Oct. 13, 2015
University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference
Brian Kelly: Afternoon. Obviously excited about the rivalry game with USC for our team and our program this is certainly one that we look forward to each and every year. For us, in particular, after getting beat last year out there, it’s been one that we have really set our eyes on in terms of wanting to eradicate that in our minds in terms of that game itself.
So we know we’ve got a great challenge on our hands. I think we all know about Cody Kessler and how efficient he’s been as a quarterback. Arguably nobody has been more efficient and accurate as a quarterback than he has over the last few years. He’s surrounded with a big, physical offensive line. They pushed us around pretty good last year, and great depth at the running back position, Madden, Davis, Jones, all backs that are home run hitters. JuJu Smith-Schuster, again, very familiar with a couple of these guys. We had recruited them as well, and we know how talented they are in particular.
Coach Helton, obviously, being put in the role of head coach is somebody that I have a lot of respect for. He’s been in this role before. He does a great job as an offensive coordinator, and I’m sure he’ll have his football team prepared and ready to go. It’s a rivalry game for them as well. It’s a chance for them to respond.
I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny. I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.
Defensively, very talented. I think it starts with Su’a Cravens off the edge of their defense. Very disruptive player, excellent tackler, can do a lot of things for them. Defensive linemen, we’ve seen a lot of talent in woods up front for a number of years.
I think Adoree’ Jackson is a guy that plays corner, but also is a game wrecker in special teams. Kickoff returns, punt returns. You have to know where he is and you have to game plan for him in special teams. He is that explosive and a great play maker for them.
So in terms of offense, and defense, and special teams, they present challenges in all areas, and again from a rivalry standpoint, we know where this fits amongst the games that we play every year. We’re coming off of a very physical game against Navy, and our guys have to transition back now to preparing against a standard offense and a very good one in USC.
Q. KeiVarae Russell, I know at the beginning of the year you felt like there was some rust, and obviously he’s had to change gears a lot of times with option offenses. Where do you see his progress? What are your expectations for him moving forward?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think he’s been a very valuable player for us. So we came in with very, very high expectations to be — look, I think corners unfairly get this label of shutdown corners. I don’t think there are shutdown corners, period. But they get labeled. Maybe came in with some unfair expectations after taking a year off. But he’s been very productive as a player for us.
I think where we’d like to see continued growth is probably just being a little more aggressive. He continues to work on his technique. There is a bit of a change in the technique from what he was used to playing under Coach Diaco’s system under Coach VanGorder’s system, and I think he’s evolving into somebody that is feeling more comfortable. But we’re playing a lot more man than he was used to. I think it’s just getting more comfortable with playing man coverage and being a little bit more aggressive.
But he’s been so productive in so many areas. He’s been a soiled tackler for us and played some nickel for us. He’s on special teams. So it would be hard for me to be disappointed in any way, shape, or form relative to his play this year.
Q. Do you feel if you get more consistency from your secondary that it will help your front seven in terms of pass-rush that maybe Brian can be a little bit more creative with some of the pressures?
Brian Kelly: I think they go hand in hand, obviously. Most astute football coaches would say that it starts on the back end, right? If you can play man coverage, you get a lot more variety, and certainly we feel like we can play man. That allows us to do some more things, and we feel Cole and KeiVarae are capable of doing that. I think this stretch of games are going to allow us to do a little bit more of that after getting through the two option teams over the last month.
Q. Obviously, Clay’s their offensive coordinator, but he’s now kind of running the ship. Does that change the way you look at them from a preparation standpoint that he might have some tweaks of his own, either offensively or defensively that you’d like to plug in this week?
Brian Kelly: I’m certain that the system that’s in place is one that we’ll continue to see. But play calling is such a combination of art and science. Now that he is clearly running the program, you tend to see a little bit more of that finish come out, where maybe Steve had his thumb or stamp on it. I think certainly it would make sense that Clay would have a little bit of his. But I don’t think you go too far from what they are and who they are as an offense.
Q. Lastly, with Grier at Florida as a head coach, is this kind of your biggest nightmare wondering about what kids are looking for with over-the-counter supplements? How extensive do you guys get with that and reminding them every day about that?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, we do through our Team Works program. We do memo, informational memos regarding that fairly regularly. I couldn’t tell you how many times a year, but it’s multiple times a year. As well as follow-up with our strength staff and our athletic training staff where we’ll do a walk through in the locker room to check through cubbies to make sure that everything has been checked and approved.
But we’re still dealing with a young population that sometimes sees the marketed product out there and wants to try it. We try to do a great job of educating, and I think we do. But we’re also concerned every day about it. So we’re educating — I’ve had to go through this early in my career I lost a player because of it. They pick something up at the local pharmacy and thought it was okay and we lost a player. So I know we constantly talk to our players about it and they’re educated.
Q. Last year after the USC game you called it a red letter day kind of challenging them going forward, and just curious what you’re most proud of and how they’ve grown from that moment?
Brian Kelly: Well, they knew that’s not Notre Dame football, and you don’t play that kind of football here at Notre Dame and use it as an excuse. You build your program and you don’t expect those days to occur. So we kind of have talked about what our standard of play was and is, and that’s not our standard of play. So I think everybody has used it as what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable, and that standard of play is not acceptable.
Q. Obviously there were things in that game that did get away and injuries defensively. But did you ever see something like that in practice week coming, I don’t mean to that extent, but that you see a team that’s not as locked in as they generally are under you?
Brian Kelly: I’ve had weeks where the focus and attention is not as crisp. I don’t let it go. I mean, I’ll bring it up and we’ll address it. It generally comes back to the leadership and making sure that your locker room is solid and that they recognize their preparation is going to be eventually how they play on Saturday. Circumstances in that particular game were not necessarily about practice preparation as much as we were a little bit outmanned. We didn’t play — even though we were outmanned in certain areas, we didn’t play with the grit and determination that we needed to.
Q. Considering what’s going on at USC, do you have to expect this to be USC to come in with a better effort than maybe they’ve shown?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, we talked about it just briefly. And this is before what happened yesterday with Coach Sarkisian. We talked about there would be an interim coach, and you know what that means? Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that. We didn’t get into any detail other than I just wanted them to be aware of the current situation relative to USC, so they weren’t totally surprised by it.
Other than that, we haven’t talked much more about it, and we won’t. We’ll focus on ourselves because that’s the most important thing.
Q. How much fuel does last year’s loss add to this rivalry, just because it was an embarrassment?
Brian Kelly: Well, it was an embarrassment. I think it’s fair to say that. But there were circumstances in that game that we were not at full strength in certain areas. But what stands out more than anything else and what I commented on earlier was the mental toughness that we didn’t exhibit that we needed to exhibit in that game. This group, this football team has exhibited that every single day.
So we don’t go back into that, because this group has not shown anything that resembles the 2014 team that played on that day. So we put that kind of away. It’s in that drawer. We know about it, but I think they’re pretty clear in recognizing the way Notre Dame football needs to be played.
Q. Talk about leadership. It seems he’s more comfortable leading the ship than he was last year.
Brian Kelly: I think you’re right. And sometimes you don’t know what’s in store for somebody in their senior year, and in particular how are they going to handle themselves when you have two option teams in a matter of months. I recognized him in front of our team, and I don’t do that a lot. I don’t throw bouquets out to our guys individually.
But I’ve been so impressed with the way he has competed in his senior year and coming back, obviously, had something to do with improving his stock as it relates to the NFL as well. Certainly his degree was No. 1, but to have to improve it by playing option, it requires a mental approach that I haven’t seen since I’ve been here.
And he was all over the field. Didn’t have any hesitation or misgivings about cut blocks or getting injured. He just flew around and played reckless football, and I think that speaks to his maturity, his commitment to this football team, and to Notre Dame football, and for that, I singled him out.
Q. Midway through the season, you’re halfway through the Showtime experiment here. What are the good things of it, and are there any draw backs to having cameras around all the time?
Brian Kelly: First of all, I would say it’s no longer an experiment, it’s a way of life. Especially when you go to the bathroom and you have one of those on, and you go, I’ve got to take this off. So I think it’s now become more commonplace, and everybody’s much more comfortable with cameras and microphones and things of that nature around.
It was a difficult transition early on. And we have a great staff that’s working on it every day, and has done a great job communicating with the staff, as well as with Showtime, where we feel like we need some space. So I think there’s just been really good dialogue and communication between the football staff and Showtime, and it’s making it work on a day-to-day basis.
Q. Does it help with the recruiting that recruits can see what’s going on here?
Brian Kelly: I think so. I honestly have not watched it, nor have I had a conversation that was centered strictly about Showtime. However, my coaches and recruiting staff have had several conversations, and have felt that exposing the program and giving them the opportunity to see us has been a positive thing.
Q. Lastly for me, the trophy that goes with this game. Do you ever see it? Do you display it to the team? Do they see it after a win or how does that work?
Brian Kelly: As you know, we don’t have it, so — but we display all of our trophies in front of my office. So we have all of our traveling trophies, and that one is conspicuous by its absence. So we’d like to get that Shillelagh back, and we have a nice spot for it up in the front of our office.
Q. I was going to ask whether you talked to your team about USC responding to adversity, and if you thought in terms of how USC responded when Ed Orgeron responded a few years ago? They’ve had the experience of going through it and having success.
Brian Kelly: I can’t remember specifically. I don’t know, and maybe I could be connected, did that happen the same week? So I take it already had transpired. Meaning it wasn’t leading up to our game, so there was probably no reason for me to bring it up. They probably already knew it. That’s why I thought it was important to bring it up in case they weren’t following it.
But, again, look, they have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride. So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.
Q. I think we’ve all seen C.J. Prosise kind of peel himself off the ground in recent weeks. I know you’ve talked to him about pad level. But do you think some of these things are happening because he does present, as great as he’s been, does present a pretty big target for guys with his upper body.
Brian Kelly: I agree with you. Where he started the year relative to his pad level and where he is right now has been — has changed dramatically. I’ll point to, and if you get a chance to look it up on film, I’ll point to his last touchdown run, where they actually had an unblocked hat in the box, and he was able to show patience and work his way.
There was a touchdown where he was actually on somebody and twirled into the end zone and put the ball on the end line. That was a great illustration of him having lower pad level and being able to work his way through the hole. I don’t think he makes that run early in the year, quite frankly. I think he gets tackled on that run.
So the progress is there. It’s still a work in progress. I think he still has to work on getting down consistently. But we’re seeing progress, and he works on it every single day.
Q. How physical do you allow him to be during the practice week during the season?
Brian Kelly: Another very good question. You may have been in our meetings. We have to be very careful in both areas. One, that I like to — this year we’ve thudded our backs up. And we want to do it for the purposes of having good form for tackling and for ball security.
Having said that, C.J. takes a lot of hits during the season. So we’ve had to kind of find a happy medium there. And I think going into the 7th game, I’ve made the decision that C.J.’s not one of those backs that we’re going to thud. We’re going to thud Josh and Dexter, but C.J.’s not a guy we’re going to thud this week. We’re going to take a week off, and then maybe we can add some more thud back into our work, but we have to be careful with it.
Q. Tyler Newsome has been a game changer for you on many occasions. And I know you knew he had a big leg. I guess I’m wondering if you anticipated the consistency that he’s had, really, with the exception of the 15-yard punt against Clemson in the opening kickoff of the season. He’s been spectacular. Did you have a sense for the consistency that he’s shown?
Brian Kelly: You know, he had shown that his misses were not like what we saw at Clemson. So we knew we were going to get a couple of kicks that weren’t consistent, but they weren’t going to be, again, catastrophic. So I think when we talk about the word consistency, we knew he was going to have some great kicks. But we were very confident that they weren’t going to be ones that could affect the game.
I think that’s what we knew. And I think what we’re going to see here as he continues to mature and grow, and I think for him more than anything else, he just needs to settle into the game. I think as he gets into the game, he’s better and better. His comfort level as he gets into the game is better and feels more comfortable. So I think he just needs to settle into the games a little better to get the consistency from the first kick.
Q. What’s his personality like?
Brian Kelly: One of our hardest workers in the weight room, and somebody that cares incredibly about what he does. Cares about his teammates, cares about what he does, and then personality-wise I would say that he’s a bit unique.
Q. You don’t want to expand on that?
Brian Kelly: I think that will summarize it.
Q. You’ve been asked periodically about who is calling the plays and I’m not going to add to that list. But my question is what advantage or what is the reason why you don’t want to reveal that?
Brian Kelly: I think it’s just something that is a very fluid situation that we’re all involved in play calling. We all have input in what’s going on. It all comes through me at the end of the day, whether we win or lose, it’s going to fall on my shoulders. So it’s really at this point no need to talk about an individual. It’s a group effort.
Q. Are you trying to avoid like a finger-pointing situation when a play goes bad?
Brian Kelly: The buck stops with me eventually. And I know that we’ve got with Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford, we’ve got a great situation, and we really don’t need to change it right now.
Q. From the untrained eye, it looked like Washington had a lot of success in terms of pass-rush in disrupting USC’s offense. How does that translate into what you want to do on Saturday?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think college football in general is about disrupting the flow of the quarterback. If he gets comfortable at this level, at the professional level, when you have a talent like Cody Kessler, we saw what he did against us last year when we weren’t able to generate any pressure against him. It was shooting fish in a barrel against us.
So I think it’s very important that we get him moving his feet, but I think that that’s probably every defensive coordinator’s objective in every game, to get the quarterback out of rhythm. He’s hard to do that with. So we have to launch a plan that certainly gets him out of rhythm. If you can do that, you can have success with any quarterback, not just Cody Kessler.
Q. How does having a new center play into that for the way you approach a game plan?
Brian Kelly: I don’t know that there’s anything we’d do specifically in terms of whether we cover the center or not, because we do both. We do some odd front and even front. Again, we’re on the road. I think my hesitations and concerns would be cadence a little bit going on the road. But they’re probably going to be in silent cadence the whole game, so it wouldn’t be as much of a factor.
Q. The loss of Tuerk to their offense and for a few snaps last week you lost McMartin for a while, talk about how critical that position is to the offense?
Brian Kelly: Well, it’s your guy that’s usually calling the fronts and sliding protections. Nick Martin is a captain for us. He’s a huge part of what we do. It’s a significant piece. Max is a great football player. He’s played a lot of positions. He has great knowledge of their offense. But I’m sure they’re going to fill in nicely. They’ve got some depth there. But we know what Nick means to us.
Q. In terms of Steve Sarkisian, with the American Football Coaches Association, do they have any programs that help coaches cope with some of the situations that he’s been going through?
Brian Kelly: The American Football Coaches Association is really set up to be there for coaches as a resource educationally, professionally. It helps them in their retirement years if they choose to be involved in it, and I think it’s always been one that’s been there to police itself.
But I think as it gets into the more personal issues, I don’t believe the American Football Coaches Association has delved into the more personal issues, and I think this is more of a personal issue.
Q. Obviously, you’ve had different staff members go through personal issues, especially health-wise. When it comes to those sort of resources, are you basically at the whim of the school that you’re at or where do you turn?
Brian Kelly: Well, we’ve had some health concerns, and certainly health plans that fall under the umbrella of the university support the employee, and then what the employer and in my instance as the head coach what environment that I create. We try to create an environment where we can get all of our coaches to stay involved and work through any kind of medical hardships they have so we can get them back on the field for us.
Q. USAToday.com ran an article of possible successors and your name was number two on the list. Would you like to address that?
Brian Kelly: Yeah how about what we do here is we avoid the noise, and that would be considered a lot of noise.
Q. You are also now, thanks to Coach Spurrier’s resignation, number two among the active coaches on the win list. Could you offer us a comment on Steve Spurrier, and what he meant to the profession?
Brian Kelly: He, I think, is probably one of those coaches that we’ll all look towards and say changed the passing game. One of those innovators. I know when I was coming up through the coaching ranks, what Steve Spurrier did in the passing game and his success of throwing the football kind of — I don’t want to say was revolutionary, but really got people thinking about how to move the football through the air.
He’s going to be missed. I know he’s got a lovely wife and great family, and he likes to hit that white ball around a little bit, so I’m sure he’ll have plenty to do.
Q. After last year’s Navy game, you were asked before the Arizona State game, and there seems to be a history a week after the Navy game of struggling out of the gates, because changing the option of the mental and physical aspects of it to a more conventional offense. And the game is 2-6 in the last years after Navy. Is there something to be done to prepare against that or is it just such a difficult adjustment after Navy? Even Ohio State experienced it last year.
Brian Kelly: It’s a physical team we play. People do not give Navy enough credit to the kind of game they play for four quarters. They bang the heck out of you for four quarters.
It’s a physical game. So it really is just two tight ends and it’s a physical football. There is no give up. I mean to the very last play, you are playing physical football. So you’re just coming off a very physical game, that’s all. We’ll bounce back fine.
We’ve got a week off next week, so our guys have a totally different mindset with the bye week. We’ve tried to construct it moving forward that we get that because we think this will be — obviously, USC, a bye week, that changes the dynamics quite a bit. Not having them play at noon time in the 85Â° weather in Arizona is a big difference than playing here at home this weekend too.
Q. That’s what I was going to ask, having the bye week after that. Is that almost a carrot at the end of the stick? Next week would you plan on sending some of them home?
Brian Kelly: Oh, they’re going home. Yeah, we’re going to give them a break. They know what we need to do. We’ve got midterms this week. The guys got to be proactive in getting their work done. But their eye is towards Saturday night and getting their work done. They’re in the training room. There will be no excuses. The Navy effect will have nothing to do with what happens on the field on Saturday.
Q. How much time will you give them off?
Brian Kelly: We’ll bring them in Sunday, and watch film on Sunday. We’ll weight train them on Monday, and then we’ll release them.
Q. Until Wednesday?
Brian Kelly: They’ll come back Saturday night.
Q. They’ll have the entire week?
Brian Kelly: They’ll have the whole week off.
Q. Also a pretty huge recruiting weekend for you as well. I recall four years ago you had an epic recruiting weekend too. But balancing hosting so many prospects with playing your archrival as well, how do you as a coaching staff handle that?
Brian Kelly: Well, we started on this once, Texas was a big one as well. Similar night game, so we’ll use a similar plan that we had for Texas where we had a number of recruits up for that game. Again, it will require some work on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from the whole staff, but they’ve got some time off too, so we’ll do just fine.
Q. Do you place a limit on how many players you want to host for a recruiting weekend? Like if there is any concern about stretching yourself a little too thin?
Brian Kelly: We always do. We always do, and we always break that rule. Every year we sit down and go, we’re only going to take 13, we’re only going to take 12, and then we’ll go back into another staff meeting, and then John Smith who runs the 4.2, and benches 700 pounds is available to come up, and we say, okay, let’s bring him up. I think ideally 12 to 15 is max, and we always seem to go over that.
Q. Do you find that to be a problem as far as stretching yourself thin?
Brian Kelly: Well, we recognize the fact that we can’t. So it just means that everybody has to be on top of it. It requires an attention to every single player. Now you’ve got to understand, that’s not just the recruited players. We’re going to have scholarship players that are up here that we can’t treat as though we forgot their name. You have to treat them special as well. Then there is going to be some young men up here that haven’t gotten a scholarship yet, that you want to make sure they get face time as well.
So it’s a management issue. That’s why there has to be a cap on the official visits, because it doesn’t end with them. You have to spend quality time with the guys that are already committed, and then there are going to be some guys that haven’t offered yet that you need to spend time with. That’s where we always get into a lengthy conversation that I have with the staff about the number of kids that we have up.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the —
Brian Kelly: The tie? The tie is pink. There is some pink here.
Q. Wanted to ask you, a couple weeks ago when I keep stats during the game, you make little notifications here and there, and there are a lot of notations about somebody dropped this ball, somebody didn’t catch that ball. Last week I was amazed at halftime, even well into the second half with my notes because somebody did something. It seemed like during the course of the game I brought that thing with me. It’s like a hit by Sheldon Day, Shumate made a great read for one yard loss. Smith fumble recovered, Farley caught the punt at the 3-yard line. It seemed like everybody almost had a different attitude going into the game like I’ve got this. I’m going to make a play. So many guys during the course of the game just made great individual plays which added up to a terrific performance.
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think that’s a good observation in the sense that one of the big things for us against Navy was to have to trust each other. That not only are you going to do your job and your specific area, but you also have to make plays. You have to go out there and make plays. We talked all week about the respect for Navy, which we have immense respect for Navy. We talked all week about how disciplined we have to be, attention to detail.
But what I reminded them of is we’re a really good football team, and really good football players need to go make plays. So we empowered them with that, to go out and make plays. I thought individuals stepped up and made plays in those games and in the game on Saturday.
Q. One of the plays I wanted to bring up specifically was the field goal right before halftime. Tremendous lift after all the good things that happened in the first half, it’s 21-21, and you get a 52-yarder with zeros on the clock. Talk about what that meant to have Justin come through in that situation?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, just to get the opportunity. Certainly we had only 18, 20 seconds on the clock, so trying to get a field goal in that situation, it had to work out the right way for us. The first down call worked out the right way. Gave us a shot at clearing out a zone and getting us in field goal range, then Justin even hit that a little heavy.
His zone is right there. He was right on the edge of his zone, and we had a little bit of a breeze, and he felt good about it. He’s not a kid that is going to put himself in a position that he doesn’t believe he can make it. It was a big run because we came right back out and on ST caused the fumble, and I think we had ten points in the first minute or so of the second and third quarter.
Q. On your radio show last week you mentioned that because you sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame at Wrigley Field, the Cubs are probably going to roll to the World Championship?
Brian Kelly: There is no question about that. No, I was on the mound, I was on that rubber, so it just changed everything.