Oct. 6, 2015
University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference
Irish head coach Brian Kelly: Good afternoon. Preparing for Navy is a very difficult chore. Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job, obviously, in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak. He’s developed not only his offense to the point where they compete nationally — I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top 25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.
We all know about individually Keenan Reynolds, what he has accomplished in NCAA Football. We certainly don’t want him to get the record although it’s a great achievement. If he’s to get that record, they’re going to have a great day here, and we can’t afford for him to do that.
We know we’ve got our hands full to stop a very potent offensive attack. Coach does a great job of utilizing multiple formations, multiple looks in running their offense. Obviously, the quarterback has played against us for four years. We’re very aware of him and have a great deal of respect for the naval academy and what they represent.
Again, defensively a team that I think has just gotten better and better from a defensive standpoint. So our guys understand the challenge. Should be a great football game and one we’re certainly looking forward to getting back out on the field and getting a “W” here at Notre Dame Stadium.
With that, open it up for questions.
Q. Brian, you talked Sunday about talking to the captains about the goals moving forward. How confident are you that a one-loss Notre Dame team can make the playoffs?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know, but we do know what we can control, and that is winning each week. So what we really talked about is we have no margin for error, and we have to pay attention to every detail. It was really about the focus of this group is one week at a time. Each game is the biggest and most important game we play and really focusing on that. Isn’t concern yourself with big picture. You really have to focus on one week at a time, and that was really the conversation.
Q. And a year ago, you found yourself in a similar position, coming off a tough loss at Florida State playing Navy. What could you accomplish now that you’re in better shape — obviously, last year injuries caused the problem, but you have injuries already. What makes you confident that this season you’re better prepared to continue on the way you’re going?
COACH KELLY: I think that’s a different team, last year’s team, this year’s team, leadership is different, the players are different. We’ll be at home. We have to travel back on the road to Arizona State last year. So being at home certainly makes a big difference, not having to travel. Certainly a different makeup of this group from a leadership standpoint.
I think just the circumstances and the team is different from last year’s team.
Q. And Joe Schmidt had a good game against Georgia Tech. I think he had a good game last year. What allows him to be a good middle linebacker against the option?
COACH KELLY: I think — first of all, Joe’s built for that inside out game and physically is strong. He can take on a guard. He’s very aware of how to play the option. But I think, more than anything else, he’s built for that inside out game that you have to play when you’re talking about stopping the fullback and then working your way out to the quarterback.
I think a true middle linebacker enjoys these types of games more so than maybe the spread of being displaced a little bit out of the box and have to worry about covering down and then coming back in. So I think these are games that true middle linebackers really enjoy.
Q. And how much of an advantage is this for Navy that they see what you did against Georgia Tech? Does it make it harder? Do you have to come up with a totally different plan or make slight changes?
COACH KELLY: I think there’s advantages on both sides. Certainly, they’re going to look at the plan we had and dissect that and look at things they can do to attack it. On the other hand, our guys are able to lock out yesterday and line up in our defense and know their keys and know what to do relative to option.
We hit the ground running yesterday. We were able to work on maybe some of the nuances that you can’t work on when you’re just trying to figure out how to line up. So I think that there’s certainly some things that we’re going to have to tweak a little bit, but I can tell you that I’d much rather have already have played Georgia Tech and played an option offense than not have played any.
Q. And a little off topic, this past week on Saturday, two teams had players tweeting out during games. Wondering if you have any rule about that, and is there any rule as far as players having their phones at halftime or during the game at all?
COACH KELLY: We prohibit the use of cell phones, and certainly at any time during a game they are not to be used. That is a rule within the program. Relative to our players, they do have them with them because they listen to music on the bus. They’ll even use music in the locker room. So we’re aware that they have them, but they know they can’t be on their phones at any time when we’re together as a football team when we put our uniforms on.
Q. Did someone monitor in the game to make sure that no one tweets anything?
COACH KELLY: We check — we have somebody that checks Twitter for our players. Nobody’s assigned to Twitter during the game, though we have a few people that are watching Twitter actively during the games because we have a lot of things going on during the games as well.
Q. Torii Hunter had a really productive night on Saturday night. I recall you saying maybe two weeks ago he’s one of those guys that’s kind of waiting for an opportunity, and if he got it, you thought he might be able to break out. What have you seen the last couple of weeks that led to you believe that? And what’s the next step for him, and how does he get more time on the field?
COACH KELLY: Honestly, I don’t think it’s been just the last couple of weeks. It’s been all preseason camp. I think he’s done the things necessary for him to be a feature player within our offense. I think it’s just been a matter of getting his chance and his opportunities.
Amir is playing at that position, so he’s sharing a position more so than, say, Will, where Will is out there playing 95 percent of the snaps. So I think it’s just getting his opportunities, and when he gets them, making the best of them. He clearly at that position had many more opportunities based on the way coverages were being dictated in that particular game.
But just to finish, I don’t think it’s been something over the last couple of weeks. This is something that we really saw in him, and it was coming along even through spring and summer.
Q. What are some of the particular things you think he does really well?
COACH KELLY: First of all, he catches the ball really well. He’s a very smart player. He’s savvy. He can run after the catch. So I think he possesses all of the tools. There’s different tools a receiver has. He’s physical at the point of contact when he blocks. Again, the little things that you look for, I think he’s got a good sense of the game, football savvy, and then he’s got speed and the ability to run after the catch.
Q. What sort of response do you think is necessary from your team after last Saturday? Have you seen it so far?
COACH KELLY: The response is to win. That’s the response that we’re looking for. To win football games, you have to start fast, which we did not. There has to be an attention to detail, which certainly we were missing that at times. We got great effort, and we finished strong. So we were missing two of the four real key components that I’ll be looking for for this weekend. As long as we have those four key components, I’ll take a win by one. That would be fine with me. We need those four key components. That’s what I’ll be looking for.
Q. Do you notice in them that there’s a sour taste? Are they still upset? Do you not let them be? Do they just have to get over it?
COACH KELLY: I think everyone is disappointed in losing a game where we know that we caused a lot of the issues in the game. Certainly, Clemson is a very good football team. They played well. But we know we didn’t play our very best. We’re accountable for that. Everybody, players and coaches alike.
So we got to move on. We know what we need to do better. We look forward to doing that this weekend.
Q. When you play Navy and you look at them on film, how true are they week to week offensively to what they did the week before? Are they running things out of different formations?
COACH KELLY: Ken is incredible in terms of the formations. What they do that is different from Georgia Tech is formations. A myriad of formations. I mean, too many to count. Now, their base is triple option. They’re going to operate out of their base, and there will be counter option, and there will be lead toss. The tenets of triple option is the base, and they’re going to throw the football, and there’s going to be some gadget plays within it.
But it’s formationing you in so many different ways that you have to look at all of those things and get into the right defensive looks because it becomes a numbers game if you’re not in the right defensive alignments.
Q. Given the fact that I think only 6 of the 46 points in the Clemson game were scored when that team was going into the wind and the rain, how did you take away from your offensive line’s performance? Because, again, they were probably facing some tilted defenses when you were at the disadvantage weather-wise.
COACH KELLY: Well, it was a game where it was going to be very difficult to run the football, and Clemson, that was their plan. They had plenty of time to define what they wanted to do defensively, and they made a concerted effort of making sure that there was going to be an extra player involved in the run game. Give them credit for it. That’s what they wanted to do, and they stuck with it.
I thought our guys responded by giving us plenty of time to throw the football. We didn’t catch it as well as we needed to, and we probably had some opportunities to throw the ball to the open receiver that we missed, but there was enough there to win the game. So the offensive line provided us the opportunity necessary for us to win the game. We didn’t get all 11 players playing at the level necessary for us to win the game at the very end.
Q. And can you talk about C.J. Prosise’s reaction to being hit at the line of scrimmage so much, yet at the end of the game in the passing game, he was a big part of that? Just talk about his demeanor during the game and how he reacted.
COACH KELLY: Very well. He’s one of those players that’s going to do exactly what you ask him to do. If you ask him to be a pass catcher out of the backfield, he’s certainly going to do that, and he feels comfortable doing it.
As for tackles behind the line of scrimmage, some of them were certainly Clemson getting a great push up front, some of them where we could have done a better job relative to play calling and when we called certain plays. We put in some schemes that we needed to do a better job just coordinating at the time we put them in. So I think a little bit of coaching in that regard and probably a little bit of inexperience at running back contributed.
I wouldn’t put it all on the offensive line. I think some of it contributed to it, but some of it, a little bit better coaching, a little bit better experience at the running back position — I think all of those things together kind of equaled some of the TFLs.
Q. Max didn’t play against Georgia Tech the last time. He’s in a different place, I would assume, this week. Without Drew, does it make sense to have Max part of your defensive package this week?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, Max will start. As I mentioned in our teleconference, played his best game since he’s been here. He was physical, double digit tackles, was our highest point producer, played the kind of football — and that’s the bar. What we have to have from Max is a consistency from week to week. We brought him in, and we talked about that. That’s the kind of football he’s capable of, and we need to see that kind of performance week in and week out.
He played very well against Navy last year, and we expect a similar performance on Saturday.
Q. Just overall five games in, how would you evaluate your run defense?
COACH KELLY: I think our front seven is good. I think we’ve got a good front seven. Our safeties played very well against a Clemson team. We’ve got to get continuously better and better at the quarterback position.
Q. What do you find in the week following a loss, practice week following a loss is your biggest challenge generally to get the team refocused? Especially after a primetime loss like that one.
COACH KELLY: I don’t think that there will be much problem today. We started already yesterday. After we meet on Monday and talk about the game and watch it and go through the film, we put it behind us. We have 24 hours to lament it and talk about what we could have done and the should haves and the could haves, and we have a pretty frank discussion about things we need to do better both as a staff and as players. And then we go back to work.
Navy presents a very difficult challenge. We cannot let Clemson beat us twice. So we’ve got to get to work, and our kids went right back to work yesterday.
Q. Aside from the fact that they’re good opponents, does it actually help a little you are playing a better opponent?
COACH KELLY: Sure. They’ve been in many, very difficult challenges with Navy, last year, the year before. They know what challenges are in front of us playing a member from the naval academy and how they compete for four quarters is like no other team that you play.
Q. Can you talk about Navy’s defense? I think their offense has been good since you’ve been here. But really their “D” the first year and before you got here was a quality defense. Obviously, it was best the first year, but what have you seen?
COACH KELLY: It reminds me of year one in 2010. Scout inside with tackles. Athletic off the edge and experienced corners and safety play. It’s just a veteran defense. They play smart. They know what their strengths are. They know what their weaknesses are. It’s a very smart, well coached group.
Q. Brian, is there anything you can take away from 2011 or 2013 when you played multiple option teams in a season? After you come off Georgia Tech to play Navy.
COACH KELLY: Well, the system is different from — it was Air Force and Army, and the systems are a little bit different. These are a little bit more similar in the sense that they’re both true triples, and the quarterbacks are very similar. So the game records are both at the quarterback position. They necessarily weren’t that at Air Force and at Army. They were at some different other positions.
So this is the challenge that we face is the quarterback in both instances with Georgia Tech and Navy. But it’s still assignment football in all cases. It’s still having players that recognize and understand how important it is to play option football, and it’s different than what they practice all the time.
The similarities are more than what they’re dissimilar, but I’d say Georgia Tech and Navy are probably as similar as any option teams we’ve played.
Q. Switching gears a bit, Ronnie Stanley went out for the coin toss. Can you just clarify what he’s allowed to do or not allowed to do in terms of captain, whether it’s for the game or for the season or of that nature?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, just he doesn’t have the designation of a captain here at Notre Dame.
Q. Is he a game captain presumably then?
COACH KELLY: For the coin toss? Did he go out for the coin toss?
Q. Yes, that’s what I meant.
COACH KELLY: I wasn’t aware of it. He’s allowed to go out for a coin toss. It doesn’t designate him as a captain.
Q. Injuries, Luatua and Quenton, where are they this week?
COACH KELLY: Luatua has been cleared for contact. He’ll go through contact. We’re going to keep Quenton in a boot today. We’ll take the boot off tomorrow and start running him. He improved dramatically from not running that ankle around over the last 36 hours — or less than 36 hours now. Our protocol is any type of high ankle sprain, we like to get you in a boot, keep it immobile. He’s not a wide receiver, so we feel pretty confident we can get him back, but we’ll see how he responds tomorrow when we start moving him around.
Q. After an injury, he still played quite a bit.
COACH KELLY: He did.
Q. With a high ankle sprain.
COACH KELLY: That’s pretty good.
Q. Does it speak to his pain tolerance?
COACH KELLY: I think it speaks to his pain tolerance and the position in which he plays. I don’t think he could have operated quite as well on the perimeter.
Q. With the receiver position with Corey struggling a little bit, do you — can you or would you work hunter in there more? Could you even go to Browner, or is he strictly behind Will right now and not in a position to play multiple roles?
COACH KELLY: Those are all feasible. Those are all reasonable thoughts. Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday. I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.
Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make. So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.
Q. On the topic of starting fast, if you knew how to trigger that every time, this would never be an issue. You would have all the answers, and you’d be up 14-0 at the end of every first quarter.
COACH KELLY: Which we pretty much have been all year.
Q. When it doesn’t happen, are there any signs going into it? Or does it just happen, and then you have to find new buttons to push? I guess I’m asking, is there anything you would see, well, this is a sign this might happen today?
COACH KELLY: Well, there’s a couple of things. And, again, it’s all hindsight, and some of it’s conjecture. That was a fast offense, and it took us a while to kind of settle into it. Coming off playing a good team in UMass and an option team, we then saw very, very fast and athletic Clemson team, and it took us a little while to acclimate ourselves, quite frankly. By the time we got up off the canvas, it was 14-0. We did acclimate ourselves to play very, very good defense the rest of the way. Now, who knows if we don’t have a 15-yard punt, it’s 14-0, I can’t say.
We started slow. Is it the hour and 15 minute bus ride we’re not used to taking prior to the game? I don’t know, but we did start slow. Believe me, we look at everything when it comes to those things. We can’t have slow starts. Our guys know what the mantra is. They know how important it is to get off to a fast start. If we get off to slow starts, we’re going to be in trouble in every game that we play.
Q. Last year for the first month and a half, you switched around some of the offensive line personnel. I was wondering if for a running back, does it help to be running behind the same size guys in spring ball this year?
COACH KELLY: Well, I would say normally, yes, it would, but in our situation with a first year running back in C.J. Prosise and two freshmen, I don’t think they even know their numbers. So they’re just really finding themselves at their own position per se, and they — they are so focused on their own job and making sure that they’re assignment correct and they’re trying to do everything that they can to be good at their position.
I would say it probably means a little bit more to a guy like Folston, who knows how some guys are going to take on a particular block and how they’re going to work. But the three guys that we’ve got back there right now, they’re really focused on doing their job.
Q. Generally speaking, is that something a veteran running back will kind of build a connection with the offensive line? I guess similar to that kind of subconscious connection between the quarterback and receiver, when you have enough reps together, they understand where a lineman might block, how many steps he takes? Is there any connection?
COACH KELLY: I don’t think it’s personally individual in a sense as much as it is the whole unit and how the particular scheme is set up. So I think it’s recognition of the scheme more so than Quenton Nelson trap blocks a little bit different than Alex Bars. I don’t think it’s about that. I think it’s about I have a trap block in front of me, and this is how I have to react as a running back. Does that make sense?
Q. Yes. And I was wondering, last one, can you talk about the communication between the offensive linemen and maybe the difference you’re seeing between this year and last year? Something we can’t necessarily see on film but maybe something you can see from field level.
COACH KELLY: I think we’re working a second quarterback in. So there’s a change there. Our issues relative — we didn’t communicate much at all. We were in silence the whole game. Mike’s got a hold of his water, Mike McGlinchey was tipping back out of his stance. We think one time he faded offsides, but that’s the way it goes.
And then we did manage the 25 second clock. I don’t know if you were referring to penalties or — in general communication, the quarterback is communicating simply with the offensive linemen, and then he’s changing protections or changing plays. I thought DeShone did a terrific job of getting us in the right protections, communicating with the offensive line in a very loud environment.
Q. Question pertaining to the Showtime adventure that’s going on. After a loss, a lot of times there’s a lot of comments, a lot of chirping and stuff. It seemed like almost to a person, the people you talked to after the game — Chris Brown is a great kid. I saw that on the Showtime. They’ve gotten to know the kids a little bit better through the Showtime experience, and it seems like everyone is a little more understanding. I know, as you said, you talked to players about certain things in the game. Did you find there’s a little more positive attitude towards the whole thing because they’re getting to know some of the kids and seeing them in different environments?
COACH KELLY: I really haven’t thought about it in those terms. I think, when we entered into this agreement with Showtime, it was here’s who we are, you can take a look at it and make your own observations. If you like us, you like us. If you don’t, you don’t. You’ll have your own opinion.
I think Chris Brown is a great kid. I’m not surprised that people would formulate those opinions. He needs to catch the darn ball when we throw it to him, but that doesn’t make him a bad kid. He’s a great kid.
That’s how we feel about all of our guys. We think we’ve got good kids that like to compete. We just — we think we just want to show truly who we are. We’re competitors. We want to represent Notre Dame in a positive way both on and off the field.
Q. I wanted to ask you about your tie. I don’t think that’s by accident. Is that pink? It is breast cancer awareness month. I can’t tell, is it pink or not?
COACH KELLY: This is about as Notre Dame as we can get today.
Q. Blue and gold?
COACH KELLY: I wore a pink shirt last week, but this is gold and Blue representing Notre Dame today. It is breast cancer awareness week, and I appreciate you bringing that up. This has been a big week for our foundation, and my wife’s work with pocky’s playbook. She’s been out playing golf and been out doing a little bit of everything in the community. I haven’t seen her in about three weeks.
I saw her last night. She said she couldn’t walk after the Zumba. Was anybody at Zumba? Eric? (Laughter.) Thanks for asking about Zumba. Next question, please.
Q. When Brian VanGorder came in, there was that anticipation of perhaps more forceful defense. Last eight games, they’ve forced only six turnovers and never more than one in a game. Is that a point of emphasis, or are you looking first for just fundamentals? Because at some point, turning the game around maybe with a turnover or two, flipping the field besides just with the punting game might aid the defense overall.
COACH KELLY: No question that turnovers are something that, when you’re playing defense, you’re always talking about and preaching and really trying to indoctrinate your players into getting those turnovers. But you’ve got to be in the right place. You’ve got to tackle well. You’ve got to do the fundamentals right first before you start getting those turnovers.
Just being aggressive by nature doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get the turnovers that you’re looking for. I know what we do in practice. We’re working at stripping the ball. We actually changed our practice format this year where we actually thud our backs, where we come up and put our shoulder into the back, and that’s something that I hadn’t done in probably 15 years to prepare our backs for getting hit when we go against our defense, and so we can have good tackling and work at the next guy stripping the ball.
So we’re working at it. Sometimes you just have to have some of those play makers get in there and make those kinds of plays.
Q. Cornerback position was considered maybe one of your stronger areas. What do you specifically want to see improve there to enhance the overall defense?
COACH KELLY: Consistency from Cole. He makes a great play at the end of the game and sees the ball and he’s in great position. We just need more consistency from Cole. He does some really good things. We just need to see that on a more consistent basis.
And KeiVarae works so hard in practice. We just need to see that translate itself into games. It hasn’t got there yet. We think maybe the year off has been a bit of a transition for him, but he works so hard in practice. The want to and the desire is there. We think there’s going to be that breakthrough for them.
Q. You mentioned DeShone in protections. What allows a quarterback, who only has three career starts, to be that successful in getting the protections right?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s where we start with our quarterbacks and the development of our quarterbacks when they come in is they have to learn protections first because I won’t put them on the field until they learn how to protect themselves. So it’s in our teaching methodology, first, and then acumen. He has a great understanding of the game and how protections work.
So in the recruiting process, you’re looking for somebody that’s going to have that IQ, that football IQ that can pick those things up. So when they come up and we spend time with them and we bring them into meetings, we’re asking questions about those types of things. If we’re not getting a good connection relative to some of the questions we’re asked, that may not be the right fit for us. So he had all those things coming in, and we just worked and developed them.
Q. He showed a little more escape ability than we had seen in the last couple of games. I think there’s a play where there’s an unblocked blitz coming off the field side, and he evaded them and picked up 20-something yards in that. What did he show you about that ability against Clemson?
COACH KELLY: Well, first of all, he’s a big kid. He’s 230 pounds. He’s 6’5″. People don’t realize how big he is. If you don’t take him on the right way, he’s going to be able to get out of it. I think one — and I know which one you’re talking about, but one that’s a better illustration is that our running back didn’t pick up a blitzer off the edge. He shook that off and threw a completion to the right-hand side. That, to me, was even more impressive that he could keep his eyes downfield on an unblocked blitzer, shake it off, and throw the football. Those things, can’t teach him. Just has that ability to do those kinds of things within the pocket.
We always thought he had the escape ability, but he can do a little bit more than that.
Q. 15 carries, you talk about a red line with C.J., but is there a red line for a quarterback?
COACH KELLY: Those carries are misrepresented in that those were scrambles. Actual called runs were 4. So we don’t need 15 — we don’t need 11 scrambles, that’s for sure.
Q. Brian, on kickoff return, you’ve got three possibilities listed on the depth chart. How will you make that decision this week?
COACH KELLY: We’ll keep practicing this week, keep working on it, and then probably make a decision on Thursday, which is our last special teams day, where we go through all of our special teams. Generally Thursday is our day that we make that final decision. So I’ll probably make it on Thursday.
Q. And then with Reynolds and Swain, they have played together so much in that backfield, do you see a lot of that collaboration and cohesion between them and the way they move as they run that option?
COACH KELLY: Absolutely. It’s as good as there is out there. That’s why they’re so successful and very, very difficult to stop. He can pull that ball out as late as anybody on the read and triple option. So you have to be really good against them, and nobody’s been good enough over the last eight games that they played. That’s why they’re a difficult team to defend.