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October 9, 2012

Kelly Q&A: Oct. 9

Brian Kelly revealed some of the match-up issues Stanford could create on Saturday, talked about Everett Golson's progress last weekend and offered more praise for Manti Te'o. Read the full Kelly transcript from his Tuesday press conference.

Brian Kelly: Okay, as a recap, our players have certainly enjoyed their experience in Chicago in the Shamrock Series. It was just a great atmosphere for our team, a great win and certainly one where we were able to put together a solid effort on both sides of the ball. 

So with that, we look to building on it against an outstanding Stanford football team. A lot of things stand out about this football team. First, they're a well‑coached team in all phases, offense, defense, and special teams. They're a physical football team. They play that way up front, in the back end, their running backs, tight ends. It's apparent across the board the kind of team you're going to play when you face Stanford. 

You put on the film and you see the kind of football team that they have become. There are a number of match‑up issues, too. Their tight ends are difficult to match up with. We're going to play a lot of great backs, and I don't want to throw superlatives out about everybody, but (Stepfan) Taylor is an outstanding back. He's proven himself. He's a physical player. He can get banged up, come back and continue to compete. You can see he's the heart of their football team and one of their captains. 

The outside linebackers are difficult to block, they're active. (Trent) Murphy and (Chase) Thomas are outstanding players and they have caused havoc with so many teams, not just this year but last year as well. Their defense is an outstanding group. They're difficult to run the football on, and it's hard to get the ball down field because their quarterbacks are under constant pressure and that was the case for us last year. 

We will have to get better as a football team this week. We will have to improve on our performance against Miami if we want to beat Stanford, and our players understand that the plan we have laid out for them this week is to get better. It's fundamentals, it's technique, it's assignments, it's offensively those things. 

If they follow the plan, the plan has worked pretty good. I think we have run over our last 15 regular season games. We're 13‑2, so if they follow the plan and really focus on the preparation and the things, we will be a better football team because we will need to be against a very good Stanford team. 

Q. So far the offense has played a variety from spread to option. Is there anything at this point that you have not seen? Building on that, is there anything that Stanford does that maybe you guys will recognize? 

BK: We know the style of offense that they want to play. To answer your first question, relative to the variety of offenses that we see, that's one of the unique things that we're challenged with, being out of conference, you're getting an assortment from the Big 10 to the ACC to Independent and Navy, you're getting a variety. Navy obviously and Michigan State want to pound the football. We have seen option football and play action with Perdue and Michigan and certainly a team that has great skill once they throw the ball down the field. 

We have seen those types of offenses, but Stanford is unique itself. Not only do they run the ball out of multiple formations and jumbo packages, they create great one‑on‑one match‑ups, so you would think you play a lot of zone you have to drop extra players down to defend the run which gives them a one‑on‑one match‑up, so another unique challenge for us. 

Q. You started the year out with the secondary and some guys having to step up, and there doesn't seem to be many growing pains, does that surprise you? 

BK: No, there have been growing pains and you just don't see them on a day‑to‑day basis. The growing pains are exported, and there are certainly areas of growth and development. We need more growth back there, as well, and not just back there. It's easier for a young player for us to see that growth, but I challenge offensively our players to that growth. 

Manti Te'o played great Saturday. In my opinion, his best game. It's hard for Te'o to keep pushing that ball and he does. It's easier to see it with the young guys. My point is everybody is challenged to up their game not just the defensive backs. 

Q. There has been a big initiative around football with breast cancer awareness and you'll be wearing a lot of pink this weekend. How important is that? 


BK: It's part of my life, the foundation we run centers around obviously breast cancer and the cancer research and eradicating cancer. In football everyone around the country recognizes now that this time of the year focuses on that and that's an incredible, powerful thing, for that to be in the national football league and high school and college football and we will get a chance to get everybody's eyes and attention toward that movement. 

Q. Does the "plan" include talking about the big picture?  When you see the team doing for the year? Do you talk about them about okay, we're 5‑0, let's talk about what we can do? 

BK: No, we don't talk about that level from 30,000 feet because it doesn't do us any good. All we can focus on is what we can control on a day‑to‑day basis. When I do maybe press conferences or talk to the media, sometimes I let our team know, listen, I'll talk in those terms. But among us, it's about today and what we do today. 

Q. Do you sense that they're beginning to see that they're head in a direction that something special can happen if they keep on doing the right things? 


BK: Certainly. They understand based upon some of the things that I've mentioned that if they continue to do the things on a day‑to‑day basis. That's the hard thing. We're talking about 18-to-21 years old that are easily distracted, so the charge to keep them focused on what they need to do to get better as a football player. 

I've worked this plan for a number of years. I've had great success with it. If they choose to continue to follow it they're going to continue to have success. It's the trust element of staying focused on what we can handle and what we need to handle and we will be fine. 

Q. At Cincinnati and you didn't have NFL Films coming in or Game Day coming in. Does that complicate things at all and what did you learn from that year to translate to this year? 

BK: I think each program has it's different challenges. All the players inspect Cincinnati moved downtown and lived among neighbors and well‑wishers and that sometimes is more difficult relative to keeping them focused. I think each program I have had has presented different challenges, but I will go back to the process and keeping them focused on the process on a day‑to‑day basis not only myself but all of our coaches. 
Our coaches understand that as well. So, yeah, we're singing the same tune, and it's not different. 

Q. As a coach, I know you're always worried about overlooking an opponent. Is it easy this week because Stanford has the win over USC and has had success over the past two seasons? Is it easy to keep the team focused on this week? 

BK: Yeah, they haven't beaten Stanford and if there is one team that has beaten us physically is Stanford, and they know that. Secondly, they turned the film on and watched what they did to their opponents, they physically intimidated their opponents and that's clear. They see when they turn on the film and watch the way they play the game, they don't need much push from me to know what to expect this weekend. 

Q. Stephon Tuitt hasn't been as productive the past two games. Is the opponent focusing on him more? 

BK: We would beg to differ. His numbers didn't show a productive player, but he was outstanding for us and in what we asked him to do against Miami and I'm not just trying to take the counter point on this, this is how he was graded out by the defensive coaches and in my observation as well. He was very, very effective for us in what we asked him to do on Saturday. 

Q. I'm sure as you came in here you were prepared for an increase of the "noise" but can you ever be completely prepared for that until you get into that moment? 


BK: Well, I think I'm seasoned enough to know what noise is and how that affects 18-to-21 years old on a day‑to‑day basis and the coaches. I think I'm aware of it. The noise is there regardless of whether you win or lose, it's there constantly. 

We have sold out this stadium since the 70s. There are 81,000 people here every week, so I don't think it's closed down, it's there, it's just making sure the football team is focused on the preparation. I don't think that's different in terms of what I've tried to do week‑to‑week whether I was at Grand Valley State and we won 24 consecutive games and now the Detroit newspaper was covering us, that was a lot of noise for us. It's just on a larger scale, but it's the same noise. 

Q. You have obviously had to prepare for it and spend more time on it and deal with it more than ever before.
 
BK: Absolutely, and I think when we get our players back in practice and meetings, we make sure that we set the tone clearly and clearly communicate what they need to do to be successful each week. So I guess here at Notre Dame you have to make sure you communicate directly with your players about all of those outside distractions, and I make sure I do that each week. 

Q. The last two years you have been defeated decisively by Stanford. What areas can you reply saying that you have significantly narrowed the gap? Of course the quarterback leaving from last year helps. 

BK: Sure. 

Q. What can you say that you know for sure that you have done and are capable of narrowing that gap? 

BK: I think we're stronger physically across the board. We're a mature football team. We have veterans on defense. From an offensive line standpoint we can handle words better. We had a ton of negative plays last year, you know, just a difference. We had 50‑plus running plays and we had one negative play against Miami. 

Whereas last year we had 20 negative plays, we had penalties. We're a more disciplined team, so much further along as it relates to taking care of the football and turnovers, and as you know, last year, it was a turnover mistake, negative play every other, seemed like every other play, so I think we're so much further along as it relates to how we play the game on Saturday. 

Q. Everybody has seen a running back come into the fourth quarter and put up big numbers when the game is over, Cam McDaniel did that again. What do you see from him on a daily basis in practice and secondly how do you see his role expanding in the future? 


BK: He is a very good running back. I know you have (Cierre) Wood and (George) Atkinson, and okay, and they're good running backs. We have four. It's hard to get 'em all touches. We're struggling trying to get those three guys. Cam is one heck of a good running back. He runs it as effectively as any of those three. He's used to the zone, inside‑outside zone. He came from that offense. He came from the shotgun offense and he runs the ball exceedingly well. We have no hesitation of putting him in the game. We only have one football, that's the problem. 

Q. I wanted to clarify something, the sixth game being the cut‑off for the fifth year of eligibility. I don't understand, I'm not sure anybody else does, is that a rule‑‑


BK: No, if you play after the sixth game then you can't be you can't use the 20 percent rule for the equivalency of playing. If I play you in Game 7, you lose your red shirt. 

Q. That's always been the case? 


BK: It has, at least as long as I've followed the rule, but I can get you further clarification, Brian (Hardin) is an expert on NCAA legislation, so I'm sure he can get back to you if we're not giving you the right information. 

Q. Coach, you mentioned Manti, you felt like he had his best game, and he keeps pushing the bar. The upper word with him, everything he's been through and what he's gone through, do you have to back off him a little bit, or is that not part of who he is? 

BK: I would say that if there was a concern for me it was going to be this weekend, because obviously there was some travel there, coming back and all the things that went on. Emotionally you might think the average person would have a little bit of a dip in energy and focus and it turned out to be the opposite. He was dynamic as a playmaker. He was making plays he hasn't made all year, and I think I am probably resigned to the same fact that you are. He's a unique individual and it doesn't affect him. 

Q. When you took the job, obviously Manti was a high‑profile recruit. Did you know who he was? He wasn't a starter all year for Notre Dame as a freshman. Did you have a sense of him? 

BK: Yes, I knew he was a national recruit. If you followed college football you followed that, I didn't know what kind of a player he was, then I saw he was a guy that shouldn't probably have been playing as a freshman. Knew about him and also knew that he had a long way to go and he's made that progress each and every year. 

Q. With switching gears to Matthias Farley, when you were recruiting him were you set on him being a safety?  Did you know where you were going to play him, or did you just see a great athlete who learned to play? 

BK: We saw a bright kid that as you know, if you know his background had not played high school football. He started playing soccer, and we saw him as an under recruited, raw talent that had outstanding ball skills, so we were projecting him, there is no question, in the recruiting process. We didn't have a specific position for him because he didn't have enough of a resume to say he was an offensive or defensive player. 

Q. You reminded us of the process with Golson, that there will be slips back and so forth. How do you feel like he came out of this Miami game? Where do you see that line going this week? 

BK: We threw the ball better, clearly, but there were a lot of throws left out there that we have to get back. That's the next stage for him. There are protections that he missed. There were some throws, but he definitely took a step forward in the passing game for us. Certainly it was the first time that we ran him and what I like that he did in the running game and showed progress other than running him was he went north and south. He wasn't out there shaking and trying to make people miss, he put his foot in the ground and he went north and south. 

Those two particular areas, improvement in the passing game and the way he ran, north and south, were definitely steps forward for us. 

Q. Stanford seems like the last team that's going to get involved in a shoot‑out, track‑meet‑type game. When you looked at the film, what did you take away from that game with Arizona? 

BK: I think Arizona's quarterback was outstanding. I don't know that he played at a level that he's never played before because I didn't have enough film to watch, but I hadn't seen a guy play that well so the quarterback was outstanding. Arizona got worn down. They're not a big, physical team. Stanford started to exert their will on them and that's how that game got up into the higher numbers. The quarterback was outstanding for Arizona, and then Stanford just wore them out. 

Q. The NCAA spends a lot of money marketing the concept of student athletes and extolling your virtues and all that. Stanford was in the national championship picture last year, you guys are unbeaten in the top‑10 this year, how significant is it for the sport of college football that the two premiere academic institutions in the country are so successful on the football field as well for the cynics out there that it can't be done in the class and on the field both. 


BK: I would hope you would write a story about it because I feel with your statement that it doesn't get enough attention. You have two outstanding academic institutions that are ranked so high in terms of graduation rates and I think there is a report on U.S. World and News Report in terms of the top institutions as well as on the football field. 
I know that's one of the reasons why I came to Notre Dame. I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that you could do it in the classroom and you can certainly do it on the football field. 

Q. Has anything changed since you've been at Central Michigan and Cincinnati and now Notre Dame, is it more validated? 


BK: We haven't validated anything yet. I would say that I am not frustrated that you can't do it at Notre Dame. There is hard work just like there is anywhere else in building a program but in no way do I believe that you can't, after my close to three years here at Notre Dame that you can't be a BCS football team, competitive BCS football team year in and year out. 

Q. After the game Saturday you talked about the left side of your line, offensive line and Chris Watt and Zack Martin, how have they learned to play together so well, and what has been their development individually and as a tandem? 


BK: They're close. They're inseparable off the field. They hang out together. To go up to team meal they will be eating together, so they're close and what that brings is a lot of collateral communication about their position and how they can help each other. There is an understanding. One of them's not leaving early and letting his buddy hang out on his own. There is that kind of understanding. 

Both of them are outstanding players, number one. Number two, they're very close friends and number three, they understand how they work together. They're a better football player and I think all those work together, not that Braxston (Cave) isn't part of this or (Mike) Golic or (Christian) Lombard, but those guys are specifically close. 

Q. Going back to Golson, was it getting him going against Miami, does that have anything to do with facing him against the best running teams the next two weeks? 

BK: No, I'm not that smart to take credit for that. We were just getting him out on the field and getting him playing and enjoying the experience. We were just so focused on getting him on the field and giving him an opportunity to compete. That's really what we were all thinking about. 

Q. You mentioned him seeming more confident once he got going. Was part of that being able to run around and have fun rather thinking too much? 


BK: Well, there is a lot. There is a lot of conversations that take place prior to the game, there is a lot of meetings, you know, we're in the process with Everett that every day we're building trust and we're allowing him to have some input in terms of "here is what I'm comfortable doing" and that's evolving on a day‑to‑day basis because we want what you saw. 

We want somebody who is smiling and having fun and enjoying it, but also disciplined and getting with us in the right place and make the right choices. I guess the easiest way is we're working hard with meeting in the middle. That's getting there. We're getting there. 

Q. Talk about Stanford's tight ends. 

BK: It's a nightmare, (Tyler) Eifert is the same problem if we split him out, if we put the ball in a good location he's going to catch it every time so we've got to have some answers there. Their two wide receivers. It just become a match‑up every time. We're going to have to look at key coverages, so we're aware of what our problems are, and we'll have to address them if the game shows them to be real issues. 

Q. How much does splitting guys out like that help the running game which is really Stanford's bread and butter? 


BK: It's a nightmare! Tyler Eifert was getting a safety on them every time, you know? We ran the ball, I think, I don't know, 20‑something times in a row, we ran the ball 30 times in a row. We were doing it because of Tyler Eifert. They were not going to let him go one‑on‑one so we ran the ball 30 times and that's a similar situation that Stanford has and we have to be able to balance that out. 

Q. I think one of the most amazing stats with those two tight ends, they have 39 catches and average 17.4 yards and when you think of tight ends it's more short and controlled. What in their scheme?

BK: Because you have to press 'em out. You can't give them off coverage. They're going to throw to them, he will run the corner over every time. You have to press him because you're bringing somebody down in the run game and you're getting one‑on‑one press coverage. 

So if you're throwing the ball down the field every route gets converted when it's pressed, for the most part so it becomes a one‑on‑one throw the ball up there. Some teams have limited that, some have not. We hope to be the team that can limit that. 

Q. After the Michigan game you mentioned that with Everett, he had a busy class load, with exams and everything. This is mid‑term week, at Notre Dame. Were there precautions or other elements that you have to do this week for the players, especially after your first two years that you notice that are needed or is that overrated? 

BK: No, it's not overrated, I can tell you that. It's something that we have to do. Offensively our coaches have to know what the schedules look like, we have to make sure that, you know, proper time is placed on the academics as well as football. There has to be a balance there. 

We're not going to let them say, well it's mid‑term week I can't practice, but we don't want to be so inflexible that if we give them extra time and move weight training to an hour later, we will try to be flexible, but we have to be aware of the schedule, and we've done a pretty good job with it, we can manage it. There is no question about that. 

Q. How does your offensive line help Everett at this point? What are they doing to help him with reads or checks? 

BK: The first thing is we haven't been sacked something like 85 consecutive throws, which helps, so protecting him, number one. Number two, Braxston is always communicating back if he's not hearing something that he should be hearing. And that goes across. 

For example, let's say they're in a 3‑down defense and there is a particular check, you're going to hear "three‑down, three‑down, three‑down" that communication back to Everett to remind him that it's 3‑down. There is it not communication and we are in a sugar huddle with Everett, turning toward him so he can look 'em in the eyes and communicate with them. 

So we're making sure the entire group is getting good communication and giving as much feedback to Eifert and that happens during the game and I make sure that I always pull him with me when we get with the offensive line. He's standing right next to me. So that's happening on a day‑to‑day basis. 

Q. How do you evaluate where Zack Martin has come from? He's solid on the left‑hand side. That's going to be important this weekend. 

BK: Left side, right side, inside, he's a leader. He was a good player for us last year, too, and he's a good player for us this year. He's taken his leadership to a new level. He's communicating, taking responsibility for all the players on the offensive line. I think he's evolved more as a leader for us more than anything else. 

Q. Because of being older? 

BK: Yeah, captainship puts you in a role, he's a captain, we have pushed him out there to take that because he is so with respected by his peers and maturity, coming into play. 

Q. Back on the or side with ball, when the corner is as physical as Bennett, how does that help counteract that stuff, being physical? 

BK: First of all they're outstanding blockers but they don't put them on the perimeter to block the corners they put them on the perimeter to throw the ball to them. So I don't know that he will be challenged with the big tight ends, they are in there to block big guys, so I don't know that he's going to get challenged relative to the physical play as well as he is going to have to play the ball well in the air. 

Q. When you look at Stanford is it a blueprint for success as far as what you guys do football-wise? 

BK: Well, I think they have challenges just as we do, they're an outstanding academic football team, they recruit nationally, and we do that. So I think there are similarities there. In terms of the construct of their team, I really don't know. I don't know what they do on a day‑to‑day basis, but they are well coached and they're a physical football team which we want to be as well. 

I think from the outside looking in, you would say that there is a lot of similarities. I don't know their specific blueprint and how they put it all together. 

Q. When you see Miami drop a pass, you guys having less turnovers, it's easy to say Notre Dame is getting breaks. To what do you attribute that as a coach? 

BK: I don't know that I attribute it to anything other than teams have to execute as well and you could look at it as a job or that they didn't execute quite as well, for whatever reason, maybe they didn't get enough sleep, didn't eat well. The plane ride was unbearable, I don't know. We don't look at it as we're getting great breaks, we are looking at it as we're forcing teams to execute and once in a while those things kinda, as you look at them in totality, they balance out. 

Q. Curious about TJ Jones and the aggressiveness in his game that was there at times last year but the team is more consistent this year. Is that your evaluation of him and what kind of steps do you think he's taken this season? 

BK: I think he's really focused on his craft in terms of route running. He knows he gets more playing time if he's an aggressive blocker, which gives him more opportunity to be on the field and catch the football. I think he understands that his playing time is predicated on him being a complete player. 

I think the difference between TJ this year and last year is his focus on being a complete wide receiver in all facets of the game. He ran a great come‑back route Saturday where he was precise in and out of his break and he's been a much-improved blocker. In all phases there is a commitment on his end to be the complete player. 

Q. I guess the first‑year starter we haven't asked you about is Lombard. Where have you seen his game improve? 


BK: It's been a constant step for him, the progress has been positive. There is a long way to go for him. I thought he handled the emotions of coming back to Chicago and a lot of ticket request and scrutiny, I thought he did a nice job Saturday in handling that emotionally and I think each and every week we are going to see continued progress. He's far from where we would consider him a finished product, but he's making the right steps. 

Q. On Golson running the two‑minute, you went with Tommy against Purdue, obviously it's different against Miami and how you ended the first half but your evaluation of how he did that and how important it was for you to see that? 


BK: It was very important and we were hoping to get that opportunity, not in the end of the game, but at halftime where we could really it was predicated on us picking up yardage and getting out of a vulnerable field position area for me, with him. Once we were able to do that, we went at it and went through our two‑minute script so we were able to get him work before the half. 

We thought he managed it fairly well, maybe too aggressively. We didn't want the ball thrown to the wild field on that last throw where there was one second left on the clock, maybe if we were at a different stadium that 1 second is not there. He was aggressive, but I thought he made strides and being comfortable out there and really doing the right things necessary to be effective. 

Q. What kind of a recruiting impact do you think this game has for you guys?  You're recruiting from the same pool that Stanford is in a lot of cases, a lot of crossover there. To be able to go in the living rooms and say, hey, we won, as opposed to we have lost three or four straight to these guys. How important do you think that is? 

BK: I've never looked at it as a singular game in the recruiting process. If you're deciding on Notre Dame based upon the one game then you shouldn't be coming here anyway. Is it going to be better if you win? Yeah, I wouldn't debate that for a moment, but to focus on a win‑loss situation against one team, I don't think it impacts our recruits. 

Q. You talked about building around defense. What's the most component important of a defensive group when you're starting out? 

BK: I think you have to make sure that it's valued within your program, and when I say "valued" through your recruiting efforts, an emphasis on taking players that can impact your defense and then in particular against the rush. So if the blueprint was public, it would talk about right out of the gates finding those guys that can physically control the line of scrimmage. 

Q. How can you distinguish yourself from a school like Stanford when you guys are so similar with a strong academic program and you are recruiting from the same pool. What do you do to distinguish from Stanford? 

BK: We think we have many, many distinctions that are unique to Notre Dame. We make sure that recruits that are looking at Stanford and looking at Notre Dame understand what we believe to be those distinctions. We clearly see them, and we make sure the recruits understand that there are some clear distinctions between Notre Dame and Stanford. 





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