Oct. 23, 2011
COACH KELLY: Disappointing we could not play better football in what I considered a great environment, stadium was electric, the fans were terrific. It’s the kind of environment we want to create here. We just have to play better football.
We started poorly. I just told our team that, you know, very disappointed in the way we played the first half. Sloppy football. Didn’t tackle well. Timing was off. Just unacceptable for the amount of time we had off to play that way in the first half.
Second half, you know, I thought we settled down defensively. You know, again, you look at USC, we gave them three points on a penalty, that kept the drive alive. We lacked some poise that is necessary. And then you know, we settled down defensively and put ourselves back in the game until we turned the ball over twice in the scoring area. And we thought we were past that. That’s the toughest part is when you think you’ve moved past that kind of self inflicted wounds, to come back and have those hit you again, it’s disappointing.
So there’s, you know you can’t beat good teams playing half a game and then turning the ball over on the three yard line and the 27 yard line. So I mean, you guys were there, too. You saw what I saw. That’s kind of the recap.
Q. First, what was wrong with Rees’s knee for that short time, and explain what your thought process was that led to the unfortunate fumble.
COACH KELLY: Well, Rees had a hyperextended knee. It’s the same one that went out on him against Miami. We were able to brace it and he played in the second half. That’s something that’s a bit chronic for him. But he toughened it up, came back and did a nice job.
Dayne went right in. Did a nice job, moved us down there. We put Hendrix in to run the ball a little bit down there. Ran some zone option. And then we had the fumble snap.
Q. With Johnson out, did they scheme with the two freshmen
COACH KELLY: No, there wasn’t anything particular. They moved past into the boundary early on and we adjusted. We were playing a lot more cover three to stay over the top of their talented receivers. They got us a couple of times on the short field and then we started to play some coverage sticks which I thought we shorted up there.
But no, nothing in particular. You know, we have to play with better poise. We have got some young guys out there, and at the moment, that was difficult.
Q. Robert Woods, was that what you wanted
COACH KELLY: Well, we lost Zeke, Zeke to a concussion, which put our nickel situation in a very difficult personnel situation. So the next best guy, is Lo Wood. As you know, they moved Robert Woods around everywhere.
Could we have done something different? Well, Robert is our backup nickel, and so the next best player for us is Lo Wood. If he lines up as the slot, Melvin (ph) is on him. Just one of those things when we lost a player, and we lost Zeke, we went to second nickel, and the next best player for us is Lo Wood.
Q. What did they do with Mike
COACH KELLY: Nothing in particular. We were out of sync, rhythm. We had Mike two or three times and we didn’t connect with him. I thought we got him some touches in the second half that got him in the flow of the game. You know, should have made a play later if the game that got picked.
I’ll take a look at it on the film but we had the look we wanted in the corner under cut the route. But no, all in all, I think in the second half, we made a more concerted effort to get him the ball. We just were out of sync in the first one.
Q. Considering a lot of the stuff you talked about in your intro, everything at stake, is this as tough a loss as you’ve had since you’ve been here?
COACH KELLY: No. Losing stinks. For me, it’s hard for me to put a stink meter on losing. They all stink. You know what, I’m disappointed in? This is the first time that I’ve leaned on my guys pretty hard in the locker room. I was not happy. Because we are better than that. We are better than that. And, to turn the ball over in the ridiculous fashion that we have, I just just makes me crazy. In terms of I just don’t understand how something so easy can come out the way it does.
So I told our guys, listen, every time we try to take a step forward, we seem to want to take one step back. I’m not going to tolerate it. It’s not going to be pretty this week in practice. If we have to go back and tackle every day, we’ll tackle every day, because they know how I feel about the way we played.
Q. Physical going back to the line of scrimmage tonight
COACH KELLY: No. A good team. Hey, got to give USC credit. They played well. They played well. Barkley is a good quarterback. He was elusive. But, look, you guys saw the game. You have two teams battling, and if we take care of the football, you are probably not asking those questions.
Q. Any thoughts about in the first half?
COACH KELLY: You know, I generally I’m going to fall on historic nine out of ten times. I know what I’m doing on a bye week. I’ve had great success. I know what it looks like. And for us to come out and be less than what we should be, I’m not happy about it.
But I’m certainly not going to go back and second guess the way I’ve prepared over 21 years in a bye week. Sometimes there’s some accountability from everybody, coaches and players alike and sometimes it falls on, as a group, all of us. But they just they didn’t play as well as they needed to play.
Q. There was a lot of run up that went into this game, big game, night game; any sense they might have just been too excited?
COACH KELLY: You’re trying to get at something that I think is real, and we talked about this. We had some guys that didn’t play with poise that need to play with poise. Championship football teams play with competitive grace, which means that when the stakes are high and the stage is great, they raise their game.
Today, in that same situation, some of our players didn’t raise their level of play. That to me is poise, and we are still building that. That’s a hard thing to dig at. But we are still building that.
Q. You haven’t been able to get a consistency all year on the running game, getting five yards on five carries, that a bye product, once you fell behind 14 0, you were not getting in a running rhythm.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I thought, again, you can precisely know the times when we got in good rhythm, we were running the ball in the third quarter and were very effective in mixing things up. Early on, we didn’t get in that kind of rhythm because we got down 14 0, started throwing the ball.
We are best operating offensively with that kind of balance. And I think we only had it for spurts in the third quarter.
Q. So they almost overloaded the front there dared you to throw?
COACH KELLY: Their system and structure did not change against us. We were prepared knowing that they were going to jump into bear fronts. So it didn’t catch us by surprise. We clearly didn’t execute as well. We had two or three occasions where our timing was off on routes that, you know, would have kept us in a pretty good position.
COACH KELLY: He was going to fake it to the back and throw a pop back to the tight end.
Q. And over the last couple of weeks, you’ve talked about you had to be in the playoffs… what’s kind of the next goal? How do you get back?
COACH KELLY: I’m not worried about that. Their gift bag won’t be as big. The fact of the matter is, they have got to play Navy and they have to get ready in a short period of time.
So the moment for us, it never gets too big. In other words, we didn’t think in big picture terms. I’ll talk to you guys in big picture terms. But those guys, all they know is, Monday is not going to be a great place to be around me. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, that’s what they are thinking about. They are not thinking about those bigger picture items.
COACH KIFFIN: First off, you know, those guys played extremely hard today. That’s a very hard team to run the ball on. You know, to come in here, the only way to win this game was to find a way to run the ball, against a very physical defense that fought all the way to the end as you can see, and very talented offense that gave us a lot of problems at times. Obviously special teams played huge today; credit them for that.
On our side, very pleased with the way our players played. Two things really showed: I think they played really smart, the decision making, starting with the quarterback all the way around limited penalties, and I thought they played very physical in all aspects of the game.
This was a team that is a very physical, Notre Dame, and a team that really after last year’s game, going back over it again and again in the off season, really thought they out played us a year ago in our place, and thought they were more physical, up front, the front seven got after us a year ago.
Our whole thing this week was not about the hype. It was about the prep. It was about preparing really well, finishing games off and not letting the other stuff get involved.
Felt a little bit better just because of everything around here that was put this game. You get the sense that this was their Super Bowl here, and all of the official visitors and moving it to a night game, the bye before. So it’s even more pleasing to come in here with all of that stuff going on around and our players played really well, it was good to see.
Q. Talk about your perfect first quarter, you held them to three and outs twice and you scored. Talk about that?
COACH KIFFIN: I think in general just about the execution. Our guys came in and just wanted to make sure that we played really well and didn’t worry about everything else. I think if you would have seen our guys in warm ups, they were really low key and saving their energy and were not buying into all of the energy on the sidelines yelling at them, a lot of people on the way in yelling at them. Just really focused on playing well and it was good to see, because usually young teams don’t do well in the beginning of games in this type of environment, so it was good to see.
Q. Best game so far this season?
COACH KIFFIN: I would say so because of the opponent. That’s a really good run defense, very physical, led by a great middle linebacker. I’m sure he’s going to be a top pick this year. So our guys had to play really well and banged up guys. Both tailbacks were hurt throughout the game and it was good to see them keep fighting in there.
Q. Is this the biggest win in your USC career as a head coach?
COACH KIFFIN: I would think so. Really haven’t gone on the road went into Arizona, but we have not gone on the road with so much stuff going on. That’s why I would say it’s our team’s biggest win since we’ve been here because of all of the stuff around it. I thought the crowd was awesome tonight, they were electric. That crowd was more electric than the times I was here before, even in 2005. Just with the night added to it and all the energy and playing the music when we were at the line of scrimmage when we were on offense really helped us a lot.
Q. How much did your offensive linemen want this challenge and to be able to be loose and run the ball?
COACH KIFFIN: I think they really wanted it and it was good to see, for the game to end in that fashion, go out there and there’s all that time on the clock. I don’t know what it was exactly, but it felt like forever. I think it was six or seven minutes on the clock and we had the ball; and then to just go on and first down and run, offensive line, play well, and really just end the game on offense. That’s a dream if you can end the game on offense and lucky for us we used out time outs, because really our kicker at half time couldn’t even move his foot. That’s why the first drive in the second half, hit a good drive and punted it there because he couldn’t kick the ball at all. So we tried him, after shooting him up, we just tried on the extra point to see and as you saw he couldn’t kick very well.
Q. Mark could barely lift his arm last week; could you ever have conceived that he would come out and play the way he did tonight?
COACH KIFFIN: And then his knee actually is what held out of the game late; that we couldn’t go back to him, but actually Curtis played great. Those are two really cool stories because you have Marc Tyler, a fifth year senior and Marqise Lee, a true freshman, and for both of them to come with the same attitude immediately after their injuries they said, the whole time, I’m playing and really our doctors after last week’s game did not think those guys would play. And so it says a lot about those guys. They willed themselves to play today.
Q. You said this was like a Super Bowl to them. Considering what restrictions are on your program, what was it for you guys?
COACH KIFFIN: It wasn’t a Super Bowl for us. I mean, we’ve got a lot of big games ahead of us, including one obviously next week. And so we have got a lot of them. Obviously we respect the rivalry and tradition and great players and great coaches that have been in this game. So it’s not anything like that but we just had to focus on it being our next game and playing really well and not all of a sudden getting out of whack and our guys respond to it. You come on the road like this in this environment against a good defense and don’t turn the ball over, that’s giving yourself a chance to win.
COACH KIFFIN: Everything was positive so far. I’ll meet with Dylan when we get back, and he didn’t make the trip, that’s all I’ve got for you. I’ll have more for you.
COACH KIFFIN: I think we have a really good relationship. I think it’s important for the play caller to have a good relationship with the quarterback. There’s a great trust level. We put a lot of stuff early on where there were some things, shots that were a little bit further downfield and he did a great job taking care of the ball, of putting away the football. Those were huge runs he was making when he was scrambling and making those plays. And even though his numbers are not gigantic, if you don’t get sacked and you don’t turn the ball over with any fumbles or any interceptions as quarterback, and you throw a couple touchdowns, you’re going to give us a good chance to win and he did that. And we really didn’t have the ball at all in the second half really to throw very much either.
ND Player Quotes
Tyler Eifert – Jr. – Tight End
On the loss…
“There’s no excuse. We had time off, we had time to rest, and we played sluggish. You can’t come out in the first half and play like that. We didn’t play well. It cost us in the end.”
On why team was sluggish…
“USC is a good team. They did some things that stopped us on offense. We have to take care of the ball and be more consistent throughout the whole game.”
On USC’s defense…
“They forced us to throw the ball more than we anticipated.”
Manti Te’o – Jr. – Linebacker
On the game in general…
“It was a good atmosphere. It was a classic USC vs. Notre Dame game. Everyone got after it. Everyone played hard.”
On reacting to the first quarter…
“Everybody had to settle their nerves, settle down and do their job. Our mentality was the next play. We came back and got after it.”
On what to work on next…
“We have to take care of the little things like tackling and angles; everyone being in their gaps. We have to work on the little things.”
On why Notre Dame lost…
“I don’t know. Probably nerves. We have to settle down and get back to the basics. “
Harrison Smith – GS – Safety
On lack of Notre Dame’s momentum…
“It would have gone a whole lot differently if we didn’t have those couple of wrinkles. But really we just didn’t start out playing tough and physical. I don’t really know why we did that. I just know that we can’t do it again.”
On affect of tonight’s atmosphere on Notre Dame’s play…
“I think from the players’ standpoint we didn’t stay true to who were we. We may have bought into the hype somewhat. We can’t do that again. We didn’t play with poise, and there were penalties that just can’t happen if you want to win.”
On getting focused to make a bowl game…
“If you have any type of fire in you at all you’re just going to keep playing as hard as you can. If you’re a quitter you shouldn’t be on the team anyways.”
George Atkinson III – Fr. – Running Back
On having the night you had and still losing…
“You always want to help your team out whenever we play not to par. That’s what I did. I took the opportunity to help change the game around, and hopefully it would change the momentum. It just didn’t turn out like we expected.”
On sparking the offense with the return…
“Whenever a big play on special teams occurs, you hope to spark the whole team, everybody, offense and defense to get a rally going. I think that happened coming out, but we just didn’t finish it like we should have.”
On how return was set-up…
“We were giving them a different look the whole time, and switched it up a little bit. I just hit where I was supposed to hit and had some great blocks down field. I saw the kicker and you have to win, so I just kept running down the sidelines.”
On balancing the huge night game and outcome…
“If I don’t return one and we win, I feel the same. It doesn’t really matter. As long as I’m helping with the best of my ability to win, and we win, I’m happy with the outcome. But it didn’t work out that way.”
On cleaning up special teams the last couple of weeks…
“That was a big emphasis. Coach emphasized that we need a big play out of special teams in order to get the win. That’s what we focused on all week and during the bye week. We executed the best way we could and found the end-zone, but then again we still lost.”
Jonas Gray – Sr. – Running Back
On not getting after it in the beginning…
“I don’t know, we just happened to regress to our old ways of playing. We went away from what we did the previous four games, paying attention to detail and playing with poise. Along the way we made a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball, and we just didn’t make enough plays to win.”
On being shocked starting a game like that after bye week…
“I was a bit shocked, but our team has done a great job of pulling together and coming out to play hard through the mistakes. We’ve played with a lot of perseverance through the year. I was surprised by it, but I knew that our team has the capabilities of being able to change our fortunes a lot. We know we are going to go through a lot of adversity through the year, and we can’t let that be the thing that takes us away from winning the game.”
On having a tightness due to the hype of the game…
“I don’t think so. The coaches did a great job in preparing us. For whatever reason we just didn’t come out with a lot of urgency. We regressed and didn’t do the things we did the previous four games. We’re going back to the drawing board.”
On getting ready for Navy even with some of the bigger goals out of reach…
“Personally, I’m playing for a legacy and how I leave Notre Dame. As a team goal, we’re still thinking the postseason is a possibility and it’s not all over. We’re going to take each game with the same type of consideration and urgency to win out.”
ND QUARTERBACK TOMMY REES QUOTES
TOMMY REES: We got off to a slow start. We can’t afford to have slow starts. Just got to be
TOMMY REES: Yeah, there were some things that happened. You know, it’s part of the game and we just have to put it behind us.
TOMMY REES: To be honest, I didn’t see, much just trying to keep the ball down. I just think they did a good job.
TOMMY REES: He seemed to make most of the opportunities. Just had to go down and score.
TOMMY REES: At times we did really good and I think everyone is getting better and improving on just trying to get better.
Q. Does playing at night make any difference to your routine?
TOMMY REES: We played at night on the road before and it made no difference.
TOMMY REES: Obviously he’s not happy, none of us are, he’s our head coaches and he’s going to push us to be better and be the best team we can be. We are going to have a good week of practice and get ready to play.
Q. You’ve talked so much about the playoffs do you see the bigger picture goal slipping away?
TOMMY REES: The guys will still be motivated. Everyone wants to win and will be motivated. Just I don’t find the motivation part to be much of a motivation at all.
TOMMY REES: The guys understand we need to play better and Coach is straightforward and told us where we need to be better and where we need to improve. I mean, I think the guys already knew and we just want to get back out there and Saturday can’t come fast enough for us.
TOMMY REES: First of all I don’t think Coach by any stretch is blaming the players. He understands it’s an entire team game. The coaches take a lot of the responsibility, but the players do as well. They put it on their shoulders. They take the burden. They want the accountability when things go poorly, as well as when things go well. I think everyone understands we need to be better across the board and we need to to have a good week in practice.
Q. How is the knee?
TOMMY REES: Just a little tweak to the knee. I’m good to go. Like I said before going to do everything I can to get in that game.
TOMMY REES: Yeah, just tell him to keep his head up. He was supporting me and likewise, so just keep moving forward and tell him not to hang his head.
Q. The right game has been so effective, was it a day of execution, things don’t go right? What’s your read?
TOMMY REES: Yes, he did a couple things up front. The ability to run the ball, and we kind of had an idea that we were going to be doing that with how we were running ball. So yeah, had a good scheme coming forward, but that’s just something we have to take advantage of.
Q. Coach talked about being out of sync, do you think the bye took the edge off a little bit because things were going so well offensively?
TOMMY REES: Not really. I think just looking back on it, the first half, we had some missed opportunities.
TOMMY REES: Any time you can get a touchdown from defense and special teams, it’s a huge momentum shift, and kind of jump started the whole team. Special teams has done a great job for us all year.
Q. Coach talked about the injury being somewhat chronic
TOMMY REES: You know, I don’t really anticipate it being much of an issue. Just get with the training staff and make sure I do everything they ask and just do like I said, I don’t really think it will be much of an issue, but whatever they want me to do, I’ll do.
Q. Were they doing something different
TOMMY REES: You know, they did some stuff up front that makes it difficult to run the ball. But when that happens, we have to take advantage. There are other places on the field and just have to make sure you know
Q. Was the ball behind
TOMMY REES: No, I think it was more of them trying to take away from us than anything else. So hats off to USC. They played well, and they are a good team.
USC Player Quotes
Matt Barkley – JR – Quarterback
On the scrambles that turned out to be big plays…
“They were dropping deep and you can’t really drop eight into coverage and not get some of the passing concepts that we wanted to. When those weren’t there I was looking to the check downs and those were even covered. Sometimes you just have to take off and run. I was just trying to get positive yards and those happen on big plays where we needed first downs.”
“I had a real nice pocket today and the guys gave me time and there were no sacks. Our line played awesome. There were 200 yards on the ground so props to them.”
On when Robert Woods reversed the field and he ended being his lead…
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I just started running and saw that little corner so I just ran into him.”
On the focus of the team…
“I think it was great coming in and I think he [Lane Kiffin] did a great job of preparing us just like any other game. With all the hype in games like this it can be easy to stray away from who we are as a team and I think our guys on offense and defense did a great job just focusing on us. Now we can soak in all this energy from this win and realize what we just did with this rivalry, but during the game we did a great job of blocking out all of that stuff.”
Chris Galippo – RS-SR – Linebacker
On whether or not he knew right away it was a lateral…
“You just never assume. We talk about that all the time. Anytime the ball is on the ground, even with incomplete passes, with the way that the reviews are these days and how it takes so much evidence to overturn a call, you just have to jump on every ball. It ended up being a huge play in our favor.”
On where he ranks this victory for himself and his career…
“It’s huge. It’s right up there with Ohio State. I think just being a senior, it has never felt so good. Six and one is awesome. I love the way our team prevailed and put together a complete game today.”
On the fumble in the beginning of the game…
“I just credit it to our defense not quitting. When you’re in long drives like that and it’s the 16th or 17th play and you get down inside the 5-yard line anything can happen.”
Jawanza Starling – JR – Safety
On recovering a fumble for a touchdown…
“I saw a lot of daylight. At first I didn’t even know the ball was fumbled until I saw everyone scrambling around. I was back closer to the goal line. I saw everyone scrambling and I realized I had to get in on this. When I saw the ball on the ground-saw everyone diving for it-and everyone was missing it, I knew that was my shot. I had to make sure I scooped it cleanly, that was the main thing. I didn’t even know if there was anyone behind me, but I knew I had to run and not get caught. I saw a lot of daylight.”
On his baseball experience helping him in football…
“It does help. In baseball, you’ve got to scoop at several positions. You’ve got to stay down on the ball. I guess it helps.”
On the length of his run …
“It felt forever. I was running for days, it felt like. There was so much adrenaline. I was running toward our band down there so that was exciting.
On who was chasing him downfield …
“I knew it was TJ [Jones] at the last second. At first I thought it was Michael Floyd, because I saw him dive for the ball, but then I realized it was TJ.”
Robert Woods – SO – Wide Receiver
On motivation for today’s game…
“Our motivation was pretty clear. Redemption from last year-just to come back and win it in their house.”
On players working through injuries…
“We knew it was going to be a physical game, and they knew they had to come back for it. You can’t sit out Notre Dame. No matter what your battle, you’ve got to battle through it. They came in and played well.”
On having such a large lead so early…
“It was a great start. We had certain plays on them that we could keep taking a run. The defense played very well. Especially against Michael Floyd. The offense just stayed consistent, kept it going.”
Marcus Martin – FR – Offensive Lineman
On quarterback Mark Barkley’s readiness to play…
“He told me before the game that we was 100 percent. That was the go.”
On Notre Dame wearing down throughout the game…
“Yeah. They are a good team though. I can’t take anything away from them. They came up and played as hard as they could, and it was a great game, but they started to wear down after a bit. We just kept coming.”
On his personal goals as a player …
“All I can do is get better. I played to the best of my abilities, but I feel like I can just keep getting better. Just keep trying to get better on technique and assignment, just getting smarter as a student of the game.”
Khaled Holmes – JR – Center
On quarterback Mark Barkley’s preparation for the game…
“I thought all week he was in great spirits. He was in the training room working his tail off. He just did everything he could to get out there.”
On running the shotgun…
“It was a good change up for us to run. It gives Matt a lot of good vision. It worked well, but we had a lot of things working for us, luckily, today.”
On Barkley’s running game …
“He did a great job, that first fourth down that he picked up-that pump fake. He had a few scrambles, but he kept the drive going for us.”