Second-year head coach Brian Kelly.

Coach Kelly Press Conference Transcript Sept. 27

Sept. 28, 2011

COACH KELLY: Okay. We’re into week five, and obviously it’s been a rugged schedule for our guys, you know, playing our third Big 10 team, two very good Big East opponents, both bowl teams last year.

Going into week five the most important thing is that our guys are taking care of themselves, and making sure that we’re able to get all of our players at 100 percent on Saturday because when you play the kind of schedule that we have in the first five weeks, you’ve gotta make sure that your guys are ready to play every week physically.

And we’ll make sure that we take care of that. Our guys have gotta do a great job this week of being focused and paying attention to detail in our game plan. So that’s very important to us going into the fifth week.

Our third Big 10 opponent in as many weeks. They present challenges. Ralph Bolden, their running back, is back from knee surgery, who’s an outstanding back. They’ve shown obviously their ability to run the football. Coach (Danny) Hope’s personality and experience as an offensive line coach is really showing in this team averaging over 200 yards rushing.

From a defensive standpoint, (they are) big and physical. I think when you look at their defensive line, their inside out as big as we’ll play. Kawann Short is a guy that takes up a lot he’s like our Louis Nix, you know, in terms of size and physical play, inside out. They’ve got experience at the linebacker position in (Joe) Holland. There’s a guy that, you know, we’re well acquainted with. And then you know, an experienced secondary.

So another Big 10 opponent, another great challenge on the road for our football team, playing in front of a national audience again, but I think the most important thing is that, you know, our guys understand how important it is to play your best on the road and find a way to win.

And I think if we take anything from last week’s victory, you know, there’s a lot of things that you have to build within your program relative to, you know, winning. You know, I ask our players all the time and we talk about all the little things that you have to do to win. Now when you build your program, then the two things that I’ve always looked for in winning teams, and I think the best example is you take Auburn last year who won the National Championship. I think they had six games that they played where they won late or in overtime or won by just a couple of points. I know on my Cincinnati team where we went 12 and 0, we had a number of games that were decided on the last possession. And the point I’m making is one of the things that I liked about our football team at Pittsburgh is that we showed poise and confidence down the stretch.

Poise to me is the ability to raise your level of concentration when it’s most needed. That you can’t talk about. You have to go demonstrate that. Confidence is the trust in your teammates that they’re going to do their job so you don’t have to do theirs. And those are hard to get to, and I was really pleased, of all the wins that we’ve had, that was the first time that we exhibited in 2011 poise and confidence because if you look at the Michigan game, we didn’t trust in what we were doing in the end, and consequently, we didn’t do the job necessary to win that football game.

So it was the first game that we exhibited what I consider necessary ingredients, absolutely crucial ingredients to being a consistent winner, and that’s poise and confidence. So we’ll look to build on that as we, you know, go to Purdue this weekend. That was kind of a long intro, but kind of wanted to talk about those things as it relates to this team. Questions?

Q. Coach, you talked a lot about week five, you know, in your intro, and I’m just wondering in week five with all the talk about how this is your second year and different things, offensively you’ve had some games you’ve put up big yards and there’s been turnovers. Are you surprised that it has taken this long to put it all together or do you think that’s coming where you’ll have the kind of game of no turnovers, lots of yards, kind of a break out performance?

COACH KELLY: Well, I look at the first two weeks where we averaged over 500 yards in offense and we lost both games. So really for me it’s really about winning games and making certain that we do that. I’d rather do that and be out coached and win ugly and do all those things but at the end of the day win the football game. Beauty points, style points I’m not really interested in those things.

Would I like to play better? Certainly. Do we want to take care (of the ball) absolutely. All those things are absolutely crucial. But I don’t think this is a matter of we’re not moving forward. I think it’s still about building some more of those important components that I believe are necessary for long term winning.

Q. Coach, offensively I think starting in the second half against Michigan and moving forward, sort of the blueprint for attacking your young quarterback is trying to do a lot of gains and secondaries guys doing a lot of coverage and bringing pressure. Moving forward what do you guys have to do to continue to make the plays more consistently to start taking them out of what they’re trying to do?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. I think we’re overanalyzing the fact that you know, each week is a different week. I think if you look at the Michigan State game and then the Michigan game and the South Florida game they’re not good templates to say, well, where is your offense. I think each game you have to be able to adapt and change in the flow of the game. I think more than anything else is we didn’t execute at the level offensively that we did in the first three weeks.

So that is something that we’ll work on this week and spend more time on, okay, these are the things that we have to do to be a better offense. But I think we’re probably overanalyzing the facts of what our offense is looking like in the sense that we’re just interested in managing the game and winning the football game and not turning the ball over. If I had to take one common denominator in terms of your question, it would be the continuous stressing of taking care of the football.

Q. How do you do that? How do you emphasize that with a young quarterback with teams that, like you said this weekend, are starting to throw more looks at him to try to keep him off balance early?

COACH KELLY: I’ve coached young quarterbacks all my career. I’ve had true freshman quarterbacks all my career. So this isn’t uncharted territory for me in terms of what I believe are the principles of good quarterback play. So we’ll continue to go back to the fundamentals and talk about those fundamentals with Tommy in particular so we don’t run into untimely turnovers.

Q. This question is not about whether Notre Dame should play easier opponents to start their season. They choose to play who they choose and that’s that. But in terms of the development of a young quarterback and the development of a team in general, how do you benefit from playing the Southeast Missouri States and Illinois States or does your development accelerate by playing the schools that you play?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think if you use last year, you would say that the tough schedule early on benefited our football team later in the year. Now, having said that, you certainly can’t afford to lose more than a couple of games early on or you put yourself in a very difficult run to get into a BCS bowl game. You know what I mean? You can make the case either/or.

I think what the most important principle is that you have to develop depth within your ranks. I’ll give you an example. Against Southeast Missouri, Purdue probably played their front line guys less than 30 plays, plus they had the week off; where I’ve gone through with our team four very physical football games with South Florida, Michigan, Michigan State and Pittsburgh. So I’m more concerned with keeping my guys healthy and getting them at 100 percent. That’s probably my biggest concern with the kind of schedule that we have.

Q. One of the comments by Urban Meyer during broadcast, he said the threat of the quarterback run game cleans up all the blitzes and all the multiple coverages that you see.

COACH KELLY: I don’t think that Denard Robinson is available, is he? Certainly there’s no I don’t think you can debate that. There’s no debating that. We know Tommy (Rees) is not that threat, so we have to do other things to make certain that we put him in a position where we can run our offense effectively.

Q. What about the deep ball? Is that something that you feel like needs to be incorporated a little bit more as well?

COACH KELLY: We were looking at the deep ball. We do I think you see this sometimes on TV. We do a breakdown, a hit shot breakdown, strong curl, strong flat, middle, deep ball, weak curl. Our breakdown is surprisingly pretty good. So when you think deep ball relative to our offense, for example, we’re throwing at a high percentage in those vertical seam areas that we like to hit. We haven’t necessarily hit it as much as we would like, but we’re pushing the ball in those areas, and I think that’s the most important, that we’re pushing in those vertical areas that need to be stretched. We gotta get a couple more of them.

Q. Last thing, in terms of the play of (Dan) Fox and (Carlo) Calabrese at the will position after four games, your assessment of that combo.

COACH KELLY: It’s been really good. Both of them have really done some great things. We got matched up a couple of times one on one with the backs, so it forced us to go to nickel because we didn’t like that matchup. But by and large our will linebacker has been outstanding in pass coverage. Calabrese has had a couple of really good plays in pass coverage for us. Danny’s done a great job. We’ve got some really good plays, especially on his pass coverage from our will linebacker position.

Q. You talked 10 or 15 times about Darius Fleming clicking at various levels as he goes along. So what’s clicked maybe after game two? You said he played great in game 3. Obviously he had a couple more sacks on Saturday. How has the trajectory continued up the last couple of weeks for him?

COACH KELLY: I would say that we placed a high demand on him and we’re demanding that kind of play from him. Instead of just being a good player, we’re demanding him to be a great player. And he’s risen to that challenge. We’re challenging him every day. He’ll come to me on Sunday, two sacks one weekend. Are you a real player? You need two more next week.

So it’s always been those jabs at him to keep pushing him to be the kind of player we think he can be. And then along the way, you’re gaining confidence as well. So I think both of those, demanding greatness and then confidence coming along with that.

Q. I guess when people think about a spread offense they don’t necessarily think a tight end is always going to be an important piece of that. Obviously it has been for you. Why is it an important piece of what you want to do in this particular spread zone?

COACH KELLY: Well, we can strike on a wide front with our passing, as I mentioned earlier. If you want to just defend, you know, outside in and double up outside, you put linebackers one on one. If you want to drop safeties down inside, then you get matchups on the outside. So it’s just having balance. It’s like anything else. You need that balance inside out within your passing game as well. And Tyler (Eifert) offers us that kind of balance.

Q. Kind of moving along with the (Michael) Floyd thing, too, is there anything more you guys can do to put him in different positions to get him more to get him away from stuff or is it just going to be some kind of battle?

COACH KELLY: I think there’s going to be some games as it unfolds that he’s not going to get 10 passes. It’s just the nature of the game. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue to look at ways to get Michael the football. Certainly we’re going to do that, and I think there’s a number of ways that we can continue to make sure that he gets the appropriate amount of touches. But we just don’t want that to be a consistent kind of scenario more than anything else.

Q. Brian, you talked after the South Florida game about Jonas Gray and you asked him do you want to be the kid remembered for fumbling the ball at the one or do you want to bounce back and have a great season, and clearly he has responded in a positive manner. Talk about the lift that that gives your ball club.

COACH KELLY: Well, we’ve said all along that it’s absolutely crucial that he plays for us and plays at a high level. And I just like the way our guys, you know, individually and collectively have bounced back from different forms of adversity, whether it be Theo Riddick bouncing back or Jonas Gray coming back, whether it be Gary Gray. That’s why I like the resiliency of our guys that they’re able to face some adversity but come back the next week and play at a higher level.

And Jonas is an important, although he didn’t get as many touches, it was more about it just happened to be the luck of the draw when he was in the game, he didn’t get as many touches as we would like. But no, he’s an integral part, and I love the way he bounced back.

Q. A play that seems to be gaining more attraction on Saturday and Sundays is the back shoulder throw and the underthrow to the receivers.

COACH KELLY: We’re good at underthrowing. We don’t need any more work on that. We’d like to overthrow it once in a while.

Q. A lot of teams appear to be good at underthrowing it, and it seems to be a ploy to try to get DPI (defensive pass interference) calls. How do you coach defensive backs to work against that?

COACH KELLY: It’s a difficult proposition. If there was an easy answer for it, you wouldn’t see them all. I think the most important is you have to make a play on the ball when it’s in the air. If you don’t make a play on the ball, you have no chance, first of all, of not getting called.

Secondly, obviously, to get a one on one matchup, what we stress on the other side of the ball is make sure that the ball has enough air and is in play that if we can’t make a play on it, that we may get a DPI. So I’m coaching both sides of that one, one from an offensive strategic standpoint, and then defensively, you gotta get your head around to have a chance, but very difficult proposition as it relates to that singular one on one throw.

Q. And then just to follow up on the question over here, maybe this is too philosophical to get into today, but you talk about stressing the fundamentals of good quarterback play with any quarterback that you have. What are three or four of those fundamentals of good quarterback play that you try to stress every day?

COACH KELLY: Well, first of all, within the pocket, making sure that you’ve got two hands on the football. You know, not getting sloppy and being a quarterback that can get the ball stripped out of his hand.

Your what I call eye discipline, in other words, who is your movement key, are you staying with that eye discipline or are you, you know, obviously moving towards looking at the rush and seeing other things, keeping your eyes down the field. So those are a couple of things that we continue to talk about and stress every single day.

Q. I’m curious, you watched tape from last week and Tommy watched tape from last week. Did he kind of say like, okay, I see these one on one matchups that you referenced on Sunday that you didn’t see on Saturday. Just kind of what was his takeaway from reviewing the film from Pittsburgh?

COACH KELLY: It’s always a revelation when you watch it on film and go, you know, you can see it. I think part of it is coaching and doing a good job of saying, listen, when this thing comes together, you need to let the ball go. You gotta go prompt these one on one matchups. The interceptions, you know, he had to step up in the pocket, which threw the timing off. And once the timing of that route was off, the ball needed to get checked down. Well, unfortunately the back who’s supposed to be the swing relief, never got out. So there’s so many different things. Film allows you to watch those things over and over and cement them in your mind that, yeah, I was looking at the right thing. But the timing of it, the timing of it was where I was off. So we just keep developing and keep learning, keep watching film. And that will begin to take hold.

Q. Do you think in any way that film is more valuable than Michigan or Michigan State would think maybe came a little bit easier for them?

COACH KELLY: No. There’s so many examples of things that occurred in each one of the games that have been good learning pieces for Tom along the way.

Again, what I want to concentrate on is some of the fundamentals of the quarterback play with Tommy, keep drilling the fundamentals because the ball comes out quickly. He’s got incredibly quick release. He may not have the strongest arm in the world, but he can get the ball out quickly, and it doesn’t have to be a 70 yard pass to be a deep shot. So we just need to continue to work with the fundamentals with him, and he’s got some really good intangibles that help the position as well.

Q. With your defense playing as consistently as it has, how does that affect you as an offensive play caller?

COACH KELLY: Well, I’m certainly looking at it as the head coach first and then the offensive play caller second. If I was just the offensive coordinator, I don’t know that I would put as much emphasis on what the defense is doing because they’d be paying me to be the offensive coordinator and score points. So I’m looking at the flow of the game. I’m sensing how the game is going and calling it accordingly.

You know, listen, I’ve been in a number of games where we had to win the game 45 44. That wasn’t this weekend.

Q. I guess I’m curious how that, you know, would affect the way you call the game. If you knew you could get out of there if you score 20 points, you win. How does that affect you in terms of how you want to manage your offense?

COACH KELLY: Well, you want to minimize poor field position for your defense, first of all. So you want to be able to put the field you know, we had two series I think there were over 13 plays and we came up with no points. But those are good series. I know they’re not beauty contest winners relative to points on the board, but we’re able to eat clock and flip field position, and it didn’t result in a negative situation for us. So there are time and plays.

Now, if that’s the way we gotta play every week to win, then so be it. I guess the genesis of the question is I’m willing to play whatever way is necessary for us to find a way to win.

Q. Probably a better example of showing that to Tyler. Especially on that last drive. What does he give to you as a pass option on the line and his defense in the last year is incredible.

COACH KELLY: Yeah. We really felt last year he was a special player. He had arrived at that level. And for a guy that at times was seen as a hybrid wide receiver, you know, he’s done a nice job of in line blocking. He’s not perfect, but he’s a pretty tough guy, and I think you gotta add toughness to that. I’ll just go back to the Michigan State game where he made an incredible catch over the middle that didn’t get much talk. But he got hit from a safety that normally that ball comes out. But he’s exhibited the toughness necessary to play at a high level at that position as well.

Q. Can you talk about being able to develop depth early in the season and the luxury you kind of don’t have with the schedule. If (Stephon) Tuitt had gotten some more time, what does that give you? (Indiscernible).

COACH KELLY: They’re big physical kids. But they’re young guys. We’ve had to use two timeouts the last two weeks on defense because we had some confusion with our young guys as to who was supposed to be in the game. So there’s a give and take there along the way. But they’re big physical kids that can go in there and mix it up, and Tuitt is the guy that really at the point of attack is a difficult guy to block.

Q. (Indiscernible). Short yardage situations, is that something you want to be cognizant of?

COACH KELLY: No. It was more of a rotation. He (Tuitt) only had 29 snaps. Louis (Nix) had many more snaps than he did. So just guys getting some work, and again, he’s playing in more of our dime package as well.

Q. How impressed have you been with the pass rush the last two weeks and how much better do you think it can be given the youth of the crew?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s a combination of both. It’s experience and it’s youth. Darius Fleming had two sacks. (Prince) Shembo had a huge sack. Those guys came up big for us as well. So I wouldn’t just put it on the young guys. I would put it on a balance of utilizing all of the resources that we have.

Moving forward, obviously you feel really good that those young guys are going to be here for a few years. But I think in the present I think we’ve got a good balance of youth with some veteran players.

Q. Last year your running game really picked up dramatically when you used the two tight end formation, and Mike Ragone obviously is a very strong in line blocker. How would you assess the position right now at tight end as far as what it can do to help the running game even more?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. Experience we’re lacking. Our next tight end in the ball game right now is a freshman. Whether it’s Alex Welch or whether it’s Ben Koyack, they’re freshmen. So they don’t have a lot of game experience other than Tyler Eifert. Jake Golic has been out with a broken arm, but he’s coming back, but if we put him in that situation as well, he’s really an inexperienced player. So we’re just going to have to live with a little bit of inconsistency at that position until they, you know, gain more experience. But we like all three of them. They’re all game. They’re all physical guys. They all can catch the ball. We just gotta get them some work.

Q. Kind of going off of what Pete mentioned about calling the game, when your defense is playing as well as it has been, does that give you the confidence maybe to make that punt block call you did at the start of the third period?

COACH KELLY: No. Generally punt block decisions are not made at the game. We make those prior to. If there’s something that we see that we believe that we have something practiced for it, then we’re going to call those.

I think obviously hindsight is 20/20. If we had to do it again, we probably wouldn’t have called it. But having said that, the player that we had in that position we have a great deal of confidence in his ability to go in there and make good decisions and it just didn’t work out in that particular play.

Q. So you’re not saying beforehand like even if it doesn’t work and there’s a penalty or something, our defense can get us off the field or something like that?

COACH KELLY: I think in certain situations I wasn’t thinking about it in that scenario. I actually was thinking that in talking to Mike Elston that we had a great shot of blocking it. We felt like there was enough room to block it and score.

We have a yard line that we will not put one on because you only get two points out of it. I don’t want to block a kick for two points. I’d rather set our offense up at midfield than try and block a kick for two points because if you block it and it goes out of the back of the end zone, obviously, you know, you get the ball back. But we look in all those terms of when do you go for a block and what time do you do it and then in some instances how your defense is playing.

Q. You were at the 10 yard line.


Q. It was right about there.

COACH KELLY: Yeah. It was the 10 yard line.

Q. Is that the limit?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. We use the 10 yard line, at that area. We feel 20 yards we got a chance to scoop a score.

Q. And just the quarterback, you’re still going with kind of the 60/40 rotation or is that something that you feel you have

COACH KELLY: Yeah. I’m most comfortable with that rotation, so we’ve stayed very close to that 60/40 rotation.

Q. How many snaps is Luke Massa getting at quarterback with the scout team?

COACH KELLY: He helps out when necessary because we’re still keeping Everett (Golson) and (Andrew) Hendrix with us. So, you know, we don’t have any other quarterbacks. So they’re getting some work on scouts. It’s a rotation right now, and Luke just fills in in a very small one. He’s a wide receiver, but he’s a guy that can help us if we get into a bind.

Q. But with Luke working there, does that give Everett or Andrew any work at all with the first team?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. Yeah. That’s really what we’re trying to do is keep all of those guys working in our offense. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to send them down to demo squad and not see them again until April. You know, so we’re trying to keep all those. And then we were short on a couple of things, so we asked Luke to help us out, but that was just a part time role for him.

Q. So what kind of percentage of snaps do they get?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, they’re probably getting between 10 and 20 percent.

Q. Thank you. Again, it’s another away game. Are you guys starting to feel a little worn out, a little drained?

COACH KELLY: No. But I want to be cognizant of the fact that we’ve played four rugged opponents and we’re going back into the Big 10, and we’ve gotta match a team’s intensity at home on national television against Notre Dame. You remember now, every team that plays us, it’s their rivalry game. It’s the biggest game on their schedule. So we’ve gotta match that. And we will. We will. But we’ve gotta be aware of those things in the kind of schedule that we play that we’ve gotta get our kids ready physically and mentally for Saturday.

Q. I know you’re staying in Indiana, but are you starting to miss home a little bit?

COACH KELLY: In terms of our schedule, sometimes it’s not bad to be on the road. It’s a very busy schedule here. And so I think our kids this Friday, for example, we’re going to treat it as a home game scheduled for us. So we’ll go to class all day. We will not miss class. We will meet later in the day and then head out later to West Lafayette.

Q. And then talk about your behavior on the sidelines. Frustrating season for you?

COACH KELLY: Each game is a different game for me. I’m a pretty emotional guy, and I think the most important thing for me is to keep challenging our guys and you know, get them to be better each and every week.

Q. You mentioned Sunday that there might be some freshmen that were close to joining the ranks, active ranks. Could you share who they are, and also, can you talk about maybe some of the guys you’re getting good play from, but are in positions where you’re not going to use them this year, that they’re playing well, but you’ve got so much depth that you don’t need to use them?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think maybe running back position, you know, we’re ready to give one of those two young guys some work, (Cam) McDaniel and (George) Atkinson, both of them, you know, we’re really close there. (DaVaris) Daniels is getting closer each and every week. So I’d say on the offensive side of the ball those would be the three guys most likely.

Defensively, I think you see the guys that we’re playing right now. I don’t see anybody else hopping in to the lineup or cracking the two deep.

Q. In terms of your outside linebacker play, can you compare what you’re getting from your guys this year to this time last year?

COACH KELLY: Significant improvement.

Q. And Darius Fleming in that mix, you know, we had talked about Prince being out of profile a little bit in terms of height, reach and so forth. Darius I would figure fits in that same category. Again, what does he do to kind of overcome that? Does the play you’re getting out of him prompt you to expand your profile in the future?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. Let me just comment briefly on profile. Profile obviously is such that we consider speed, size, all those things. But there’s a category called compelling features. And each young man that plays that position has a compelling feature about them. And those can overcome profile at any time. It might be hard. It might just be grit and determination or football intelligence. It might be that he’s 5′ 11, but he plays 6′ 3 just because of his reach and size. So I always stay with compelling features because I always had to find those in Division II. I wasn’t allowed to go profile. There was no profile for me. So I always look for compelling features when it comes to recruiting in our players.

Q. Finally from me, punt returns, I get a lot of questions from fans. They say, why not Michael Floyd, why not George Atkinson, why not this person and that person. The punt return skill set catching the ball in traffic and trying to catch it and measure those people coming down, how different is that from kickoff return, and why wouldn’t Michael be a fit for that?

COACH KELLY: I think you probably answered your own question in the sense that it’s just a different skill set from any other specialty. Kickoff, obviously you’ve got great space. There’s not anybody breathing down on you when you’re ready to catch that ball.

And just the ability to maintain a focus and concentration while there’s three or four guys ready to knock your head off requires somebody that has more than anything else the confidence to do it. And secondly, muscle memory, that you can do that and repeat it. And the guy that we have back there has the best set of those things. Yeah, I’d like him also to be 4′ 2 and make everybody miss. But we got what we got and we gotta continue to build on that.

Q. Brian, you mentioned earlier about Tommy’s eyes. Where is he in terms of reading the progression and going from one receiver to the next?

COACH KELLY: At times really good. Really good. And I think that that’s what we’re really talking about is if you you can put together an incredible highlight reel with Tommy Rees this year. And you could also put together a blooper film. So it’s really being able to gain that consistency of play after play after play. And a lot of that is learning and experience, and that’s where we’re at.

That’s this year. We better not be talking about this stuff next year or there will be another quarterback playing. But he is learning. Some of the body of his work is really good and some of it needs great improvement. And he knows that. I know that, and we believe that he’s capable of being more consistent for a longer period of time.

Q. Purdue has said that they were going to play (Caleb) TerBush and (Robert) Marve on Saturday. How are they different and what do you do against one or the other?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. TerBush is more capable relative to running the football. Robert really has good escapability, but he’s had the two knee injuries. Accurate thrower, can really sling it around the field, very live arm. There’s a lot of carryover from last week to this week in terms of the run game. So we’ll have to be very aware of TerBush in there in terms of his ability to run, but Marve can come in and really throw the ball around very well.

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