Nov. 3, 2015
THE MODERATOR: We’ll get started with Coach Kelly and turn it over to questions.
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon. Coming off an exciting victory against a very good Temple team. Didn’t get back into South Bend until late. But certainly worth it given the ramifications of the game. Each and every week is a playoff game for us. To get a victory on the road against a top-25 team is certainly a very good win for our guys.
Went back to work yesterday in preparing for a very good Pitt team. It’s a team that as you all know here has played us extremely, extremely well, and beat us the last time out.
We know what’s in store for us in playing Pitt at Pitt. Led by Pat Narduzzi who we all know has done such a great job in building his career as defensive coordinator, now as a head coach. You can see the same kind of signature defense, physical offense, aggressive special teams, and he’s gotten his football team off to a very good 6-2 start.
Jim Chaney on offense comes over from Arkansas. Ball control, physical, play-action. Does a very good job of controlling the line of scrimmage. Obviously guys like Boyd and Peterman are the guys on offense that we have to concern ourselves with. Boyd can do so many different things.
But just like last week, another tough game on the road where we’re going to have to play for four quarters. Our guys have that unique ability to really bear down and play for four quarters, overcome things, and find a way to win.
Again, I think more than anything else, our guys know what’s in front of them. It’s a noon start, which is a little bit different for us. So we’ll have to make some appropriate changes in our schedule. But we certainly believe that there won’t be any excuses for the kind of play that we’ll need against a very good Pitt team.
With that, we’ll open it up to questions.
Q. You’re fond of saying that October is for pretenders, November for contenders. Last year at this time 7-1, ranked No. 8, same as you are right now. What do you see in this team that gives you confidence that you’ll be able to contend better than you did last year?
COACH KELLY: Each year, different personalities, different leadership. It’s a different group all along the board. I think the schedule’s a little bit different. We had to go out to the West Coast twice, to Arizona State and to USC. Then we had a Big Ten team in Northwestern and Louisville. Had a very tough schedule. Didn’t play quite as well, obviously.
This team is a different group, different personalities, a little bit different offensively in terms of what we’re doing, as well.
Last year is probably more of a learning experience that we have going into this November than it probably is more than anything else.
Q. One of the stats you’re not doing so well in is red zone efficiency. What do you try to do in the last four weeks to try to improve that?
COACH KELLY: It’s certainly a number that we’re aware of, that we have to really clean up the turnovers, converting field goals into touchdowns.
Our offense is what it is. We just have to be more efficient down there and spend extra time in practice in making sure that when we get into those areas, we convert them into touchdowns.
It’s been the case a couple times on the road that it’s really been an issue for us. Virginia, obviously, and of course against Temple. Both those games we had opportunities to really lay some points on our opposition and didn’t do it.
We’ll take some extra time this week. We’ve done some more self-scouting in terms of play calling, what we’re doing down there. But I think at the end of the day execution from everybody, a heightened awareness of where we are, then a little bit more extra practice time.
Q. Three of the past four games have been very close. With the committee looking, do you talk to the team about these next four games, you have to try to impress at all, or just go about it trying to win?
COACH KELLY: We actually looked at it the other way. The last four teams we played, three were undefeated when we went into the game, and one was our natural rival in USC. They had a combined record of 25-6 right now. I don’t know many teams that have had that kind of record, oppositions record, in the last four games.
What I’ve told them is they’ve been tested. Their mettle has been tested over the last four weeks. Let’s use that to our advantage in the way we play. Don’t worry about the score. You can’t control those things.
What you can control is the last month you’ve been tested against very good football teams, three of them undefeated and one being USC. That should bode well as we work through the month of November.
Q. Can you talk to DeShone as compared to Everett, where he was in 2012? Do you feel more comfortable with the ball in his hands at this point?
COACH KELLY: Oh, absolutely. Just the confidence I think more than anything else is probably the big difference between the two. Everett was a great athlete, could do a lot of things, strong arm. But the makeup of the quarterback position in itself, I think leadership, command, I’d have to give the nod to DeShone at this point.
Q. You mentioned kind of the playoff atmosphere that’s been here since Clemson. Media is really all over that. Fans are, too. Not that that is your concern. What would you say is your best game to date, one or two games that you thought you did a great job?
COACH KELLY: Probably the opener. I thought that was probably our most complete game. I look at it as a head coach in terms of all three units playing together at the same time.
I think there’s some times where offensively we’ve been dynamic, then defensively for three and a half quarters we played as well against Georgia Tech as any time we’ve played at all.
I think complete game, Texas, then I’d have to probably lean towards segments of games that we played really well. Second half against Clemson defensively. Last quarter against USC offensively.
You’re picking different times. That’s why we think our best football is still ahead of us.
Q. Texas is a long time ago. USC and Clemson are better than Texas. Do you look at those segments where Clemson is certainly one of the best teams in the country, USC is an arch rival, do you try to build upon those? Is that what you think is a bit of a ceiling for this team and that’s good enough?
COACH KELLY: I’ll go back to what I talked to the team about. I think we’ve been tested the last four weeks. Three undefeated teams and USC, really strengthens your football team in terms of all phases of the game. I think we’re going to be better going into November.
It was a very strong schedule. Those were good football teams that we had to play. I think we’ll be better for it going into November.
Q. When you play a team like Temple that’s so good schematically against the run, tough front seven, how would you grade your offensive line and C.J. Prosise against that defense?
COACH KELLY: I’ll start with C.J. It was a great learning experience for him. The development of a first-year running back, there are different things he’s going to see. I think the one thing he saw is that not every play can be a third-yard gain. Three yards, four yards sometimes is a good play. Putting your head down, being physical I think is what he learned in this game. I thought it was a great learning tool for him as to how to run in terms of certain plays are going to be not as clean as others. You’ve got to make something happen at the point of attack by lowering your shoulders and showing some physicality. I think he learned a lot.
From an offensive line standpoint, we didn’t give up a sack against one of the better teams in the country that really gets after the quarterback. I thought that was a great thing that we did.
I think from a running standpoint, I think we learned some things in terms of assignments in what we can do better, and probably learned some things just how they play aggressively against our looks that are going to help our offensive line schemes moving forward.
Q. Last year when you had the targeting that carried over to the next game with Niles, was that a position where you were kind of thin with injuries. Seems like safety you’re kind of in the same place. First of all, is there any scenario in which you would say Mykelti, sorry, the redshirt year is kind of over, we want you ready to play in this game and we may use you?
COACH KELLY: It would have to be a dire need situation. It would have to be an emergency situation where we lost Nick Baratti. Nick will be the next man up for us. He’ll have to play in that kind of scenario for us.
Nicco Fertitta will get some work back there. He’s been getting some work. Nicco would be the next guy we would look towards getting through the first half of the game until Elijah comes back in the second half.
Q. There is an incredible story in the Indianapolis Star about John Turner’s situation. Could you address it, if you’re giving him another week off, what the situation is.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think we talked about it as a team yesterday. John’s mom, as many probably know, lost her battle to breast cancer. John was given time off to be with his family. Very courageous battle. I think Gregg Doyel had a nice piece in the Indianapolis paper about the family. It was very touching. It really affected some of our players.
So we gave him some time, some of the players in particular, that were affected about the loss of John’s mom. Touched a lot of players here in the program.
Q. DeShone I think had 17 carries in the game against a physical Temple team. How did he come out of it? As you kind of go through the stretch where you’re playing Pitt physical, Boston College physical, is there any thought if you have to use your quarterback a lot to run, you may sneak Wimbush in there for a series or thought?
COACH KELLY: I think we’ve given it some thought. It’s been a discussion. Is there a time and place we can use him in some of the run game scenarios that we have? It’s certainly not out of the question and we’re going to continue to work with him if, in fact, we feel there’s a need to run the quarterback more, especially in those kinds of defenses that are playing a lot of man coverage, that we would get him ready for that.
COACH KELLY: I think I mentioned this earlier. I don’t think there’s been a more dedicated and hard-working player at the wide receiver position than Chris. All those guys work hard. Chris has always been that leader. He kind of took that leadership role this summer, blocking, doing all the little things, and obviously catching a lot of balls. I think he was our leading receiver on Saturday night.
He’s a tough, gritty, competitive kid. He sets the standard for all those younger players are looking at what their role is as a wide receiver. It’s not just catching the football.
I think by and large all of those guys are committed to being more than just a one-dimensional player, that is running and catching. They know how important it is. Torii Hunter’s 41-yard run late in the third quarter was an indication of Amir Carlisle and Will Fuller blocking on the perimeter.
When you throw perimeter passes and you get gains, I think that’s an indication of what the receivers are doing relative to blocking.
Q. Back to the red zone offense, C.J. Prosise is more of a breakaway back, not a lot of experience as a power back between the tackles. In practice you’ve given the younger backs an opportunity maybe to earn a role in that. Have you looked at that? Is that a consideration? Certainly Josh Adams has some playing experience.
COACH KELLY: A lot of these questions are good questions. We throw them around just like you do. On Sunday when we get together as a staff, Should we get Josh more carries? Big, physical kid in the red zone. All those things are things that we’re going through as well.
You watched the game. You guys are pretty smart. We’re thinking about the same things relative to how can we get better in that area. Is it Josh Adams? Is it the tight end, getting him the ball? It’s all those things.
I think those are all possibilities. But as we broke it down, we’re having issues that are not just one person. It’s the right tackle, then it’s the guard, then it’s the quarterback, it’s the receiver. We have to play better as a unit first, then maybe feature some more guys in there that can help us be better down there.
Q. Can you live with your 6’4″, 230-pound quarterback being your short yardage guy for the rest of the year?
COACH KELLY: They seem to like that in Charlotte. They think it’s okay there. I think in certain situations we’re okay with it. But I think we have to be more than one-dimensional with him.
Q. Did you or do you have an opinion about your quarterback flapping his arms after a couple touchdowns?
COACH KELLY: Totally unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. It’s not what we’re about. It’s not who we are.
DeShone understands that. The backstory is he’s an Eagles fan. He was mimicking a lot of the Eagles’ players. That’s what they did. But it’s not who we are as a team or as a program. It won’t happen again.
Q. Saw at the end of the broadcast, it appeared that the Temple head coach was engaging Cole Luke in conversation or vice versa. I don’t really know. There was an incident when Jaylon Smith made an open-field tackle on their quarterback in front of their bench where it looked like, again, the head coach was engaging in conversation with one of your players. Is this on your radar, anything you’re aware of? Am I wrong on this?
COACH KELLY: I’m going to talk to Cole about it today. I saw it last night at dinner for the first time. We replayed the game. We had it on at dinner last night. I saw a conversation. I don’t watch the game, but it was on. I saw Cole having a conversation with coach. So I’ll address that today with Cole as to what that conversation was.
As to Jaylon’s conversation with him, I did not see it. But our players know how to handle themselves relative to their actions got to speak loud on the field, not off to other coaches or players.
Q. If you were asked back in August if you would be a two-point loss to being undefeated considering the number of starters you lost, what would your response have been?
COACH KELLY: I would have been upset. I would have been upset. If we had a two-point loss and you would probably be thinking about all the ‘what if’s’, the ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’. That probably would have been my first reaction. If it’s a two-point loss, how could I have helped that been a better outcome?
Q. Last year the bulk of the injuries started to happen around this time, later in the season. This year it’s been August and early September. Does the timing of the injuries matter at all? Does it help to have the injuries happen in the pre-season?
COACH KELLY: Boy, I mean, I’d rather not have them at all obviously. But we’ve kind of managed through them and developed the players now that have stepped in. If you start having injuries late in the year, it’s a lot more difficult, I would think, to get your guys ready. We’ve been able to work together and get these guys put into a very good position relative to where they are right now.
To start having injuries late in the year would be very difficult.
Q. Do you think your 2012 team could have withstood the number of injuries to starters that this team has?
COACH KELLY: We weren’t very deep. We’re much deeper in terms of the number of players that we have. We’re further along as a football program. Consequently that’s why we’ve been able to sustain the success we’ve had, because of the depth we have here in ’15 versus 2012.
Q. Pat Narduzzi is a first-year head coach. You’ve gone against him many times as a coordinator. How do you characterize the way his units play, what makes them good? Without giving away the game plan, how do you attack that?
COACH KELLY: It’s aggressive. It’s an aggressive defense. They force you to do things that you’re not comfortable doing. They’re going to be stout against the run. You can’t rely on ball control spacing throws. You’ve got to push the ball vertically down the field, which are lower percentage completion opportunities.
He’s very stingy against the run. He’s looking at all those percentages that offenses won’t be effective enough and patient enough to turn those into enough points.
Q. Is that patience something that you think Kizer has? I would imagine that grows as a quarterback does.
COACH KELLY: I think so. We’ll have to do a very good job this week. He’ll have to exhibit some of that patience this week because if you try to do some things that are not within the game plan, he’s going to get you behind the sticks quickly. Then he gets into his three-down package, and you don’t know where it’s coming from. Very confusing. Can confuse a young quarterback. Very important he stays disciplined early on, especially in first and second downs.
Q. The playoff rankings come out tonight. I’m curious right now how you view your team’s rÃƒÆ’Â©sumÃƒÆ’Â© through eight games?
COACH KELLY: Like I said, I think our last four games have been as good as anybody that’s played in the country. I don’t know where it stands up exactly. I just know we played a very good schedule in the month of October. We have to win more games, but I’ll stand up our schedule to anybody else right now.
We still have a loss, so that obviously counts. But it’s really for us what’s in front of us and what we have to do each and every week.
Q. Cage played the bulk of snaps at the nose position Saturday. Is that more a testament to his progress or Jerry Tillery hit a freshman wall at this point of the season? Daniel seemed to be effective, too.
COACH KELLY: I wouldn’t attribute it to Jerry hitting the wall as much as Daniel is an explosive player. Been battling a little bit of a foot injury. Been feeling much better. I think this was his kind of game, a physical run game. It really fit the kind of game that we wanted him to play versus an option team, per se, where we had a couple of option games in there over the last six weeks. I think that’s where we saw Jerry play really well against the two option teams.
Then USC is a more dynamic, fast-paced. I think this game really fits Daniel. He’s physical at the point of attack. He’s got first-step quickness. He can really control the line of scrimmage. It was a good fit for him. These next few games will be a very good fit for him as well.
Q. The identity of the next opponents also…
COACH KELLY: I would say he fits that. Jerry does obviously very good things for us, as well. I think we’ve got a 1-2 punch there that will continue to be effective for us.
Q. In your career here, the stat was pointed out, you have 13 games here where your team came back to win in the fourth quarter. Some people would attribute that on the positive side, the glass half full, full of heart and resilience, others would say they just don’t quite have the ability to put teams away or play to the level of competition. How do you view it?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think winning football games requires character, requires guys that believe. So regardless of whether you were supposed to win the game or not, to win college football games, and again, given the competition that we play, we’re not playing IAA opponents, we’re not playing anybody but FBS schools, it says that we’ve got guys that have character and resolve and believe they’re going to win. That’s a good trait to have.
Q. Going back to the offensive line, the red zone theme. I think most people looked at the offensive line as the strength of the team going into the season. In those situations, do you want to put more of a burden on them in the red zone?
COACH KELLY: When you get down there, it’s so game-plan centric. Teams are really dictating down there what you do. Are they laying off in coverage? Are there eight or nine guys on the line of scrimmage? I mean, you’re in a short field, right? It’s so game-plan oriented down there in terms of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
It really requires all players to be functioning together. That’s the real point of this relative to efficiency down there. You can’t just rely on your offensive line because they may not be able to block everybody. A back may have to run through a tackle or two. A quarterback may have to be on time to hit the corner route and be precision and precise with that throw and be on time.
It’s really about the unit playing well down there more so than the unit being all 11, more so than one group of players.
Q. It was mentioned earlier you’ve seen Pat’s Michigan State’s defenses before. Now that he has the coordinator working under him, are there any small adjustments or same thing you saw from Michigan State?
COACH KELLY: The blueprint is certainly Coach Narduzzi’s blueprint of Michigan State. Certainly there’s a tweak here or there. He’s aware of his personnel, Michigan State’s personnel. I think he had some draft picks at corner that were in the first round. Not to slight the corners that he had, but he had some really great corners at Michigan State. So they do some things differently.
But the blueprint is pretty much the same.
Q. How do you assess your group of receivers and their ability to win those battles on the outside that in the past against his defenses have proven so critical?
COACH KELLY: Well, I like our guys. I like what they can do. But we’ll have to do more than just rely on our receivers. Our offensive line is going to have to play a major role in what we do, and our running backs. Quarterback is going to have to make great decisions.
It’s one thing to say, Will is faster, he can run by guys. But you got to protect. They’re hoping they’re going to hit the call and pressure when we want to get the ball to Will. You got to be accurate. So there’s a lot of things in there.
We have to play well as an entire unit against a very aggressive defense.
Q. Going back to the pairings coming out tonight, how much do you think about how much help you might need? Do you concentrate on what’s in front of you, what your team can do?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we won’t think much about it at all, other than talking about what we need to do, what we need to do better as a football team. There’s a lot of areas within each group that we felt like after the Temple game that we’ve got to focus all of our time and energy on if we want to be in this conversation next week and then the week after.
So our goal is to be in this conversation into December. The only way we can do that is if we clean up some of the things from the Temple game. That’s how I’ve addressed it to our team.
Q. What are your thoughts on this system compared to the old way of determining who would go to the national championship game?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s a better way of doing things certainly. I think it’s a good start for where we are right now in terms of determining who the four teams are. It seemed to be successful last year.
I think in the last pool, Ohio State was 16th, ended up getting in there. I think everybody would look at it as, Hey, you got a chance even if you’re in the top 20 to get in. I don’t know that many people would have too much of a problem where the system is right now.
We’ll see what happens in December.
Q. You kind of assessed DeShone’s flapping as unacceptable. Have you had a chance to look at the tape that everybody has seen of you and the confrontation on the sideline? In hindsight, was that something you regret or don’t care about?
COACH KELLY: No, no. I think I’ve already talked about this a couple of times.
First of all, I’m responsible for the sideline. Our sideline was not where it needed to be. There were some things going on on the sideline that were unacceptable. It falls on my shoulders.
If we were to get a penalty in that time of the game, it would have fell on me as being somebody that can’t control the sideline.
So moving forward, we’ve made some changes to how we’re going to do things on the sideline and how we’ll have a better sideline situation.
Having said that, I wish the situation never occurred. I regret that it happened. David and I have met. We have met about the situation. We’ve moved past it.
David is a valuable employee. He is a guy that does a great job here. He’ll be with us a long time.
Q. You talk a lot about playing championship football. I’m interested as far as the defensive line goes where you see them on that spectrum at this point in the season, if there are any improvements, where you would look to see?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think what we’re still trying to get, Sheldon Day is playing off the charts. I mean, I don’t know if he’s getting enough credit for the way he’s playing. Just an incredible game in terms of run stopping, pressuring the quarterback, all those things.
We’re trying to get some more play. You saw Andrew Trumbetti playing a little bit more. We’re trying to get some more play out of that defensive end position and get guys in the game there.
I think we’re trying to see a little bit more third down package where we can get some more edge pressures. I like really where we are inside right now with, again, what Sheldon is doing, Daniel Cage, Jerry Tillery, Romeo is doing a nice job. We need a little bit more presence on that end position. I think that’s the focus right now.
Q. As far as adding Keith Gilmore, what has he done to help that group?
COACH KELLY: I think he’s brought all those guys closer together. There’s one heartbeat in that room. It’s led by Sheldon. But he’s a great facilitator, a great teacher. Just brings a great sense of one. Everybody’s rowing in the right direction in that room. It’s a very positive situation for us.
Q. Pittsburgh is very much a ball-control offense. While they don’t do it in the same way that Navy or Georgia Tech does, they certainly limit the possessions in a game. Do you have to approach this game in the same way you would those option teams where you realize possessions are valuable?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, there are some similarities there. I think that goes back to the question that was asked about their defense.
They don’t mind you taking some shots down the field. From a percentage standpoint, they’re thinking that’s going to come back in their direction relative to completion percentage. It’s a lower completion percentage and it gets you off the field.
The way they play, they eat up a lot of clock. They keep offenses off the field. They did a very good job of keeping a very explosive North Carolina team off the field last week. That is definitely part of their game plan.
Q. How about Peterman and the progression he has made this year as a quarterback? He’s been very protective of the football.
COACH KELLY: He takes care of the football. Can throw it. Makes good decisions. He’s athletic. He has escape-ability. I thought he played very well last week. They had to come from behind. When he was asked to throw the ball, I think he threw it over 40 times last week. That’s not something that’s very common for a Pittsburgh team. He threw it very effectively.
Q. Boyd, not only effective as a receiver, but in the return game do you try to kick it away from him?
COACH KELLY: We’ve been presented with similar situations this year with dynamic return men. We have everything in the plan for a guy like him. He is dynamic. He can run the ball as well on offense. They’re using him at the runningback position, wide receiver. He’s a game wrecker. We’re aware of him in special teams as well as an offensive player.
Q. Evaluate Tyler right now. Is he doing something different? He doesn’t seem to be as consistent in his productivity in kicking the football.
COACH KELLY: He was really good against USC, as you know. He was really good the week before. He was off mechanically. We watched the film. His drop was off.
I think what we learned from that in particular was that he’s got to make those game-day adjustments. If his drop is off, the drop of the ball for his punting mechanics, he’s got to be able to make those in-game adjustments. That’s maturation of a young kid and a punter. That’s what he’ll do moving forward.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
— ND —