Kelly QA: Nov. 19

BRIAN KELLY: As you know senior day here at Notre Dame we honor those that are certainly in their last season of competition as well as those guys that are in their fourth year here at Notre dame, so that includes guys that certainly could be back next year as well, but we make sure we include everybody. That’s why that number swells a little bit for those that wondered.
BYU, last year’s game came down right to the end, but more importantly, they’re having a terrific season. I think it starts with (quarterback) Taysom Hill and what they’re doing offensively. They’ve been extremely dynamic on offense, led by Hill, a dual-threat with the football. He certainly has thrown it so well. (Senior receiver) Cody Hoffman has been around for awhile and has been a big-play wide receiver for them.
Again, I think it starts with Hill, and the new offensive system they have in place is really different from what we saw last year.
Defensively, coach (Bronco) Mendenhall has always been, his teams have always been very good defensively, and this defensive unit is no different. I think you start with (senior linebacker Kyle) Van Noy, who’s somebody that you have to game plan. He’s very versatile. He can drop into coverage, he can come off the edge, tackles for a loss. A very versatile player. We’ll have to know where he is at all times.
(Senior defensive back Daniel) Sorensen makes a ton of tackles. He’s their safety. They put him a position where he, in a large degree, becomes that extra hat or that free-hat. Very good at the point of attack, a very good tackler.
Defensively, they’ve always had multiple looks. They start out in a three-down look, but they can be in a number of different coverage variations. Probably as unique of coverage schemes that you will see. At the end of the day, they’ve forced 18 turnovers in their wins. They’re a teamt hat gets turnovers. They’re a team that certainly has done a great job of getting teams three-and-out.
By comparison you can see how many plays they run offensively. They’re an up-tempo offense. They’re going to want to go fast. I think they’re run over 800 plays already this year. Offensively, running fast. Defensively, getting you off the field. It’s going to be a great challenge and certainly one that we’re looking forward to, especially being an opportunity for us to play at home the last time this year.
I know our guys are focused. They’re going to have to have a single-minded focus on BYU and really doing their job. Defensively, assignment football is going to be key. They put you in a lot of run-pass conflicts, where we’re going to do a great job. Obviously, containing Hill. Then from our standpoint, offensively, finding a way to get some big plays. They’ve been a team that minimizes the opportunity for big plays. That’s going to be very important for us offensively.
QUESTION: This is going to be (senior quarterback) Tommy Rees’s last home game. I’m curious, how close do you think he’s come to maximizing what he could do from when he got here as a freshman to this point?
BK: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I’ve spent much time thinking in those terms. I think Tommy has, clearly we know physically that he’s somebody that you can’t run zone-read packages and put him in a situation where he’s going to get yardage running the football. I think what you have to do is get the most out of what he can do in terms of getting you in the right play and throwing the football. I think what we’ve tried to do is run our offense to fit what his skill-set is.
I think you couple hat with the success sand the wins that he’s had I think you would probably come close to saying we’ve both probably reached that point where we got him a lot out of him. Whether we maximized it, I think there’s probably always room for wanting more, and hopefully the next two weeks we’ll be able to answer that question better.
Q: It’s kind of an odd dynamic with Chris Badger transferring to BYU, playing here. Why did he never quite get into the mix?
BK: He was recruited under a different system, quite frankly. Chris is a great kid, a good athlete. He was recruited in a different defensive system. They were looking for more of a middle of the field safety that could run the alley from the middle of the field. As you know, we’re a two-deep safety team. We like to play off the hash a lot more. I think there was probably a better fit from that standpoint, because that’s how they play at BYU.
They’re not a huge cover-two team. Sorensen’s a guy that’s going to be a free-hat running the alley. I see that as a very similar fit as to what Chris’s skill-set is. We had a conversation about that. I think from a football standpoint at the time he was recruited, the systems, in terms of where he was looking at, BYU and Notre Dame had some similar features and I think obviously the fit for him from an academic standpoint, Notre Dame, in terms of going into pre-med, was huge for him as well. Those things changed as it relates to football. I don’t think they changed academically.
Q: Chris’s situation, is there anything the defense needs to do differently with the unique situation, playing against a guy that was with them in camp, knowing all the calls?
BK: There’s not going to be a ton of things because the signaling system is fairly complicated. You would have to dissect those, then you’d have to get them, and then you’d have to get them back out to the offense. As you know, it’s not where you start but where you finish defensively. With an up-tempo offense, I guess the short answer would be we’ve taken measures and we’re not concerned about it.
Q: Going back to Tommy for a moment, the amount of football he’s played, he’s been here since you got here. Is it hard to imagine a Notre Dame roster next year where you look down the depth chart and don’t see him there at 1-2-3 at quarterback?
BK: Obviously he’s the only quarterback that I’ve known in my four years here in terms of the consistency of being here. Certainly a young man that we’re going to miss. I love his competitiveness and his drive.
We want to win football games. You’re hired and fired for winning football games here I get that, but he really loves Notre Dame and understands Notre Dame and understands the distinctions of Notre Dame. When you put all the names on the board, he’s really the right fit for Notre Dame. That’s one of the things that I’m going to take with me in terms of my relationship with Tommy. He’s a Notre Dame guy.
Q: He was in here last week saying his dad would always tell him, you can like football, love football or live football. He’s chosen to live it. Are there any examples of how you can see that shine through with him maybe more than some of the other guys?
BK: Well, I’d rather have all our guys live it and love it on a day-to-day basis. When you live football like he does, it definitely has an effect on the other people around you. The example would be just his commitment to the program and being here all the time. You’d never think of Tommy Rees being two seconds late for a meeting or not a workout. He’s always the first one in and the last one to leave. That’s living it.
Q: Very broadly with (senior receiver) TJ (Jones), I talked to him last week. He said one of the biggest improvements he felt he’s made personally is it’s no longer just about TJ. It’s about the whole team. Have you seen that same improvement in him? Not necessarily on the field but also off the field in his personality?
BK: I think TJ’s growth and development has kind of mirrored itself both on and off the field. Here’s a young man that came in with a lot of national accolades and hype. He had to kind of go through a rough spot or two. He fought through that and developed within the program an understanding of team versus individual. Now it’s kind of come full circle where I didn’t talk much about TJ the last couple years, but now all I did was talk about TJ. Now he understands it’s team-first. That’s generally what happens in the program. Where I see players that understand team and show themselves as team players, I start talking about the individual in them. I think he’s come full-circle, not full-circle, but he’s made that progression over his time here.
Q: (NFL Draft analyst) Mel Kiper, the other day, had a call. He viewed (Jones) as a late-round pick, maybe an undrafted free agent. Regardless --
BK: Mel Kiper doesn’t, really -- I don’t know where his information comes from as it relates to TJ Jones. From everyone I’ve talked to, he will not be undrafted.
Q: Regardless of where he goes, his chances in the NFL given his size, the way he’s able to use his body, run routes and such, do you see him of having a real good shot of making it in the NFL?
BK: Oh, absolutely. Without question. Without question.
Q: How does that speak to his attitude and how he has put in the work here to get to that point even though he doesn’t have the Michael Floyd-type size?
BK: I look at his skill set and I think he measures up with -- other than not being long at 6-3 -- he’s got great route-running ability, gets in and out of his breaks. He’s got versatility, can catch it and run after the catch, sure-handed, he’s got good speed. He’s going to test well. He’s proven himself that he can play at the highest level.
Q: After going four years with this senior class, is there a particular guy, it could be anyone, that you have a special affinity for, for any number of reasons?
BK: When you talk about an entire senior class, this is a unique class in that, we’ve talked about this, this was kind of that class we tried to hold onto when we got here. This development of relationships with this group was one where they were a group of guys that we didn’t have a strong bond with but we had to build one over time. I think we have. I think we have a different relationship in a sense, a unique relationship with these guys, in that they had to trust us. That in itself as a group is a great dynamic.
I don’t know. There’s so many different personalities in this group, I’d be hard-pressed to pick one.
Q: I want to go back to something you said a few weeks ago, I just want to clarify. You talked about having Everett (Golson) back for bowl practice. Will he be eligible to practice come bowls?
BK: Yes.
Q: Is that regardless of when the first semester ends?
BK: Yes. Correct.
Q: That also presupposes, has he been allowed back into school?
BK: I don’t think that I can make that decision nor can I comment on that. I think that application process has been submitted is what I know of and that decisions relative to admissions happen sometime in the middle of December. Though if they wanted to give me the admissions responsibility, I would certainly consider it.
Q: You talked last week about taking the week off from practice. What is the condition of the team at this point?
BK: I think the week off proved to be effective for us. I thought we had a great day yesterday. We scrimmaged the guys a little bit. We got some work together, 11-on-11, which we don’t’ normally have, especially in a game-week. We didn’t tackle or bring the backs down, but there was some good live action, ones-versus-ones yesterday. I thought the legs were fresh.
I thought we got, if there was any, rust on the guys, got them out there moving. Those guys that were banged up got out there, competed. We’re like everybody else in college football at this time of the year. We got guys who are just fighting through it right now.
Q: Is there anybody that you know of who is definitely out for this game?
BK: No. There’s nobody at this point that’s definitely out. I think everybody at this point is their focus is to get out there and give it their best shot to play against BYU.
Q: These last three teams, counting Pittsburgh, a common denominator for all of them is they all thought they could have or should have beaten Notre Dame (last season). It’s a motivating factor for all three of them. Do you think that can be a good motivating factor for teams from your standpoint? Is there anything Notre Dame can do to combat that with motivation of their own?
BK: Those things are, and they’ve always been for me, secondary. I think they’ve always been handled intrinsically by the players that you have. That doesn’t mean I’m not good for a motivating talk or two. I think the players that you have, the leaders that you have, and the way you play the game, certainly dictate that much more than past history and motivation.
Doesn’t mean I don’t discount it. I don’t see it as primary, primary is the drive, the pride, the intrinsic motivation that I want to win nine games has to be primary, not let’s be ready because BYU thinks they should have beat us last year.
Q: We talked to Louis last week. He basically said when you first met him, you didn’t quite know what to make of him. Can you talk about that and the fact that he committed between coaches?
BK: I think first of all it says a lot about Louis in terms of what he wanted. I think I mentioned this before. Louis certainly understood what Notre Dame could do for him. Don’t let Louis fool you. He can come off as funny and aloof, but he’s very smart. He knows what he wants. He wanted a degree from Notre Dame and he understood what that was going to get him. It sets him up for the rest of his life.
Also he knew the platform he was going to play on at Notre Dame and the exposure of it. Everybody’s dream and goal when they come to Notre Dame is to get a degree, play for a championship and go to the NFL. He’s checked all those boxes.
As it relates to not knowing what to make of him, I don’t know that anybody has really locked in and figured out Big Lou, and that’s okay. He does what we ask him to do. He’s going to have his degree from Notre Dame, and he’s worked really hard for us.
Q: Besides the change of pace in BYU’s offense, what other variations are you seeing since last year?
B: The quarterback, first of all, his ability to extend plays, his accuracy, his ability to throw the ball has really changed their offensive structure. They struggled throwing the ball last year. They’re throwing it very, very well. His big-play ability, he’s fast. He’s a guy that can take a run and turn it into a big play. At the end of the day, I really think it centers around him. He’s a sophomore. He’s much more comfortable in this offense, this read-option, spread offense.
What they do, which I think is probably one of the advantages that they have, not only tempo, but they can run their offense out of multiple offensive formations. They force a lot of different adjustments for you and they’ve done a really good job of it.
Q: Virginia held them to 16, Utah 13, Wisconsin 17. What are the keys to slowing them down? Does it just come down to putting them in 2nd-and-10 or 3rd-and-9? When you put them in long-yard situations, are they more inclined to slow the pace?
BK: That certainly would help, obviously. If you can give me those kinds of situations. I would discount the Virginia game. I think there was still -- first-year offensive coordinator, they were still sorting themselves out offensively, figuring him out.
I think Utah and Wisconsin are very, very good defensive football teams. Both of them have proven to be very good defensive football teams. If you look at Utah’s win against Stanford and certainly the ability of Wisconsin to play with anybody. These are very good defenses.
We’re capable, we’re going to have to play really good defense. If we can play really good defense, and that means assignments are going to be huge. We can’t have the quarterback unattended to. We can’t have the dive unattended to. We’re going to get some run-pass conflicts that we’re going to have to be on-body with. They really force you to be on-task every single play.
Wisconsin did a great job, Utah did a great job, we’re going to have to. If we do that, we can keep the points down as well.
Q: How do you combat that size they have at receiver?
BK: I don’t think you ever really combat it as much as you have to mix things up as we certainly have tried to. You’re going to get caught in some man-to-man situations. You’re going to have to do a good job of staying on-body. You can’t just be man-to-man all the time. You’re going to have to play some different coverage variations. We’re going to have to mix it up. We can’t play one coverage. Nobody’s been able to do that. If they do, late in the game they were able to put some points together against Wisconsin when they just sat back. You have to mix things up.
Q: In your years here, two of the years your defenses have forced a lot of turnovers, as many as 25 and 23 last year. I know there’s a randomness to it, but is it something that you can -- while not No. 1 on coach Diaco’s list -- be coached, or were the players just making more plays in those two seasons?
BK: Certainly, you can’t just take the defense. You have to take the offense, the defense, how the game is being played. Certainly the more gambling, the more pressures, the better chance for potential takeaways, you also have to have guys that you feel like will excel in that kind of system. Finally, I think in terms of what we do, we haven’t been as opportunistic. I think all of those three things together will put you where we are today.
We’ll always go back and evaluate where we are. Last year we got more turnovers, but we had some guys that could do that. We’re talking about (Manti) Te’o in particular. We haven’t been as opportunistic, no question.
Q: When you mention something you do, and after talking with coach Diaco last year, this can’t be as high on the list as being sound defensively, is that game-specific too?
BK: I know the question you’re trying to ask. I think every game you’re trying to find a way to get a turnover here or there. I think you could take a number of teams -- take New England for example, they’re trying to hold on and get the ball back to (Tom) Brady.
Last year, this year, we’re trying to keep the points down. I think when you have some players that you believe can force those turnovers, you try to put them in a position. We’ve lost a lot of experienced players. We’ve got some guys that are first-year players in certain locations that don’t really lend themselves to putting themselves out there the way that we would like.
Q: How did you prepare differently for a team that runs almost 90 plays per game?
BK: Certainly we’re practicing tempo. They run 90 plays if your offense is three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out. We’re practicing on both ends from that standpoint. We’ve done a pretty good job of holding onto the football and we’ll need to do that. We’ll need to have some control drives and have an eye toward keeping their offense off the field.
Certainly, being effective defensively, 90 plays is still about tempo. It’s still about efficiency. When they’re averaging 90, they’ve been extremely efficient offensively. When they dip below that number, defenses have had something to do with it, and then the offenses have controlled the football
Q: I know you don’t look at bowl projections or worry about where you might land, but is there anything as far as location or opponent that makes for an ideal bowl setting for you guys?
BK: Absolutely. For me it would be any of the Caribbean Islands. Hawaii would fall into that category as well. If they did anything in Bermuda, Bahamas, that’d be fine too. Do they have any games in those locations?
Q: Next year.
BK: Then maybe we’ll have to readjust those this year. But that would be a starting point for me. Or Massachusetts, where I was born. I don’t think they have anything.
Q: You addressed a little bit your 2010 recruiting class. I’m curious, when you were putting that class together, I think it was just you and Tony (Alford) --
BK: Yeah it was three of us.
Q: Can you just talk about that process, what you were trying to do? You had some guys that were committed to Charlie (Weis) and then they got shaky, you flipped some guys from other classes. What was that whole process like?
BK: For me, it was, again, not knowing everything I know about Notre Dame I know now, I think it would have been a lot easier if I had the experience I do now. I would have walked in there and go, ‘Are you kidding me? Why am I wasting, you’re coming to Notre Dame, right? Here’s what you’re going to get.’ For me, it was more about selling myself at that time. Here’s who I am, here’s my background, here’s what I’ve accomplished, this is why we’re going to be successful at Notre Dame.
I think you would go into that a whole lot differently now. If I was to talk about Notre Dame now, it would be, ‘Listen, here’s what you’re going to get at Notre Dame.’ I think the conversations in those homes were more about, and same thing probably for Tony, he knew Notre Dame, he was probably selling me and the leadership. This is what this guy has done. This is what you can expect at Notre Dame.
Q: One guy who was in that class who you actually flipped after he had committed to you at Cincinnati was (senior receiver Luke) Massa. He’s been through a lot of changes and he’s been through a lot beyond the changes. Can you talk a little bit about what he’s gone through and why he would stick around when there wasn’t a great prospect of playing?
BK: I think you’ve touched upon the different kids in that class, that’s why it’s so hard to pick just one. This one, extremely, has a personal touch to it. Luke wanted a Notre Dame degree. St. (Xavier’s High School in Cincinnati), understood the distinctions of Notre Dame and what it would give him.
Incredible family, and as you know a very close teammate to Matt James. Through all of that, there was a connection here to Matt with his time here. As you know, this would have been his fourth year, and Matt would have graduated with this class as well. I don’t think that we can separate that too far from Luke Massa from his journey here at Notre Dame.
He’s been the consummate teammate. Whether we’ve asked him to help us at quarterback or wide receiver or tight end, he’s a holder this year. He’s just been an incredible teammate. He’s so well-liked by everybody. I think he’s been on a dual-journey here. That journey has been obviously seeking a degree at Notre Dame and fulfilling a dream that he’s had playing here at Notre Dame, and he certainly has contributed to our program.
Q: With Rees, just a quick one on that, it seemed like after the first spring he was here, you didn’t seem really convinced with him. Then he came back after the summer and it seemed like he was a different guy. Am I reading that right?
BK: Is this going from year one to year two?
Q: No. This is his first spring when he came in as an early enrollee. He didn’t play a lot in the spring game, and it didn’t seem like you saw a huge future for him. Then it seemed like he came back in the fall and it seemed like he had your attention. Do you remember that summer?
BK: I think what stood out for me was his adaption and understanding of the offense. Tommy would call me less than honest if I said he wowed me with his physical ability to run the 40 or bench press or any of those things. I’m confident I can say that. It must have been and I’m sure it was that he was able to really pick up the offense quickly. It’s been my experience that if you can pick things up and have a good grasp of the offense, then you’ve got a great chance for success.
Q: Can you give us an update on Ishaq and Kona?
BK: They practiced. I was pleased with (senior defensive lineman) Kona (Schwenke). I think (junior linebacker) Ishaq (Williams) is going to be a day-to-day situation. He practiced. I thought he was a little tentative yesterday, but I think he’s going to get better. I know our training staff was pleased. Everybody was in the training room this morning. We had no setbacks from anybody that practiced. We were all taped up heavily if you were at practice yesterday. But they all participated and they all contributed in some fashion.
Q: (Freshman defensive lineman Isaac) Rochell and (sophomore defensive lineman Jarron) Jones?
BK: Same thing. They were all contributing to practice. I thought we had a really good day, quite frankly. The energy was good. I thought it was lively in our 11-on-11 action. Those guys came through it pretty good. Nobody took a step back from my report from (trainer) Rob Hunt this morning. Nobody took a step back from yesterday. A pretty rigorous practice. It was almost two hours out there. Which is long, and it was a physical practice.
Q: I know you mentioned that you were pretty happy with how the physical break went with the players. What about as a coaching staff? Do you use the bye week to tweak scheme or personnel?
BK:  I think we’re always, we’re at this point, we’re focused on how to win the BYU game more so than bigger picture issues. How do we win on Saturday? Any work we did on Saturday was really focused on how do we get a W against BYU. That was our focus, and then recruiting. Those were the most important elements of our staff.
I think the staff has done a great job of balancing those two. We haven’t walked away feeling like we didn’t spend enough time preparing for BYU in the off-week. I didn’t feel like we said hey let’s get out of here and start recruiting, let’s get on to 2014. I thought it was a good balance by the staff. I thought it was a good week.
Q: It’s pretty rare that you have an opportunity to go 11-on-11 on a Monday. What did you want to get out of yesterday? Was it more shaking off the rust or installation? What did you want to see most?
BK: First of all, I wanted, because we took the week off, I wanted to make sure that when we got into today’s practice that we weren’t sloppy. I didn’t want Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, which is our usual routine, to be affected by the week off. So I made yesterday’s practice a little bit longer, some more contact, so when they walked into Tuesday’s practice, we weren’t trying to go through, let’s shake off the rust, let’s get their feet underneath them. We did a lot of one-on-one, seven-on-seven, things that we usually have in preseason camp.
I didn’t want to do it last Wednesday or Thursday and then have a break again. I wanted to really line it up. The guys’ legs felt good. The comments were very positive about how they felt with a lot of guys that could not have practiced last Wednesday. I really needed to know whether these guys could play, to be quite honest. All of those combined was the rationale for going on Monday in that fashion.
Q: You’ve been asked about a bunch of seniors. (Linebacker) Kendall Moore was in that bridge class from the previous staff, hasn’t played a lot, and has had some opportunities over the last six or seven games. I’m curious if you see a different kid in practice now because he’s able to get on the field on Saturday and has a different level of engagement in game plans.
BK: Yes. I mean that in a positive way. Kendall, I think we all know and you guys have spent time with him, he’s very likeable. I’d like him to be more focused. His focus has been really good. I’ve been able to work with him on some special teams. I like his focus. I think your question is fair, I think that door being opened to more playing time has lent itself to that.
I hope that continues, because I think we all see a pretty talented young man there, but there’s more than talent. There’s all the other things that come with it. I think in a positive way I’ve seen some growth there in terms of his focus and attention to detail that he’s going to need and continue to have going into next year.
Q: I was going to ask about next year? Has he shown you something over the last couple of months that changes your perspective on what he can mean to the program next year?
BK: Yes. He has. He’s left a, in my mind, these last few weeks, this last month, a favorable impression of where he’s going and where he’s trending. I want him to continue to do that. He’s getting close to finishing off his academic piece. All of those things are trending in the right way for me.
Q: From a special teams perspective, they’re very good on kickoff returns. Kickoff return coverage has not been a strength for you guys this year. What do they do well and does the bye week give you an opportunity to revisit that more than a regular game would?
BK: They’re very good at their scheme. Their scheme is very solid. They do a very good job of setting up some of their covers back to the field. I think when you talk about kickoff returns, you either have an extremely electric player back there or you do a really good job of disguising what you do week-to-week. I think they do a really good job of disguising what they do week-to-week.
Then, your keys for your kickoff team. We call it search-and-destroy. We’re really good at the destroy part. We need to get better at the search part, because they do a really good job with their return team. We’ve spent a lot of time this week making sure we pick up our keys and search and then get to the ballcarrier, but they do a good job with their scheme.
Q: Does the bye week give you more time in the day to work on that stuff?
BK: It gives you a little bit more time to key into your guys some specific things to look for. Hey, No. 52 really tips things off when they’re winding back to the field or if they do this, expect this.
Q: What are you going to remember about (senior linebackers Dan) Fox and Carlo (Calabrese)?
BK: They’re inseparable in a sense that these are two kids that have shared a position at the Will linebacker position and now obviously teaming up together at the Mike and Will position. From a football standpoint, I’ll remember them as two guys that played a lot of football alongside.
They are very, very good friends, so when they come back, it’ll be one of those things. Hey, where’s Calabrese? Where’s Fox? I think I’ll always see them as being together, the two of them. Different personalities. One kid is from Cleveland, the other kid is from New Jersey. They just have different likes and dislikes. Two kids that have partnered up together and shared a position, are roommates on the road, but are really two different kids. That’s what you get when you’re coaching. You get those kinds of situations. In football, you have to be inseparable, and they’re great friends, but they’re really different personalities.
I don’t think Calabrese ever had a long haircut in his life and we just finally cut the hair on Fox.
Q: BYU people inside the program and the fan-base too will always regret a missed pass to Cody Hoffman that maybe swings the game. Do you recall that play?
BK: I saw the play. I watched it this week. Certainly, obviously a big play during the game. I think there were some other plays in the game, missed opportunities, really on both ends. Certainly do remember that particular play that you’re referencing.
Q: BYU had its senior day. I don’t know if it is overblown or not, but can senior day be a bit of a distraction? Have you discovered an emotional impact at Notre Dame?
BK: I think it’s always a concern. The emotional impact is always measured because you certainly don’t want your players playing emotionally. You want an enthusiasm. We’ll be talking about that balance between the emotions of the last game and the enthusiasm of playing in your last game and making sure we balance it because we’ve got a quite a few seniors like BYU.