Nov. 25, 2014
COACH KELLY: Certainly last game of the regular season. And for our guys, just feel for them. They played really hard for us and really just want to send them out with a win more than anything else. And I think there’s a lot of ways to look at it.
But thinking in terms of analogies, you know, we’ve left a lot of runners on base and just haven’t come up with that big hit. I mean, we’ve played really well at times and had opportunities to win the game the last couple of weeks.
And just haven’t gotten that big play, that one play we need, whether it’s one more first down, one more stop. I mean, you can boil it down to maybe six plays over the last couple of games. Maybe even less, you know. And we’re sitting here with a different record. It is what it is.
But I just feel bad for our guys because they played so doggone, hard and so we want to get them a win. And nothing would be better against certainly a rival in USC.
So we’ve got a talented football team. We all know that. Coach Sark does a great job offensively mixing things up, very creative offensively. Creates a lot of matchup issues, because he’s creative offensively but he’s got some balance that Kessler’s having a great year, 30 touchdowns, four INTs, so extremely efficient with the football, doesn’t turn it over.
We know about Nelson Agholor, as good as there is out there. A big play, wide receiver. Allen running the ball extremely well for him. So really good balance offensively. Defensively Leonard Williams is probably singularly the best defensive player front guy we’ll see this year. He is. He’s simply that good of a player.
We’ll have to find ways to double him and slow him down. He’s one of the best defensive linemen I’ve seen in a few years. He’s that good of a player. And on the edge of their defense, Cravens is very active. They put him in great position to make plays. And he does a very good job of that. And Justin Wilcox, an experienced defensive coordinator, does a lot of things in his three down and four down.
So it will be a great matchup. Two teams that are coming off disappointing losses that want to finish the season on a win. So, again, our guys are looking forward to the matchup, but more importantly they’re looking forward to getting the win and they know they’ve been very close and they’ll keep plugging and keep pushing and playing hard and we’ll break through.
So with that, I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Brian, starting with Jarron Jones and Day, their status for Saturday and beyond?
COACH KELLY: Jarron Jones is out for the year. He has a lisfranc. And he’ll have surgery next week and that’s about a four to six month process for that.
We think we’ll get him back for spring ball. That’s similar injury that Braxston Cave had. And we got him back in about four months. Rob Hunt is very confident based upon the tear there that they’ll get him back in four months.
Q. It’s a ligament tear in the middle of the foot?
COACH KELLY: That’s correct.
Q. How about Sheldon?
COACH KELLY: Sheldon had his second PRP. He will not be available this week for us. We’re very hopeful that we’ll have him back for the Bowl game.
Q. What did you get out of Jacob Matuska Saturday?
What do you feel like you can get out of him in this game?
COACH KELLY: We got solid play. We got physical play inside. I think it was probably one play that he was out of his gap, which contributed to a fairly significant run. But by and large for his first significant playing time, we were pleased with the physical play that he showed inside.
Of course, we lost Jarron on the very first play. He came in, he was largely ineffective for three other plays, but he was physical inside, did a very nice job for us, and he’ll have to play obviously the lion’s share of the game on Saturday.
Q. Is Chase not healthy enough? Did he never come back enough where you could use him in one of those positions this year?
COACH KELLY: He’s just not big enough to play inside. He’s more suited to play at the 5 technique. And it’s really a grind for him inside to place him in that position.
So it’s just more about size than anything else in terms of being able to put him inside.
Q. Are you and Michael Birch in agreement that Elijah Shumate would start this game?
COACH KELLY: Mike and I are in perfect agreement that he is definitely on the roster. We have an announcement to make there, unfortunately. Drue Tranquill tore his ACL in the game. And we’ve lost him for the year.
So that will put us in a position where it will be Max and Austin at one safety and it will be Elijah and Eilar Hardy at the other safety. So that will be the rotation.
Q. Have you at least seen some of the things that you wanted to see from Elijah in terms of more consistency in practice? Have you not gotten to that point this week?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that it really yeah, he had a better week of practice. I don’t know that it really mattered. We needed to get him back in the game and get him going and get some confidence and get him on the upswing in this game, in practice, for Bowl, in the Bowl game, to really kind of sling shot him into next year.
So he was going to play a little bit no matter what the circumstances obviously with the loss of Drue, that puts him in more of an immediate situation where he’s gotta go in and impact what we do.
Q. I get people asking me questions about effort’s reaction sometimes coming to the sideline and maybe not warm and fuzzy feelings between the two of you at that point. I mean, is that just kind of how the relationship is? Is that something that he is good with and that he actually thrives with?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know what you’re referring to specifically. Because I don’t know when the camera’s on me and when the camera’s not on me.
You know, if I’m on a player, they don’t usually want to give me a big kiss. You know what I mean? So it wouldn’t surprise me if a player, if I’m on them about something, you know, they didn’t immediately go and give me the big smile.
But we communicate fine. And there’s emotion in the game, too. And I’m a guy that immediately reacts. I am somebody that immediately reacts to something. And sometimes you just need about 10 or 15 seconds to let it process.
So we have no problem communicating the things that we need to communicate. So sometimes it takes just a deep breath. Not unusual from other quarterbacks that I’ve coached. I had a quarterback at Cincinnati, Zach Collaros, very similar to Everett. You just gotta give them sometimes a minute to catch their breath.
And if you’re on them right away, you know, you’re not going to get the response that you need. So I’m perfectly fine with our relationship and our conversations. We get what we need done on the sidelines in terms of the communication.
Q. Jaylon Smith has had a lot of chaos around him with all the injuries and so forth. I’m wondering, is he part of the chaos. Is he showing you greatness in practice and in games that maybe isn’t illuminated because of everything that’s going on around him? And is he an inside linebacker for the future moving forward?
Is this where he’s going to be?
COACH KELLY: How many questions were in that? (Laughter) First of all, he’s an ascending player. He’s playing great football for us.
He tried to make some calls for the first time and wasn’t very successful. We had a talk with him after the game and we had to kind of restructure his thought process. And this is how we put it, and I’m sure he won’t be offended by my comments, because they’re well intended.
Coach, I’m really proud of the decision I made to move the front. The problem is he moved the front the wrong way and they walked into the end zone.
I said, I think you mean you’re proud of your assertiveness. We’re not proud that you moved the front the wrong way. And we knew what he meant.
So is he part of the chaos? He’s part of the process of learning and he wants to be part of making those calls and making those decisions, but it was kind of interesting, you see Jaylon’s moving the front and Cole Luke is trying to pull it back, because Cole moves, listen, I’m by myself out here.
So, unfortunately, it’s just one of those deals where you got a guy that wants to be assertive. He’s got a young linebacker in there. He thinks he’s making the right decision. And he’s growing. He’s ascending as a player. The knowledge base, we’re trying to catch up there.
COACH KELLY: I think so. I don’t want to speak for Coach VanGorder. But we’ll have a conversation at the end of the year. He’s playing well inside. He could be a Mike, a Will, he’s starting to see things now very, very well inside and he’s doing a very good job.
Q. How much do you expect to get from Cody Riggs this week?
COACH KELLY: It’s yet to be determined. He’s in a walking boot right now just to keep the stress off that foot. He’s a gamer, you know. We’ve got 30 something plays from him. My guess is we’ll get something close to that again, unless something happens during the week.
He just picked at it a little bit. Nothing more than just picking at that stress reaction. So we’re hoping we get about 30 from him again.
Q. Before the season began, you said you expected to see some teeth gnashing moments from the defense. Has it been about what you expected?
COACH KELLY: Other than losing some key players, if we could have held together some of the key players on a young group, I think it would have definitely served us better. So we’ve got some players that are ascending at the end of the year.
We would have liked the unit as a whole be ascending, but it’s been difficult with the loss of several key players.
Q. And through the first six games of the season, the defense only gave up I think six running plays, 15 yards or more, in the past four or five games have done more than a dozen. How much of that is attributed to Joe Schmidt’s loss or what do you think the key is there?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s a little bit of both. It’s a little bit about some of the fits and some of it has been in the back end of our defense.
We had two missed reads and coverages calls on two zone reads by the quarterback where he walked in the end zone. Our safety is supposed to be on both of those.
And they got the wrong signal. Communicated. So a little bit of both there. So I think that I can’t contribute it on just one of those things. I think it’s a little bit of both.
Q. Talked a lot about how young the defense is. A lot of young players have gotten playing time this year. Do you see any areas where you can say this is where I think we’re getting a little bit better?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think there’s some areas we’re going to be really good. Cole Luke is turning into an A player. He’s not an A player yet. He was a C player coming into the year. He’s a B plus player right now.
Smart. He did a heck of a job against the kid from Louisville. We should have flipped him. We missed the flip on the one touchdown. He was supposed to come over. We matched him up all day.
So that was clear that that’s a player that’s ascending for us. And then I think all of those freshmen that are playing. Jay Hayes played solid for us. Trumbetti is playing solid for us. Greer Martini, and all those freshmen that are playing are going to benefit from this experience. James Onwualu is playing better for us. So I just think there’s so much benefit. We want to win, though, while we’re doing this, along the way.
And the shame of it is we think we’re really close to sitting here with a totally different record, if we just do some of the ordinary things. Not the extraordinary things. Just some of the ordinary things right, we can feel really good about our situation.
Q. Jarron Jones, once you get him back up obviously it’s going to be a pretty long process, but how high do you see his ceiling especially if you have him for two more seasons?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, what he’s learning to work with is his lower body. His explosiveness has to come as a long lever guy it’s got to come from his lower body.
So one of the fallbacks here is that we’re going to lose him in the weight room for a little bit. And one of the areas that he had to really focus in on was lower body strength. So Coach Longo will have to do an extraordinary job of really working around that injury to continue to build his lower body strength.
He’s done a really good job with his hands. We gotta get his lower body to meet what he’s done with his hands. He can push anybody back. We haven’t gotten the explosiveness from his lower body yet. So that’s going to be the challenge now in the offseason.
Q. When you consider where he was, let’s say 18 months ago, before the start of the 2013 season, are you a little bit surprised at how much progress he’s made from that point?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know if we’re surprised as much as we felt like if he was given the opportunity, that we saw that this was part of where this could lead us. And so he’s made the strides that we’ve hoped that he’s made. He didn’t do it consistently. You know? Florida State he was a beast. And then he was missing by and large against Northwestern.
So we gotta see that week in and week out. But he’s got the capability to be a dominating player.
Q. And another player I think along those lines in terms of consistency, you were really high on Chris Brown during the preseason. He’s had moments. He played well this past week?
COACH KELLY: No, he’s played well the last three weeks. Really have seen a different guy in the last after the Arizona State game, just seen a look in his eye that has the makings for me of what I’ve wanted to see from him all year. Just he wants it bad. I’m really happy for him.
He’s ascending, and putting himself in a position that I want the ball, get me the ball, catching the football, making tough catches, really happy for him.
I’m really pleased. The meaner that wide receiver group has turned into from last year at times being soft, they’re a tough group now. You look at them on the sideline and they got an edge about them. It’s pretty good.
Q. Downfield blocking was pretty was really impressive.
COACH KELLY: They’re going to be a special, special group of players.
Q. How do you keep Chris Brown locked in?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think he’s decided how to do that, right? He’s decided that nobody’s going to take away my reps. Nobody’s going to encroach upon my time, and when I get my shot I’m going to make the best of it.
I think he’s made that decision on his own that my actions speak louder than any words. And you guys will figure it out.
Q. With regard to injuries, this is really two seasons in a row where your defense has really been devastated by it. I mean, obviously the majority of it is rigors of the game. But do you sit down with a Rob Hunt or before Paul Longo and formulated your strength and conditioning program with him through the years, what kind of things do you discuss when you have two years in a row like this, or does it just come down to the rigors of the game?
COACH KELLY: If you really look at them, we’re talking about each one of them is so different, right? We start with Joe and the Navy game gets rolled up on. He goes to the sidelines, starts jumping up and down on his foot to try to get the feeling in, displaces the fracture.
Then you go and you look at Sheldon Day, gets rolled up on. Each one of them so individual that you can’t look at it one training or conditioning regimen. Gee, we didn’t even think Drue had a torn ACL. We thought he pinched the fat pad on his knee. Played the second half on it. That’s how strong he is, hamstring and quad area is so strong that he passed his ACL test. Then he comes in on Sunday and he’s swollen, we’re like we need an MRI. We get an MRI he has an ACL.
Each one is so different. But we sit down and examine all those things and look at them carefully. That’s why it’s so important to have great depth and continue to build your depth.
Q. In accordance with that, I know like last year Matthias Farley played hurt. You don’t want to talk about that during the season obviously. Austin Collinsworth is not 100 percent but he’s fighting through. How do you draw that line between we need this guy on the field because he’s smart; we’ll give up something like maybe if he’s 85 percent to play him, how do you determine that?
COACH KELLY: Probably just if it was one of the wide receivers, it’s an easy decision. Torii, get in there. Will’s not 100 percent. And you don’t drop off. Austin, there’s an incredible need there. So I think it’s probably need in that particular position. First it’s medically are they clear and we’re not putting them in harm’s way. So we start with that premise. And then who is the best option for us out there.
And we felt like Austin was at the time the best option for us.
Q. You mentioned earlier this year that Will’s kind of a guy who needs the secondary receivers to kind of flourish the way he has. Does he still need those and how has the development of Cory Robinson and Chris Brown and those guys kind of helped Will?
COACH KELLY: Absolutely. He’s not a guy that can carry it by himself. He’s not, you know, physically able to just go out there and knock off double coverage. He can beat any man coverage around with his speed. He’s not physically able to go and play like some of the megatron and those beasts, if you try to double him up, he’s just going to knock you around and physically use his body to brace himself against any coverage. He’s not in that position. So he needs those complementary receivers.
His next step is to continue to work on his physical development. And that’s the next step for him.
Q. (Indiscernible) I noticed was in the second half, were you pleased with the response he had to your pass protection challenge?
COACH KELLY: Obviously. Obviously. He’s been outstanding. Not good, he’s been outstanding the last two weeks in pass protection. He’s been 100 percent. So that’s why he’s been in the game so late.
Q. I know you just kind of mentioned it’s almost a mentality with it. He has the physical tools to do it and was it really just getting him over that mental hump?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, yeah, I think so. I think at this stage, where they are, they can run the hill for every day 365 days a year. But if you take playing time from them, it gets their attention. He didn’t want to lose any playing time.
Q. Greg, we didn’t have the chance to ask you about his punt return against Louisville. Where does he still need to go in terms of punt return and just kind of learning that position?
COACH KELLY: He’s got a ways to go. But I thought what he did, which was a huge step for him, is that he took it and went north and south. I mean, he just took it and hit it and trusted it and I think that that’s the first step in his development.
I think the next step is and he did it, which was outstanding was earlier in the game there was a ball. And there was a lot of commotion in front of him. There was a lot of eyes there was a short kick, high kick, and there were a lot of eyes in front of him and he just didn’t trust to go up there and run through the bodies to catch it. I said you’ve just got to trust it. If somebody runs in to you, we’re going to get a flag. Well, what happens? The next play he’s on the other side and dumb dumb, our own guy, comes across like he’s in a walk in the park and he gets drilled into Greg. So of course Greg comes over and says I thought I wouldn’t get hit because he was looking for the ball the whole time.
So we’ve got to help him out that it’s going to be okay to look for the football. He’s making great progress there, though, and he’s had two really, really good weeks of practice. And I think you’ll see him get some carries on Saturday, too.
Q. Talked to Tarean after the game about the run game and expanding a little bit and play calls. When do you make the decision to do that, I don’t know how much it’s actually expanded but Tarean felt it’s a good fit for his running style?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we started to add a little bit more to it after the Arizona State game, where we were running some read throws and as you know off of those read throws, we got some balls batted down. And so we eliminated some of those read throws into some locked runs where we’re running it no matter if they bring pressure.
To do that, you’ve got to run a little bit more of a gap scheme where you’re pulling some people. So we started to get into that and I think that’s probably what he’s alluding to. And he likes that kind of downpull wrap type of action. And he feels pretty comfortable with it.
Q. A natural thing for him?
COACH KELLY: He reads the pull pretty good. Yeah, he knows if that guard’s going to log or kick out. He’s got a pretty good sense and feel for it when to bounce it and when to kick it up inside.
Q. Greer, the example set for him is pretty limited. But as you sort of went over that, talked to Brian about it, how did you feel like he performed and how was he maybe a little different from Niles?
COACH KELLY: He’s a little bit more in control than Niles. Niles, as you know is an extremely gifted athlete. But he plays out of control at times, as evident by him having to sit the first half.
So with Greer you get a little bit more of a guy that is reading things out, a little bit more in control. Not as good obviously athletically I think Niles brings a little bit more there. But Greer’s no slouch either. He can move and run.
So I think that’s probably a little bit of the difference between the two. Greer will start obviously on Saturday.
Q. Second half do you see them rotating or just sort of
COACH KELLY: They’ll both play, yeah. They’ll both play, yeah.
Q. With Greer he committed to you guys like three years ago, when Bob was a defensive coordinator. What were your thoughts on like, okay, does this guy fit into what we’re going to do in our new defense? How did that process go?
COACH KELLY: We just liked his football intelligence. And that’s really what has shown itself. And then I think what we’ve been pleasantly surprised with him, much better athlete than anybody thought.
Q. Tranquill’s injury, do you have a early prognosis for next season, any idea if he’ll be possibly ready by camp or start of next season?
COACH KELLY: Four to six months with these ACLs. We do the traditional patella graft on it. Four months he’s running. It’s just with the graft it’s generally tendonitis that you’re dealing with. Fighting through some tendonitis from the graft.
We’ve done really well. Brian Radigan, Rob Hunt has done a great job from all of them we’ve had, these guys are running in four months and competing hard, hard in six.
Q. Last season we had a situation with Jarron Grant where he was eligible to play basketball for a semester even though he was suspended. And he was eligible until he wasn’t anymore, basically. And the cutoff date was late December. Is Eilar Hardy facing a similar situation, and is he available for any Bowl game you might have in late December given that there’s more attrition now with the safety group?
COACH KELLY: It’s my understanding that he’ll be here right up through the end of this semester. So he’ll be able to participate in practice and be part if anything changes I’ll certainly let you know but it’s my understanding he’ll be here.
Q. Talking about the receiver group before and Amir Carlisle has been a part of that this year, significant part of that. When you made the switch with him what helped him make that transition? What does he still need to work on as he’s
COACH KELLY: The transition was difficult for him. It wasn’t easy. And it’s one that he has I think evolved into. He’s learning every day a little bit more about the position. I think the area that I think that he’s grown the most is just understanding the nuances. Not hey, how do I run a go route or a flag route, just the nuances of the position, because he’s running in and around linebackers, over the top, and that position requires some savvy. And he didn’t come with a lot of just pure football knowledge.
We wouldn’t consider him the most football savvy guy that we have. So he’s starting to gain some of that knowledge. And I think that that’s where his growth has occurred over the past year.
Q. How has he improved as a returner, would you say?
COACH KELLY: Just toughness. Running with some toughness and I think his big games are he gets it and just hits it hard. When he does that, we’re pretty darned effective in getting pretty good field position.
Q. When you took this job the USC rivalry was one of the ones you were excited to be part of. Now just after playing in a handful of these games now, I wondered what’s your feel of this rivalry and what it means to this program?
COACH KELLY: I still think it’s the rivalry game. How many times can you match up two teams one from the West Coast and one from Indiana at the end of the year? I just think the significance of it historically, tradition wise, geographically, there’s no game like it from that perspective. And I just from all the games that have been played between Notre Dame and USC, there were certainly great ones that meant so much to final rankings.
Certainly this one won’t. But two years ago it meant an undefeated season. So these games seem to have huge impact on what happens at the end of the season. So I think that’s another significant reason why these games are so big.
Q. And I know you had an appreciation for it before you got here, but just being on the sidelines, is it a bigger atmosphere than maybe you expected?
COACH KELLY: There’s nothing like it. I mean, I think being in LA and being in that coliseum and the white horse and that whole kind of atmosphere is definitely unique and different than any game you play, for sure.
Q. Have you talked to DaVaris? Any update on what’s going to happen with him next year yet?
COACH KELLY: Yes. Really we’re at the point of determining eligibility as it relates to academics. And so now you’re into nine hour rule, 18 hour rule, all of those kinds of things.
Fairly significant discussions have been taking place relative to academic eligibility. And that’s an ongoing process right now that’s taking place. What hours have been granted, what hours there really wasn’t even clarity as to whether this semester would be counted in the eligibility.
So all of that now is being taken place, has been vetted and is taking place right now. I know they’re going through that right now. And it’s a pretty complex situation.
Q. Do you know when you’ll know? Is there a timeline on it?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s something that needs to happen, because they’ve got to make accommodations, they, KeiVarae, Ishaq and DaVaris, in particular, gotta make accommodations for academics in January. So it’s something that I know that academics and compliance have been working on very, very hard over the last few days.
Q. Have you been given any update on potential [indiscernible] victories?
COACH KELLY: I have not. I have not. My only communication with Jack on that was that that was something that wasn’t on the table for us right now.
Q. Saturday on the game telecast, there was an indication that you went into that Louisville game with sort of a zero tolerance towards turnovers, specifically with Everett. And that you wouldn’t hesitate to maybe make a change if need be. Was that a consideration at any point on Saturday?
And where are you with that? The need for Everett to take care of the ball and fighting that urge to maybe make a change if he doesn’t?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think I still carry that. I think the turnovers for me would have to be ones that were careless, sloppy, a disregard for the football. I think in both instances, one, we didn’t do a good enough job of coaching him on the first interception where the corner had definitely baited him into that throw.
And then the second one where he was trying to get out of a sack. He actually covered up the ball, we felt, very well off of the pressure that he got. And so in those two instances, I felt that he was not careless with the football in those two instances.