Sept. 15, 2013
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach Kelly.
Q. Kind of a medical update, how you came out of last night health wise.
COACH KELLY: Not too bad. In a physical game, some bumps and bruises. But after meeting with the doctors today, we might have a guy here or there that couldn’t go on Tuesday. But it looks like nothing for putting together questionable, doubtful. We don’t have any of that right now.
Q. Malik Zaire tweeted something today that he’d been fully cleared. An update on that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, but he might be suspended for violating the rules relative to information. We’ll have to get back to you on that.
Q. Will he be full go in practice this week, though?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know. We’ll have to talk to the doctors first.
Q. Jarrett Grace, could you talk about how he came on through the course of the game last night, and just the season. Purdue’s last offensive play, he was right there. How did he improve as the game went on last night?
COACH KELLY: Well, he’s getting more reps, playing better and better at that position. That’s a three man rotation. You earn your playing time. He’s gotten more play at that position based upon plays that he’s making.
So that position continues to evolve.
Q. Last night you mentioned, We’re not a finished product yet. Three games into the season, did you think you’d be a little bit further along with that process coming in?
COACH KELLY: No. Look, any time you start the season like we do, with being on the road back to back weeks against Michigan and Purdue, you’re going to be in for tough games.
We’re still finding out who’s the middle linebacker, who’s playing safety, who’s playing wide receiver. I mean, there’s a number of positions that we’re still trying to find ourselves at.
Gaining an identity defensively with Tommy at quarterback, changing a starting quarterback from last year to this year, I knew it was going to take us a little time to get the pieces together.
What I liked about the game is that we showed some great resolve in the second half and came back on the road and won a football game and learned that we had to make the plays in the second half from not making them the week before.
I’m looking at how our guys compete, how hard they compete. We know there’s going to be an evolution of getting those players in the right position, developing them. That’s going to take a little time.
We don’t get those opportunities to be in easy contests early on. We’re getting tested right away.
Q. Brian, as you look at your defense, you mentioned trying to get your hands around it, what is there in your defense at this point where you say, Boy, I know we’re going to evolve into a good defense, and what is it that makes you concerned if you’re going to get to that point?
COACH KELLY: Well, we played much more physical. I was very pleased with that. Obviously stopping the run. Purdue, this offense, is built to run the football. That’s what they wanted to do. They weren’t able to do that. Those are all great forecasts for us.
Being more physical, better communication. Our guys are talking. The two big leaders on our defense in terms of communication are the safety and the Mike linebacker. They’re no longer here. Those are new communication positions. That’s evolving.
Last night we saw a lot of shifts, a lot of changes in the offensive sets. We saw great communication last night. We never really were in a bad situation relative to communication.
Some of the basic tenets that we’re looking for defensively are starting to come together.
Q. I know we and fans look at stats really closely. Sometimes they don’t tell the whole story. Stephon had one tackle in the last two games. What do you see as the story with him? Is he where you want him to be?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, this is probably his best game of the year in terms of just being on every play, just physically at the point of attack, two gapping, doing the things we want him to do, effort level. I really liked his play up front.
Tuitt, Nix, Sheldon Day, Shembo. An offense predicated on running the football, they can’t run the ball, your front four, those guys in particular, have to be doing something right. They played very good football for us.
Q. With Jarrett, you mentioned he’s getting more reps. What prompted that? Was there a push in practice, a surge in practice by him, that gave you confidence that he’d be able to handle that?
COACH KELLY: No. I mean, it’s always been a three man rotation there. Foxy is a guy that’s playing Mike and Will. We just want to keep all three of those guys active as much as we can.
We have two seniors, and obviously Jarrett is a guy that’s keeping it very competitive. We’ll keep evaluating that week to week. We’ve got obviously a guy that is starting to make some plays at the Mike linebacker position. But we’ve got two seniors there that we like a lot, as well.
Q. Brian, in general, you warned it was a new season with the defense; they couldn’t just build off last year. With eight guys coming back, a lot of people thought it would resemble more of last year’s defense. What are the challenges, aside from the communication, that they need to do?
COACH KELLY: Well, I mean, if you look at last night, like I said, the pieces are starting to come together. There were some plus field setups last year, if you remember, that our defense did a great job of stopping.
Obviously the fumble late in the fourth quarter, our defense comes up huge and holds Purdue to no points. Obviously Purdue’s inability to run the football 38 yards rushing. A touchdown. Back to back weeks our defense now has scored touchdowns.
We’re still evolving. It takes time. Even if you’ve got guys that are veterans, we have some key positions that have some new players in it. They’re coming together.
Again, we’re playing great competition. We’re getting tested. We’re making progress. I like to make progress through winning.
Q. Sorry about beating a dead horse. When you talk about finding an identity, is it more philosophical or physical do you think for you? In other words, are you trying to figure out what you want to do more or what you can do more with the guys you have?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s both. I think, first of all, there’s a way that I want to play the game. Especially from a defensive standpoint, we want to be more physical as a defense. We felt like that was very, very important going into this game, a defensive demeanor being set with playing much more physical, and I saw that. We saw that clearly.
Yeah, we have some things that we have to clear up, some technique. That’s going to continue to evolve. I think in the other areas, offensively we’re going to be who we are based upon our personnel. We’ve got we feel like a very, very deep group of wide receivers. We’ve got a number of runningbacks. We’ve got a quarterback who’s a very smart kid. That offense is going to evolve around what he can do.
I think it’s on both sides. Offensively more about what we can do with the pieces we have. On the defensive side of the ball, setting more of a demeanor and playing much more physical.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, they’ll be back.
Q. You mentioned that you kind of had to light a fire under DaVaris at halftime. Was that like, We need a play maker to step up and we know you can be that guy?
COACH KELLY: What I was commenting on is that Tommy is not a guy that you have to light a fire under. Once in a while, DD is a guy you can get after a little bit and he responds. All we were saying to DD was that he is going to have to make some big plays for us.
It wasn’t that he was sleepy eyed, wasn’t into the game. He’s just one of those guys that you can go up to and coach him, say, Hey, we need you to step up, it’s time. We told him, Hey, the ball is going to come to you, you’re going to have to make some big plays. He responded in kind.
Q. Earlier you mentioned starting out with the stiffer competition versus maybe more of a pre season. What is the flipside, if there’s a positive to that? Secondly, I know you haven’t looked at Michigan State much yet probably, but if you could put into words what the rivalry means for Notre Dame as it goes back quite far?
COACH KELLY: When you’re playing tough competition, you’re being tested mentally and physically for four quarters, you’re definitely learning more about their personnel. They’re being challenged. I think you get a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses.
Again, you know, going into now the fourth game, you know where you need to improve, the areas you need to continue to work on.
As it relates to Michigan State, again, another great rivalry game. It’s a game that we’ve played for a number of years. It’s always a great physical contest. That’s how Coach Dantonio prides himself on how they play. They play great defense. It should be another physical game.
Third week in a row for us in terms of playing a Big Ten opponent, back to back to back right out of the gates. We ask our guys to do a lot here at Notre Dame.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.