Sept. 28, 2010
An interview with:
COACH KELLY: Okay, another week, opportunity for us to play, and Boston College presents that next challenge for us. Certainly going on the road in a very challenging environment, night game on ESPN, there will be a great atmosphere there. Again, going on the road, our last time on the road, I thought our kids handled the emotions of the game, the atmosphere very well. We expect to do the same thing. We want to make a couple more plays than we did against Michigan State in terms of the last time being on the road. Great opponent. An ACC opponent that is only a couple years removed from a championship game, perennial bowl team. (Montel) Harris, the running back, is a workout horse for them. He carries it, catches it. I think he was the leading receiver and rusher, obviously, for them. A big, physical offensive line as you have always expected with Boston College. That hasn’t changed. Long at the wide receiver. Two very tall wide receivers that go up and get the football. Then I think on defense is where they’ve kind of shown themselves to be consistently one of the top units in the country. (Mark) Herzlich, obviously, the Sam linebacker is a great story, but he’s also a very good football player. Luke Kuechly, I think was one of the best, if not the number one tackler in the country last year. He returns at the Mike linebacker position, outstanding player. Their true freshman is playing really well for them, (Kevin) Pierre Louis. So it’s obviously a defense that prides itself against the rush. They’ve limited most of their opponents to well below their average. Very stout, experienced in the secondary. So a very, very good defensive football team which you expect from coach and his background. Then, obviously, from an offensive standpoint, you know, we’ll prepare for a couple of different quarterbacks and, again, a lot of our game plan will be based upon what we do more so than what Boston College does. Again, just looking forward for the opportunity to play, and play in a very challenging environment at Boston College. Questions?
Q. I think a few tweaks on the depth chart special teams wide. But first, more broadly, when you talked about having a consistent punter in preseason and being dynamic in the return game, has this been special teams an area that’s surprising in the way it’s gone to you?
COACH KELLY: I think we had higher expectations. We have not punted the ball very well, and we have not been using the word that I use, we have not been dynamic other than our punt return earlier in the year. So, yeah, we haven’t gotten the kind of production that we’re looking for. Now, Stanford kicked the ball in a position where we couldn’t be dynamic on kickoff return. But I think you’re absolutely right. I had higher expectations at this point. We’re still working at it. We expect to be there. We’re just not there yet.
Q. Can you talk a little about (John) Goodman being handed the punt return if that is, in fact, what’s going to happen?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, that’s not been decided yet. Goodman, and, obviously, Armando (Allen) will continue to work back there this week. We think they’re both, obviously, very, very capable. If Armando feels comfortable back there, obviously he gives us a little bit more of a burst. We think that either one of those are good options, but I’m not prepared to make that decision yet.
Q. Bennett Jackson seems to be in the mix now, can you talk about including him?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Bennett Jackson is somebody that’s doing a great job in all the other areas of special teams. So we want to obviously try to get the ball in his hands as well.
Q. Injuries, how you looking for this week? You mentioned Jonas (Gray) and then Kyle (Rudolph) working through some things?
COACH KELLY: Jonas is the only guy right now that is questionable for Saturday. Everybody else we’re better this week going into Tuesday, Brian, than we were last week after the Michigan State going into Tuesday.
Q. The last two weeks you’ve been pretty vocal saying they’re eager to get back out, get the losing taste out of their mouth, pretty focused. Did you see a similar attitude from them yesterday?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, there is no difference in where we are from this week to last week other than we’re all wanting to win a football game. Everybody has got the same feeling. But, look, I coach and I teach. That’s what I do. And I’m going to coach and I’m going to teach motivated student athletes. If you’re not motivated to be coached or taught, how am I going to teach you? So our guys understand what that means, and they’ll come to practice ready to win and ready to be coached and taught.
Q. Can you talk about the way Manti’s played the last couple games? It seems he’s taken his game to yet another level?
COACH KELLY: He played very well, obviously. I think we had him for 19 tackles, I think it was in the stats as 21. Here or there he was clearly a presence on the football field. He tackled very well. Coverage he was on his coverage. He’s obviously moving in the direction that we expected and he’s expected of himself. I thought he played with a lot more grit too. He was tough and physical, and a great leader on the football field. So, obviously, an emerging top flight player for us on defense.
Q. What is the next step you want to see him take as he develops?
COACH KELLY: I think any time you have those skills, it’s can you do it every week? I think the difference between good and great, obviously, is the consistency element. Then, secondly, continue to bring others around you. I mean, we have a grading system of our players. We always look at the grading of them relative to can they influence others around them? I think he’s starting to get to that point where if his play is as consistent as it is, he then starts to influence others. That’s a dynamic place to be.
Q. This is kind of an obvious question, but what does it do for the other guys around him? He hits hard.
COACH KELLY: Has he hit you? (Laughter)
Q. What does that do for the team when he sticks a guy? Well, he looks like he hits hard.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he sure does. There is no question that that kind of player can influence and generate an enthusiasm if you stay with the principles of run, hit, and get excited on defense. He can run, he can hit, and he gets people excited.
Q. What are the challenges of facing a new quarterback, of somebody you haven’t seen that much on film?
COACH KELLY: Well, I still think you’re going to go with the concepts that are part of your offensive system because you don’t want to reteach everybody else as well. You’re kind of getting the quarterback up to snuff, but you’re not going to go far from what you do. As I mentioned, (Montel) Harris is going to be featured quite a bit. They’ve got a big, physical offensive line. They’ve got receivers that in one on one match ups can go up and get the football. So it’s not that hard to connect the dots from that standpoint.
Q. You’re obviously worried about getting a W. But can you talk about your feelings going back to your hometown?
COACH KELLY: I really don’t think about it that much. Going back to Boston for me, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the east coast. I’ve got great friends back there. But they won’t have any influence on the football game. They’ll be out tailgating. So a good tailgating group of friends I have. Other than that, they won’t impact the football game. So my focus is strictly on getting a win for Notre Dame.
Q. Do you have to try to get a few more of those 44,000 tickets?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’ve had to do a little bit of that. But I’ve got a great assistant who is taking care of all of that so I don’t have to be bogged down on trying to get all of those tickets.
Q. I was curious as to the review of the game tape with Dayne Crist, how educational that was for him? That’s probably a tape he can carry with him for a while that would be beneficial?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it certainly was a game that provided so many opportunities for him to grow. Not just from completions to incompletions, but in leadership and body language and all of the things that quarterbacks need to develop. He saw a lot of things. I think he learned quite a bit. Now, as I told him yesterday in our meetings, it’s about retention. It’s about making sure that we don’t have to go down this road again. There were some things that happened in the game that shouldn’t be pinned on him either, but it is the nature of the quarterback position. And I think if you were to ask him tomorrow when he gets a chance to talk to you, I think he probably saw a lot of things that are very valuable for him and his progress.
Q. You mentioned some of Stanford’s kickoffs made it difficult for you to return them. But when you’re down 28 and 24, and Cierre Wood catches the ball three yards deep. Do you want him bringing it out? Maybe he can break one under the circumstances?
COACH KELLY: Well, there are a couple of things going on there: One, it’s not Cierre Wood’s decision to bring it out or keep it in. He’s focused on catching the football. He doesn’t know where he is. His eyes are on the ball. Maybe he has a sense of I’m a yard or two deep. But the off return guy, the one that puts up the stop sign. So that’s an issue of communication. You know, Cierre’s growing, too. Maybe sometimes he’ll go through that stop sign. But truth be told there is more to the picture than him not wanting to take it out. There is a communication system back there that the returner does not make those decisions. It’s the off ball returner.
Q. Two guys, one offense, one on defensive line. Zack Martin you praised him I think after the first two games. Where has he been in the last two games?
COACH KELLY: He’s been solid, but he’s made a couple of mistakes: We probably didn’t play at the tackle position as well as we had played prior to. It probably wasn’t our strongest game, though Zack felt like the competition was pretty keen as well. I thought both of those guys were challenged. He’s growing and developing. I think if we’re going to grade him on the entire season, we would still say that we’re very happy with his play. He can get better, and I think somebody that is getting his fourth start, we’re going to be very careful not to be too critical, but certainly point out the things that he can get better at.
Q. The other guy on the defensive line, Hafis Williams seems to get a bunch of reps and be around the football. Do you anticipate his playing time increasing?
COACH KELLY: Well, it has been each and every week. He’s taken more reps. Him and Sean (Cwynar) have increasingly played more and really have helped us out considerably in terms of lowering some of the reps. We’re getting now into a 48 to 50 play max for our D line, which is outstanding. That’s where we’d like to be. And the two players that are allowing us to do that are Hafis and Sean Cwynar.
Q. I probably should have followed up yesterday, but you made a reference to the acquisition of film of the opponent. Has it been more difficult to actually acquire that at Notre Dame than it was at your previous stops? I was unclear as to what you were referring to.
COACH KELLY: No, there was nothing sinister in our inability to get that. It was just a comment based upon the words that I chose.
Q. You mentioned B.C.’s penchant for traditionally physical defense, and they generally rate highly in interceptions. I think it’s second or third most in the last ten years. And I know the history of this series doesn’t mean that much on Saturday, but the team that avoids turnovers has won 12 out of 13 in this series that is kind of a rivalry series. Is that an extra emphasis going on the road against a team that is always good at forcing turnovers or is it par for the course when you go on the road?
COACH KELLY: It’s been par for the course turning the ball over. That’s our issue. We had two critical turnovers again. Led to ten points in production the week before against Michigan State, obviously, the two turnovers in the red zone. So we’ve got our hands full taking care of ourselves. Obviously, B.C. does a great job deflecting balls and going to get the football. So we’ve got both of those things working together. So we’ve got to do a great job taking care of the football.
Q. I know you love depth chart questions, so I’ll give you another one. Robert Hughes listed as the second back now. Has that been a long time coming?
COACH KELLY: We’re still really high on Cierre Wood. This is not let’s push Cierre to the side. He’s a young kid now. Did he play at all last year? I don’t know. I wasn’t here. He didn’t play last year. This guy’s got four games and everybody wants to throw the poor kid under the bus. I think he’s going to be a really, really good player. He just needs time. One of the things that Robert can do and utilize against B.C. is he’s a big, strong, physical kid and he may be able to help us a little bit in pass protection.
Q. Do you sometimes see where you pull a kid back that watching a little bit can help?
COACH KELLY: In some instances. I want Cierre to know, hey there’s no pressure on you, son. Go play. Sometimes he plays like there is all this pressure on him to be the next Heisman Trophy candidate. He just needs to go play and relax, and hopefully he’ll do that.
Q. I think on Sunday you talked about needing 24 to 48 hours to really decide about Dayne’s role running in the offense. Where are we on that?
COACH KELLY: We’re going to put a package in that’s similar to the package that Denard Robinson runs. We just have to do some things with his speed right now. (Laughter)
Q. Shoes tied?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think you’re going to have shoes tied and a lot of tape, too. You know, there has to be an element in the spread that the quarterback can keep the football at some time, and we’re moving in that direction. He’s got to have an element of that within our offensive structure.
Q. On the inside linebacker position, are there differences? And can you outline the role that Manti (Te’o) played and Carlo (Calabrese) played in those two spots?
COACH KELLY: Well, in terms of flow and in terms of run fits, no. There’s no difference. If Carlo’s going to be obviously getting the same flow read and run fit, they’re going to be the exact same. The thing with Manti, obviously, because he plays so much to the field, he puts himself in a position by formation that he’s going to be around the ball a little bit more. Just strictly field versus boundary. But, no, they’re very, very similar. The other thing that Manti has a little bit different is coverage. You know, he generally has to be involved in a little bit more coverage situations. But other than that, they have similar roles.
Q. In regards to Dayne’s development, you’ve talked about growing pains, I think, after the last three games. For some of his development, does he just have to go through mistakes in games to learn from them? Is that just essential for a young quarterback as they come along to go out there, make a mistake, learn from it and move on?
COACH KELLY: I see it more so that he’s throwing for over 300 yards a game. His interceptions, obviously, are not crazy. They’re higher than I want. It’s the combination of making four or five really, really good plays and maybe one or two not so good plays. So I think where we are in the development is obviously playing more consistently. How do you get consistent? You gain confidence. When he’s confident now, he’s really, really good. He loses a little bit of confidence at times, that’s where we’re working on the development of Dayne Crist, and that’s what he has to bring to each and every game. If there’s a bad play, forget about it. Let’s move on to the next. So that just takes a little bit more time.
Q. I want to follow up on something you said Sunday about Manti and the tenacity he played with and the attitude. How you’re not going to get that from maybe all 22 guys. But how many guys do you need that from?
COACH KELLY: Well, I would take 22, now that I think about it. What we’re trying to do more than anything else is talk about the difference between playing hard and playing with that will, that tenacity, that attitude of I’m going to just lay it on the line. I think that’s what we’re looking for from Manti. That’s what he delivered. If that gets modelled by other players, we’re just better because of it.
Q. I was curious Luke Kuechly, a Cincinnati guy, how familiar are you with him?
COACH KELLY: Very familiar. Couldn’t even get him to visit Cincinnati. Couldn’t get a visit out of Luke. He wanted to go he was looking at Boston College, east coast schools. Stanford was one of his other choices. Great student, great kid. Very, very good football player, which obviously we’ve got to find a way to block him now.
Q. Lastly the run game you talked about being more balanced there at B.C. One of the best run defenses in the country. I don’t know if this is a week that you really force that issue. But how do you try to balance being balanced understanding what B.C. does well?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, that’s a good question. When you talk about the run game, it really has to do with how they’re going to play. If they’re going to get into the three down and disburse and give you some real good box looks, you’ve got to run the football. If they’re going to bang six guys in the box and you’re in spread, it’s tough sledding in there. So I think the balance that I’m referring to is how the defense plays you. If they’re going to be more balanced, then we’ve got to be able to run the football more.
Q. Kind of a follow up on that, what have you been able to pinpoint as to what’s been stifling the ground game a little bit? Has it been the defensive play? The lack of maybe that read option? Opening up some other avenues? Is it blocking the backs?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. Well, I’ll start with the last two games. The Michigan State game is a six man box, very difficult. They blitz the backers quite a bit, so that’s why the ball was thrown as much as it was. When we needed to hit some runs, our version of running the ball is the shovel, the quick option out on the perimeter. Those become run plays out of that structure. They’re not counted as such, they’re counted as passes because of the shovel version. But I think that the Michigan State game was the circumstances more so than anything else. I think if you look at the Stanford game, there were time that’s we got beat up front. And there were times that we probably should have run the football when we tried to throw it, because of, you know, so much drop 8. So I took some of the responsibility last week for not being more effective in the running game. I think Stanford needs a little credit on that as well. We expect to get back to a better balance this week.
Q. Regarding Carlo, it seemed like at the beginning of the season it would be pretty much almost a tag team between him and Anthony, and it seems Carlo has been taking more of the time. How would you evaluate his progress?
COACH KELLY: You know, he plays really well on game day. Carlo’s one of those guys that just has it. He has a great sense for the football, and sometimes we didn’t see that during practice. So leading up to the start of the season, not seeing him a lot in game situations, we weren’t sure what to expect. Game time he plays really, really well. He’s on things. Max is still a really good player for us. And when he gets his opportunities, he’s got to be productive when he gets in there, because Carlo right now has been so productive.
Q. Regarding Manti’s 21 tackles, obviously a tremendous individual effort. When you reviewed it, was that just the way the flow seemed to go or in those situations was it almost a negative stat because maybe the defensive line wasn’t making as many?
COACH KELLY: Actually, I think it’s the opposite. The reason he was able to do that is they kept him in a free position so he could run. I mean, we were our best on the D line this game relative to our gap fits. We weren’t letting guys climb. So if he only has to beat an offensive guard, he’s going to beat that offensive guard more times than not. As you know, they’re shifting and motioning and trying to outflank the defense at all occasions, he’s going to be able to get to a fast flow read over the top of a guard most of the time. It’s the key block is the four technique. And we were able to keep those tackles from climbing up, and that’s why he was in a great position most of the day.
Q. So it can be misleading sometimes the tackle totals in defense?
COACH KELLY: Sure, understood, yeah, absolutely.
Q. The stereotypical way to go against a first time starter quarterback is to apply a lot of pressure. But how do you balance that on a defense that’s based on being seamless and not getting blitzes here and there?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, well, we brought a lot of pressure this past weekend, so we’re not adverse to doing it if the circumstances are such. I think we’re going to obviously take our chances of playing some manned coverage. We played a little bit more this past weekend. But I still think it will be more about how we like the game to go. And that’s going to be stopping the run. And if he’s forced to throw the ball on third down situations, we’ll be able to give him a litany of different looks. If he can go back there in play action because it’s 2nd and two. Pressure’s not the answer in those situations. So I think the game, if we manage the game right, we’ll be able to give them a lot of looks in third downs.
Q. You don’t really have the luxury of necessarily at Notre Dame taking some 1AA schools or things like that to play early, or maybe you do. But what are your thoughts on some of the other coaches prefer to open up with a lighter opponent, and you didn’t really have that opportunity early this year. Does it force you to elevate your level of play? Can it almost be a blessing in disguise? What are your thoughts on that philosophy?
COACH KELLY: Moving forward, it will be a strength having a schedule like this moving forward. I think with our spring and summer preparation, coming into the year we’re going to be further ahead when we play tough competition right out of the gates. Maybe it’s not showing right now, new offense, new defense, special teams. At times we’ve been sporadic. But I’m still not in favor of throwing 1AA teams in there. I still feel like we should be playing the kind of schedule we’re playing, and I think it’s going to pay off for us.
Q. The last time you lost three games in a row was your first year trying to build a program at Central Michigan. Are there similarities to what you want to build here?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah, sure. It’s just the expectations are different. It’s the same process. The process is not different. It’s the same process that we’re going through in terms of building our program and doing the thing that’s we need to do to win for a long, long period of time. Every program that I’ve been involved with, they’ve won championships after I left, and I’m not leaving this one. I want to win them. But we’re going to get to that level as well. The process is the same, it’s just the expectations are different.
Q. Was there ever a time, maybe I’m getting philosophical here. But was there ever a time that you doubted yourself early on, and said maybe I’m a good Division II coach, but I’m not prepared for this? Is there anything now that you went through that obviously you were ready for that that can you draw on now that you’re going through struggles here?
COACH KELLY: I think any time you’re in a leadership role, there are going to be times much uncertainty. But what allows you to plow through those times is probably your experience, you’re going through it before and having experienced all of those things. So, again, I think in any leadership role you take over a new company as the CEO, and you’re having a rough quarter, you know. You’re going, okay, I’m not sure what’s coming up here, but I’m going to stick with what I’ve been doing and know that it’s worked in the past and it’s just a matter of time. That’s kind of what we’re going through right now. That was philosophical, you’re right.
Q. Back to John Goodman. Can you just talk about what he did as a receiver and how much more he can contribute to the offense going forward?
COACH KELLY: He’s doing a nice job. I mean, the thing with John is that we just felt like he was close, but he wasn’t finishing his plays off. It was go up and make a catch and not put the ball away or drop a ball here or there. There were a lot of inconsistencies in his performance relative to practice. There was no debating whether he had the ability to do it. The question that we had was the mental capability to play at that high a level. He’s getting there. He’s certainly not there yet. But he’s now pushed himself to a point where he can get on the field and we expect to continued improvement there.
Q. I wondered, when you were growing up, had you ever been to B.C. stadium? Did you follow them at all growing up? Did your dad ever take you to the game there?
COACH KELLY: Never. Never got an opportunity to do that. As a matter of fact, I was a Holy Cross fan. Holy Cross and B.C. was the big game growing up, other than me listening and watching Notre Dame games. It was always Holy Cross and B.C. That was the rivalry game. So I used to listen to that game, watch that game. I think I became a fan, like everybody else, of Boston College when Doug Flutie came on campus. I know I was pretty excited when he threw that touchdown pass against Miami, but that is about the only memories that I have about Boston College.
Q. We’re getting to a point mathematically with Dan Wenger, you said it would be about three weeks. I wonder if you’re to that point where something definitive has been decided with him?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he is going for an evaluation. And that evaluation, I think, happens next week. Again, we’re trying to gain more information on the head injury. You know, he wants to play. He wants to play again, so we’re looking, reaching out. Our team of physicians has done a great job of getting with others that are experts in this field. I believe that that’s going to take place here some time next week and hopefully we’ll have a decision on whether he is going to play or it’s going to be shut down.
Q. Lastly from me, I know you’ve got assistants that you really believe in and a lot of them have coached a lot of good football. They’re also in an environment, most of them, where the volume’s turned way up on what they’re going to hear when they’re at the grocery store and walking down the street and so forth about what they’re doing. Everything’s dissected. Do you have a philosophy as a head coach to say take the antenna down, guys? Or do you want them to hear what fans and what people are thinking?
COACH KELLY: No, I want them to be focused on their schooling. I want them to be focused on getting better at being football players. I just try to remind them that, you know, there are going to be these ups and downs when you’re not winning. So we try to obviously keep them grounded and knowing that there is going to be a ton of criticism when you’re not playing well. But that’s why you chose to come to the University of Notre Dame. You wanted to be in the spotlight. You wanted that opportunity. So we try to keep it balanced and talk about it with our team as well.
Q. I was hoping you could kind of just evaluate in general the play of the offensive line to this point?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s been good. Again, I look at the opportunities that we’ve had against multiple schemes and a lot of looks that they’re not used to seeing. Three new starters on the offensive line. Trevor (Robinson) and (Chris) Stewart, obviously, have some experience. But those kids didn’t have much experience, and they get a lot thrown at them. Spread, no huddle, big tempo, many different looks. I’d have to say right now that they’ve done a good job.
Q. Is the center position becoming a little more unsettled at this point? Obviously, (Mike) Golic got little playing time. Where does that position stand?
COACH KELLY: Again, Braxston (Cave) is in his first year. There are some growing pains there. The one thing we need with Braxston is a little bit better job at cadence, and he’s a little too consistent with some of the things that he does that gives the defense a chance to, as you saw against Stanford, they did a pretty good job of film study. They knew when Braxston was going to snap the ball. He’s got to be more firm with his snaps. His snaps have not been very good. So some of our concern with Braxston is less about who he’s blocking and how he’s blocking. Though we always can get better there. We need a little bit better management of cadence and when the ball comes out and how it comes out. Dayne’s had to catch too many balls below his knees, which takes his eyes off what we’re trying to do offensively.
Q. Last one for me. When you’re looking at your offensive line, what is next as far as the improvement scale during the process?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think any time that you’re an offensive line that can do a great job of pass protection and then be a 3rd and short run team, and you can run the football. So the next level of development is the ability to knock people off the ball and that’s something that we’re continuously striving for.