Oct. 25, 2016
COACH KELLY: Obviously playing a very talented team in Miami. Outstanding athleticism. Mark Richt, I think we all know the respect for Mark and what he’s accomplished in his career.
This is, again, for us another challenge that we’re going to have to face in terms of an offense that has some very productive players. Kaaya leads Miami in a lot of categories. But I think he’s established himself more as a very consistent player for them on offense.
I really like obviously Coley, what he’s done as the top pass catcher in Miami of all time. I think that says a lot about who he is as a player.
Very talented corps of running backs, and definitely playing a lot of young players. But Coach D is well-respected in the fraternity as an outstanding coach that gets his players to play really hard, and play hard for four quarters.
This will be a very athletic team, one that we’re very familiar with. Another exciting challenge for our guys to get better.
We made some progress. We just haven’t been able to close out games, which has been obviously the story this year. We’re going to. It’s just a matter of time. We’re all frustrated. But the attitude’s been great. Our kids have worked hard. They want to win. We’ll find a way to win one of these games and we’ll keep battling till we get one, and hopefully it’s this weekend.
With that, we’ll open it up to questions.
Q. How did you spend your bye week?
COACH KELLY: I was on the beach tanning. Didn’t have any work to do here (laughter).
Little bit of recruiting. Most of the time here in the office. You know, wanted to make sure that I was able to quality control a lot of things on offense, defense and special teams. Did a little bit of recruiting, as well.
Q. When you took this week, did you look at all at long-term what you want to do with your defense beyond this year? Obviously you have a plan for this year, but just kind of long-term what you want to evolve into.
COACH KELLY: I’ve had those thoughts. I don’t think they take up too much of my time. My time is spent on the present right now. I don’t look too far ahead. I think I’ve stayed with very similar thoughts about not mortgaging the future, not dwelling too much on the past, but living in the present right now.
But there are times that I’m always thinking ahead in terms of what I want it to look like. But most of my time and focus and attention is on right now.
Q. I imagine that there’s no occasion for you to look at the film from Miami last year, but their defense in one year has gone from 105th to first in tackles for loss, 17th in sacks. What do you see them doing defensively that’s allowed them to be so successful in creating negative plays?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think there was some good personnel there. I think they’ve really let them go. They’ve kept it for them probably, for their personnel, they’ve allowed their personnel to be who they are. Not to take anything away from the former staff, but I think they really have identified who they are and allowed each one of their players to be the kind of player that they were recruited to be, and just go play.
You don’t see a lot of fronts, a lot of coverages. They’re going to let their athletic ability stand out. It’s similar to our situation where, you know, in a few short weeks we went from 102nd, 103rd to 63rd in defense. You can make those jumps quickly. I think that they’ve been able to do it because they’ve had very good players and they’re letting them play.
Q. In terms of offensive line progress, what are you looking for coming out of the bye week? What’s realistic? When we asked you last week, you had a pretty long laundry list of things you wanted to get accomplished with them. How well can they improve and how quickly?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think progress is relative to what you folks see and what we see, right? Progress is always going to be defined based upon winning from one week to the next.
But for me, progress will be maintaining a double-team and not splitting a double-team. You know, maintaining a block back on the offensive line. You know, squeezing on a five-man protection instead of jumping out on a five-man protection.
I don’t want to give you a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but progress is seen differently. I don’t know what answer I can give you, other than the progress that I want to see is really different from what I can articulate to you.
Q. Let me put it this way. Do you feel that that progress will start showing up in a more productive running game and fewer sacks? I realize there are other things that are involved in those.
COACH KELLY: So there becomes the totality of what we’re talking about, right? Fewer sacks equals a lot of different things: receivers running the routes at the proper depth, the quarterback getting the ball out of his hands.
So, yeah, I think that’s going to happen, but I think it’s going to be all of those units coming together.
I think for the progress that we all want to see, you’re going to see it, I’m going to see it differently, and sustaining some of the things that I need that offensive line to sustain.
Those to me are some of the fundamentals that we can directly influence on the offensive line specifically. The other things, like sacks going down, what you see as being more successful, that’s going to happen because all these other units are going to play better, as well.
Q. I know Troy Pride, you activated him fairly late in the season. You had your reasons. Has he lived up to that expectation? Is he living up to that? With a track guy, how do you know when that’s going to translate to really good football and how do you know when he’s a track guy?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, good question.
I just think that guy has to show himself in football games. He did it in all-star competition. He was really productive when he played in higher competition, if you will. So there was a great deal of confidence that that was going to be able to translate.
Then when he got here, it took us a little while to really feel as though he was going to assert himself. I think college, the transition, all those things sometimes keep you from being the kind of player you are.
I think once he started to feel comfortable, his athletic ability and his ability to play showed itself. That’s why he was a little bit late in kind of getting involved. It wasn’t because he lacked the football instincts or the ability to play, I just think the transition as a true freshman slowed him down a little bit.
Q. Any change in the status of Devin Butler?
COACH KELLY: No, no change.
Q. Are you concerned at all that DeShone Kizer is putting too much pressure on himself, that he’s trying to carry the offense on his own?
COACH KELLY: No, that’s not one of the conversations that I’ve had with him in terms of putting too much pressure on himself.
I think there’s a number of things that are kind of collateral to ineffective play as an offense. They’re not necessarily on DeShone. And then there are some things that DeShone has to continue to improve on.
The development of a quarterback like DeShone, it’s happening every day. It happens with quarterbacks in the NFL still. He’s in that learning curve. When I say ‘learning curve’ I don’t mean, What’s that coverage? I mean fundamentals, mechanics. All those things are happening every day.
So I’m not worried that he’s putting too much pressure on himself. I just want him to not get frustrated and continue to work and improve on the things that he can control.
Q. (Question regarding interceptions.)
COACH KELLY: I think it’s a combination of pressing a little bit, wanting to make some plays. That’s where we have to do a better job of protecting him. We’ve got to do a better job of being more specific in routes, and knowing where they’re going to be. We’ve got to be able to help him in those situations.
You know, it doesn’t take him off the hook totally. He’s responsible, as well. We all are. I’ve got to do a better job of putting together a game plan offensively where all those pieces are where they’re supposed to be. So who’s not grasping, Where is my check down, Where is my late add into this route? That’s on me, too.
Just to answer your question, I’m not worried about him in that. We’ve got to do a good job of giving him a game plan where he knows where all the pieces are on a play-to-play basis.
Q. Your teams here have been pretty good at home, especially the past four seasons. Is there a reason why they haven’t been very good this year at home?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a combination of transition. We’ve obviously made a huge change on defense. Didn’t feel like we were going in the right direction there, so I made a change defensively. I think we’ve corrected that course. But that attributed to some high points and giving up too many points on defense. So that’s one area, obviously.
Then offensively, we’ve been wildly inconsistent in a number of areas on the offensive side of the ball. Those inconsistencies are a product of inexperience and coaching that needed to be probably better adept at managing that situation. That’s the best way I could put it.
Q. What do you do at this point? A lot of times motivation, big bowl game, past championships. At 2-5, what do you use as a motivation to keep the team wanting to keep going and wanting to win?
COACH KELLY: Well, these kids, all these kids, come to Notre Dame because they want to be challenged. So they have incredible intrinsic motivation every day to get up, to go to class, to want to succeed. It’s why they come here. There’s an immense amount of pride. They want to freakin’ win. They want to win.
They really don’t care whether they get a Visa gift card in the bowl game. They want to practice more. They want to be with their teammates. They want to be with their guys. They want to win football games. They want to be successful in the classroom. They want to be successful on the football field. That’s why they came here. That’s why I’m here. That’s all we talk about. That’s all we do every day, is think about how we can be more successful.
So there’s no carrot there that is really more appealing to us than wanting to win a football game.
Q. I know a lot of players don’t know a lot about the history of Notre Dame, but there’s a long history of winning. Is there any factor of not wanting to be among the worst teams of Notre Dame? Do you think that drives the team at all?
COACH KELLY: You know, we don’t spend time talking about worst or bad or all-time negative, things of that nature. We are who we are. We’re 2-5. We know where we are. That’s not really going to be a solution to us.
As I said to you earlier, if I’ve got to get them motivated to be successful by using, You guys don’t want to be one of the all-time losingest football teams, then we recruited the wrong guys.
These guys got a ton of prize. I don’t have to hit them in the nose with a newspaper and remind them of that. We don’t talk about that. We talk about, How do we get a win?
Q. What did you learn when you went back to self scout and look back on the season?
COACH KELLY: What did I learn? That we’re 2-5 still. There’s reasons for being 2-5, and then there’s reasons that you can’t explain why you’re 2-5.
We looked at all the numbers, the analytics, the film. Part of it is it’s a tough game, you got to make plays. What separates you from winning and losing is a play here and a play there.
Other things that are more probably germane to your question, down 84 yards per game rushing, which makes a difference. I think our third-down efficiency has to be better, especially in third to four and seven. Our ball-control situation has to be better now.
We’re keeping the points down, but we’re limiting possessions. We went from 15 possessions earlier in the season to this past game we had four possessions in the first half. That’s like playing an option team. We’re going to keep the points down, we’re probably not going to get off the field quite as quick as we did earlier in the season.
There’s a number of different things that we have to alter and change how we address game management. But by and large, any adjustments that are made are made internally about installations, practice organization, things that you really wouldn’t see. But we’re trying to get to the end, and that is win more football games.
Q. Are those things that you think can be rectified quickly or is it going to take a while?
COACH KELLY: No, no, I think there are some things that we can do to help out the efficiency, just like we did on defense. I think we can help out the efficiency on offense quickly.
Q. How have you seen Nyles Morgan kind of evolve as one of the team’s leaders over the years?
COACH KELLY: Nyles hasn’t changed a lot in my dealings with him. I think he’s becoming a little bit more comfortable. He’s not somebody that enjoys getting up in front of a group. I had to kind of push him in front for the last pep rally to get up and speak. He’s not that kind of guy. He never has been.
But I think what I see with him more than anything else is he’s not afraid to hold his teammates accountable. He’ll speak up from that standpoint. But he’s tough, he’s committed. He loves to play the game. I think probably if there’s one thing that has changed, his presence is felt every day on the practice field and in the meetings.
Q. You mentioned that Miami is doing better defensively with that go-play attitude. How do you make a team pay for that type of approach?
COACH KELLY: Well, some of the things that we haven’t done well offensively is that we have fallen into a similar trap that we were dealing with earlier defensively, is we’re probably doing a little too much. When you do the things that you practice every single day, it becomes second nature, you can play free, you can play fast. But you know where they are. That’s helpful. But they’re extremely athletic on that end of it, as well.
I think from an offensive standpoint, we can just be who we are. Let’s practice what we’re good at and let’s be better at execution in this kind of game.
Q. They’ve had a ton of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, suspensions before the season even started. How have they been able to have that success, considering how many young players are playing? I guess that speaks to the overall talent level of their program.
COACH KELLY: Well, they’ve got some elite corner play. They’ve gotten really good corner play. I think their safety play is very strong. They can cover. They can run support. They’ve gotten great play I think in the back end of their defense.
They’ve rolled a lot of players in on the defensive line. You mentioned injuries. They’ve had a lot of injuries. But they do have some pretty good depth.
Now, I think they’ve been tested recently with that. But I think a lot of depth there.
Then the linebackers, you know, stayed pretty much injury-free.
A lot of young talent. A lot of guys flying around. Like I said, I think Coach Diaz has done a nice job of keeping the points down. He’s not getting too exotic. They bring a fair amount of pressure, but they don’t put themselves in high-leveraged situations. They go track you down, they run you down.
Q. Your first day of practice, we remember Josh Adams I think pulling up that day, whether he had a knee or hamstring or whatever. Without giving his medicals, has he been 100% healthy at any point this year? Has that been an issue with his effectiveness?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that he hasn’t been at the level that he wants to be. He’s been great in terms of his work ethic and getting into the training room. But a runningback and soft tissue injuries can sometimes linger. He’s fought through it. But I think I’d be less than honest to say that he’s been 100%, but he’s been fighting through it.
Q. Somewhere in the fourth quarter, near the end of the game, James Onwualu looked like he suffered a knee injury. Do you expect to have him?
COACH KELLY: It was not a significant injury. He practiced at full go on Monday. Yesterday we were able to go for about an hour. He was cleared. We have nobody that’s held out of practice yesterday.
COACH KELLY: Cleared. He was cleared for contact.
Q. The question about self scouting. When you go through that, how often are you discovering something versus just confirming what you already suspected?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think in times like this when you’re searching for more answers, quite frankly in an area where I haven’t been very often, there’s a little bit more self-discovery.
I was looking at a lot of things. I was looking at special teams, defense, defensive efficiency, red zones, things of that nature. Then to the point where I was actually going back and looking at sequencing, play calling, all of those things.
I think just the state you’re in, you’re not leaving any stone unturned from that standpoint.
Q. You tweaked your practice a little bit a couple weeks ago, third down, red zone. Is that going to be the new format moving forward?
COACH KELLY: No, no, I think that emphasis needs to continue. I think we found out a couple of other things in that area that I think will help us with some guys that are finding their way through those zones, you know, what kind of savvy you need to have down there. They’re learning along the way.
But I think we can help them out. This is a lot about how you can help your guys get over that hump, as well.
Q. Tarean, what does he give you that’s different from Josh and Dexter that’s most important for you now?
COACH KELLY: Vision. You know, he’s a vision runner. I think what I mean by that is, first of all, he has the patience to allow the offensive line to do their job. Both of those guys are physical runners that sometimes want to create the hole. T is going to wait for it to develop and runs with great vision. He’s going to allow the play to develop.
That’s a learned ability. You got to take a lot of reps. You got to be in there. You got to see a lot of things. You’ve got to trust what’s happening in front of you.
Those guys don’t not necessarily not trust it, but sometimes they want their physical ability to take over the play. I think that’s what Tarean gives us.
Q. I assume he’s probably your best pass (indiscernible) guy. Is that accurate?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think what he does more than anything else is he can recognize and put himself in a good position more times than not.
Q. You addressed motivation earlier. The desire to play makes sense. Nobody is not going to play hard on Saturday, regardless of the record. Are the things you’re on guard for more is the desire to prepare the same way, that your Tuesdays are the same, that your Wednesdays are the same, as opposed to worrying about how guys are responding on Saturday?
COACH KELLY: That could be an issue if there’s not a belief in how you’re teaching and what you’re teaching.
Look, the days of, Just do this because I said so, are over. There also has to be a sense of what I’m teaching you and what we’re doing is good for you right now and for the long haul, and the good of the team. That teaching has to resonate as well when you’re dealing with your football team that’s 2-5.
You just go out there and say, Do it because I told you to, that doesn’t mean I have to have a discourse with every player as to why we’re doing something, but they have to see the benefits as to why we’re doing it and what it’s going to do to benefit themselves and the football team.
Q. Maybe a little different explanation in the meeting, explanation why we’re doing this?
COACH KELLY: Here is what we’re doing. Here is how we’re going to get better in this area because of this. We’re going to run the route this way because of these reasons. Take a look at this.
Q. Being a Red Sox guys, are you going with the Cubs or the Indians?
COACH KELLY: Boy, that’s a tough call. In both those instances, you know, you’re rooting one for the underdog of Cleveland, and obviously Chicago hasn’t been there. But I’m going to go with the Cubs. I think my geographical awareness, I might get a pass this week where I’m not on the front page of some newspaper if I stick with the Cubs. Maybe I’ll make the Cleveland newspaper.
Q. Working on a story on Corey Robinson. How much has he meant to your team this year in transitioning from a player to a student coach?
COACH KELLY: Corey has done a nice job. I like his engagement. When I say ‘engagement’, his investment to the team is one of presence. He’s here every single day. As the student body president, you could easily make the excuse of, Hey, I got a meeting, I can’t be here. This has been a priority for him. So I’m very impressed with the fact that this is a priority for him, as well.
That has allowed him to engage our players, and in particular the younger wide receivers. So it’s been felt, and I know our players really enjoy having him, and I enjoy having him around.
Q. How much has his leadership affected the team, especially in the wide receiver room?
COACH KELLY: Well, he’s an extremely engaging person, as you know. He builds great relationships with the players.
Leadership takes different forms. His leadership style is very positive, reaffirms. He’s very good at carrying the message on a day-to-day basis for me. He’s been a very good leader.
Q. Special teams have had all five of the major units great moments, then moments that have hurt you.
COACH KELLY: Indeed. Indeed.
Q. What is the charge going forward? You can’t spread yourself too thin where you’re spending more time there, but do you see them as trending up because they have had good moments that you can use as teaching points?
COACH KELLY: Well, my assessment is that we’re well-coached in the area. I think that as I look at it, and have gone through it very extensively, we do some really good things.
We have some players on there that I think are extremely athletic and are talented that have to be a little bit more experienced. Then we have to be smarter in some of the things that we do. When I say ‘smarter’, I don’t mean that they are fundamentally flawed. I mean that we may be a little too aggressive in some of the things we ask our players to do.
So it’s a little bit of both. I think we’re well-coached in the areas of special teams. We may push the envelope a little bit in asking our guys to do some things that for some young players might be a little bit too much at this point. So we just got to be a little bit smarter in what we do.
If you would have asked me where that arrow is, I think it’s up.
Q. There’s some veteran guys that are good on special teams. Is it too much to get them out there to help out at this point?
COACH KELLY: No, I think it’s a combination. It’s a combination of if I’m going to play a young player, I want him fully engaged in all those teams. It makes no sense to play a guy and not have him learning how to play this game and understanding the game by playing on one running team. I want him involved in all those teams so there’s a net benefit at the end of the day.
Then there’s certain players that just have a great knack for some of the jobs on special teams. We’ve done a little bit of everything. I think we’ve added some veterans at times. One thing we haven’t done, and this is a testament to our guys, nobody’s begged off special teams. There hasn’t been that, Hey, I play on defense or I play on offense. They all want to be involved.
Q. Kaaya, what do you see as his strengths, the Miami quarterback?
COACH KELLY: Well, he runs the system very well. He can go from direct snap to shotgun. There’s a little bit of everything that he can do. He can run a little bit of zone read. He’s not going to kill you with it, but he keeps you off balance. He’s a guy that likes to push the ball down the field.
His numbers speak for themselves. He’s a veteran quarterback. He’s probably the most veteran quarterback that we’ve played up to this point in terms of experience.
An experienced quarterback in college football, I mean, that’s hard to find today. With as many starts as he has… I would say that’s probably the number one strength, an experienced college quarterback.
Q. Has Mark also kind of let him go, let him be him, as you said earlier?
COACH KELLY: No, no. I would say there’s a tight rein there in terms of what they’re doing offensively. There’s a specific pattern to what they’re doing offensively. I think their system works very well. They’ve got talented receivers. They’ve got a talented runningback. They put themselves in good position.
But, no, this isn’t grab-bagging all over the place. There’s a clear stamp what Mark wants to accomplish on offense.
Q. Clearly this season has been frustrating for you. What is your personal level of frustration, and how have you dealt with it?
COACH KELLY: You know, I don’t know that I spend a lot of time on the word ‘frustration’ as much as looking for solutions to sometimes rather complex and difficult solutions. When I say ‘complex’, I don’t mean things that can’t be accomplished, but that take time. We don’t have time. Nobody has time in our society. Nobody has time, if you’re an annoyed fan, to wait for us. I get that. I’m not here to be in front of anybody to ask for time.
But I don’t think frustrated. It’s just you have to be, every single day, clear on your communication and what you want to accomplish. Sometimes you have to make sure, check yourself and your staff, that they avoid all the noise, because there’s a lot of noise around this place.
Q. Last week Jack was quoted as saying that you’ll lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year. What was your reaction to hearing and receiving that type of support?
COACH KELLY: Well, I was disappointed actually, you know. Anytime that your athletic director has to come out and say that, as a head coach you’re disappointed that any kind of comments like that have to be made.
I didn’t ask him. That was his decision. But, you know, I clearly understand what he was doing. He was probably sick and tired of being sick and tired, too.
But for me, it’s disappointing, certainly, that you have to make those comments.
Q. I wanted to ask about the injuries. Through the Stanford game, some guys banged up, needed a little bit of time.
COACH KELLY: We are the healthiest football team in America. We have nobody hurt. I’m telling you, we have nobody hurt.
Q. And your handicap is down to 6?
COACH KELLY: 4. Played all week and went to the beach.
Q. Who took advantage of having a few extra days, getting some rest, not taking some hits?
COACH KELLY: Probably Josh Adams, getting him off his feet, getting him in the training room. I think he’s going to benefit greatly from the week.
We had a lot of miles on Cole Luke. He’d been playing a lot of football.
I think some of the skill guys, in particular, benefited. Equanimeous St. Brown, a lot of volume this year for the first time in his career. Those high-volume guys benefited greatly from the week off. Any time you give those linemen a chance to recuperate, it’s always a great week for them, as well.
Q. You had spotted some guys that you wanted to see play more minutes on defense. They’ve come out and performed pretty well. During the time off, obviously not preparing for a game last week, did you get a look at anybody? Anybody you might expect to make an impact in the last half of the season?
COACH KELLY: No, but I think you’ll just continue to see the guys that we played continue to grow and continue to get the kind of minutes that we think that they deserve. I think Jonathan Bonner is a guy that stands out to me that has really earned some more playing time. I thought he really did some good things against Stanford.
I think those are the guys that have played, that are demanding by their play more time. Chase Claypool is demanding some more time. Kevin Stepherson is demanding some more time. I think there’s some players that even though they may have not gotten a ton of playing time, their play is starting to demand some more time, which I think you’ll see over the last five weeks.