Q&A: Offense

Irish head coach Brian Kelly discusses Cam McDaniel, DaVaris Daniels, what he likes about his freshmen runners, the evolution of a running back duo or trio around college football, the status of Malik Zaire, and the success of the Irish running game late compared to early in Saturday's win over Purdue.

Q.  When you look at your guys' running back situation, has it come to the point maybe for you and for teams almost anywhere where having the guy is not necessarily the way it is, period; you're going to go through two, three, four guys per game, per year?

"Yeah, and I think if you look across the country, you know, last year, obviously two backs at Alabama, two backs at Georgia, some of the SEC schools have shown that they are playing multiple backs.

"I think across the country, that singular back, that one guy, has not been able to fit all the things that you want to do offensively.  I think the position has now required a guy that is multi-dimensional and it's better to find that maybe in two or three different backs.

"For us, we think we've got five.  We haven't been able to get five on the field.  I think we've gotten three on the field.  We're still I think in the process of trying to evaluate our freshmen, as well, and we have not been able to get into the ideal situation to do that, primarily because we have had to deal with so many pressure fronts and so many times where we are calling our backs back in to protect.  It has not been the best proving ground for some freshmen running backs.  Hopefully as time moves on, we'll be able to do that."

Q.  I know we've talked about it ad nauseam, but what's important in managing guys in keeping them ready, keeping them believing they have roles, and where you can just drop a guy in every now and then and he's that guy that week, maybe.

"Yeah, well, I think that's a very good question.  Those are the things that we have to manage from day-to-day, whether it be Cam McDaniel who didn't get much playing time the week before, to, you know, obviously carrying a great load in the game.

"I think the believability is in the fact that that's exactly what happens within our structure of offense and defense.  You've got to be ready, because you're going to get called upon.  We trust that you can do the job.  Sometimes that's easier said than done, but that's what's required of us; that the guys trust us and believe us, that we are just not saying that; that when we believe the circumstances are right for you to play, you'll be in the game and we trust that you'll get the job done."

Q.  What kind of mention does the offense get when DaVaris Daniels is playing the way he did Saturday?

"Well, certainly it gives us another big play receiver.  I think T.J. has shown his ability to be that guy, as well now you have Daniels that can certainly get down the field and make big plays.  It definitely stretches the field for us.  Certainly our ability now to vertically push the ball enhances what we want to do now with both of those guys.

"Troy Niklas, our tight end and then our running back by committee and inside slot receivers give us a lot of balance.  But obviously having two guys that have proven themselves already to make big plays is key for our offense."

Q.  Can you just talk about your pass protections in general, three sacks, I think 110-plus attempts so far this year.  How would you sort of evaluate that aspect of your offense right now?

" It's been really good.  I think we've been able to maintain a consistency obviously at that end of things with the development of our tight end and try in this case laws's ability; as you know, last year he struggled at times.  I think the Stanford game was one where he got beat a couple times.  I think that has helped us a lot.

"You know, Ronnie coming in as a first-time starter, and you know, Nick, you don't know what you're going to get, but we had a glimpse towards how good they could be in pre-season camp and the way they handled Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt; so we were hopeful, but you don't know until it happens.  And then Tommy gets us into the right protections nine out of ten times.  Whereas last year, Everett was still learning and sometimes he wasn't able to slide the right way and give us the best look possible.

"So I think it's a combination of having some veterans there, a guy stepping up in Troy Niklas and two freshmen have really blended into a group there, and then finally Tommy's ability to get us into some really good looks."

Q.  The last drive, you run out seven and a half minutes, is there anything that you can take from that that can apply to the run game moving forward, or is that just such a specific instance of what you're running, that what worked there might not work in the middle of the first quarter?

"Well, you know, it's a fair question, but it's hard to take that timing in the game and place it in the down and distance and what you're trying to do, you know what I mean.  You're trying to score points-- I don't know that we're trying to score points.  We were trying to take time off the clock, so there's a different mind-set in terms of what you're doing.

"But the fairness in the question is, well, if you can beat the heck out of them on the line of scrimmage then, what's going on earlier, right.

"So I think settling into the game, getting into some checks that our guys really now knew how they were lining up; Purdue did a very good job in the first half of giving us multiple looks that we hadn't really seen and it took us some time to really get our bearings.

"But we have to do a better job early, there's no question about that.  But I think to say, well, you did it late, you should be able to do it early, I think the circumstances are a little bit different there."

Q.  Does also the kind of physical accumulation of plays work in your benefit at the end, just the way your offensive line is conditioned?

"I think it definitely helps and then I think that there was only at that time formation-ally, we stayed in one static formation, so the looks that we were getting were really consistent; whereas, earlier in the game, we're in, I don't know, as many as eight or nine different formation looks, so you're getting a lot of different looks.  So I think all of those go to that."

Q.  Following up on the final seven minutes there where it was different circumstances, how much did it also, the circumstances, play the two deep balls, one to Chris Brown, the 40-yarder and obviously the touchdown to DaVaris.  Did that really enable you to perhaps those circumstances be different defensively, because early on, it was more just a short passing game.

"Well, relative to what they were doing, it didn't change.  They were still-- they were still outnumbering us in the box.  We were just finding ways to eek out three and four yards inside, and then they brought pressures.  Tommy was able to get into some good checks and get the ball outside.  It was a combination of an inside/outside running game.

"It wasn't, in that particular instance, because we got them off us, they were not playing their safeties very deep.  Their corner was in the box.  They are at that point, had to gamble that we would throw the football, and so although it gave us point, it didn't impact that last seven and a half minutes."

Q.  How much do you think it helped, Cam last year against Miami, he had those 11 straight touches, and just to be able to get into a rhythm for a running back, how much does that facilitate a ground game when you get those three, four, five straight kicks?

"I think if you ask a running back, they would all say they would love to get into the rhythm.  They see things -- I mean, because when you are in there for two or three plays, just the nuances of how the block gets set up:  The guard pulls, do I stay on his inside hip or am I going to be on his outside hip based upon how this particular guard blocks.  All those nuances come into play when you are four, five, six, seven, eight yards -- or eight carries into a drive.  So there's no mistaking that that helps.

"So, you know, he got better, he saw things as he got more carries.  But circumstances change from week-to-week, and you know, we are not just going to use one back."

Q.  We've only seen a little bit of Cam so far.  What in your mind can he do better to get on the field more, because from what we've seen in the limited games, he's been pretty good.  But clearly, you've talked about circumstances dictating who plays one.  What can he do to get on the field more?

"You know, he just needs to continue to do what he's doing.  I think in terms of carries, I know we've got a lot of carries on Saturday, but I think he's one carry away from-- I don't have the numbers, isn't he one carry away from having the most carries or tied for having the most carries on the team?  I think George is third on the team in carries.

"So I think when it's all said and done is where we can probably get a better sense and feel for that answer.  They are all contributing.  I think we'll continue to see it week-to-week.  Next week, maybe we'll talk about somebody else.  We just think we have got a lot of guys that can contribute, and they are all going to have roles.

"I don't know that we are going to have one guy that we put up there and say, he's the guy.  You know, I think they are all going to contribute in some fashion."

Q.  What do you like about him in particular in terms of the way he runs?

"Well, certainly, I think we all love the way he attacks the line of scrimmage.  You know, he's a kid that plays with a great deal of passion, loves the game.  Love him off the field.  He's a football player.  And when I say he's a football player, he just loves the game.  He loves everything about it.  So you really enjoy watching him and pull for a kid like that."

Q.  A little bit ago, you were talking about the necessity to start quicker.  Is that something that-- does that come down to preparation, or is it execution?  Is it play calling?  Where have you identified the needs to improve in that area?

"I would say, you know, that's a little bit of each one of those.  You know, I think we all have to take accountability for not starting well.  I think at Michigan, we had a couple of third down situations early on that we didn't execute very well, and then we didn't punt the football again. Same thing in Purdue.  We didn't handle some fronts and some movements up front.  Didn't throw the ball effectively.  Didn't get into some checks early on and then settled down and got into it.

"Here's what I don't want is, we're not going to use it as, well, that's just the way it is.  That's not the way we're going to play.  We need to play better out of the gates, and we need to play better early.  We can't rely on having, you know, a great second half comeback.  That's just going to wear out here."

Q.  Not to turn this into the Cam McDaniel press conference, but you mentioned the fact that this is a physical game this Saturday.  Does that play into his strengths?

"You know, it can in certain instances certainly.  You know, we do so many other things as you know.  Pass receiving is important for the running back, right.  Amir Carlisle did a tremendous job in pass protection for us on Saturday.

"Here's a guy that we were all talking about.  What's the first thing that came to your mind when we talked about Amir Carlisle?  His speed, right.  He's tremendous in pass protection, stuck his nose in there; was as physical as Cam McDaniel in pass protection.

"I just think that, you know, all five of the guys, and I don't want to -- and let's not write off our two freshmen.  I know they haven't played as much but we are really high on those two guys.  I think it's still evolving at that position.  And I know I sound like a broken record on this.  We like them all, and they all have talents or they wouldn't be out there for us."

Q.  Going back to the slow starts and getting into the checks and seeing things a little bit clearly, is part of that a function of having a first-year center, recognizing those defensive looks that are different.

"Oh, no, no.  In terms of the function of the checks not being correct early on, is that what you're saying?"

Q.  Or just the slow starts in general and going back to the running game, taking some time to figure out the looks that Purdue is throwing at you and adjusting to those.

"No, not really.  No.  Nick doesn't have the full authority to-- it's all five of those guys really working together.  I guess you could make the case if you had a veteran in there that, you know, some of those mistakes could get cleaned up, but I would not put it on the center.

"We're not center-driven in that sense.  We have to recognize linebackers.  We get a little too, sometimes technical, instead of just recognizing they are just a bunch of birds in there.  We sometimes-- well, that's the Mike.  Well, it's not really the Mike.  And I don't want to get into too much detail.

"But I think what we learned this week is maybe sometimes we get a little bit too technical in there, and we are learning in there with a couple new guys in there, but I would not put it on the center."

Q.  DaVaris Daniels, you guys thought he had a very high ceiling of who he could become; how far along that path is he and how much more space does he have to reach that?

"Well, he's two quarters of the way.  He needs to be four quarters of the way.  He can obviously impact a football game.  We want him to impact it four quarters, and he's capable of doing that. It just requires, you know, that mental approach, which is coming, you know.  And you can see it.  I mean, you can see it in practice.  You can see it in the way he's maturing off the field.  He's doing all the little things.

"You know, to be that great player, you've got to have it all going for you in everything that you do, and he's growing up and he's getting better.  But there's definitely more there for him to grow into."

Q.  You mentioned the freshmen quarterbacks, Bryant and Folston; for those of us, we haven't seen a lot of reps of them in the game, what do they bring to the table and what do you like about those two guys?

"I like the way Greg runs.  He's just really a physical, hard runner.  He's just downhill.  There's not a lot of wasted movement.  He gets it and goes.  When he first got here, there was a lot of dancing, and now it's PointA to Point B.  I like the way he hits things, very good acceleration.

"Folston is very smooth.  Just looks like everything he does is very smooth.  Gets out of his breaks very, very well.  Puts his foot in the ground and can accelerate.  Catches the ball extremely well.  Both those guys really catch my attention.  Even in pre-game against Purdue, we were watching our young kids warm up and they catch your eye."

Q.  Is Malik in good standing with the doctors and with yourself "He's in good standing with the doctors, very good standing (laughter)."

Q.  Can you elaborate on the second part?  And I wanted to ask, since he has missed a lot of time, is there any thought to bouncing him down to the scout team to give them a good look, or is that the fact that he's maybe still No. 3, does that keep you from wanting to do that?

"No, it's a fair question.  You know, we're considering it.  He learned his lesson relative to what is information that needs to stay within the program.  He learned his lesson.  He touched the stove and we've-- we've managed that, gotten through it.

"But it's a good question, and to be honest with you, I think we are probably going to look at doing both."

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