Kelly Q&A: Final Preparations

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spoke with the local media today following his team's final practice in preparation for Michigan.

Question: Is DaVaris (Daniels) at full strength? "Yes. Good."

Q: How about (Will) Mahone and (Malik) Zaire? "Mahone in. Good to go. Zaire is out. O-U-T...Out."

Q: And (Luke) Massa's the guy? "Yes, number three (quarterback)."

Q: How do you envision using Mahone? In the slot? At running back?

"Yeah, that's about right. Slot, running back. He's going to have to work his way back in it, but he's earned his way to be on the travel roster. We didn't put him on it just because. He did a lot of good things before he got injured, had a good week."

Q: Brian, you had 10 freshmen play last week, and you've had freshmen play for you on the road before. How do you measure as a coach whether they are ready to react to that kind of atmosphere?

"I think you go in and you play them. And you find out how in the flow of the game they measure up. For us, we've already decided that they're going to play. We went into game one and put them in there. None of them are critical roles, all of them are complementary players for us.

"Maybe [linebacker] Jaylon Smith could be considered more a front-line guy because he did have a starting role.  All of them are going to play, and we'll just see how it plays out. Again, I think we'll just have to see how it goes. We've already talked to them about the atmosphere. We're going up there to win a game. If they're nervous, can't handle it, then we probably recruited the wrong guy."

Q: How did the kicking game shake out?

"Pretty good. We had a good week. Kyle (Brindza) continues to kick the ball well. I think we still have (kicker) Nick Tausch and (punter) Alex (Wulfeck) if called upon they can come out and help us."

Q: So Kyle will be starter kicking field goals?

"We'll see what happens as we get to game time. I think I made it pretty clear. We like Brindza, but you never know what might happen. There is a lot of kicking that goes along with what he's doing. We like what he's done, but I'm not going to paint myself into a corner. If I need to use those two guys, they're ready if needed."

Q: As scout team quarterback this week as Gardner, who did you use?

"We used (Rashad) Kinlaw and (walk-on) Will Cronin."

Q: Did you use Rashad more?

"I think Rashad had a little bit more, but you're not going to get. You get a little bit of the scrambling that Gardner has, but you're not going to get exactly like him. Coach Diaco and I talked this afternoon, and we watched some film. We are pretty happy with our scout team, and the preparation that gave our defense this week. We sit down Thursday and talk about the guys that are over there, and we were quite pleased with the work they gave us."

Q: Brian, getting back to the freshmen, specifically the two freshmen running backs. Where are they in terms of ball protection and pass blocking and knowledge of the offense and all those kinds of things going into obviously a very tough environment?

"I would say that they have done very well or I would not have played them in game one. If I felt like they couldn't do those things, we probably would not have played them. They are going to need to continue to get seasoned along the way. We have to play them. They can do all the jobs. They've shown they can do it in practice. We'll see how they execute in the game. They're not finished products by any means."

Q: You kept the number one line in when those two guys played. I'm sure that wasn't a coincidence. You wanted to get a good look?

"Yeah, I think I made it pretty clear. All those backs need to continue to develop. If you throw them in there behind the second or third group, it's hard to evaluate them. They've been evaluated in the first game, and I think that's going to continue throughout the year. It's a long year. We're going to play a lot of very good opponents, and we're going to need to keep evaluating all those guys."

Q: You obviously went undefeated throughout the whole regular season last year, but you went undefeated on the road. What did your guys learn from seasons one and two, and then going into three that allowed them to handle those kind of environments?

"Well there's a lot of things that go with it I think. You've got to have a mental toughness to handle the road. And you've got to go play to win. You've got to have a mental attitude. We've got to go to Michigan and play to win. We've got to be the aggressors We can't go up there and worry about the noise.

"It's going to be loud. You're not going to be able to hear. If you're worried about hearing something, you're not going to hear it. You better be locked in. I think it's an attitude, a toughness, a mental toughness. You got to go play to win. You can't go up there hoping and praying to win. You've got to go play to win."

Q: I mean, have you taught them to welcome going into that kind of environment?

"Maybe they have absorbed my personality a little bit more along the way, about the way we're going to play each and every game, whether it's home or away. We haven't lost since, it's been a couple years since we lost at home. We hope we mirror that, in terms of the way we play the game.

"In particular on the road, you do need a maturity as well. There's a lot more downtime. It's a night game. That goes into the downtime, where we have to really plan it out well. I think all those things play into it, but we've got a lot of guys who have done it before."

Q: T.J. Jones looked so explosive against Temple. Have you seen that significant jump in explosiveness since last year?

"Yeah we started seeing it in the spring and over the summer months his work ethic. And you've got to understand, he stayed healthy too. He's battled some injuries, some soft tissue injuries for awhile. He stayed injury-free, been able to train aggressively. He's done some things in supplement of our workouts as well, in terms of conditioning and the speed work this year, in our fourth year, we added a speed element to our workouts we haven't had before. I think it benefited him in particular. There's definitely improvement there."

Q: Can you explain what that speed element was?

"Yeah, we just added an element to our weight-training and conditioning program working on a speed component, a SAQ component, that we hadn't had before, because we were so concerned with volume and strength. We were able to add some fundamental things as it relates to building speed."

Q: Coach, is there a balance of having confidence yet still having that hunger of an underdog mentality sometimes?

"I mean, the pressure's on Michigan. They're at home. They've got to win at home. For us, we're going to go up there swinging. Go on the road, we're going to have to play well. It's a very good football team. We can't go up there and turn the ball over like we did a couple years ago. We understand that.

"It's a well-coached football team on both sides of the ball and on special teams. So we know the challenges ahead of us, but we also know that if you're going to win at Michigan, and nobody's been able to do that now under Brady Hoke, at Michigan, you better go up there with an attitude to be aggressive and go play the game. You can't sit back and wait and hope, because if you do, you're not going to win the game."

Q: Was today a relaxing day, a focusing day? You don't want to get too high, too early.

"Yeah, I think we do a pretty good job of building up to it. It's still Thursday It's 48 hours. We've still got some more work. We've got all day Friday and Saturday to really build up to this. I think we do a pretty good job of measuring it."

Q: Brian, I know you're busy with your own team, but there were seven ejections, I believe, across college football with targeting. Did that change the way you think about that rule at all?

"No it didn't, but it surprised me that there were that many. I thought that was a high number. I didn't get a chance to look at all of them. Couple that I did see looked to be clearly ejections. We still are steadfast in our belief that our guys know the difference between intent to injure and tackling as being aggressive football players. We'll continue to coach the same way."

Q: The guys in here yesterday were talking about (quarterback) Tommy (Rees's) calmness on the road, especially up at Michigan. What are some of the things he, how does he communicate that calmness?

"You know he's had 18 starts. He's played against, you know, great competition. I think he's a guy that's been out there and has been part of the battles. That obviously is a piece where the guys see a leader. He's the leader out there. There's no debate who is calling the shots out there. Just watch him operate. He's getting us in the right plays. He's making the checks. He's communicating with everybody. He's setting the formation. So he exudes that leadership, that direction. So when he's out there obviously, there's a calm."

Q: A lot of those 18 starts came two years ago. How is the Tommy you take to Michigan this weekend the most different from the one you took there two years ago?

"I would say he's probably, I think the moment is not quite as large as it was two years ago. I think that probably two years ago he was operating on instinct a little bit. I think now he's operating a little bit more on just a clear understanding of everything. He's just a lot more comfortable.

"When I say instinct, I think he was reacting. You're going to see somebody who is so much more proactive in the game. He's going to see it before it happens. He did a very good job in that game. He'll do a better job taking care of the football. My words to that question specifically is you've got a mature guy. I think you'll see that on Saturday. I hope you see it. I expect to see it."


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