Kelly Wraps Up MSU Prep

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spoke with the media following his team's final practice prior to Saturday's game vs. Michigan State.

QUESTION: How is (sophomore defensive lineman) Sheldon Day?

Kelly: "Good. He practiced today."

Q: And you expect him to play Saturday

"He can play Saturday. We'll see. He obviously missed Tuesday and Wednesday, but he's available to us. We'll see how he responds. It'll be a game time decision. He practiced today, looked pretty good."

Q: If he can't go, is it (freshman defensive lineman) Isaac (Rochell) or is it a combination of all those guys? "A little bit of everybody. All hands on deck."

Q: How you feeling with your team after a couple trips and late nights? Do they feel fresh?

"I would have liked to get in before 3 a.m. the last couple of weeks, but it is what it is and our guys have managed them well. I think they've done a really good job of taking care of themselves. They understand. They knew what the schedule was going to be like. No excuses. They've had a good week of practice. I think we've managed them well. They're ready for what's going to be a tough, physical four quarter match-up against a very good team in Michigan State."

Q: How tough is this game going to be as another Big Ten opponent? The difference between 2-2 and 3-1 is huge.

"For us, we never get too caught up in the record as much as how we play and how we prepare. For us, our focus all week has been on our preparation and making sure, like I said earlier, the kids get the proper rest. We got other things we've got to do. We've got to get to class. We've got to make sure we take care of all those things and all those responsibilities.

"Our kids have done a very nice job. We really don't get too caught up on what the record is. We get caught up on our preparation, and knowing our opponent, Michigan State. We know what we need to do on Saturday."

Q: You've been doing this a long time, and I'm sure you get a sense of how your team is ready each week, whether it was at Grand Valley or all the way through here. Games like last week where your players talk about execution wasn't there or we just weren't dialed in, do you ever get a sense of that during the week? Do you get a sense of it in walk-throughs before the game? Is it in the locker room? Or is it just one of those things that just happens and that's the only way that you know?

"No. I think there is always going to be a little bit of uncertainty when you're dealing with 18- to 21-year olds. That's why the gray hair and all those things, the weight gain, all that. I think as you go along, you do get to know your team and how it's going to respond. I think at times I use the phrase, or the analogy, whatever the right way to say this, our guys were like hunting dogs last year. In other words, when it was time to go, we knew what to expect.

"We're not there yet. I'm getting a better feel for our football team each and every week. I'd like to be there right now. The problem we have is our first four weeks don't allow us time to really grow up. You've got to be who you are right out of the gate. I'm getting a better sense of feel for that."

Q: Is that a leadership, not an issue, but last year's group, not to play on the hunting dogs, but did you have more leaders of the pack, that type of personality, and those personalities haven't quite come out yet?

"I wouldn't say that because that would be construed as we have a lack of leadership. We lost some key positions. We went through a great deal of our season with (quarterback) Everett Golson, and no we've changed back to (senior quarterback) Tommy Rees. We've had to kind of learn a new system back again on offense. I think we're growing there. I think we saw signs of that in the second half at Purdue. Tommy really taking that offense over, but we're three weeks into it.

"On the defensive side, that middle linebacker, he's the leader, and that safety, those are two positions we're a little bit in flux a little bit with. I think we've got leaders, we just haven't gotten that position nailed down yet. Once we do, we'll have the leadership that we need."

Q: A couple of years ago, you had Jamoris (Slaughter) in that newly-created Star position. Are you confident in the current defensive packages, with (freshman linebacker) Jaylon (Smith) and (junior linebacker) Ben (Councell) in the Dog position there that you don't need that position?

"No no. (Freshman defensive back) Cole Luke has been playing that position, but we haven't been as productive in that position obviously. We got to get off the field on third down. That hasn't been a productive thing for us. We have to get better there, there's no question. We're looking at all of those, evaluating all of the positions on defense.

"But no, that's an integral part of what we do. All teams have to have sub-packages, and sub-packages are evaluated just like all of our other base defenses."

Q: Is it more important to have that package against, you're facing more and more running threats at quarterback?

"It's more down-and-distance predicated than it is necessarily about a quarterback that is able to run. Those sub-packages have more to do with their personnel on the field. You're matching personnel and you're matching down-and-distance."

Q: It has seemed like three or four occasions this year where it seems the other team has encroached before the snap. This is Nick (Martin's) first year at center. Do you want him to snap that or is he supposed to wait and react to what the defense is doing?

"It's a little of both. We teach, in that instance right there, the quarterback can ask for the ball. In some of those instances, five yards wasn't going to be enough for us, or we wanted to see what the defense was doing and we were looking for more than five yards. We did draw Temple offsides early when we deliberately tried to pull them offsides. 

"It really just depends on if we're trying to do it and we will snap the ball, or if you've made contact we'll take the five, but we're not necessarily looking for the five yards. We're more trying to get a tell as to what the defensive configuration is."

Q: Has (senior tight end) Alex Welch had difficulty rounding back into form from last year's injury or are you just going with the top two tight ends? "No. I think he's done well. We really have just gone with two."

Q: You've got several guys who project as high pro prospects, high draft choices for next year. I know your focus and your culture is about worrying about winning championships, not prospects. Do you take their temperature during the year to see if they're thinking about that and if they're worrying about that

"I don't have a direct conversation with those guys about hey, what are you thinking? Thinking of going to the NFL? I don't have those direct conversations with them, but we have just started the process of being proactive with all of our players. It's important to lay down a good foundation, a transparent foundation of here are the things that you have to do along the way if, in fact, you want to look at the NFL.

"I don't want to paint the picture that we don't talk about aspirations and goals and dreams of playing at the NFL level with our players. We just don't' have those daily conversations about the NFL during the season. We try to do a lot of that in the summer and try to be proactive with it. I don't have a weekly or even a daily conversation about the NFL in season."

Q: There was a lot of talk after Purdue about some people on Purdue said, we could tell what Notre Dame had coming because of formations and personnel groups and so forth. I was just wondering about your self-scouting process. Do you feel confident that that's taken care of that kind of possibility?

"I've been doing it a long time. We've been self-scouting a long time. We lined up in the same formation 12 times, 11 times on the last drive. They knew exactly what we were doing, and we had the ball for 7:22. It's still about execution. Those are good sound bites and all. We know what our tendencies are. We have that self-scouting information at our fingertips first thing Sunday when we get in from our graduate assistants.

"I don't know how to respond to that other than we're responsible on our end to make sure we have all that information and that we have to be able to break tendencies if we have them. Generally speaking, bye weeks are where we do a more thorough evaluation of those things."

Q: Talking to a cross-section of junior s and seniors this year, a common theme is that your third year is where they start feeling fully comfortable, and that would make sense as they've matured and everything. Do you find that to be more indicative of Notre Dame or has it been that way across the board for you? A lot of them say it is partly compartmentalizing practice, they show up in the classroom, things like that in their junior years.

"Well I've been at different institutions, and Notre Dame is like no other. So I could give you an answer that would be different at different institutions. There is a different rigor at Notre Dame as it relates to the year-round academic process for the kids.

"I kind of like, the young kids come in and they're not hindered by NFL, and I'm not saying the older kids are by any means, but they don't think like that. They just want to go play. Sometimes it's better that they don't know that they don't know. I like a kind of mix of those kids. But you do want those veterans that know what to expect on a day-to-day basis. I like a good blend of all of them. At Notre Dame though, it's good to know the routines and what to expect on a day-to-day basis. I think it's a little bit of everything."

Q: From that, the one guy who shot down my question when I said that, and you'll probably understand right away, was (junior running back) Cam McDaniel. He seems to have a self-confidence that is not overly cocky, but he felt he was ready to go as soon as he set foot on campus. Do you see that in him a little bit?

"Oh, absolutely. Cam is extremely driven. He has a strong belief system. He believes and all the things that are in his life, he has a plan. He follows that plan to the letter. He's a very confident and driven young man.

Q: Michigan State's offensive line has given up three sacks this season. What do you think is key to putting pressure on (Michigan State quarterback) Connor Cook?

"Well, I think a couple of things. First of all, we've got to get them into some predictable down-and-distance situations, to throw the football. They've been able to manage down-and-distance very well. If we can get them into some predictable passing situations where we can force them to throw the football and we know it, that's going to help us because they've got some balance now where they can run the football with the quarterback in some longer yardage situations, which put you at risk if you're firing up field and they're running the quarterback, they've been able to balance that out pretty good.

"We've got to get them in some predictable situations, and we've got to win some one-on-one match-ups. Some that we haven't won so far that we need to win this weekend."

Q: Nine of the 13 last games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Do you think this will be another close one?

"I'll check my crystal ball, but my guess is this will be another close, hard-fought game. We've got two really good teams, physical teams. I think both of them are going to play good football. My expectations are someone's going to have to make a play late in the game."

Q: What are some of the memorable moments that come to mind for you when you think of this Big Ten match-up?

"Well I would say, last year the way our kids played on the road in a very difficult environment, playing on the road. When you go up to East Lansing, you've got to play in a very hostile environment, and I thought our kids handled themselves very well."

Q: There is a pretty good chance (former running back) Theo (Riddick) is going to see his first real time with the Detroit Lions this weekend due to injuries and whatnot. I was curious if you could quickly revisit what you think makes him an NFL caliber guy and if you think his position switches, multiple here, maybe helped him get there even if it was a roundabout way?

"I think his versatility, my understanding in talking to their coaches, in particular his position coach, that ability to catch the football and run the football definitely helped him. I think more than anything else, his professionalism, the way he came to work every day, somebody who can run on his own gas. You never have to worry about Theo Riddick in terms of where he's going to be. He just, in one sentence, a kid that you can trust and count on. It doesn't surprise me that he'll have success."

Q: Saturday night, after the game gets over, Arizona State is going to be playing Stanford. Do you get a chance to watch some college football afterwards, especially a couple of your future opponents?

"It really depends on what my kids schedule is. If they've got something going on I'm usually chasing them around. It really depends. Half the time I've got kids running around my house, so I don't get a chance to have what I want on TV half the time."

Q: With Cook earning that starting job finally, is it a fair assessment to actually be able to watch how he did against Youngstown State? How much can you actually learn about him from who he played that week?

"No, I think we've got enough of a body of work in the other couple of games that he played in that we can tell what his strengths are. He's a big strong kid. He's got a live arm. We knew what they want to do with him.

"As much as we talk about Connor Cook running, this game plan is not about Connor Cook winning the game running the football. This is about their defense. This is about them controlling the football, and making some big plays. Connor Cook will do what he does within that system. But this is still about Michigan State football and this is playing great defense, running the football, and the quarterback managing the game. Now they've added him as a dimension of running it, but I think we've got a pretty good sense of what he'll do." Top Stories