Kelly Q&A: Sunday Teleconference

Irish head coach Brian Kelly wraps up Saturday's loss to No. 14 Oklahoma with injury updates, clarification regarding the team's approach to the post-game alma mater tradition, and expounds on his offense's identity to date.

Q. When you went back and looked at the (Ben) Councell ejection, was there anything he could have done differently on that play to maybe not have helmet to helmet or was it almost unavoidable?

"In my estimation, unavoidable. Just the game of football is so fast. He's cutting across, trying to make a play and absolutely in my opinion, unavoidable."

Q. What does that do to the drop linebacker depth chart, will you move Romeo (Okwara) behind Jaylon (Smith)?

"Yeah, we are going to have to have that discussion about personnel. Certainly Romeo would be the first thought there, but I haven't got to that point where I've sat down with Coach Diaco and talked about the personnel. But certainly that's one of the initial thoughts."

Q. And with choosing Andrew (Hendrix) yesterday, was that a product of the score line and kind of how things went down in the first three minutes, or is that a package that you're comfortable with going into the game?

"No, that's something that we are trying to include within, you know, the offense, and moving forward; continuing to integrate him into the offense."

Q. Can you evaluate how you think using Andrew will help you as you go along, how much maybe you want to use that package as you go along?

"Well, you know the way we are playing, we don't have much margin, and certainly it's important for us to run the football. So I think Andrew gives us that dimension that allows us to run the football, help us out in some short yardage situations where we know it's been difficult for us with so many guys on the line of scrimmage that it doesn't turn into, you know, throw the football every time.

"I think he helps us out in those situations. We'd like to expand it where we get him to have some play-action pass and some passing game, as well. We don't want to turn this into a wildcat. We want him to be part of the offense and one that you have to defend. So I think it's evolving. But I think it's certainly something that he can fit into and be part of what we do moving forward."

Q. And like you said yesterday, that everyone can be a little better on offense, where do you think Tommy (Rees) can get better to get back to being that efficient passer; just frankly get better overall from where he's been the last couple weeks?

" Yeah, I just think it's accuracy. It's tight man coverage, and you know, last couple of weeks, we've put two very good defenses that play a lot of man coverage. We have got some young receivers out there that are not precise quite frankly in their route running.

"Obviously TJ (Jones) is a guy he feels getting the ball to and knows more precise in and out cuts. But we did not do a very good job of helping him out yesterday and some of the routes, the one ball that he threw to TJ, it needed to be a better throw, certainly.

But there were a number of instances that he wasn't as protected as well as he needed to be or the routes were not run as well and I'm not  look, Tommy is a big boy. He can take care of himself and he knows he has to play better, but the last two weeks with Michigan State and Oklahoma, two very good defenses that play a lot of man coverage, you have to be a lot more precise. We have a lot of young guys running around that have to be more precise and we have to be more precise in what we are doing across the board."

Q. Is Tommy is your starter moving forward still?

"Oh, yeah, he certainly is; and with the recognition that Andrew is going to be able to help us out as well. But there's no question that the quarterback that's going to start for us is Tommy Rees."

Q. Obviously you tried to lean on the run game a bit more, maybe take some of the burden off Tommy; have you had to straddle the line between trusting his knowledge and experience running the show, and maybe not crossing a line that goes beyond his physical skills.

"Yeah, and I understand the question. I would start with this; I didn't want this to become Tommy Rees throwing it 50 times a game. But that's the way it turned out in the first couple weeks, because it was pretty obvious the way teams were going to defend. And I think we talked about this last week; it was important to find a way to be a little bit more balanced in running the football.

"So it's not more  it's not really taking pressure off Tommy as much as, that's not the way I want the offense to run. I want to run the football more effectively, because I think we've got a lot of young receivers out there. We are still trying to find ourselves offensively, and I just felt like  and I don't want to run around the question, but for Tommy, it's best for him if we can have more of a balance on offense, and that's why it's important to get the running game going.

"Because if we've got some balance and we can run the football, you saw with the playaction with Troy Niklas, he's wide open. We can get a lot more of those throws for Tommy during the course of the game and I think that's really the more important thing here is establishing more of a running game is really best for this offense."

Q. And would you have a timetable on when Malik Zaire, as when you wouldn't extend a year of eligibility; if something happens to Rees and Hendrix, you might not have a choice, but is there a cutoff line in your mind at this stage?

"Well, NCAA, obviously after six games, if there's a medical injury, it's three  what, 30 percent. So that's out the window. He had the mono situation, so we are at game six, so we would have to make a decision there relative to a medical. My guess is right now, unless we have an injury, you're not going to see Malik, unless we get into an injury situation. We only have the three quarterbacks, so we have to keep him ready to go. But I'd prefer not to play him unless we have a medical situation.

"And when I say a medical situation, I mean, if we have an injury to Tommy or to Andrew, which forces our hand to activate him, because he right now would down the line be eligible for a potential medical; that is, Malik, because of the mono that kept him out of action."

Q. With talk a lot about the need for consistency, and how frustrating is it that in a game that the running game finally comes around that all of a sudden it's a passing game. It seemed like you fix one thing and something else goes wrong. How frustrating is that?

"Well, you know, obviously we didn't feel like we were going to have some basic break downs like we did early in the game, a basic five-man pressure that we have been  and you've seen it. You guys have watched us. But we've been terrific in protections all year.

"Inexplicably, we gave up a fumble on a very basic pressure that we handled with ease all year. And then a deflected ball that puts us down 14 points. It changes the way you call the game and it changes the way everything happens during the game.

"Yeah, I think it's frustrating in that sense that we were not able to play the game we wanted to. But, you know, again, very good defense, a lot of man-to-man coverage. You know, we just have to continue to grow up at the wide receiver position and continue to get better."

Q. On that sack play, it's hard for somebody who doesn't know whose assignment is what, but it looked like (Zack) Martin and (Chris) Watt both blocked the same guy and left the other guy to cover. Was that the main problem with that play? Yeah?

"Yeah, you know, we are never going to point out one guy. When we give up sacks, we take that up as an offensive line. But suffice to say that it's something that we see all the time and it's unexcusable.

Q. And there was some discussion after the game about some fans were upset that the players didn't go  the alma mater, that there had been change in what you do. Can you just explain what happened there?

" That is not a change. A lot of our players were confused because they had not lost; a lot of them had never lost at home and they weren't sure what to do, and it was really  I didn't communicate it to them clearly what the protocol was.

"But we changed that protocol two years ago. After a loss, we do not stay on the field to sing the alma mater, we come in, and that wasn't communicated clearly. I wasn't thinking about losing a football game. It wasn't on my to do list to go over with our team. But that's the protocol that we had changed a couple of years ago that we do not stay out on the field to sing the alma mater after a loss."

Q. And what's the reason for that? Is it that you don't want to reward the players for a loss?

"No, I just don't think it's appropriate to put your players after defeat in a situation where they are exposed. I want to get them in the locker room. It's important to be able to talk to them and I just felt like in those situations after a loss, there's a lot of emotions. It's important to get the team back into the locker room and get them under my guidance."

Q. The Ben Councell situation, can you just comment on that and if you plan to appeal it at all?

"Well, you know, it's one of those things that we don't believe that there was any intent there. It was a bang-bang play, and the rule is clearly an intent. And there was no intent; he was trying to make a play on the ball.

"So, you know, we'll obviously discussion it with the commissioner of the ACC and we'll make our case. In video as we looked add it, we clearly don't see intent to lead or intentionally try to strike with his helmet. And again, that will go to the commissioner and he'll take a look at it in video and make his ruling."

Q. And I assume Romeo (Okwara) would be the guy that would rotate in for Jaylon for the first half if that's not a successful appeal?

"Yeah, we talked about this. I haven't gotten with Coach (Bob) Diaco yet to talk about personnel, but that would be a fair assessment and assumption that that would be the young man that we would look to first. But I think there's some other alternatives there for us, as well, but I think that's one of the assumptions right now."

Q. TJ looked a little gimpy late in the game, and Sheldon (Day), can you address their situations?

" Yeah, TJ rolled an ankle. It was just, again, we were late in the game playing a lot of man coverage. We just felt like if he wasn't 100 percent, there was no sense of putting him in there. You know, if we were in a zone coverage, we probably could have gotten away with him in there, but we just got another receiver in the game. We don't see that that's going to be something that's long range.

"Sheldon tweaked his ankle in pre-game, and just did not look good. The way the game started to unfold, where Oklahoma was in so much three-by-two, it was not an inside game. The ball was more on the perimeter, so that was more a coaching decision than it was anything else relative to the way the game was going to be played by Oklahoma."

Q. I'm sure you feel like we have a fixation on Greg Bryant, but there was a reporter in Palm Beach near his hometown that mentioned that his dad thought he was going to redshirt this year. Barring injury, I don't think he can do that, but wondered if you could clarify that.

"Yeah, I don't know where that came from. Greg, he hasn't played the last  he didn't play this week because of a knee injury. But you know  you know as well as anybody, when you start talking about medical redshirts and you talk about redshirts here at Notre Dame, we are way down that line. We have got to slow down a little bit here.

"So for us to talk about it in those terms, all I can tell you is that Greg didn't play because of a knee injury that he sustained. That's about it."

Q. And the last thing, in the heat of the moment, when you're trying to dissect a game, I know you mentioned you would leave the big picture stuff up to us, but I'm curious as far as your team, do you want them thinking about that? Do you think they are thinking about that? Do you try to direct them in how they are trying to frame the rest of the season?

"I would say this: They have been in the National Championship Game. They have been to Florida for Bowl games. What they are more interested in is playing well the next game and for the rest of the season.

"One Bowl game or one game does not make it for these guys. They are more focused and we are more focused on being better as a football team and playing better week-to-week than the one game that we get at the end of the season.

"We know it can't be a National Championship, and we are disappointed that that's the case. But to say, hey, there's nothing to play for  what, for one game in Florida? What we are more interested in as a group and that's why we play this game, is as a team, to play better, to be more consistent; to challenge ourselves, each and every week to be better, and that's the group that we have here.

That's the goal for this group. And I'm sure they probably articulated that to you guys in some fashion; that the most important thing is to get better as a group and play better football weekin and weekout. That's really what they want to be able to do."

Q. The turnover battle was 3-0 yesterday, and you guys have maybe four turnovers in the first five games; has that been an issue? Is that something you try to address in practice, you think to turn the ball over more frequently?

"Are you asking  are you asking about our turnover takeaway; in other words, that we have turned the ball over, or that we didn't take the ball away? I'm not sure what your question is."

Q. Your defense, I believe, has taken the ball away four times in the last five games, a lower number than the past. Is that a concern and is that something that you try to focus on and change in any way?

"No, not necessarily. I think we continue to do the same things that we have always had in terms of preaching what we do defensively and going after the football and stripping it and trying to get to the  obviously getting to it. We've had a couple of touchdowns on defense; one obviously against Michigan and one against Purdue.

"I think more importantly for us, it's on the offensive side of the ball, taking care of the football."

Q. Offensively do you feel like you have something that you can hang your hat on offense right now after five games?

"Well, certainly I think we found that we can push the ball down the field vertically. We have some receivers that are young and growing and emerging. We have a guy that continues to get better at tight end. I think we saw George Atkinson's ability to grow as a running back.

"You know, all these pieces have  obviously are growing weekin and weekout. When we talk about hanging your hat on one thing, you know, certainly a veteran quarterback that can get us in some good plays, a solid offensive line, T.J. Jones is a veteran player."

"But I would say that we haven't been able to put all 11 together on a consistent basis and I think that's why you've seen the inconsistency that we've had as a football team both on offense and defense.

"Again, you take away the turnovers in the first half and it's an even football game against the number 14thranked team in the country. Our inconsistencies are definitely magnified when you play the kind of teams we've played the last couple of weeks, so we have to work on being more consistent."

Q. Do you feel like you have an identity offensively, much more an execution issue, than who are we, more of a philosophical question?

"Yeah, look, we know this: That you don't want to go into the game with the quarterback that we have, Tommy, who is not a multidimensional quarterback that can run it as well; that we don't want to play the game one-dimensional. We want to be able to run it and throw it. That's absolutely crucial to our offense moving forward.

"From an identity standpoint, we ran for 200 yards; we have to be able to run for 200 and throw for 200 and that's the identity we want to have as an offense."


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