Sept. 15, 2015
University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon. Coming off an exciting win on the road. We get right back to work here against an outstanding Georgia Tech football team. I think we’re all quite aware of what they’ve been able to do offensively and what Coach Johnson has done in his entire career. Prolific scoring and just in the past year just amazing numbers offensively, efficient, and now coupled with the fact that they’re playing very solid defense.
Add those two things up with a defense now that has taken the football away, given the offense opportunities, I think they’re something like plus-13 in turnover-takeaway, and plus, I think it’s plus-14 since the start of last season. They’re plus-3 this season already. You’ve got a very good football team. So we know what’s in store for us. We’re excited about the challenge coming off an exciting win. We’ve got a great challenge but one we’re looking forward to and excited about.
Again, playing at home, playing a nationally ranked team, and then the challenge of the triple option. Boasts some outstanding players obviously led by their quarterback Justin Thomas, veteran offensive line defensively, a veteran secondary, a group that’s played together, young, aggressive defensive end. I think he was a freshman Player of the Year last year. They can get after the quarterback, aggressive defense. Like I said, take the football away and give their offense opportunities. So, again, great system.
Coach Johnson’s done it for his entire career, and we’ve watched plenty of film. We know exactly what to expect from them, and now we’ve got to go out and execute defensively, execute on offense and special teams and look forward to the challenge. So with that, we’ll open it up to questions.
Q. In light of the news with Durham Smythe being out for the season, can you talk about how you feel about the other four tight ends? How close all of them are to being able to do both jobs, or do you have to mix and match at this point?
COACH KELLY: I think each one of them has some different levels of, I want to say, expertise. But strengths relative to what we think they can do. I think you’ll see them all play, no question. I don’t think there is just one guy. I think Durham was able to do a lot of different things, so now I think you’ll see we’ll go deeper with the tight ends.
But feel very confident that in all of them that we’ll get the kind of play necessary at that position.
Q. When you have a run of injuries like this and they happen in such different circumstances on grass, on turf, I think people try to grasp and look for a pattern. As a coach, do you do that? Or do you strike it up to really the randomness?
COACH KELLY: Well, I look at each injury because there are certainly areas as coaches we all want to make sure and prevent injuries to our players. We never want to see a young man lose a season. But you look at each one of them. Two of them, there were no contact at all, and in this one it was a play, actually the play right before the touchdown at the end of the game against Virginia that Durham got rolled up on by one of his own players. He wasn’t even part of the play.
So it’s just one of those things that is there anything that you could have done differently in that situation. That’s certainly what I try to do in each one of these situations and that one there was nothing you could do about it. It was just part of the game. I do, in fact, look at all of them. If there is anything we do with injury prevention.
They’re generally ones that would happen in practice that probably hurt the most that did we do something in practice that could have put us in a better position? But during games, very rarely is it something that you can control, and in this one in particular.
Q. When you’re tinkering with your personnel and trying to get the best people on the field for a triple-option offense, is speed the biggest deal? Is experience against the option a big deal? Is it size? What is kind of your guiding principles when you’re trying to put together the personnel?
COACH KELLY: Well, that’s a good question. I think that first and foremost, when you settle on what your plan is and how you’re going to defend the triple option, I think it goes to guys that have a good sense and a feel for what the plan is and how to defend triple option. So I think they’ve got to have a discipline about themselves. They’ve got to be guys that clearly understand the job in front of them and recognize what’s being asked of them.
So I think there’s got to be some discipline. There’s got to be clearly some athleticism there as well, but by and large they’ve got to be able to pick up the schemes that we’re trying to put together. So those are really important elements in this. If you’re lost out there, you could be the greatest athlete in the world, and if it doesn’t make sense to you, you could be a liability trying to defend the triple option.
Q. If my math is correct, and I think you and I were in the same math class —
COACH KELLY: You know I was in the same math class with you.
Q. The last seven times you’ve had a first start by a quarterback in college it’s been a win. I think Dan LeFevour was the last one that didn’t. They were playing a pretty good Boston College team at Central Michigan. Do you have kind of a template or what have you learned from those first experiences of a first start of a quarterback and how to help him feel comfortable within his capabilities?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it would be hard for me to put a finger on in particularly the wins and why we won the game. It could have been the opposition. Maybe we played great defense. Maybe it had nothing to do with the offense. But I can tell you with quarterbacks that are going to go out there for the first time, you’re really going to play to their strengths and what they do well. So everything that we do will be part of the system.
We recruited DeShone Kizer because he can run the system of offense that I like to run. So we’re going to run our system. That’s what we do. So he does things a little bit different than Malik does, but they all are within the realm of the offense. It’s just we’ll choose a little bit from different chapters within the offensive system.
I think DeShone will do quite well. We’ll just feature some of the things that he does a little bit better than maybe — or that are considered his strengths as a quarterback and feature those.
Q. I was going to ask this in light of what you just said, it’s not necessarily relevant, but I would assume that maybe with the first time starting quarterback you want to try to protect him as much as you can with the way that you call the game and not put too much on his shoulders. But when you’re playing a team that is as efficient as Georgia Tech, it minimizes kind of the possessions that you get. Where do you draw the balance between wanting to not put too much on his shoulders but needing to be really efficient yourself?
COACH KELLY: Well, they’ve averaged 46.8 points over the last ten games, which includes wins over Clemson, Georgia, and Mississippi State. So we’re not going to sit on the ball. We have to play our offense. We have to be aggressive offensively and DeShone, we have to do the things that he is capable of doing, certainly, but we’ve got to score points.
This offense is going to score points. We know it. It’s in the history of what they do. Heck, they scored 54.4 over the last five games. So the best way to answer the question is that DeShone’s got to play his butt off. He’s got to play really well, and we’ve got to put him in a position to play well. The other ten guys around him have to play very, very well as well.
So don’t expect DeShone to come out there and hand the ball off and just play vanilla offense. We’ve got to be aggressive and we’ve got to move the football.
Q. Defensively how much more prepared to you feel you are this week because you’ve played Navy so many times over the last few years?
COACH KELLY: Each and every year certainly helps you, but the ACC sees Georgia Tech each year, and that doesn’t seem to help them very much. They’re a difficult offense because of the players as well as coach has been doing it and seeing it and knows what it looks like. Their efficiency and execution is outstanding. Their quarterback is very difficult to defend. If a play breaks down, he certainly can make plays. They’ve had outstanding wide receivers on the perimeter and a veteran offensive line. So it’s a formidable task, but again we’re much more familiar with the option having played Navy compared to having never seen it before.
Q. Are there big differences between the two or do they run it pretty similarly?
COACH KELLY: I think there is more similarities than there are differences. The quarterbacks are similar in the sense that both of them are very dynamic. Both quarterbacks are game changers, both of them have outstanding fullbacks. I would say the perimeter players are probably Georgia Tech possesses, as we’ve seen over the past few years No. 1 draft picks at the wide receiver position, and then a bigger veteran offensive line for Georgia Tech as well.
But system-wise there are a lot of similarities, as you can imagine. There will be a wrinkle here or there that we’ll have to be prepared for, misdirection, and obviously the ability for both quarterbacks to make some things happen. But I think there are more similarities than differences.
Q. You talked previously that one of the challenges is when you do something successfully defensively they have a quicker adjustment because they’ve faced it before. So do you have to go into this game having multiple plans? You have to be ready to change up quickly so when they adjust you’re ready to adjust to whatever they did?
COACH KELLY: You do. You have to make some adjustments during the game on the sideline. You have to have more than one look. You have to be able to change some things up, certainly, because they’ve seen three-down, four-down pressure fronts, and again, you’re going to have to make those adjustments yourself. As they do on your sideline, you have to make them accordingly. That’s why in going back to Eric’s initial question, you have to have players that can adapt as well. Adapt to those decisions that change your responsibility maybe from series to series, and that’s a very important part of the whole structure as well.
Q. Sunday, when you’re talking about the defense, you talked about eye violations. I’m not sure what that is?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, so lot of motion, lot of misdirection in the Virginia offense which caused our safeties to lose sight of their run-pass keys. We have a specific key that we have to be locked in on, and we got lost in the misdirection and didn’t pay attention to what our specific responsibility was. So we were violating what our eyes should be on. Hence the eye violation phrase, and we had way too many of those.
Then we had that with the big third-down situation where we had our corner looking into the backfield instead of rerouting a receiver and letting him free up the sideline. He was thinking screen instead of 3rd and 15, reroute your receiver. So those are eye violations. You’re not doing your job in those specific situations.
Then, simply needed to be more aggressive. At the cornerback position, we gave too much ground, laying off receivers. And so being more aggressive in coverage, eye violations in particular, those have to be cleaned up because, as I mentioned earlier, we played well up front keeping Mizzell to 60-something yards rushing, and I think he had ten yards in receiving. That was huge for us. We really didn’t do our job in the back end.
Q. As part of the challenge of this whole week, is it what they’re looking for is the key for this week isn’t the same as it was for last week?
COACH KELLY: It’s different. I mean, eye violations and not paying attention to your job and responsibility will get you the same kind of — into the same kind of problems. So you have to be extremely disciplined. You have to be locked into your responsibilities, and that’s where if there is a carryover, that has to get better. That certainly has to be something that we get better at in the back end of our defense.
Q. I think in your first couple years you lamented that early season teams maybe would be playing lower-level teams before you and save a whole bunch of stuff and then just spring it on you. When you’re watching tape of Georgia Tech, do you spend as much time on last year as this year because there is a limited amount of stuff you can get out of Elkhorn State and Tulane?
COACH KELLY: You have 2013, ’13, ’14, ’12, so we’re going back as far as we can to make sure some of those things don’t happen. Navy last year brought out some stuff that they did in 2009 with bunch packages that outflanked our defense. So, yeah, we’re not taking anything for granted. We’re looking at as much film as we can and being prepared for all those eventual situations.
Q. I’m not asking you to give away all the secrets that Bob Elliott found over the summer. But could you sort of in general terms talk about the research he did in triple option? Is he looking at various levels of college football? What’s he looking for?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think what we were looking for were some common threads, some common threads in defending the triple option and what are they? So finding that commonality more than anything else and where are the areas that get you in trouble?
So I think everybody’s going to have within their own system a comfort level of this is what we do. Are we an outlier? If we are, where do we have to make those adjustments? So his research was really to go around and look at where are we in lockstep? Where are we similar, and where are we dissimilar? So I think that that’s where most of the research was done so we could come with a common approach to where we wanted to go defensively.
Q. So is dissimilar bad in this case?
COACH KELLY: Well, dissimilar can be risky. There is a risk reward. Then finding out when those risks need to take place and when you’re willing to do that.
Q. On Will Fuller, you’re an offensive coach. You’ve seen all sorts of coverages and schemes. How are teams trying to defend him? Is he simply too fast to deal with? How much do you think the effectiveness of his bubble screen, slip screen stuff last year has just made him almost impossible to deal with?
COACH KELLY: Well, he’s at a difficult position to defend. He’s at the wide field, so you really only have a couple of options. You can roll the coverage over the top of him, which forces you to strong rotate to the field, which puts you at a potential disadvantage in the running game, where you can be short, or you can play cover two and double zone him. And in spread, you can be really thin down the middle of the field.
So because of where he’s positioned you really — you have some decisions to make. If he was an inside receiver or even if you remember with Michael Floyd, Michael was into the short field, we eventually started moving him to the wide field because he was getting double coverage. Once we started moving him to the wide field we obviously could get the ball back to him much more.
So really he’s in a position where it’s difficult. You can double him up, but you’re opening up other opportunities.
Q. I meant to ask you this on Sunday and missed it. But if you get into a situation where you’re in another Texas-style-type game, would you just automatically put Wimbush in for the fourth quarter?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah. We may play him earlier than that. He’s going to have to play this year. So I haven’t decided yet, but he’s going to play this year. Let’s try to get him as much experience as possible and we’re going to prepare him this week as if he’s going to play and go from there.
Q. Georgia Tech playing Elkhorn State and Tulane, when you look at their defense, what is the challenge of breaking in DeShone against a defense that’s maybe not shown a whole lot on film this year?
COACH KELLY: Well, they’re going to be aggressive. You’ve got a freshman quarterback, a veteran defensive coordinator. You’ve got a veteran secondary that is willing to take man-to-man coverage and get after the football. I mean, you can put two and two together there, bring some pressure, trying to force some turnovers in that regard. So we’re going to have to be detailed in our work there and picking up various pressures and defeating man-to-man coverage. I think that’s certainly what I would do.
Q. I think following up on Brandon too, I think you’ve only played one true freshman quarterback here and that was Tommy in 2010. So what is the challenge of breaking in a true freshman into this offense?
COACH KELLY: There are a number of challenges. Protecting himself would be No. 1. Then just settling him down, getting him comfortable in running the offense. I mean, there are great challenges. Now he’s a very confident young man. We’ll give him enough to handle and run our offense this week and this will be kind of the first opportunity that we get a good look at him a little bit. He’ll be diving a little bit deeper this week.
So by Thursday you could ask me that question again and I’ll give you a better answer of where we are relative to his development because most of it has been surface initiation. We’ve controlled a lot of it, and we’ll have to control some of it but we’ll dive deeper into it this week.
Q. As you all have endured a pretty steady body blow of injuries, what kind of feel do you get for the resilience of this team? What kind of messages have you been putting out there to try to reinforce that a little bit?
COACH KELLY: I think any team kind of looks at it and says, boy, why us? But as I told our team, no one really cares. Certainly those that do are happy that you got more injuries. Because they’re in it for their own teams. So just no excuses, you know? Let’s go play.
We’ve got players that will step up and we’ll get through it. Everybody’s got to deal with some adversity, and this is our end of it, and we’ll be stronger for it. I just don’t want to hear any excuses about it. We’ll find a way, and that’s what I want to hear from our team, and that’s what we’re going to make sure our team understands that.
Q. This is a little far afield, but if you could indulge a visitor from Atlanta for a second. I’m just curious about how the history of this place, how it resonates with the modern player when you go out and talk to him and recruit?
COACH KELLY: Well, it still resonates from the tradition of football here woven in the fabric of the university is still very much in the forethought of the player that comes here. They understand how important football is to the university. It’s very important to what goes on here. But they come here because they want both a great education and the opportunity to play under the bright lights of Notre Dame football. So I think how it resonates is the ability to do both, get a great education and also play on that great stage.
Q. With Joe getting virtually all the snaps at Mike linebacker so far, is he that far ahead of Jarrett and Nyles or is it like last year, communications-wise you can’t afford to get him off the field?
COACH KELLY: He’s ahead of him. Jarrett has been hampered by an ankle and a bit of a hamstring, so he has not been healthy the last week or so and he’s still not a hundred percent. So that’s one of the reasons. If he was a hundred percent, you probably would have seen him a little bit last week. And we really like Nyles, but I think it goes to probably more about wanting Joe’s communication out there. He’s practicing well, but if we had to go with Nyles, we’d feel good about it.
Q. With kickoff coverage having all defensive players, was that a conscious decision or how it happened to all shake out?
COACH KELLY: It’s generally how it shakes out based upon contact skills and their abilities as it relates to what we’re doing, but it’s not always the case. Adams was on there to start the season but because he’s now in a number two position we thought wisely and pulled him off our kickoff coverage team. We’re looking for athletes on that team, so it doesn’t exclusively have to be defensive players. It just has now morphed itself into that.
Q. C.J. Sanders and the punt return unit gave you guys a pretty big boost Saturday night. Is Sanders under consideration for a kick return or would you consider that?
COACH KELLY: I think what’s under consideration is we’ve made some adjustments on a couple of things. We felt like our depth was a little shallow, so we’re working on that in terms of our front line. We’ve made a couple of changes on personnel because we just don’t feel like we were getting the blocking necessary.
Look, it’s natural the first guy you’re going to look at is the returner, and I get that. But upon further evaluation, we think there are some things you’ve got to coach a little bit better, and we think there are some guys that we needed to replace on that team before we look at the returners. Then if we feel like we’re doing it right there, then it goes to the returners.
Q. Oregon’s made a habit of when they score early they go for two. You ended up doing that. Was that just something you thought would work against Virginia or a play that you wanted to run regardless of the competition?
COACH KELLY: We’ve had several conversations about a number of different plays that we have off of this series that we’ve put together that we’ll use throughout the season. So it’s not going away. How we use it, when we use it, it will depend on how we feel during the game. But it would be something that we’d do every game this year. It just depends on what the situations are.
Q. The 0 for 10 on third down obviously stopped some drives for you guys. When you evaluated all those situations, most of them were, obviously, you had some short yardage runs that didn’t work, but most of them were passes. When you evaluated that aspect, what did you come up with this week?
COACH KELLY: Oh, well, two of them were balls that were just not in good position, not as accurate as they needed to be. Malik threw a ball inside to Will where he had him open on free access on the outside.
So we had a couple of balls that we normally would have completed in those situations. We had a miscommunication on a third down where, for some reason, the signal came in differently to one of our receivers and he ran the wrong route. Unfortunately that happened and that caused Malik to go outside to a double move to Will on third down where he was not the primary receiver. It was supposed to go into the short field to Chris, so that was three.
Then on the short yardage we missed a pull, an easy pull on fourth down where it came off the edge really hard. Malik needed to pull it, and he didn’t. Then on another short yardage, Malik tried to bounce one outside, instead of staying inside with the guard. A lot of it is just he just wants to make a play.
He learned so much from the game. I watched the game with him this morning at St. Liam’s and he’s back to normal. He’s smiling, and can’t stay in the bed right now. A lot of those situations for him, when he had the opportunity, he just wanted to do too much instead of getting two yards. Get three yards, we don’t need 15 here, but that’s just his personality. I think he learned a ton in those kinds of situations relative to some of those third downs.
Q. I know you don’t want to stand up there in a third week and openly talk about guys that you’re trying to preserve a year of eligibility for. But Blankenship and Hayes haven’t played. Is there a point in the season, and I know you tried to do that with Hayes last year to preserve it, but is there a point in the season where you will — where it’s a point of no return, I guess?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’re always cognizant of that, and certainly we’re aware of their situation. If we get further down in the season we would make that decision.
Q. The defensive players often talk about the steady flow of installation on their side of the ball. I wonder if you as the head coach, how do you straddle the line between being progressive and forward thinking and then also reaching the diminishing returns and some pre-snap confusion?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we were really clean again on mental errors up front. Our front seven played very well. Didn’t have the kind of issues we’ve had last year. I think that’s two years into it. We simply — our issues were not communication based. Needed to be in tighter coverage, more aggressive with our corners, and our safety play was not up to standard. Even when we communicated clearly, and there were two times in particular where we clearly, on film, on the field, made the correct call, the response was not there. So last year at times we felt like we were drinking out of a fire hose. This year don’t have that feeling at all.
Q. So the second year with Coach VanGorder, it’s not installation overload?
COACH KELLY: No, don’t feel like that at all. Last year there were times where like, whoa, we’re just having a hard time grasping all that. We don’t feel that way at all. We feel like the mistakes that were made in this game were — you’ve got to lock in. Come on now. You’ve got to lock in here. That’s your guy. We told you that that’s your guy. Somebody on the field told you that’s your guy.
So that’s a whole different feeling than maybe last year where it was like, well, I didn’t know because of this and that, and that’s a different set of circumstances.
Q. Did you ever get an explanation on the 15-yarder called on from Trumbetti?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he said he pushed him down late. I just took him for his word and chewed out Trumbetti and told him that he cost us, obviously, in that situation.
Q. Secondly, on the play where you scored the game-winning touchdown, a lot of time elapsed off the clock before you were able to get off that snap. How concerned are you about that as you go into the two-minute drill with DeShone?
COACH KELLY: Well, we weren’t concerned at all leading up to that. We’re pretty efficient. We were at about 15 seconds per. The problem that happened is Durham Smythe tore his MCL, and he was on the ground and we couldn’t get him off the field. Because we didn’t make the line to gain, we would have had to take a ten-second run off or use our timeout.
So our trainers were ready to get him off the field. I held him back, and then he had to limp off the field. So that cost us about 7 seconds to get him off the field and to get Tyler Luatua back on the field.
It was just one of those unfortunate situations. Do you use the timeout? Do you take the ten-second run off? I felt like we needed to keep the timeout because we were close enough for field goal range to hold on to the timeout. We still had a down. Even in that situation, we could throw the ball over the middle of the field where we’ve had some success in hitting some of our in cuts and we’d go from there. But it was kind of a tough situation relative to the circumstances.
Q. Then turning to Tech this week, how important — you talked about the discipline that’s needed. I imagine it’s really needed for guys like Romeo and Isaac and Andrew in terms of being able to cover the quarterback and the pitch man. What kinds of things are you emphasizing to them this week?
COACH KELLY: Well, there are so many things that we could talk about relative to the option. But doing your job. I mean, you have to do your job, and it’s got to be every single play. If you don’t do your job, and this is why this offense is so prolific is that if you do somebody else’s job and not yours for one play, it’s triple option. The fullback gets it and he’s gone, or the ball gets out on the perimeter and the quarterback keeps it. So it’s really being disciplined this week and doing their job.
Q. A follow-up on Nyles Morgan. You said you feel comfortable with him playing, but obviously still didn’t get in the rotation. What may be the single greatest factor of him not getting on to the field?
COACH KELLY: Joe Schmidt’s better.
Q. Simple enough.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I love Nyles, and DeShone Kizer didn’t get on the field, and we love him too. It’s just we’d have to take Joe off because he needs a blow, but we’ve got great confidence in Nyles if he’s got to go in, and he can go in and play winning football for us.
Q. Offensively obviously Will Fuller’s had a great year so far in two games. But I think overall in terms of targets he’s had 20, I think 11 or 12 catches, Chris Brown’s around 11, and I think it falls off from there in terms of quarterbacks targeting receivers. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with how skilled Will is and the success he’s had. But how important is it to start to get a few more guys in the passing game? A few more targets to take some pressure off of a guy like Will Fuller?
COACH KELLY: We’ve had some — we’ve had effectiveness in our running game, and so if we feel like you’re going to gang up on us in the running game, those inside slot receivers will catch a ton of balls. They’ve still respected the slot receivers and have given us the opportunity to run the football. I think we’ve had back-to-back 200-plus yard rushing games, and you can say what you want, but that’s two Power Five conference teams that are pretty good athletes.
So if you start to rotate down and leave those slot receivers in one-on-one situations, they’re going to catch plenty of balls.
Q. Virginia’s opening touchdown kind of a familiar play there where Jaylon was taken out there, but nothing was called. When you have that type of situation, is it like with Jimbo Fisher last year, you have to alert the referees prior to such a play?
COACH KELLY: Lou, we try to go over those kinds of situations, and I think we’ve alerted the people that need to be alerted. That’s all I’m going to go with on that.
Q. Staying on the subject of Jaylon, his role this week in triple option, is it even more expansive with what he has to do?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, at times we got him. They formationed us a little bit last year, Navy did. We’ve made sure that regardless of the situation Jaylon is going to be central to what happens on the field on Saturday.
Q. As far as the communication with safeties, is it even more pronounced against a team maybe that doesn’t pass it as much or the fact that they have to keep their eyes open for the deep ball as well?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, communication is not essential. It’s important, don’t get me wrong. This is more about reading through your key through linemen, and making sure that you’re on your task more so than we’re not going to be in five or six different coverages, you know what I mean? So this is really about keying through your responsibilities, and so more of an eye discipline than anything else.
Q. Maybe this is a fine line, but is there a big gap between DeShone and Brandon? Is it 1 and 1A or is DeShone your guy?
COACH KELLY: Oh, DeShone’s going to be the starter, no question, and Brandon will have more time to develop. DeShone has had so much more time to develop into this position than Brandon, and we’ll see where it goes. Brandon will get second-team reps for the first time. DeShone’s been getting it since the spring. So he’s got a lot more room for growth.
But, look, we’re not going to hold anybody back from developing, and we’ll let him develop and see where it goes. But DeShone is clearly more experienced and more developed than Brandon is right now. But we think Brandon certainly has a huge upside.
Q. So it’s a situation where you wouldn’t be afraid to put him in. You’re not going to have a quick trigger. It’s a young quarterback, so I guess I’m going with the confidence factor?
COACH KELLY: No, no, he’s going to be in there and he’s going to be playing. I think we can add Brandon into the mix, and there are some things that he can do. He’s got very good speed, he’s got a strong arm, he’s tough, and I think there are some things that could enhance our offense with him in the game as well.