Oct. 20, 2013

Recap | Final Stats | Notes | Photo Gallery

Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly

COACH KELLY: Exciting football team, great one, USC, Notre Dame, right down to the end. Really proud of our football team. We battled and mentally and physically continued to play every play, and that’s what we ask for them. That’s what I expect from our group is to keep competing regardless of what happens in the game.

We turn the ball over and we just keep playing. Late in the game when most would succumb to that, it doesn’t faze our group, they just keep playing and keep competing, and that’s really what’s special about this group. They just keep playing.

They found a way to win the game. Our defense was outstanding in the second half and gave us the chance to win the football game. Great win, one that obviously when it comes to beating USC will go a long way with our guys. With that I’ll open it up to questions.

Q. Do you feel like the defense is a lot closer to finding that identity you’ve been talking about for most of the season?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think we saw a great pass rush when we needed it. We played a lot of players. A lot of freshmen were on the field. I looked up one time and I was like, man, we’ve got a lot of guys out here. And they were just making plays, playing hard, competing. Romeo is out there, and you’ve got Butler and Luke and Joey Schmidt, you’ve just got a lot of guys, Max Redfield played today. Good to see all those guys and all of them contributing in some fashion. I think we’re really starting to get that confidence that maybe at times we were lacking, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Q. Initial word on Tommy?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, he had a neck strain. He got hit, and they wanted to bring him in for more observation. He’s really sore. We’ll know more as we kind of move through the next 24, 48 hours.

Q. Is there any kind of way to predict or what kind of prognosis there is for that kind of thing?

COACH KELLY: No, he’s a little sore tonight, right now, but he’s clear and talking, and just got a chance to talk to him. He was able to talk after the game. But he’s pretty sore right now.

Q. And just with Andrew running the offense, what can you do there? What were you maybe limited with or what happens when he jumps in the action?

COACH KELLY: We’ve got to play better, flat out. You guys watched it, I watched it. He’s got to play better, and we’ll see where we are obviously in the next 24 to 48 hours when we get a full eval on Tommy.

Q. Getting back to the defense the way they played, given they were under duress a lot, starting drives and you got territory, a lot of times

COACH KELLY: Yeah, you’ve got to look at special teams. We were undisciplined in punt coverage. We were actually just overactive, out of our lanes, really trying to squeeze the football too hard and got the ball outside of us on a couple of occasions. We’ve got to do a better job there. So special teams really put our defense in some tough situations. Obviously the fumble put us in a tough situation. Kickoff return, as well.

So our defense just kept battling, and again, like I said, that’s just the way our guys compete here at Notre Dame. They keep playing every single day, and they don’t really care about where they were on the field, they just play the next play.

Q. Going back to Andrew, would you have gone to Malik had Andrew had to come out for a play or had he got banged up?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I don’t want to get into those hypotheticals at this point.

Q. How important is the performance of Jaylon Smith so far this season, and what expectations do you have of him in the future?

COACH KELLY: Well, he’s very important to our defense. He sets the edge of our defense, which as you know is so important in the 3 4 defense. He’s athletic, great interception. He’s playing man to man coverage down the field on a pretty talented player. He’s bringing pressure. He’s a pretty special player. Not a lot of guys like that in the country as true freshmen. Expectations will be that he continues to grow and continues to develop and continues to sharpen his craft at that position.

Q. This being your first Notre Dame team that you’ve recruited yourself, how important is this win, beating USC here at Notre Dame Stadium?

COACH KELLY: Are you saying this being the first win for me at Notre Dame Stadium?

Q. Well, with the whole group that you recruited starting from the freshmen.

COACH KELLY: You know, I really hadn’t looked at it that way as much as just we talked more about wanting to beat our rival. Whether it’s here or on the road, it’s important to beat your rival, and this is our rival, USC, and now we’ve beaten them three out of the last four years.

Q. Do you feel there’s a lack of strength to finish the job with your offensive line? It seemed like the second half there were some blitzes that they couldn’t block or some running plays this they couldn’t finish to the second level. Do you think there’s a lack of strength to finish the job from the offensive line?

COACH KELLY: No, it’s just all man to man coverage, and we just weren’t efficient enough, and I wasn’t willing to throw the football. And when we did, I didn’t like the way it looked. We were jamming it up there knowing that we were two hats short on virtually every running play, and we tried to pull a couple with Andrew and tried to get them on the perimeter, but it was tough sledding up in there.

Q. Could you evaluate Tommy’s play in the first half and talk about the decision to go with tempo and what you got out of that?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, I thought we got some really good things out of it. We had been trying to settle on a few plays that we really felt like Tommy could handle well without putting us in a position where we had to check anything. I didn’t want to check anything with him, and I didn’t want to be in a position where he had to pull it. And that’s not easy.

So we settled on some plays, a cluster of plays that we felt were going to be good for us. I thought the tempo worked well, and I thought he played well. Obviously we missed him in the second half, but I think he had we felt like he missed one play where he had the intentional grounding. He missed a pressure that we would want to have checked out of it. But he played well.

Q. And defensively I guess and special teams matching up with Nelson tonight, you talked about him during the week, but what kind of pressure do you feel like he put your defense under and your special teams?

COACH KELLY: Offensively they hit us with a couple of dig routes. One was late in the game where they caught us, and we were in a drop 8 situation. We would have liked to have defended a little bit better. What we were both concerned with is him not getting over the top on a PAP or play action pass. I thought we defended well. If he was going to hit us on some drive routes and some intermediate routes, we were going to rally and tackle him, and that was the extent of it.

Q. Before Tommy was injured he did reach the milestone of 6,000 passing yards. What is your reaction to his achievement?

COACH KELLY: I guess that means he’s played enough football here at Notre Dame. I don’t know that Tommy nor I would look at those numbers and equate much. He’s interested and I’m interested in winning football games. I think it does say a lot about the kid and his perseverance. He’s just a tough kid, and he just keeps battling. I’m sure he’ll look back on that a little bit later and be able to point out, hey, I did play at Notre Dame and I wasn’t that bad.

Q. You talked about the defensive line. What were your thoughts on Stephon specifically?

COACH KELLY: He got the game ball. He was all over the place. He was in the run game outstanding, left the ball outside the defense one time late in the game, but they held him. They couldn’t handle him today. If you’re wanting to talk about a defensive lineman that was dominating, you could throw that word out there. He was a force out there today.

Notre Dame Reciever TJ Jones

Q. Beating your rival at home, had to feel pretty good?

TJ Jones: Yeah, it doesn’t feel bad, that’s for sure. But it’s definitely a fulfilling feeling, three out of four years at my time here, and my last year, last time I’ll ever play them.

Q. You guys hadn’t beaten them at since 2001 at home. Talk about that.

TJ Jones: I think it was good for us. It was a good, tough win in front of our home crowd and probably one of the toughest wins we’ve had yet this season, so to be home in front of that home crowd I think was good for us and for our community.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: I just made the plays that came to me. My number was called a couple of times. Fortunate enough to make a couple tough catches and really just trying to be that leader, make those tough catches and know that the team can count on me in those situations.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: I think it just comes down to situation, whether it be how you handle a certain technique, how you block a certain player, how you run a certain route, the finer details of things that we harp on each week.

Q. What was the message on the sideline after Tommy went down?

TJ Jones: It was, you know, next man in. You hate to see him go down, but at the same time we have all the faith in Tommy that we have in Andrew, so it was just kind of, all right, Andrew, it’s your time.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: Yeah, I think we do a little bit, but it’s not really needed. That next man in mentality has really been drilled into us since Coach Kelly has been here, and we all believe in each other.

Q. Were you a little bit hobbled when you made that touchdown on the play before?

TJ Jones: I don’t think so. I think really I jumped up in the air, he hit me, I landed on the ball and he landed on top of me, so I just had the wind knocked out of me, bruised my side a little bit. But it was nothing serious, just had to get my wind back.

Q. Did Tommy say anything to you guys on the sideline after he came back from the locker room?

TJ Jones: Not really. He just said keep striving, keep pushing. We’ve got this game, and it’s going to come down to inches, and to really not give up. Same message he would have said if he was playing.

Q. How good did it feel to beat USC at Notre Dame Stadium?

TJ Jones: It felt real good. It’s the last time I’m going to play USC. Definitely good to go out on a high note in front of a home crowd with a tough win like that.

Q. What kind of message does it send to the offense that (inaudible)?

TJ Jones: It’s a message that we need to step up, we need to execute better. We need to be able to have the defense when necessary in those situations, not leave every other series up to the defense, leaning on them.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: I think it means a lot having that big of a threat right down the middle of the field, whether he’s matched up on the linebackers, it’s always a physical mismatch. So it definitely helps to have an outlet for the quarterbacks, and he can be a primary.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: I think it’s real important when you have those tough series, you have a couple three and outs or you drive down to the 1, don’t convert on 4th and inches. You have to put it behind you because you never know which drive or which touchdown is going to be the deciding factor.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: Yeah, Tommy made a check, the corner jumped me at the line of scrimmage, we were fighting downfield. Last second I made a tough catch, one of the catches that my receivers coach and Coach Kelly, my offensive coordinator all want me to make, the catches that we practice making each week.

Q. Talk about being able to fight through injuries and that type of thing a little bit more this year than maybe in the past. When did that really turn around for you?

TJ Jones: I think it started to turn around a lot last year. Last year I was able to fight through a lot of nicks and bumps, and then coming into my senior year, really this spring, I just took it to a whole ‘nother level. I wasn’t going to let anything deter me, anything little. If it wasn’t going to put me out, if it wasn’t a serious injury, then I was going to fight through it because I was running out of time.

Q. Was that a decision that you made mentally at some point?

TJ Jones: It’s a decision I made my junior year. That’s when I started to do it, and then coming into spring ball before my senior year, that’s when it really just kind of clicked, when it started to hit. I felt that I pushed myself and my limits, and I could kind of feel myself pushing through certain pains that I wasn’t able to before.

Q. When you made that change, did you feel like you weren’t doing that when you were younger and that was a problem for you?

TJ Jones: I wasn’t doing it when I was younger. If I got hurt, I definitely paid attention to the pain. I focused on the pain. I may lift more than fighting through it. I think it just comes with maturity. In high school I never really had to fight through an injury. If you sprain an ankle you don’t play. Really just maturity helped me through that.

Q. You’ve gotten more nicks and bumps this year. Seems like every game

TJ Jones: I get a couple nicks and bumps each game, just more catches, more blocking down inside the tackles, but it’s never anything serious. By the time we come to Sunday, Monday treatments and relaxing, by the time Tuesday comes I’m 100 percent.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: Yeah, ideally I don’t think I’m the receiver that was supposed to run that play. They just kept the same personnel on the field. We were running down the field, and he said our coaches always say each week you never know if that’s going to be you, so pay attention. So they called it, I did what I could, did my best, and he took off down the field.

Q. Did you seal the guy off?

TJ Jones: He ran outside and I just literally followed him outside and opened up the side so Cam could come back.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: It was a passionate speech, one of the more passionate things I’ve ever heard Tommy say. It was really just keep your head in the game, don’t give up. We’ve got this, 30 minutes wasn’t enough. We need another 30 to win this game. He had a lot of the guys almost in tears. It’s the first time Tommy spoke out like that, and it was definitely emotional.

Q. You guys were winning at the time. You usually hear that stuff when you’re down and out. What does that say?

TJ Jones: It says a lot. It’s a long game. 30 minutes is a long time. Just because you’re going into the half winning, you could come out of the game losing by who knows what. So his initiative just kind of his want to take that initiative to really fuel that mentality in our minds says a lot about him.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: It means a lot, definitely a good feeling to go out on top against USC three out of four years we’ve beaten them, and the last time at home they got us. Being able to leave as a senior with that win against USC at home, it feels good.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: Initially had one play on, Tommy checked it because of the coverage, a corner jumped me at the line of scrimmage, was fighting him downfield, was fighting him hands off, hands off, last second, you just turn, make a contested catch. It’s things we practice every day, each week, and it’s the catch that they really expect us to make because we make it look easy in practice, so when the game comes it’s almost like routine.

Q. (Inaudible.) TJ Jones: It says a lot. We really harp on the next man in mentality because you never know who’s going down next and who’s going to have to step in at any given moment. So being able to get that tough win out after Tommy goes down says a lot about our trust in each other.

Q. When you came here (inaudible) finally won at home. The significance of that to you, maybe not so much now but long term?

TJ Jones: It means a lot. We were able to come in and really change a program after having that many losses, USC being able to beat them three out of four years. I think it says a lot about my class, the classes before me, but it also says a lot about Coach Kelly and his staff and how they’re able to instill that mentality into all the players that play for them and get those wins.

Q. (Inaudible) is that coincidence?

TJ Jones: It’s not.

Q. How do you consistently pull off (inaudible)?

TJ Jones: I think you just lean on each other. You’ve got to leave the past or the drives, maybe bad plays, good plays, behind you. You’ve got to enter each new series with a new mindset, clean mindset, and you’ve got to trust in one another that when those clutch situations come, they’re going to make their plays.

Q. When you caught the touchdown pass I think we were all saying that can’t be TJ Jones, he just got hurt, he was just standing on the sidelines. How did you get back in the game so quickly? I think we were all kind of surprised.

TJ Jones: I wasn’t really hurt. He hit me in the air that one play out of bounds. We both landed on the ball, knocked the wind out of me. He just knocked every ounce of wind I had out of me. It took a play or two to regain my breath somewhat and then I went back in as soon as I could.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: It was real important. It was more important than people think. It really gave us a chance, and I know for myself personally to really heal up, get back to 100 percent and come into this week fresh.

Q. (Inaudible.)

TJ Jones: I think it was real big, three out of four years. It sets the tone for upcoming classes and classes that are already here now that Notre Dame is now able to rival USC. It’s not going to be a triumph for USC beating Notre Dame eight times in a row anymore.

Q. 5 2 with the schedule the rest of the year, I know you’re week by week, but does it still feel like there’s a lot on the table?

TJ Jones: I don’t know if there’s a lot on the table. There obviously is, but the way that our coaches want us to approach it is it’s a four week season, so it’s just these four weeks up until the bye week and then just the last two. So we’re taking it each week of these next four weeks and then just paying attention on that one game.

Q. Because if you lose one the season is over?

TJ Jones: I know what you mean. Actually I don’t know how we’re going to stand with that if we lose a game. Yeah, I think we’re focused on winning the games right now.

ND Players

Troy Niklas – Jr. – Tight End

On his seven-yard touchdown reception…
“I just knew that I had to get open, and it was man coverage, so I knew Tommy [Rees] was going to throw me the ball. He threw a good ball and I was able to get my hands on it. The line protected well. It was good.”

On what worked for the Notre Dame offense at the end of the first half…
“We just kept switching it up. Tommy did a great job throwing the ball. He did a great job leading our offense in general.”

On the play of Cam McDaniel
“I think Cam is a great guy. He runs really hard. He really scraps for every inch that we can give him. I always love blocking for him.”

On the current mood of the locker room…
“The vibe is good.”

Zach Martin – G.S. – OL

On the fast paced tempo …
“You just throw them off guard a little bit, we haven’t shown it all year. That’s what you get when you have a little extra time in a bye week, you can put little wrinkles like that in. We started the game off with it and it looked pretty good and we went to it a couple times.”

On mindset on sideline with Tommy out …
“I told the guys to just keep the energy up and keep our defense off the field. We didn’t do a great job of that but we were just trying to keep guys in the game. Andrew (Hendrix) is very capable and coach believes in him, we just got to keep our guys up on the sidelines.”

Dan Fox – G.S. – LB

On the program proving it can win close games …
“It’s just a testament to coach Kelly, everything he does and all the coaches like coach Diaco, just the intensity and focus they bring to the table, we just follow that.”

On beating USC three out of four years …
“That’s really sweet, I didn’t really think about it like that, but that is awesome.”

Joe Schmidt – Jr. – LB

On being on field against USC …
“It’s just an amazing feeling, it’s completely and totally surreal. It’s a complete dream come true and I have to thank God for this wonderful opportunity.”

On doing part to help team …
“You got to trust in what you practice, trust in the scheme and the coaching and rely on what you have trained to do. I’m not out there trying to make a play, I’m just trying to help the defense and do my part. If I make a play, I make a play, and at the end of the game you want to win.”

Carlo Calabrese – G.S. – Inside Linebacker

On team’s performance in the last two games…
“Our practices have been great, and guys have been studying film more. We’ve been having great practices and working hard each week to get better and correct the things we’ve done wrong in the past.”

On team’s final defensive stand…
“I was pretty excited. I knew we had to go on the field to win the game as a defense, and we were prepared to that. We did a great job.”

On performance of Stephon Tuitt
“He did great. He took on blockers and when they went to him, he got around them and made plays.”

Louis Nix – Sr. – Defensive Lineman

On defense’s performance…
“We’ve just been showing that we’re getting better as games go on. If we just keep doing the things coach Kelly tells us to do, we’ll be successful.”

On possibility of added pressure when Tommy Rees left with an injury…
“We don’t feel any pressure because our mindset is that if something does happen, we need to be there to step up. It all comes down to the defense at the end of the day, that’s our mindset. At the end of the day the defense is going to have to go on the field and win the game, no matter what, even if we’re beating a team by fifty. The defense will have to go out there regardless.”

On impact of fans…
“We just love the support of the fans and the students. We know they always have our backs, no matter what. Sometimes they get frustrated and we understand, but we came out to win and we did it for everybody, the whole Notre Dame nation.”

Jaylon Smith – Fr. – Linebacker

On team’s response after Tommy Rees left with an injury…
“We just had to rally together. Tommy’s a great player. He’s been here going on five years now, and he has a lot of experience. When somebody like that goes down, it takes the entire team to rally.”

On feelings about interception…
“It felt good. It was a great feeling, but you have to go on to the next play and continue to get after it.”

On defense’s confidence…
“As the season progresses, you get a lot more comfortable with the play calling, so it’s been going great.”

Stephon Tuitt – Jr. – Defensive Lineman

On general thoughts about the game…
“Our defense did what we were supposed to do. We played with each other, we played together and we played as a family. We came away with a great win against a great team. USC is a great team and a very tough opponent. Every year we fight to the last minute with them. I’m glad our defense did what we needed to do and came away with a win.”

On feelings about beating USC at home…
“It’s our rivalry so it feels really good, but it’s on to the next one. It feels great to beat our rival.”

On his performance…
“Every week I go out there and I play harder and harder. I don’t see any setbacks, no matter what anybody says. I just think about my role on the defense and came away with great plays to help us win.”

USC Head Coach Ed Orgeron

COACH ORGERON: Well, we have a hurt team in there. They gave it everything they had. I was really proud of our football team and our players and our coaching staff. Game 2 of a new season, the way we competed, the way we fought to the very end. There was a lot of belief on the sidelines. There was unbelievable enthusiasm and energy before the game, a work ethic, a bonding of a football team coming together.

Unfortunate we didn’t win the game, but I really liked the way our guys played and competed to the end. There was something special in that locker room that just happened just now, and we have a special group of men that have fought through adversity and started to believe in themselves.

Obviously the penalties hurt us tonight in crucial situations, and we didn’t punch it in the red zone when we needed to. Rivalry game, they’re going to make big plays. Notre Dame made some big plays on us, especially going into halftime. Unfortunate that they had that scoring drive there.

But overall I just feel our coaching staff and our players gave it everything that they had in game 2 of our season, and I expect them to bounce back strong tomorrow.

Q. What were they able to do in the second half to sort of shut down your run game?

COACH ORGERON: Pressure. A lot of pressure. That was a good front. We knew it was a good front coming in, a lot of pressure, and we just seemed that we couldn’t get things going. Those are big guys to block, 350 in the middle. It seemed that every time we had a 1st down or something like that we had a holding call or jumped offsides, we shot ourselves in the foot, and then it was 2nd and 20. But give them credit; they’ve got a good front.

Q. What’s your confidence level right now in Heidari? What do you think caused him to miss those kicks there? Those ended up being pretty crucial.

COACH ORGERON: He’s been good for us. My confidence level is high on everybody on our football team right now and our coaching staff. These guys are tremendous fighters, they’re competitive, they work very hard, they’re our family, and if anything tonight I gained confidence in everybody.

Q. (No microphone.)

COACH ORGERON: We’ve just been with our team here, and as far as that maybe I’ll talk to you about it tomorrow, but tonight was about our football team in that locker room.

Q. The false starts are kind of uncommon for this team. Was it because it was a road game?

COACH ORGERON: I’ll look at it on film. I’ll talk to Coach Summers and Coach Helton and see it. We have to eliminate it. Obviously it hurt us, no question.

Q. Can you just talk about the decision to kick the field goal on the 4th and 5 instead of trying to go for it at that point?

COACH ORGERON: Yeah, it was really close. It actually goes back to do you think we can make it here, and we think we can get the points so we wanted to get the points and maybe get the ball back. Going into the end we just felt that we weren’t kicking field goals very well so let’s go and win the game. That was the conversation.

Q. Silas Redd, who was he able to do well today? He established himself pretty well in the first half.

COACH ORGERON: Love him. I love Silas Redd. I love his family, what he stands for, toughness, the type of running back that we want at USC along with other guys. I felt myself that there was one series that I felt that we were going to give the ball to Silas and we were going to go ahead and score. It was going into the 4th quarter, I think. If we got the turnover, we’ll be able to get Silas the football and score, and it didn’t happen. But he is a good back and a great young man, great young man.

Q. Could you evaluate the play of the O line tonight?

COACH ORGERON: Hey, listen, we made some mistakes. We didn’t do the things we would like to do at a high level, but I’m proud of all my guys, just like my family. They fought. They fought as hard as they possibly can and gave us everything that they can. These are just tremendous young men. I’m just proud of them.

Q. (No microphone.)

COACH ORGERON: It was fun. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being with my team, our team. Seeing us grow. I enjoy coming here, I enjoy going to other stadiums. I’ve been to other stadiums before. This is not the first big stadium I’ve been in. A lot of tradition there, a lot of respect for the rivalry, but once you get on the grass you’re just looking at your guys coaching football.

USC Players

Su’a Cravens, Fr., S

On the game in general…
“We played our hearts out. That’s all we can really say. It just didn’t come out the way we wanted it.”

On the defensive performance…
“I think we played great all over — the secondary, the linebackers and the d-line. We did the best we could. We just came up short.”

On Rees getting injured…
“We weren’t worried about Rees, we weren’t worried about anybody in particular. We were just going out to play our game and it was working. I’m not going to lie and say him being out didn’t help but we just tried to stick to our game plan and it was working but Notre Dame has a great team and they found a way to win.”

Dion Bailey, Jr., S/LB

On the game in general…
“I’m very proud of how our team showed up and played this evening. I’m not trying to take anything away from Notre Dame, they played a great game and they just made a couple more plays at the end the affected the outcome.”

Marquise Lee, Jr., WR

On why he left the game…
“Coach didn’t want me to go back out there because he didn’t want me to make it worse than what it was, so he decided to hold me out.”

On whether he could have played…
“I could’ve, yeah. I told him I was alright but he refused.”

On his near touchdown catch…
“I caught the ball. Didn’t get a good hold on it. It got on my leg”

On the second half problems…
“The penalties are big. I think we played good as an offense and the defense got some stops, but the penalties hurt us. Every time we moved the ball up, the penalties took us back.”

Kevin Graf, Sr., OT

On the loss…
“To be honest, it was a frustrating game overall. We really played as hard as we could. I believe it, and coach does too.”

On the penalty problems…
“I was definitely surprised. Honestly, I thought a lot of our guys were pretty [angry] about those calls but we’ll see what the film says.”

On the team’s mood after the loss…
“It’s frustrating. You got a lot of guys in there, really upset. Someone like me, who it’s their senior year and this is the last time I’ll get to be in this place. It’s very upsetting.”