Brian Kelly talked about the one-sided rivalry with USC, the pressure of being No. 1, playing Manti Te’o on offense and what makes Marqise Lee so dangerous. Read the full Tuesday transcript.
BK: Afternoon. Recap of Saturday, Senior Day for 29 seniors. We were so happy to send them out with an undefeated home regular season schedule. That was a goal, a tangible goal that we had this year.
Really played offensively the way we were hoping. We talked about getting better in November as an offense and gradually making progress. I think we're getting to that end. Anytime you shut out an opponent, it's a great day for our defense.
So we congratulated our team and then got right to work on USC. A very talented football team. Certainly the receiving corps is as good as we will see. It's the best in the country in our opinion.Got a very good tandem at running back, and certainly (Xavier) Grimble at tight end gives them a ball catcher and a possession receiver.
So it's what you thought: It's the USC offense with great weapons, great balance, and it will be great challenge. Certainly you never want to see a great player like Matt (Barkley) get injured in a game, but certainly he's going to have a great career ahead of him. So there will be a lot of good things happening for him. We don't know a lot about Max (Wittek). Certainly saw him at the end of some games.But he's on scholarship at USC. When you get a scholarship to USC, you're one the best quarterbacks in the country. He's a big, strong, physical kid. He's got a live arm, and will certainly fit into they're offensive scheme of things. He's a perfect fit for when they do.
On the defensive side of ball, again, you're talking about when you first put the film on. Great speed on defense. Long on the defensive line. Pass rushers, guys that can get after the quarterback, and a secondary that will want to get hands on you in the sense that they're going to play tight coverage. Last year they gave us all kinds of problems.
Michael Floyd was a guy this we tried to get the ball to. Had some problems getting to him because they're just very good on the back end of the defense.
Dynamic special teams guys. Obviously when you've got Lee back there you've got a guy that can do a lot of things.
So just a very, very talented football team that, again, playing in rivalry game, so they'll play their very best against us.
Q. This is offensively not only the your last game of the regular season, but Manti (Te’o’s) last game before...
BK: But it's not my last game because I'm getting to go recruiting on the west coast. Generally when you get to go on the west coast recruiting they're not calling you back. That's a good sign.Because when they don't let you recruit on the west coast, that's not a good sign.
Q. As far as Manti, it's his last game before the Heisman Trophy is announced here in a few weeks. I know you think he should win. What would be your last pitch for Manti for the Heisman?
BK: My last pitch would be win all your games. You're a defensive player. Dominate from a defensive standpoint, win all your games, be the No. 1 team in the country. Has to be the to be all those circumstances to get the attention shifter from the offensive player to a defensive player. And we've said that from day one.You know, it'll have to be that kind of season, so we'll have to beat USC.
Q. And you've always talked about wanting to play better in November than at the start of the season. Considering how considerably the bar was raised this year, how has that challenge been a little different than the last couple years?
BK: Well, we go to work on it in January relative to playing better in November, because it's not just execution. We know that's a big part of it, how you execute on Saturday; but it's your strength, it's health, it's taking care of yourself. All of those things have to come together as well to play well in November.
As it relates to our offense, I think it's just a matter of maturing as a group coming together, especially with a young quarterback and some young wide receivers.
But as a whole as a program, playing in November, the seeds of that are in January and February.
Q. In terms of Everett, you mentioned a few weeks ago that he was getting to the point where he going to be able to play through his struggles. Is he at that point right now?
BK: Oh, I think so. I think the interception he threw … because we were at a point where it was pretty clear that Wake Forest was having difficulty stopping us. For us to give the ball up, those are the foolish and careless mistakes that he made earlier in the year.
But he's so much further along that those are ones that he comes to the sideline and says something before you say something to him, and then you know he's on that right trend in terms of understanding.
Q. The experience he had at Oklahoma and Michigan State, how does that help him about the pressure going into USC?
BK: All of it. The nine games that he started, winning on the road, having to come in and lead our football team to a win against Pittsburgh, all of those things go into Saturday. All those will be positives for him going into the USC game.
Q. Changing subjects here, just big picture, at the start of the season USC is No. 1, they have a Heisman candidate. Now that script is kind of flipped. You guys are No.1; you have the Heisman candidate. What does that speak to pre‑season predictions or anything like that?
BK: (Laughter.) Yeah. That's why they play the games, you know. It's a long season. It's college football. It's 18 to 21 year olds. There are so many factors go into this.That's why as coaches, and we get asked all the time, ‘Hey, did you expect to win 11 or 12?’ We know the unexpected is always out there, so we try to stay focused on the next practice. If we did what you did and did that big picture stuff, it would drive us crazy, too.
Q. Marqise Lee, you mentioned he's the best in the country. Why?What makes him good?
BK: Oh, boy. Incredible just acceleration after the catch. You know, if you look at what he does after the catch, that's where it gets really scary.Secondly, they do a great job and their offensive staff does a great job of setting up formations to get him one‑on‑one matchups. They're always prodding your defense to get him matched up where they get some great one‑on‑one looks.
They do a very good job of finding him and getting him the ball in those kinds of situations that create big plays. He's not catching a hitch route and having three guys hammer him. They're putting him in great position to catch the football and get big chunk plays.
So, one, his athletic ability and skillset after the catch; and, two, they've done a great job of putting him in a position to make those big plays.
Q. Going back to Max Wittek playing quarterback, how much do you fight temptation to do things differently because it's a new guy back there?How much do you stick with what you usually do defensively?
BK: Yeah, we're going to do what we do, absolutely. At this point, you know, for us to go into one game and say, ‘All right, we're going to do different things to confuse Max.’ That's really crazy. This guy has watched football all year. He's going to be watching film. He knows our defense. So we're going to do what we do, because that's gotten us to this point. So no big changes on our end.
Q. Just to get back to Wittek, he was a guy that you were involved with a little bit in recruiting. What did you like about him and what do you remember about him?
BK: Great kid. Comes from a great program. Has the pedigree. You know, just one of those guys that when you draw up the prototypical quarterback, 6-foot-4, strong arm, has escapability, student of the game.Great character kid.
Q. Just curious, with Cierre, you mentioned a couple times about him adapt to this system with Harry Hiestand and Chuck Marting. Where do you think he's evolved the most during the season in terms of adapting to what you want?
BK: Route running. Ball catching. Those are two huge areas where he has elevated his game.Practice, he practices with a purpose every day now. He is locked in. He's getting more north and south in his running. The inside‑outside zone scheme is set to run north and south. We don't want a lot of cutting. We ran the option play on Saturday, and he was looking to cut off of somebody. You know, he was resisting the temptation. When he runs north and south, we all know what he's capable of.So those three areas he's really made great improvement.
Q. The north‑ south stuff, are some running backs just hardwired to be more east‑west?Did you have to reprogram him?
BK: In some instances you have to because they want to make you miss. It is much more difficult to make a head‑on tackle. It's easier to run with speed and make an angle tackle.
When you're running north and south, we have run through so many tackles this year when we get north and south, and so that's been a point of emphasis going into the fall.
Q. The whole No. 1 thing, and you talked about it on Sunday, but there are a lot teams who once they get up to No. 1 and haven't been there for a long time, the pressure gets to them and you see them get knocked off. Crazy stuff happens. Kansas State, Oregon for just a couple examples. You know other coaches, you know Chip Kelly. Why do you think some teams just fall into that trap of either enjoying No. 1 or getting distracted or feeling pressure from it?
BK: I can only give you my opinion, because I don't know what it's like at Oregon or the other schools. But we wear that and feel that every game we play. So No. 1 for us is USC is going to play their very best because they're playing No. 1. I don't think kids change when they're No. 1. They go to work the same way, they practice the same way. The other teams are going to play their very best, but we get that every week anyway. We get the absolute best from our opponents each and every week.So for us, it's business as usual. They're going to play outstanding football. Better be ready for USC's best.
Q. I don't know that I've heard certainly not you, but certainly also none of your players, comment about the Notre Dame and irrelevant comment that everybody likes to throw out there. I haven't heard any of your players talk about no respect at any point this year. Is that coincidence, or is that something you coached them not to dwell or comment on?
BK: No, I don't coach them about what they say and how they say it as much as … you know, they you understand the basic tenets of being part of a championship program. And that is, first of all, speak for yourself, you know what I mean? Don't comment on things you don't know about. They see that every day on a sign that we have in our building.Don't fuel any expectations, because we're the only ones in here that know what we want to accomplish on a day‑to‑day basis.
So we stay so much more small picture that we never get outside and think of those at 35,000 feet. We're operating on, ‘You better have a good day today in practice because you just watched film, and we saw the things you did wrong yesterday.’ You don't see that stuff, but we do.
So we're able to take it and deal with the detail stuff; whereas, if you guys were watching a particular player and commenting on the individual technique and what he was doing on every specific play, then you would be able to have that smaller picture conversation.
That's what we do. That's why we keep them away from the big picture, because they don't see it that way. They don't come to work that way on a day‑to‑day basis.Make sense?
Q. Sure it does. Control the things you can control.
BK: Exactly. It goes back to that. They don't know all that other stuff because it's never talked about because they're talking to their wide receiver coach or their DB coach about leverage and getting out of their back pedal and those kinds of things.Those conversations about big picture stuff never take place.
Q. You commented last week about getting players to come here to Notre Dame to get their degree first. You want them to have a NFL career, but that's not the first priority. How do you strike the balance? Must start in the recruiting process with the kind of guys that you recruit. If you sense somebody's priorities are more on the NFL than Notre Dame, do you walk away from that?
BK: Well, yeah, Tim, because we clearly talk about our distinctions and why you would come to Notre Dame. So those guys that are not attracted to Notre Dame, we've already laid out to them what they're going to get when they come here and why they should consider Notre Dame.
People say, ‘Why would you do that?’ Well, we would be recruiting them under false pretenses, because they wouldn't fit in the program if they came here and didn't care about their academics, didn't care about being in the dorms and being at Notre Dame, and thought just about going into the NFL, they wouldn't fit in very well.
So we go through that in the recruiting process. So if John Smith is not interested in Notre Dame, we can move on because we've clearly told them and we're transparent about what our philosophy is in the recruiting process.
Q. Sheldon Day, I think he probably got more snaps against Wake Forest than any other game. Do you now how many he had?
BK: Yeah. He had somewhere in the 30 range, which is a high number for him.
Q. How do you see his future?I would imagine he's the next guy in behind Kapron Lewis‑Moore.
BK: Absolutely. We think he's going to be a terrific player. Great quickness. Does not stay blocked, powerful, and has the quickness and the size to play that two‑gap position.
So we're big Sheldon Day fans. We think he's going to be a terrific player, and he's shown to be a very good player for us.
Q. And a question regarding some routes with Tyler Eifert. You threw the fade to him on Saturday, but when he immediately gets inside position on the cornerback, as he did...
Q. Can you expect the quarterback to break off of the fade and throw to the back shoulder or have Eifert break in on the ball?Can you expect that out of the quarterback?
Q. Did on Saturday?
BK: Yes. I don't want to get into some specifics there. We can talk about that in clinic time. But there are some games left and some things that we do that, yeah, we expect the ball to be in a position away from the defender.
Q. During the pre‑season, Manti talked about before last year's USC game, if there was one he could have back as far as how he was before the game, he felt like he was trying to manufacture enthusiasm and maybe it came across as a little false. Was that kind of one of the great learning moments here as far as how to approach on a week‑to‑week basis, the consistency that you're talking about?
BK: Yes. Yes. That game in particular was certainly one where it required all of our players to really examine how they're going to be consistent winners. I think they have obviously done an incredible job since that game. I don't know how many games we've lost since then, but it's not many. Yeah, it was a great learning experience for everybody, including myself.
Q. Did you sense even before that game, you know, it was the first night game in Notre Dame in 21 years now and the big recruiting weekend and so much ancillary stuff outside, did you beforehand experience, like, this isn't really the way we need to approach it?
BK: No. I don't know that that was my concern as much as preparation the whole week. There were some other things. We were on a mid‑winter break at that time as well, or fall break at the time. There were a number of different factors. I would leave it in saying that Manti, Brian Kelly, Bob Diaco, you know, everybody on this football team learned a lot about that game.
Q. There is so much attention on the receiving combination there. USC ran the ball very well last year. First two possessions it was all pretty much run. Now Curtis McNeal who had 119 yards, he is the back up. So some depth there. Stopping the run still has to be the foremost.
BK: Stopping the run is what we're built on. Stopping the run and running the football and taking care of it is really what we're built on. So, yeah, in answering your question, it's the same philosophy going into Saturday.
Q. You talked about running through tackles. Do you keep a stats like when you watch the film, yards after contact for running backs?
BK: We do. We think it's an important number for our guys to be aware of.
Q. How has that graded out and improved since last year?
BK: Well, I think it's been a point of emphasis going into the fall. Based upon what we did last year, we wanted to make sure that we got our guys downhill. Consequently, we've been in more direct snap … it's harder to run downhill when you're in shotgun. Certainly you're put in a position to get the ball east and west. You're not getting it north and south like you are in direct.
So inherently you have to do some things, and we've made some tweaks in terms of how the back attacks the ball in shotgun, how it gets it downhill, how he gets to north and south. So that's been more a point of emphasis than any one particular scheme.
Q. Everett had been so effective with just the speed option. The pitch that he made to Cierre timing‑wise and everything on the 68‑‑ yard touchdown, was that kind of the next evolution?
BK: He can do it behind his back, and I'm not kidding. He was a point guard in high school and could distribute the ball. Great passer of the basketball. Ball comes out effortlessly and without much thought.
Q. You saw that in the pre‑season too or did you...
BK: Oh, yeah. We just weren't ready to put him in a running situation. He still needs another coat of armor on him. He needs another year in the weight room and needs to get thicker. We need to be judicious in when we run him. We got to run him. Look, he's better when he runs. He's better physically and mentally. He loves to run and get out there. We've been more judicious. Need to run him more.Obviously like to get him stronger, too, as we continue to build towards that.
Q. Having a freshman quarterback used to be thought of is as liability. Look at Everett and Marcu Mariota and Stanford, Texas A&M, all these guys have been really successful this year. Is there a difference in the way offenses are run or the way kids are coming in that allows freshman to have success at quarterback now?
BK: I think there are a number of things that go into that. You know, I think it starts with you have to have a football IQ to play the position as a freshman. You have to know the game. You have to have some skillset there that allows you to play the game while you're learning.
If you go talk to their quarterback coach or head coach, they'll tell you they're still learning. They have some unique skillset, whether it's a high IQ, a great arm, intuitiveness in how they play the game, they've got to have something there.
So I don't think it's just being a freshman. I think they've got, all the guys you mentioned, unique skillsets. They have to have a really solid IQ good about the game of football for them to be successful as freshman.
Q. Well they have an innate crutch they can lean on as they're learning, basically.
BK: That's correct.
Q. Third downs you've been pretty successful there year. Is seems to be improving. Is that something that falls on your quarterback's shoulders as well with his improvement?
BK: Look, when you drop back and you know you're protected now, that's a big difference. When you drop back and you don't know where it's coming from, it's hard to set your feet, hard to get your eyes on your progression. Hard to do all those things.
But when you take your drop and you know he's protecting my left side and I've got this picked up on my front, I can throw hot, the quarterback play is gonna tend to elevate itself.
Q. What are your practice routines like this week? Any changes because of the holiday?
BK: No, other than Thursday. We'll go around noon time on Thursday. Let them sleep in a little bit, meet, we'll practice, finish up about 3, and have a dinner here for the team. Then invite a lot of them over to the coach's houses. They'll spend time with the coaches. Obviously nobody will be traveling because we're leaving Friday morning.
That would be the only change.
Q. If things would have fallen different, you would have been facing Manti this game rather than having him on your team. Just wondered, without giving away trade secrets, what would it be like as a coach game planning for that?
BK: You know, that's the first time I've ever changed my brain over to think about it in those terms. Not very comforting. I know he's a pain in the butt when we go against him in the spring. You know you can't do certain things with him. He's kind of eliminating certain plays already just because of his instincts. You're going against a great competitor, you know. That would be difficult plan against, yeah.
Q. I would think, again, you're focus is so much on winning that you don't think even about the Heisman stuff sometimes. But you've resisted making him a gimmick, running the ball with him or having him kick an extra point. Did that ever, ever cross your mind?
BK: It never crossed my mind, but we have a lot people that have opinions on that. I will tell that you. That won't happen. (Laughter.) He is going to play linebacker and that's it. If he can't win the Heisman at linebacker, then he can't win the Heisman.
Q. When you say a lot of people, like people in position to influence you or just like Louis Nix?
BK: Never underestimate the power of Louis Nix. He could probably influence me more so that than maybe anybody else. No, I would say that that was out there, and certainly it was played up a little bit with some players in our program that wanted to volunteer that position for Manti after hearing the rumors of it.
But at no time did I even give it … I put that guy at running back and he gets hurt? I'll be coming back from that recruiting trip. I won't get a chance to stay on the west coast.
Q. You mentioned Sunday that a lot people don't have your number and so forth as far as calling you and so forth. Early in your time here you talked to Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz a lot.
BK: I have.
Q. Had a chance to visit with them at all?
BK: I have. I get my weekly card from Ara. Each week he hand writes a note to me. The great thing is he's so unassuming. He's done this and been there, but he'll write a note like he doesn't want to assume anything, you know what I mean? Like he's never given any advice, just talking as a Notre Dame fan and alum. Great to just get that communication with him.
As it relates to Lou, I talk to him about some specific things that I would like his opinion on. Ara is much more of a fan, supportive. I invite him up every home game to my box, and he politely declines because he thinks he's got the best seat in front of his television.
That's our conversation. With Lou, it's more about some specific things.
Q. How valuable of a resource has Lou been for you?
BK: Extremely valuable. He knows Notre Dame, and Ara does as well. Those are great assets.
But a number of coaches, Charlie Weis knows Notre Dame. I got a wonderful note from Charlie last week. It was heartfelt and talked about the seniors, wishing them the best. It was really a terrific note from Charlie. Very classy.
So we get a lot of that communication with the former Notre Dame coaches, and it's really nice.
Q. Last thing from me: Fourth downs, last year I think you had the fewest attempts in the country in terms of tries. I think unless Florida state gets a little ambitious you have a shot at that again. Is that a function of your kicker, field position, or is it philosophy that you just feel like you've got to do something else but go for it on fourth?
BK: Yeah. Time and place in the game is important, and field position. And finally, the way that I've wanted to construct the games, in particular this year, was - and I think the numbers bear it out - you put an offense on a long field against our defense, your percentage of scoring is so small. So it's all about how we wanted to play the game this year.
Q. Switching gears a little bit as far as recruiting, what kind of boost do the facilities here give you?
BK: I think it puts us on plane with everybody else. If you walk around the top 30 or 40 schools in the country, they've invested in their facilities. We've got wonderful facilities here. Kids don't make their decisions anymore based upon the facilities. They're looking at much more, because there are so many programs that have outstanding facilities.
So it's more than brick and mortar as it relates to recruiting now.
Q. With the USC receivers coming into the season, Robert Woods got a lot of attention. Did you really expect Marqise Lee to come in and outshine him this year?
BK: Well, no. We thought he was a terrific player, no question about it. But there is only one football, so it just seems like he's gotten more of the catches, whether by design or not. Either one those guys can beat you by themselves. The numbers just have gone his way this year. But, you know, you're talking about two of the best in the country. I don't know that you can really choose. They're both terrific players.
Q. More on Manti. If you were making a pitch for him, would it be more of what he does off the filed that maybe separates him from everybody else?If so, what does he do that people don't see?
BK: I don't know what the other candidates for the Heisman do off the field. I'm sure they're wonderful kids as well.I can only say that as it relates to Manti, he represents all the things that a Notre Dame student and athlete would want to have:Integrity, academic commitment, leadership, spiritual development. All those things.So as it relates to Notre Dame, I can tell you where he fits among the other candidates is that he has all those traits that the Heisman Trophy embodies. My pitch has always been about Manti and what he represents and embodies, and he's one really, really good football player and he just happens to be on defense.
Q. Do you talk about the rivalry at all?
BK: Oh, yeah.
Q. In what ways?
BK: Well, it's not a great rivalry right now. We haven't won enough games. They've had the upper hand on this. We need to make this a rivalry. And that is we need to win some more football games against a great opponent in USC. Our guys know that. I don't have to tell them that. They've been around. They were here last year when we will got beat. We want to make this a rivalry. We're going to have to play great football against a really good football team.
Q. What was the mood of your team like when you got back with them yesterday in terms of relative to No. 1?You've tried so hard to keep them focused, but No. 1 seems special to everyone else. How were they?
BK: Well, Notre Dame has a unique tradition on Grace Hall that they have No. 1 illuminated at night. You would have to be living in Elkhart not to see it. Our guys don't live in Elkhart. They live right here, so they saw that they're No. 1 in case they didn't watch it on TV. So I don't remind them about the obvious. I really try to talk to them about what the next step is for us. Now that they know that Grace Hall said you're No. 1, we can move on.
We went to work on what we normally do, and that is watch the film against Wake Forest and begin our scouting report, and then today is Intense Tuesday. That is all they know because that's all we tell them. They are locked in that way. What's the next thing for us?They know today is Intense Tuesday.
Q. More what I meant was did their demeanor seem any different?Should be exciting, you know.
BK: No. No, they came into work. Look, it's a lot better when that light is on than when it's not on. I'm sure it's better going to class and in the dorms. I'm sure it just a better feeling, a more positive approach to everything. That's unquestionable. But as it relates to does it affect the way they come to work every day, no, it does not.
Q. On the rivalry, you mentioned how it's not a great rivalry. You haven't won enough.
BK: To me, a rivalry has to go both ways. We've got one win out of 10. That, to me, is getting our butt kicked here. We need to win some games.
Q. At the time when you won at USC it was important to Notre Dame fans because you broke a long streak. I think Notre Dame fans loved that win at USC. Is it something that is important to the team now?They've won there. Does that carryover at all?
BK: I don't know if it does or not. History for them doesn't influence how they play. What they did last week won't help them against USC. It's what they do on Saturday.
We talked about the USC game last year and how that was a pivotal defining point. Doesn't matter what you've done in the past. Doesn't matter you beat them last year. You've got to play on Saturday.So our guys really understand this is all about how they perform on Saturday more so than what happened in the past.
Q. With the weather we have, how much will be inside and how much will be outside?
BK: Minimally I would like to get out twice this week. I don't know that I need to get out all three days. We'll see.Today we'll decide sometime around 2 probably. If we have any precipitation we'll probably be inside. Weather looks good the next couple days. As long as we get out a couple days and get on the grass this week, I'll be fine.