Sept. 18, 2016
Q. You had a lot of recruits in the house last night. It wasn’t one of the better defensive performances. I know you said there were other things. When those recruits ask you about the defense and how you’re going to fix it, what do you tell them?
COACH KELLY: I didn’t have one defensive player recruit ask us about the defense.
Q. Well I’ll ask you about it. What do you feel needs to be done to fix the defense?
COACH KELLY: Well, again, you look at big plays. Obviously fitting plays, fundamentals, tackling, all those things are a product of coaching and communication and teaching. As I said last night, we’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to teach better, we’ve got to communicate better, and we’ve got to put our kids in a position where they’re able to execute what we ask them to execute.
Then, look, on their end, they’ve got to make plays when they’re put in that position, as well. A lot of the responsibility is on us to continue to teach, continue to communicate. That’s what coaching’s about. We’ll get back to work on that when we hit the field on Tuesday.
Q. Is there a need for personnel changes from a player standpoint?
COACH KELLY: I mean, you guys I think all know what our personnel is. Any guy that we put on the field now is a true freshman. We’re playing true freshmen. Really at this point it’s a matter of the guys that we have are the guys we have to continue to work with and develop. Each game becomes an experience that they have to take and learn from and get better from.
I’ve said this from the very first press conferences. We’re going to be a work in progress. We’re going to work to get this group better each and every week. We hope to be a better football team in November than we are in September.
Q. You talked about communication and teaching, that being the remedy for this. Are you confident that the scheme is right for this team? Are you confident that the coordinator, defensive coordinator, is right for this team?
COACH KELLY: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, without question. That’s not even part of the conversation.
It’s really about the fundamentals of defense and getting the fundamentals to the point where simple guard pull O play that is being fitted the right way. Making a play on the ball. Making a tackle. I mean, this is not rocket science what we’re talking about here. These are plays that we’ve got to continue to work on and fundamentally get better at.
There’s not a question about scheme. There’s not a question about who’s leading it with Brian. This is about coaching, communicating and teaching the fundamentals and getting our young players, those that don’t have a lot of experience, better at execution.
Q. Open-ended question. When you start off with two losses, the goal to make the College Football Playoff, it seems like that is not going to happen. How do you keep these guys motivated? What is the carrot you dangle in front of them?
COACH KELLY: They want to win. I mean, everybody is a competitor. The focus just becomes on what I just talked about: each individual getting better, each individual improving from week and week. The focus being really much more smaller in a sense. All we’re looking for is to find a way to win and beat Duke. That’s really the goal that’s in front of us.
As I told the team last night, I love our resolve, I love the way that we keep competing. We’re a sloppy team. We’ve got to clean that up. We’ve got to go back to practicing and be cleaner with the fundamentals. Our focus is on trying to find a way to come up with a win one week at a time. Just a smaller focus week-to-week and practice-to-practice.
Q. You said last night, and you just said it again, you talked about having to play better and the coaches having to coach better. As the head coach, how do you go about that? Do you coach the coaches harder? What is the difference in the day-to-day sense amongst the staff?
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s easy in times like this to start to point fingers, right? We should be thumb pointers as coaches. We should look at ourselves and find out what we can do better.
Maybe somebody needs to be worked a little bit differently maybe from a walk-through perspective. Maybe somebody’s taking too many reps. Maybe they need more film study.
It’s our job as coaches to see how we can develop our players more efficiently. It’s not, Hey, this guy can’t do this, he can’t do that.
These are the players we recruited to Notre Dame. These are the players that are going to play for us. It’s our job as coaches to coach them better and get them in position to make the plays necessary for us to be successful.
We have a great peace about this team, and that is they have a great will to want to win, and a fight in them. I don’t want to lose that because we’re finger pointing.
We’re going to be thumb pointers. It’s on the coaches and on me to make sure we find a way to get our players to continue to improve week after week so when we get to November this is a better football team.
Q. There was a ‘like’ on your Twitter account of a fan suggesting you fire Brian VanGorder. How does that happen and who is in charge of that account?
COACH KELLY: I have a number of people that manage my Twitter account. Obviously going through it somebody unfortunately made a mistake as they were scrolling through, inadvertently hit it. Just a mistake, an unfortunate mistake, that was made by one of my staff members.
Q. I was looking at the stats. Rushing 57 yards last night. When you don’t have a running game going, does that put more pressure on your quarterback to make more plays because he can’t get the running game established?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, that’s obviously key for us. Getting down three scores obviously contributed to not sticking with the running game through the second half, as well. Particularly we got down quickly in the third quarter, which required us to virtually throw the ball every down.
The first half, we had a pretty balanced attack. We were obviously sloppy with turnovers. We had the two key turnovers that took some possessions away from us. One, the punt that hit Miles Boykin, then certainly the fumble by C.J. Sanders, which robbed us of two possessions.
We were moving the ball, effectively running the football. There was pretty good balance to our offense. Then we got behind. We really had to throw the football.
There were enough good things in the running game that if we didn’t get behind by three scores, we were going to be able to have some pretty good balance in the offense.
Q. You are 1-2 first time since 2010. What did you learn from that season to get ready for this long haul? You have Duke, Stanford, Miami. How are you going to turn everything around and make it positive for November, like you said?
COACH KELLY: Again, as I said earlier, this is really about every practice getting our kids better fundamentally. We’ve got to play cleaner football in all areas, special teams, offensively, taking care of the football, and defensively fit plays properly.
This is work. We’ve got some work to do. But we got a group that will fight and compete. I’m proud of the way they go out and represent Notre Dame on the field. We got to clean up a lot of things. We’ll continue to work with a lot of young players.
I’m confident that we’ll be a better football team in November than we are in September.
Q. You were talking about tackling and all that stuff. Do you think all the practice during the week with protocols for head concussions and stuff, is that ruining the players’ thinking, I can’t hit that guy in that area because if I do I get kicked out of the game? Is that a psyche thing for them?
COACH KELLY: No. I think we got to do a better job coming to balance. Tackling to me, there is a sense of control within tackling. Sometimes we’re not in a good base with our tackling. Again, we’ve got to do a better job coaching it.
Q. Your defense has had some success when it’s been backed up against the wall against Texas and Michigan State. Has there been a common thread in those two? Is there any way you can take that common thread and try to get that out of the team for a whole game?
COACH KELLY: I mean, we settle in at times to some good sequences. This is really just about some fundamentals, fitting plays correctly. Some basic fundamental fits that we’re not consistent. This is about consistency of performance. We’ll have some streaks of really good play, and then we won’t be in a gap or we won’t be fitting a play correctly after.
That’s why I put it back on the communication, the teaching, the experience that’s gained from one week to the next. It’s got to be able to be carried over from week-to-week.
I don’t think there’s a common thread other than the commonality of inconsistency that we’ve got to get out of all three units. At times we look great on special teams, then we come up with two huge errors. At times we look really good on offense, we make some inexplicable mistakes on offense.
I think if you look at this whole football team, there’s inconsistencies in all three units that have put us at 1-2. That’s why we’ve got to continue to coach this football team to get it better.
Q. The whole thing about introspection, do you expect any major changes in how you’re doing things, or is it just a case of trying to do what you’re already doing better?
COACH KELLY: I mean, you guys have seen us play. Look, we’ve lost to two really good teams, and we’ve been sloppy. We put 10 guys in the NFL last year. We’ve asked a lot of young players to step into new roles. We’re a possession away, a play away from winning both of these games.
There’s no panic. There’s not any of that in my eyes at all. But we’ve got to continue to improve in the fundamentals of the game. That’s my concern more than anything else.
So big picture is really about doing a better job coaching the fundamentals on a day-to-day basis, being cleaner, crisper, more attention to detail than ever in addressing this football team on a day-to-day basis.
Q. Some of the young players on defense. Are there bright spots you can pick out, whether it be Daelin’s pass breakup, Julian Love getting a more expanded role? What gives you encouragement on these young guys?
COACH KELLY: I think you bring up those two certainly. Look, even go with Devin. Here is a true freshman that’s playing. There’s inconsistencies in his game, obviously. We know that. But he’s out there and learning valuable, valuable information. That’s going to bode well for us, that he’s in the game and he’s playing a considerable amount of football for us.
I just think from our perspective, the more that we can get in a number of these younger players, the quicker we’re going to evolve to the kind of consistent defensive performances that we all need here.
That’s why, from my perspective, I look at it a little bit differently than maybe everybody else in our fan base, that the sky is falling.
I’m not happy. Nobody is happy with losing football games. But I know there’s guys on the horizon here that are going to play really good football for us in the foreseeable future. They’re coming on. It’s just going to take a little time.
Q. The concept of run fits you mentioned a couple times today. You said it’s not something that’s ultrabasic, but obviously you need to do a better job. Could you expand on that. How do you get tripped up in that? Is it youth? An alignment that Michigan State chose that they hadn’t put on tape? What goes into a bad run set?
COACH KELLY: Sometimes it’s maybe you played too many plays and you get tired. When you get tired, you lose your concentration on a particular fit. Sometimes you try to do somebody else’s job, which requires discipline in your approach.
To me, more than anything else, it’s football maturity puts you in your fits all the time. That’s really what we’re talking about. When you have first-time starters, and you have a guy that’s out there, the consistency of performance is where you’re going to be exposed.
That’s where we’re seeing our biggest weakness, is the consistency of fitting plays on a play-in and play-out basis, as well as consistent tackling. Both of those things have been really our issues.
Look, at the end of the day we got to make a couple plays when we’re down the field in good position. If you break it down into those simplest forms, that’s really where we’re at, is inconsistency of performance. They know how to fit these plays. Why aren’t they fitting them in a consistent performance? I would say it’s probably a little bit of all the things I just mentioned.
Q. You’re talking about young players. You were mainly talking about guys in the secondary. What about your young linebackers and what encourages you about their play? Has that been the most consistent unit of the three levels on defense?
COACH KELLY: The Will linebacker position has been inconsistent for us. That’s caused us some problems. It caused us some problems last night. In our two losses, that position has been an issue for us. We’re struggling right there trying to get consistency out of that position.
The Mike and Sam position have been really solid for us. James and Nyles have done a really good job for us.
We’ve got to be more consistent at the Will linebacker position, whether it’s in pass coverage or run fits. Both Te’von and Greer, quite frankly, have got to play more consistent football for us. We’ve got to coach them better. Those are great kids. They want to do it. But they’re not doing it consistently enough.
We see them do it in practice right. They do it right on film in practice because we’re diligent in our work and film study, but we’re not getting the carryover on the field.
We got to go back and find out why we’re not getting that carryover. That’s on us as coaches, to figure out why we’re not getting carryover.
Q. As far as who starts there this week, that will be determined by this week of practice?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, again, they both do it right in practice. We got to get to Saturday, and somebody’s got to be able to be more consistent on Saturdays for us at this position. That’s really where we are more than anything else, because both of them in practice have looked good.
Look, they’re both going to play, right? They’re both going to be involved. We’ve got to get them better on Saturdays. That’s why it’s up to us to figure out where is the disconnect, why aren’t we getting the kind of performance at that position we should be getting from two great kids.
Q. With regard to tackling and fundamentals and fits, can you improve all those things without a ton of midweek contact during the season? How much contact are you getting during the week?
COACH KELLY: I think we’re a little bit out of control in our tackling. Our safety position has missed some key tackles. We’ve got to be in a better position to run fits and tackle. We’re just a little bit out of control, quite frankly. We’ve got to come to balance and just be fundamentally a little bit better in terms of our tackling fits.
Yeah, those are things that we can certainly do in our circuit training without having live contact. It’s just a matter of the confidence level of those guys that are closing in space.
Drew is not 4.3, 4.4. He wants to get there with a big bang. He’s got to get under control a little bit. Again, that’s coaching on our part, to give him the confidence that he can come under control and make those tackles. A lot of this is a work in progress for us.
Q. Did Michigan State run a lot less press than you anticipated or some less? How did that transpire?
COACH KELLY: Later in the game, they started to press us a little bit more when we started to throw virtually every down because they didn’t want those free releases downfield.
Early on they were off quite a bit because, quite frankly, they brought a little bit more pressure. Then I think later in the game, their adjustment was to start to try to disrupt the receivers downfield.
We were still pretty much able to do what we wanted in the passing game. Was just too bad that we got behind by three scores and weren’t able to stay balanced offensively.