Brian KellyFinished up Thursday. Went a little bit lighter today, so we got the guys out of there a little bit sooner today, to get in here and answer more questions from our media. Let's fire away.
QUESTION: What's the week been like for (senior quarterback) Andrew Hendrix? Sometimes when a guy gets a bigger role, that kind of lights a fire under him. I'm curious what kind of week he had.
"I think that's a pretty good assessment of his week. I thought he was a lot more engaged, locked in a lot more relative to every little detail of the offense. I think you probably hope to expect that from somebody who played last week. I thought he had a great week. Really contributed to what we were doing this week.
Was (sophomore defensive lineman) Sheldon (Day's) week any different than the previous one in terms of how much you were able to do, how much you were able to push him?
"Yeah, we were able to get a little bit more out of him. I think we're at that plateau, where I think he's going to see gains as we kind of give him a little bit more of a break, too. I think we'll see some gains over the next 48 hours. He definitely is going to play on Saturday. I don't know that you're going to see 50 or 60 reps, but he's going to be on the field on Saturday.
You talked about the ordinary things on Tuesday. Was that kind of the you get what you demand theme this week? Is that what you tried to structure practices to demand, to get that stuff out of your guys?
"I think that's one of the things that I was asking from our guys. I think more than anything else, I want to make sure that it's not too complicated for them to comprehend why we're 3-2. Sometimes when you're 3-2, you ask questions. Why are we where we are? We wanted to make it really clear that we all -- coaches have to do a better job communicating, which is fundamental in good teaching, and players have to do a better job of just tying down some of the basic fundamentals.
"That was the theme all week, so we could really, really make progress on those things this week in practice and say, we tangibly made a point of emphasis of these things, so we can see them on Saturday.
We've been asking you about offensive identity for like a month. Two tight ends, you closed out the game against Purdue with it. You scratched out Cam (McDaniel's) touchdown against Michigan State with it. You rushed for over 200 yards with it last week. Is that what the identity is now, or is that over-stating what that it is right now?
"I don't think it's the only thing that we can do. I don't think our offense can sustain the balance that I'm looking for just on two tight ends. I think it has to be a significant part of what we do, but I think we have to spread the field as well.
Last year it was a significant part of what we did, and a lot of it was it simplified a lot of the reads for (quarterback) Everett (Golson). When you get into two tight ends, you take a lot of those calls away from the defensive teams.
I don't think it's the only thing, but I think it's got to be part of what we do. We have to continue to get better at our one-back sets, our 11-personnel -- which is three wide receivers and one tight end -- that's the area I want to see some more growth.
Are you guys getting some new turf in the Stadium?
"I don't know if you saw, but we have brought in turf from the goal line to goal line, from number to number. It's a fairly, we're pretty much redoing the field. As you know, it was in poor, poor condition so early in the season. We've really stripped it and are in the process of putting down sod right now. We're hopeful that's going to give us a better surface.
Is that something that you make the call on or when did you guys decide on this?
"I've made it pretty clear what I want for a surface. That has not come to fruition at this point. We're going to put the grass down and we're hopeful that's going to get us through the season.
Going back to two tight ends, against Oklahoma, was that Ben Koyack's best game for you?
"It's his best game, period. As an in-line blocker, he was aggressive at the point of attack. He finished his blocks. There is so much more for him. He's a terrific pass-catcher. We'd just like to see it on a consistent basis.
Is he frustrated that he hasn't…
"I'm frustrated. We're both frustrated. We just want him to go, let it go. It's just one of those things, I hope we see the next step. He saw himself on film have some success, as a guy that can get in there and get after people. He really, really struggled in some other games earlier in the year -- Michigan State he missed some really key blocks. He committed himself and played so much better against Oklahoma.
I hope we see that continue, and I really think he's got so much more to offer in the pass game. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see that.
I wanted to ask you about (Kona) Schwenke's penalty, when his helmet came off, obviously it's technically a penalty. Can that be looked at for a different penalty than 15 yards on the spot? Because it looked like it was hands to the face that took his helmet off in the first place.
"Hands to the face took it, and he actually backed out of the play. Here's what I said to the official. I said, when we start calling those, then we have to call the running back leading with the crown of his helmet, and then we might as well flag every play at this point. Let's use better judgment in that situation. He wasn't in harm's way. He wasn't trying to finish off a play. I just thought we used poor judgment, looking at the whole of the play.
Could it be so simple as to change it to, the next play, the player comes out?
"Yeah. I can't process that right now. I've got too many things on my brain. But I'm with you on that.
Were there things that Stanford did against Arizona State that you feel like your team has the same kind of personality, same kind of setup, that you'd like to be able to have some success with?
"Stanford was very opportunistic in throwing the football, and made some big plays in the passing game, which we hope to. As you know, it was very effective running the football, being a physical, strong football team. I thought (Stanford quarterback Kevin) Hogan played very well in the game. Arizona State turned the ball over, so they capitalized on some mistakes. Got up early, kind of cruised the way into that.
I think if you're asking about game plan, we need to run the football. It's better for us -- Going back to the initial question relative to identity, I think we have to run the ball to be able to set up everything else that we want to do. That starts with beating Arizona State. That starts with being able to run the ball.
Last year, I think you were in the lead during the regular season 90 percent of the time. You only fell behind by two scores once, against Pittsburgh. How does that help the offensive identity running the football working with the lead, whereas this year, the last four games you have opened two scores down?
"Certainly, it hasn't taken us away from our offensive game plan. We've stuck with being patient offensively. If you look at the Michigan State game, we stayed within it, but just had a hard time running the football against a very good unit. I thought we stayed very patient right through the fourth quarter with Oklahoma in terms of running the ball and staying with that. But there's no question about your question that it's easier to run the football and maintain that kind of identity if you don't play from 14 points down.
Related to the running game, not to beat a dead horse, but is (Greg) Bryant still injured this week? Is he in the mix this week?
"No. He does not look like somebody that we're going to be able to play this year. He's going to get PRP done on his knee, and he's probably going to be out for the next four weeks with PRP.
"Plasma replacement. It's a treatment for generally soft-tissue injuries. He's got a severe case of patella tendinitis.
I know we're all in the dark on the government shutdown. Have you heard anything on the Air Force or Navy games?
"Yes, we have. We expect to play the game at Air Force, because we're traveling there, so we've gotten the green light on the Air Force game even with the government shutdown. The Navy game becomes more questioned. We're talking with them right now as to, how we may be able to facilitate that through a third-party relative to travel arrangements. I think we're feeling fairly confident that we're going to be able to work out arrangements for the Navy travel. We're in the process of that.
How has Malik (Zaire) been? Is there a chance he'll see some action this week?
"Malik will not play unless there's an injury, but we have not closed the door on Malik playing this year. Right now it's (senior quarterbacks) Tommy (Rees) and Andrew Hendrix. We expect to win with those guys moving forward, but we haven't said Malik couldn't be part of the conversation down the road.
You talked about Tommy (Rees) the other day avoiding the noise. Is that kind of a theme throughout the team? You guys had to avoid the positive noise last year. Even as a head coach, do you have to hunker down and focus on your job?
"Sure. I think that comes with being here at Notre Dame. Our kids have been through it before, and they understand that's not going to help them win on Saturday. We talk about it on Monday, that the most important thing around us is to focus on the things they can control. We talk about it as a staff, and we talk to our players about it.
Just a quickie on Josh Atkinson. Is he still at wide receiver, or is he back at corner? "He is working at wide receiver."
And how's that going?
"Pretty good. He's got a lot to learn. He just started from scratch at the wide receiver position, but he's working at it every day and he's somebody who really wants to get on the field. He's engaged. He comes to work with a great attitude every day.