Sept. 23, 2014
An interview with:
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon! We begin with our opponent, and that is Syracuse. We’re certainly aware of them, and really looking at what they did last week, nearly 600 yards in total offense, and certainly if you just looked at the statistics, you would wonder how they didn’t win that football game. Certainly have a lot of respect for Scott Shafer, know him very well. We got a chance to battle a lot when he was at Western Michigan and know their offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. They’re a well coached football team. I think, again, you start with Terrel Hunt, their quarterback, physical, multidimensional quarterback who can run it and throw it. A veteran offensive line, if you really look at the amount of starts that they have on the offensive line, you can see why they’ve been effective offensively.
Depth at the running back position. Defensively really like their defensive ends, they do a great job but I think the scheme is outstanding, Coach Bullough, their defensive coordinator, does a very good job of mixing things up, gets you in third down and, again, this has been part of Coach Bullough and Scott Shafer’s hallmark. They do a great job of bringing different pressures out of their third down packages and confuse the quarterback and make it difficult for you.
We have our hands full there. We’re going to have to do a great job with protections and making sure that we take care of down and distance. That’s going to be really big for us.
Some individual players, obviously Cameron Lynch, their linebacker is all over the field. You have to identify him and know where he is, and, again, I really like the way Robinson and Welsh play at the defensive end position and, again, veteran inside guys as well. A lot of respect for Coach Shafer, what he’s done working up through the ranks and what they’re doing offensively. It’s very impressive. We know they’re going to play their very best. Playing at Met Life on national television, our guys know just taking what Perdue did against us and how they played; we expect the same thing from Syracuse, they’re going to play their very best. With that, I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Coach, the Michael Bertsch depth chart has some changes on the offensive line. I wondered if you could go through those and confirm them.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I would say it’s pretty early. He was bugging me to get something out, and it’s really premature, but he doesn’t have a lot to do in his life so he likes to get stuff out. He’s just recently married, as you know, and he likes to spend a lot of time in his office. He’s married to a wonderful gal, I don’t mean any disrespect in that regard, but it’s too early.
We’re trying to move the pieces around on the offensive line so you can see some of the changes there that we’ve moved and we’re still in the process of figuring out what the best five are on the offensive line.
So you’re seeing an early glimpse of moving guys around on the offensive line. We haven’t made a final decision on that. Christian Lombard, obviously you’re seeing at right tackle right now. Couple things there, he started 12 games in an undefeated regular season for us at right tackle. So got a lot of experience there. Matt Hegarty played a lot for us at the end of last year when Nick Martin went down. The only guy that doesn’t have a lot of experience at the position he’s playing right now is Nick Martin, but we feel like he’s one of our strongest offensive linemen.
We’re still in the mix of trying to find the right five guys so knowing it’s probably too early.
We need a couple more days before we really solidify that.
Q. Is anybody that’s not listed first still in the mix, like is McGlinchey still an option?
COACH KELLY: Oh, absolutely! We’re still working, Hanratty, and he’s still in the mix, and McGlinchey is definitely in the mix. Both those guys are working in the first group and we’re still rotating those guys in.
Q. What was it that you saw in the first three games that led you to this self examination of wanting to mix things up?
COACH KELLY: You can see that we moved two bigger guys inside, right? So, you know, 320 plus right guard, in Elmer, and one of our more physical players in Nick Martin at left guard. So physicality in the left guard position is what we are looking for at that position, and felt like Matt could handle the center position. He went through the entire spring and has games under his belt when Nick went down last year.
So if we felt like we were going to go with an inexperienced center, probably would have changed our mind but we think we created some things there that we’re still looking at. On your left side now, arguably you have, you know, two outstanding players in Stanley and Martin working together on the left side. You create a left side now that’s very visible and then a big athletic right guard in Steve Elmer.
Q. How is the Torii Hunter experiment going? Does it look like he’s going to play? What about Amir at that position?
COACH KELLY: Amir is out; he’s not going to play, so Torii is being pressed into duty. He practiced aggressively, would be the word I would use, yesterday. He felt pretty good at treatment this morning and we will aggressively move him again today and expect that that continues, and he will get his first action this Saturday. So it’s no longer an experiment, it’s going to be an experience for him. It will be his first game experience on Saturday.
Q. Is Amir longer term beyond Syracuse, you think?
COACH KELLY: He’s responding pretty well. He had a second PRP treatment yesterday. I think we start moving him around at the end of this week and then kind of see where he is next week.
I would say that he gets closer next week. He’s more questionable. He’s out this week; I would say he’s questionable for next week.
Q. And Collinsworth, I’m assuming he gets reintroduced this week?
COACH KELLY: He practiced with us yesterday. We were very pleased with what we saw yesterday, and I think more importantly he was pleased. I think our team of sports medicine and strength and conditioning staff has done a great job of getting him prepared and ready, and I believe that he’s going to be able to help us on Saturday.
Q. Does Elijah’s level of play make that a more difficult divvying up of playing time?
COACH KELLY: I don’t think so. I don’t think it affects Elijah’s situation at all.
Q. As far as the “Frozen Five” what information have you asked about and received along those lines?
COACH KELLY: Friday of last week I was informed that the academic committee has been formed officially and that they will, if all things move in the manner that they’re hoping, and that they’re able to get through all of the information, that the five student athletes will get their hearings concluded by the end of next week.
Q. Coach, looking at the red zone offense that you’ve had, what tweaks have you put in this year that you took away from last year that you’ve redone this year?
COACH KELLY: I think there is probably a little bit of play calling, from my perspective, that I think you know, it’s always a style of play calling in the red zone that plays into it, where you’re looking at touchdowns and if you don’t get touchdowns, you’re kicking field goals. I think Evert is very good with the football.
I think the quarterback has a lot to do with it. He’s been — as you know, knock on wood, he’s gone on a long streak here of not turning over the football. I think your quarterback management in the red zone is very, very crucial. So I would say play calling and your quarterback makes a big difference in that area.
And I think, you know, to a large degree that we’re utilizing some of the skill guys, the wide receivers that can go make plays down there. Again, it’s tough sledding down there. I think you have to — you really have to game plan down there and I think we’re doing a better job of — not that we didn’t do a good job last year, I thought we did a very good job. I think the quarterback, I think that being aggressive in play calling and taking care of the football and getting it to your playmakers down there to score points.
Q. On the offensive line, is part of it — you know, last year, past couple of years you have had two guys on the left side of the line that you knew you could depend on for a few yards. Is that the biggest challenge now finding a combination that, you know, on 3 yard line or second and 2 finding dependable people that you know you can run behind them?
COACH KELLY: Certainly, you know, if you can hang your hat on a left side or a right side, that certainly goes into some of your thinking. I think what we were looking for more than anything else and I think I kind of already alluded to this is that we wanted to be able to be more physical inside. We didn’t believe that if we stayed where we were, the question was could we be more physical.
You know, you have to move some pieces around, you have to give something up to get something. We may find out that we don’t want to give up what we have to give up to get the more physicality of the he will measure and the Martin at the guard position. That’s where we are right now. Next year maybe there are guys ready to play those positions and we move them back into other — but right now as we stand, the eye is toward getting better each week and progressing, and we felt like we needed to get better and more physical inside/out and that’s really the genesis of some of the things that we’re doing right now.
Q. Talked to Greg Bryant last week and he’s talking about right now how he’s been the third guy in every game, and I know you want to play everyone, the guy that gets in there first. What’s it going to take for him to be the guy that gets to go in there first?
COACH KELLY: I just think, you know, he’s only played three games, three college games. There is a lot of things that go on with being the guy that takes reps away from two very experienced players. So nothing that he’s not capable of doing, but, you know, he’s got to unseat guys that have played a lot of football and are really good players. He’s coming and he’s doing really good things for us, but he’s only played in three games. I think he continues to get better each week and I see him being that guy that continues to grow in our offense.
Q. You mentioned earlier that patience is one of his challenges, that he had to be patient. Has he been doing a better job of being patient and letting the block set up?
COACH KELLY: I think he’s definitely understanding what we’re trying to accomplish, and he understands how important it is to let that group work and but on the other hand, it’s hard to be patient when there is no movement sometimes. So this isn’t all on the running backs. This is a collective situation, you know, where we need to create some more movement for Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel. This is a collective deal with all these guys. I think he’s understanding the schemes and really buying into what we’re doing and we’re really pleased, but we’ve got to help him as well.
Q. About the line changes, how much do you think Nick’s injury from last season has played a factor into the interior maybe not getting the push that you want?
COACH KELLY: I don’t think it’s played any role in it. I think you just — with Hanratty and Hegarty at the guard position, we really like their experience, but we chose to go a little bigger, quite frankly, with the guys that we put in there. They’re really good football players, but we looked to get a little bit bigger at those positions. So really very little that they did and more about a philosophical decision that we wanted to be bigger inside in terms of what we wanted to accomplish.
Q. Is this something you could have tried or attempted if you didn’t have a bye week last week?
COACH KELLY: I think it was going to happen regardless.
Q. With the five players suspended, what is your opinion at this point of the process and how it’s played out?
COACH KELLY: I don’t have an opinion, and I really wouldn’t want to share it publically.
Q. Do you feel like the five players have been found guilty of academy misconduct, because they have been suspended for a quarter of the season regardless of the outcome of the hearings next week?
COACH KELLY: Um, I really don’t have enough information to really give you an opinion on that. I had enough information to give you an opinion on the first question. But the second question, I don’t have enough information to give you an opinion on the second one.
Q. Lastly on this, after the season, once things calm down, will you go to Jack Swarbrick and try to sit down with the administration, the provost’s office and get a better understanding of how this works, how it can be improved in any capacity?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s a very complicated situation, obviously. There are a lot of pieces here. There are NCAA implications, certainly. We’re probably going down a path that has never gone before. So there are things there. But certainly these are dialogues that Jack and I are having not after the season, we’re having them as they occur, because there are, clearly, ways that we believe, internally, that we need to get better. So we don’t wait until January to have those conversations. We’re having them right now.
Q. Jack came to you with the ACC proposal, what excited you most? Was it maintaining independence? Was it the bowl lineup? Was it getting into the southeast more? What was your reaction to all this?
COACH KELLY: Well, you know, there are different options, so alliance was necessary from a football standpoint to tie into a bowl opportunity. We had seen clearly that there were dwindling opportunities for us to tie into bowls.
So it was clear that we were going to have to tie in somewhere to gain those bowl opportunities, so Jack had clearly articulated to me that he was going to meet with conferences that had an interest in bringing us in. And certainly I had some input on what I believed those conferences would obviously be that would serve us best. But at the end of the day it became, for us, strictly from a football standpoint, how do we maintain a schedule that gives us that independence and, second, what gives us the best, strictly from a football standpoint, the best bowl game tie in opportunities and has a geographical, I guess, not significance, but makes sense.
When those three things were checked off it came down to the ACC. So Jack obviously put together something then that was great for the entire athletic department and that was the extent of my involvement.
Q. Some of the basketball coaches made a push for the ACC during that period as well. Was the ACC always on your mind when you knew you had to make a move, or were you open ended or —
COACH KELLY: No, and, look, everybody is going to have their wants and desires. I’m certain that everybody has an opinion as to what the best “fit” is. I think Jack has to be able to proffer out valid solutions to some complex issues, and that’s why he’s the athletic director.
All I can tell you is we looked at demographics from a recruiting standpoint, and the ACC was going to be fine, because we were still going to be out on the west coast. So when we were checking all the boxes, there was no objections from my end as it related to the ACC.
Q. You mentioned a little bit in your opening statement, I think you had the rarity of facing Scott Shafer twice with two different teams in one season.
COACH KELLY: I did.
Q. Any recollection about that and what stands out about his defenses?
COACH KELLY: They’re a pain in the butt! He does a very good job of — you know, they live on taking the football away. They live on big plays. If you look at what they do defensively, they’ve got an answer for virtually everything. And he’s an experienced defensive coordinator, and with Chuck Bullough with him, who is experienced in his background, both those guys working together, make for you’re going to earn everything you get and make for a long day.
Q. Getting back to the offensive line, if that lineup sticks, you have four guys in a new position. You said you might not want to go down the road that you discovered with the shifting. Is there a concern about chemistry?
COACH KELLY: Three out of the four are really not new positions for them, right? Christian started 12 games the year we went undefeated, Steve Elmer was the starter at right guard all last year, and obviously Matt played a number of games for us last year and was there all spring. So there is a real comfort level for those three guys at that position. The only guy that is feeling like he’s learning a new position is Nick.
Q. Even though the configuration is different and how they move in accordance with each other?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think it’s really about when they’re at that position, it’s their comfort level lining up at right guard, right tackle and center. That choreography comes in time. That will take time, that choreography, if you will.
I think what was more concerning is that they were all in new positions, that would be more concerning, because now it’s an adjustment that would take so much longer and one that you may be hesitant to make at this time of the season.
Q. Let me see if I can follow up on Pete’s question about the “five.” I think the parents of the five have expressed being left in “limbo.” Would you like to see the communication between Notre Dame and the players involved improve?
COACH KELLY: You know, it’s really — when you talk about that, if you — and look, I’m not here to be a spokesman for our administration, I’m answering your question. All I can answer for is what I experience as a football coach that goes on in my program.
If one of our players has a violation, whether it be of the honor code or in the dorms, the parents aren’t notified. The student is notified. So this is a pretty consistent way of doing business, if you will. Certainly this is a national story, so it takes on a different significance, I understand that. The time element has obviously changed the dynamics here as well but on a consistency basis, on a day to day basis if it’s about drug testing or a violation in the dorms, if it’s about an honor code violation, it’s the student that is on the front line, and it’s the student that’s dealing with this directly. It’s the student that then talks to the parents about it.
So from that standpoint, I have seen a consistency. And, again, I’m not here to be the sound piece for our administration. I’m telling you what I experience as a football coach on a day to day basis with our players as it relates to those situations.
Q. You said Notre Dame may be going down a road that it hasn’t gone down before. Do you have some knowledge of beyond these five and the possibility of vacating wins from previous years?
COACH KELLY: I do not have any knowledge of vacating wins or NCAA implications. I have not been informed of that, and whether that is impending, I think I would have been informed of all those things, if we were in that kind of I am immediacy, if you will. What I do know is that a committee of this fashion has not, in my understanding, been set up before. So that was my reference to, we’re going down a new road here, relative to the five players that are currently suspended.
Q. Following up on Tom with the Greg Bryant situation, are you comfortable with putting in a running back like every series or if somebody were to get “hot” in a certain series like last year Tarean against Navy or Cam against BYU when he had 24 carries? Would you be comfortable in constantly feeding them the football for more than one series?
COACH KELLY: You know, I really, I think, have tried to answer this question. We have three running backs. We value all three of them. But we also know that they have different styles. I think we’re evolving as to, you know, where can we best utilize all three of them? Who did you want to be on the field in third down situations, where the back is integral to pass throw? Who do you want on the field in fourth and short? Who do you want on the field in first and 10 and openers. I think that’s what we’re getting to. So to answer your question, I put a lot of that on Coach Alford and his ability, and I give him the ability to rotate those guys into the game and get a sense and get a feel.
I’m locked into play calling and thinking about the next play and the next series. I’m thinking about defense and field position and time out and management and things of that nature. He’s locked into those things, but he’s been given those directives that we’re talking about.
I think we’re still evolving and trying to find, you know, where do all three of those guys fit into those roles.
Q. I was asking from a perspective of the three running backs, needing to find a rhythm and seeing what the defense looks like and sometimes it’s third, fourth quarter where they start to see that. Does that not enable them to have that type of look or grasp of what’s going on during the course of the game?
COACH KELLY: I think you can make that case, fairly, you could make that case. On the other hand, we think that we, as a group, can maximize where we are with the three of them. But you could clearly make the case that, choose one, or one and a half and go with that guy. We haven’t got to that point yet, where we’re saying it’s that running back, he’s the guy. He’s going to get the bulk of the carries, and the other two guys are going to fight for the scraps. We haven’t got to that point yet.
Q. You would prefer to form that type of offense where you would have that —
COACH KELLY: No, I wouldn’t say that I prefer. I’m saying that where we are right now with the three is that we believe the sum is greater than any one of its parts.
Q. You mentioned a few weeks ago that Malik was taken about 40% of the snaps.
COACH KELLY: Correct.
Q. Is he still doing that? With so much work that he’s getting, is there sometimes a greater temptation to insert him or is Evert just playing at too high of a level to feel comfortable at any time to insert —
COACH KELLY: He gets 60% of the work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, he gets about 30% of the work on Thursdays. There is not a temptation to put him in the game unless he has to be in the game. Evert has established himself as the starting quarterback and he will be the starting quarterback unless the circumstances change. It’s our jobs to make sure that our backup quarterback is, in fact, completely ready to win if he has to go in the game.
Q. I failed to ask this question before, but when we had the signing day we saw the players on scholarship and it went under the radar in August that Montgomery VanGorder was put on scholarship. What is his role right now and what enabled him to receive that?
COACH KELLY: As you know, we were very thin at that position, and when we had a scholarship available, he was rewarded with a scholarship because it’s a very important role to run that scout team. We wanted to be able to keep — we wanted to actually keep three quarterbacks up with us, so it was an important position, and we validated that by putting a scholarship on Montgomery.
Q. DeShone Kizer is also working —
COACH KELLY: He stays with us, with the varsity, yes.
Q. It was clear during the preseason that there would be lots of freshmen playing on the defense but are you surprised by the significance of their contributions and how much do you attribute that to Brian VanGorder putting them in the right spots?
COACH KELLY: We knew that we were going to have to count on some freshmen, who they were, we weren’t totally clear on, but we did know that we were going to have to count on freshmen. I don’t know that we knew what the names were. I think there is two people that we need to look at. I think Paul Longo and what he does to prepare those guys in a very short period of time, physically, and Brian VanGorder, I think those two guys in particularly deserve a lot of credit. Paul gets them physically ready, and Brian gets them mentally ready to compete at a very early age.
Q. Is that an underrated aspect of having the bye week early in the season, is developing those players and getting them more practice time?
COACH KELLY: Listen, every day that we get with those guys is a bonus day and we used them all. We met on Monday, we practiced on Tuesday, Wednesday we practiced, Thursday we had split meetings and weight training so we used — we don’t normally go the whole week, but — we gave them Friday and Saturday off, came back in on Sunday. We used what I felt was as much time as we could get with the kids this week.
Q. I want to slip one more in on the ACC. Obviously you guys play such a national schedule maybe this doesn’t apply, but are there added challenges now that the schedule has taken on kind of a new look?
COACH KELLY: The biggest challenges for us, quite frankly, are playing on national television, and our kids get back at 3, 4:00 in the morning. I’ll give you Perdue. We got back at 3:30 in the morning, our kids have to be at study table at 4:00 in the afternoon, and it’s a lot! We will have the same thing, we’re on national television — it’s wearing.
It gets to the point where you wonder that maybe we shouldn’t play all these nationally televised games because it really puts a lot on these kids. We ask them to do a lot. It’s a very challenging academic environment. The ACC doesn’t do that to us, Notre Dame, by the virtue of its brand recognition, puts us in that position.
So the ACC has been great in terms of scheduling because, you know, we’re not out on the west coast. The travel is pretty good for us. I don’t think it puts any added stress on us from that perspective.
Q. Moving on to Austin Collinsworth, you look at his numbers and progress, seems like he’s improved steadily during his time here. Could you assess his career?
COACH KELLY: He comes in really as an offensive player. He was a prolific offensive player at his high school and we started him on offense, really liked his football intelligence and smarts and really felt like he could make the transition to defense. When he did make that transition, we could see that he had the acumen to do what we wanted and be a general leader out there.
I think what happened is he just plays hard, first of all. Then he is really smart. He puts himself in very good positions. That just kind of evolved. The one thing that has held him back is he has had a couple of injuries along the way. I think if he stays away from and is luckier, we will talk about him in larger terms but it’s great to have him back this week, that’s for sure.
Q. When I had a chance to talk to him last week, he mentioned taking a year off really helped him and I found that interesting. I would think players would learn on the fly more than they would taking a step back. Can you expand on that?
COACH KELLY: I think where it helped him a lot is the defensive perspective, gaining a better perspective defensively because he had such a great understanding of the offensive side of the ball. I think learning defense and learning the defensive — just, you know, assignments and just all the things that go along with being a smart defensive player, I think that really helped him. It put him two steps ahead. If he’s not a 4 5, he can play a 4 5 because he’s a step ahead, and I think that year helped him understand the defensive side of the ball.
Q. As far as him being a team captain, what went into that? What did you like about him?
COACH KELLY: That’s a good question because he had been out for a year and there was — at times — he’s such a busy kid. He’s in the master’s program for his MBA, and it’s not like he hangs around here like some others do. He gets his business done. This past year, he really impressed me with his want and desire to lead this year. He has the respect of all of his teammates because of the way he handles his business off the field. Great student, committed to the university, and committed to this football team.
The first few weeks in January his leadership on our Unity Council sent a strong message to me. Our guys do things that are pretty unique, things that have never been done since I’ve been here in our Unity Council. Our guys police themselves in a manner that hasn’t been done here, and a lot of that impetus comes from Austin. You guys are wearing me out today!
Q. Coach, how are you?
COACH KELLY: Good, Zach.
Q. What have you noticed from Evert from two years ago to now and everything he went through last year? He’s obviously off to a great start but what’s the biggest thing you have noticed in terms of how he’s changed?
COACH KELLY: I would say, you know, how he handles himself away from football. He doesn’t come in not ready to go. He’s obviously managing his time so much better, getting rest, and just, I think, the attention to living a more organized and detailed lifestyle. He was a young kid, stayin’ up late, once in a while he would come in, maybe five minutes late. He’s the first one in, the last one to leave. That’s maturity, that’s making a decision that you’re going to be somebody that others can follow. So that’s probably the biggest thing.
Q. Have you been surprised at the start he got off to or did you see this in preseason, did you have a feeling that he was in line for starting?
COACH KELLY: Were you referring to Evert in that question?
Q. Yeah, I’m sorry.
COACH KELLY: I think his play has been good. We were hopeful that he was going to develop and continue to get better. I think he would tell you that there is a lot that he needs to get better at, but it’s been I think it’s been a good start, and, again, I think a lot of it has to do with the way he’s preparing. He’s preparing so much better than he ever has, and I think it’s allowing his athletic ability to shine in the game, but, again, having said that, I think there is really a lot more out there for him to accomplish.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody.