Sept. 21, 2010
COACH Brian Kelly
Q. Can you talk about the mood of your team yesterday in practice? Did you like their focus or did you need to pick them up a little?
COACH KELLY: No, I mean, we’re all frustrated. We want to win football games. But like anything else, we have a foundation that we’ve laid down as to how we go to work every day. And we remind them of that. Yesterday was a mental Monday for us, so we didn’t go out on the field. Yesterday was really about closing the book on the Michigan State game and then beginning the game plan for Stanford. So I generally address the team for about 15, 20 minutes, we talk about the focus and direction that we want, and we move from there.
Q. What is your message to them this week? What needs to get better that you’ve told them?
COACH KELLY: We need to play cleaner. Clearly we’ve already talked about how they play. They play hard, they played with great physical toughness, we played tough. We’ve got to play cleaner. Obviously we could go over all of the plays in that game and look at each one of them individually, but it should have never got to the point that it got to, and that is the overtime and one play that made the game a win for Michigan State and a loss for us. So again, we’ve gone over all of that, and again, we’re ready for Stanford.
Q. Talk about what you’ve seen from (Theo) Riddick? I assume you’ve seen some things in practice leading up to what we saw on Saturday but he kind of had a breakout game, and his maturation the last few weeks?
COACH KELLY: Well, he’s worked really hard. It was really just a matter of time before he was going to be able to play at the level that we thought he could play at. He did all the right things, similar to this football team. They’re doing the right things. We’ve got to make a few more plays here and there. We’ve got to play cleaner in certainly situations. But I think in a large degree, I feel Riddick is what our football team is about, working hard every single day, and you’re going to see success.
Q. I saw Jamoris (Slaughter) was listed was the No. 1 safety this week. Is that wishful thinking, or do you feel like that’s what’s going to happen?
COACH KELLY: It looks like that’s going to happen, if you’re asking me today before practice. That’s what looks like is going to happen. We’ll have a great feeling after practice today. But we really liked the fact that when we needed somebody to go in at safety, Zeke (Motta) had an equipment problem, Jamoris ran in the game without anybody putting him in the game. So he’s anxious to get back out there, he’s moving much better yesterday, and when we get out there and move around a little bit, we don’t do a lot, but the observation is that he’s going to be able to start for us.
Q. In any of your other injuries, ice didn’t do the trick, or are you pretty healthy?
COACH KELLY: I think everything is mostly the bumps and bruises variety of things, and we’ll protect some guys. But I think that it should be all hands on deck for Saturday.
Q. Speaking of all hands on deck, (Mike) Elston back with you this week?
COACH KELLY: Yes, we’ve made that change with the NCAA to put Mike Elston back in a coaching capacity. Lorenzo Guess did a terrific job. He’ll go back to his role in strength and conditioning, and Mike Denbrock, who did a very nice job with the defensive line, pops back to the tight end position. So it’s great to have that kind of flexibility on our staff.
Q. What are you seeing from Manti (Te’o) through these games so far, and maybe where do you see his ceiling creeping up there?
COACH KELLY: I think he’s tackled better more than anything else from week one to week three, though he had a key miss on the 3rd down situation where he had the back in the backfield, and that’s probably a little bit of that young exuberance where he wants to go for the knockout blow instead of taking the guy down. But he’s improved on his tackling. He certainly now can communicate as the captain out there. He’s got to get everybody lined up, him and Harrison. We’re putting a lot on him, but there is definitely a maturation to the third week.
Q. I wanted to follow up with that with the leader. He seems like he’s an exuberant guy. He’s still making a few mistakes himself, but he seems like the logical guy that can pull everybody together. How do you see that unfolding with him as far as leadership?
COACH KELLY: Well, there’s no question he handles himself in that capacity not just on the field but off the field, and he’s somebody that people will follow. Certainly as a coach, those are the guys that you want to push out front, and we’ll continue to push him out front because he represents the things that we want him to represent.
Q. Two plays from Saturday in which there was very little contact, the Lo Wood call on the punt late in regulation and then I guess what they said a force out on Darrin Walls. In watching the film, what’s your perspective on those two plays?
COACH KELLY: We fumbled the ball twice and were lucky to get it back, so those breaks even out as far as I see. When you look at it in its totality, over 20 years of coaching, some of those go against you. It’s not bad luck, it’s not the curse, just one of those things that if Lowe is in a little bit better position, it doesn’t even become a question. I’d rather coach putting Lo Wood in a better position than anything else.
Q. I guess I’m asking a rules interpretation. Was any contact made by Lo Wood a penalty? Is there some leeway there with that or any contact
COACH KELLY: For me to get into the specifics about that, I get myself into enough trouble, so I’m going to pass on that one.
Q. We asked you after the game about how Dayne Crist managed the game and again now in retrospect having looked at the tape, he called some timeouts, there were some delay of games. Are timeouts a bad thing when you’re in a hostile environment?
COACH KELLY: No, we had three left, so I mean, we did a nice job. The areas of his improvement, which will be publicly stated, and he knows it, and we’re not hiding anything, his ball control throws. He had 13 incomplete passes that were all ball control throws. That’s the area of when we clean that up, he will possess the things necessary to lead our football team as far as we can go, and that’s the area in his maturation. He is making the big throws. He is making the big field throws, the vertical throws, the dig routes. He’s doing a great job on his progression reads now. It’s the ball control throws that we have to make, and those are the ones that consequently can end up winning the game for you.
Q. You made a comment last week or the week before about Trevor Robinson in his play and that he needed to improve. Where is he now after three games, and why would he be struggling? He’s a kid that had a lot of experience, played as a freshman. What do you see there?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that he was struggling as much as that we had two first year starters at tackle, and they’ve given up really only two sacks in 99 passing attempts, and one of them was really on the quarterback not reading the play out. So it was really a challenge to play at the level of a first year starter because he had experience. So I guess we had higher expectations of Trevor, and he answered the call and played very well this weekend, and we want to see that continue.
Q. You made the comment when you took the job about it not being a five year plan but a five minute plan. You’re now 1 and 2. Would anything alter the big picture plan as you go through this first year?
COACH KELLY: No, I don’t think so. I mean, we’re in the first quarter of our season, first chapter of the book. I think it’s a little frustrating to read right now, but I’d stick with the book. I think it’s going to be a good read. This team is getting better each week. They’re frustrated right now that they haven’t got it over the finish line, so to speak, but I like our kids and the way they’re competing and practicing and doing the things that we’re asking them to do. They’re doing everything I’ve asked them to do. So no, they’re working on winning every day, and that’s a good thing.
Q. Trivia question: When you send the captains out for the coin flip, do you tell them what to call?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I go over all that. I do that at the start of the game. It’s one of those things where you don’t step on the line when you walk on the baseball field.
Q. So you always call tails?
COACH KELLY: Absolutely. How did you know?
Q. Well, I heard the captain
COACH KELLY: We just actually go over what happens. The thing that I’ve had is I’ve had a situation where the other team deferred, and we’ll talk about, hey, we want to kick off, we want to go on defense first. And I’ve had a situation where the kid lost the toss, they deferred, and we said we still wanted to kick it. So I go over all those things with them to make sure they understand. Believe me, it happens.
Q. Sort of along the lines of the first chapter of the book stuff, you don’t want to get too much into the defense right now, but what’s there that convinces you it can be where you want it to be late October, November?
COACH KELLY: Minus 6 yards rushing in the fourth quarter on the road against a team that wants to impose their will on you rushing the football. Those are good signs. You know, we gave up the 56 yard run in explicably on a zone wrap play, where we just gap released. For some reason we just didn’t stay disciplined on that play or we move them 142 yards rushing on 42 attempts. Look, I’m not a big numbers guy, and I don’t get wrapped up in it, but I watch them. And what I liked about our defense that will carry the day is they played tough when tough was required, and that’s what we’ve been preaching. Be tough gentlemen. Gentlemen off the field, be tough when tough is required, and our defense played tough when they needed to play tough.
Q. Aside from the effort level that you want, what do you want from the defense production wise? Do you want them to be dominating shutdown routes? Do you need them to just keep you in games? How do you sort of assess that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I would say it’s the one or two plays, it’s the Michigan two big plays that we didn’t fit the right way, Michigan State’s 56 yard run. And then a coverage that we run all the time, not getting our backer to the back of the end zone on a touchdown throw, just those things where we have some guys that are first year starters that are in there. And look, this is not an excuse. We’ve got to make those plays. But you ask me why you see there’s light at the end of the tunnel, it’s those things we know that we can correct. If I was standing there before going, we’ve got no chance to stop the run, that’s a different feeling. I feel like the way we performed on the road in the fourth quarter against a team that was going to run the ball gives us some real good things to look for.
Q. Against Purdue you’ve talked about at the end of a game offense and defense, 150 plays, you’d like to have 11, 12 percent, you can tolerate that, work with that. It seems like the number might have been a little higher the last two games. Is it still where you want it to be?
COACH KELLY: No, it’s not, because of the turnovers. We’ve done a pretty good job relative to penalties, and obviously the penalties are the big thing because it can pull you out of field position, can pull you out of scores. Our problem has been we were flirting at the red zone in two occasions and we turned the football over, one on 1st down. So those are the areas from an offensive standpoint that concerns us. They’re very correctable, but those are areas that we have to do a better job with, and those are the things that you can look back and go, hey, there’s some points that you left out there that would have made it a different game.
Q. I want to ask you about special teams. Obviously having Coach Elston back will be helpful, looking for progress there, as well, on kickoff returns. It seemed like there were some times, early in the season, obviously teams were looking at what you’re doing on the scouting end. They’re doing some things on coverage, but I want to ask you about kickoff return and also on punt return. Will you be looking for additional help?
COACH KELLY: No, those guys got blistered yesterday. It was awful. Our kickoff return, we’ve got to run better. Cierre Wood has been put on notice that he’d better hit that thing with some enthusiasm, and we have some guys that quite frankly have got to do a better job if they’re not going to find themselves on the bus. It’s an effort thing, it’s attention to focus and detail from our guys on special teams that we’re going to demand from our guys.
Q. Any changes with the punt return as far as Armando (Allen)?
COACH KELLY: No, we’re going to be careful. I thought Goodman did a great job coming in on the road, handled the punt. The first time this year, which drove me crazy in the first two weeks, that we aggressively ran up and got the football without letting it hit the ground and giving 30 yards of advantage in special teams, so that was really good on Goodman’s part. I liked that. He’s in the mix.
Q. Can you talk about the evaluation that you guys have made on Andrew Luck and what problems he’s going to present for you?
COACH KELLY: Well, again, it’s hard because of the film that we had. The game is out of hand, but he was making all of the throws against Wake Forest. He was hitting the wide field, go route, intermediate, and the thing that really got my attention is his ability to run. I think he had a 50 something yard run for a touchdown. So his ability, his escapability, I didn’t know what it was. I now know what it is. The guy is extremely athletic, as well, and he can run. So he brings a big dimension to the table and not just throwing the football.
Q. And with Ian Williams, has he with three solid games, three games where he’s done at least produced pretty well, has that gotten over a hump in terms of consistency in terms of what you expect from him and what you know you’re going to get from him?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’s a man. I mean, he was dominant for us. He controlled the line of scrimmage from his position. Now, he’s got to have help at certain areas, but he was clearly a dominating player for us on the defensive side of the ball.
Q. I know this is a new era under you, but if you go back to last season, six of the last seven games were losses and all of them by a touchdown or less. How do you keep the guys from going, here we go again, and is it a good thing or a bad thing to have a ranked team this week as opposed to maybe somebody that is a little easier for lack of a better word?
COACH KELLY: I’d rather be playing St. Joe’s High School, no question, so that one is out of the way. What we do within the walls of our football program are things that we talk about as a team. We know this frustration, so you have to address those. We have ways of addressing those things that have been in place, and those are things that we really talk about as a family, as a football team. Just as you would if there’s frustration in your life and you look at things and you have to find ways to get over those frustrations, and that’s kind of what we talk about as a team. And we will we’ll continue to move forward and do the things that we’ve been doing at this point.
Q. Just as a follow up, it sounded like you were pretty encouraged with the response that you had from the guys yesterday, and it doesn’t sound like you’re having to do any extra work to get them in the right mind frame.
COACH KELLY: No, I knew what I was going to get from them after the game. Look, you can’t fake losing, okay. You can’t fake hurt after a game. So when I looked through the locker room, I could tell who the phonies are, and I know the guys that it really hurts, and those are the guys that play for me, because if it really hurts, they want to change the way they feel about it. If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t matter what you say to them anyway. You can say anything and it doesn’t really matter to them. This group, it hurts. They want to win, and that’s why for me we just kind of stick with what we’ve been talking about since day one, and that’s stay together.
Q. Can you talk about the defense, the toughness is there, just need to clean some things up a little bit. Seemed like Zeke (Motta) kind of personified that a little bit on Saturday, just a very tough performance from him. Where do you feel like he is in his development right now and where can he go?
COACH KELLY: Oh, it’s all about attention to detail with Zeke. Zeke is going to give you everything. You ask for his arm, he’ll give you his arm. He’ll give you everything. That’s not good enough just to run around and be tough, you’ve got to be in the right position. So for Zeke the development is we know you’re going to compete, we know you’re going to play hard, you’ve got to be in the right position. You can’t roll down over No. 2 and be three yards inside him when they run a bubble for 16 yards up the sideline. You’re over the top of him. So those are coachable things. Those are things we feel like we can get him to that next step because he’s a very good athlete, he’s a tough kid. We’ve just got to have him pay attention to detail, and he wants to do that. That’s a good thing.
Q. With Dayne (Crist) kind of improving the accuracy of controlled throws, is that something you work on in season or is that a spring practice footwork thing or can you do a little bit of both?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s interesting because there’s a couple of letters to this. One is there’s a lot of installs, and so when you turn the page on the installation of all the plays, some of the plays don’t get as much work as others, so they don’t hit them as being so familiar. So he’ll go through his progression and he’ll miss something in there. So for us this is repetition. We’ve got to come back to those plays that he wasn’t executing, and we’ve got to work on them this week and make sure he’s got those down. So this is just layering of an install and an offense and him recognizing the reads. Once he sees them, he’s like, I can’t believe I didn’t do that. Well, part of that is coaching, too. Part of that is we’ve got to make sure that he can handle all those, as well, and that’s what we’ll go back and work on this week.
Q. Lastly from me, big picture with the outside linebacker position. What do you feel like you’re getting for that spot and what do you need more?
COACH KELLY: We showed up a little bit more at the cat position. (Darius) Fleming was around the ball. He wasn’t around the ball very much the first couple of weeks. We definitely got production out of the cat position; he was productive as a player for us. (Kerry) Neal and (Brian) Smith are playing solid together as a combination group contained on a couple of plays where we got out flanked and that is positionally being in the right position, because in the 3 4 defense there’s no excuse for getting out flanked. That’s why you’re in the 3 4. So there’s some positionally moving our guys and getting them in the right position with the drop and then getting some production which we did this weekend from the cat.
Q. Coach (Jim) Harbaugh is an outspoken figure at times, has done some things that are perhaps a little controversial. How is he regarded in the coaching fraternity?
COACH KELLY: I think he’s regarded as somebody that played the game, knows the game, quarterback, understands the game of football, started at a lower level and proved himself. I think he’s respected as a very good football coach, very passionate about the game. I don’t know that there’s any of those qualities that you wouldn’t want. But I don’t think he’s the best Harbaugh. I think Jack is the best Harbaugh of the Harbaugh coaches. There’s no question. Jack is a good friend of mine.
Q. And talk about the job that Jim (Harbaugh) has done at Stanford because he’s kind of retooled their attitude a little bit and given them a little bit what seems to be a chip on their shoulder. Would you agree with that?
COACH KELLY: You know, I don’t have anything to compare it to. When I watch them play, they’re physical, they’re multiple on offense. You can see the quarterback is kind of at the helm there in terms of calling plays. He’s always probing and looking for opportunities. That’s kind of how I see them, how they play. They play tough and physical. Vic Fangio is an experienced NFL coordinator. He goes back with Dom Capers has he’s put in a nice package for them defensively. I see them as well coached.
Q. You were pleased heading into the season with the depth at running back and Armando (Allen) has run exceptionally hard all three games. Do you feel you need more from the rest of the backs or from the running game as a whole?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know, I’m happy with our running backs. I’d like a little bit more out of Cierre (Wood) in the return game, but when he gets in there, he gives us what we’re looking for in terms of a change of pace back. And I think Jonas (Gray), too, is a big, physical kid. No, that wouldn’t be high on my list of oh, my goodness, the sky is falling. The running back position is not one of those for me at this point.
Q. When you watch your team on television, it almost feels like, especially on offense, you want to see a passing game, so productive. 55 passes on Saturday, not balanced, but is that because of the way the game is going or are you just happy with the passing game?
COACH KELLY: We felt like there were things we could do in the passing game against their defense. If they had changed it during the game, we weren’t going to throw it just to throw it. But they stayed pretty consistent, they blitzed the inside backers quite a bit. We were able to pick that up. It opens up some green grass for us. So we kind of were able to throw the ball a little bit more based upon what we were able to get. If it was a different game and they were in a lot more softer zone coverages then we probably would have ran the ball a little bit more. I think we did what we expected to do, we just turned the ball over, and that’s really what has plagued our offense the last couple of weeks.
Q. This program always comes back to history a little bit. I don’t know if Coach Holtz got in touch with you, but, as you know probably, he started similarly his first year here. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to talk to him or anything like that.
COACH KELLY: I have not. We’re both guys that are pretty busy, and we wouldn’t talk about history anyway. We would talk about the present. Coach Holtz has always talked to me about the present, what’s it like to be at Notre Dame. So we probably wouldn’t revisit history as much as what we would talk about is our football team right now.
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s you know, there’s definitely attention to his name. People know who he is. I think he carries himself very, very well with having to be in the shadow of a legend. I can’t imagine how difficult it is, but he handles himself very well. He’s not an uptight kid. He’s very relaxed. And what I like about Nate is he just wants to be better at football. You know, that’s what I like about him the most is that he comes to practice every day wanting to be better.
Q. Is his style for people that haven’t seen him play, does he look or move at all like his dad out there?
COACH KELLY: He looks like him, but he doesn’t play like him. Not yet at least. Again, Nate has not played a lot of football, and so sometimes where I have to work with Nate is he’s too mechanical. He’s got to be more relaxed at the position, and that’s what he’s working to get better at every day.
Q. Getting back to all the close losses this team has had the last couple years, you hear people say that a team needs to learn how to win a close game. Do you believe in that at all or is that just a bunch of talk?
COACH KELLY: No, not this group. I’ve had teams that didn’t know how to win. You could just tell. That’s not this group. They need to play cleaner. They’ve got to do some things during the game that obviously puts them in a position to close out games. No, this team does not have that sense, from me, if you will, that they don’t know how to win. They know how to win. They have to play cleaner, and championship teams do.
Q. And what makes you think that they do know how to win? What gives you that sense?
COACH KELLY: Well, just the way that we play the game. We’re down on the road. We come back. We do all the things that teams that understand what it takes to win do. They don’t lay down; they’re not easily defeated; they’re battling right to the very end. All of those things go to the core of what it takes to win. When you play evenly matched football teams and they play well, then it comes down to a couple of plays. That’s what we have to get to. It’s not not knowing how to win; it’s playing the game at a level that you don’t give up a 56 yard run or you don’t fumble the ball or turn it over in the red zone like we did twice.