Oct. 18, 2015

Q. Last night after the game you made a comment approximate getting back to the running game and not putting everything on Kizer’s shoulders. Wonder how difficult that is, because as you said, he does learn from his mistakes and shows such good intelligence?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think what I feel more than anything else in terms of how the plays were being called is that we have to temper our want to keep throwing the football when sometimes you have a Will Fuller out there and you feel like you have some guys that really can make some plays.

I don’t want to forget about what we have with our running game, and sometimes when you know you have those kind of weapons, you almost get too happy with wanting to get the ball out to those guys. I think it’s a little bit of a different feeling this year, is what I’m saying. We don’t have to put it on him. We can go to the running game and really limit his exposure.

Q. I guess what I’m saying is, he continues to progress each week and he probably makes it easier for you to call his number to throw to those weapons?
COACH KELLY: Oh, I would agree with that, yeah. From that perspective, I have no hesitation of making a call for him to throw the football. I think there are certain situations that he is still learning. I kind of alluded to them last night. But no hesitation to put him in a position to make a play.

Q. How important do you think it is that Corey Robinson was able to score the touchdown and maybe get some of the confident back that waned a little bit a couple weeks ago?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s something that we had worked on. I thought he had a great week of practice. His focus in terms of wanting to attack the football, instead of letting the football play him, was a point of emphasis. And what I love about him is, you know, his response, right.

I think it’s really about how you respond to adversity and his response was outstanding in that he went back to work and his practice was outstanding over the last couple of weeks, aggressively going after the football and it paid off last night.

Q. I was wondering what the difference is between a recruiting Sunday after a home win over a rival, as compared to a home loss to a lively?
COACH KELLY: Oh, I can’t tell you, it’s — for us, to sit there this morning, I met with, let’s see, six families to talk about the game and the atmosphere over a win and some of them are from the West Coast. It definitely is a positive experience, that’s for sure.

Q. Doing a story on Will Fuller, and if you can discuss his growth in the time he’s been at Notre Dame.
COACH KELLY: Sure. I think Will’s growth has been recognizing how to practice first. He didn’t really understand how to practice the right way. Not that he want to. Just learning how to practice, compete every day in practice, and I think that learning process was one that he was able to gain watching a guy, TJ Jones, and that really helped him.

And then I think it’s been the physical development of him: Putting on strength, being able to get off press coverage. Because we all knew about his speed, at least I did, and our staff did.

So I think the development was both in recognizing how to practice the right way, like a champion every day and then his physical development in the weight room. Those are the two things that stand out to me.

Q. And what did you see in him? Was there any one particular thing you saw in him coming out of Roman Catholic that told you he could be an impact player at Notre Dame?
COACH KELLY: Loved the way he tracked the ball down the field. We continued to see that today. On deep balls, some guys have an easy time tracking it, some don’t. And really love the way he tracked the football down the field.

Q. I know that you’re going to let the players go home during the break here. What about the coaches? What’s your agenda for the bye week?
COACH KELLY: Well, pretty busy. I’ll be in Alabama tomorrow and Birmingham at the quarterback luncheon. Then I’ll come back and head to Michigan for recruiting, down to Florida.

The coaches will go out Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. So we’ll be all out recruiting. We’ll meet with the team today. Then on Monday, we’ll watch the film, put that — have a good weight training. And then Tuesday before I leave for recruiting, we’ll have a skeleton staff here and do a quick look at Temple with a light workout and then we’re all off on the road recruiting.

Q. You’re seven games in now with this defense with a lot of talent, with a lot of expectations. I’m curious, as you look at it, you seem confident that this defense is going to evolve at some point. What is it that leads you to believe that? Is it scheme? Is it players? And why do you think maybe it hasn’t happened yet?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s happened at times, right. I think it happened in the second half of Clemson. It happened again here in the second half against a very talented USC team.

We play at different times really, really good football. We saw it against Georgia Tech where we were dominating at times. We just haven’t put together four quarters of football defensively, and then there are simply issues of fundamentals and tackling and doing your job and not somebody else’s job.

So I’m very, very confident that we can put four quarters of this kind of play together. So if we had not put together second half performances in the fashion that we have; for example, 132 yards in 33 plays against USC in the second half, I would be less optimistic. But we did that against Clemson, as well, against very good, talented teams, we’ve been able to put these quarters together.

So we are going to keep plugging and we are going to keep coaching the fundamentals, and we are going to get it for four quarters.

Q. Do you think helping you get to that level might be a matter of scheme tweaks or personnel tweaks, or is it just a matter of sticking with what you have?
COACH KELLY: No, I don’t think there’s anything particular other than we know the players that we have and the areas that our players, we need to continue to get them to grow in.

So it’s really just being consistent with our coaching, being consistent with the messaging, being consistent with the fundamentals. If we keep on those three things, then we are going to see improvement, for not just two quarters. We are going to see this kind of play for three and four quarters, and that’s what we have got to get.

Q. And last little follow-up. Alex Bars, any word on his status?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’ll have surgery this afternoon. Brian Ratigan will do surgery on a fractured ankle.

Q. Talk about the improvements you have to do on the defense, because I know you have a bye week and Temple is undefeated. What do you have to do to get the defense ready for a very tough Temple team on the road?
COACH KELLY: I think the first thing is we have to do our job and be more productive relative to tackling. Our production there has got to be better.

And continue to get the same kind of play in the second half as — we have been playing two quarters, three quarters. We haven’t played four quarters of great defense.

As I said earlier, fundamentals have to get better from our players and we have to keep coaching them on the fundamentals. If we do that, we are going to get better.

Q. How big was that punt in the late four quarter, pinning USC down at the two-yard line and keeping them in the other end zone; how big was that, keeping them way back so they can’t drive?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it helped us in terms of certainly field position, but more importantly, the clock really started to work against them. It forced them on a long field to take a lot of time off the clock, and I think it was something that we needed to consider what we wanted to do in that down-and-distance situation. I think we made the right call.

Q. Kind of an odd question when you put up 34 offensive points and 475 yards but it seems that the offense is almost scratching the surface and there’s plenty of room to evolve. What do you want to see from them in the next five games or what do you need to see in terms of improvement and defenses you’ll face?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think a lot of it is probably just continue to mature at the quarterback position. You know, I think some of it had a little bit to do with the tight end position and we need to be a little bit better on the perimeter with our tight end blocking.

You know, we had a couple penalties there that put us behind. Certainly, anytime you’re talking about offensive production, it’s limiting some of the negative plays, the penalties, the turnovers. I think as a big picture, limiting the negative plays and continue development at the quarterback position.

Q. We talked to Matthias Farley, kind of switching gears, in August, and he basically guaranteed the special teams would be better this year and it certainly played out that way. He mentioned veterans and rookies alike were more engaged in it. Did you do anything to foster that or did it just come from players maturing over the last two years?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s just been a point of emphasis of what we knew had to get better for us to be the kind of football team we wanted.

And I think it’s just — I think the whole emphasis on how important special teams has to be, has been a message that is starting to really sink deeper into the program and the guys now take more ownership in making sure that that occurs.

So I don’t know if it’s just happening this year. I think it’s just a residual of the emphasis that we’ve been placing over it, and now we are starting to see it come to fruition.

Q. The defense has been strong, especially the last three weeks. Where does that come from on the team? Is it half-time adjustments and is it the leader of a Joe Schmidt, Sheldon Day? Where does the strong finishing come from?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s — I really think it’s individuals refusing to give in and elevating their play and demanding it from the other players. I hear it on the sideline. I hear Jalen speaking, “Coach, we’ve got you on this. It’s our time to step up.”

You hear it from a Joe; you hear it from a shell done wanting to make a play; “Coach, I’ll get to the quarterback here.”

I think it goes to our seniors. I think it goes to our leaders that when it’s time for them to really pick up their play, we see them turn the notch up. We just need to do that for four quarters.

Q. Is it easier in your experience, is it maybe a little bit more important to have the trait of being able to finish games strong on defense, and then be able to kind of work on the slow starts? Or is it maybe the other way around. What is your experience with that?
COACH KELLY: Well, I just like overall the mentality of the football team both on offense, defense and special teams in that I think collectively, I like the mentality of this team; it finishes strong, there’s no question about that.

I think that’s in this team’s DNA. We scored 21 points in the first quarter, so we can’t say that we didn’t start fast. I really think it’s the attention to detail at times. It’s where we kind of lack and that’s kind of what I was alluding to earlier.

There’s no need for big, structural changes. Our attention to detail has got to be better relative to run fits. How many times have we been hit with trick plays? Sooner or later, you’ve got to do your job and take care of that. That’s not a scheme thing. That’s a discipline thing.

So attention to detail is the area that we’ve got to continue to work on.

Q. And with the left guard, Quenton came in for Alex. Was there any thought of someone else coming in and keeping Quenton on the sidelines, or what did Quenton show you that he was able to step in for Alex there?
COACH KELLY: Toughness. Just toughness. He struggled during the week. He’s still not 100 percent, but he went in there and didn’t miss a beat. You know, that’s the expectation here. You’re going to have to play banged up. We’re never going to put you in there if it’s a compromising situation, but he was not 100 percent, but he knew his team needed him and he went in there and he came up big for us.

Q. Is he a guy who can benefit quite a bit from the bye week?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah, I think we’ll see great progress. Really pleased the way Nick Martin came out of the game. We saw Quenton this morning, he looked good, and I think this week is going to help him immeasurably going back, getting into therapy and having two or three times a day to get worked on without classes.

So it definitely will be significant for him.

Q. Yesterday was the first time we’ve been really able to see Equanimeous’ athleticism on game day. How close or far away is he from maybe crack into the receiver rotation more than he has thus far?
COACH KELLY: I think he would start for a number of power five teams. He’s ready to play right now. I’m just not taking Will off the field unless I have to.

He does it in practice, he’s a really good football player and capable of playing right now. Again, I’m going to get everything I can get out of Will Fuller.

Q. The two 90-yard drives back-to-back, what’s the significance of that in terms of where this offense is, where did he shone is? I think he only went maybe 90 yards once last year for a touchdown.
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it still has to do with the ability to run the football. You have to have a presence there. And so I think a more effective running game is going to allow you to go 90 yards. And you’ve got to have a quarterback that is able to manage the plays necessary for you to go 90 yards.

Most defenses would say that if you go 90 yards, good luck to you. You’re probably going to make a mistake along the way. But I think the quarterback and the running game are the two reasons why those drives were effective.

Q. Overall how do you feel like your offensive line held up in pass protection? I think some people look at four sacks, but I think a lot had to do with DeShone holding on to it a little bit. Where do you feel like that group is?
COACH KELLY: We were pleased. We graded it out. There were a couple of things — we had one mistake where we made a call, a center. Nick trumped DeShone on a protection and we didn’t get the call echoed back to the running back, which was the only time that we felt like that was a true sack.

The other three, two of them, DeShone ran into it in a three-down situation, and the other one, the ball needed to come out of his hands. So from that standpoint, of the four, we feel like one of them was avoidable if we got the right communication, and the other three should have never happened.

Q. Just to clarify, Alex Bars will be out for the season; correct?
COACH KELLY: Bars will be out for the season, yeah. Very similar to Malik Zaire’s.

Q. And you talked about Nelson needing the break. How much do your guys overall need a break, not only physically but maybe mentally, as well; going strong since August. How much will that help these guys down the stretch of the season?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it was very much needed with exams. I think we were one of the latest byes this year.

Playing all the power five teams that we did play, this came at the absolute latest possible time, and getting a week off here is going to be very beneficial for our football team as we now kind of really focus on going on the road for a good amount of the back end much our season. So it was a much needed time for these guys.