Sept. 13, 2011
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon. We start again with an opponent that is the reigning Big Ten champ, so after playing in front of 114,000 in a very difficult environment, our guys get another challenge which they’re looking forward to, and that is playing against Michigan State.
Coach (Mark) Dantonio does a very good job with his programs. Obviously I followed him at Cincinnati, took over that program, and so I know how he coaches his football team. They’re well coached, they’re a physical team on both sides of the ball, and again, as I said, another great challenge that our football team is looking forward to.
Certainly disappointed where we are at this point in terms of the wins, but I like our football team, I really do. I like our players. I like the way they compete. I like the way that they prepare. But as I told them after the game, you know, the one stat that really matters for me is the turnover takeaway, and there’s a direct correlation to percentage of winning when you turn the ball over. There’s no stat for me that tells the story more than that. So we’ve got to take care of that, and then we’ve got to continue to do the things that we do on a day to day basis, taking care of our responsibilities as student athletes.
We’re excited about the challenge against Michigan State. Everybody is looking forward to playing the Big Ten champs, the defending Big Ten champs. So again, from our perspective, another great challenge this weekend.
Q. I wondered if you could update us on some of the personnel stuff, (Mike) Ragone and (Danny) Spond, (Sean) Cwynar, the two tight ends?
COACH KELLY: We’ll start with Mike Ragone. He is going to have ACL surgery, so we have lost him for the year. I’m pretty disappointed for him. He’s been a warrior for us in a sense. He’s battled through a lot of injuries. He loves to play the game. He loves competition, and we’re really going to miss him. He’ll still be around our football team. He’s going to help mentor some of our younger players, and that brings us to the other tight ends.
Danny Spond has a hamstring injury. The severity is not what we thought it was post game. We thought maybe he had a grade two, two plus, which would put him on the shelf for three, four weeks. It doesn’t appear to be at that level. His status for Saturday is questionable right now.
Sean Cwynar is doing much better. He broke a bone in his hand, and he’s regaining a lot of the strength that he needs to compete at that position, at nose.
Q. In light of the tight end situation, how would you grade (Ben) Koyack’s play late in the game when you had to kind of throw him in there?
COACH KELLY: He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there, and it’s interesting, in terms of assignment, he was assignment correct. We had some other guys that needed to be attentive to their assignments.
All in all, he did a nice job. He’s a kid that’s not rattled. I really love his demeanor. First time we put him on the field he didn’t have that look that sometimes you’re concerned about. I think Ben is going to be fine for us.
Q. I don’t think you’ve had a lot of experience with this, but when you start slower than maybe you expect and you’ve got some problems at positions, how do you weigh making a flip flop on the depth chart against being a consistent guy with your message and what you’re trying to bring to the team?
COACH KELLY: I think that we’ve played the very best players right out of the gate. I don’t think this has been a situation where the other guy is not ready to play, you know what I mean, and now let’s get him in there because we’re 0 and 2. I just don’t see it that way. I see that we’ve got a chance, as I said in my opening remarks the first day that we had our press conference, I think we have a chance to be a really good football team. We’re not; I get that. We’re not.
I don’t see any need to make any drastic moves or change. We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing, and we’re got to get our players and coaches to all coach and play better.
Q. Gary Gray has played a lot of good football, and certainly Saturday wasn’t one of those days. Does he have a handle on what went wrong, and how do you feel about him moving forward?
COACH KELLY: Oh, he’s got to have a short memory at that position, and certainly college football, NFL football, you’re going to have a day like that. It’s unfortunate that people look at that one position because it’s not just Gary Gray that we put this loss on. There’s a lot of situations. If we don’t turn the ball over, Gary Gray’s name is not even brought up.
Gary is going to be fine. He’s a senior. He’ll bounce back. He had a great game last year against Michigan State, and he’s been really solid for us. So we need Gary Gray to come up and play good football this weekend against Michigan State.
Q. You talked about you believe in the team, you think you have a good team
COACH KELLY: I said we have a chance to have a good team. We’re 0 and 2 right now.
Q. What’s the sense you got from your guys? They can’t obviously be happy. What’s their demeanor been like the last 48 hours or so?
COACH KELLY: It’s been what I’ve expected it to be, and that is they’re not pleased with their performance. They’re not happy where they’re at. The coaches are not pleased with our performance. We’re all in this together, you know; it’s not, hey, they did this and we’re smart, they’re not. I mean, we’re all in this together. I’m 0 and 2.
But I tell them this: I said, I really believe that you haven’t won a game yet, but you haven’t been beaten. Last year we were beaten. We got beat by Michigan last year. As much as I don’t like to say it, they beat us last year.
We’ve really had a hand at beating ourselves, and that’s the big difference. If we do not beat ourselves, we’ve got a chance to be the kind of football team that we all believe that we can be. I can see it. I’ve coached almost 250 football games. I can feel and see a football team coming together. They’ve got to take care of the football. They’ve got to execute better, and they will. I know it’s just a matter of time for them.
Q. Not any action for Aaron (Lynch) and Stephon (Tuitt) on Saturday. What went into that, and does a more sort of traditional offense get them back in the fold this weekend?
COACH KELLY: I think that’s true. I think obviously some of the concerns about playing a team that has option principles in it concerned us a little bit. But we’ve got to get them on the field, there’s no question. We’re committed to getting them some more playing time and getting them on the field and helping us continue to build our defense.
Q. Housekeeping on the tight ends, has (Alex) Welch fallen back to No. 2?
COACH KELLY: I think it’ll be Alex and Ben, either or. We’ll see how Alex does this week. He got the sutures out and his foot feels pretty good today, but we’ll evaluate that during the week.
Q. Do you sense that your team is still confident? You talked about how you have confidence in their potential. Do they still seem confident to you?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah. When you look at the things that they’ve done offensively, against South Florida and against Michigan, two Bowl teams, that’s 1,000 yards offensively, and we just haven’t put enough points on the board. We haven’t put the points on the board in those red zone areas where we need to. So there’s a lot of confidence.
Look, if you measure it as to how your guys handle adversity, we win that football game, probably the No. 1 story is Theo Riddick. It was palatable how disappointed he was in himself in his body language against South Florida, and he comes back and has a spectacular game, has a chance to win that game at the end. We’re all talking about, wow, that’s a great way to bounce back. That’s the resiliency of this group. That’s why I like this team. Gary Gray is going to have a great game. He’s going to play well. I like the way our guys go to work every day, I like the way they respond to challenges, and I don’t sense or feel that at all amongst our football players.
Q. Because Tommy (Rees) is such a confident guy, he’s good at looking ahead and not letting mistakes get him down. Will you have to sit him down and focus on the turnovers he had? Where do you coach him at this week?
COACH KELLY: I spent a lot of time he sits in a meeting room with me every day, and we examine all those things that you guys see for two hours. We talk about them every single day. Keep in mind, he’s only started five games, and that doesn’t say it’s okay to turn the ball over; it’s not. But I really like his progress. I mean, he has been really productive for us. We’ve got to take care of the football, and he’ll get better and better at that.
Q. Have you coached any teams throughout your career that have had this sort of situation where you feel like everything is in place if we can just shore up this one problem, and how do you get through that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I have. You stay the course. I know that sounds clichÃƒÆ’Â© for everybody, but when you’re building a football program, not just a team, you have to be consistent with your approach, and I believe in my approach. I believe in the things that I’ve seen tangibly occur in my tenure of 21 years of being a head football coach. We’ll keep doing the things we’re doing, and our players will continue to play hard, and that’s the great thing about them. They compete, they love to play, they practice hard. We’ve just got to clean up the things on Saturday, and that will occur.
Q. You’re familiar with Mark Dantonio’s teams for a variety of reasons. Could you just kind of elaborate on the kind of kids he tends to turn out in terms of football players?
COACH KELLY: Well, he demands discipline, attention to detail. He demands all those things on a day to day basis, a toughness to his football team. He wants them mentally and physically tough, and that’s what you’ve got to be to be a Big Ten champ like they were last year. I know Mark does a great job in attention to those specific areas.
Q. You took only 50 snaps on defense, about 20 minutes’ worth. Does that play a factor at all in how you have the rotation?
COACH KELLY: Well, we were at nickel quite a bit. They’re not on nickel. They’re not in our nickel defense, and we were up 24 7. We run a lot more nickel, so that applies a little bit more to it. As I said earlier, we’ve got to get them involved. We’ve got to continue to bring them along, and we’ll obviously look at that this weekend.
Q. It seems several times throughout the course of the game you were really motioning to speed it up, the tempo was not at the pace you wanted, the 25 second clock was down to about two, one many times. Has that been a problem this year as far as just the tempo aspect, finding that rhythm, getting the plays in kind of thing?
COACH KELLY: No, the plays have gotten in. I feel pretty good. There’s maybe a couple times on me where we wanted to make sure we had the right personnel, and I’ll take responsibility. But by and large, you’ve watched the game. I mean, there were multiple defensive looks with Greg Mattison last week, multiple, and Tommy is getting us into the right play. So that takes some time.
But clearly you saw early on, the noise, we used up all of our timeouts in the first half just to get him comfortable that he didn’t have to get us into a bad play, and it didn’t affect the game. We’d like to move a little bit quicker on his part, so it’s housekeeping, if you will, needs to be a little bit quicker. We’ve got to make sure that we’re communicating because it was quite loud out there. But I think the big picture is given the circumstances and the loudness of that stadium, I think he did a remarkable job.
Q. Your trademark has always been just the fast paced quick strike offenses, but last year you had great success with slowing it down in November. Has there been a bit of a conflict as to just what identity you want offensively between those two?
COACH KELLY: No, we want to be where we are. We’ve always felt like if you’re averaging 500 yards, you have to have more points added to that. It can’t be 500 yards and 31 points. We have a different ratio. We look at it as 80 yards should be about 7 points. So we feel like we’re behind in the points category, not in the way we’re running our offense right now. We feel pretty good. And again, you’ve got to keep in mind we had a different starter in the first game than we did the second game, and we think we’ve made really good progress in that area.
Q. And other than the turnovers, the main issue seems to be the short yardage situations. You’ve had a jumble package. Are you looking for any other alternatives right now like maybe a Theo in a leopard cat or maybe another quarterback in a certain package?
COACH KELLY: Not really. I just want to execute better in 3rd down, whether we throw the ball or run the ball. Last year we threw the ball on 3rd and 1 and didn’t execute. You’ve got to run the ball on 3rd and 1. This year we ran the ball on 3rd and 1 and we should throw the ball. I don’t get into that. I get into the execution of 3rd and short. We didn’t execute well enough in those 3rd and short situations, whether it’s a run or a pass.
Believe me, you know, there’s nobody that’s more conscious of 3rd and 1 to 3. We practice it three times in our three days that we’re out there. We just have to execute better in those situations.
Q. Time outs, no coach wants your team to use time outs in the first and third quarter, but I imagine there’s a pretty fine line there between using a time out on 3rd and 15 and throwing an interception or not. Where does Tommy fall on that?
COACH KELLY: I told him use them all if you need them. I really don’t need any time outs. We didn’t use a time out, I think we scored in about 36 seconds without using a time out. We really don’t need them. I don’t want to be in a bad play. Now, I say that, obviously you want to try to keep one in your pocket for a special teams situation, but I’m not someone that says don’t use a time out, hold onto them, especially in the first half where we used all three, and then of course we only used one in the third quarter, which I thought was a prudent decision.
I would say by and large, use them up in the first half. We feel good that we can operate with one time out making sure we keep one in our pocket for a special teams situation.
Q. Every Sunday morning, Monday morning, the quarterback seems to think that he should have been in dime coverage on the 64 yard play. Where are you with your dime coverage? Are you not comfortable with the sixth back, or did you just feel that that coverage was best for the situation?
COACH KELLY: Just felt like in that situation that’s what we had repped out, that’s what we had practiced. Look, if you go down, you’re dropping eight, you’re rushing three. Robinson creates a lot of issues. What if we’re in two man? Someone says, well, we’re talking about it as a staff on Thursday. We have these discussions 48 hours prior to. All right, let’s go two man, run everybody off. Who’s the fifth guy that’s spying Denard Robinson? Is he good enough to tackle him if he breaks out? We didn’t feel like we had one of those guys. He’s a pretty special player. So now you’re left with, okay, drop eight and rush three, give him all day.
So at the end of the day, we came up with what we felt was the best thing for us. We’ve just got to execute it better in that situation.
Q. When you named Dayne Crist the starter before the first game, one of the reasons that you gave was his ability to extend plays. Where is Tommy in his development with that, and realistically how high is his ceiling in terms of his ability to extend plays?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s really good. I mean, he just has a really good sense about playing quarterback. You know, if he had an individual workout, you’d go, uh huh, all right, he looks okay. But when he plays the game, he’s patient in the pocket, he can move his feet, he can stay alive, he can do the things necessary, and he’s also really smart. He’s not going to put himself in a situation where his eyes drop and he’s going to flush and try to extend plays. He extends plays because he knows the offense. He extends plays because he knows protections very well, and he gets into those, and that’s a dynamic that when you’re out there recruiting you really don’t know that until you actually get into your system. And that’s really what he does well, and I think he’s got obviously a bright future to get better and better.
Q. When you took over the Cincinnati job a few years ago, did you have any conversations with Mark Dantonio, and what’s that relationship been like over the years?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s been very professional. I don’t think we have a relationship where we pick up the phone. I have a lot of respect for the work that he did. Again, we know each other because of the Cincinnati experience and being in the Midwest and of course playing over the last two years. Very respectful of Mark and understand that he has a basic philosophy that I believe in, and that is the mental and physical toughness of your football team.
Q. How surprised were you that he pulled the fake field goal at the end of the game last year?
COACH KELLY: I think the down and distance was a bit of a surprise. We know in that situation, regardless of it, we had to defend it better. But no, I thought it was a great call. It worked.
Q. The perspective you mentioned about Theo Riddick and he came back after that first game and played so well. Could you talk about Michael Floyd? I know all of his past you dreamed that the best situation would be for him to come back and play like he’s playing. He’s pretty remarkable, two different quarterbacks in two different games.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, well, the lion’s share of his catches have been with Tommy, and they’re on the same page. Michael has been what we expected and more. He’s been great in the locker room, he’s been great around our teammates, he’s a joy to coach, he’s upbeat and positive about everything, and he’s a great competitor. I’m just lucky that I get an opportunity to coach him.
Q. In your time as a head coach, there’s development at every situation. I remember Woody Hayes talked about learn to compete, learn to win and then handle winning and win championships and that kind of thing. Do you see the progress at 0 and 2? Everybody is saying what’s going on, but that’s progress you have to make to build a championship team. Do you see that?
COACH KELLY: I do. I wouldn’t be excited I think you can sense oh, my God, we’re 0 and 2, what did I get myself into. I like our players. I like where we’re going. I know you’ve got to win; I get that. But we’re on where I believe that we should be. We should have obviously taken care of the football better, made a couple plays here or there, coached a little bit better. We’re all disappointed. It’s not acceptable to lose, especially at Notre Dame. But we’re on a journey that I’m excited about.
Q. With a sophomore quarterback, five starts, we’re talking about turnovers, I don’t want to say like what do you have to live with, but when a guy is kind of learning as he goes, what do you have to account for in terms of those turnovers, just they’re going to happen?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s a good question. I think my response to each turnover is different. The first turnover, you know, we had a route issue with one of our guys that he thought it was something different, so he’s not going to get the stick for that. 1st down, throw an interception in the cover three, that’s unacceptable. You cannot be the starting quarterback and make those kind of decisions. Each one is a little bit different.
So to have that kind of mistake again, that’s unacceptable. I can’t live with that. So each one of them is different along the process for me.
Q. It seemed when Tommy had time at the line he could identify what’s coming, change things up. How much time does a quarterback in your system need? What’s realistic for them to go to the line, see what’s coming, make a change
COACH KELLY: 18 seconds is what we’ve clocked it to be over time and experience. He needs about 18 seconds that the play is now, again, there’s different dynamics when there’s 114,000 in that when you’re changing plays, there’s verbal communication, and that’s where we ran into a little bit of a longer time because now he’s got to get to the back, he’s got to get to the line, the tight end is down. But about 18 seconds to answer your question.
Q. And going back to his inexperience, I would think that that would be pretty impressive as a coach to see a quarterback go in and be able to do that, home or away. What is it about his makeup, his fluency in your offense that allows him to
COACH KELLY: He’s level. He doesn’t get up, he doesn’t get down. He gets mad, but it doesn’t stay with him. Here’s a young guy who goes down and checks the play, okay, on 1st down out of a run play to a pass play, and he’s got Michael Floyd one on one. The ball comes out of his hand. That’s devastating. He just comes back and leads us on a drive with 38 seconds, and we score on the road. That’s the kind of kid he is.
Q. I realize when Notre Dame starts 0 and 2 everyone thinks the world is coming to an end, but the fact that the team went through Navy and Tulsa last year, is there any utility to that that the players can call on, how down they were at that time last year and came back and finished strong?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think all of those are experiences to build on, there’s no question. These are a little different, though. Last year was a distractions of magnitude that you don’t ever really have. This year it’s about Saturdays, you know what I mean? So we’re kind of going through some things that we didn’t go through last year in that sense. We’ll get through this one. We got through it last year, a very difficult time. We’ll get through this.
Q. So if you’re 0 and 2 after beating yourselves, as you said, the first two games, how do you teach a team that is finding ways to lose to find ways to win?
COACH KELLY: Because they’re doing so many good things. I mean, by and large if you really look at what they’re doing I mean, we’ve had one bad fourth quarter in the last six games. They had 90 yards at half against us. They had 180 after three quarters. We’re doing some really good things. I think if it was a mess the whole day, and you’re just looking at it and going, oh, my God, this thing is just out of control, it’s a play here, it’s a play there that we can get back, so they can see the body of work is there, they just have to be more attentive to the little details.
Q. When you look at a team that has the turnover problem that you’ve had and the penalty problem that you’ve had, what does that tell you, and can you coach your way out of those two areas specifically?
COACH KELLY: Sure. I think it’s still about attention to detail. The first game we had some ill timed personal fouls. I thought we cleaned that up in the second game. We’ll need to continue to do that, obviously. But I still revert back to the body of work. They can see themselves getting better. They see it. They watched last year’s film, and they look at this year and go, wow, we’ve got to play better.
Q. You mentioned Ben Turk after the USF game. He was a guy that did well in practice and then when he got under the lights he struggled. What can you do to get that performance on the practice field onto the field?
COACH KELLY: We’re just not going to change the demands that we have for him. We’re going to go every day, and as I said, if we had somebody who we felt was equal to his ability, we would look at making a change. We’re not going to change Ben. Ben is going to have to come through for us.
And he got better later. He had a big punt later, and we’re hoping that that’s that one kick that he can kind of generate some consistency. Ben’s deal is consistency. We didn’t snap it very well. We had two on the ground if you remember, so we’ve got to do a better job in execution of our special teams.
Q. If he does continue to struggle, though, would you guys consider maybe changing the style of punting to maybe a rugby style?
COACH KELLY: We have that in our system if we get overloaded. We certainly can rugby. No, we’re just going to go for it on every 4th down no matter where we are on the field, because I know my words are listened to by everybody (laughing).
Q. Cierre Wood seems like he’s not getting too much attention. Can you talk about his play?
COACH KELLY: He’s been really solid. Obviously he put the ball on the ground. We always think about those things. He’s got to be consistent. But he’s what we thought he could be, and that is a dynamic running back at the BCS level. This is his first chance to really start. We like what he’s been doing. He’s been excellent in pass protection, which was a weakness for him last year. He’s really grown a lot as a back. And I still like Jonas (Gray). I thought Jonas bounced back with a very, very solid football game, as well, and those are the guys that have to play for us.
Q. I wonder if you can give your overall assessment of Tommy’s play. Do you feel like he reinforced your decision, and is he the starter going forward?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’ll be starting. I think I’ve talked a lot about we would not make him the starter unless we had great confidence in him. I thought he managed our football team well. There are things that he can do better, but again, he’s in his fifth start in a very hostile environment on the road in front of 114,000 loud fans. I thought he did some really good things.
And then any time you engineer a late game drive, obviously that brings a lot of confidence, so I think he’s got a lot of confidence in his ability to lead our football team.
Q. When you’ve got a player that’s as dynamic as Michael and has the kind of rapport with Tommy that the two have, is there ever a balance of trying to say, okay, I like that you were comfortable with Michael but let’s maybe stick here? How do you balance that?
COACH KELLY: You mean in terms of looking to him?
Q. Right. There seemed like a couple times where Tommy locked in on Michael where maybe he would have had a better match up in a different situation.
COACH KELLY: It’s an interesting question because I admonished him late in the game when he threw the ball to TJ (Jones) down the sideline when he had the same match up. Now, we got a PI (pass interference penalty); there was a DPI (defensive pass interference) called on the play. But I also liked the fact that now TJ knows that if I get a match up, Tommy Rees is going to throw me the ball, not just Michael Floyd. There’s a dynamic there that’s really positive. If you look at the guys that caught key balls for us, Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert, TJ Jones, and of course Michael Floyd, there’s a lot to worry about there. And although there are some times where there’s a tendency to look to him, he’s a hard guy not to try to get the ball to. So there is a bit of a balance and a dynamic that I kind of like right now.
Q. You also seem to recognize that teams are going to focus their attention on him and you seem to be moving him around. Is there something you’re doing to open him up?
COACH KELLY: I think you need to worry about him where he is all over the world. If you just put him into the short field, they’re going to double zone him, roll off, there’s going to be a guy over the top and Michael Floyd is going to stay in there with three catches. He’s got to play inside, he’s got to play outside, we’ve got to move him around, and we’ll continue to do that each and every week or he’s not going to get the kind of impact in the game that he needs for our offense.