NOTRE DAME COACH BRIAN KELLY
September 8, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
Q. Coaching him for four years now, what would you say is the one attribute about Tommy Rees that allows him to recover from a loss or put a pick behind him and to move on to the next play?
COACH KELLY: He's a competitor. He wants to win and wants to get out there and help his football team win. He loves to compete, loves to play, and that's always been part of his make?up.
Q. Did you come out last night relatively healthy? COACH KELLY: Yes, yep.
Q. You said you came out relatively healthy, but it looked like T.J. was a little bit banged up in the middle of the game. Was there any issue there with him? COACH KELLY: Yeah, he had a slight shoulder sprain, but looked good today. He'll be able to practice on Tuesday.
Q. What's it speak to his toughness that he was able to play through that and still have the game that he had? COACH KELLY: Yeah, T.J.'s a senior captain. That's what you expect from your seniors and your captains in particular. On the road, you've got to have those guys step up and play for you. We've got a lot of guys that play for Notre Dame that have had to go in in similar circumstances and tough it out like that. But it was certainly that's what you expect from a T.J. Jones.
Q. Switching gears a little bit, it looked like last night KeiVarae had a pretty difficult time with Jeremy Gallon. When you went back and looked at the film, was that mainly his struggles or more of a collective struggle from the secondary against Gallon? COACH KELLY: Yeah, again, they're talented players. We certainly need to play better, and obviously, they made some plays, some big plays when they had opportunities, and we didn't come up with them. I don't know if it was one guy in particular, but Gallon's a good receiver. KeiVarae is one of our starters, and when you're out there, you're expected to make plays. They made more plays especially when they needed them.
Q. Big picture says ?? T.J. said after the game last night he felt like this was a wake?up call for the team about what it takes to win. Was there any sign leading up that you felt like this team needed a wake?up call? COACH KELLY: No. I mean, I think if we're in a position where we don't understand what it takes to win at Michigan, then we're missing the boat. I think if you look at the game, we just have to play better and we have to coach better. I don't think there is any big picture relevance to those quotes other than you've got to get back to work. You've got to practice harder. You've got to pay attention to detail. Look, when you're coming off of playing for a National Championship, the bar is high. So the expectations are when you go on the road, you don't lose to Michigan, and that's really the standard that is set. I don't think there is anything that you would read into it relative to these guys not doing what's asked of them.
Q. Small picture, Ishaq, you moved him around a little bit last night. He was also kind of playing a spy role. What did you like about that match?up? What did you feel like you got out of it? COACH KELLY: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, we had him a couple times when we were in trail, but primarily, his job is in there to rush the quarterback. He got a big sack for us. I mean, that's not his primary role. I mean, we had a couple of times where we had two-man, and you've got to keep somebody on Gardner, obviously. But his primary role is going to be to get after the quarterback.
Q. I was just curious from a coaching philosophy perspective, they had a holding penalty that you declined and Gardner ended up scrambling for first down in the play after. Did you think about accepting that penalty or just kind of what was your thought process about declining it and going for third and long instead of second and really long? COACH KELLY: Yeah, I thought about it. I felt that I think it was 3rd and 8 or I thought 3rd and long, we could get off the field in that situation. Taking another down away from Gardner at that situation and forcing him to be precise in third?down situation. I thought in that situation that we'd get off the field. In retrospect, it didn't work out. Those are the decisions you make earlier in the game that you feel like your defense is going to get you off the field.
Q. After the game you mentioned, you said paraphrasing here, we're going to have to score more points than we have in the past. That doesn't mean we're not as good defensively. What is your identity defensively, and how good do you think this team can be defensively? COACH KELLY: I think we can play a whole lot better than we played last night; that is for certain. I guess what I'm saying is we had too many opportunities offensively that we didn't turn them into touchdowns again. We settled for field goals and very close to being able to put enough points on the board where last year we had to rely on our defense to win football games. I don't want to have to do that week?in and week?out. I think there are going to be some times when our offense has to win some ballgames. This happened to be one of those nights where, you know, they made some plays. Things happened their way, and the quarterback was on and sometimes you've got to go through some of those games. We did that last year on the back of our defense. I just felt like this was one of those nights where our offense had to bail out our defense. But in no way of saying our defense can't play championship defense. I think it can. It just wasn't this night.
Q. Last year you didn't go against a ton of mobile quarterbacks, but you did very well against them. Your longest quarterback run against you was 20 yards. You gave up one rushing touchdown to quarterback Blake Bell. You faced a couple of these guys. Do you have some more on your schedule. Is that a focus moving forward? Maybe not this week, but moving forward about being able to tighten that up a bit? COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, again, a lot of things are on our plate to examine. But I think when it comes down to it, you're dealing with an offense that can run option as well as power, and we've got to be prepared for a little bit of everything. At times we were not in a good position to handle some of the option things. We'll have to?? I said last night, we're going to have to coach better and we're going to have to play better. We've got an opportunity to take this film and get better from it.
Q. Is that what you meant when you were referencing tightening up everything? They understand what I mean? Is it on the field things only or are there things off the practice field that you want to tighten up as well and be more disciplined with? COACH KELLY: No, what I'm saying is that our guys have to understand week?in and week?out that you're going to get ?? you're going to get everybody's best shot, and you can't play the way we played on the road and expect to win. So we have to be demanding, attention to detail, all those little things. My comments are, just coaches, players, everybody, has to understand that it's 34?30 with 9 minutes to go in the game, we've got a chance to win it, and we've got to be technically better. We've got to be coaching player and playing better in crunch time, and that goes for everybody. So, again, no hidden secrets here. Just when the game is in the balance on the road, we've all got to do a better job.
Q. Last one from me. You had a pretty strong voice on defense last year, actually several. Who is the strong voice you think that's going to try to pull this unit together? Is it yours, is it a player on that defense? Where do you think that will come from? COACH KELLY: Well, I think it's got to come, you know, from the players. Our coaches are going to continue to lead, but our players have to continue to mature and grow. Our guys that have been there before have got to take hold and continue to grow and mature. We're only two weeks into this thing. So our expectation is that these guys that are now the starters that had not started before and those guys that have been playing a lot, have got to take hold and ownership in this defense. I think that's going to happen. It's a gradual process, but if we're better in November than we are right now, I'll be happy. We just have to continue to move forward.
Q. Kind of along those lines, Brian, when you have two games, two actual games worth of data of sort of feedback on your team, how much have you or do you re?learn or rediscover about what you have compared to maybe the assumptions you had the second before the ball kicked off against Temple? COACH KELLY: You're learning. There is no question we're learning more about the offense and the defense and special teams. I don't sit here today?? I'm not happy with the way things went on Saturday. But I look at our future and think that we could be a really good football team. So having said that, I've sat here some days and go, oh, my goodness, this is going to be a long haul. I'm confident that we can fix the things that need to be fixed and develop the players that need to be developed. I think that is the most important thing from my perspective.
Q. When you have a quarterback like Tommy who, obviously, I think we can all agree is not quite the running threat Everett Golson was, how does that affect what you do in the run game formationally? How consistent or more standard the run game needs to be? Because obviously, if you go empty, you have a guy like Everett that can run, but mostly when you go empty with Tommy, it's more or less going to be a pass. How does the lack of that mobile quarterback sort of funnel into the rest of what you want to do and can do philosophically in the run game? COACH KELLY: Well, we can be effective running the football. Other than the two third?down situations early in the game where some issues that can be corrected, we didn't punt the football after that. That was balancing in the run. I still?? I believe that Tommy can get us in the right run plays and do the things necessary for us to be effective. If he is?? if he continues to grow in the passing game, they're not going to want to bring pressure all the time. He's going to give us some great run looks, and that is really kind of where we're at right now. We've got to continue to grow in the passing game. And if we do that, that's going to give us more opportunities to run the football.
Q. Going back to the defense, is there anything that you see that is missing from last season? I know it's early, but the first two games, the whole defense in both games has been higher than all but three games last year. Is there anything where you see is a problem? COACH KELLY: Well, I mean, we've got new players. We've lost some talented players for sure, but I think we've got some guys that are learning some new roles. Dan Fox is in the Mike linebacker position. We've got a true freshman playing drop. We've got a new safety combination. You've got some new players that are growing. Like I said to the earlier question, we've got to coach some things up. We've got to clean some things up fundamentally. I like our players, and we've just got to continue to develop who we are. I think I would feel a lot differently moving forward if I didn't feel like we had the players necessary to have a good defense and the level of the defense that we're going to need with the schedule that we're going to play. We've got to clean some things up, and I'm confident that we will.
Q. You were happy with the way Grace played in game one. Is he still a bright spot after two games? COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I haven't gotten his grade sheet yet, but, obviously, he did some pretty good things. We've got some things to work on. I don't know that there's one guy right now that I would tell you that, hey, you know, he's?? we're collectively this is how all 11 fit together. If he's not in the curl, you know what I mean, or he's not fitting the A?gap the right way on one play, he's not a bright spot, right? Even though if he's done it the right way every other play. So I think that's really where we are. We're still evolving to get all 11 guys to fit every play the right way and use the right technique. So I would be very hesitant to point out one guy at this point in terms of their play. I think collectively we're still searching for all 11 playing consistently.
Q. It was a lot of fun developing a go?to receiver, but just if you could comment about overall the wide receivers, because the ball seemed pretty well?distributed last night, at least to three of the wideouts. COACH KELLY: Yeah, three of the wideouts, I think Troy Niklas showed that he can catch the football too and win some match?ups. We missed some that we'd like to have back. We've got to catch the ball better coming out of the back field, obviously. But I think I've said this before, I think the strength of our receiving corps will be in the balance of what we have there. Again, we've got to be more effective. We did some really good things. There is more out there for us. We can't leave points on the board that we did, again, last night. We're close. We're really close, but I do like the balance that's beginning to emerge.
Q. You were concerned about the workload of (Indiscernible), and he handled everything last night. But is he going to continue to do that or is (Indiscernible)? COACH KELLY: You were kind of breaking up. Did you say Amir Carlisle?
Q. No. I was talking about Brindza. You were concerned about his workload, and he handled all of the kicks. Will he continue to do that or is that Wulfeck? COACH KELLY: Yeah, he did a really good job. I've kept all those guys alive. That is kind of going to be a feel situation for me with Alex. I talked to him before the game and told Alex to be ready, and the same thing with Nick. You know, if Kyle feels tired or we've got to be careful that he doesn't get a dead leg. I've talked to a number of kickers who have done this in college, and that's my biggest concern. He obviously kicked very well last night for us, but I think this is something that I've got to be careful with from week to week.
Q. Last thing from me, with regard to George, you've known that he struggled with the pass, but there were times where Rees has to check down and throw him the football. How do you avoid some of the situations that he was placed in where he's not ?? catching the football is not George's strength? COACH KELLY: He's got to stand next to me on the sideline, so he's either got to catch the football or he doesn't get scripted in those plays. So George understands that if he's going to be in the game, he's got to run the right route. He's got to catch the football. Amir's got to do the same thing. He's got to run the right route and he's got to catch the football too. So we've got some work to do in that regard, but that's the nature of the offense. We can't make them one?dimensional. They've got to be able to do all those jobs.
Q. You mentioned a couple times tonight that you thought your offense was close. Having bridged that gap from close to being there with other groups in the past, what is the one thing that normally ticks over to that edge? Whether it's a player or schematic or just kind of the experience from getting close to being there offensively? COACH KELLY: Just recognition of what's happening from play to play, and not taking one play and assuming that the next one is going to look the same way. I think each play is a brand?new canvas, and you have to be able to see it and react to it. That's where we have to continue to evolve. Tommy did some really good things, but we had some opportunities that we'd like to have back that cost us some points. He did some really good things. I'm really pleased. But we're still not where we want to be there, and he's going to have to get us there. I'm pretty confident he will.
Q. I know you don't want to beat this to death, but a couple of the guys last night said maybe there were glimpses of whether the energy wasn't there in practice or the focus wasn't quite there before last night. They needed to be smarter and more disciplined as you said. Did you pick up on those in August and that type of thing? COACH KELLY: No. What I've told our team after the game might have had an effect on the way they've gone into the press conference. I told them they need to be smarter and more disciplined 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they may have inferred that I was talking about them in a manner that I had no intentions. They've practiced hard. They've worked hard. My point to them is if you're going to win on the road, you've got to be smart. We weren't smart enough in the times we needed to be, and we let the ball outside the defense. We didn't fit plays correctly. We didn't pass off into man coverages the right way. We just weren't smart sometimes and we weren't disciplined enough. So I was talking about how to win a game at Michigan when you've got a chance to win. Our guys are so conscientious and such great kids that sometimes they read a little bit too much into things.