Oct. 30, 2012
COACH KELLY: We’ll recap last weekend’s game. The things that we talked about with our football team that we were most pleased with. In particular they were smart. They were disciplined, and I think those two things really showed themselves. Smart in the way we took care of the football. You take the top teams last week that lost in the Top 25, they averaged four turnovers.
So playing smart football for us was absolutely crucial. I think our quarterback did a very good job of when things did not materialize, zero was a good play for us. Something that we talked about from day one. You’ve heard it from me how important it was that we did not go back.
And disciplined in following a game plan. Not getting caught up in the moment, in the atmosphere, our guys stayed focused and disciplined on the game plan and played that way as well. Obviously one penalty in a game of that magnitude goes a long way as well. So the little things that go to winning, I thought our guys really showed how important those are to winning on the road.
Their discipline approach every day is starting to carry over. What we talked about yesterday as we move forward is that teams will continue to win when they exhibit good habits on a day to day basis. And we’ve established those good habits as it relates to how we work, how we go to practice. If we can continue with the same habits that work to that strength, then we’ll be prepared for every game we play.
Again, that’s what this process, I keep talking about it ad nauseam for you guys, I’m sure, but the process is about developing habits necessary to win games, and in particular win big games on the road.
So this week, Pittsburgh, a team that has played us extremely well over the past couple of years in my time here. They have clearly found themselves, with a new coach, it’s incredible what they’ve been able to overcome with three coaches in a very short period of time tells you a lot about their players, and it’s going to be a great challenge for us, because they will play their very best here at Notre Dame stadium, and we’re prepared for that. With that I’ll open up to questions.
Q. Brian, you say how your team has handled adversity all this season. Are you concerned about how it might handle prosperity?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think we’ve talked about that each and every week. You win two games, you win three, you win four games in a row, you start to worry about how are you going to handle success. So this is not a first time conversation with our football team. They have handled success early in the season, and they have shown that they understand that if they don’t prepare the right way, that they’ll lose. We’re not good enough to not prepare properly, and I think they know that.
Q. And you talked about avoiding letdown before, but a lot of good teams have had letdowns. Lou Holtz won I think 10 and 0 and beat Florida State here, lost the next week to Boston College. A decade ago the last team that was 8 and 0 had a tough game at Florida State, lost to Boston College. They even pulled the green jerseys out to try to make sure they didn’t have that letdown. Is there anything special you can do to make sure that doesn’t happen this time?
COACH KELLY: Well, first, history will have no effect on how this team plays. What will affect how this team plays is how they prepare during the week and that is what I can control and that’s what our players can control. So our focus is on what we can control. If we don’t prepare well and have a good week, that’s going to spill into how we play Saturday.
I think, secondly for us, more than anything else is that you can prepare well, but if you’re not going to play a tough brand of football mentally and physically, then you can lose every week that you play.
So I go back to the two things: One, let’s take care of what we can control; and two, let’s exhibit the habits that we’ve used all week and all year to be the guide for what happens on Saturday.
Q. And can you use that 2002 teams at all and say, look, this is what happened. They were at the same place you are and they had a three game stretch everybody thought a somewhat easy three game stretch. Can you use that and say don’t let this happen to us?
COACH KELLY: I really don’t. I really focus strictly on the guys that are in the room and how we prepare them. I do not use history lessons as much as I want them to realize what it takes to win week in and week out.
Look, there will be enough of that out there for it to kind of get to them. I don’t know that that for me is going to change the way we prepare.
Q. Last one from me, different subject playing at Notre Dame Stadium and away, the games in our stadium have all been close and the ones away have all been, in the end, by larger margins. Have you looked at that and see is there a reason why that’s happening or is it just coincidence?
COACH KELLY: I mean there’s a lot of layers to the question. I don’t want to make more out of it. I think teams that come into Notre Dame Stadium play their very, very best. We have to match that intensity. And we have to do it each and every weekend, because it is a battle. There’s no question.
But our players know that, and we’re in the process of understanding how important it is to prepare even for our home games in the same fashion. Yes, it’s at home. It’s easier, you’re sleeping in your own bed. But our guys know that they have to play with a lot of energy at home as well.
Q. Brian, a year ago your team was, I think around minus 35, minus 40 in the fourth quarter. This year you’re plus 46. What are the factors behind that turnaround?
COACH KELLY: There’s a number of them. I think it’s our strength and conditioning, our nutrition, the way we take care of ourselves, our schedule has really kind of taken shape and form over the last couple years that our guys feel fresh. We’re hitting peaks in the weight room right now. We’re peaking out in November. So we’re stronger as a football team right now. I think that goes to it.
Certainly not turning the football over is a huge element in that, and finally, I would say you know, and again, we know what our defense has done. I mean they were consistent last year as well. But I think running the football has allowed us now to assert our will later in games.
Q. Talk about Tino Sunseri as a quarterback. What are the things that he does that gives teams problems?
COACH KELLY: Well, he has really matured as a quarterback, really impressed with his play this year. You know, he’s not turning the football over. Last year he was similar to what we were going through with some untimely turnovers.
He takes great care of the football. He’s a veteran. You can see that. And the offense fits him very well and he can make plays. He’s a guy that I think is playing the best football that he’s played his entire career at Pittsburgh.
Q. Obviously Pitt was a little bit banged up to start the year and that plays a factor, but what are they doing better as a football team now?
COACH KELLY: I just think they know the plan. Again, three head coaches, where are we developing relationships with players. They’re in the first year, and I think Coach (Paul) Chryst has done a great job of really forming their identity as a football team. (Ray) Graham is healthy. (Rushel) Shell is playing more; they’ve got a one two punch there. You’ve got veteran receivers back. (Mike) Shanahan has been around for a long time. (Devin) Street, they’ve got now I think an identity as to where they want to go. And they’ll be a formidable opponent for us on Saturday.
Q. Finally for me, you had three wins in the household on the weekend. Whose win carries the most cachÃƒÆ’Â©?
COACH KELLY: That’s a good question. I would tell you that right now the girl always wins out; the soccer championship was definitely the winner.
Q. A guy like Cam McDaniel, how do you get somebody or what is it about his personality that allows him to embrace being an insurance policy at cornerback, an insurance policy at running back, and then stepping up and doing what he did Saturday as a kickoff returner?
COACH KELLY: I think in recruiting you’re looking for guys that understand team and understand the components that go to having a great football team. So I think it starts in recruiting those kinds of guys.
I think, secondly, he’s got a great deal of confidence in himself that when you call upon him, he’s going to play really good football. I think finally he feels like more than anything else that he will be a huge contributor to our success, and we believe in that as well, so you have a guy that knows that he’s going to impact the program. It’s just a matter of time. And of course, I think within our program we develop that next man in.
Q. Switching gears, kind of a big picture thing on college football, the way the offense has evolved to what you expect out of an inside linebacker now, his duties, his challenges, comparing it to a 1980 when it was a whole different game and the linebacker was asked to do different things, how has that evolution happened from ’80 to now in what a linebacker has to be?
COACH KELLY: Well, he’s gotta be able to tackle in space. The game now has changed where you’re creating space offensively. Take Oklahoma, for example, they spread us out. They played fast. They create one on one matchups and then you’ve gotta take a linebacker who’s used to taking on a guard, and now he’s gotta go tackle 5′ 10, 175 pounds of space. So where it has evolved is that that linebacker now can’t be a one dimensional player, or he’s going to come off the field.
So take a guy like Manti Te’o who has exhibited his ability to play in space as well as being an incredible run stopper. I think that’s the evolution of the linebacker position.
Q. You now have eight wins this year, you had eight wins in your first two years. Different paths to those eight wins? I mean was this year as big a challenge maybe as the first two to get to that number?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it’s a climb. You’re developing a football program on a consistency that you want your team to have. I think it’s pretty clear that we’re developing that consistency. But the challenges each year are different because of the different players that you have. But it’s still the same. It’s still, you know, habits on a day to day basis. It’s still preparation. It’s still performing. That hasn’t changed. But now you have a group of players that know what you expect from them going into where we are right now.
So I think the formation of it has been the same. I think the day to day operations has been quite similar. I think what we’re seeing now is it’s coming back to us all the things that we have talked about the last couple years.
Q. A lot’s been made of the defense, and Coach (Bob) Elliott is a new factor this year. Can you talk about what he’s done and how he’s helped this defense?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’s an important part of our entire football program, recruiting, relationships, and he’s a veteran coach. You know, he’s been a coordinator in a BCS level. He’s been a very successful one. And he also has close relationships with everybody in our defensive room. He coached Coach (Bob) Diaco, he coached Coach (Kerry) Cooks. So we have a great staff there. So if staff morale is rated as being an important element, which I do rate it as an important element to success, he’s off the charts in terms of that.
Q. You guys had a great running defense. Pittsburgh has a great running back. Can you talk about him, just what a challenge that will be?
COACH KELLY: We have a great deal of respect for (Ray) Graham and coming back from a knee injury. He’s really starting to round into form. He was difficult to defend last year. Having (Rushel) Shell in there obviously gives him an opportunity now that he doesn’t have to carry the load, which keeps him fresh. They’re two really good running backs, and we’ll be challenged to slow them down.
Q. I know at Central Michigan and Cincinnati you played differently because you thought you had to there. But the time of possession is probably the biggest stat difference for you. I think you were last in time of possession. Now you’re 14th this year. Did you pay more attention to time in possession at Grand Valley and are you paying attention to this or is this kind of an accident of some game plans?
COACH KELLY: No. We paid attention to it. Now, having said that, the time of possession versus amount of plays that you run are numbers that we look at. We want our time of possession to equal certain amount of plays, and we’re falling a little bit behind that matrix, if you will. So we really need to continue to possess the football, but we’ve gotta run some more plays, and that means we have to plate a little bit quicker and be able to get the amount of plays that we want.
We’re hovering somewhere in the 60s. We need to increase that a little bit, and that’s been something that we looked at last week, and we’re looking at it more closely this week.
Q. There’s so many, I’m sure, elements that have contributed to this bump up in the running game, especially against really good run defenses. But can you talk about Braxston Cave’s piece in that whole equation?
COACH KELLY: I think he’s improved. I think we’ve challenged Braxston this year to improve in all areas. We wanted him to be more physical on down linemen before he escaped up to the second level. He’s starting to do that on a more consistent basis for us.
Our job really on Saturday was based upon really disrupting the front four. There were times where linebackers weren’t even blocked. And we were not necessarily okay with it, but we really are focusing on using his strength on down linemen and getting some movement there. And we’re seeing some improvement with Braxston in that regard.
Q. What’s the next step for Everett (Golson)? Is it just putting a couple games together that are consistent or are you looking for more?
COACH KELLY: The passing game still needs to improve. We had where we consider four, maybe five opportunities that we left out there in terms of throwing the ball. So we want to see a higher passing efficiency in that respect. And then I think you’re correct in assuming that what we need now is to put together a string of games back to back. I think those are the two things that we’re going to ask from Everett in terms of his progress.
Q. Last thing from me, I know Manti (Te’o) has stepped up his game immensely this year. He’s added other dimensions to it. But just when you talk to other players on the team, it seems like he has an effect on their games and their elevation of their games. Do you have any anecdotes or stories about maybe a person or two you’ve seen that happen with?
COACH KELLY: I think if you look across the defensive front where he plays next to Carlo and Dan Fox, you can’t help but influence their play at the line, because they’re asked to do similar things. So I think when you’re playing at that high of a level, you’re definitely rubbing off on those guys around him. And I just think he does it to the offensive players.
I will give you a little insight before the game in the locker game, Manti came up to me and he says, hey, can I talk to 5. And he was referring to Everett Golson. I said sure. So I pulled Everett aside, and I said Manti wants to talk to you.
He sat him down and said a couple things. I didn’t ask him what he said because it’s really not important for me what Manti is talking about with the quarterback because I know what he’s going to say is all positive. But Everett got up with a big smile on his face, and you know, I think it set him at ease. There were some things that he wanted to say.
So my point for bringing it up is I think he impacts everybody on our football team, and he took the time to pull over the starting quarterback before the game because he had something important to say to him.
Q. You mentioned I think on Sunday or maybe Saturday about Everett leading and some of the leadership he’s shown. Is that something that’s kind of like a light that goes on or is that something you have to continue to try to nurture about communicating?
COACH KELLY: No. It’s been coming. I talked to Coach (Harry) Hiestand earlier in the week and he had made a mention to me that the offensive line was feeling a lot more comfortable with the communication that Everett was involved in with the offensive line.
So it’s something that we’ve stressed. Obviously we weren’t happy where we were. I think when I said lead, I was referring to the way he communicated with his offensive line in particular. Got us out of a situation where I know we would have false started earlier in the year. They were bringing a pressure. He changed the play from underneath and backed off, and nobody jumped. And those are the things that I’m referring to is that communication and leadership is getting better.
But having said that, we’ll be on him all week to continue to have that movement in the right direction.
Q. How close is he, do you think, to being a guy you can put out there a little bit, whether that be to us or just kind of being a little bit more of a face of the program? Is that something you see happening next year or do you think it could even happen this year?
COACH KELLY: I don’t see it happening this year. I see us really focusing on a lot of the little things that we have to get better at. And he has and he’s committed to it. He’s committed to wanting to do those things. But I’m not ready to put him out there yet. He’s getting there. There’s no question. And we want to continue on that trend.
But I’m almost of the opinion that we gotta see this start to happen consistently. And when we do that, I think we’re probably closer to that point.
Q. You had mentioned might have been last week about kind of 15 percent being the goal for Oklahoma State. I’m assuming you were under that on Saturday and how far under were you?
COACH KELLY: We actually weren’t. We were 18 percent. We put the ball on the ground and we recovered a fumble. Robby Toma put the ball on the ground and we recovered a fumble there. We thought that Everett needs to secure the football. There were five occasions where the ball was out that should have come out and it didn’t.
So if you look at it, you could probably make the case, hey, they played clean. They didn’t have penalties, but we had some things in there that we felt were mistakes that maybe weren’t looked at. But we’re really close. And it’s not a goal that we try to change the goal line for them, but they were so important that we had to bring them up.
Q. How often do you get under that?
COACH KELLY: Once this year. One time.
Q. And Chris Brown, aside from just physical strength for a freshman, what for him would it take for him to be more of a regular guy? How close is he to that?
COACH KELLY: He is I would say that he’s starting to get to the point where we can put him out there in a limited fashion. You saw how we’re using Danny Smith. He’s a guy that can come in there and give us some physical blocking. But Danny’s not a guy that’s going to get every rep out there because we’re using his strength.
I think Chris’s strength right now is let’s push him vertically, but he’s got so much more in terms of alignment, assignment, route running, as you mentioned, just his physical profile. So we think he’s ready now for a part time role, but certainly not for a full time role yet.
Q. Chuck mentioned about the fourth quarter, excellence there. But it seems especially the first and third quarters there, you’ve outscored people 44 to 6, 47 to 7. Basketball coaches talk so much about the first four or five minutes of each half being so essential. How much emphasis do you put on that preparation when you come out of the locker room both at the beginning and at the start of the second half, because that seems to be especially consistent level?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. We have in our locker room four quarters of winning; the first quarter is to start fast. And our guys know how important it is to get up early. We in preseason camp we talk about the percentages of teams that score first in terms of likelihood for success. So starting fast.
Second quarter for us is attention to detail. Generally enthusiasm and emotion kind of takes its course going into the second quarter. And that’s where we tell our guys attention to detail is very important.
The third quarter for us, and I’ve always felt this, that team that has effort and enthusiasm in the third quarter begins to take control of the game. And then finishing strong in the fourth quarter. So our guys know each quarter has a message. And I think that they have brought that to light in terms of the way they play.
Q. When you look the last time Notre Dame had prior to Michael Floyd a first round pick at receiver, Tim Brown. They lost four games next year. They win the title without him because it’s such a balance of passing. There isn’t one standout. And when you look at this year, you have five guys between 26 and 14. Not necessarily a standout. Is this exactly what you envision for the offense? I think maybe some thought. Does this kind of go to your plan of being able to do so many different things?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s the way we prepare. We knew that we weren’t going to have one guy like a Michael Floyd. We knew that we were going to be challenged to get the ball to (Tyler) Eifert, but we knew that he was going to impact our game considerably because of the way we use our formation.
So I’m not going to stand here and tell you it’s exactly the way we wanted it to go, but it was the direction that we pointed it and knew that we were going to need a collection of guys to step up for us, young and old.
Chris Brown, TJ (Jones), Robby Toma, John Goodman. We talked about the impact of Danny Smith. There’s a number of guys that are impacting the way we play at wide receiver. And we knew that all of them are going to have to contribute.
Q. You look at inside linebacker position that you had a good tag team last year with Dan (Fox) and Carlo (Calabrese), but it seems this year their games, while they’re not still one guy’s taking the majority of reps, it seems more conspicuous this year that they’re making more plays.
COACH KELLY: Well, I think they’re tackling better. I think they’re better in space. Again, any time you’re looking for opportunities, they’re going to try to attack that linebacker. They’re not going to go after Manti. They’re going to go after, you know, obviously Calabrese or Fox out there. And we’ve been better.
We’ve gotten hurt a couple times out there, but those are guys that have gotten better in space. They’re tackling better. Their fits are better. And then they’re doing a much better job of denying that receiver inside.
Now, we let one up against Oklahoma. We’re lucky it got dropped. We let one up against BYU, but by and large they played better in the passing game, because we know what they can do physically in the run game.
Q. Especially with Carlo (Calabrese) last year with the passing game he wasn’t evident as much. Is there more confidence?
COACH KELLY: There’s more confidence. He needs to get better there. Dan (Fox) has done a really good job there. But I think Carlo (Calabrese) has definitely closed the gap there in terms of his development this year in the passing game.
Q. And as far as Dan (Fox) with the running game?
COACH KELLY: Solid. Solid. Carlo, that’s why both of them are playing A and B. Maybe a little bit before Carlo in terms of downhill, physical play, but Danny Fox is a tough kid, too. So they just complement each other well. One has a little bit more restraint than the other, but putting them out there, we have great confidence in either one of them.
Q. You mentioned you’d like to run more plays per time of possession. What’s your formula or gauge for that?
COACH KELLY: Time on the play clock. We’re down a little bit too far for us. So we’ve gotta accelerate play calls, personnel groupings.
As you know, we’re running a lot more play personnel groupings into the game whereas last year we were set pretty much in our rotations. So some of it’s coaching, and the other part of it is we’ve gotta run some plays that you don’t check, that you call them and haul them. So there’s a little bit of that element, and then we’ve gotta get our quarterback not walking around out there. He’s gotta get out there and he’s gotta move a little bit quicker. So all those three elements coming together.
Q. You mentioned a good week of practice. That’s how you play well on Saturday. I’m sure you’ve had good weeks of practice and not played well as a coach. You may not want to admit this, but has there ever been a time where you’ve had a bad week of practice or just wasn’t sharp and you went into Saturday thinking man we didn’t really prepare this week and then went out and played well?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, this year. There were times that we did not practice well, especially on the offensive side of the ball and did not play well. And so they know that there’s a direct correlation to how they practice and how they perform.
Certainly I’ve had some teams that are just better physically, more talent. We’re not in that position yet. So we feel like it’s directly tied to how we’re going to play, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Q. You mentioned last week that you were missing some personnel in punt returns. Is that true of some other areas or aspects of the special teams?
COACH KELLY: Well, we don’t want to run some guys on those teams right now, just because of depth issues. And that’s just a reality of where we are. We need some more depth at those positions to run those guys.
But I still keep coming back to Oklahoma could not return one punt against us. And they’ve got a dynamic returner. And we’re running a bunch of freshmen down there. It’s so hard with some of the special teams today, especially the punt, with the kind of return teams that are set up, it’s so difficult to return on.
So do you want to run TJ Jones on those. Do you want to run some of your front line guys down there. And so when you look at it and we’ve only had six punts returned against us all year. The risk reward of that is really what I’m grappling with on a day to day basis.
Q. You have a couple walk ons on special teams, (Tyler) Plantz, (Connor) Cavalaris, Joe Schmidt.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, but those three guys in particular, yeah.
Q. How does a walk on most people here don’t know the names, fans don’t know the names. How do those guys come in and beat out some scholarship players that are younger and aren’t playing permanent roles?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s a fair question. I don’t know that I want to answer the question in all of its levels. But clearly you’ve got some guys that we challenged that should be on that team and they’re not right on that team. What are the reasons? I could list about 10 of them, 15 of them. It’s our job to get them to that next level and then it’s their job to recognize that if they’re not on the special team and there’s another young man who’s not got a scholarship and is, that doesn’t reflect well on you.
So we’re in that every program is, though. Every program is challenging those young guys. Sometimes the light goes on. Romeo Okwara, for example, first four games, it looked like he was walking down on kickoff. And it wasn’t because he wanted to. The game was just really different for him. This week he gets out there and he almost knocked a guy out of the game with just a terrific hit. He’s playing faster.
So you know, there’s a lot of levels to the question. It’s a fair question. I don’t know that I want to get into all the specifics of it right now.
Q. Going back to your messages to each quarter, is that something you’ve just started this season or is that something you’ve always done?
COACH KELLY: No. We’ve had a message of how we want to play the game. I think we’ve made it more of a point because we thought we prepared well the last couple of seasons but maybe didn’t play our best football on one given Saturday. And so it became more of an effort to visualize it, so it’s up in our locker room, and it’s about where our guys get their laundry every day. So it’s clear that they know each quarter and how important it is.
Q. And do you feel like Saturday was a turning point for Everett (Golson), or do you think that that’s just where he wants to be with seven college games?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s probably both. I think it’s a cumulative effect of playing seven games. But any time that you go on the road and you play with confidence and real good communication, you would hope that that okay, we’re going to move to that next level. But we’ll see, you know, and what we’ll see is consistency of performance will be the next step for him.
Q. Bringing him back home, how do you maybe build on top of I’m sure he was feeling great after the game, but how do you build on top of that bringing him back home?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think we demand more. Our expectations are high. You did this on the road against very good competition. Now, what we expect on Tuesday is for you to be fully engaged, to take over the practice. So we’re going to move that bar up a little bit on him and demand more from him today.
Q. Brian, I know the philosophy of the players is to avoid the noise of the BCS and National Championship talk. How about you individually as a coach and when you’re away from the team, are you out there extrapolating who’s got who left and what needs to happen for you to move up in the rankings? Is that part of your responsibility or is that something you do on your own time maybe?
COACH KELLY: Sports information director. I let him worry about that. He’ll come in my office and give me his opinion on it, but I really do not waste any of my time during the day on those issues because I really don’t, first of all, have the time to do it.
And I’ve got great people that can fill me in on all those things, and that’s their job to feed you guys all that information as it relates to the politics. I got out of politics once. I’m not getting back in it.
Q. So is that like a weekly thing where maybe Brian (Hardin) comes in?
COACH KELLY: It’s a daily thing. He bugs the hell out of me, yes. Quite frankly. (Laughing)