Sep 3, 2013
COACH KELLY:Well, we go on the road this week against a very good opponent in Michigan. Excited about the opportunity. Certainly we’ll have to play very good football. It’s a great and historic rivalry that we’ll be playing this Saturday, so let’s get that out of the way right away so we don’t have to answer any more questions about this rivalry. We’re excited about the game, excited about playing it. This will be decided by the players on the field and the preparation that goes along with it so we can stick to that and dispense with the nonsense.
We’re excited about it. We think the opener for us was an opportunity for really good preparation for a lot of young players, guys that got opportunities to play for the first time. We were able to achieve a number of things offensively in Tommy Rees’s first start in a year where he got into the game, deep into the game. I think over four or five running backs playing in the game, a number of receivers. So a lot of players played in the game is my point.
Now we need to build on that going into that match-up against Michigan, a very talented team. Brady does a great job, as you know, a team that — I don’t know the numbers particularly. I don’t know if they’ve lost at home since he’s been the head coach there. Led by Devin Gardner. He’s done a nice job. He reminds me of Randall Cunningham back there. He can throw it, he’s tall, he’s athletic, runs the ball very well.
Jeremy Gallon, he’s wearing No. 21. I think we all know what that means. He’s an outstanding wide receiver, big-time playmaker, outstanding tight end.
And Funchess, he’s got great size, can go up and get the football. A number of running backs led by Toussaint, who’s a veteran, and obviously one of the best if not the best offensive linemen in Taylor Lewan on the offensive line.
A lot of offensive players, great depth, and they utilize their weapons.
Defensively, they do a lot of things. They’ll bring pressures, they give you multiple looks. They’re difficult to defend. You know, obviously Jibreel Black is a guy that I’m very familiar with, outstanding player out of Cincinnati of Ohio. He’s a very active defensive lineman. Again, a guy that’s played a lot of football for them.
Gordon, outstanding backer. And they just play hard. They’re very active. They’re very good tacklers on the back end of the defense, and like I said, they create a lot of different looks for you defensively.
It’ll be a great match-up. We were there two years ago and obviously very disappointed in the outcome. It’s a great atmosphere. Should be a great college football game.
With that I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Two years ago you held back some of your freshmen on their first trip to Michigan stadium because of the environment. With all the guys that played this week, is that a similar plan going in, or will they all get to see the field?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that we held them back because of the environment. We didn’t feel as though they were at a point where they were ready to play. We’ve already shown that — we’ve played 10 freshmen already. They got their opportunity to play. We expect all those young men to play again.
Q. DaVaris Daniels is still on track to be healthy again?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’ll practice today, yeah.
Q. I’m curious when you’re preparing for Lewan and so forth, obviously you’ve got a great tackle yourself with Zack Martin, but is it different because of his length, because of the kind of athlete he is? Is it a little bit different preparing for him than just simply going against Zack Martin?
COACH KELLY: No, I don’t think so. Certainly we’re not going to be able to duplicate what he does during the week relative to the demo squad. We just know that we’re going to have to do a great job when — when you have him on the edge, they’re going to try to run to his side. You know they want to get the ball outside your defense. So we have to be really good on the edge. We have to do a great job of keeping the ball inside our defense. So whoever is there has got to do a great job of making sure that they can control the edge of the defense.
Sometimes you have to scheme it to make sure that we do that. He’s that kind of player.
Q. As you go into games with really five running backs, do you kind of go by feel in terms of trying to establish rhythm with those guys and who you’re going to use and so forth?
COACH KELLY: Well, obviously we played five because we’re still trying to find out who that guy is. We’re not at that point where — later in the year last year we knew when we were going to close out the game, Theo Riddick was in the ballgame, and we’re not there yet. We’re still searching for that. Everybody is going to have an opportunity to show that that’s their job.
All of them are very versatile. They all can do the things that we’re asking them to do. We’re still searching for that guy to close out ballgames.
Q. Having a chance to see Ronnie Stanley on film, how would you rate his debut?
COACH KELLY: I thought he played like a first-time starter. He did some good things. I think he’s going to benefit greatly from all the snaps that he took, but certainly he’s going to have to play better for us.
Q. Zaire, did you get the blood work back yet?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he is not cleared to play. We don’t know that he’s going to play on Saturday based on what we got today. Again, we’re dealing with his spleen and whether that allows us to put him in competition. He’ll be allowed to do some things cardiovascular, but right now he is not cleared for competition.
Q. There’s kind of been a national debate all of a sudden about maybe defenses flopping players, faking injuries to slow down high-tempo offenses. What’s your thought about that?
COACH KELLY: I think I got this question before. You know, I don’t think it’s within the spirit of the game. You know, and again, I look at it as if we’re going to legislate out certain parts of the game, I think it’s going to do with the safety of the game. Faking injuries is not part of the sportsmanship of the game. If you can — I’ll give you an example: Last year Oregon played Stanford, right? Two years leading up to that game, Stanford really struggled with the high tempo, fast offense that Oregon ran against Stanford. Well, last year Stanford figured out a way to get their calls in and play fast defense, and they caught up to that fast-tempo offense.
I’m of the opinion that if you can do it on offense, you can do it on defense.
Q. A broader scheduling question if I might. You’ve got the five ACC games, the three spec games, USC, Stanford, Navy. Those other four, how do you envision those setting up down the line in terms of quality, in terms of what strength needs to be in those other four?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think if you look at the four, we’re trying to obviously keep a national perspective on it. We want a program like — Michigan is coming up, but Texas is coming on. So I think you’re going to be trading a national profile programs for that.
I think we’re also looking at areas where our Shamrock Series can be touted or played geographically, whether that be on the East Coast or in some areas that geographically make sense to us.
And then I think finally where we can bring this schedule together in balance and still give us the quality schedule that when the committee looks at a schedule in whole and decides who of those four or maybe down the road eight teams relative to playoffs, that they can look at our schedule and say, that’s a deserving schedule.
We have to balance all those things together.
Q. You may have just answered this, but is the working belief between you and Jack and everybody else that strength of schedule winds up being the difference maker in the playoffs probably?
COACH KELLY: Yes, for us it does. It does, yes.
Q. What are the particular challenges that a team with a fullback and a power offense is going to give to your linebackers compared to a spread team?
COACH KELLY: Well, we’re built that way. You know, we’re 250 at middle linebacker, we’re not 225. We’re 250 at the drop, 250 at the cat. We’re 320. We’re a bigger, physical football team. We prefer that kind of match-up. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easier. You look at our match-up against Stanford, and you look at it even against Pittsburgh last year that Coach Chryst brought in a Wisconsin-like prototypical kind of offensive structure. Those teams that are big and physical, you know, that’s how we’re built. We’re built for those physical games.
We played Oklahoma last year when they spread it out and went no back, and I thought we played very well. We can adapt, but we are structured physically to play that style of football.
We’re certainly in a position where we don’t feel we go into this week and feel like we’re undermanned.
Q. And in his first real extended playing time, Jarrett Grace in the rotation, how did he grade out in that rotation?
COACH KELLY: He played well. He played well at the linebacker position. There are a lot of things within the Temple offense that put the Mike linebacker — he’s always in double jeopardy, if you will, with some run pass reads, and it’s a tough position to play, but he did a very nice job for us.
Q. The gap between your three junior running backs and your two freshmen, how wide is it and what makes up that gap?
COACH KELLY: It’s too early to tell. I mean, we really — I think they all have things that they need to work on. I don’t think we left the game going, you know, we know everything about all these guys. I think it’s going to take some time for all of them to continue to work and continue to progress. Last year we had arguably two seniors, if you will, two experienced players. None of these guys have a lot of experience. So it’s going to take us some time to kind of work through it. We’ve got some growing pains a little bit at the position, but they’re all gifted players, but I think it’s going to take us a little time as we grow. We’re willing to play them all and we’re willing to take all of them and their strengths and try to make it work at that position.
Q. How significant a performance was it for Chris Brown to go from a one-route guy to an every-down receiver on Saturday?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think more than anything else, it’s confidence at that position for him, that when he’s called upon that he’s going to make a play and come up big for us. You know, again, it’s a very competitive situation. There’s a number of guys out there vying for playing time. And I think more than anything else, when your number is called, you’d better make a play because there’s another guy waiting for your chance. And I think that’s probably the most significant is that with the group of receivers that we have out there, they’re all fighting for the next snap and the next play. It’s pretty hot competition right now.
Q. With Louis, I’m sure he was double teamed a ton last year, too, I would imagine that frequency would increase more so this year. How do you feel like he dealt with that Saturday? I would imagine that would be fairly frustrating as the game goes on.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, you know, I think as a whole defensively on the defensive line, we would probably say we want to be a little bit more disciplined. We want to play with better technique on a snap-to-snap basis.
I think a first game we’re going to see a big improvement from everybody. The effort was there. Louis was on the field a lot, a lot more than he was last year. He was on the field for a lot of third-down snaps. We asked him to do a lot more than he did last year.
It was great meetings the last couple of days. I think we learned a lot, and I think our players were able to really take a lot from the game, and I think we’re going to see some things on Saturday that they can really build off of this week.
Q. Whether it’s you or Mike, do you go to him and say this is how it’s going to be, 70 percent of the time, you’re going to be double-teamed or —
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah, there’s constant conversations about what’s going to happen in there. I mean, there was three guys on him. We have to be recognizing that, and we’ve got to be able to put him in some positions, and we did, where we’re trying to get him in single gap situations where he can take a gap and go, and we’ve got to be able to do that for him, as well.
No, those conversations take place in the defensive staff room.
Q. Talk a little bit about the challenge Devin Gardner brings, especially compared to Robinson the past few years.
COACH KELLY: Well, certainly from a running standpoint, I don’t know that we’ve ever played a guy like Robinson, I mean, his just electric speed that he could immediately go 80 yards. I can’t remember a quarterback that I’ve coached against in my time that was that electric and dynamic.
Having said that, you know, throwing the football, gardener throws the football with much more accuracy. He pushes the ball down the field very easily. And he certainly scrambles very well, keeps his eyes downfield and is not afraid to run.
Another dual-threat quarterback that is going to be very, very difficult to defend. You know, one year to the next we have to defend another multi-dimensional quarterback.
Q. TJ Jones has talked about how football maybe wasn’t as high as a priority as it should have been his first couple years but this year he thinks he’s more focused than ever. Have you seen that and how have you seen it?
COACH KELLY: Well, he hasn’t missed one practice. I think the want and desire to be the best is there every single day. His want to be on special teams and return punts, you can see that there’s a passion to wanting to be the very, very best. As to why it wasn’t there, young guys are still figuring it out, but he clearly wants to be the best and I think leave a legacy here at Notre Dame, and I think he got off to a pretty good start on Saturday.
Q. Talk about your relationship with Brady Hoke, and have you had in the conversations with him in the past year about this series?
COACH KELLY: We have not talked about it. You know, again, I think people have made a lot of his comments, and look, he’s talking to his alums. I didn’t take anything from it, really. I know Brady. He’s never been one to show disrespect to anybody or anything. It’s really, for me, about two programs that share a border, that it makes sense to play. I get that It’s just there’s so many complexities with our schedule and our agreement with the ACC that it’s difficult and frustrating. I can see the frustration that would be there.
But he’s a first-class guy. I know him from our time way back; he was at Grand Valley State and Ball State. There’s nothing there other than he’s done a great job at Michigan, and I know he wants to continue to play Notre Dame, and we’d like to oblige him. But right now it’s difficult with the commitments that we have.
Q. Procedurally how did the transition in offensive play calling go on Saturday?
COACH KELLY: Like I said, I called all of the touchdowns, Chuck called all of the stalled drives.
Procedurally I thought very well. No, it was very clean. Didn’t expect to have any issues there and was very pleased. I thought Chuck called a very good game. There were a couple of things I thought were outstanding. The one sack that we did have, I thought he managed that situation very well. If you remember we were 2nd and 15. We got half of it back. We then got them to jump offside, subsequently got it down to a 3rd and 1. Things like that, I take full notice of how to play call those situations out where an inexperienced play caller, at 2nd and 15, now let’s chuck it and it’s 3rd and 15. But that’s just a small indication of his experience and being on the same page with him is that he managed the 2nd and 15 down to a 3rd and 1.
So yeah, it’s seamless, and I expect it to be that way all year.
Q. When is the last time you didn’t call plays on game day?
COACH KELLY: 23 years.
Q. I mean, I’m sure there’s always a constant open line of communication, so you’re exchanging ideas, but is there a temptation just having done it for so long to say, hey, don’t do this, or is it more, hey, think about this?
COACH KELLY: No. We’re working off of a play sheet and a call sheet that we construct during the week, and our columns are down and distance and openers and field position. So it’s not like there’s 36 calls in there. There’s four or five calls, and I’m generally saying let’s keep it on the ground, let’s burn some clock here, you know what I mean, let’s push the ball vertically, more general terms, let’s get a screen in here, let’s not forget about getting the ball to TJ, those kind of big-picture things more so than let’s run guard pull here. I’m not getting into that, more bigger picture things.
Q. What were your impressions of Carlisle’s debut for you guys, and how big of a factor do you think he can be?
COACH KELLY: I thought he started off well, obviously got the ball outside to the defense early on and showed some good acceleration. I thought he ran the ball inside hard without any hesitation at all.
You know, again, the question was asked earlier, I think we just — let’s be patient with these guys. It’s going to take some time. He hasn’t played in a couple years. All these guys are really new at the position in the sense that they just need more time. I think they’re all accomplished. They’re all going to be really good players for us. It’s just going to take us some time. But I thought he got off to a good start. They all have confidence that they can do the jobs that we’re asking them to do, including Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston. I thought they all went in there and showed that they can help us, but we’re not going to answer the questions about who’s one, who’s two, who’s three, four, five. It’s going to take us a few weeks before we get to that.
Q. Recruiting wise do you find yourself competing directly with Michigan for a lot of kids, or does the ACC move kind of underscore a broader territory with you guys?
COACH KELLY: No, again, when you’re recruiting nationally and you’re out, Michigan is going to be there in the recruiting process for us, but we’ll see the West Coast, we’ll see the South. I mean, I don’t know that Michigan shows up more than any one school because we’re all over the country. It’s a blend of virtually all the schools throughout the country.
Q. Troy had a real good block on TJ’s 51-yard run there. What kind of progression does that speak to for him?
COACH KELLY: Well, what I like about what he did was he wasn’t in line, so he wasn’t attached. He was in space. His progression for us was that his awareness in space blocking is a lot different than when you’re in line. I want to be careful how I say this, but you can maul a little bit when you’re in line there. You can get hands on, and as long as you’re not outside the framework of the body, you might be able to kind of tug in there a little bit. In space you have to be very careful. You have to have great hand placement, and I thought he did a very good job of utilizing his feet, his hands, his body, and that’s a big step for a big kid like that to be effective in space. I thought he did a very nice job.
Q. How big of an advantage is it to have Troy and Daniel Smith line up on the same side on that play?
COACH KELLY: Those are pretty big guys out there. If I’m TJ Jones I’m liking that. Those are two big bodies out there that give you a good chance to catch the football.
Q. After further evaluating the film, what did you see from Tommy again?
COACH KELLY: You know, again, I would say that his strengths continue to be his strengths. Got us in the right place except for one. Got us in the right protections. He threw the ball with great efficiency. I think his completion percentage was up in the 68, 69 percent completion percentage, and efficiency was up into the crazy numbers, 200 plus. That’s where he needs to be. He’s got to be that efficient because he’s not going to be doing some of the other things.
We want him to be a little bit more consistent in some other areas as we continue to develop. He’s got to make a couple of the easier throws that are out there for him, and I think he will, and continue to progress on what he did this week, and that is when he’s asked to put us in the right place, get us in the right place.
Last year we had too many throw-away downs, where we didn’t get in the right play, and just had no chance for success on particular plays. We only had one of those on Saturday.
Now, we’ve got to turn those into points. We had over 200 yards in total offense in the second quarter and only were able to turn that into seven points. Those numbers don’t equate, so we’ve got so put some more points on the board, and that’s what he’s going to be able to have to do for us.
Q. Part of that is the field goal situation. Have you made a decision yet as to how you’re going to handle that this week?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I think I made it pretty clear, we missed one kick on bad mechanics, and the other one, Kyle was really well struck. That was more on — we did not coach that up very well. Luke is a first-year holder, and he blocked off the path for Kyle on that. We were on the left hash. We’re supposed to be open by 30 degrees with our shoulders for our holder, and we were closed shut, and he had no chance to have a clean path.
So some of that is having a new group in there. I’m not as concerned about that. We’re going to continue to work through that. That’s a process that we’ll kind of take right up to each and every week, they’ll continue to kick. I think I’ve made it pretty clear, we love the things that Brindza has done for us, but we’re also concerned with all those jobs, and we’ve got two kids that will stay ready to help him if he needs help with those jobs.
Q. When you go on to the road in an atmosphere like this, how imperative is a quick start?
COACH KELLY: It’s important. There’s no question. It’s part of what we talk about to winning football games. Getting off to a quick start, start strong is important. I think if you look at the last time we played there, we would have liked to have finished strong, and we got off to a good start but we didn’t finish strong. I think it’s four quarters of winning for us. Get off to a fast start, attention to detail, great effort, and then finish strong. It’s going to take four quarters. I think the numbers have suggested that a number of these games have only been decided by just a few points, and so it’s going to require that fast start, but it’s going to require four quarters in this kind of match-up.
Q. The last two times Notre Dame has played there it has basically come down to the last play, and both times the Irish have come up short. I realize only one of those was on your watch, but you talk about finishing strong. How much does that game two years ago gnaw at you and your players?
COACH KELLY: Well, anybody who was there will certainly remember it, but it doesn’t do anything to affect the outcome of the game. I mean, the game will be affected by how you prepare this week and how you play on Saturday, so if that’s motivation for them to prepare better, that’s great. If that’s going to help them play better, that’s great.
But I think we all know it’s still about the players preparing and not relying on past history. Our guys have been through it enough that they’ve been in those kinds of games before and under that environment. I think they understand how important it is to prepare the right way.
Q. I was wondering how much will Tommy Rees’ experience from getting the start there two years ago help this time around?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think the noise in that stadium and just the atmosphere is definitely going to help him because it is obviously an incredible atmosphere there. It’s loud, the fans, it’s a night game. I think any time that you put a veteran quarterback in that situation, it has a calming effect to everybody because he’s been through it. There’s no question that that’s going to help in this instance. He’s still going to have to play through that, but it definitely helps in this instance.
Q. My question has to do with the way you were able to defend against Robinson last year. It seemed like a lot of the success was because you were able to keep him in the pocket. Is the recipe similar with Gardner because of his running ability, as well?
COACH KELLY: Well, the system of offense has changed a little bit, so the scheme up front, last year obviously some option, not as much this year. There’ll obviously be some similarities, but they’re different players. We’ll have a little bit of a different plan.
Q. Obviously a lot of national intrigue in Lewan and Tuitt, both All-American type players. Do you think we’ll probably see a fair amount of head-to-head as the day goes on because of both being situated on the end there?
COACH KELLY: Yes I mean, obviously where we line up, Stephon plays a particular position. They’ll be matched up quite a bit on Saturday. But it really just depends on what our front calls are as to how much time he gets over him.
Q. Against Temple you guys averaged over 10 yards on 1st down, which is a big step from what you guys averaged last year. Can you talk about, was that a focus in the off-season to do better on 1st down?
COACH KELLY: Well, a couple things come to mind. Obviously we had some big plays early on. I think the first play of the game was over 30, so those numbers kind of might be skewed a little bit. But I think we made it pretty clear that 1st and 2nd down, and particularly throwing the ball on 1st down, we threw the ball on 1st down, which changed those numbers dramatically from last year to this year. We felt like it was important that we threw the ball this year on 1st and 2nd down, and we’ll continue to do that.