QUESTION: What'd you say to the team, sending out the seniors with a win? And secondly, the suspensions of (junior running back George) Atkinson and (junior cornerback Jalen) Brown, how did that affect anything?
BRIAN KELLY: Well I first wanted to thank our seniors for what they have given to our program, both on and off the field. They have been great examples of what student-athletes are at Notre Dame, both in the classroom and certainly have set a high bar. Four consecutive bowl games, played for a national championship, 21 wins over the last two years. It was a bit emotional in that sense to see those guys for the last time in the locker room sing the fight song.
They'll leave an indelible mark in our relationship here amongst not only the staff and myself but the younger players that we hope they will carry with them.
The second part of the question, those are violations of team rules. What we were more concerned with were the 16 players were sick prior to the game that were battling a pretty strong influenza. Rob Hunt and our training staff got the game ball. It was a pretty good effort on their part. It took a lot of guys to pull through. We had a lot of guys out here who were not at 100 percent but did a great job of battling through it.
Q: Specifically, what was your message to (senior quarterback) Tommy (Rees) after the game?
BK: We really haven't had a chance to talk other than we've got an opportunity to say thank you. I'm a Tommy Rees fan for life, but we didn't get much of an opportunity. I spoke with the entire team, really, and all of our seniors in particular.
We'll get an opportunity to spend a little bit more time. He's going to go keep chasing that football dream. He's going to play in the East-West Shrine Game, and he'll keep trying to play the game as long as he can. He's got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime.
Q: (Senior receiver) TJ Jones looked like he banged up his shoulder. What happened there?
BK: He had a second-degree shoulder sprain. He was treated during the game, and he continued to play with a second-degree shoulder sprain. Probably contributed to the drop in the end zone there. The ball was thrown a little bit behind him. He normally makes that catch, but he was in a lot of pain.
He's probably going to be limited in terms of what he can do for probably the next 3-4 weeks.
Q: It looked like everybody had trouble with the turf. Can you tell us what was going on there?
BK: (Junior kicker Kyle Brindza) did. The field was interesting. We changed spikes, we had our molded on and we changed to our all screw-in after our pre-game warm-ups because we were not able to get any hold on the field. It was hard, it had a hard frost on it, and then the sun began to soften it up. There were some areas that were a bit slick.
It didn't affect the outcome of the game in any fashion. We've played in worse conditions than that. I'm not going to get into that. We've played in worse conditions is all I would say.
We had some slick spots, you saw us lose some footing because there were some areas on the field that were frozen.
But Kyle Brindza, when we need a kick, he drills one late in the game. I was talking to Jack Swarbrick, our athletic director, late in the game there I gave it some thought to maybe just running some clock and going for it on fourth down, but when you havea guy like Kyle Brindza who is so effective in the fourth. I'm worried about maybe getting a blocked kick there, a return, put them back in the game.
But he is so good in the fourth quarter, regardless of what the distance is. You've got to put that guy in, he's the best kicker. I've got to put him on the field, and he goes and kicks the field goal regardless of the conditions.
Q: Could you just reflect on what Tommy was able to accomplish, not only today but all season?
BK: Nine-win season against great competition, beat some top opponents. Today, ran 90 plays in an offense that's really a different offense. He hasn't run this offense since two years ago, really. We were in spread virtually the whole game. He's so smart. You can go in and run a system with him. He's so bright. I think what he's most proud of is his longest run from scrimmage since 2011 was five yards today. He made sure he made me realize that that's part of his package.
He just has the ability to pick up all the things that we can do offensively. Today was case-and-point where we were able to do some things that we haven't done in a couple years and it looked like it was pretty easy for him.
Q: (Senior tackle) Zack Martin won the MVP. For a fifth-year senior offensive lineman who's had a great career but doesn't always get that much attention, what does that award mean to you, him getting it?
BK: He's not only the best offensive lineman that I've ever coached, and I've coached some great ones -- I think Joe Staley obviously is in that category, great player with the San Francisco 49ers. I've had some great ones.
That, in terms of his play, is one thing. He's had three first-time starters with him for most of the year, and now four. It's amazing how his influence -- very rarely do you have that, I call it the Larry Bird effect. An offensive lineman can make others better around him. He does that. He's made that offensive line. Now, Harry Hiestand is an outstanding offensive line coach, but Zack Martin needs to have some of that credit placed on him as well, because those linemen play so well because of his leadership. He's an outstanding and a unique player.
Q: In light of the second-to-third round rating for (junior defensive lineman) Stephon Tuitt, would you anticipate him being in uniform for you again? And number two, where do you go from here in terms of red zone offense which has been a struggle?
BK: Our red zone offense today was simply catching the football. We had great looks, exactly what we wanted. We ran a boot, came out clean, overthrew him. We actually came out with the next play and (junior tight end) Troy Niklas fell down. Had another opportunity and didn't get it to TJ. So I'm really happy with what we did today in the red zone. We just didn't execute. We've got to throw it and catch it down there.
Then, when we needed to run it in today, we were able to run the ball in. Schematically, I know what we want to do down there. We just had to be executing better in that area, and we will. We know what we need to do down there. We need to continue to get better as a group, individually, collectively. But I feel comfortable knowing what needs to happen down there.
(Tuitt) will now focus on making that decision. We had a couple of conversations and he knows all the information. My job is to provide him with all the information about the decision that he's about to make, and I'm pretty certain that he'll make his decision here very, very soon.
Q: Can you talk about your ability to run the ball against a pretty good team against the rush?
BK: Rutgers is very good up front. We felt like it was important to us to make them make a decision as to how they wanted to play us. They had consistently shown all year that if you would attach the tight end, they were going to drop an extra hat in the box and play a lot of cover one.
When you went three open, they gave you better box looks. Then it was a matter of if they were going to give us some field space with the wide receivers. In other words, were they going to drop down and play cover one? They didn't today. They had made the decision that that's not what they wanted to do. It gave us some match-up looks that we liked, so we stayed within it and it worked to our favor.
Q: Can you just talk about what stood out to you today about the defensive performance and also with a lot of guys set to graduate, what challenges do you have moving forward?
BK: Well, Mike Bertsch, our sports information director, said to me we played 19 different players this year on defense. We had 19 guys, 19 different starters, so what we'd like to do is next year have some continuity. We've got a lot of young players coming back. I think it's important for us, in this offseason, to really develop that continuity and depth on our defense.
We're going to have a lot of really good players coming back. I feel really confident in that.
Obviously, we're going to have to make a decision on our defensive coordinator and move forward there. That will be coming very shortly. I think we'll move forward. Really excited about the prospects next year defensively with the guys that we've got coming back.
Q: How are you going to remember 2013 when you think about it?
BK: A good year that could have been a great year. Some really good victories, at home against USC. I like the fact that the last couple of years we've played well at home, except for the Oklahoma game where we gave them 14 points early on some things that we don't normally do. I would say a couple of missed opportunities in some games where we very easily could have been a team that's looking at double-digit wins, and that's where we want to be every year.
A good year, but we want more. It's not enough for us. 9-4 is a good year for Notre Dame, it's not what we sign up for every year. We wanted a little bit more out of this year.
Q: Do you know what you want to do at defensive coordinator?
BK: I've made a decision already, just can't make it public right now because we're still in the process of finalizing contracts and things of that nature.
Q: Outside hire?
Q: Offensive coordinator, do you know what you want to do there?
BK: I haven't made that decision yet.
Q: Small picture, with (freshman safety Max) Redfield, what was your sense playing him this year? How'd you think he did?
BK: He did pretty good. I wanted to see him on the field. I wanted to get him some action. I made the decision to play him this year. I make all those decisions to play freshmen. I felt like he needed to get more playing time, and when you don't play a kid as a freshman enough, I feel a little bit responsible for that, so I kind of forced him a little bit on the staff. We'll see. I couldn't tell you really until I watched the film, but we wanted to see a little bit more from Max Redfield.
Q: Were there any other building blocks toward 2014 that you saw today?
BK: Well certainly the whole offensive line, right? All those guys are building blocks for 2014. They all return. The tight ends return. I thought (sophomore receiver) Chris Brown was a building block for 2014 and the balls that he caught today, the action that he got. (Freshman running back) Tarean Folston.
There were a lot of young guys. (Sophomore defensive tackle) Jarron Jones, (sophomore cornerback) KeiVarae Russell was outstanding today, on-body. How many pass break-ups did he have today where he had great coverage? A lot of really good things that we can take and build off in 2014.
And our sky kick. I don't know why anybody hasn't brought up the sky kick after watching that disaster of a kickoff coverage team. My gosh. We've instituted the new sky kick rule. There's a sky kick, I'm in favor of it right now.
Q: The way you guys won that game has been a recipe for a couple of years. Do you want that to be this team's calling card moving forward as well?
BK: I like to play. I'd like to get 90 plays. We got 90 plays in today. Play a little faster like we did today. We'd like our offense to have a little bit more multi-dimensional. We had five yards rushing from the quarterback who ran 90 plays. If we have a quarterback next year that has the ability to run the ball, we will be difficult to defend.
We would like to be that kind of team.
Q: Does George's suspension affect his future?
BK: I haven't made that decision yet.