Neither Dead nor Buried

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly touched on a variety of topics at his weekly press conference including improvement from 2010, why he's yet to waver in the wake of an 0-2 start, and the unique qualities of sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees

More than the bottom line

It's been more than three decades since an 0-2 start yielded a major bowl for an Irish football team (1978). Though season-end BCS riches will be difficult to attain in the modern landscape, the Irish have shown enough early to indicate the team is still capable of a strong season.

"I think we have a chance to be a really good football team," Kelly reiterated. "We're not. I get that, we're not. I don't see any need to make any drastic change, we're going to keep doing what we're doing and we have to get our players and coaches to all coach and play better."

Kelly was frank in his assessment of the 2011 team's status in comparison to his 1-1 group from last fall.

"We're in this together. I told them this: I really believe that (even though) you haven't won a game yet, you haven't been beaten (either). Last year, we were beat. We got beat by Michigan last year. As much as I don't like to say it, they beat us last year," he admitted.

"We've really had a hand in beating ourselves. That's the big difference. If we do not beat ourselves we have a chance to be the kind of football team we believe we can be."

Notre Dame ranks last among 120 FBS teams in turnover margin (-3.5 per contest). The team's total turnovers (10) through Game Two are already 41.6 percent towards the end season total of 2010 in 13 contests.

"I like our players. I like the way they compete; the way they prepare," Kelly said. "But as I told them after the game, the one stat that really matters for me is the turnover vs. takeaway. And there's a direct correlation to winning percentage when you turn the ball over."

Upbeat and confident despite the fall from September grace, Kelly's mission is to mitigate repetitive errors over the final 10 contests.

"I can see it. I've coached almost 250 football games. I can see and feel a football team coming together," he offered. "They have to take care of the football. They have to execute better and I know they will. I know it's just a matter of time for them."

The chief indicator to that end? Notre Dame's ability to move the football.

"When you look at the things they've done offensively (more than 1,000 yards). We just haven't put enough points on the board in those red zone areas where we need to."

Kelly added that the team's yardage-to-points ratio will likely evolve to the level expected, and that the team's offensive identity has been established.

"We want to be where we are, (but) if you're averaging 500 yards you have to have more points added to that," he said. "It can't be 500 yards and 31 points. We have a different ratio: we look at it as 80 yards should be about seven points. So we're behind in the points category, not in the way we're running our offense.

"You have to remember we had a different (quarterback) starter in the first game than in the second game and we think we've made really good progress in that area."

Timeouts, Turnovers, and Tommy

Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees used his allotted trio of first half timeouts, and a pair of stoppages over the course of Saturday night's contest were necessary to avoid a delay of game penalty.

Does the Irish sophomore need to learn the value of those precious commodities?

"I told him use them all if you need them. I really don't need any timeouts," Kelly said. We didn't use a timeout, I think we scored in about 36 seconds without using a timeout," he added of the team's would-be game-winning drive.

"We really don't need them. I don't want to be in a bad play," he continued. "Now obviously you want to keep one in your pocket for a special teams situation, but I'm not someone who says ‘don't use a timeout; hold onto them' especially in the first half where we used all three.

"We only used one in the third quarter which I thought was a prudent decision (by Rees). I would say by-in-large use them up in the first half (if necessary). We feel that we can operate with one timeout, making sure we keep one in our pocket for a special teams situation.

Kelly added that his quarterback, largely responsible for getting the Irish into the right play-call adjustment, needs a standard number of seconds remaining to adjust play-calls on the fly.

"18 seconds is what we've clocked it to be over time and experience. (But) there are different dynamics with 114,000 in that when you're changing plays there's verbal communication, and that's where we ran into a little bit of longer time, but (generally) about 18 seconds."

Both Physically and Mentally: Kelly has noted on multiple occasions that a pre-requisite skill set for his quarterbacks is the ability to extend a play. Rees, who lacks the speed and quickness to be a viable running threat, makes up for that athletic shortcoming with many qualities innate to successful collegiate quarterbacks.

"I think it's really good," Kelly said specifically of Rees' ability to extend plays. "He just has a really good sense about playing quarterback. If (Rees) had an individual workout you'd say, ‘Alright…he looks okay.'

"But when he plays the game he's patient in the pocket; he can move his feet, he can stay alive and do the things necessary. And he's also really smart. He's not going to put himself in a situation where his eyes drop and he's going to flush (from the pocket) to extend plays – he extends plays because he knows the offense; he knows protections very well and he gets into those.

"And that's a dynamic when you're out there recruiting you really (can't) know until you get (a quarterback) into your system," Kelly admitted. "That's what he does really well. He has a bright future to get better and better."

That potential won't be realized if Rees doesn't soon begin to limit turnovers – he's totaled 13 in 26 competitive football quarters.

"My response to each turnover is different," Kelly noted specifically of Saturday's errors in Ann Arbor. "The first turnover, we had a route issue with one of our guys. He thought it was something different (the result was an interception that Kelly does not attribute to Rees).

"First down, throwing an interception in Cover 3 – that's unacceptable. You cannot be the starting quarterback and make that kind of decision. To have that kind of mistake again (would be) unacceptable. So each is different along the process for me."

What is it about the seemingly limited Rees that separates him from the competition?

"Level. Level. He doesn't get up, he doesn't get down. He gets mad but it doesn't stay with him," Kelly said, offering the example: "Here's a young guy who checks (audibles) out of a run play to a pass play. He has Michael Floyd one-on-one and the ball comes out of his hands. (That should be) Devastating!

"No, he just comes back and leads us on a drive in 38 seconds and we score on the road.

"That's the kind of kid he is."


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