Nov. 8, 2016

University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Brian Kelly

COACH KELLY: Well, another option team this week with Army, you know, one of the best option rushing attacks in the country. I think Coach Monken has done a great job of bringing this program back to prominence relative to their standing amongst the academies. They also do a great job defensively. You can see their ranking nationally, where they stand. They do a great job with mixing things up between different coverages. They’ve had some really good wins over Temple, who we all know is playing really good football right now. Win over Wake Forest, who’s beaten a Big 10 opponent. So some quality wins this year for their program. And again, it’s going to be a great challenge. They limit possessions, again, so you have to be extremely efficient offensively. And defensively another challenge of playing a triple option team that, again, runs the ball very, very well and can be opportunistic throwing the football. So focus is on obviously the details and the execution, which in a large degree we were able to do a lot of those things well last week, but not as well as Navy. Came up short. So we’ll look to be even better than that this Saturday in a Shamrock Series game, which our kids are excited about playing in San Antonio. The state of Texas is a very good recruiting area for us, so we’re excited to get back in the state of Texas. We just want a different result from our first time when we were in Austin and lost in overtime. I know guys are excited about the Shamrock Series, but more importantly, they want to get a win, and this is our next opportunity. With that, we’ll throw it out to you for questions.

Q. We’ll do the confession question again. Cage, Love and Tranquill?
COACH KELLY: Cage we’re going to send for further evaluation. He’s made some progress, but anytime that somebody’s in their second week and has not fully gone through the stages as we see them, we’d like to get a second opinion and make sure that everything is good. So we generally go to Dr. Utcher, who has been really good as a resource for us, so we’ll have that appointment set up this week.

Q. Is he at Michigan?
COACH KELLY: He used to be at the University of Michigan. He’s now in private practice, but yes, that’s the same one that you’re thinking of. So he’s been really good. We’ve used him in a number of cases, Corey Robinson, for example, and we just like his opinions in certain instances, and we’ll probably use that for Daniel. Relative to Tranquill and Julian Love, they will go to practice today. They will practice in a noncontact fashion. If everything goes well, they’ll be clear for contact tomorrow.

Q. Chase Claypool was one of the guys that you brought up after the bye where you said he’s a guy you’d like to get some more opportunities. Maybe the circumstances haven’t presented themselves yet. Just curious what you see his role may be in those opportunities and is what he’s showing you on special teams pause for maybe having different role next year?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah. I see him expanding his role certainly next year, and we would have, but he suffered a bit of a hamstring injury during the week, which put him back relative to practice, and he’s a young player that needs a lot of work during the week, Eric, so it was one where we really wanted him on special teams, in particular Navy did a lot of things well in certain areas. So he just didn’t get it. But he’s back in the mix for us this week for sure.

Q. As this season kind of unfolded, I know you mentioned, if I’m paraphrasing it right, earlier in the season that ^ you probably would have liked to practice young players a little bit more, get them ready for their roles in August. How about with recruiting? Has this season changed the way that you look at recruiting in terms of when you have a lot of roster turnover, you’ve gotta have Navy players that aren’t as slower developmentally out of the box, turn-key kind of guys?
COACH KELLY: You know, Eric, I think it’s more about education and the educational process for us is about all the things it takes to win at this level. There are so many things. It’s not necessarily about more reps as much as it is about getting them involved in situations in the game. You know, fighting for every inch, you know, every blade of grass, just understanding how competitive it is play in and play out. And I don’t think they see that or get that. So I think what I was trying to articulate more than anything else is that it’s important to get them into real-life — you know, it can’t be just the clean up reps. That don’t mean anything. You gotta get them into the fray right away and really begin that educational process a lot earlier.

Q. Also with recruiting, since you’re probably not going to name, I would assume a coordinator until after the season, are you recruiting for defense a little bit differently? You have a bunch in the class already, but are you recruiting what you think your philosophy will be?
COACH KELLY: I think if you look at our class, and I know a lot of the people that are in here today study it really intently. You know, we’re full at certain areas, so I mean I don’t think it’s regardless of whether it’s three down or four down, we’ve committed to certain areas. Obviously if there is an elite player at a particular position, I don’t think it matters what defense you play. So the foundation of the defense is already kind of found itself relative to the kids that have committed. But if there’s a player or two, I don’t think it’s going to change relative to whether you’re in three down or four down. And quite frankly, we’re going to be in both, because I’m not going anywhere. So it’s going to be a three-down, four-down defense, and they’re going to have to be somebody that can do both.

Q. As you look at next year and assets you believe you’ll have coming back, players, there’s a lot. There’s a lot on both sides of the ball, but you’ve also got guys that are redshirting. Are there players capable of overtaking or pushing all the returners you have coming back?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. There’s a number of players that, you know, we were fortunate enough that in one sense got a chance to take a look at it, but we’re sitting here every day listening to what it takes to win every day. So they got both the opportunity not to play and use their year up as well as learn what it takes to win at this level. So yes to that question.

Q. You’re playing another option team this week, two option teams in a row. How do you mentally prepare your team for that?
COACH KELLY: This is what they — this is what they do. They’re football players. You know, they don’t — you know, contact sport. I mean we understand the demands that playing option football takes on our players, and I make sure that our schedule reflects the kind of needs that they have during the week. But tough game. You better be ready, because they’re tough-minded individuals at Army. So we’ll be smart with our players, but they know what’s in store. They just finished playing a very tough-minded football team in Navy, and they know that they’ve gotta prepare in a manner that allows them to go out there mentally and physically beat their opponent.

Q. Last year you also played two option teams, but they were more spread out in the schedule. So do you prefer it this year where you have them back to back or would you rather it be spread out?
COACH KELLY: You know, for me, I just — we play them one at a time. You could probably ask me in the off season. There will be a transition obviously going to Virginia Tech when you go two weeks without playing palms coverage. So there’s a bit of a transition there, but you know, I’m living in — today’s Tuesday, and so it’s hard for me to really know whether that’s good or bad. I’m focused on having a good practice today.

Q. You mentioned that Army, like Navy, will the game from a possession standpoint. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t have more than six possessions like last game, but nevertheless, having just gone through it and preparing for it again, I’m curious how do you feel about entering a game like that, that you might do something differently than you did last week or if you saw something last week that you’d want to try and duplicate again given there are short possessions?
COACH KELLY: There are a number of things. Let’s start with third down. Obviously we have to focus on third down. We gotta get off the field we had a number of third down situations where we didn’t get off the field. And we gotta stay on the field on third down. We can’t have a foolish penalty. And so those right there are extremely important. In the red zone we can’t settle for field goals, we’ve gotta score touchdowns. So those two right there probably stand out for me. Let’s say it is a six-possession game, we can still win the football game if we get off the field on third down and we’re more efficient in the red zone and we don’t have a foolish penalty.

Q. Just curious how this year is wearing on your guys being in so many close games and more often than not ending up on the wrong end of that mentally? How do you see them handling it?
COACH KELLY: Well, I mean we’re all going through a tough spot, but we’re persevering. It’s not where anybody wants to be. But we’re handling the situation as best we can and we’re trying to make certain that everything that we do makes us stronger for right now and for the future.

Q. It looks like Army likes to use their fullback a little bit more than Navy and their style of their quarterback is a little bit quicker obviously than Will Worth, who’s more of a power guy. But just in general how are the two offenses different?
COACH KELLY: I think the quarterback probably defines the personality of that triple option. So Keenan Reynolds, for example, was a guy that for Navy puts you in a position where it was more of an edge game, where Will was certainly more of a lead, kind of up inside because of his physicality. So Bradshaw is more of a Keenan Reynolds guy. He wants to get on the edge. Not as physical, but he’s quick, he’s elusive. So this changes the style a little bit based upon who the quarterback is. But you’re still defending triple. You still have to defend the fullback; you still have to defend the quarterback at the edge and then the pitch, and then what their desire is relative to throwing the football, what their appetite is. Is it something that they’re willing to potentially get behind the change on first down or are they going to save it for when they absolutely have to throw the football? They’ll throw it on first down and take their chances of being behind the chain. So that’s just a different offensive philosophy, and I think the quarterback in answering your question defines a little bit of the differences.

Q. Do they use as many formations as Navy?
COACH KELLY: They’re a little bit less, but at times a little bit more unbalanced in formations, but still requiring you to research virtually every look. Jeff was with Navy, so he’s got the book. He knows that if you’re not on it relative to all of the snuggle stats and unbalanced look, then you’re not prepared for it. So regardless of whether they have them or showed them, you’re going through each and every one. Yeah, exactly.

Q. Jarron Jones, 12 plays last week and you mentioned it wasn’t a good matchup against Navy. Is that also the same against Army?
COACH KELLY: We’ll find out. We’ll find out. I think he wants to play a lot this week and we’ve got Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and see what happens.

Q. He was only in two series. You held them on downs in one and you ended up forcing a punt on the other. I mean was that just coincidence that your two best series were with Jarron Jones in the game?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think you know that one guy does not shop the option. Preparation is important. Preparation is important. That’s all I’ll say.

Q. The fact that he would just — that he was limited in what he could be effective in which is probably taking away the fullback, would that not benefit you defensively even if that was just the one aspect that he influenced?
COACH KELLY: You gotta prepare for the option. Gotta prepare every day for it.

Q. If he at any point expressed, considering the physical — you know, the injuries that he had in the past, did he at any point express reluctance to be a full-time participant in the Navy game?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think all of our guys get the use equal opportunity to prepare during the week, and then we’re going to play the guys that prepare to play the option. And so each and every week we’ve got a number of guys that — you know, we try to get — and as you know, you’ve seen the amount of guys we’re playing on defense. They all get reps and they all get a chance to get in there. And it’ll come down to preparation, and if they prepare the way that they need to prepare, they’ll all get a chance to play.

Q. Your freshman defensive backs, what do you feel like they got out of last week; how did they grade out and also curious particularly the Julian Love play in terms of dealing with cut blocks?
COACH KELLY: Probably as good as I’ve seen freshman play, a true freshman. I don’t know if I’ve seen a true freshman play the triple option as well as he did. He was really good before he got dinged. He was running to the football, playing off cut blocks, playing physical, playing smart, very, very good. His play was — it was top, in terms of assignments, in terms of physicality, in terms of tackling it was really good.

Q. I’m curious about Jalen Elliott because he’s not played a whole lot this year, but played a fair amount on Saturday. How did he come through that?
COACH KELLY: Played well. He had to settle into the game a little bit, but once he did, we started to see his ability to run and put himself in the kind of positions that were really, for us, what we saw from him coming in to Notre Dame. There was a comfort level, a physicality, a speed element that was far superior to our opponent later in the game where we were clearly putting them in a position where they were just tucking it and running underneath. So yeah, his play started to show itself later in the game.

Q. Might be a reach, but both those guys were both sides of the ball in high school, played a bunch of different positions. Does that help in any way just in terms of football IQ how things fit together?
COACH KELLY: I’d say they’re both high on that football IQ that you mentioned. I think they’ve been that way since they were here, and whether playing on both sides of the ball contributed to it or not, I don’t know, but I would say that when we recruited them, we really felt that both of them were smart football players.

Q. And sort of building on one of Eric’s questions about that competitive edge that you’re trying to bring out more and fighting for every grasp. As you look forward, do you feel like you have to redo the off-season so those lessons can be learned not in September; they know it when the season starts?
COACH KELLY: I think we can have that conversation at the end of the season. You know, that’s a component that we’ll get to, certainly. But one of the components of winning football games is being mentally and physically tougher than your opponent. And I’m not saying that we haven’t been. But there are times that it’s going to come down to bending a guy back or finishing off a block, and that’s the difference between a three-point loss and a three-point win. And we’ll get to that after the season.

Q. Going back to the separation question, some of the players noted afterwards, guys were saying that mentally there’s a strain going against a team that goes for it on fourth down so often, and actually Army has gone for it on fourth down I think third most in the country more than Navy. How do you prepare for that, because as you mentioned, they’re not afraid to get behind the chains because they might have three more downs sometimes if they get a first down?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. I think the strain comes from 4th and 1. That’s where the strain comes from. And so that’s why it’s so important that when it’s 3rd and 5, you got — and where we started to do a really good job in the fourth quarter is we started bending back the runners. There were a couple of occasions where we didn’t bend back runners in the third quarter. And they were falling forward, so instead of 4th and 3, it’s 4th and 1. And so that’s where it becomes mentally a little bit more difficult when it’s 4th and 1. You get them 4th and 4, now go ahead. Let’s see what you got. It’s the 4th and 1s where you’re really — you’re not successful on third down when it’s 4th and 1.

Q. Is that something other nonoption teams can look into as football evolves? I’m just curious being as confident running the football (indiscernible) and anywhere from say their own 40 on?
COACH KELLY: I think there’s a lot of statistical analysis about that, where you are on the field. I think there’s even some guys that have sold some books on not punting. So I think Angelo wrote that, didn’t he? You know, so I mean certainly there’s a philosophy there. But when you’re in a system of offense that is under center and certainly has their offense built around that, it’s a lot easier. So how much practice time when you are a different style of offense is really what you have to commit to if you want to go for it every time it’s fourth down.

Q. And the last one for me. Going against the option, by your second year you decided we have to cut practice. We have to cut our three players. Do you have to cut as much this week too after doing it all last week?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, and we do it in a controlled fashion. But yeah, we have to — look, it’s more of a technique where your eyes are and obviously it’s for our perimeter players more so than anything else. Inside, you’re scrambling off of those blocks. And it’s hard — you know, Army cuts a little bit more, but they want to get those guys up on second-level plays. So the days of just chop, cut inside, they need to get them up on those athletes that are running to the football. So it’s really the perimeter players that are doing most of the time on that.

Q. Eric’s question about guys redshirting. How has Brandon kind of responded to playing as a true freshman and then sitting out?
COACH KELLY: How has he responded? Been engaged, you know, learning. I think he’s been a very good leader. Cares about his teammates. I think he’s got really good leadership skills because he knows the janitor’s name here. I mean he just is locked in to all the little things that take to be a really good leader. And then I think he’s been really good in terms of attention to meetings when he knows he’s not going to get on the field. So I think he’s handled himself pretty well.

Q. Is that different than how being maybe a true freshman as opposed to a redshirt maybe not as engaged in some of the meetings and leadership stuff, is that different give that he’s in year two?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. There’s a little bit of give and take there. I’m not grinding him for questions and — we’re just making sure that he’s knowledgeable and locked in and getting the proper knowledge base for what we’re doing. I’m not quizzing him on game plans per se. We’re giving him a little leeway from that perspective. But the kid has got a great sense of how to interact. He’s extremely respectful in all ways knowing that he’s not playing. I think he’s done a great job.

Q. His throwing mechanics look pretty refined already. He’s not a good where you have to really put every day on footwork or throwing mechanics. Does that help, too?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. I think you’re right. I think the ball actually comes out of his hand in a manner that we wouldn’t do much there. He’s got really good balance and base. I think most of his work will be just decision making with the football.

Q. You had talked earlier about red zone especially that you need to get the touchdowns instead of field goals. I think it was your first year you kind of made the comment about get used to it, which kind of ^ reveals your aggressive philosophy about going after things. Do you feel that ^ in your years at Notre Dame have to change a little bit in your coaching because I think some were surprised that you did take the field goal on the 4th and 2 and 4th and 4.
COACH KELLY: No. You know, I don’t think so. I think each play is a little bit different, each game is a little bit different in terms of circumstances. I think what’s most important is getting the feel for each game in terms of what is needed to what I thought was needed to win a game. I don’t think you can think with a broad brush. I think if we had a particular play called and we threw an interception in the end zone, we would live with the circumstances that we called a pass play in the end zone and we threw a pick and we didn’t coach it well enough, we didn’t execute it well enough. I think that’s what I’m referring to when I say you gotta live with it. We’re going to throw the ball in those kinds of situations if we think that that’s what is necessary to win the football game. We had I felt the wind and the game circumstances at that time it felt like the right thing to do. So I don’t think I can be as general — I don’t think the question can be as general that I made a more conservative from that perspective.

Q. Whenever Notre Dame goes up against Navy or Army, I think the perception is always just run it down their throats, you’re bigger, you’re stronger. But at the same time it seems almost on every one of the throws that DeShone — the corners were way off the receivers, there was a lot of openings there. How difficult is it to balance having the mentality of running it down their throat or seeing the opening on the play?
COACH KELLY: Well, time of possession. So we had five possessions that averaged almost seven minutes per possession, because they’re a top down team, they want to keep the ball in front of them. And yeah, they’re going to give you some room, but they’re going to try to minimize big plays. So yeah, you scored five times, but it took you too much time. You know what I mean? So it’s a double-edged sword. You run the football, yeah, maybe you could knock them off the ball, but it’s going to take you a little while to score, where Navy’s like beautiful, go ahead, take five minutes to score. That would be beautiful. Take six minutes to score. We’d love you to take six minutes to score. The time you look up it’s the third quarter and you’ve got five possessions or four possessions. So you gotta balance all of those things as you’re trying to decide how to play a game against Navy. And I’ve played them seven times in a row. They’re not easy to play, and ^ they’re not easy decisions as the game is going on to try and figure out whether you’re going for it or kicking a field goal because you’re trying to map out are you going to get one more possession.