KELLY: Well, they’re very balanced. They’ve run the football extremely well, and this past or two weekends ago really showed their ability to throw the football. Bell threw extremely well vertically. He’s got a nice touch on the football, and he’s got one week it’s one receiver. This past weekend Sterling Shepard had eight catches. I mean, they just have great depth and they find their big play receivers.

We have to minimize the big chunk plays, and that’s one of our goals each and every week: Minimizing those big chunk plays. We were able to do that last year. We’re going to have to do it this year if we want to win the football games.

Q. The green out, will the team be wearing green jerseys for this game?

COACH KELLY: No, we will not be wearing green jerseys, but the Leprechaun Legion and the Kelly Cares Foundation will be giving out upwards of 40,000 pompons, and we’ll have one for you if you’d like a pompon. We’ll go 40,001. Yes, it’s a green out officially this weekend for Oklahoma.

Q. From a scheme standpoint, Oklahoma, have they made any significant adjustments in terms of their approach since last year?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, they’ve gone to a 3 3 5 defensive structure, whereas they were a four down team last year. You’d have to ask them why. I believe, if I was to guess, it’s to probably handle a lot of the spread offenses in the Big 12. Still an extremely talented group of players, and obviously we’re seeing the same group of talented players across the board. But it is a different scheme from last year.

Offensively very similar, the difference being Landry Jones to Bell; now you have a guy that can run the football at the quarterback position.

Q. In layman’s terms can you throw out one example of how that 3 3 5 forces you to adjust a little bit?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. You know, you’re dealing with different edge pressures, where in the three down defense, you’re protecting the edges, and you have guys that are obviously going to be in space that are extremely athletic and coming off the edge.

Q. Saturday was double D Denard against double D Daniels, and Denard had a pretty good day. What lessons do you hope that DaVaris can take out of that match up against a great corner?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think they’re all I think we all know that our guys are not finished products, and the challenges that they get by playing the schedule that we do allows them to grow as players.

I think any time that you look at our players and you want to see them grow from the experiences that they have. DaVaris is a very smart kid, and he watches film, and he’s very competitive, and I think that what we’ll be looking for, and he will be, as well, is to learn from his experiences.

So whether it’s Daniels or anybody else on our team, I think when they’re put into those challenging situations for them to grow from them, that’s what we’ll be looking for.

Q. And a strategic question from Saturday: You had a bunch of 3rd and 1s, I think you had 13 for the game, and 10 of them came in the first half, and you tried to run a few and you ran empty and you threw the ball downfield. There weren’t a lot of intermediate throws. Is there something Michigan State does in terms of coverage that prevents an athlete on a linebacker, or did you just like your chances better with a jump ball/interference call downfield?

COACH KELLY: Well, we had a 4th and 1 where we ran a rollover slot route to TJ Jones. They fired the corner, didn’t cover him, and we missed the blitz and Tommy never saw him because the blitz was in his face. So that was a big 4th down situation if you remember. We missed a very easy blitz pickup situation there.

The other one, we ran a boot, and we’re supposed to slow release the tight end, and he’s supposed to fall out late as the late check down, and we don’t slow release. Execution as well as not picking up 3rd down and short. So it’s certainly something that we have to be better at and we have to be more efficient at.

Q. With all the tight games and everything, the way the team is developing, there’s not a lot of margin for error. How do you keep the team from playing tight?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s important for them to know, more than anything else, that the way we play right now, we can’t afford to not let it go. If we go and we play tentative, that’s not going to be enough for us to win football games.

And I guess you guys have been around me long enough, it’s not one of my personality traits to play tight. We’re always talking about being more aggressive and playing loose. I think it’s probably it comes down for me and the staff and making sure that we let our guys play and not to be too controlling in a sense. I mean, nobody wants to put too much control over their team that doesn’t allow them to play, and I think that I’ve been doing it long enough that I’ve never seen it work well when they play tight, as well.

Q. And with that 3 3 5 alignment, how does that impact your run game on what you guys might be able to do, and where do you take it from this week?

COACH KELLY: Well, again, the last three weeks have been a real challenge for us, as you know, in the running game. We certainly have to run the ball better. We know that. I think everybody here in this room and America knows that. We think that the circumstances are such that we’re going to continue to work at it in practice, and we know we have to be better at it. Oklahoma is going to be it’s not going to be easy against Oklahoma, either. We just know we have to be better at it. We’re working on 3rd and short, we’re working on being more efficient, executing better, and I think the things that we have to be better at are some of the things that were talked about. We’ve got to be better at 3rd and short.

Q. You mentioned you’re going to have to play your best game on Saturday. Did you feel like you played your best game of last season or maybe since you’ve been here last year when you went down to Norman?

COACH KELLY: I thought we played very well, yeah. I thought defensively our game plan was to keep the ball in front of us, minimize the big plays. I think that’s going to have to be the case again. I think offensively we were able to find a way to run the ball into a very difficult box look and eke out a couple of big plays. I think you’re going to have to see a similar kind of effort. It’s going to have to be our best game of the year in all phases, including special teams. And we certainly know that because we’ve played Oklahoma before, and we know what to expect.

Q. I guess that prior knowledge of knowing what to expect and knowing how to prepare, how valuable do you think that is for you guys this week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday?

COACH KELLY: Oh, I think our guys know exactly what they have to do, playing them before, watching them on film, knowing the tradition and history. There’s a feeling around the room that everybody’s attention is on Oklahoma. They know what to expect and they know what Oklahoma is bringing to guys’ attention.

Q. Keeping the ball in front of you, last year I think you played a lot of base defense, regardless of what Oklahoma did. How much more flexible do you feel like your defense is, and is this a week that that really is going to show, where you have more of a nickel and a dime and a confidence that you can execute those sets efficiently?

COACH KELLY: Well, ideally you’d love to be able to be the deepest on the field and stop the run with even numbers. You know, that’s the ideal situation. We were able to do that last year most of the time, but we have to be prepared for all situations. As you know, if the numbers are fair, that means you’re able to do a lot of things defensively. We’ll have to see how that plays out.

But the bottom line is the skill that they have creates so many problems for you down the field that you have to look at how you’re going to play this team from so many different perspectives.

Q. Kind of a formation question: When you guys go two tight end, do you feel like that set has been productive for you this year? Do you feel like you can push that farther moving forward?

COACH KELLY: Oh, I think there’s a lot more that we need to do and will do moving forward.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about Jarrett Grace, when you recruited him, if you were familiar with him having been in Cincinnati and the fact that he was kind of behind Manti for so long, just what his development was like since we didn’t kind of see it unfold in front of us?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I recruited him when I was at Cincinnati at Colerain High School, one of the top public high schools in the Cincinnati area, a great tradition there. Was a character kid from the day that I got a chance to know him, just great character kid, leader. And so I knew not only was he going to be a great player, but he was going to be a leader. He’s lived up to that. Even though he was behind our best leader in our program, and that has a tendency, obviously, to overshadow you, he led in community service. He led in fellowship. Now he’s starting to become more vocal as a football player, as well. He’ll continue to develop in that manner, as well.

Q. Did Manti work with him much knowing that he wasn’t going to play a lot of downs? Did they have a pretty good rapport?

COACH KELLY: I would say very good rapport. You know, Manti was somebody that at his position was always communicating with the linebackers, and that was a very close room, and it still continues to be a very close room. So there was a lot of conversation about the position. If you were to ask Manti today, he would probably say that’s my guy, and I’m not surprised that he’s having success.

Q. Are you still kind of in the same place you were with Sheldon Day, feeling like you might be able to get him to practice today?

COACH KELLY: I am. I expect him to practice today. I think he’s going to be gradual as the week progresses, that we’re going to see more and more from him. The reports were pretty good yesterday. He went through all of our conditioning yesterday, and we hope to see him a little bit more today.

Q. A couple running back questions: I think you mentioned Sunday you were in a four man rotation. I don’t want to get tripped up on the word problem. Does that mean Bryant is kind of out of the loop?

COACH KELLY: No, we just got to four. I’d like to get to five. Greg certainly has a skill set that we just haven’t gotten into the game yet. But again, we’re trying to get him in on special teams. He’s on kickoff right now. We’re trying to get him involved in some of the other running teams. But we got to four, we’re trying to get to five.

Q. George Atkinson, where do you feel like his progress is right now? Where do you see him fitting in?

COACH KELLY: George, the next step in his development for us is and as we know, he’s got to continue to work on his ball skills. I thought he did a nice job on Saturday on a tough catch. He’s got to run through tackles.

Q. I forgot to ask you this on Sunday, but the penalty where they called it on the bench in Saturday’s game, can you tell us what exactly that was about?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, he felt like we were that we were racing on to the field and that we were creating a larger altercation, and I was trying to explain that we were simply that was our offense in a transition coming out to the field. He didn’t see it that way and felt like we were inciting, that it was kind of like coming off the bench in a fight, which wasn’t the case. We were just transitioning our offense, and they were coming out onto the field because we felt the play was over.

And I was standing right there, so it wasn’t like there was a situation where it was out of control. The guy that was running out was Tommy Rees, for crying out loud. I mean, really. He’s hobbling out with a knee brace. Worried about Tommy. But anyway…

Q. Just wanted to clarify on the four running backs out of five, just because we get that question a lot, is that something that you don’t have space for five yet or Bryant needs to get himself to the level where he can be on the field?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, it’s about scripting five and trying to get five into the game more than anything else. We have him scripted into certain plays, it’s just really the flow of the game and the circumstances in trying to get him in.

Q. Another question on Jarrett Grace: I think coming out of the spring at least the outside perception was that middle linebacker was going to be his or he had done enough to kind of get there. Is he on schedule as far as moving into that starting role and playing a little bit more at the Mike?

COACH KELLY: Jarrett Grace?

Q. Yeah.

COACH KELLY: Yeah, he played quite a bit on Saturday.

Q. So I guess my question is did you expect him to have a couple weeks where Dan was out there first and he was sort of slowly working his way in?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, we always err towards the senior first and foremost, and Dan has played a lot of football for us. Even though he was transitioning, Danny did an incredible job of his whole career really was at Will, and for the team he moved over to Mike. You know, that’s how great of a team player he is, that he moves over to Mike as we continue to get Jarrett some other work.

And Dan played a lot of Mike on Saturday, as well. I think it’s an even both of those guys are playing the position. Jarrett is not taking every single one of those reps. I think you’re going to continue to see Dan take some Mike reps, and obviously the Will linebacker position, as well.

Q. So Jarrett is at a position now that you can use Dan more at the Will?


Q. And kind of along a similar line to Shumate, a guy who’s had to learn and get his feet wet, I saw he’s a starter now on this week’s depth chart?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I would just say again, I think it’s a very similar situation with the three guys. You’ve got Calabrese, Fox and Grace. I think you now can look at Shumate along with Collinsworth and Farley. You’ve got a three person rotation that’s working out pretty good for us. In situations we’re moving the personnel in and out.

So I think in both of those situations, all three of those guys are working well together.

Q. On Blake Bell, you talked about his dual threat capabilities as a quarterback. I think he threw for 400 yards in his first start. What have you seen on film of him as a passer and how much is that a threat?

COACH KELLY: He threw it to really fast receivers. He’s got an outstanding receiving corps. You know, he’s got a nice touch on the ball, a good presence about him. He looked like a thrower, not a runner. I know he’s a big, physical strong kid, and I think he was used last year more in the goal line offense. He’s much more than a goal line offense quarterback. He’s a skilled passer of the football, and I think he maybe got a reputation that is not really fitting of who he is. I think he was a five star quarterback, and he can throw the football. There’s no question about that.

Q. Could you evaluate Ronnie Stanley’s play through four games?

COACH KELLY: He’s been solid. He’s a young kid, new experience, a rugged schedule in September against three Big Ten opponents, two really aggressive defenses in Michigan and Michigan State, and then seeing something with Purdue where a lot of movement, a lot of pressures, a lot of stunting. He hasn’t gotten an easy baptism into playing offensive tackle in the first month. He could have used a couple of easy ones along the way. But it’s been a great learning experience.

I think what I was most proud of him on Saturday is he took a pretty big hit on the interception that was called a penalty, which caused a bit of a hip pointer, and really needed to be attended to but sat out one play and came right back in and was part of our last touchdown drive on the right side where Cam went in on the outside zone play untouched, and showed some real toughness getting in there.

I’m proud of the way he’s battled in the first month of the season.

Q. Coming from the West Coast, I know there may have been some unease initially when he first got here, weather, climate change and so forth. How has that maturity helped him get on the field and get such a meaningful position so soon?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think not playing last year was a tough transition for him and I think it is for most kids, but I think it was beneficial for him to really get comfortable here at Notre Dame. You know, he went to a school that has so many similarities to Notre Dame that I think that helped him with the transition, as well.

Q. Regarding the offensive line, what would you say would be the main difference in terms of a unit that’s able to pass block so well while the running game is struggling a little bit?

COACH KELLY: There are so many factors to that. You know, I think we’re blocking the five guys they’re blocking the five guys that they’re supposed to block pretty good. There are times when obviously we need to be better at it. We have to block seven and eight, and we’ve got to get better at that. But they’re doing a great job in pass protection. We need to do a much better job as a unit, as a whole, and that’s not just the offensive line, that’s everybody, coaches and tight ends included, in blocking the whole play.

Q. You mentioned Tommy with a missed read earlier in the press conference. He had a couple of those on Saturday. When he comes off the field after that, is that something that he knows right away that he missed it, or what’s that conversation like?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, there weren’t many misreads as much as there were just misses. This was put on a guy it was all man to man 100 percent, there was no zone, there was not one snap I think there was one snap of Tampa 2 coverage the whole game. Other than that it was all 100 percent man to man coverage. You know, it was a total departure in that sense, is that you’ve just got to put it on him. Sometimes we had a touchdown where we got tugged and it didn’t get called, he overthrew a guy, other times where he needed to put a level one ball. We’re going to see more of it. He’s just got to be more accurate in those situations.

Q. I’ve noticed this year you’re throwing seem to be throwing a lot more on 1st down than you have in the past. Is that because of the way defenses are playing you, or is that because of your confidence in your personnel?

COACH KELLY: It’s a little bit of both. Certainly we’re looking at our tendencies, defensive tendencies, what we get on 1st down, and then obviously what the box looks are. You know, just the way things have unfolded on 1st down, it’s a little bit of all those things.

Q. It’s the second week in a row that people have talked about your offense tipping plays a little bit. Are you seeing those things on film? I assume obviously if you were seeing them, they’re being addressed, but is that something that you are seeing?

COACH KELLY: No. I think everybody knows what we’re trying to do on 3rd and 1. If you know what we’re doing on 1st and 10 or 2nd and 4, then you know a lot more than we do. But I think if it’s the fourth quarter and you don’t know that we’re running the ball out of two tight ends, then you’re not paying attention. We’re pretty predictable in those kinds of situations. We have to find a way like I said, I think Tim asked a question, there wasa 4th down situation where we threw the ball and we didn’t pick up a blitzer off the edge for an easy 1st down where we threw the ball. Yeah, there’s always going to be predictable situations within the game where it’s a run versus a pass, and I also think there are going to be times in the game where you’re going to be predictable if you’re going to manage the football game. But I don’t believe that we’re at a point where people say, well, we know what we’re going to get on this play.

Q. I just want to talk to you about the other two freshmen receivers, James Onwualu, who’s kind of carved a role as a blocker, and then Will Fuller coming in and giving you guys a big spark off the bench.

COACH KELLY: Yeah, and I would say that both of those guys have been kids that have developed to the level that we are hopeful. We knew Will had great speed, but he tracks the ball so well. His catch was indicative of that, and it was an over the shoulder catch where he had to track the ball. He tracks it well. He’s got strong hands, and obviously he’s got great speed. He’s got to continue to get stronger.

And that’s the case for all those freshmen. James is physically more developed than all of our freshman receivers, so he can go in there and carry a different load for our receivers. Now, we throw the ball while he’s in there, sometimes he’s not targeted, but a lot of the times James is in a more rugged role for us because physically he is far beyond a freshman in terms of his strength.

So they have developed along the way, and both have done very well for us.

Q. And I wanted to circle back to Shumate. He looked like he won the nickel role. Was it opponent specific? What did he do to move ahead of Cole Luke for next week?

COACH KELLY: Well, as you know, we were getting a lot of action in that nickel position, a lot of drive routes, so we felt like we wanted somebody a little bit more physical in there, disrupt the timing of those drive routes. Cole does a nice job in man to man coverage, so we moved him on the outside and moved Shumate inside. It’s a fluid situation. I think it goes from week to week. But I thought that was a good change up for this week.

Q. More in relation to Blake Bell, but who do you have running the scout team this week?

COACH KELLY: Will Cronin. He’s not as big as Blake Bell. Sorry. We’re going to maybe get him a little bit more. But we’ve got Will and then we’ve got Rashad Kinlaw. Both those guys usually work that position for us.

Q. How did you prepare for them last year? I know you mentioned he’s more than just a goal line kind of battering ram, but is there any certain tackling drills you can do to prepare for a guy who’s built like a tight end but is a quarterback?

COACH KELLY: No, not really. I think we go with our normal tackling circuit every week. Now, you have to prepare for him within your scheme. Somebody has got to have the quarterback within what you do defensively. I think that’s probably the biggest thing. And you certainly just have to make sure that you’re solid in your tackling.

But the biggest challenge is him having runs and passes built into the same play. That’s where it really becomes a challenge, because the kid can throw the football. I think that’s being overlooked, is that he throws the ball very well. I think we see him more as a passing threat. He can certainly run it, but he’s a passing threat.

Q. Just kind of changing gears, you guys have been running that variation of the fly sweep a little bit where you kind of pitch it to Daniels or someone. Did you talk to Bob Stitt at Colorado School of Mines or did you pick that up from watching film like West Virginia or some team like that?

COACH KELLY: I’ve had it in and out of my system for many, many years. It’s been around. Again, it goes back to what Michigan State, their Sam linebacker just came in every play, was their extra hat. We were just trying to do something to give him a threat of an outside play to hold him for a second, just for a split second so we could get something up inside because he was folding in on every play. So you’re using some misdirection to hold some guys. But it’s something that’s been in the offensive system that I’ve had for many, many years.