Oct. 4, 2016
University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We will get started with Coach about North Carolina State.
Brian Kelly: You know, obviously the preparation for us this week a little bit better. It was obviously phrenetic last week in terms of trying to get organized defensively. Feel a lot more comfortable in terms of just organization, implementation, where we’re going defensively. There’s certainly a carryover from last week to this week in terms of what we’ll be doing defensively.
This will kind of be that — first week, second week we hope to see a lot of improvement defensively. Like I said, there will be carryover from what we did last week to this week and we will add some things obviously that we feel are appropriate to the game plan. But, you know, I think more than anything else we have a group of guys that are clearly excited about the prospects of where we can go, and we have a challenging schedule in front of us, top-ranked teams coming in over the next few weeks, going on the road here against a very talented North Carolina State football team.
So a lot to play for, a lot in front of us, a lot of challenges, but more importantly a group that I feel is really excited about the direction that we’re going in particular on defense. We hope to build on that. There’s going to be some ups and downs and there will be some growing pains when you play 18 freshmen, redshirt freshmen, in particular you play 11 true freshmen, there will be some of that.
But I told my staff yesterday, and it will probably be the last time that I refer to that, going into now our sixth week, you’re starting to get away from the freshman tag. These guys have been around long enough now that they know what to do. They’re just lacking some experience, but they’ve got to go out and play. If we’re playing them, we trust them. We believe in ’em, and they’re our guys for right now and moving forward into the future.
There’s good energy, very good morale, and like I said, I think it was good from our perspective as coaches that we also were able to feed off of other things on the field. Defensive stops, you know, 20% efficiency for — 80% efficiency on third down, gave our offense a lot of momentum.
Other than the one obviously punt return, game-breaking plays on special teams. We were able to feed off of that. The first time this year there was momentum that other units created for the offense, defense, special teams. So in some ways it was like week one of what you want your football team to look like and it’s now something that they all see that we have to build off of. Now we go on the road against a very talented football team.
The running back, Dayes, is a very, very good back. Quick feet, hits the holes, accelerates, is a senior, guy that week-in and week-out is getting 100 yards rushing. The receiver, Samuels, he’s physical, runs after the catch. Finley is a very efficient quarterback, smart, does a great job of taking care of the football, very good system of offense. They’ve got good players. Very good coaches and good players and they will be playing at home and it will be a very good challenge for our football team.
Q. Brian, has there been any talk between the two schools about an alternative plan if Hurricane Matthew comes climbing up the coast on Saturday?
Brian Kelly: We’ve talked at great length, Commissioner of the ACC has spoken with us about — really everything is on the table right now. We’ve given them a window that we’re available to play this game from 12:00 until noon on Sunday. We feel like anything after noon on Sunday starts to encroach on our ability to prepare for Stanford.
So there is quite a bit of flexibility. We feel like we’ve secured accommodations and flights and such to leave a big window of availability to play this game.
Q. What about moving it earlier? Is there any talk about Friday?
Brian Kelly: There has not been any talk about moving it to Friday. So as we stand right now, there will be another conference call I think at 3:00 this afternoon. I will probably have more information, and if something becomes more definitive we’ll get it to you. But those discussions have already started to take place. I think everything is on the table. One of the things we haven’t talked about is moving the game up.
Q. In terms of your game planning, alternate game plans in case there is a monsoon like Clemson last year?
Brian Kelly: Clemson threw it every down in the fourth quarter. Just try not to turn it over and get too far behind in the game. I think for us it’s always about wind more so than it is about precip. The field conditions we have been told should be, unless it’s unplayable, we should be able to be fine relative to the field conditions. But, you know, we are very good at moving the ball and throwing the football in most conditions, unless the wind becomes, you know, at a point where the ball just can’t be moved through the air. Then we get into formations that we already have in our system and we’ll employ those.
Q. You’ve had earlier in the year Fertitta at your strong safety and Elliott at your free safety on the printed depth chart, I’m not sure if that was reality. It looks like you want to go forward with Fertitta at free safety and Jalen at strong safety. If that’s correct, what led you to that conclusion with those two players?
Brian Kelly: Well, you know, I think we look at — for me this has been an evaluation of our personnel and fitting the defense to our personnel. In not being — again, this is just putting my philosophy, defensive philosophy over the past week spew the defense. I’m always and have always been about play or not play. That’s the same philosophy that we’ve kind of put into our defense. It’s really about the players not the particular scheme. So we’re fitting the players to the scheme not the scheme to the players. So you’re seeing some people move around to fit to the way I want our defense to look.
Q. With Julian Love, when did you start to gain trust in him and what has been able to increase that trust, that he’s become a big part of your defense now?
Brian Kelly: I think for most young players, it’s the learning process and retention. So what they can learn and what they can retain. I think early on it was pretty clear that he was able to pick things up pretty easily and then go back out and retain it later. We knew his athletic ability was not going to be an issue for us. Then I think when we were looking for somebody to play the nickel position.
We had certainly Shaun Crawford pegged at that position, and when we felt like we had to move him outside. We felt like Julian showed in camp his ability to pick things up and that’s when he got a lot more work at that position. Subsequently, and going back to what we talked about with Fertitta, I feel like that position best fits Cole Luke now. So Julian is able now to be a guy that can now go back out to corner and play a little bit more corner. Again, I think it has to do with knowledge and retention.
Q. I’m sure there’s a lot of things that you’re trying to do incrementally with the defense, you couldn’t do it all in one week. In terms of pass rush where did you feel like you are with that? How can you improve that area?
Brian Kelly: Well, there were a number of things that I think we’re going to get a chance to work on and spend some individual time on that I think are going to give Keith the opportunity to work on some specific things. The game as we all know, is, in particular this past weekend, you know, it’s short drops and get the ball out of hand quick and then scramble.
So even when we sacked the quarterback they give him a yard gain, poor Isaac Rochell has been looking for a sack all year and gets a yard gain on what is a sack.
I want to be careful that we don’t get too caught up in the fact that we’re not getting sacks. I want quarterback hurries and I want pressures. So that needs to be the focus. The vocabulary to me in that defensive room is pressures and hurries. If we can do that and play the kind of coverage that I want I’m going to be happy with the kind of pass rush that we get.
Q. You were asked last week about Kizer’s carries. So far for the season he is second in the team in rushing and in carries, almost as many combined as Williams and Hutson. Does that need to change?
Brian Kelly: Does that need to change? No, I don’t think it needs to change. I don’t think he carried the ball but twice in our four-minute drive. We call it a four-minute drive, our four-minute offense when we had the ball for six minutes. I don’t know if he carried it, but he may have not carried it at all in that six-minute drive where we ate up most of the clock in the game.
No, I don’t think that needs to change. He can still be part of our offense. We monitor the carries carefully. I think a couple things have to change that he can’t expose himself to unnecessary hits and we have to be very careful in terms of the run game that we put together that we are not putting him in a position where he has free hits. I think that’s the most important thing.
Q. The run game, you’ve talked frequently over the years about wanting a balanced attack. I think this year it’s one of the least balanced attacks you’ve had, at least production-wise, I think runs account for barely a third of the production. Why haven’t you been able to run more effectively.
Brian Kelly: I don’t know that we see it the same way. I think we throw it very, very well. We’ve been given the opportunity — we miss a couple of open receivers, we throw for 550, 560. I’ve always wanted to throw it equally as well as running, and if you let us throw the football all over the field we’re going to throw it and we won’t run it as much. Are there things we can get better at in the running game? Absolutely.
But we’ve been afforded the opportunity to throw the ball around the field. Teams have wanted to pressure our run game and I think a lot of that has been look at all these young receivers they have, let’s challenge them and teams have and we’ve been up to the challenge. If they want to keep doing that we have to keep proving that we can throw the football, and I think you’ll see that running game come back into more balance.
Q. The one area where it was obvious you didn’t get the production you wanted was the four downs inside the 10?
Brian Kelly: Yeah.
Q. And similar situation with Nevada where I think it was a fumble, those are two cases where you think Notre Dame would be able to lineup and go up the middle, but this past week you went outside every time.
Brian Kelly: Yeah, we scored on a zone read in the opposite end zone, running the ball up inside, if you remember. We chose in that situation based upon what we felt was the best opportunity was to get the ball outside. We felt like we should have scored, if we just took the ball and ran outside but we planted and tried to cut-up inside.
So as I said earlier, there are things we think we can get better at and one of them is trust what we’re calling and take that ball and get it to the perimeter.
Again, we ran that play against Stanford last year and we walk into the end zone. These are part of our offense. They weren’t clearly as productive as we want ’em to be. It’s what we do. We run inside. We run outside, but I think that we’re not getting away from what we do as our core. We just have to execute a little bit better.
Q. Switching gears a little bit, what do you feel confident about this week defensively than you did last week? What are you confident about going into this week?
Brian Kelly: Guys are settled in. They probably have a bigger trust factor and know what to expect. Look, anytime there is a change of that magnitude during the season, everybody wants to, you know, say the right things, but still it’s the proof. I think by the time we got to halftime and the way they played. I think that there was that sense of this is going to work out pretty good. I think there is a bigger trust and understanding in know that go we’re going to be in pretty good shape defensively.
Q. Even if your run game hasn’t been as efficient as you want your play-action pass game has. What do you think about your offense, is it Kizer, the receivers, the way people are playing you that has allowed you to be very effective there?
Brian Kelly: We’re averaging 500 yards a game and 40 points a game. I don’t know how to answer the question other than it’s a give and take, you know, for our offense based upon how teams are playing us. If I was to stand here in front of you at the start of the season and say hay we’re going into the fifth game and averaging 40 points a game I probably would take it and 500 yards in offense.
We’ve got some young players. The right side is still emerging. Alex had a tough day. He’s a first-time starter there. We’ve got three new starters on the offensive line, a bunch of young players on the perimeter, but they’re coming together; and at 40 points a game and 500 yards the numbers don’t lie going into the sixth game. There’s some good production going there, and I’m not trying to turn the question around. There are inconsistencies within our offense that are all about experience and staying with the system and working through ’em.
So when I go into that staff room it’s about drilling deep into specifics and fundamentals that is the core of getting some of the things corrected that I want to get corrected on offense, not big picture.
Q. Is it just like 5% better here as opposed to, like, a missing link somewhere?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, no, I don’t feel that. That’s a better way for me to understand the question. We don’t see a missing link. We see fundamentals not in play in certain instances. And some of it is guys wanting to do too much outside the realm of the offense, and some of it is just the basic fundamentals that sometimes you don’t get with experienced players.
Q. Last week you referenced you’re not going to see a freshman go from 0 snaps to 75 snaps?
Brian Kelly: You got me there!
Q. Troy Pride kinda came close. I was curious, what did he show during the week that he could go from a fringe demo guy to frontline?
Brian Kelly: He impressed me. I really was impressed with him. I wanted to play him. And I thought we should have played him, so I’m making those personnel decisions. We played him a little too much, quite frankly, we played Nicco Fertitta a little too much. He had 90 snaps, more than anybody because he had 18 snaps on special teams.
So we gotta do a better job of balancing those things out from a defensive perspective. Of course we lost Devin early and that changed it up a little bit, but we should have used Avery a little bit more in that situation to save all those snaps.
I was really impressed. His make identify up speed is extraordinary. He’s smart. He wants to play. Those guys are going to play for me. His GPS numbers were good during the week. We got his volume up during the week. I thought he could sustain it, but the final say on this was that I wanted to play him.
Q. Had you watched a lot of him during September when he wasn’t really a factor in the rotation?
Brian Kelly: Yeah.
Q. Did he catch your attention more as a scout team guy against your offense?
Brian Kelly: Yeah. One-on-one, we go one-on-one every day on scout team, and I was like, that guy is as good as the guys we go against week-in and week-out.
Q. What is it about Greg Hudson that he’s endeared himself in such a short period of time to these players to the point where he’s singing the victory March they’re happy for him, and they’ve only known him for a couple of months?
Brian Kelly: Well, I guess you would have to know Greg. He’s high energy, really good with interpersonal communication skills, gets to know all players offense and defense, and just has that kind of, you know, role as well. His role right now is to be the catalyst for enthusiasm. He’s jumping out of the cake at birthday parties, right? He’s the guy! He’s in that role, too. We’ve kind of — I want him to be that guy for us, and so he’s really embraced that and he’s doing a great job for us.
Q. Big picture, personal career question, you came up, you were playing linebacker, you came up as a coach on the defensive side of the ball. When in your career did you see the narrative of becoming an offensive coach take hold?
Brian Kelly: I felt after my second year as coach the head coach should be responsible for the football. There were too many decisions that happen during the game that he needs to be responsible for, and you become a bit detached sometimes when you’re on defense. Time outs, fourth down decisions, field position, you know, those kinds of decisions that happen during the game, it’s hard to do that if you’re not responsible for the football and more focused on the defense than the offense.
Q. Ryan Finley has completed over 70 percent of his passes and he hasn’t turned it over. What’s made him so effective?
Brian Kelly: Good system of offense. I like what they do. He’s smart, doesn’t go outside of what his capabilities are as well. He knows what he can do and he does it well. He’s a veteran player. Doesn’t try to do too much, but does enough to be effective, very effective in what they’re asking him to do. He’s just — they’re a good team, got good players.
Q. Is there anything that Mike Sanford could learn scouting that offense having spent a year with Eli Drinkwitz from Boise?
Brian Kelly: I’ve had so many coaches that know other guys and they think they know, but not really. I mean, everybody — you get enough film at this part of the season that you see enough games — I mean, if it was an opener it could be effective, maybe, a little intel, but at this part of the season you’re going off your film exchange.
Q. I know you will be able to answer this Thursday than today because you haven’t been on the practice field, but do you anticipate Devin making his first career start or might you have McGovern back?
Brian Kelly: I think we will have McGovern back, yeah, I think so.
Q. You used a lot of three-man rush, three-man front and got some pretty good push at times. Did you anticipate that that would happen going into the game? How does this align your thinking as you move forward with your front?
Brian Kelly: I like three-man. I’ve always liked the balance of the three-man front. It will be part of what we do. It won’t be all of what we do. We will mix it in. You know, I think when you’re talk about, in particular, the ability to really get some one-on-one match-ups with those tackles, with hard, inside shades. We were able to push their offensive tackles back. That’s not necessarily going to be the case each and every week, but having the ability to change up where those guys lineup is going to be more effective for us, and I think more than anything else. They were single blocking because we were forcing their guards to go out and protect the edges so I think a lot of one-on-one blocks allowed some of that pressure to occur and when you’re in the three-down because of that “edge” presence that is shown. Those guards have to kick out and it gets you a lot of one-on-one opportunities.
Q. With what NC State does with Samuels, they get him the ball a million different ways, Harmon and Louis, does their style of attack offensively force you to be more aggressive with your secondary than you were last week?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think you have to obviously account for number one. He’s not really a tight end. So we have to treat him differently. We don’t want him matched up in what we would consider “unfavorable” match-up situations. So we first have to check personnel groupings. That’s important to us.
But in answering your question relative to the secondary, we have to be on body. They’re a spot passing team. They’re really good at getting it to opening spaces. They have really good concepts that stress your defense. You can’t be a vanilla coverage team. You have to show them different looks or they’ll just — he’s patient enough he throws it over 70% completion. They’ll just wear you out. You can’t get off the field. I think they’re sixth or seventh in the country in third down efficiency. So, yeah, you just can’t lineup like ducks or you’re going to be on the field all day.
Q. Last season when Equanimeous St. Brown was healthy you told us about his ball skills, and we never saw that in open practices —
Brian Kelly: We don’t give you much action. I don’t know why because I would open the gates every day.
Q. Bertsch again?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, Bertsch!
Q. My question is, what you’re seeing him do now? Obviously that’s what you were seeing that we didn’t have an opportunity to see last year?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I felt like that “W” receiver position is one within our formation makeup, where you have to decide how you’re going to play it. If you want to double it you’re vulnerable to the run. You don’t have an extra fit to the run. If you go single coverage we’re going to throw the ball to him.
So we felt like that was going to be a big position for us and I felt like — and I said this, I think, when we had our first press conference the “W” receiver is going to be crucial to the effectiveness of our offense. I spent a lot of time with him. I knew what he was capable of doing. We really had to in some instances force feed the ball to him in camp, get him a lot of touches, get him a lot of action and build his confidence that he was going to be a big part of what we did. He had early success. He maintained that, and I think we’re start to go see that happen during the season.
Q. As far as Greg Hudson jumping out of a cake which is a scary image, did you determine that role?
Brian Kelly: It would be a big cake, too, by the way!
Q. I know what you’re saying. He determined that? That was his personality? And you rolled with that?
Brian Kelly: No, that’s what I wanted from Greg. I hired him for certainly an experienced defensive coordinator, has coordinated defense, understands the role and what goes with that role. But clearly his personality type, what I was making a change for was to bring in somebody that had that kind of personality. We were making a change.
So clearly I was looking at the type of person he was and the kind of energy that he brings as a change and a departure from where we were.
Q. How did that relationship develop? Did he approach you? How was the relationship developed?
Brian Kelly: He was here a lot in the spring. He was a frequent visitor to our practices, so I got to build a relationship with him during the spring. And as it was apparent that he was not interested in going back in the fall and had an interest here, then that’s when I hired him as an analyst. So he was here quite a bit and was able to see — I was able to see him and observe his work and felt like he brought the right approach to the defense, and he was the perfect, you know, additional piece to the staff that was already in place.
Q. Did he hint at wanting to do that? Did you approach him about it?
Brian Kelly: No, he didn’t bring up anything to me. I called him at 6:30 in the morning and told him to meet me in the office and gave him the news.
Q. Segueing off that, do you see yourself continuing right through this month and even into November taking full charge of the defense overall? Is that something that peace meal you might hand over to Greg?
Brian Kelly: I wouldn’t characterize my — I’m in full charge of everything. I’m responsible for everything, but I have a great staff on the defensive side of the ball that is charged with, you know, the implementation, the organization. I’m there to make certain that the right pieces are put into the puzzle, if you will, and I’m overseeing the personnel, the direction of the defense.
But, you know, to say I’m in charge is — there are many other coaches in that room that are taking a lead role.
Q. I’m just saying more so in practices, you think you will be spending more of your time on that side of the field?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I’m going to be there quite a bit and I would think that’s going to be the case most of the year. There’s just a lot of decisions that still need to be made and quite frankly I need to continue to just see the overall workings of the defense and the personalities and the players. We’re playing a lot of players that I want to continue to evaluate.
Q. We’ve talked about Julian, Troy Pride, but the guy who ended up with the most snaps on defense was another freshman, Donte Vaughn?
Brian Kelly: He had the most up in the corners, right.
Q. The fact that he began showing in previous weeks, the interception against Duke what have you seen in him at 6-2, 6-3 he’s got that range that you don’t often see in a corner but apparently the hip flexibility. What has enabled him to become so effective so fast that you have such confidence for that many snaps?
Brian Kelly: Obviously he’s a unique player in that he has, you know, the size and the flexibility to play that position. He’s not afraid. He’s not afraid to play. And I think that there were times that we were probably a little bit too far over the top in coverage in his instances, but he’s going to be a really good tackler, and he’s got really good ball skills. So for a guy that’s long, fluid, athletic, he’s not afraid, and he’s going to play the ball well in the air and tackle. All those things are really, really good traits to have as a 6-2 corner.
Q. Were you originally thinking that he might be more of a safety, that ball blocking safety on the back end?
Brian Kelly: Look, I wasn’t involved in a lot of the conversations. I didn’t recruit him to be a safety. I thought he could be a corner and I’m glad he’s at corner. He’s not going to safety. He’s not a safety, he’s a corner.
Q. With a couple of other freshmen, with Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara, what do you see for their futures? Are they outside linebackers in the 3-4?
Brian Kelly: They’re going to be hybrid players. They’re guys that are going to eventually be big enough to do both. They’ll be that speed end and that rush player that will be able to do both for us. Jamir can play outside linebacker for us as well. He’s skilled enough to play Sam, but you should see them run down the field kickoff team. They’re down there. Pretty fun to watch those guys reply.
Q. Is Daelin somebody you can see bulking up to 270 range, or did you want to keep him where he’s at?
Brian Kelly: He’s a solid 245 right now, 246, and he didn’t lift at all because of his shoulder. He’s going to be a 260-pound guy playing next year, easily. So I could see him being in the 270 range. He’s going to be a big hybrid.
Q. So with either Julian or Devin they are guys you don’t want to pigeon hole —
Brian Kelly: They don’t have to be. They’re athletic enough to get in space they can put their hand down and come off the edge, really, they can take a tackle on and not get reached. So they’ve got some unique skills that we like and the ability to play three down and four down.
Q. You guys have had a lot of success recruiting Carolina since you’ve been here. Wondering if that’s changed at all with the ACC affiliation getting more exposure in those states?
Brian Kelly: No, I think we’ll still be along the coast. That’s not a change at all for us. Obviously we just talked about Julian, right? Romeo and Julian, both coming from Charlotte area, I think that’s been a really good place for us and I think it will continue to be. So I don’t see that changing anytime. It’s still a growing area, still an area that we’ve had half success in and South Carolina with Troy Pride obviously. So just this past year we’re playing two true freshmen on our defense that are from North Carolina and South Carolina.
Q. You kind of touched on this with various freshmen and you have so many playing, but I don’t know if there are specific moments that you can share that made you realize that these guys were actually ready to step on the field?
Brian Kelly: Actually ready. I would like ’em all to be fourth year juniors, you know? Look, I think more than anything else, each one of ’em has different traits, but they all came here wanting to play. I think that that, to me, more than anything else, is a matter of confidence and belief. They all believe they can play. They’re all confident in their ability.
To me, that’s half the battle, and then it’s getting them ready relative to the speed of the game, the techniques necessary, and then just understanding game plan from week-to-week. But they came here ready to play in their own mind and I think that goes through our recruiting and understanding that when you come to Notre Dame, we don’t have any redshirt seniors. We got two of them, Scott Daly and Mark Harrell. We got two. Couple weeks ago we played a team with 15 red shirt seniors, and Stanford is going to have 17 or 19. We just don’t have many of ’em. So they gotta be ready to play early.
Q. Would you like to be able to have more red shirts?
Brian Kelly: I would love to have 20 of ’em. It just doesn’t happen here. These kids get their degrees early and, you know, they move on to — if they’re not playing they move on to another school or Wall Street or the NFL.
Q. Pardon me for not knowing this, but when was the last time you had this many freshmen playing?
Brian Kelly: I can’t remember every playing this many freshmen. Is it a record? Yeah. If you need any questions answered Mr. Hansen is in the front seat.
Q. Coach, you talked about the D line playing more three-man fronts and you calked last week about the desire to get more players on the field. Does more of a three-man look give you more versatility for where you can play guys, maybe not as strong side, three-technique type situations?
Brian Kelly: Yes.
Q. Has that factored into why you are making the change or you just like that “look” better?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think there’s more than just one answer to that. I think it gets you more guys on the field, because there’s the ability to use more players in the three-down look that fit the three down and it also, from a structure standpoint fits my eye. So it’s twofold. It gets more guys on the field that I want to see out there that can help us win, and it’s a structure that I like in certain situations. So it’s both of those.
Q. Along the same lines, you seem to do more attacking with your front, even when you were just doing three-man pressures and dropping 8, getting to the edge, guys doing double moves. That was a Syracuse adjustment? Is that something you guys plan to do moving forward out of these looks?
Brian Kelly: We will be in much more movement up front.
Q. You talked after the so Syracuse game about flipping defensive back technique, is that also more of a full-time change that you’re going to see from those guys? And second part, what advantage does that give you kinda making those alterations? Schematically, what are you guys trying to get out of those adjustments?
Brian Kelly: Well, it’s the way I want our defense to look, based upon who the personnel is. We’re playing a lot of young players. I don’t want to put ’em in positions where I don’t believe that they can have the most success, and I think it fits what I want to be able to do with the fronts. The fronts have to match the coverages.
So we’re doing different things up front with our fronts, so this is an extension of the coverages matching the fronts. So when you’re changing things up, in the fronts, then there needs to be that natural connection to what you’re doing in the back end. That’s why you’re seeing some alterations in the back end of the defense. Those two things combined. I want to get guys on the field that I think can help us and compete, and I want to put them in what I believe their strengths are and their best — what they do best. So that means maybe adding a coverage or deleting a coverage. So those three things are all why you’re seeing different things.
Q. Every year you see a team who is struggling on one side of the ball and a coach will get in front of the media and say we have got to start playing with more fire and passion and things like that. Very rarely does it change and change as quickly as it did for you guys on Saturday. What was it about your preparation that allowed your team to turn that button up quickly?
Brian Kelly: You know, I don’t — all I can tell you is we coached our kids and we were honest with them. We put ’em in a position where I felt they could succeed and we let ’em play. I effectively told them you don’t have anything to prove to me. Just go play. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody else. Just go play the game and enjoy it and play fast and just follow the instructions that we’re trying to give you and go play. I think that they went out there and they played and we’re far from perfect. There were a lot of things that we didn’t do correctly, but we’ll get those cleaned up. I think for the first time they just played and that’s what they gotta keep doing.
Q. Brian, I wanted to ask you about the change you made like with Cole Luke going to the nickel. The veteran players during that transition period, even though it was just a day or two, did they give you input?
Brian Kelly: I asked Cole, and Cole immediately said, Coach, I think I can help us at nickel. I felt like he could. He’s savvy. He’s smart, man. He was in great position under — he forced two or three balls that you wouldn’t normally see that were thrown poorly because of his underneath coverage. We hadn’t had that in a while where he was just in really good position in underneath coverage. He got caught on a couple of bluffs, but he did some really good things for his first time there. He’s just a smart kid. He’s always had to be smart. He’s not a blazer, and he brought a lot of experience and intellect. It was enjoyable for me to talk to him on the sideline and get really good feedback in terms of what was going on and be able to make the adjustments with him. So he was one of those guys that said, hey, I think I can help us here.
Q. During the game there was celebration going on to the sidelines and there was a lot of it on the field that harken back to the really good teams we’ve had here over the years, you see guys get up and congratulate each other on the field. Looked like Daniel Cage was engaged. Looked like some of the guys were like, “Yeah” and it’s great to see that evolution. It’s good that the coach wants to congratulate me, too. But I got you and you got me and seemed like there was more of that going on.
Brian Kelly: We will see how that goes. It was good last week. We got another really good team we’re playing this week and we just have to understand that it’s hard to win, just look at college football. Offense are allowed to do a lot, it’s cheating on offense right now. We’re playing with a lot of young, inexperienced players and we’re averaging 40 points and 500 yards. It’s crazy! It’s hard. There are so many things that put you in conflict on defense.
As I’ve gotten to spend more time on defense it’s hard, and so you’ve got to have something else going for you and that is you’ve got to have trust. You’ve got to have a belief. You’ve got to enjoy playing. You’ve got to have energy! If you don’t have those special ingredients playing on defense, you’re in trouble. You’re in big trouble! If you look around college football right now, there’s some great programs giving up a lot of points. There are some really good players on those defenses.
So it’s more than just scheme. It’s more than just how many stars you got next to them. You’ve got to have other things going for you, and we’re not going to lose that again.
Q. The freshmen defensive backs I remember on Signing Day you and everyone thought four to five of the seven would play this year. When you mention players believing they can come in and play immediately, does it help reinforce that when you as coaches are able to say on Signing Day you guys are going to play that early to kind of reinforce it and help them grow over — or I guess come to campus more ready to play?
Brian Kelly: I think I probably would say more so that we’re truly going to give you a chance to compete for playing time. Regardless of whether you’re a freshman or a senior, we’re going to play who we believe have the guys that are going to help us win.
If you look across both sides of the ball, those guys are going to get a chance. If you’re a senior, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the starter. We’re going to give you a chance to compete. I think that’s probably more important than anything else when you come to Notre Dame.
Q. Seems like every recruit expects to play their first year when they sign, but to come in knowing that the coaching staff is saying it that early can that change their mentality from day one going forward?
Brian Kelly: I can tell you that I clearly vet out with the recruit, what is he thinking? What’s his thought process? Because I don’t want any misunderstandings. When a young man comes here, hey, I thought I was going to sit the first year, or, you know, I was under the impression that I was this or that.
So there’s clear transparency in that, because the last thing you want is somebody that comes here, and, I don’t know, something was said in the process before I got into the closing of it, and I wasn’t aware of it. So there is pretty clear communication between me and the family and the prospect relative to that before there is a final commitment.
— ND —