Nov. 18, 2012
Q. Just wondered where you were last night and what you were doing when the dominos fell and looked like you guys were going to be No. 1.
Brian Kelly: I was at home having dinner with the family, and we all camped out in the theater room and watched the two games.
Q. What’s your reaction when those dominos fall and everything seems to be coming into place for your guys?
Brian Kelly: It’s like being selected for the playoffs. Now you know you’re in if you take care of business, and you’ve got to win each week. I think it’s more about just the feeling that you’re included now in the race for a championship.
Q. There’s a slight difference I would think between, like you say, sort of chasing a spot and having to defend that spot. Is there a slight difference in the message you give your team, or how do you tweak things this week moving to USC?
Brian Kelly: It’s interesting, I kind of wanted to get a sense. I was down in the training room when the guys were popping in today. They all to a man know that it doesn’t mean much if you’re No. 1 for just three or four days. So they understand the importance of the USC game. I was happy to see that they had that kind of maturity to know that it’s all about how we play against USC.
Q. A lot of the guys haven’t been in this situation before, but in a way you really haven’t been in this situation before. When you go into uncharted waters like this, what do you fall back on? What do you try to rely on going through a week like this?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think it’s still about how we got here and the preparation and how these guys transformed themselves into champions by their habits and how they go to work every day. That’s why I was referring to I kind of wanted to hear what they were talking about when they came in the training room today, and it’s all been the same kind of messaging. It doesn’t mean much if we don’t prepare; if we’re not prepared we’re not going to win. For us it’ll be about being consistent with what we’ve done up to this point.
Q. Everett (Golson) mentioned after the game last night that he had watched a lot of film on Peyton Manning this week, tried to use some of that in practice and you were happy with what you saw. What did he take away from that film study?
Brian Kelly: Well, we were using some clips of a number of quarterbacks, which is we’re working on footwork and setting his feet and communication, and as you know, Manning is probably one of the great communicators, his ability to get into plays and check and do it efficiently. We have cut ups that we try to use some, some of the greats, to show some things that could be helpful. I think Everett was referring to some of the clips that he was watching, specifically centered on setting his feet.
Q. Is it looks like you may be going up against (Max) Wittek at USC who has only thrown I think nine times in his career. Does it change the way you kind of approach this week?
Brian Kelly: No, because they have great weapons. (Marqise) Lee and (Robert) Woods and the running back situation, they’ve got two great backs. So it’s we’re going to have to defend all of those players, not just one. Certainly if (Matt) Barkley is playing, which we’ll prepare for him like he is playing, the offense is still going to be about getting the ball to their play makers. So it really won’t change much in terms of what we do.
Q. You mentioned what you were doing last night. Wondering if you got many calls or heard from any other players or anything about congratulating you, that sort of stuff.
Brian Kelly: A lot of typical congratulatory, go beat USC stuff, but nothing that would be an interesting tidbit. I didn’t get anything from any of the legendary coaches or players, but they’re always as you know, they’re rooting for you whether they text you or not. I don’t know if anybody has my phone number anyways, which is probably a good thing.
Q. Some people scoffed last week when you said you voted Notre Dame No. 1. Do you feel vindicated at all by the fact that you’re unanimous now in AP and 55 of your colleagues agree with you now?
Brian Kelly: No. I just felt like as it relates to our football team, I was just being consistent with my rankings. I told our team that I felt like they were the best team in the country because I knew more about our team than the other two, and now we’ve been given this opportunity. We’ve got to make the best out of it by beating USC.
Q. I know you have a lot more to do, but do you take a second and just this is the first time, I know you’ve won a National Championship at another level, but just being No. 1 for the first time? Do you take a second to enjoy that?
Brian Kelly: No, I think there’s clearly a sense of pride and accomplishment that our football team is winning games. I think that’s what we’re more focused on, not on the No. 1 but the consistency of our program is really what I think there’s a lot of pride in. And 19 and 2 in our last 21 regular season games, those are the things that we talk about, consistency in this program. That’s really what we spend our time thinking about.
Q. And you just talked about what you heard from players this morning. Do you think it’s easier playing a rivalry game, especially a rivalry that the other side had dominance over for much of the past decade, to keep the team focused if there was ever concern about that?
Brian Kelly: No, I don’t think they look at USC and think of dominance. They felt like last year they let a game slip through their hands with sloppy play, beat them at their place, so no, our guys are excited about the challenge of playing a rival in USC, but there’s no trepidation. There’s a great deal of respect for USC and what they’ve done, but our guys are very confident in themselves, as well.
Q. Many of the fifth year guys now have committed to Notre Dame after what was arguably their worst season ever, 3 and 9, now they’re on the brink of the national title game with one more win. Can you put into words what those fifth year guys have meant to this program and the ups and downs they’ve gone through?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think it’s in any program, whether you’re at Notre Dame or for me at Grand Valley State when we built National Championship programs, there’s going to be a core guy, core group of guys that have to go through those tough times. Every group that I’ve had that have gone through those tough times, they’re stronger for it. So I think there’s no question that this group is stronger because of the experiences that they’ve had along the way. And that’s what makes this team such a good football team, because they’ve had the down times and they know what that end looks like, and they don’t like it very much. And so that’s where you really feel good about your football team if they’ve had those kind of experiences.
Q. They obviously have a couple of dynamic weapons, especially (Marqise) Lee. How to you plan to defend? What do you expect from your secondary to step up? They’ve risen to challenge after challenge this season. What’s the game plan this week?
Brian Kelly: Tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle and tackle. They’re incredibly skilled with the ball in their hand, and if they have a lot of space, they’re going to make you pay. We felt that we had to against Oklahoma limit some of the catches and the extended runs. We’ll have to do a great job tackling, and that will be paramount to our success against USC.
Q. Any injury reports from yesterday?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, we came out clean. Bumps and bruises. Nobody will be limited in terms of practice on Tuesday.
Q. I wondered, not to single a guy out, but Louis Nix, just the amount of snaps, the quality of snaps he’s given you this year, can you talk about him?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, his volume, his work volume has increased dramatically through his commitment and hard work in the weight room and in conditioning. And he plays so hard. You know, he’s a guy that is all over the field. He made a couple of plays on Saturday that a big guy of 300 whatever he is pounds, I don’t want to give his exact weight, he’ll get mad at me, but he’s a guy that is playing the game at the highest level, and he did it through the off season conditioning and the commitment he made to it.
Q. I’ve seen teams like yours where one of the units is very dominant, the other one struggles for a while, and sometimes the dominant unit, there’s a division on the team, and it never turns itself around. In your case it seems like the defensive players were really supportive always of the offense and kind of believed in them. Can you talk about that dynamic?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think it cuts across the offense and defense. It’s more centered on the players, the guys. Look, you win when the guys in the locker room care about each other, and you win consistently when you have that within your program. We’ve got guys that care about each other. They don’t all hang out together, but they care about each other because we’re all in it for the same reason. So I think that’s why that line is not there. You’ve got guys that seniors like John Goodman that every guy is pulling for him, and you’ve got popular guys like a Zack Martin that people respect on the other side of the ball. So it’s about guys caring about each other more so than the offense, defense or special teams.
Q. Everett (Golson) seems to be position last night or yesterday when Wake Forest seemed like they were much more concerned about the run than they were the pass and kind of dared him to be really good and he was really good. What’s the next step in his evolution, or is it just kind of refining what you saw yesterday?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think it’s twofold. There’s still a lot to be learned in terms of the game itself, the situations in the game, and understanding time and place, when to throw the ball away, when not to take a sack, all those things, and those can’t happen in the classroom. So you’re exactly right; those things will continue to evolve as he plays. And then there are some fundamental things that have to continue to get better, which he’s the great thing about Everett (Golson) is he’s decided that these are the things that we’ve put to him that he’s got to get better at and he wants to get better at them. So those are the two things: One, the knowledge of the game, understanding the game and the situations, which will take time; and the other one is still working on the fundamentals of a young quarterback that quite frankly when he got here was just a freelancer, and so getting him more disciplined. Those things are happening each day.
Q. From someone who’s only spilled Gatorade on myself, I wonder what that Gatorade bath feels like emotionally and physically?
Brian Kelly: Physically very cold; emotionally it feels good to get anything dumped over your head, provided it’s a win. And for us to win at home, those are the times as coaches you feel like there’s a sense of accomplishment.
Q. Heisman ballots start coming in tomorrow. What’s your sense on Manti’s position on the Heisman situation?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think he should win the Heisman Trophy, provided we continue to win, and as it relates to Manti, he doesn’t talk much about it. He’s not focused on those things, he’s focused on the things that we all know that are important to him, and that is his team and how we play on Saturday. I’ll push for him. I think he should win the Heisman. But he’s not really focused on that.
Q. Have you talked to him about that at all?
Brian Kelly: The only thing we talked about is that he’s going to be with me after the USC game quite a bit because we’ve got a lot of banquets and awards shows to be at. So the only thing that I’ve talked to him about is that we have a hope that we’ll be in New York together in a couple of weeks.
Q. There’s a belief kind of out there that times have changed and Notre Dame maybe could compete for national titles again. Even inside the Notre Dame family there was comments about maybe lowering it to different standards or the need to join a conference. Why do you think that was out there and why did you reject that notion when you took the job?
Brian Kelly: Quite frankly, before I took the job I was so focused on the job that I had, so I didn’t know any of that history. I took the Notre Dame job wanting to really get an opportunity to play for a National Championship and have high graduation rates. That’s really why I took the job here. And I think we’re going to validate that this year with the No. 1 graduation rates that you can do both, and they don’t have to be mutually exclusive in college football. I have not seen anything here in my time that will not allow us to continue to have the highest graduation rates and compete for a National Championship. I’ve been doing it 22 years. So I think I know what it looks like if you couldn’t do it.
Q. Did you get a sense when you were in the training room this morning of how closely the players watched those two games, K State and Oregon last night?
Brian Kelly: You know what, they didn’t even talk about it. A couple of the guys were congratulated by a couple of the trainers, and their first response was, yeah, but it doesn’t mean much if you don’t beat USC, so that’s really all I needed to hear. I didn’t go into any more questioning about whether they watched the game or not.
Q. So you watched it with, what, friends and family?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I had friends and family over, and we typically after the game get together and get something to eat, so we just had the theater room filled up and enjoyed a little college football.
Q. If you don’t mind, about how many are you talking, half a dozen, a dozen?
Brian Kelly: Oh, no, we probably we filled the theater room, so we probably had about 12 to 15 people cheering quite loudly.
Q. And were you cheering quite loudly?
Brian Kelly: Heck yeah.
Q. So just for a moment, I think the Oregon game if I remember right finished first. That’s where I was. But when the field goal goes through for Stanford, did you have a moment of satisfaction or elation at all, or do you immediately are you already tuned into USC?
Brian Kelly: The way I had it in my mind was that it looked like K State was going to go down, and so we kind of turned that one off and had already felt like we were in a pretty good position here, regardless of whether Kansas State came back or not. We felt like Notre Dame could hold up to Kansas State in terms of the rankings. Anyway, the Stanford game we then put on and watched the rest of that game. Just a great game. But the things that stand out is that if you can run the football and play great defense, you’ve got a chance to win.
Q. So was there a moment at some point where you sort of you allowed yourself that moment of satisfaction or elation or whatever?
Brian Kelly: No, I don’t know that either one of those words accurately depict what I was feeling as much as, all right, let’s take care of business this week, and now we don’t have to answer the questions about style points or politics or anything like that. We get a chance to play for the National Championship provided we win this week.
Q. Was that frustrating having to answer those questions and maybe some people thinking you had to politic at a certain point?
Brian Kelly: Oh, absolutely, but I understand it, too. It comes with the territory, you’re going to have those questions posed to you, and the best thing that I can do is keep our football team focused on the next game, and that’s what we tried to do.
Q. And I guess last question, obviously you have to beat USC, but you’re now in position to sort of bring Notre Dame all the way back. Does the historical reference, how much does that mean to you and how much can you sense anything even this afternoon in terms of around town?
Brian Kelly: No, I’ve been locked up here watching film, so I really can’t tell you. I’m sure there’s a great deal of excitement, but again, we’ve got to hit the pause button here and realize that we’re not doing this to be No. 1 for three or four days; we’re doing this because we want a consistent program that is in the hunt every year. That’s really the focus of this program.