Oct. 9, 2012
COACH Brian Kelly: Okay, as a recap, our players certainly enjoyed their experience in Chicago in the Shamrock Series. It was just a great atmosphere for our team, a great win and certainly one where we were able to put together a solid effort on both sides of the ball. So with that, we look to building on it against an outstanding Stanford football team. A lot of things stand out about this football team. First, they’re a well coached team in all phases, offense, defense, and special teams. They’re a physical football team. They play that way up front, in the back end, their running backs, tight ends. It’s apparent across the board the kind of team you’re going to play when you face Stanford. You put on the film and you see the kind of football team that they have become. There are a number of match up issues, too. Their tight ends are difficult to match up with. We’re going to play a lot of great backs, and I don’t want to throw superlatives out about everybody, but (Stepfan) Taylor is an outstanding back. He’s proven himself. He’s a physical player. He can get banged up, come back and continue to compete. You can see he’s the heart of their football team and one of their captains. The outside linebackers are difficult to block, they’re active. (Trent) Murphy and (Chase) Thomas are outstanding players and they have caused havoc with so many teams, not just this year but last year as well. Their defense is an outstanding group. They’re difficult to run the football on, and it’s hard to get the ball down field because their cornerbacks are under constant pressure and that was the case for us last year. We will have to get better as a football team this week. We will have to improve on our performance against Miami if we want to beat Stanford, and our players understand that the plan we have laid out for them this week is to get better. It’s fundamentals, it’s technique, it’s assignments, it’s all of those things. If they follow the plan, the plan has worked pretty good. Over our last 15 regular season games we’re 13 2, so if they follow the plan and really focus on the preparation and the things, we will be a better football team because we will need to be against a very good Stanford team.
Q. So far the defense has played a variety of offenses from spread to option to pro style, etc. Is there anything at this point that you have not seen? Building on that, is there anything that Stanford does that maybe you guys will recognize?
COACH Brian Kelly: We know the style of offense that they want to play to answer your first question, relative to the very offenses that we see, that’s one of the unique things that we’re challenged with, being out of conference, you’re getting an assortment from the Big 10 to the ACC to Independent and Navy, you’re getting a variety. Navy obviously and Michigan State want to pound the football. We have seen “option” football and play action with Purdue and Michigan and certainly a team that has great skill once they throw the ball down the field. We have seen those types of offenses, but Stanford is unique itself. Not only do they run the ball out of multiple formations and jumbo packages, they create great one on one match ups, so you would think you play a lot of zone you have to drop extra players down to defend the run which gives them a one on one match up, so another unique challenge for us.
Q. It started the year out with the secondary and some guys having to step up, and there doesn’t seem to be many growing pains, does that surprise you?
COACH Brian Kelly: No, there have been growing pains. You probably haven’t seen them as readily as we do on a day to day basis. The growing pains are expected pains, they’re not, ‘oh my goodness, he’s doing this,’ or ‘he can’t do that.’ There are certainly areas of growth and development. We need more growth back there, as well, and not just back there. It’s easier for a young player for us to see that growth, but I challenge all of our players to that growth. Manti Te’o played great Saturday. He played, in my opinion, his best game. It’s hard for a guy like Manti Te’o to keep pushing that bar and he does. It’s easier to see it with the young guys. My point is everybody is challenged everyday to up their game not just the defensive backs.
Q. I know you guys are wearing pink Saturday and it seems that all levels of football are doing something like that this month. There has been a big initiative around football. How important is that?
COACH Brian Kelly: It’s part of my life. The foundation we run centers around breast cancer and the cancer research and eradicating cancer. I think everybody in football, everybody around the country recognizes now that this time of the year focuses on that and that’s an incredible, powerful thing, for that to be in the National Football League and high school and college football and we will get a chance to get everybody’s eyes and attention toward that movement.
Q. Does the “plan” include talking about the big picture? When you see the team doing for the year? Do you talk about them about okay, we’re 5 0, let’s talk about what we can do?
COACH Brian Kelly: No, it’s not brought up at all. We don’t talk from that level from 30,000 feet because it doesn’t do us any good. All we can focus on is what we can control on a day to day basis. When I do press conferences or talk to the media, sometimes I let our team know, listen, I’ll talk in those terms. But among us, it’s about today and what we do today.
Q. Do you sense that they’re beginning to see that they’re head in a direction that something special can happen if they keep on doing the right things?
COACH Brian Kelly: Certainly. They understand based upon some of the things that I’ve mentioned that if they continue to do the things on a day to day basis that’s the hard thing. We’re talking about 18 to 21 years old that are easily distracted, so the charge is to keep them focused on what they need to do to get better as a football player. I’ve worked this plan for a number of years. I’ve had great success with it. If they choose to continue to follow it they’re going to continue to have success. It’s the trust element of staying focused on what we can handle and what we need to handle and we will be fine.
Q. I asked you the other day about NFL Films being here and this streak went longer in twine in Cincinnati and you didn’t have NFL Films coming in or (ESPN) Gameday coming in. Does that complicate things at all and what did you learn from that year to translate to this year?
COACH Brian Kelly: I think each program has it’s different challenges. All of our players at Cincinnati lived downtown and lived among neighbors and well wishers and that sometimes is more difficult relative to keeping them focused. I think each program I have had has presented different challenges, but I will go back to the process and keeping them focused on the process on a day to day basis not only myself but all of our coaches. Our coaches understand that as well. So, yeah, we’re singing the same tune, and it’s not different.
Q. As a coach, I know you’re always worried about overlooking an opponent. Is it easy this week because Stanford has the win over USC and has had success over the past two seasons? Is it easy to keep the team focused on this week?
COACH Brian Kelly: Yeah, they haven’t beaten Stanford and if there is one team that has beaten us physically is Stanford, and they know that. Secondly, they turned the film on and watched what they did to their opponents, they physically intimidated their opponents and that’s clear. They see when they turn on the film and watch the way they play the game, they don’t need much push from me to know what to expect this weekend.
Q. Stephon Tuitt hasn’t been as productive the past two games. Is the opponent focusing on him more?
COACH Brian Kelly: We would beg to differ. His numbers didn’t show a productive player, but he was outstanding for us in what we asked him to do against Miami. And I’m not just trying to take the counterpoint on this. This is how he was graded out by the defensive coaches and in my observation as well. He was very, very effective for us in what we asked him to do on Saturday.
Q. I’m sure as you came in here you were prepared for an increase of the “noise” but can you ever be completely prepared for that until you get into that moment?
COACH Brian Kelly: Well, I think I’m seasoned enough to know what noise is and how that affects 18 to 21 years old on a day to day basis and the coaches. I think I’m aware of it. I think the difference is the noise is there regardless of whether you win or lose, it’s there constantly. We have sold out this stadium since the 70s. There are 81,000 people here every week, so I don’t think it ever goes down, it’s there, it’s just making sure the football team is focused on their preparation. I don’t think that’s different in terms of what I’ve tried to do week to week whether I was at Grand Valley State and we won 24 consecutive games and now the Detroit newspaper was covering us, that was a lot of noise for us. It’s just on a larger scale, but it’s the same noise.
Q. You have obviously had to prepare for it and spend more time on it and deal with it more than ever before.
COACH Brian Kelly: Absolutely, and I think when we get our players back in practice and meetings, we make sure that we set the tone clearly and clearly communicate what they need to do to be successful each week. So I guess here at Notre Dame you have to make sure you communicate directly with your players about all of those outside distractions, and I make sure I do that each week.
Q. The last two years you have been defeated decisively by Stanford. What areas can you reply saying that you have significantly narrowed the gap? Of course the quarterback leaving from last year helps.
COACH Brian Kelly: Sure.
Q. What can you say that you know for sure that you have done and are capable of narrowing that gap?
COACH Brian Kelly: I think we’re stronger physically across the board. We’re a mature football team. We have veterans on defense. From an offensive line standpoint we feel like we can handle ourselves much better. We had a ton of negative plays last year. We had 50 plus running plays and we had one negative play against Miami. Whereas last year we had 20 negative plays, we had penalties. We’re a more disciplined team, so much further along as it relates to taking care of the football and turnovers, and as you know, last year, it was a turnover mistake, negative play every other seemed like every other play, so I think we’re so much further along as it relates to how we play the game on Saturday.
Q. Everybody has seen a running back come into the fourth quarter and put up big numbers when the game is over, Cam McDaniel did that again. What do you see from him on a daily basis in practice and secondly how do you see his role expanding in the future?
COACH Brian Kelly: He is a very good running back. I know you have (Cierre) Wood, you have Theo Riddick, you have George Atkinson, and okay, and they’re good running backs. We have four. It’s hard to get ’em all touches. We’re struggling trying to get those three guys. Cam is one heck of a good running back. He runs it as effectively as any of those three. He’s used to the zone, inside outside zone. He came from that offense. He came from the shotgun offense and he runs the ball exceedingly well. We have no hesitation of putting him in the game. We only have one football, that’s the problem.
Q. I wanted to clarify something, the sixth game being the cut off for the fifth year of eligibility. I don’t understand, I’m not sure anybody else does, is that a rule
COACH Brian Kelly: No, if you play after the sixth game then you can’t be you can’t use the 20% rule for the equivalency of playing. If I play you in Game 7, you lose your red shirt.
Q. That’s always been the case?
COACH Brian Kelly: It has, at least as long as I’ve followed the rule, but I can get you further clarification, Brian is an expert on NCAA legislation, so I’m sure he can get back to you if we’re not giving you the right information.
Q. Coach, you mentioned Manti, you felt like he had his best game, and he keeps pushing the bar. Do you ever worry with him, everything he’s been through and what he’s gone through, do you have to back off him a little bit, or is that not part of who he is?
COACH Brian Kelly: I would say that if there was a concern for me it was going to be this weekend, because obviously there was some travel there, coming back and all the things that went on. Emotionally you might think the average person would have a little bit of a dip in energy and focus and it turned out to be the opposite. He was dynamic as a playmaker. He was making plays he hasn’t made all year, and I think I am probably resigned to the same fact that you are. He’s a unique individual and it doesn’t affect him.
Q. When you took the job, Manti was a high profile recruit. Did you know who he was? He wasn’t a starter all year for Notre Dame as a freshman. Did you have a sense of him?
COACH Brian Kelly: Yes, I knew he was a national recruit. If you followed college football you followed that, I didn’t know what kind of a player he was until I turned the film on and then I saw he was a guy that shouldn’t probably have been playing as a freshman. Knew about him and also knew that he had a long way to go and he’s made that progress each and every year.
Q. With switching gears to Matthias Farley, when you were recruiting him were you set on him being a safety? Did you know where you were going to play him, or did you just see a great athlete who learned to play?
COACH Brian Kelly: We saw a bright kid that as you know, if you know his background had not played high school football. He started playing soccer, and we saw him as an under recruited, raw talent that had outstanding ball skills, so we were projecting him, there is no question, in the recruiting process. We didn’t have a specific position for him because he didn’t have enough of a resume to say he was an offensive or defensive player.
Q. You mentioned Saturday or Sunday that you reminded us of the process with Golson, that there will be slips back and so forth. How do you feel like he came out of this Miami game? Where do you see that line going this week?
COACH Brian Kelly: We threw the ball better, clearly, but there were a lot of throws left out there that we have to get back. That’s the next stage for him. There are protections that he missed. There were some throws, but he definitely took a step forward in the passing game for us. Certainly it was the first time that we ran him and what I like that he did in the running game and showed progress other than running him was he went north and south. He wasn’t out there shaking and trying to make people miss, he put his foot in the ground and he went north and south. Those two particular areas, improvement in the passing game and the way he ran, north and south, were definitely steps forward for us.
Q. Stanford seems like the last team that’s going to get involved in a shoot out, track meet type game. When you looked at the film, what did you take away from that game with Arizona?
COACH Brian Kelly: I think Arizona’s quarterback was outstanding. I don’t know that he played at a level that he’s never played before because I didn’t have enough film to watch, but I hadn’t seen a guy play that well so the quarterback was outstanding. Arizona got worn down. They’re not a big, physical team. Stanford started to exert their will on them and that’s how that game got up into the higher numbers. The quarterback was outstanding for Arizona, and then Stanford just wore them out.
Q. The NCAA spends a lot of money marketing the concept of student athletes and extolling their virtues and all that. Stanford was in the national championship picture last year, you guys are unbeaten in the top 10 this year, how significant is it for the sport of college football is it that two premiere academic institutions in the country are so successful on the football field as well for the cynics out there that it can’t be done in the class and on the field both.
COACH Brian Kelly: I would hope you would write a story about it because I feel that strongly with your statement that it doesn’t get enough attention. You have two outstanding academic institutions that are ranked so high in terms of graduation rates and I think there is a report on “U.S. World and News Report” in terms of the top institutions as well as on the football field. I know that’s one of the reasons why I came to Notre Dame. I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that you could do it in the classroom and you can certainly do it on the football field.
Q. Has anything changed since you’ve been at Central Michigan and Cincinnati and now Notre Dame, are you more validated that you thought it could be done and now you know it can be done?
COACH Brian Kelly: We haven’t validated anything yet. I would say that I am not frustrated that you can’t do it at Notre Dame. There is hard work just like there is anywhere else in building a program but in no way do I believe that you can’t, after my close to three years here at Notre Dame that you can’t be a competitive BCS football team year in and year out.
Q. After the game Saturday you talked about the left side of your line, offensive line and (Chris) Watt, (Zack) Martin, how have they learned to play together so well, and what has been their development individually and as a tandem?
COACH Brian Kelly: They’re very close. They’re inseparable off the field. They hang out together. If you go up to team meal they will be eating together, so they’re close and what that brings is a lot of collateral communication about their position and how they can help each other. For example, if there’s a combination block one of them’s not leaving early and letting his buddy hang out on his own. There is that kind of understanding. Both of them are outstanding players, number one. Number two, they’re very close friends and number three, they understand how they work together. They’re a better football player and I think all those work together, not that Braxston (Cave) isn’t part of this or (Mike) Golic or (Christian) Lombard, but those guys are specifically close.
Q. Going back to Golson, was it getting him going against Miami, does that have anything to do with facing him against the best running defensive teams the next two weeks?
COACH Brian Kelly: No, I’m not that smart to take credit for that. We were just getting him out on the field and getting him playing and enjoying the experience. We were just so focused on getting him on the field and giving him an opportunity to compete. That’s really what we were all thinking about.
Q. You mentioned him seeming more confident once he got going. Was part of that being able to run around and have fun rather thinking too much?
COACH Brian Kelly: Well, there is a lot. There is a lot of conversations that take place prior to the game, there is a lot of meetings, you know, we’re in the process with Everett (Golson) that every day we’re building trust and we’re allowing him to have some input in terms of “here is what I’m comfortable doing” and that’s evolving on a day to day basis because we want what you saw. We want somebody who is smiling and having fun and enjoying it, but also disciplined and getting with us in the right place and make the right choices. I guess the easiest way is we’re working hard towards meeting in the middle. That’s getting there. We’re getting there.
Q. We’ve talked about matchup problems for your defense, now looking in you have a 6 8 tight end split wide and a 6 6 tight end split wide. What challenges does that present?
COACH Brian Kelly: It’s a nightmare, Tyler Eifert is the same problem if we split him out, if we put the ball in a good location he’s going to catch it every time so we’ve got to have some answers there. If it just becomes a match up every time, we’re going to have to look at some different key coverages, so we’re aware of what our problems are, and we’ll have to address them if the game shows them to be real issues.
Q. How much does splitting guys out like that help the running game which is really Stanford’s bread and butter?
COACH Brian Kelly: It helps immensely. Tyler Eifert was getting a safety on them every time, you know? We ran the ball, I think, I don’t know, 20 something times in a row, we ran the ball 30 times in a row. We were doing it because of Tyler Eifert. They were not going to let him go one on one so we ran the ball 30 times and that’s a similar situation that Stanford has and we have to be able to balance that out.
Q. I think one of the most amazing stats with those two tight ends, they have 39 catches and average 17.4 yards and when you think of tight ends it’s more short and controlled. What in their scheme
COACH Brian Kelly: Because you have to press ’em out. You can’t give them off coverage. They’re going to throw to them, he will run the corner over every time. You have to press him because you’re bringing somebody down in the run game and you’re getting one on one press coverage. So if you’re throwing the ball down the field every route gets converted when it’s pressed, for the most part so it becomes a one on one throw the ball up there. Some teams have limited that, some have not. We hope to be the team that can limit that.
Q. After the Michigan game you mentioned that with Everett (Golson), he had a busy class load, with exams and everything. This is mid term week, at Notre Dame. Are there precautions or other elements that you have to do this week for the players, especially after your first two years that you notice that are needed or is that overrated?
COACH Brian Kelly: No, it’s not overrated, I can tell you that. It’s something that we have to do. All of our coaches have to know what the schedules look like, we have to make certain proper time is placed on the academics as well as football. There has to be a balance there. We’re not going to let them say, well it’s mid term week I can’t practice, but we don’t want to be so inflexible that if we give them extra time and move weight training to an hour later, we will try to be flexible, but we have to be aware of the schedule, and we’ve done a pretty good job with it, we can manage it. There is no question about that.
Q. How does your offensive line help Everett (Golson) at this point? What are they doing to help him with reads or checks?
COACH Brian Kelly: The first thing is we haven’t been sacked in I think 85 consecutive throws, which helps, so protecting him, number one. Number two, Braxston (Cave) is always communicating back if he’s not hearing something that he should be hearing. And that goes across. For example, let’s say they’re in a 3 down defense and there is a particular check, you’re going to hear “three down, three down, three down” that communication back to Everett to remind him that it’s 3 down. There is it not communication and we are in a sugar huddle with Everett, turning toward him so he can look ’em in the eyes and communicate with them. So we’re making sure the entire group is getting good communication and giving as much feedback to Everett and that happens during the game and I make sure that I always pull him with me when we get with the offensive line. He’s standing right next to me. So that’s happening on a day to day basis.
Q. How do you evaluate where Zack Martin has come from? He’s solid on the left hand side. That’s going to be important this weekend.
COACH Brian Kelly: Left side, right side, inside. He’s a leader. He was a good player for us last year, too, and he’s a good player for us this year. He’s taken his leadership to a new level. He’s communicating, taking responsibility for all the players on the offensive line. I think he’s evolved more as a leader for us more than anything else.
Q. Because of being older?
COACH Brian Kelly: Yeah, captainship puts you in a role, he’s a captain, we have pushed him out there to take that because he is so well respected by his peers and maturity, coming into play.
Q. Back to the other side of the ball, when a corner is as physical as Bennett (Jackson), how does that help counteract that stuff, being physical?
COACH Brian Kelly: First of all they’re outstanding blockers but they don’t put them on the perimeter to block the corners they put them on the perimeter to throw the ball to them. So I don’t know that he will be challenged with the big tight ends, they are in there to block big guys, so I don’t know that he’s going to get challenged relative to the physical play as well as he is going to have to play the ball well in the air.
Q. When you look at Stanford is it fair to say they have a similar blueprint for success as far as what you guys do football-wise?
COACH Brian Kelly: Well, I think they have challenges just as we do, they’re an outstanding academic football team, they recruit nationally, and we do that. So I think there are similarities there. In terms of the construct of their team, I really don’t know. I don’t know what they do on a day to day basis, but they are well coached and they’re a physical football team which we want to be as well. I think from the outside looking in, you would say that there are a lot of similarities. I don’t know their specific blueprint and how they put it all together.
Q. When you see Miami drop a pass, you guys having less turnovers, it’s easy to say Notre Dame is getting the breaks and they’re well on their way. To what do you attribute that as a coach?
COACH Brian Kelly: I don’t know that I attribute it to anything other than teams have to execute as well and you could look at it as a job or that they didn’t execute quite as well, for whatever reason, maybe they didn’t get enough sleep, didn’t eat well. The plane ride was unbearable, I don’t know. We don’t look at it as we’re getting great breaks, we are looking at it as we’re forcing teams to execute and once in a while those things kinda, as you look at them in totality, they balance out.
Q. Curious about TJ Jones and the aggressiveness in his game that was there at times last year but the team is more consistent this year. Is that your evaluation of him and what kind of steps do you think he’s taken this season?
COACH Brian Kelly: I think he’s really focused on his craft in terms of route running. He knows he gets more playing time if he’s an aggressive blocker, which gives him more opportunity to be on the field and catch the football. I think he understands that his playing time is predicated on him being a complete player. I think the difference between TJ this year and last year is his focus on being a complete wide receiver in all phases of the game. Vertically, he ran a great come back route Saturday where he was precise in and out of his break and he’s been a much-improved blocker. In all phases there is a commitment on his end to be the complete player.
Q. I guess the first year starter we haven’t asked you about is (Christian) Lombard. Where have you seen his game improve?
COACH Brian Kelly: It’s been a constant step for him, the progress has been positive. There is a long way to go for him. I thought he handled the emotions of coming back to Chicago and a lot of ticket request and scrutiny, I thought he did a nice job Saturday in handling that emotionally and I think each and every week we are going to see continued progress. He’s far from where we would consider him a finished product, but he’s making the right steps.
Q. On (Everett) Golson running the two minute, you went with Tommy (Rees), obviously it’s different against Miami and how you ended the first half but your evaluation of how he did that and how important it was for you to see that?
COACH Brian Kelly: It was very important and we were hoping to get that opportunity, not in the end of the game, but at halftime where we could really it was predicated on us picking up yardage and getting out of a vulnerable field position area for me, with him. Once we were able to do that, we went at it and went through our 2 minute script so we were able to get him work before the half. We thought he managed it very well, maybe too aggressively. We didn’t want the ball thrown to the wild field on that last throw where there was 1 second left on the clock, maybe if we were at a different stadium that 1 second is not there. He was aggressive, but I thought he made strides in being comfortable out there and really doing the right things necessary to be effective.
Q. What kind of a recruiting impact do you think this game has for you guys? You’re recruiting from the same pool that Stanford is in a lot of cases, a lot of crossover there. To be able to go in the living rooms and say, hey, we won, as opposed to we have lost three or four straight to these guys. How important do you think that is?
COACH Brian Kelly: I’ve never looked at it as a singular game in the recruiting process. If you’re deciding on Notre Dame based upon the one game then you shouldn’t be coming here anyway. Is it going to be better if you win? Yeah, I wouldn’t debate that for a moment, but to focus on a win loss situation against one team, I don’t think it impacts our recruits.
Q. You talked about building around defense. What’s the most component important of a defensive group when you’re starting out?
COACH Brian Kelly: I think you have to make sure that it’s valued within your program, and when I say “valued” through your recruiting efforts, an emphasis on taking players that can impact your defense and in particular against the rush. So if the blueprint was public, it would talk about right out of the gates finding those guys that can physically control the line of scrimmage.
Q. How can you distinguish yourself from a school like Stanford when you guys are so similar with a strong academic program and you are recruiting from the same pool. What do you do to distinguish from Stanford?
COACH Brian Kelly: We think we have many, many distinctions that are unique to Notre Dame. We make sure that recruits that are looking at Stanford and looking at Notre Dame understand what we believe to be those distinctions. We clearly see them, and we make sure the recruits understand that there are some clear distinctions between Notre Dame and Stanford.