Brian KellyI'll just start with a brief recap. We are happy to be 2-0 against a Big Ten opponent this past weekend in Purdue. Got an opportunity to spend a lot of time reviewing the film and there's certainly some great performances individually to point out, but collectively as a team, we did not play our best football. There's a higher standard for the way we should play offensively, defensively.
But again, I will tell you that any time you beat a Big Ten opponent, you're pleased with the outcome. So I don't want to-- and I told our team this: Winning is not easy, and we found a way to win the football game. But we've got a lot of work to do.
So as we move into the Michigan State week as a form to preface that, the focus is on what we do in practice today. We are excited about what that challenge brings, a Top-10 team, one that is a perennial Top-25 team and challenger for a championship every year; national television, those are all exciting.
But the fact of the matter is we have so much work to do on our own game coaching-wise, player-wise, developing our football team that, for me, the most important thing is practice today and getting out there and getting a chance to work on a lot of the things that are going to go towards winning consistently, and especially against a great opponent in Michigan State. So with that, I'll open it up to questions.
Q. Everett has put up some pretty good numbers in terms of third down conversions and completion percentage. What do you feel like are the keys to him staying with those numbers throughout the season?
COACH KELLY: As we talk about Everett Golson's development, I think there are two areas, and one, physically. Physically playing the position, we are really pleased with him. I think the numbers point that out. I think he had really one bad throw, which was on a slant route that he kind of missed Robby Toma. But physically he's doing really good things. We saw his athletic ability, his he escapability. We saw the incredible athletic move he made coming out of the pocket to score a touchdown.
So physically we are pleased with where he's at at this point, and it's living up to what we thought he could do. But we have a lot to do with the mental part of the game: The quarterbacking, and the fundamentals, and all of the things that go along with that. So I agree with you, and your assessment is similar to ours, in that the physical elements that he brings to the position are quite exciting and they are backed up by numbers. We have got to continue to work on the mental part of it.
Q. You had tough matchups on the offensive line last week and you'll get them again this week; what did you learn last week?
COACH KELLY: Again, we were not in a great position to run the football most of the time. I think in retrospect we could have done a better job as a staff and finding ways to just lock some runs in there and get after it. But clearly we are going to have to play better up front against a Big Ten opposition and in particular, Michigan State.
Our guys are capable. We still feel like we have a very, very good group. We did get beat on some individual moves but again, we think that as a group-- and I know (offensive line) coach (Harry) Hiestand believes that that group together can get the job done at a high level for us.
Q. Did the injuries kind of play out like you thought they would Sunday, and also the group of Golson and Nichols and Danny Spond, any news?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, they did play out the way we had hoped. So we feel like the number of guys that were out of the game are going to be back. I think the big addition would be Danny Spond. He's been cleared to practice today, which should clear up that drop position for us a lot better. We can go back to our original plan of (Ben) Councell and Spond at the dropped position. And that would be the hope moving forward that we are able to stabilize that dropped position with Danny.
Q. Without giving away trade secrets, Michigan State is more patient -- does it lend itself to drop on the field a lot?
COACH KELLY: It has, but I will say, for example, the USC game, USC had run a lot of two back, tight ends, and they come out against us in the spread. So we are prepared for that but we also know that we have to adjust in the game plan.
Q. What are your impressions of Maxwell and Le'Veon Bell?
COACH KELLY: Very strong arm. He's got good vision, tall guy that can see down the field. I really just think it's game experience that he's gaining each and every week. You can see that there was a big difference in his play from week one to week two, I'll tell you that. And you can see that they put him in very good position to run the offense. So I think what we're seeing is a guy developing his confidence from week one to week two.
Q. Did you watch the film from 2010 this week and is it getting easier to stomach at the end?
COACH KELLY: No, I didn't watch that particular set of circumstances. I think that we know playing Michigan State and playing them last year, it's going to come down to a couple of plays and it probably will this year, as well. I think our focus has strictly been on each and every play to make a difference in the game, as evidenced in 2010.
Q. In 2006, there was a realistic chance that East Lansing-- did you ever think how life could be different for you still? Do you ever think about that?
COACH KELLY: You know, that was so long ago for me. My brain is full of so many different things now. I think if I'm on a golf course in Michigan and making the turn and having a hot dog, maybe I would think about it. But other than that, I'm focused on what I'm doing right here.
Q. Outside of the Notre Dame community, there's always the perception that this program can't be what it wants to be; are there any dynamics or changes in college that prevent that?
COACH KELLY: Well, certainly I'm here for one reason and that's to graduate our kids and win a National Championship. You would have a hard time moving me off that spot. What other think and perceive, that's up to them to think. But I believe that we have all of the things in place for us here to win a National Championship and we believe we are building our program towards that end.
Q. I assume Louis Nix is one of the players you noted for a great individual effort. Is the next step for Nix to find consistency. When he would have one bad play he would come back with two giant plays.
COACH KELLY: He was terrific. He's one of those guys that, you're absolutely right, played at a championship level. That's what part of the challenge to our football team is to get all of our players to play at a championship level on a consistent basis. Again, we had a few guys that didn't play up to the standards that they have set or we have set for them. Louis is one of those guys. Zeke Motta was outstanding.
You've got to understand, he's got some young guys out there, as well. Not only does he have to get himself in the right place, but you have to get three other guys lined up, as well; as you probably saw them running around there doing a heck of a job, and those two guys in particular, played at a high level. It's now consistency and performance in getting everyone else to play at that high level.
Q. You held MSU to something like 23 yards rushing in the last five quarters, and they had success against you defensively in the second half last year. Is this game the type you've become comfortable with, winning slugfests?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we know what kind of game it's going to be, physical game. You can't win those games unless you play good run defense, there's no chance. You're going to find yourself on the short end of most of those games. I mean, I'm sure there are some games where a rushing defense didn't -- but we built the program and started to build the program and the foundations for it, a good run defense. And games like this are going to test you, because you know, both defenses are very stingy as it comes to running the football.
Q. You're using a lot of young players in key situations; on Saturday, a lot of those young players played for the first time at Notre Dame Stadium. As you grade it out on the tape, how did they play as a unit?
COACH KELLY: Well, all of the younger players gained valuable experience as it relates to potential distractions on game day, and all of the things that go along with that. So I would say more than anything it was a good learning experience for them. There are some things that maybe we could have done a little bit better in preparing them.
But having said that, all of them competed. There is not one guy that didn't go out there with a competitive edge to them. Now, there are things we can do a little bit better to streamline communication; all of the things that go with being a better football player.
So it was a great experience for them and now we look to build on it; and now, going into which is going to be a very loud and, you know, a great environment at Michigan State.
Q. Michigan State is upset with itself, the way it played last year, they feel they got pushed around, out-physicaled, how do you feel like your guys played in terms of the physical aspects of the game last year and what do you try to carry over, I know a different year and everything, but what do you try to reach back to to bring to this weekend?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think that it's still going to come down to winning up front in this game. I think the team that can control the football, minimize the turnovers, is going to be the team that has the best chance to win.
So if Michigan State can exert their will on both fronts, the offensive line and defensive line, I think we probably know how that game is going to go. We felt like we have to be able to exert our same kind of presence on both sides of the ball and then do all of the other things that require you to win. They are so stingy on defense, you have to find some ways to get some big chunk plays. Because you're not going to go three yards and four yards; you're just not go build a consistency on offense doing that against this kind of defense.
So finding opportunities to get some matchups that we can get some bigger chunk plays. And I'm sure they feel the same way about our defense. There's a lot of similarities; both of these defenses are very stingy and trying to find those big chunk plays I think is going to be really important in this game.
Q. Cierre and Theo being your combo this week; what do you think you have between those two and the individual things they bring?
COACH KELLY: Versatility. I mean, great versatility. As I mentioned before, I think I had even said this on my conference call, was that we have to get George some more touches, as well, because we think we have got really three backs that have equal starting ability. They all can be stars and starters. We have to make sure that we integrate them all into the offense. I think the answer to your question is, it gives us great versatility.
Q. Now that you've presumably had a chance to talk to Everett, make you had not so much when we talked on Sunday, but what message do you give this week; what did you tell him in terms of what to expect on Saturday?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it's kind of what I said in the initial question of Everett; when you look at the film and you see him, you go, physically, wow, he does some really good things. We want him to clean up the other areas and we just have to make sure he take that is next step and that next step is today, it really is, because Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, then I'm done; I can't coach him anymore. You can't do a lot of coaching on Saturdays. So today, Wednesday and Thursday are really important days in the development of Everett Golson.
Q. Did you get any clarity on the officials and the way they handled the allowing the defense to get their substitutions in after you made substitutions?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, the word we got back, and the definition within the rule itself, is a reasonable amount of time. I guess when you take that word reasonable, we felt like it wasn't reasonable. They seemed to think it was reasonable. So we have a difference of opinion as it relates to that, which you know, you would think that there's the universal code across the board, but we made our adjustments that we need to make, and we're fine. We'll move on from here.
Q. As far as the offensive line and them focusing in on what their responsibility is, is their attention diverted somewhat by having to make sure that they are on the same page with a young quarterback?
COACH KELLY: No, it's really just-- I think it's mostly on the quarterback and Braxston. Those two guys have got to be, you know, locked in relative to cadence. And is it a verbal cadence or is it a non-verbal cadence; as you know, we are using both, and especially when you are at home.
Now we will have less of an issue on the road, because we would not have much verbal cadence at all because it's going to be so loud. So that's really where we have to clean it up. The rest of the offensive line, the communication is really good amongst that group.
Q. And I think you briefly mentioned this the other day, but you had your base defense in in Purdue's tying touchdown drive, 2nd and 23, 3rd and 10, 4th and ten. Are you more comfortable with that personnel on the field in the matchup, or is it a matter of you being not quite comfortable yet with throwing some younger guys out there in multiple DB?
COACH KELLY: I mean, we had what is our base defense, which is our bracket defense out there and we would have been in that in most situations. Even if it was a two-point play, we had a bracket. It's a three-on-two bracket. We had three defenders for their two. The rules of bracket? One guy is inside out, one guy is outside in, one guy is over the top. If two guys want to be outside in, that creates a problem.
So we feel really good about the scheme and what we are teaching and we just have to execute it better next time we get in that situation.
Q. Are you more cautious about maybe running a guy back out there now, particularly with a head injury? You had so many guys get banged up, I'm not sure if-- several of them were cleared by Sunday.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, two.
Q. Are you being more cautious with injuries?
COACH KELLY: No, I really think that there's a protocol that's in place that takes it away from coaches to even have a question as to whether this guy is able to play or not. Our medical staff takes great care of that. There are steps that they must follow before he can be signed off on to even get on the field.
And I think that's a good thing, because you know, I do the best to give you the medical information and injuries and updates, but I certainly don't want to be in a position where I have to evaluate whether somebody's good enough to go on the field. So we leave that to a very good medical staff.
Q. Can you talk about Le'Veon Bell and the challenges he presents to a team on pretty much a regular basis now?
COACH KELLY: The challenge is that he plays, and he plays every down, and he keeps coming after you. He's relentless, physical and just-- you know, he's just-- I don't know if this is fair to him, but he's just a throw back. I mean, he just keeps going. And the more carries he gets, the better he gets.
But you know, that's typical to the kind of runners that Michigan State has had. They are recruiting those kind of guys that just keep pounding the ball at you. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He is the complete back.
Q. You talked about working with Everett's communication this week. Going on the road in a loud environment, is it tougher to play in there or because you use more signals is it easier in that regard?
COACH KELLY: We hope it's easier. It has been historically for me to be on the road. But we'll obviously do all the things necessary. We'll have crowd noise piped into practice today. We'll go with some silent indicators. We'll make sure our communication is streamlined and make sure we do all of the things necessary to make sure it doesn't. My track record has been such that on the road, we have handled those situations pretty good, but we'll have to work on them as well.
Q. As far as the amount of work he's gotten in the two-minute offense, how much is communication a part of that and how much more does he need? How much more work does he need before you can be comfortable putting him in in a situation like he had last week?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think he's a work-in-progress. He's somebody that's had two starts. He was on scout team at this time last year. He continues to get better. We expect him to start and finish the game. We don't go into the week with any thoughts other than he's going to start it and he's going to fin tissue for us.
Q. I guess maybe I might not have asked it the right way but what I'm getting at is the amount of time it sometimes takes to get the play in, is that what prevents him from running that right now?
COACH KELLY: Well, some of it is housekeeping, if you will, you know what I mean; getting the play, getting it communicated, all of those things, which he's learning. And he's seeing it for the first time: He's looking at it and he's going, wow, it took me seven seconds to actually get up there, maybe I need to speed up my-- I call it housekeeping-- you know, getting the play. You know, verbalizing it; getting in everybody's set, making sure everybody is set. So it's just -- you know, I'd rather be doing that, than worrying about whether my quarterback has the physical ability to play the position.
Q. You mentioned chunked plays, how has DaVaris delivered in that department for you this year? Can you evaluate what you're getting out of him in two games?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he's coming on and maturing every day and he's understanding what it takes to be a front line guy and a starter, taking care of his body, coming to practice and all those things. And he certainly has the physical ability to do that and he showed that on Saturday. But I would put him in that same kind of thought process as it relates to understanding all of the little things he has to do on a day-to-day basis. He's going to be an exciting player and obviously this past weekend, he got a chance to taste some success and hopefully week build on that.
Q. Is he somebody you're going to be able to practice today with the ankle?
COACH KELLY: We'll be very careful with him today. Most of his stuff today will be probably stretch and move around and some individual, but we'll be cautious with him today and hope to pick it up a little bit more on Wednesday.
Q. Did he have one of those high ankle sprains that lasts forever?
COACH KELLY: We had him in a boot on Sunday, which is a pretty typical way for us to go about business. We'll get him out of the boot today and start to move him on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of last week, he finished the game pretty good for us.
Q. Curious on the two-minute, you've played multiple quarterbacks in the past, some necessity, some by choice; have you ever had a situation where your starter is not your best guy for your two-minute offense?
COACH KELLY: The circumstances are different in that you have a veteran quarterback that has been down that road before, and you have a guy that's trying to get there and somebody who is already there. So I don't know that I've quite had a situation where I've had a guy-- you know, generally, my stops along the way, you didn't have enough scholarships for three guys on scholarship at quarterback. So No. 2 was not a better option than No.1 under any circumstances. It's just a little bit different that we have somebody with that experience here at Notre Dame and came in and filled in quite well.
We don't want to break the game down to starter, middle relief and closer. We want one guy to start it and finish it.
Q. In the time you've spent with Everett since Saturday, how have you seen him respond to really getting pulled for the first time in his football career, just sort of a difference experience for him.
COACH KELLY: You know, again, I think everything's transparent. We talk every day. He knows what he needs to do to continue to get better as a quarterback. He's committed. He's competitive. He'll continue to take those steps this week.
Q. I know you loved all the punt return questions last year, so I'll be the first one to ask. Do you feel like you have a better handle on that, or is some of it, you've got a freshman back there and he's getting acclimated? What's the feeling?
COACH KELLY: Quite frankly, other than I thought there was a ball he should have fielded obviously, but he's a gutsy kid. He caught two in some windy conditions inside the ten-yard line. One time he probably got a little bit out of his element when he caught it on the three. But he's not scared now.
Yeah, we have got some work to do there but we finally got somebody who-- and I'm not saying the other guys were scared, but he loves being in that moment, and I love putting guys out there that want to be there that relish that opportunity. Yeah, we've got to polish them up a little bit, but I think we've got a guy there that's going to be a good player for us.
Q. The blocking scheme, it's difficult to set those things up; are you under the thought process like, we are going to make sure we take away a possible fake here first, and then we'll set up the block?
COACH KELLY: We were in four punt saves. We had our defense on. The last thing they want to do is work on hold-up technique. So we had save punt on four of those kicks out there. It was just the circumstances, so we really never got into a return situation.
Q. You talked about bringing the crowd noise into practice tonight. What else do you do? You are playing three Top-10 teams on the road this year. What can you do to make a team become a good, tough road team?
COACH KELLY: Well, I don't think you can do it right now. It's too late. You know, I think it's what you do with your team in January and February and March and April. I think you build toughness in so many ways before you get to the season, and then when you get to the continue, you look to see it come together.
Obviously coming back after really squandering a lead at home, and winning the ball game, you know, was a great indicator of that mental toughness. I think physically we played really hard. So to answer your question, I think we are developing it and I think it's something that we continue to talk about every single day. Because we knew the schedule we were going into. You'd better be physically tough and mentally tough, or you're going to get run out of the stadium.
So I think we are prepared for that, and we'll continue to challenge our players in practice to give us that mental and physical toughness necessary to win games.
Q. Do you say, you have to be this on the road, or is it just building toughness for both home and away, or is there something that you can focus on as being this is the way to do it when we are away?
COACH KELLY: No, the only thing I've ever really talked about on the road is maturity, and maturity in a sense that it's not a trip to the water park, okay. I don't want a bunch of giggly guys, and, hey, we are in a hotel. And our guys have been great. But I just want a mature group that goes on the road with a focus on what the job is at hand and that is to play their very best. Toughness, mental and physical, that's universal, home and away. But just a good, mature group when you take them on the road.
Q. Getting Cierre back this week, is that an important factor to have his presence to help a running game that maybe didn't perform quite as well as you hoped last week?
COACH KELLY: No, I don't think Cierre makes the difference in the running game. He definitely gives us more weapons on offense that we can utilize, and we are going to have to do a great job as a staff of utilizing him. It gives us great depth, but I wouldn't say: Well, Cierre is back, you're going to run the ball well this week. I think it just gives us more versatility and more weapons on offense that we can utilize for those big chunk plays.
Q. What's biggest concern you have today that maybe you didn't have a week or two weeks ago heading into the season?
COACH KELLY: I don't have one. I don't have a concern that's bigger, as I stand in front of you, that I didn't have last week. We knew we were playing a young quarterback. We knew that there was going to be a lot of work that needed to go in it, week-in and week-out and we want to see that improvement. We knew that we were going to play some young guys defensively and that they were going to have to continue to grow.
So I think all of the things that were quote, unquote, concerns, if you will, are still there, and they just continue to clear themselves up as we play more games. So no thing's happened over the last week that has changed my thought process as it relates to that.
Q. After seeing your team tackle pretty well against Navy, were you scratching your head maybe a little bit at some of what you saw last week?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think that we do such a good job of teaching tackling that sometimes you're surprised that we miss a tackle here or there. But I think that as a group, we recognize that that's something that we'll continue to make sure that we talk about and make sure that we practice and we'll continue to do that this week.
Q. There was maybe an initial panic after the Navy game that NotreDame's cornerback play might get exposed in the games coming up and everything. You had a couple of veteran quarterbacks last week against Purdue, they seemed to acquit themselves pretty well; is that how you saw it?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I wasn't panicked. We were in some option defenses that stressed us and put some guys in positions that normally they wouldn't be in. We felt very comfortable going into the Purdue week that we were going to play the kind of pass defense necessary. Bennett came up with a couple pass interceptions. KeiVarae played solid football. We got good play from Elijah Shumate, broke up a third down conversion opportunity. Matthias Farly had to play a ton of football, as you know, when Jamoris went down.
All in all, we were pleased with their development, but we were confident that as we continue to progress and they are going to get better and they are not there yet, but we feel like they are the right guys for us and they are going to get the job done.
Q. Earlier this year, Coach D'Antonio got into a controversy with his own players with their Twitter remarks after Michigan got beat by Alabama; what's your own policy? Some coaches have a total ban on it for players during the season. How do you approach it?
COACH KELLY: It's an opportunity for us to talk about positive things: If it's not positive; if it's negative in any way; if it's disparaging in remarks; if it's talking about family business, then you're going to be warned about how you use Twitter. If it happens again, then we'll take immediate action. Our players are very cognizant of the fact that Twitter is an open record, and we don't want that kind of content out there.