Oct. 18, 2011
COACH KELLY: Well, we’re back at it. Our week off, our bye week, was productive in that got some work with some of our younger players, and I got an opportunity, as I mentioned to you to rest up our guys that are banged up a little bit. We had a very aggressive, vigorous six weeks of competition, so it came at the right time for us.
Mentally, our guys are excited. They’re back at it. Had a good practice yesterday, which is a bonus day for us, and prepared them for a very talented football team, well-coached. Again, I think we all know about the great games that have been played in the past. For us it was breaking through last year and getting a win at USC. I know that they’re certainly wanting to even that score.
So it’s just going to be a great college football game. It’s what you all expect when Notre Dame plays USC. There will be a lot of noise, a lot of hype, and our players just need to focus on what they’ve done well over the past month or so, and that’s playing good football. So with that, I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. If you could catch us up on (Manti) Te’o and (Ethan) Johnson going into the week?
COACH KELLY: All cleared to play. Manti probably feels as good as he’s felt in a few weeks. The rest certainly helped him. Played very well against Air Force on an ankle that was less than a hundred percent. So the rest really helped him a lot. He was able to practice yesterday.
Ethan played a little bit in our 11 on 11 series yesterday, which is ones versus ones. He’s not at a point where he can play every snap yet, but he’s certainly going to be able to do something for us on Saturday.
Daniel Smith is back with us full go. He was Marqise Lee yesterday on the demo squad. Big, tall, athletic kid, so he certainly helped us out yesterday. All three of those guys are back with us.
Q. Your running numbers this year are the best they’ve been since you began in the FBS. Is there something about how this team was built when you got it that you wanted to move in that direction? Was it something that you did at Grand Valley State that you said I want to get back to? Where did that emphasis come from?
COACH KELLY: I’ve always felt that in running the spread, if you don’t have the ability to run the football first, then you’ve got to take the tight end off the field. You’ve got to play with four wide receivers, and that is not really the style we want to play.
So striving for that balance, I think it’s the development of the offensive line, the players that were already here and developed into a very good unit. I think Coach Warinner and Coach Denbrock need to have a lot of accolades for their success as well.
But it was again developing the offensive line with the idea that you can’t be just throwing the ball around if you want to be a championship football team. You’ve got to have that balance, and we’ve been able to develop that balance.
Q. This is kind of a hypothetical question. You mentioned about how you wanted to build this team into a championship team. Start on the defense first, and you, said, boy, it helped to have Manti Te’o here. Manti almost went to the school that you’re playing Saturday night. If he hadn’t been here, would you have still started with the defense, or would you have done things differently?
COACH KELLY: It depends. Maybe we would have gotten Robert Woods, you know, and then we would have started with the offense. When you have a guy like Manti Te’o he takes one of the things off your plate, and that is expectations and leadership. You have that with him.
So we could have lost to Manti Te’o in terms of the football player. What we would have never overcome is the leader that he is. So we still would have been defense oriented in terms of being able to — look, the two cycles of recruiting that we’re going through here have been addressing the needs within the program.
As we work through this second cycle, it will be recruit, replace, recruit, replace. So we felt looking at it it’s been addressing needs on the defensive side of the ball. So our focus would have not changed whether Manti was here or not.
Q. You weren’t here for the long streak of USC victories, but one win doesn’t equal. Is there a perceptible change in how you approach things?
COACH KELLY: Nothing that really strikes me as the way they handled themselves, the way they talk. Obviously, there is a lot more of a sense that we’ve accomplished something by getting that off the books. Because that builds itself up bigger than it really is when you haven’t won. It doesn’t make for a great rivalry if you haven’t won any games.
So I think we can put that behind and really think about it’s a great rivalry. But I didn’t notice any perceived changes in our players and the way they handled themselves after the victory. I think it’s just been more of let’s get this rivalry back to being a rivalry.
Q. Do you think that was something this program needed to cross off the list?
COACH KELLY: I think good road wins are some of the things that you have to check off. Winning on the road, regardless of the tradition of the USC and the history and not winning, I think it’s good road wins. On the road you’ve got to be mature as a football team to win games on the road in the FBS. I think that’s more of a check.
I think personally it probable meant more to our outgoing seniors last year more than anything else. It’s really not much relative to this football team in 2011 other than the fact that they know that this is truly a rivalry when you win some games.
Q. Just on the offensive line, how have they made the improvements they have made?
COACH KELLY: Well, individual players have improved. Braxston Cave is a different player than he was last year. He’s just a better football player. Playing center in the shotgun was a bit of a departure for him. So it starts at the center position. Braxston is a much better player.
You have Zack Martin who is a first-time starter. Taylor Dever, first-time starter, and then I think you look at the physical development of Trevor Robinson. I think that’s where this football team on the offensive line has improved individually and collectively as a group.
Q. USC has struggled on defense until last week. When you watched them on film, what did they do differently last week or did they do anything differently?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think they’ve got a specific scheme that they like to employ. It’s very similar to what we’ve seen. They’re very consistent in that respect. They’re not going to give you just one look.
They played well, they tackled well. I think they got up on Cal and forced them to throw the football. I think one of the things that’s really important to point out is Monte Kiffin still has his influences in that defense. Ed Orgeron may be calling the game, I don’t know for sure. But you can still see there are some Monte Kiffin influences in what they do defensively.
If they get up on you, they’re a tough group to rally on. I think that is probably the biggest difference than anything else.
Q. You’ve seen two years of film on (Matt) Barkley, and you’ve had Tommy Rees for two years, can you compare their development?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, there are definitely some similarities in terms of their development, and I think it’s in completion percentage. I think it’s in efficiency. I think this year the difference is the big play threat down the field, and Barkley going to that and using those opportunities to get big plays.
So that’s obviously something that we want to continue to grow with Michael Floyd. We think we’ve got a big play guy down the field as well. So, yeah, there is no question that both of them have developed. I think it’s been in efficiency, completion percentage, and now they’re look for the big play.
Q. Doing a feature on Tyler Eifert this week. Talk about his development and how he’s improved this year?
COACH KELLY: Well, he went from a guy last year that we weren’t really sure about his physical ability to play the game. He had back surgery. He was not physically as strong as we would have liked. He had Kyle Rudolph in front of him.
So I don’t know that we were talking about Tyler Eifert when we got here as a guy that’s now emerged to being one of the best tight ends in the country. That is a lot on him.
Physically he’s taken care of himself. He’s stronger, he’s athletic. He can go all day. He’s got great work volume. Again, you see how we utilize him. He’s not running little stick routes and arrow routes. He’s pushing the ball down the field. So I think a lot of the credit is to his mental psyche. In other words, he decided he wanted to be a great player, and he’s certainly shown that.
Q. And final one from me. I’m sure you saw the Schwartz-Harbaugh handshake. You ever have one like that?
COACH KELLY: Harbaugh’s a pretty big guy. I would not have chased him. I can tell you that. I know my limitations. I probably wouldn’t have been that happy about it, but I probably would have gone back in the locker room and said we need to beat them next time.
Q. Manti’s tackle numbers are pretty comparable to last year, but his sacks and tackles for loss are way up. Are you finding ways to use him differently than what did you before?
COACH KELLY: Schematically, maybe a little bit. You’d have to really examine his true tackles for loss. Not all of them are in pressure situations. So slightly in terms of schematics, he’s just around the football. A lot of that is a tribute to his recognition of what’s going on with the play and being a student of the game.
Q. Talk about the crowd noise and what do you expect?
COACH KELLY: I didn’t take it maybe the way some others took it. I know Jack (Swarbrick) was talking to our students, and our students are awesome. I know he knows that as well. But there are some things we don’t have in there that that our kids are used to seeing.
You go to Michigan with jumbotrons and you have music and 115,000 screaming people. You go on the road and you’re involved in those kind of environments. I think it starts with playing good football, myself.
I think we’ve got to get the crowd into it. Play exciting football, and I think those other things will naturally come. I think that all of those things are part of the atmosphere you want to create and the home-field advantage.
I’m sure we’ll look at all of those things closely. It’s not really on my radar right now. It’s more about getting our team ready for USC.
Q. Obviously a big recruiting weekend. Talk about the philosophy of kind of pushing so many players into one weekend?
COACH KELLY: Well, certainly if we could have spread it out over three or four games, we certainly would have done that. I don’t know that our recruits saw some of the other games as exciting as this opportunity. Obviously, if we had the total say on it, we may have spaced it out a little bit better. But it’s a great atmosphere. It’s USC. It’s on primetime television on NBC. So we’re going to do our best to accommodate a number of recruits that we have up here this weekend.
Q. Can we get your perspective on it. How big is this game relative to others, how important is this game relative to others?
COACH KELLY: We talked about that the other day. For us, we’re in a — we want to get into a BCS game. We know what we have to do, and that is we’ve got to win each and every game we play. So every game for us, since going 0-, 2 has been that way. It’s been the same focus for us.
It’s a huge game for us against USC. There is no question about the tradition and the rivalry. But if we beat USC and don’t beat Navy, it doesn’t mean much. So that is the perspective we take.
Q. Do you have thoughts about this being kind of your rivalry game whereas you are frequently a rival for all your other opponents. Given that this is your rival, how does that change things during the week in terms of intensity of the players and the atmosphere? Does it kind of crescendo as the week goes on?
COACH KELLY: You know, you really don’t have to do all those things. The guys know USC-Notre Dame is not a game you need to hype with your players. They recognize that.
So my feelings are that it’s a rivalry because of its tradition and its history. I don’t make too much of it. We don’t sit here and pontificate about the great games that have been played between USC and Notre Dame. They know those things. My job is to prepare our football team to play well on that one Saturday.
Q. Your thoughts on playing a night game at home? It hasn’t happen in here in a long time, are your guys excited for that?
COACH KELLY: We are. There is no question. We’re at home. We’re excited about being on national television. Clearly our players are looking forward to being that one game at night at Notre Dame Stadium. They haven’t experienced anything. So this is a first-time experience. You know, like anybody else, they love those first time experiences.
Q. You guys have worn green a lot in this series. Are you going to do that this Saturday?
COACH KELLY: You know, I haven’t checked with our wardrobe designer. We generally have those conversations on Thursday or Friday. I’ll get back to you on that.
Q. Will you?
COACH KELLY: Not really. (Laughing). I fibbed.
Q. Just a follow-up regarding the recruiting volume this week. Is it an advantage or disadvantage that the game is at night as far as how much time you’re able to spend are the recruits?
COACH KELLY: Well, given the amount of players that are on campus, both official, unofficial, younger, older, playing at night helps us in the management of those meetings that I’ll be able to have. So from that standpoint, it does, in fact, help us.
Most won’t arrive till Saturday, which keeps them here now Sunday through Monday, and that allows us on Sunday to have more time with recruits. Because if they come in Friday, they’re usually out on Sunday. So having that night game allows us a little bit more time with the perspective student-athletes.
Q. Does it in anyway take a little bit away from preparation for the actual game on Saturday?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think each coach, and we’ve had these conversations, each coach feels comfortable with what they can give to the recruiting process in season. I don’t ask for any more.
Some coaches feel very comfortable balancing. As you know, we were out on the west coast prior to the Purdue game. Some coaches feel comfortable with that balance, others don’t. I measure that in what I ask from them, because at the end of the day, the most important thing is our preparation for USC.
Q. I would think during the bye week most coaches are glad to be away from the media, and you were very active. How important is it in your job description to be the face of the program and to be out there both from a recruiting standpoint and head coach?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we started in Memphis on Monday at the Touchdown Club which gives out the annual Academic Achievement Awards. So we started there, and then dove tailed our ESPN trip with recruiting. So I was able to spin both of those.
The most important part of that trip was the recruiting part of it. The ESPN part was outstanding in terms of being able to talk about our football program. I don’t think that that could be understated. But I don’t think I would have gone out to ESPN if I couldn’t have brought it together with recruiting trips as well.
Q. Is that part of the mandate for this position?
COACH KELLY: I think it is. Nobody said it’s in your job description, but it’s clearly part of being able to talk about Notre Dame football. We want to be part of the conversation that you can see what the other schools are doing. The other coach es are out there talking about their programs. So it’s important that that is certainly on our radar.
Q. Calling about Tommy Rees and his development, also specifically in relation to growing up in a football family. His dad, obviously, is a long time coach and scout now in the NFL, and how that may have helped his development?
COACH KELLY: I don’t think you can underestimate that in his development early in the sense that he was not overwhelmed in his true freshmen year. I think we’re seeing in college football where true freshmen get in and sometimes it’s overwhelming. I think being around the game the way he was, he was able to play at Yankee Stadium. He was able to play on the road at USC. He was able to play in those big environments, and still manage his emotions. So I think it has a lot to do with his make up and his development.
Q. Do you have any kind of history with coaching kids whose fathers were also coaches and how does that dynamic work as far as you and dad talking about things and breaking things down?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that there is much talk relative to schematics. I think it’s more of an understanding of the principles necessary to be successful as a football player. Any time I get an opportunity to — for example, I was at ESPN with both the Golic boys, obviously, in our program, talking to Mike. We’re not talking about playing time. We’re talking about how the team dynamics are coming together.
When you have a parent that’s played the game or been around the game, you can have those kind of conversations.
Q. I’m writing a story on trends in uniforms in today’s game. Do you enjoy coaching at an institution like Notre Dame that wears really traditional uniforms? And what is your opinion on the new uniforms being worn at like Oregon and Maryland and the Nike Pro Combat trend?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think you’re obviously doing this a lot because of the young men that are playing the game. Right now we’re in that trendy kind of time as it relates to uniforms.
I think there’s got to be balance. I want a balance. I want to be able to let our kids feel as though they’re part of the mainstream when they see so many of the other teams wearing different uniform looks.
But we don’t want to stray too far away from who we are as well. So I think it’s just a good balance. Not to go too far to one side of it on either end. So staunch that you can’t have a tweak here or there, or yet so crazy that it’s a different look each and every week. I think we’ll continue to strive for some form of balance.