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October 19, 2013

Kelly Q&A: USC Postgame

BRIAN KELLY: Exciting football team, great one, USC, Notre Dame, right down to the end. Really proud of our football team. We battled and mentally and physically continued to play every play, and that's what we ask for them. That's what I expect from our group is to keep competing regardless of what happens in the game.

We turned the ball over and we just keep playing. Late in the game when most would succumb to that, it doesn't faze our group, they just keep playing and keep competing, and that's really what's special about this group. They just keep playing.

They found a way to win the game. Our defense was outstanding in the second half and gave us the chance to win the football game. Great win, one that obviously when it comes to beating USC will go a long way with our guys. With that I'll open it up to questions.

QUESTION: Do you feel like the defense is a lot closer to finding that identity you've been talking about for most of the season?

BK: Well, I think we saw a great pass rush when we needed it. We played a lot of players. A lot of freshmen were on the field. I looked up one time and I was like, man, we've got a lot of guys out here. And they were just making plays, playing hard, competing. (Sophomore) Romeo (Okwara) is out there, and you've got (freshman cornerbacks Devin) Butler and (Cole) Luke and (junior linebacker) Joe Schmidt. You've just got a lot of guys. (Freshman safety) Max Redfield played today. Good to see all those guys and all of them contributing in some fashion. I think we're really starting to get that confidence that maybe at times we were lacking, and they're playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Q: Initial word on (senior quarterback) Tommy (Rees)?

BK: Yeah, he had a neck strain. He got hit, and they wanted to bring him in for more observation. He's really sore. We'll know more as we kind of move through the next 24-48 hours.

Q: Is there any kind of way to predict or what kind of prognosis there is for that kind of thing?

BK: No, he's a little sore tonight, right now, but he's clear and talking, and just got a chance to talk to him. He was able to talk after the game. But he's pretty sore right now.

Q: And just with (senior quarterback) Andrew (Hendrix) running the offense, what can you do there? What were you maybe limited with or what did you try to do when he jumps in the action?

BK: We've got to play better, flat out. You guys watched it, I watched it. He's got to play better, and we'll see where we are obviously in the next 24 to 48 hours when we get a full eval on Tommy.

Q: Getting back to the defense the way they played, given they were under duress a lot, starting drives in your guys' territory, how'd they play with their backs to the wall?

BK: Yeah, you've got to look at special teams. We were undisciplined in punt coverage. We were actually just overactive, out of our lanes, really trying to squeeze the football too hard and got the ball outside of us on a couple of occasions. We've got to do a better job there. So special teams really put our defense in some tough situations. Obviously the fumble put us in a tough situation. Kickoff return, as well.

So our defense just kept battling, and again, like I said, that's just the way our guys compete here at Notre Dame. They keep playing every single day, and they don't really care about where they were on the field, they just play the next play.

Q: Going back to Andrew, would you have gone to (freshman quarterback) Malik (Zaire) had Andrew had to come out for a play or had he got banged up?

BK: Yeah, I don't want to get into those hypotheticals at this point.

Q: How important is the performance of (freshman linebacker) Jaylon Smith so far this season, and what expectations do you have of him in the future?

BK: Well, he's very important to our defense. He sets the edge of our defense, which as you know is so important in the 3‑4 defense. He's athletic, great interception. He's playing man‑to‑man coverage down the field on a pretty talented player. He's bringing pressure. He's a pretty special player. Not a lot of guys like that in the country as true freshmen. Expectations will be that he continues to grow and continues to develop and continues to sharpen his craft at that position.

Q: This being your first Notre Dame team that you've recruited yourself, how important is this win, beating USC here at Notre Dame Stadium?

BK: Are you saying this being the first win for me at Notre Dame Stadium?

Q: Well, with the whole group that you recruited starting from the freshmen.

BK: You know, I really hadn't looked at it that way as much as just we talked more about wanting to beat our rival. Whether it's here or on the road, it's important to beat your rival, and this is our rival, USC, and now we've beaten them three out of the last four years.

Q: Do you feel there's a lack of strength to finish the job with your offensive line? It seemed like the second half there were some blitzes that they couldn't block or some running plays this they couldn't finish to the second level. Do you think there's a lack of strength to finish the job from the offensive line?

BK: No, it's just all man‑to‑man coverage, and we just weren't efficient enough, and I wasn't willing to throw the football. And when we did, I didn't like the way it looked. We were jamming it up there knowing that we were two hats short on virtually every running play, and we tried to pull a couple with Andrew and tried to get them on the perimeter, but it was tough sledding up in there.

Q: Could you evaluate Tommy's play in the first half and talk about the decision to go with tempo and what you got out of that?

BK: Yeah, I thought we got some really good things out of it. We had been trying to settle on a few plays that we really felt like Tommy could handle well without putting us in a position where we had to check anything. I didn't want to check anything with him, and I didn't want to be in a position where he had to pull it. And that's not easy.

So we settled on some plays, a cluster of plays that we felt were going to be good for us. I thought the tempo worked well, and I thought he played well. Obviously we missed him in the second half, but I think he had‑‑ we felt like he missed one play where he had the intentional grounding. He missed a pressure that we would want to have checked out of it. But he played well.

Q: Defensively I guess and special teams matching up with (receiver) Nelson (Agholor) tonight, you talked about him during the week, but what kind of pressure do you feel like he put your defense under and your special teams?

BK: Offensively they hit us with a couple of dig routes. One was late in the game where they caught us, and we were in a drop‑8 situation. We would have liked to have defended a little bit better. What we were both concerned with is him not getting over the top on a PAP or play-action pass. I thought we defended well. If he was going to hit us on some drive routes and some intermediate routes, we were going to rally and tackle him, and that was the extent of it.

Q: Before Tommy was injured he did reach the milestone of 6,000 passing yards. What is your reaction to his achievement?

BK: I guess that means he's played enough football here at Notre Dame. I don't know that Tommy nor I would look at those numbers and equate much. He's interested and I'm interested in winning football games. I think it does say a lot about the kid and his perseverance. He's just a tough kid, and he just keeps battling. I'm sure he'll look back on that a little bit later and be able to point out, hey, I did play at Notre Dame and I wasn't that bad.

Q: You talked about the defensive line. What were your thoughts on (junior defensive end) Stephon (Tuitt) specifically?

BK: He got the game ball. He was all over the place. He was in the run game outstanding, let the ball outside the defense one time late in the game, but they held him. They couldn't handle him today. If you're wanting to talk about a defensive lineman that was dominating, you could throw that word out there. He was a force out there today.


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