Kelly Q&A: Michigan State

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly discusses Saturday's battle with Michigan State, the challenges the Spartans present defensively, and a few behind-the-scenes elements of his team's nine-game home winning streak.

Brian Kelly Opening Statement

"Well, for the third consecutive week, a Big Ten opponent.  It has been for us, you know, very physical three weeks with Michigan, Purdue, now Michigan State and playing the No.1 defense in the country.  Mark Dantonio's teams, obviously a hallmark of their teams, are physical, and certainly well prepared in all phases of the game.  They have been great football games.  So, another one here at Notre Dame this weekend.

"Number of returning players on defense.  You know, guys that we've seen over the years; Max Bullough inside has just been a stalwart for them defensively.  Denicos Allen, their will linebacker, a guy that can put pressure on all offenses.  And certainly where they are able to do so many good things is in the back end of their defense, experience at the corner position where they can play so much man-to-man coverage.

"But outstanding defensive schemes.  You know, make it very difficult to run the football.  Again, you have to find ways to manufacture runs.  You've got to be able to protect your quarterback.  Again, you've got to play tough, physical football for four quarters.  You've got to take care of the football.  All of the little things matter in matchups like this.

"And, you know, again, from our perspective, we'll have to prepare to play a team now that has settled on a quarterback on offense.  It looks to us that Connor Cook now is the guy after hearing Coach Dantonio's comments this week.  And what he does for them obviously is gives them the ability to run the quarterback and that has not been something that has been part of their offense in the past.

"Now they have the ability to run some schemes in particular situations, down and distance, that force you to consider how you're defending them.  They are going to be a team up front that has a veteran offensive line, a lot of experience, and you know, we know the kind of offense that Coach wants to run and he wants to be physical and run the football first, and they have got talented receivers and big, physical tight ends.

"So it's the Michigan State teams that we've come to know and respect, and again, it's going to be one of those typical Big Ten games where last man standing through four quarters comes out victorious. With that, I'll open up to any questions."

Q.  When Stanford came in here last year, you really put a lot on the offensive line and challenged them, that you have to match their physicality; with a team like Michigan State and not to take anything away from the first three opponents, is it a greater challenge this week, a similar one, where the physicality has to emerge?

"Yeah, we know that.  And we have a ton of respect for Michigan State.  Our kids have played in the game and a lot of them have played in it; they know the kind of game it is.

"So it's not like I have to stand in front of them and get them ready for this fight.  They know what kind of fight it's going to be.  This isn't, you know, hey, guys, please listen to me this week.  They know what they are going to get from Michigan State.

"From that standpoint, it's really for us about preparing them for the multiple looks and the pressures and the things that they are going to do offensively that are a bit different from what we've seen in the past.  I think we have got to do a really good job of preparing our players for their schemes and game plan.

"But they now know, especially a lot of our veterans, they know the kind of game it's going to be; the physical kind of presence that Michigan State brings week-in and week-out."

Q.  I talked to Coach Holtz the other day and he talked about the one major regret he had as a coach at NotreDame was not enjoying the journey.  How difficult is it day-to-day, you're worried about Michigan State and then you're worried about the next week; how difficult is it to enjoy the journey?

" Well, I think once-- and I've kind of passed through that in a sense, is that once you understand why you're doing this job at Notre Dame, it's easier to enjoy it.  And I'm doing it because I get a chance to coach incredible kids, kids that-- we got home at 3:00 a.m.  You asked the question so I'm going to answer it.

"We got home at 3:00 a.m. for the second consecutive week.  These kids are tired.  And they have to check in at noon and then they had study table from 2:00 to 4:00 and then they had dinner and then they had study groups from 7:00 to 9:00.  You know and that's their lifestyle and that's how they do it here at Notre Dame and that's great.

"So once you really get your hands around the fact that it's truly college football at Notre Dame and that's the way they handle things, then you can enjoy it.  Because if you get caught up in the noise of everything else, there's no way you could enjoy it.

"So I enjoy being with my guys.  I'm going to defend them.  I'm going to back them up.  I'm also going to point out to them when they don't make the decisions that they need to make, the good decisions.  But I think that's how you can enjoy it more than anything else is that you've got to understand at Notre Dame, what our mission is.  We want to win a BCS Championship, no question about it.  But all those other things are really important to us, as well."

Q.  You got off to-- at home here, the first season half, it wasn't --  you were barely above .500; nine straight wins now.  What has led to that mentality that you've been able to create in this team?

"Well, I think there's a lot of things.  There's a lot of levels.  We've learned how to play the game.  We play the game, for me, I've always wanted our teams to play hard for four quarters and just fight really hard and we'll figure out a way to win the games.  We've managed to do that by and large in terms of the way we play.

"I'd like to play better football at times, mistake-free.  I think we've learned how to play the game.  We prepare very well.  I think that's the second thing.  And I think we've been able to manage game week at Notre Dame very well.  That's a big, big part of that, as well.  There's a lot that goes into game week at Notre Dame.

"If I could highlight those three things, maybe in reverse order, right, handling all that goes into game week at Notre Dame; the preparation I think our guys really understand how to prepare, and then playing the game the right way, hard and physical for four quarters."

Q.  I know one of the-- getting ready for the game, you changed the service time Friday.  What other changes did you make that you think helped out in that area?

"I just think the way we've spaced out the day, Friday and Saturday, has really helped our kids a lot.  It's given them the opportunity to regroup a little bit, focus in on the game and not all the other things that are going on around the campus.  And it's Friday and Saturday; it's the luncheon and the pep rally and those things.

"We've really been able to get our guys-- Friday has been more of a focus day and it's allowed us now to really embrace the pep rally.  You know, go over there and have some fun.  We even used a swear word, okay, though it's in the Bible; but we used a swear word.  So we are going to be cleaner the next pep rally.

"But we've been able to have fun, and we want to have fun at the pep rally because it's a great event.  So I think we are really seeing it in the right way as embrace it and have fun with it, and I think that's helped us a lot."

Q.  The change at the stadium as far as piped-in music playing, that began before the game before streak began, did you notice a difference in the atmosphere, any difference in the crowd reaction or noise or anything?

"Those are all little things that have been worked through the team, and they enjoy it and they like it.  They like that extra energy of the music, and then we added a little bit more when we had the bagpipes and then they played music before.

"All those little things, the kids see that and they like that.  Those are all little pieces where they feel like they are part of that, and part of the tradition is great, and then having a little bit of say in that, they really take some ownership in it."

Q.  You've talked a couple times about the identity of this team evolving.  A quarter of the way through the season, is that unusual to be this far in and still searching for identity, and what do you think it's going to take for this team to start formulating that identity?

" Well, I think the identity that we want versus what we have is consistency.  Some of it is our guys have their own identity; I want my identity to be imposed on them, and that is, we need to just be more of a consistent group in terms of how we play the game.

"They have been really good in practice.  They have figured out a couple of things that we were short on and we've gotten those taken care of, and now we've got to play with a little bit more consistency for four quarters.  That will be the next step up for this football team." Top Stories