Sept. 6, 2015
University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference
COACH KELLY: Nice victory for our football team. Good opener against a Texas team we have a great deal of respect for and their tradition, and we saw how well they travel. They were here in droves. So any time up open up with a team like Texas and are able to get a victory, you feel really good about it.
I know our kids are excited about the win. They are excited about their preparation and then putting it together. I knew we were excited about playing. Our pregame meal lasted about two and a half minutes. So they were really excited about playing this game. Really, for an opener, except for a couple procedure penalties where we at home had a hard time hearing, cadence, was pretty loud, electric atmosphere.
We felt like things that you normally see in an opener were not there, and I think that’s attributed to a lot of veterans, a lot of leaders on our football team so. Good victory and it’s only one. We opened up with a great win against Michigan; so it’s a long journey for our football team. We are excited about the win, but we’ve got a long way to go.
So with that, we’ll open up to questions.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, obviously a knee injury. We do not have an MRI to go on yet. We’ll get one tomorrow morning and then I know I talked to you folks tomorrow afternoon, hopefully we’ll have more information.
COACH KELLY: Sure, absolutely. We expect all of our guys to play up to what we believe they are capable of. Certainly there’s a number of things you can do better. But we believe in Malik and we trust in him.
Again, I would say that there are a number of things that he saw for the first time; that he’ll get better from what he obviously was in front of tonight. Did some really good things.
I think we put him in a good position to succeed. I think the game plan was such that we wanted to run the football. I thought we did that and gave him some throws that we thought would really be high percentage for him and I think it worked out very well for him.
Q. Did T.J. impress you the way that he ran?
COACH KELLY: We were hopeful. Again, I think we’ve kind of gone over this before. When we put him there in the spring, I was extremely pleased with what I saw at first glance and that was his inclination was to run inside and play physical.
My experience told me that if a guy naturally, instinctively wants to run inside. You can teach him the other things. There’s other things that we’ve got to teach him, some of the other things in the offense. He thought he was going to get a different kind of hand off one times and a couple things with protection. But he’s a big kid, athletic, strong. He’s not afraid. He’s a veteran and I think he showed that tonight.
Q. Josh Adams coming in, was there anything you saw in preseason camp that led you to believe that he could come?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, quick study. He was able to pick up all the protections early on. Really walked in, smart kid. And any time when a freshman can come in and pick up all the protections early on, it’s been my feeling that he’s ready to play, provided he’s got the skill and also what kind of skill he has.
We felt like he was a kid that was under the radar last year. He had a knee injury that kind of took him off the radar a little bit. But he’s just scratching the surface. He’s got elite speed. He’s got great size. Got good ball skills and obviously he’s a kid that we believe in.
Q. The performances of Daniel and Tillery at nose tackle?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I didn’t think Texas — they had a tough time blocking that group and I thought that that singularly was probably the biggest factor in the game is that they had a difficult time blocking our defensive front line and that’s Cage, that’s Tillery, obviously in particular, the two inside guys, Sheldon Day.
But those three tackles, obviously if they are doing their job, you know, good things are going to happen. You could tell that it was going to be difficult for Texas to run the football because of their play.
Q. I know you’re trying to be pragmatic and it’s only one game. For those of us who have only seen Malik in the Bowl game, his passing and depth — is this the type of player you envisioned with him when you started him against LSU and obviously his growth in the spring?
COACH KELLY: Obviously we felt like he was more than just a runner, but he gives you more of a dimension in the fact that when you can balance up the numbers in the running game with him and his ability to run his own option and then the play-action pass, it just looks like you’re scaling at times when you control playaction with him.
But he clearly has the ability to throw the football as much as we would need him to throw it and throw it accurately, which he did tonight. Vertically, down the field, I thought he pushed the ball down the field accurately. He threw precision routes on dig routes. So we knew what he was capable of. I think he put it together tonight and he’s got room to grow.
Q. The turnovers obviously —
COACH KELLY: Well, I think that, you know, we’re quite aware of where we were last year when we turned the football over.
So I think Coach Sanford has done a great job in developing that kind of identity with our quarterbacks, and I think we feel confident that we’ll continue to work on that and we know that that’s a secret — no secret, but it’s a thing that we know, it’s going to be singularly the reason why we can win.
Q. How did the play-calling go? How did the whole operation go?
COACH KELLY: I thought it was great communication. You know, we were able to really stay ahead of the game in terms of what we wanted to accomplish. But I think I’ve said this clearly and I’m not trying to be coy with anybody. There are different times where we’re all interjecting our ideas and our thoughts, but we do that on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
So we have in front of us essentially what we want to do. We have openers and we’ve calls and we’ll collaborate, the three of us, Mike, Mike and myself, as to where we want to go every series. So good communication. It was clear; it was concise, and we knew exactly what we wanted to accomplish. It was very comfortable out there offensively in terms of what we wanted to do next.
Q. You lost a defensive lineman and a good running back before the season but you said this team was your deepest team. Was the performance by the backup guys at those positions an indication of that?
COACH KELLY: I think so, and we talked about that in the locker room, and what’s very important for our football team is to continue to — we have some young guys that we think are still capable of playing for us that are down on the depth chart a little bit. They kind of have that look like, well, I may never get out of this position that I’m in.
I told our coaches: It’s important that you go to these guys on Monday and let them know, they are probably going to get an opportunity to play this year. And to continue to work with them and continue to build their confidence that when we call on you, be ready, because we think we have some depth; that they may have to play for us and they are quality players.
It’s the best depth we’ve had. I’d rather not call on it continuously, but every football team is going to have to deal with some injuries, and we know we are going to have some after this game, as well.
Q. We’ve all seen Will Fuller for 14 games but is there any chance — what has made him the player that he’s become?
COACH KELLY: Very deceptive route runner. He sets up his moves extremely well. And, you know, I think more than anything else, when you play the X position, which is to the wide field, a lot of people that we are not interested in — teams are not interested in making those throws, nor will they attempt to make those throws.
We will put the ball out there. We will go make that throw to the wide field. Where a lot of defensive front coordinators will say, we won’t make that wide field throw. We’ll let them make it. We’ll go and make that throw. So we get the ball to Will vertically down the field where I think a lot of teams sometimes don’t challenge the wide field as much.
Q. I know you’ve got to watch a lot of film after the game with the offensive line, but as the game developed, how did you feel they were playing as a unit and controlling the line of scrimmage?
COACH KELLY: Much better. There was a lot of movement, a lot of activity. You could see their backers were running through gaps pretty regularly and gave us some problems early on. We stayed with our combinations a little bit longer in the second half. I think Harry did a good job making some adjustments on some of our schemes where we were kind of locking on and not keeping our eyes on some of the backers. We pushed through some of those combinations and were able to pick up some of those run-throughs much better in the second half. We knew they were going to give us some problems with their athleticism and their movement and they did at times. But when we were able to pick up their movement, we were able to control the line of scrimmage.
Q. On the other side, how important was it for you guys to keep their quarterback’s legs contained early on?
COACH KELLY: It was the key to the game for us. We felt like, you know, if he got out on us and got out on the perimeter, that’s where he could make the big plays, down the field throwing the football. If we could keep him in the pocket, we felt a lot more comfortable controlling the passing game. But if he was out on the perimeter, we were very concerned about that. So a lot of the things that we were doing were to try to keep him in the pocket.
Q. Can you talk specifically about Josh Adams, especially with Folston going down?
COACH KELLY: Again, as was asked earlier, we have a great deal of confidence in him based on what he did in preseason camp. Very thoughtful kid. Spends a lot of time on the details. And it let his athleticism come out tonight. He’s a very talented young man. Again, I think he’s somebody that we are going to count on for the rest of the year.
Q. The freshmen class you played them because you had to and now you played them because you choose to. How significant a development do you think that is for the program overall that you have some guys that can come in and help you play winning football?
COACH KELLY: I think any top-notch football program has to be able to call on some of these freshmen players that have the mental and physical, and I underline the mental, as well as the physical ability to come in and compete right away, because it creates competition within your promotion that rises all ships. And that means the upper classmen, as well.
So when you get a freshman class like that that can come in and compete and play at that level, those kids see it. Those veteran kids see it, and it really drives them to be better players. And I think it’s a very, very important factor.
Q. In your time here, openers, sometimes you get what you expect and sometimes you don’t. Is this as close to exactly what you thought you had throughout August showing up on opening night?
COACH KELLY: I thought we had an athletic football team. I thought we had the best depth that we had. But you still have to put it together. I thought our special teams, we missed a couple kicks here and there, but I really liked the way we played. I thought our special teams played with the kind of speed necessary.
So all in all for a first game, this is what you should look like and it’s something that you can build on.
Q. Did all the burned thorns (ph) in the stadium bother you?
COACH KELLY: Ah, a little bit quite honestly, I think in pregame. But in pregame you’re looking around and you see it. And then it just kind of closes in after that. But I was just, you know, probably just looking for something to complain about at that time, because (laughing) I had no players to get on or anything like that. (Laughter).
What I loved was our students. I mean, they were awesome. Just to see them there early. That was kind of the balancing factor for me is that when I saw some orange shirts, I could immediately turn over to our students and see them and just a massive amount of them over there. Made me feel better.
Texas Longhorns’ Head Coach Charlie Strong
COACH STRONG: We talked about on defense containing their quarterback and not allowing him to throw and he had all day to throw the football and they were able to execute on some big plays.
But we have to get better. We have to improve. We are just a better football team than what we showed, and I just keep saying, that we’ve just got to keep believing in it and our players have to keep believing in it because we can’t go out and not execute and not complete a game, just play a complete game, offense, defense and even in the kicking game. Just wasn’t sharp. Wasn’t able to punt the ball and ended up punting the ball out of bounds. And you look at the young players on the field, Malik end up playing good.
And the kicking game — the thing they were able to do is get the pressure running games inside. We have two young guys on the offensive line — inaudible — getting pressure on our quarterback. So you know, we still got to get better, got to get ready for the next one and just have to improve.
Q. Can you talk about deciding to go with Tyrone the second half —
COACH STRONG: He came out and think he got the wind knocked out of him, just run Tyrone the second half.
Q. You lost a lot of starters on defense to draft picks and knew that might be a struggle. Is your offense in a worse place than it was last year against Arkansas?
COACH STRONG: I think we just have to do a better job of protecting the quarterback. We played against a really good front tonight against Notre Dame. Can’t take away anything from them. They did a great job. The defense had a lot of players coming back and they played well. It was just tough that we were not able to block them but got to give us a little more time to throw the ball.
COACH STRONG: It was a throw with a run and I think it was good enough to throw. Trying to get the ball on the outside of the perimeter.
Q. How would you assess Tyrone’s performance?
COACH STRONG: Didn’t really have a chance to completely watch because I’m sitting there trying to do things right — indiscernible — got pissed off at the offense, just couldn’t move the ball. But we had to protect Tyrone, protect him — along the middle there to build — we’ve got to give the guy a chance to play the ball.
And I’ve said this, the worst thing we can do is get him to third down and we got him to third down tonight and allowed them to just tee off. And when they got to third down, they just teed off and were able to get the pressure.
Q. Not a whole lot of film — what are your impressions?
COACH STRONG: No, we saw the Bowl game last year where he played very well. But you look at it, and our main thing was making sure we contain him and not allowing him to run with the ball. Just gave him too much time to throw it and they have really off-center receivers. You look at Carlisle, you look at brown, Robinson, they have some guys that they line up outside and they can beat you. When you allow them the time and he can find them, which he did, he was able to make that throw.
The thing about it, when you try to bring pressure on it, he can beat you in his legs because he can make a guy miss and now he’s off and running. When you try to back off in the coverage, you try to get him the proper drops — and the proper drops, which allowed the receivers to get open behind him.
Q. People think the offense might change into a speeded up version of last year. Is this the offense that you wanted to see?
COACH STRONG: I’ve said this: In order for us to win this game, we have to play a great defense in order to run the ball and we have to run the ball downhill and we didn’t do that tonight. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to win is you have to run the football and you have to protect your quarterback which we didn’t do and you have to control the clock and you have to win special teams which we didn’t do.
We have to run the football on offense and that’s what we didn’t do. We didn’t run the football and then to have over 200 yards rushing — the thing that happens to you, you can’t run the ball, you have no chance.
Q. I know you’ve only coached one game but do you worry your program is going backwards?
COACH STRONG: We’re not going backwards. Early in the season. We just have to somehow get the thing moving forward.
Q. With the offensive line in the condition that it’s in right now, how much can you keep doing what you’re doing offensively and how much will you have to change over next couple weeks to keep up?
COACH STRONG: You know what we’ve got to do is we have to relax and guys need to just go execute and then we have to get them in the right place and that didn’t happen always. And when you realize what your weaknesses are, then you can’t go out there and thinking, hey, that this is going to work. We’ve just got to get a package, get a package, put in place and let’s go run with it.
Q. Moving forward, will you see Heard —
COACH STRONG: He’s going to get time. I think he played, what, two series in the first half and we got down 17. He got tired and he’s going to continue to play and the line is going to continue to get better but everyone has to get better.
Q. You talked about being frustrated with the defense. How much higher were your expectations of them and how disappointed were you?
COACH STRONG: Well, you had to control the line of scrimmage, and the thing you want to do is just make sure that you stop the run and we didn’t do a great job of stopping the run. If you can’t stop the run, then you don’t stop the pass, you’re going to have issue. You always want to try to make a team one-dimensional which we didn’t do.
It’s about making sure we can control the game on defense. We gave up some big plays early and once we gave up big plays, we were not able to capitalize on offense, and then the issues started happening to us.
Q. When you say you stuck with Tyrone — is that because you didn’t want to expose Jerrod?
COACH STRONG: Not so much you didn’t want to expose Jerrod. Just felt like Tyrone could make the throws and get us back in the game. But we didn’t protect him so we weren’t able to make those throws.
Q. You and Coach Watson have been together for awhile. Is this the kind of game, especially after the last three, do you have to go back and make sure you’re on the same page, especially with the offense?
COACH STRONG: Well, just our whole team, not only on offense, we’ve all got to make sure, the coaching staff, that we are on the same page and we have to start doing things the right way with technique and fundamentals and we can go out and we just don’t get embarrassed.
Q. After all the optimism heading into the season, how big of a shock was this performance to you?
COACH STRONG: Well, it’s always a shock and you go get embarrassed. You would have figured out we would have came out and played much better than we did. And you can’t take anything away from Notre Dame. But you can still look at it at the end of the day at 38-3 and I think we are a better football team than that.
All right. Thank you.
Notre Dame Linebacker Jaylon Smith
Jaylon Smith: It was a great atmosphere and you have the fans behind. Any time you can get the momentum early, it’s great.
Jaylon Smith: Felt amazing. We were all anxious out there but the leaders, the captains, we were trying to make sure we were humble and we were doing our job and making sure that we had our eyes open and things like that.
Q. The Texas pedigree —
Jaylon Smith: Just an honor. Shows true detail into the defense and the way we communicate and just scrambled to the ball and things like that. I really wasn’t born yet the last time they got held to that but it’s a great accomplishment, two great teams with a lot of rich history and tradition.
Jaylon Smith: Just another year under the belt and a better understanding of the defense.
Jaylon Smith: Just an amazing feeling just to make sure that you’re doing your job, making sure that I’m eliminating mental errors and things like that, and making plays. That’s a part of the game. I’ve been playing the game since I was seven years old, so it’s all about having fun.
Jaylon Smith: 25 is my man — inaudible. Just got to do it for him. Got to do it for us. Got to do it for the Lord and family and things like that, and he’s going to be with us. He’s a big part of our team and he’s going to keep encouraging and teaching the young guys.
Q. You guys have such high expectations this year. How much is the way you played tonight not just about winning but playing to your potential?
Jaylon Smith: It is, it’s a matter of we didn’t want to start off with the mentality of it being just the opener. We wanted to start off mid-season, with a mid-season mentality as far as the execution and things like that. We showed great confidence. You’ve always got to clean up some little stuff and things like that, but we’re heading into the right direction.
Q. In terms of movement — improving next?
Jaylon Smith: Making sure that the communication is solid for the entire game. We can’t take a play off and miss a communication. We have to make sure the D-Line, and we have to make sure the secondary is in tune and in sync with each other and things like that.
Q. You mentioned another year under the belt, do you feel more freer? Seems like you’re right there.
Jaylon Smith: Not really wrong, just a part of my job, having a better understanding of, you know, what the offense is looking for, the opponent, and a better understanding of the defense as far as where — knowing where the defensive front line is going to be and kind of where I play.
And then from there, it’s just like I said, it’s just playing football.
Q. Were you ever —
Jaylon Smith: It was more a zone. I think — in scramble, and I made the play.
Q. Four sacks, high from last year, single-game total —
Jaylon Smith: Yeah, I think I had one of those. It was real nice to see the effort and the enthusiasm and the intensity. That’s one thing that you need to have when you’re rushing is speed and intensity.
Jaylon Smith: Oh, tremendously. Just coming off like a two-game losing streak at home, defending our turf, and that’s something that Coach Kelly preaches. And we’ve just got to take it one day at a time and one game at a time.
Q. Getting the early lead, and how you played in the second half —
Jaylon Smith: Not at all. Just having an early lead, and kind of a secure lead, we had a chance to get the younger guys in there. That was real fun.
Q. Did you expect the young guys —
Jaylon Smith: I mean, I’m prepared for anything.
Notre Dame Player Quotes
Nick Martin – Graduate Student – Center
On the offensive line’s performance…
“We were having fun to be honest. We were just ready to play. I thought we did well.”
On the atmosphere…
“It was awesome. I mean there’s nothing like it. I’m going on my fifth year here and it’s like the first time every time we go out there.”
KeiVarae Russell – Senior – Cornerback
On first game back…
“It felt great. You just have to get first game jitters out of the way, and now that it’s over I feel confident as ever. I was out there today not just for me, but for my family, for the fans and everybody who has been waiting for this return.”
On the play of his teammates…
“When your guys are playing at a high level – offense, defense and special teams – it really just allows you to relax. It reassures you that we are going to be fine.”
Joe Schmidt – Graduate Student – Linebacker
On first game jitters…
“I’m a really loose guy, but I was a little nervous. Once we got to the stadium though, it was all good. It was just so fun to be running around out there.”
On playing Texas…
“We have so much respect for Texas as a football team and as a football program. They have a lot of great players.”
On returning to game action…
“It was just really fun to run around out there, have the guys communicating so well and running to the football.”
On Notre Dame’s defensive line…
“I just can’t say enough good things about our defensive line right now. They bullied, dominated up front and I was really, really thrilled with how they played. That made it fun tonight.”
C.J. Prosise – Senior – Running Back
On starting the season….
“We got out there in the first game and got a big win for the team. It’s definitely some good momentum starting the season off.”
On his 20 carries….
“I feel great. I think my offensive line did an amazing job. They gave a great push all night. We could really do anything we wanted to in the run game. I think that was a big reason for our win. We definitely did a great job, especially the offensive line.”
On playing running back….
“It definitely felt different, just being inside the tackles. It’s just something I haven’t done. I’m always just trying to run as hard as I can and be great for the team.”
On feeling comfortable…
“A great way is to just get out there and get used to what is going on, like linebackers blitzing. I think we got a lot of experience tonight.”
Romeo Okwara – Senior – Defensive End
On the game….
“I felt like we played a great game, especially the defense. I’m always having fun running around out there.”
On being ready for the home opener…
“We have been working since January after that last game against LSU. We’ve been ready for this season, especially after camp. We’ve been feeling really good and it showed on the field.”
On the Defense…
“Our mindset on the defensive line before the game was to attack them and that’s what we did.”
Ronnie Stanley – Senior – Offensive Tackle
On an impressive home opener…
“I think it was the beginning of what our offense can be and we showed a glimpse of what we can be. We still need to improve and we know that. The best part about it is that we understand how good we can be. We always need to come and improve every day.”
On the play of Malik Zaire…
“He keeps to himself and he is calm. He definitely knew the mission at hand, made it clear for everyone and kept us on the same page. He definitely got loud during the game. He was very calm during the huddle, very clear and made good communication.”
On the play of Josh Adams…
“I knew he was going to be a great running back. I didn’t know he was going to perform like he did today. I’m very happy for him and very pleased with the way he performed. He’s a very humble kid and very quiet. He is always there working and doing his job.”
Texas Player Quotes
Taylor Doyle – Senior – Center/Offensive Guard
On the team’s overall performance…
“We all know that as a team we’re better than that, and obviously it’s disappointing when you don’t play up to your standards you set for yourself. So moving forward, we know we have to continue to work to improve and to put a product out there that we’re proud of.”
On the quarterback being rushed to make plays…
“We didn’t have answers for some of the things they were doing, but that’s on us. We’re a better team than that. Moving forward we need to continue to improve and make sure that never happens again.”
On the offensive line’s development since last year…
“We didn’t change too much. The schemes are still there, obviously we’re getting rid of old things and putting in new schemes, but as far as the tempo goes, we’re counting on that to wear out teams and that’ll be a strong point for us.”
Malik Jefferson – Freshman – Linebacker
On his expectations for his first performance as a Longhorn…
“Just go out there, have fun and make plays. I couldn’t make every play, but I was trying my best. I was trying to play 100 percent every play.”
On his reaction to Texas’ defense performance…
“I’m very surprised. To be honest, I wanted to go out there and dominate. I’m not used to getting scored on. Playing as a defensive player, I know not to give up touchdowns.”
Johnathan Gray – Senior – Running Back
On assessing the Texas offense…
“We’re right there on the edge. There are minor things we need to correct. We’ve got to be more detailed in our work to get the running game going. Also, we’ve got to be strong in the passing game. All those young guys in the front, they’ve got to keep working. As a senior leader, I’ve got to keep those guys focused and have a great mindset.”
On his surprise regarding the outcome…
“I’ve got to get these guys going and know it’s not the end for us. We have another game to play and it’s at home. We have to protect our house, so we need to be prepared for that. “
Tyrone Swoopes – Junior – Quarterback
On confidence before and after this game…
“I mean it is just one game. We have eleven more to go. We have to go back next week, fix it and play better next week.”
On what Coach Strong said in the locker room…
“Just basically that we have to fix what we did wrong. Like I said, we have eleven games, so just fix it.”