Sept. 14, 2010

An interview with:

COACH Brian Kelly

THE MODERATOR: Coach will have some opening comments about the game this week and then we’ll take questions from the media.
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon.
The battle continues. We go into the Big Ten again for the third consecutive week. Good opponent. Well coached team in Michigan State. Our focus yesterday was obviously correcting the errors in the game on Saturday, and certainly setting our minds right relative to the next opponent. We don’t carry wins or losses with us, other than we have a 24 hour rule then move on. We make our adjustments on Monday relative to the game plan that was just concluded, and we go over the film, get back to work today.
Today is an important day for us to work on getting better against a very good opponent. Great rushing attack with three backs that have all shown their capabilities in running the football. That’s not even including (Larry) Caper, who is clearly one of the better backs as well. Kirk Cousins is an accomplished quarterback, a lot of starts underneath his belt, savvy kid. (Mark) Dell and (B.J.) Cunningham, wide receivers. Again, this is a balanced Big Ten offense, very physical up front. Coach (Mark) Dantonio plays a physical brand of football both on offense and defense.
Obviously, defensively (Greg) Jones, rightly so, is one of the best linebackers in the country. Very physical up front. Experienced at the linebacker position.
So, again, outstanding special teams. Another really good Big 10 opponent and we have our work cut out for us. Our kids are up for the challenge. We’ll prepare hard this week and be prepared for a road game against Michigan State. With that I’ll open it up to any questions.

Q. I wondered if there was any update on Coach (Mike) Elston today?
COACH KELLY: All I can tell you is he is still not with us. In his absence, our coaches have done a great job. We team coached the special teams. I thought we did a pretty good job. You know, the best analogy that I heard was that for our coaches to really step in there, they really picked up for one of the best special teams coaches in the country and did a very good job. I think there’s a lot of confidence there that we can continue on with that.
The defensive line obviously is his position as well. So for the immediate time, until Coach Elston does get back, Mike Denbrock will go over and coach the defensive line. Lorenzo Guess, who was in the weight room for us as one of our strength and conditioning coaches, will go and coach the tight ends position. He coached the tight ends for me last year at the University of Cincinnati. We should have a pretty seamless transition. Again, that is just for a short time. We’re expecting that Coach Elston will be back with us pretty soon.

Q. What reaction did you get from (Tommy) Rees and (Nate) Montana in the 48 hours since the game and what were you looking for from them?
COACH KELLY: After the fact or during the game?

Q. After the fact.
COACH KELLY: After the fact. I think they’re competitive kids, they want to learn, they want to get better. I think the only way that you get that is with experience.
Both of them certainly feel like they can get better. I think they’ll understand that practice for them is absolutely crucial, staying locked in all the time. Not that they weren’t.
Again, I just think it’s their first opportunity to play, and now they have to improve off of that.

Q. You mentioned (Theo) Riddick is kind of the key to opening things up for (Michael) Floyd. What are you seeing from Theo? How close do you think he is to getting to that level?
COACH KELLY: Well, I still think we’re a work in progress there. It’s something that he’s learning more every day about how to be a championship wide receiver, not just a guy.
He’s worked hard at it. We have to be a little bit patient in that process of getting him to where we need him to be. I see a comfort level with him each and every week where he’s starting to feel a lot more comfortable. Obviously had a nice catch up the sideline. Again, I think we’re in the early stages of development of a very good player.

Q. It seems like here with any loss there’s a little bit of ‘the sky is falling’ element from the fan base. I wonder if you feel that, if you shut it out, if you’re surprised by that.
COACH KELLY: I’m not surprised by it at all. There will be plenty of room on the bandwagon, too, when we start winning.
Look, this is a process for me and our coaches and our players that, you know, we’re going to work at every single day. Those are expectations in this business that you’re going to have each and every day.
I don’t spend much time dwelling on that other than the fact that we have to play the game better, and that’s what my focus is on, is getting our football team and our coaches, both players and coaches, to coach and play the game better so we can win.

Q. Brian, you talk about depth being a strength of the team. I know two games is a real small sample. I think you can look at places like quarterback, safety, maybe the defensive line and wonder, are there some spot concerns with depth at this point?
COACH KELLY: Well, when I talk about depth, we’re playing a lot of defensive linemen, we’re playing multiple linebackers. Three corners played in the game quite a bit. We’re banged up at safety. We think we’ve got two really good safeties that we can’t get on the field right now in (Dan) McCarthy and (Jamoris) Slaughter. If both of those young men are able to play at a high level, we have four safeties, three corners, seven defensive linemen that are getting a lot of work. Between three and four linebackers getting some work, as well.
I still would stand by that comment. I think one of the things is a lot of those guys are playing first time football, as well. They’re evolving as a football team and a player individually as well.
So, again, I still think we have pretty good depth on the defensive side of the ball; just have to play the game a little bit better.

Q. Lot of plays run against you the first couple weeks. You mentioned the defense being tired at the end of last game. Was that a function of what Michigan was doing? Was that bound to happen when they possessed the ball in the second half like they did?
COACH KELLY: We had three turnovers that we really had to battle defensively to keep the points down after those turnovers. So the three turnovers, a number of the three and outs in the first half, it’s a residual effect of being on the field for a long period of time.
Yeah, there was 3:47 left, 3 and change, in the game. That’s where we want to come up with a stop clearly. I think as I watch the film, the coaches watch the film, we’re in a place where we need to make some plays in that period of time. I don’t know that I’m going to use the excuses anymore of us being tired as much as we need to make plays in those situations. We also have to help our kids to be in position to make some plays as well.

Q. A few days from Saturday. What’s the outlook on Jamoris?
COACH KELLY: He moved around yesterday. I think we’re closer with him and McCarthy, both of those guys. But, again, I think it’s going to be probably Wednesday before we know for sure.

Q. Brian, first road game. Do you do anything different in the preparation for a road game than a home game?
COACH KELLY: I like to go to the stadium, just let the guys see the stadium, the surroundings of it, so the first time they see it isn’t on game day. Other than that, the preparation is pretty much the same.
Obviously, this will be an 8:00 game so Saturday becomes a lot longer and you’re trying to look for things during that day relative to your schedule in terms of what you may want to do.
I’ve had some opportunities where we’ve taken the team to the stadium the day of the game and moved them around a little bit just so they don’t become sluggish in the hotel.
I don’t know that we’re going to do that. But those are the little things you get when there’s a time change, going from 3:30 to 8, then certainly being on the road, seeing the stadium. Other than that, the preparation will be the same.

Q. How much of a concern is it that your defense wasn’t able to generate any turnovers last week? Two turnovers in two games. Is that a point of emphasis this week, trying to force some things?
COACH KELLY: Well, you know, you always have to look at the opponent. I thought we dropped two interceptions, one of them that was in and out of Manti’s hands, another one that Harrison had but dropped, then there was obviously a fumble on the ground that we couldn’t come up with.
Is it unlucky? Is it the bounces didn’t go your way? You know, we’re going to continue to do what we do, and that is play physical. I thought we did a very good job of rallying other than the opportunities that were big plays for them.
We’ll keep coaching the same way. We won’t change anything this week when it comes to that.

Q. Coach, you got Montana and Rees both listed on the depth chart. That might not be much of a change in reality. Did you ever give any thoughts of picking one, get a package in there for a specific backup?
COACH KELLY: In retrospect or for this week?

Q. For this week.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think we’re going to settle on a package that suits both of them. I think we have to have something that really allows both of those guys to feel comfortable out there and still run our offense in a productive manner.
We focused a lot on that in our preparation and in our meetings. I’m certain we’ll be in a much better place this weekend if we have to go to them when they go in the game.

Q. You talked about not coaching scared with Dayne. Do you maybe have to be a little bit more cautious with him?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, you want to keep Dayne Crist in the game at the end of the day. But I think that our offense is such that I don’t think you’re ever going to be conservative in what you do. I think we have to be careful not to play scared. So we’ll be careful.

Q. Going back to Saturday. There was a break while they reviewed Rudolph’s touchdown. Did you see any symptoms from Dayne not being with it at that point?
COACH KELLY: No, we didn’t see anything until we were ready to take the field. We were in the huddle. We had just got clearance from the TV tout to take the field. We were under a minute. That’s when he said, Coach, I just don’t remember this play. You know, again, you could look at him and you could tell that he wasn’t fully in charge. So that’s when we made the decision to make the change.

Q. As far as Dayne, he’s cleared?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah. There was never a concussion procedure that we went through. He actually had some swelling on his face Sunday from a hit that he took. When he hit the ground, a helmet hit him. That’s really what caused it. It was really more of a hit to the face.
But he’s fine.

Q. The blurred vision, that has to be a concern, too.
COACH KELLY: It went away or we wouldn’t have put him back in the game. It went away within an hour or so and has not had any headaches or anything that would cause our medical staff any concern.

Q. How did you handle the D line coaching last weekend? Had Denbrock moved over or is that a move for this week?
COACH KELLY: That is a move for this week.

Q. How did you handle it for the game?
COACH KELLY: Coach (Chuck) Martin did a job on the sideline during the game. Mike (Elston) only missed Thursday and Friday, and Coach (Jon) Carpenter, our graduate assistant, took the defensive line.

Q. As far as the Z position Theo, you have Robby Toma listed behind him. Is he an option now?
COACH KELLY: No. He’s our number two. Like Robby, I think he’s a good player for us. When he gets his opportunity, I’m sure he’ll do well. But this is Theo’s position and we’re going to get Theo better and better.

Q. Were you thinking at the end of the first half that, A, you’re not sure whether you’re going to have Dayne Crist in the second half, and, B, you’re not sure how many opportunities you’re going to have at the three yard line in the second half?
COACH KELLY: I tell you, I never gave it a thought to kick the field goal. Maybe that’s my problem, but I didn’t even think about a field goal. If there was hindsight, 20/20, I would have called a different play ’cause that one didn’t work.
The decision of field goal/no field goal, that never entered my mind. The only thing I can look back on is the play.

Q. There was a long break there because they were reviewing Riddick’s play.

Q. I know this is supposition. Had there not been that break…
COACH KELLY: I didn’t even think about it. Maybe it was the circumstances during the game, all the things that you’re talking about. Maybe they all went into my mind and that’s why I did what I did.
I’m trying to absorb information in the present. All I can tell you is I never thought about kicking the field goal.

Q. Did you think of that play right from the outset or did you change it during that long break while they were reviewing?
COACH KELLY: It was our two point play.

Q. So you knew exactly what you wanted to run?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we had it set up. It was our two point play. It was a play we felt we could handle. It wasn’t the right play in that circumstance.

Q. He didn’t read it properly?
COACH KELLY: You know what, I would say that I should have called a better play.

Q. Brian, you mentioned McCarthy was a little banged up. Do you anticipate him being available this week?
COACH KELLY: He has a soft tissue injury that has been nagging him really. We have been trying every mode of treatment. We have gone to everything. I think we start acupuncture and incense this week (laughter). We’re trying everything.
He’s such a competitive kid and he wants to get out there, so we’re really struggling trying to get him out there. But I think there’s some good news there. We saw some better things from him. Hopefully we can get him over the hump.

Q. I guess because there’s a halfway decent chance you’ll have two scholarship safeties again this weekend, do you rework your nickel at all?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, obviously we are in a more difficult situation with the lack of those two safeties. So Blanton obviously was the next guy. Lo Wood is probably going to have to see some time, as well. Hopefully we can get one or two those safeties back where we don’t have those problems.

Q. Overall, big picture. Some coaches use a corner at the nickel. You prefer the safety. What is it about the safety that you prefer as your nickel back or is it the specific personnel here?
COACH KELLY: I think what you’re looking for is somebody that can blitz off the edge as well as cover out. So if you’ve got somebody that can do that and bring something, like a Zeke Motta, who is a physical kid, then you want to look in that direction more so than not.

Q. Clarification. I think toward the end of the game, Ethan Johnson was coming off, they flagged him.
COACH KELLY: It was a critical penalty.

Q. The announcers talked about how there was an understanding among officials that if you’re that close, they won’t.
COACH KELLY: He didn’t get off the field in time.

Q. You didn’t have a problem with the penalty?
COACH KELLY: No, I had a huge problem with the penalty (laughter).

Q. I guess the interpretation of the penalty.
COACH KELLY: You know, a long time ago I stopped interpreting the thought process when it comes to those fouls.

Q. What kind of relationship did you have with Coach (Mark) Dantonio with Cincinnati, kind of the coming and going there, taking over the program?
COACH KELLY: Respect. Respect for what he did. He instilled a toughness in that unit when I took it over. Clearly knew of his work when he was at Ohio State, as well. That’s my impressions of Coach Dantonio.

Q. Coach Kelly, I know you said you’d be careful with Dayne to keep him in the game. What adjustments from like offensive play calling can you make to maybe have him scramble less? Did you work on having him slide better this week or anything like that?
COACH KELLY: We didn’t work on the sliding yet. But I will tell you that some of the zone read stuff is not a play that would be the first thing on our call sheet. So we have to keep it in because of the spread offense. We have to run option because of the spread offense.
If we were going to protect him, we would have to change the way we run our offense. We would have to put another back in the backfield or another tight end on the field so we could protect him at all times.
But when you’re in the spread, and they have more guys than you do, you have to read that player. So we really can’t go away from it because of the kind of offense we run. We just have to be careful with it.

Q. Coach, on your second tier of receivers in terms of the depth chart, it seems after two games Tyler Eifert has stepped up to be one of the more productive people. Do you do more two tight end situations? How do you get him more involved?
COACH KELLY: That would be one way to do it because I’m not taking Rudolph all the field. I think you would have Eifert on the field a little bit more, two tight ends best clearly. He is an outstanding receiver.
You know, I think as we become more comfortable with the players, developing our players, that he’s a guy that I would think that you’re going to see more of as the year goes on.

Q. Ethan Johnson, was that the most critical play at the end of the drive, the penalty, to you?
COACH KELLY: Was that a critical play?

Q. Yes.
COACH KELLY: No, the fourth and one and then the third down completion that put the ball on the 1 or 2 yard line, getting a stop in that series. But, no, clearly that was a mistake that can cost you a game. In this instance it did.

Q. You’ve only been here two games, but the players you coach have been here obviously longer. I think what struck a lot of people on Saturday was that this team beats teams they should beat, but when they play teams that are equally matched in talent, they find a way to have what happened. How do you change that mentality with your players? How do you get them to feel like they have to own these games?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think I disagree with the premise that they don’t think that they can win those games. They were down 21 7. If they didn’t think they could win.

Q. Too many games in the last five years where they play a team of similar talent and the outcome is like what we just had.
COACH KELLY: Have to play better at the end of the game. But a lot of that has to do with, you know, the belief that you are going to win, as well. I think I come back and would say to you again, I still believe that that’s a belief that you know you’re going to win, not that you think you’re going to win.
We’re building that. So competing’s one thing. We’re going to compete. That’s not good enough. Competing is one thing; you got to win the games. So, you know, part of that is coaching. Part of that is technique. Part of that is a belief that you are going to win the football games. I think our kids believe they’re going to win games. Now we have to work on some of the technical aspects of getting there.

Q. Did the Michigan game change your thought process regarding which quarterback would go in if something happens to Dayne Crist in the future?
COACH KELLY: No, no. What happened for me is that we clearly have to have a package that both of those guys feel comfortable with. It will change the way I practice during the week in making sure that I do a better job of preparing those guys.

Q. So Tommy was in first. Would he go in first again?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know. I think their situation we decided as I get a chance to see him and evaluate him during the week.

Q. There’s hardly been any talk at all about the offensive line. I think they’ve drawn a penalty in the first couple games. Run game seems to be operating well. The quarterbacks have been getting protection. It was kind of listed as a concern before the season. Three new starters. Have they met or exceeded your expectations so far?
COACH KELLY: I think the tackles have. I think (Taylor) Dever and (Zack) Martin have exceeded my expectations. We’re still a work in progress inside. Braxston (Cave) has been inconsistent. Trevor (Robinson), who has the most experience, didn’t have his best game. Stewey (Chris Stewart) has been pretty good, pretty consistent.
I would take that back. I would say Stewey and the two tackles have been pretty consistent. We need more consistency from Cave and Robinson at this point. They have been good, but not at the level the other three guys have been.

Q. Now that you’re on the first road game, you’re in the spread, the offense has to adjust to the crowd noise, how do the dynamics change with the offensive line in this game as far as silent count or any other things?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’re in a visual signalling situation, so the center snapping off of a visual. It will be how our tackles and guards react. So, you know, that’s where we’ll spend most of our time with the tackles and the guards and their communication system.
That’s something that we’ll spend some time on this week. It’s never really been a problem in the spread. We’re not much inaudible in terms of verbal anyway. Everything is in a signalling fashion. We’ve been pretty good when we’ve gone on the road.

Q. Anything special that you do to simulate maybe crowd noise?
COACH KELLY: We’ll put some loud noise on just so we get our guys locked in for that period of time.

Q. T.J. Jones’ touchdown, it did happen that he released the ball before crossing. Did you notice that at the time?

Q. Were you able to address it afterwards with him?
COACH KELLY: What do you think (laughter)? Do you want to know what happened? We pulled his pants down and gave him a spanking (laughter). No, that’s discipline. That’s a young kid that’s got to have understanding, act like you’ve been there before. You’re not flipping the ball off before you get in there. It’s unacceptable, and he heard it. It will be the last time he does it because he won’t be back on the field if he does it again.

Q. What I was meaning, was it in the replay booth?
COACH KELLY: I didn’t know about it till Sunday. No, Brian Hardin brought it up to me. Yeah, he brought it up to me after the game, but I did not see it until Sunday actually in terms of on film. Brian did bring it up. It was discussed on the telecast that he flipped it out early. I didn’t see it at the time or I would have addressed it at that time, for sure.
That’s the only spanking we gave out.

Q. Going back to what you said Saturday about the defense being out of gas at the end of the game. Where is your level of concern with that, given that off season conditioning is really something that you hung your hat on this year?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think I’m backing away from that statement a little bit. I think I’ve said that once already, that we were in position to make some plays. We needed to make them. We also obviously have to put our kids in a position to make them.
It’s both on the players and coaches in that situation to do a better job. As I got a chance to watch the film and really look at that last drive, that’s kind of where I am today on it versus right after the game where I think my comments were, you know, We were out of gas, we were on the ground. That’s not what I saw after I watched the game on film.

Q. You mentioned defensive line being a possible vulnerability in your first press conference. Where have your impressions of them been?
COACH KELLY: Vulnerable in the sense of depth. I think we’re establishing depth. Sean Cwynar has done a great job at the nose. Ian, excuse me. Hafis (Williams) has come in and done a nice job for us in the rotation. So we’re feeling a lot better at that position because we’re getting some guys to emerge that can help us out.

Q. The play at the end of the first half, is that something that you talk about in that 48 hour meeting where you talk about situations? If you’re talking about a two point play, you want to make that decision without the emotion. Is that the same kind of thing there?
COACH KELLY: It’s different. That would be a different scenario. That’s just a matter of how the game is unfolding, whereas the 48 hour decision is based upon do you tie it up and go for overtime or go for the win with the two point play.
That wasn’t the same situation. This was for me at the time, at the moment, going for the touchdown.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone.

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