Oct. 5, 2014
Q. Didn’t get a chance to ask you this yesterday, but you had said Friday the flu bug was kind of going around your team. Was anyone seriously affected during yesterday’s game?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know if anybody was seriously affected, but we had guys fighting it all week. It started with Everett on Thursday and kind of worked its way around offensively. We probably had four or five guys that needed medications.
I think every year we seem to go through our first away trip on an airplane, when we went to New York, and then heading into exams and papers, the guys get run down a little bit. But they spark up for game time. So I don’t think it had any effect.
Q. As you got home, as you caught up on scores and everything else going on on a crazy day yesterday, how did that kind of reinforce what you’ve been telling your guys to take it one day at a time and just how hard winning football games are?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it’s obviously great copy for me on Monday when I talk to the team again about winning and how important it is to just stay in the moment, work on your preparation, and enjoy every win as they come because they’re so difficult. Great opportunity for me to continue on that message that we’ve been on all year about how difficult it is to win and how important it is for us to keep moving in the right direction.
Q. How did you think Austin Collinsworth held up in his first action of the season, and how much do you think he’s still limited by the knee?
COACH KELLY: We thought he played a lot freer. His ability to move and get in and out of breaks and change direction, I thought was substantially different from last week to this week. That’s why he played some important minutes for us.
So I think he’s rounding into a position where I think by next week he should be back to where he was before he was injured. So it was definitely good to have him out there. You’ve got a senior with a lot of leadership and a lot of experience on the field.
Q. And then you’ve talked about the aggressive cornerback play. How would you evaluate Cole’s game yesterday and then just where you think he is in his overall development?
COACH KELLY: I think what I was most pleased with, it was a bounce back game in a sense. He gave up a couple of big plays against Syracuse. I thought he tightened down his coverage in the fourth quarter against Syracuse when they went right back at him, and he continued to tighter coverage against Stanford yesterday.
Two interceptions, he got the game ball from us. Could have had a couple of others if balls were thrown with more accuracy. So I would say that he’s really picked up his game.
Q. I talked to a number of players yesterday who mentioned that Everett was so calm in the huddle on that last drive. What does that do when you have a quarterback who’s able to be just so calm and confident on a drive when you know the backs are up against the wall like that?
COACH KELLY: Well, he kept a real good demeanor, even though he knew that at times he had missed some throws, made some errors. He never really, for me, got outside of himself in terms of panicking or pressing. He knew it wasn’t his best performance, but I never saw a break in his leadership.
He led us on two very good drives on our last two possessions, which resulted in scores in both instances. I think our last three drives were scoring drives excuse me. Put us in scoring position on the last three. We missed the field goal.
So that says a lot about a guy developing at that position because he handled himself very well late in the game.
Q. Any update on the five guys today?
COACH KELLY: No, I haven’t had any conversations. I got in here and got right to work on football.
Q. Brian, you threw the ball 43 times yesterday, but you still stayed pretty true to your run game. Is that difficult to do when it’s such tough sledding between the tackles or did whether it became a field position game make it easier to go back to the running game under those circumstances?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Tim, we had some musts in this game, and one of the musts was to really try to control some field position. We did not want you know, obviously, with the weather conditions as they are, we had to find a way to keep our third down situation it had to be a manageable third down. I did not want to get into third down and seven or more. They got into some exotic pressures in those situations. So I was okay at third and six. I felt those were manageable, even if we got three yards in running the ball on first and second down. So we averaged four yards a rush, so I was fairly pleased with that.
At times you wonder what’s he doing here? In some instances, we’re trying to manage those third down situations because I felt like we could convert them when we got into them.
Q. You stuck with your veteran running back too. I’m sure you hear a lot of times what we hear on the outside of how everybody wants Folston and Bryant to get their fair share of touches. Can you just speak to staying with the veteran running back again under some difficult weather conditions?
COACH KELLY: I mean, you’re balancing production versus promise. Those kids have outstanding potential and promise, but what we were looking for in this kind of game was production, and we know what we’re going to get from Cam. As I said to you earlier, we weren’t necessarily we didn’t think we were getting home runs. What we didn’t want were minus runs. We didn’t want the ball on the ground.
Cam has been a pretty steady performer, and we just — I have a tendency to kind of err towards going with the senior captain in these kinds of games. The complexion of the game for me, I tend to go — I tend to go in that direction with a proven guy that has been productive.
Q. And I think that was your 11th one score victory since you’ve come to Notre Dame. What’s that say about teams that can win close games under those circumstances against such a big rival?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think sometimes it’s just you know, we have a belief. We manage it appropriately. Maybe that goes to the point that we were talking about with playing a guy like Cam McDaniel and managing the run game when we needed to.
So I think all of those play to it. There’s a belief that we’re going to win. I believe that our kids — you know, we won a lot of games over the last few years. So I think it’s part of the DNA that our kids have that they believe they’re going to win close games.
Q. Any significant injuries out of yesterday?
COACH KELLY: No. Really pleased I mean, we got an ankle here or there, but nothing of significance, nothing raising to the level of even missed practice time. So very pleased with the medical report today.
Q. People look at scoreboards, and they get excited when there’s a lot of points, but I would imagine for an offensive coordinator, they kind of make their money on days like Saturday. I’m wondering if you could talk about what it’s been like to collaborate with Mike Denbrock? I guess we take for granted he’s 100 percent back, but curious what his health has been like.
COACH KELLY: It’s great to collaborate with Mike. He’s a guy that has experience being a BCS offensive line coach, tight end coach, he’s coached the wide receivers. So he’s got a great perspective of the whole offense. He knows exactly what I’m looking for. So we’ve got great dialogue during the game.
I think his health is outstanding. I haven’t seen him in better spirits in quite some time. So I think we’re far away from the sickness he had. I think he’s in great spirits mentally and physically, and he’s just such a great asset to me up in the box.
Q. I know a lot has been written about how Everett got himself ready for the season, kind of with a proactive off season, but can you talk about maybe the effect that Matt LaFleur has had on him since they started working together?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think Matt has really built a strong relationship with him in that they it’s interesting. Everett is and wants to be he wants to learn this game from a coach’s perspective, and so he’s so inquisitive. Matt can have the time that I don’t have to sit down with him and really pore through football tape and talk football, and Everett enjoys that relationship with Matt.
I think that that has been really a missing ingredient that we’ve had in our program that now we’ve addressed. So Matt and Everett have that closeness of being able to sit and talk football, and then obviously that brings in other conversations outside of football. So he’s been a very good piece to this development that we’ve had going on with Everett.
Q. As far as kind of reintroducing Austin Collinsworth back into the mix, how do you measure that pushing him in there against what Shumate has done to this point?
COACH KELLY: Oh, I think it will be more about situational rotation. I think it will be about now we can probably get into a three person rotation for both positions because we’ve cross trained him for both now.
I think it’s a better situation than we had before the injury in that we can now have a breather for both Shumate and Redfield with the rotation that we have with the three of those guys. So a much healthier situation than before the injury, one because we had to cross train the safeties because of the injury and, two, Shumate’s gotten a lot better because of the playing time that he accrued over that period of time.
Q. And to be clear, Collinsworth is the one that plays both positions or Shumate is the one?
COACH KELLY: Collinsworth.
Q. And yesterday I don’t blame you. You said, I don’t want to nitpick right now. As you go over the tape, was there much to nitpick from that game?
COACH KELLY: Obviously, the turnovers. You can’t give up the football where we gave it up, two critical areas. We gave up the football against Syracuse. They weren’t in critical areas, in a sense. We gave them seven points, can’t do that. And then we’ve got to maintain the football going in there and at least kick a field goal.
So you could make the argument that that’s not even nitpicking. That’s critical. Those two turnovers can’t happen in a game like this, and we were still able to win the football game.
There were just too many good things that we did defensively and offensively, five big plays. They had given up four all year of 20 yards or more. That’s pretty impressive. We had them in 11 third and seven or more. They had 8 for the entire year. So a lot of really good things, but I think the big thing for me was the two turnovers.
Q. The last thing from me, I know you’re probably sick of talking about the five players, but I’m curious, as the head coach, reality is finally here that you may get somebody back this week. You may get them all back this week. As a head coach, how do you plan for that at this point? To this point, you’ve been able to kind of shut the door. Do you kind of pencil them in in your mind? Do you start allowing them in meetings? How do you handle it this week?
COACH KELLY: That’s a very good question. I’m probably going to have to spend some time today thinking about it because I really have not given it much thought.
Now that you’ve posed that question, I do have to begin to think about reintegrating, and obviously I’m sure a decision is going to be made. I probably won’t reintegrate until I get a decision on each guy, and hopefully that will come soon. Once that decision’s made on each one of them, we’re going to have to have a plan on reintegrating all of the players or those players that I can.
Q. You mentioned before the season that you thought there might be some teeth gnashing moments with the defense. Obviously, they put up numbers that are in some places comparable to the team two years ago. How surprised are you with the way they’ve played?
COACH KELLY: I think what I’ve been most pleased with is their ability to play very, very good run defense. In particular, the front seven has been put together almost in its entirety this year new, other than Sheldon Day. So I think that’s probably been the most pleasing thing. I think we have some progress to be made, playing the ball in the air, and continue to get better in those areas. But I think, if you use surprise, I’m never surprised, but I am really pleased with the way that front seven is playing against the run.
Q. You mentioned having the clips from the game this weekend. How important is that just because you’re in kind of a week where you’re going from two games that are seen by outsiders as really tough to a game against North Carolina that maybe isn’t viewed as tough?
COACH KELLY: I think our guys, they really know that when teams come into play Notre Dame, they play their best, and I think they’ve gotten a taste of that when we played Purdue. They certainly realized that they’re going to get the opposition’s best.
We’ve got some veterans on this team, even though they’re not seniors, that have played enough football that realize that that’s going to be the case and that there’s nothing that we’re going to change in the way we prepare.
So as long as I continue to keep them moving in the right direction, they’ll follow my lead, and I don’t plan on changing anything.
Q. Brian, learning what you’ve learned about this defense through five games, how does that impact or change the way you approach play calling moving forward knowing that you have that kind of back stop on the other side of the ball?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that it’s changed it that dramatically. I know that each game presents a different challenge accordingly, but when you know that you have a very good defense, you probably have a tendency to maybe want to possess the football in fourth down situations and are not afraid to, if you feel like you’ve got a good play, that you should go for it on fourth down. Other than that, it really doesn’t change much in the way that I want to run the offense.
I just think it maybe at times gives you the sense that you want to put points on the board because you know you’ve got a very good defense that has a chance to stop them any time.
Q. And I guess just in terms of the goals for the season, it was intent for the playoffs. After the suspension, intent for the playoffs. How do you sort of avoid the noise? What’s the message this week now that you are sort of knocking on the door of the top five at this point?
COACH KELLY: I think that it’s pretty typical around here that there’s noise regardless of playoffs or no playoffs. You know, the five players, that’s been noisy. I think it’s just Notre Dame football. The guys are pretty used to it. It’s always something just going on.
They do a great job of just focusing in on it. We’ll continue to avoid the noise, but it’s a day in the life of Notre Dame football around here.
Q. I just want to know how important is the defensive line in the sense of the entire defense? How would you evaluate these guys based on their play yesterday in Stanford?
COACH KELLY: Sheldon Day is just an amazing player. I mean, he didn’t get a lot of stat lines for what he did, but his energy, his desire, the way he played the game, it was fun to watch him on tape. He was active, disruptive. It starts with him. Trumbetti, Okwara, those guys played extremely well. Jarron hangs in there and does a good job of occupying two guys. Isaac Rochell. All of those guys do a fine job, but it starts about Sheldon Day.
Q. How does that winning up front kind of impact the overall how the defense can perform overall? What does it do for your defense as a whole?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s one of the things that I talked about with Eric Hanson’s question. Stanford came in averaging only 2 third and seven or more situations. They controlled first and second down. We put them in 11 third down and seven or more. When you can control first and second down, in particular running the football, and put teams in third and seven or more, it’s very difficult to convert in college football. There’s so many exotic looks that you can give quarterbacks in coverage situations and pressure.
So that defensive line and linebackers on first and second down have done a terrific job.
Q. You talk about the exotic looks you guys are giving. How do you get a defense with so many young players and guys who are inexperienced coming into the season to play at such a high level and to do so much? You guys’ game plan each week seems to be quite different defensively. You put a lot on these kids, and they seem to be picking it up and playing real well.
COACH KELLY: Brian does a good job, and the staff do a very good job, with our meeting times and our walk throughs, of laying down our blitz paths, and we go against each other during the week. And I think we’ve got great communicators, but at the end of the day, we’ve got smart kids, and that helps us a whole lot.
So you put all those things together — you’ve got an experienced defensive coach in Brian VanGorder, who’s got a scheme that he knows very well that he can communicate and teach effectively. We spend the appropriate amount of time on it. And then you’ve got some smart kids that can pick this stuff up.
Q. Last week you’re not supposed to win when you have a minus 4 turnover margin. You’re not supposed to be a ranked team with two missed field goals and two turnovers. What does it say about your football team that you’re able to keep competing and keep battling, and most importantly, keep winning despite those things you’re still working through?
COACH KELLY: We’ve got a good group of guys that believe in each other. They don’t get down. They keep battling. They keep playing. We believe in them.
There was no panic on our sideline. We saw three time outs in three minutes. We said we can probably — well, there was one time on third down, we said we’re going to punt it. We’ve got three time outs. We’re going to stop them, and we’ll get the ball back again.
So I just think there’s just a lot of trust and belief on this team that, no matter what the circumstances, we’ll find a way to win.
Q. Good afternoon, Coach. It seems with the realignment of the offensive line, you last week had to go into a bit of a frying pan with Syracuse and the different looks they presented. Then go into the fryer was Stanford with their defense. What’s been your assessment of how that realignment has gone? I know you said on the last possession they really started picking up some of the combinations and all. After reviewing the tape, where do you think the line is at this point?
COACH KELLY: We got stronger as the game went along. I think Steve Elmer did some very good things as the game went on. Anderson, 91, is very difficult to handle. Elmer was able to block him one on one late in the game, which was huge for us. Nobody else has been able to do that. Hanratty was able to do some things in pass pro later in the game that he had missed earlier. So there was some progress made there.
Again, we had scoring opportunities in our last three drives, converted on two of the three. One was a missed field goal. Definitely progress was made. We’re not there yet. We’re going to continue to work, continue to work with the same five guys and continue to work on building some continuity there.
Q. You had mentioned earlier in the week that you needed some big plays there, chunk plays, and you had several of them, including a couple of runs with Everett on the drop play, C.J. on the jet sweep. Is that going to really build your running game? If you’re able to incorporate a couple of big runs, that might open up the three, four, five yard runs inside?
COACH KELLY: It’s part of it. It certainly has to be part of a comprehensive running game. You’re not going to be able to just pound the ball inside, especially against a team like Stanford. You’ve got to find ways to be creative within your running game. We had five big chunk plays. They had given up four total all year coming into the game. We had five in one game.
So, again, I think there are some good things that we did in the running game. There’s things we need to get better at, no question. I like where we’re going. We’re committed to it. We’re committed to what we’re doing. At this point of the season, we rushed the ball more than we’ve thrown it. We’re not going to go and abandon it, but we’ve got to find opportunities like the two that you mentioned. We’ve got to continue to find some ways to get big runs as well outside our normal offense.
Q. Do you find Everett getting a little bit more comfortable as a runner? That’s never going to be his main wheelhouse, but it seemed that that 33 yard draw was perfectly timed.
COACH KELLY: I think so. I think there’s some work to do. I think there’s some trust to be developed with the offensive line. The fumble, he needed to stay with the tackle and stay inside the formation. He bounced it out to the corner where he was in an unblockable position. So there’s one example where he’s got to be more committed to staying inside.
There’s definitely some plays there for him to run the ball where I think he feels more comfortable, and I think it will get better for us as we move along.
Q. Brian, I just wanted to stay with the theme of young players. How do you think the youth filled receiving corps did against the number one ranked pass defense over that 60 minute period?
COACH KELLY: By and large, if you look at Corey Robinson, he continues to do really good things for us. I think he’d probably like to have one back there on the dig route in the fourth quarter, but then he comes back with an incredible catch where he gets his hands underneath the ball. Obviously, Torii Hunter continues. Battles for ball on the sideline in a huge third down situation, gets a huge conversion for us. Will Fuller almost got a chance to get the big touchdown there, laid on the double move. Those three young receivers are continuing to add a lot to what we’re doing on a day to day basis. I think it’s only going to get better.
Q. Also, on the other side of the ball, Devin Butler played his biggest role of the year. Had he been coming along the last couple of weeks to get into the dime package?
COACH KELLY: Yes and no. We want to move Cody around a little bit. We felt like to get Cody into the nickel position, you’ve got to bring another corner on the field. We wanted to latch down and play some man, and to do that, we have to bring another corner on the field. Devin is building some trust with us in terms of getting him on the field.
It wasn’t an always situation. We picked our spots with it. But he certainly is gaining a lot more trust and confidence to get on the field.
Thank you, guys. We’ll talk to you on Tuesday.