Kelly Q&A: USC Wrap

Kelly discusses Tuitt's comments, the Stadium's new sod in the wake of a week of rain, defensive changes throughout college football, and being prepared for USC's perimeter speed after two weeks away from game action.

Brian Kelly

Well we had a great week of practice and I think it's a couple more days of just fine-tuning and getting our guys locked in for playing on Saturday. Got a final practice outdoors today in the elements. We'll be ready for any weather we may have. So with that I'll open it up to questions.

QUESTION: Can you clarify what was going on with Stephon (Tuitt) last night?

"I think more than anything else he kind of stumbled into a question and answer that he probably didn't answer it in the manner that he was wanting to. I think he was saying, 'Yeah, I've got another year. I'm coming back.' I think his intentions weren't to say he's necessarily making a decision.

I've pretty much made it clear to our players that anyone -- including (graduating senior) Louis Nix, we've had this with Manti Te'o, Tyler (Eifert) and Michael Floyd, that any big decisions relative to the -- status that our players have relative to the NFL, that we'll exhaust all of their means relative to the NFL and their draft status as well as talking to their family members at the end of the season. So no decisions will be made as long as I'm the head coach here until the end of the season. We won't be making any announcements.

I think Stephon just got caught in the question. An honest answer to a question that he probably wishes he could have answered a little bit better if he was asked the question again.

Q: You've had pretty good success in these guys generally deciding to return for their last year. How do you do that? What do you do? What does Notre Dame offer that you think causes them to lean in the direction of coming back for that extra year?

"Well I think primarily it's the ability to gain their degree and have their degree in hand, as well as if there are opportunities for them to gain leverage in the NFL relative to their draft status. I think those two things are the most important. The third would be to come back and play with their teammates, and not necessarily in that order.

I think you take a Zack Martin, and I think maybe number one was to play with Nick (Martin), not necessarily to enhance his draft order or to get his degree. His degree was going to be taken care of.

I think those would probably be the over-riding factors in all of that. Tyler came back primarily because he wasn't ready. He wasn't ready for the NFL. He knew what it was going to be like. He still wanted to be part of what we were doing offensively and he knew he was going to be featured, which was probably going to enhance him. So I think each one is a little different.

Q: What about your role in creating an environment that would prompt them to come back?

"I would hope that's a part of it. I think that any head coach would want his players to feel they enjoy the environment that they're in. I would not say that would be a number one reason why somebody would come back, but certainly it would be part of it. I think those other factors would probably be primary in making that decision.

I think probably with Stephon, you're going to look at a strong family decision as being part of this, as well as his degree is going to be very central to this. I think each one is a little different.

Q: I know that a lot of times you like to practice in the Stadium on Thursday. Is the new turf the reason that you didn't today? Do you have any idea how that turf is going to look? I'm not trying to get you in trouble.

"You know you're going to get me in trouble.

"We're hopeful. We've gotten a lot of rain. Certainly, that's the reason I'm not on it today. It's been covered. (Associate athletic director for football operations) Chad Klunder has been over there. He liked the way it looked. All reports have been positive, but we're three weeks into this. We put it down the Monday after the Oklahoma game.

"We're hopeful. We expect good results, but I haven't been on it. There is a bit of uncertainty obviously not knowing what to expect, but we're hoping for the best there.

Q: Jarrett Grace was your dime linebacker. Is that a role Dan Fox can move into? We saw Joe Schmidt against Arizona State. I wondered if he just stepped into an emergency-role that night.

"No. Joe will be in there. And Fox won't come off the field. We're going to rely on him to play a lot of football for us. Relative to the Mike position, that's where we are. Michael Deeb took some reps there as well. Kendall Moore took some reps at the Will linebacker position, so you might see Kendall in there a little bit too.

Q: What's held Kendall back a little bit? As a senior that does get on in special teams, usually for you that's a conduit to the field, starting out on special teams as a sophomore or redshirt freshman.

"I think more so, the solid play of two seniors with the combination of Fox and (Carlo) Calabrese. Now, Manti kept everybody off the field, right? Now you're dealing with the Will linebacker position and the combination of Fox and Calabrese has probably had more to do with it than Kendall Moore.

Q: You talked all season about getting off to a fast start and putting more points on the board. In this game, how important is it to get off to fast start?

"It's one of our core principles relative to winning football games. Start fast, attention to deal, effort and enthusiasm, and finish strong. It's in our locker room. We talk about it every day. It's part of how we train. It's part of how we practice. I can't understate it enough how important it is. It hasn't been something that we've done very well. Against good teams, we have to get off to good starts. When we haven't, we've struggled. Our team knows it. Our players know. It'll be important again Saturday against USC.

Q: How difficult will it be to slow USC's offense with so many returning threats?

"That's a good question. We actually showed 2011 film with (Robert) Woods and (Marqise) Lee and all the weapons they had. The speed of the game is going to be up there. Our guys have to be ready.

Coming off a bye week, the biggest thing we concern ourselves with is the speed of the game right away. The speed that USC has especially on the offensive side of the ball is the biggest thing that we have to be prepared for right out of the gate.

Our defensive players in particular are aware of the speed of the game. Especially right out of the gates it is going to be something they are keenly aware of. They know this weekend, they like to push the ball vertically.

Q: Even when looking at the box score, you know the completion percentage is not entirely on the quarterback. The last three weeks, how much of that has just been you pushing the ball vertically a little bit more so that's not going to lend itself well to a high completion percentage, receivers, checks, all that stuff? How many different variables go into that?

"A couple things. We're running the offense and passing game a little bit differently. We are pushing it vertically a little bit more. Less zone coverage, much more man-to-man coverage. The breakdown, when we got into our self-scout, it's almost two-thirds higher relative to man coverage over zone.

"Defensive football in college football in the last two years has changed dramatically. If you go back just a couple years ago, the completion percentages were off the chart because there was so much zone being played you just couldn't get teams off the field. You're overloading zones, you spot throws. You have to man up and get on bodies.

"Defenses changed a little bit. We are seeing a lot more man-to-man coverage, which means you have to be a lot more accurate. Accuracy and man-to-man coverage and we're pushing the ball up-and-down the field a little bit more. Those two things. But (senior quarterback) Tommy (Rees) has to be more accurate too.

Q: We've talked a lot about TJ (Jones) this week and his rapport with Tommy, being able to adjust things on the fly. How close is DaVaris (Daniels) to TJ in terms of understanding and adjusting based on coverages?

"I think it's consistency with Daniels more so. I think we're still striving for the same thing week-in and week-out with (Daniels). With TJ we know what we're going to get each and every week. Tommy and TJ are on the same page.

Daniels might read off-coverage and break the route off, TJ may see that as I'm taking them deep. There's a bit of a different look at it in terms of how Daniels sees things and how TJ does. That's just working and spending more time together on those things. I don't think it's complicated. I just think they have to continue to work together to get on the same page.

Q: TJ yesterday said there's really no way to fast forward that.

"Yeah, we're not seeing a lot of complex zones. We're going to see some zone this week, but we're not seeing a lot of complex zones. We saw a lot of what we call four-nail, which is pretty much man-to-man coverage. We're not getting a lot of complex coverages, cover twos or quarters or bracket coverages. I can't say we're not reading these zones right. It's just been a lot of man-to-man coverage, and Daniels not being on the same page, timing and things of that nature.

Q: What's the counter-balance to all the man coverage? What can offenses exploit as they see more man-to-man?

"Big plays. Big chunk plays. The ability to take advantage of those big chunk plays is really where we have to continue to evolve. That means in the running game as well. When you don't have layers to your defense, when you break through, and we saw that against Oklahoma when George (Atkinson) was able to break through for a long run, you can get big plays. We've got to get more of that.

Q: What kind of practices has (senior quarterback) Andrew Hendrix had the last couple of weeks? If you do decide to go down the road of mixing-and-matching at quarterback, is there anything that's holding him back from that role at this point?

"I think the only thing that held him back was lack of really putting him in the game and giving him reps. I think, quite frankly, the focus was on Tommy, getting him ready. He's gotten so much more time and so much more involvement in the game plan that I'm feeling so much more confident that he can go in and run the entire offense, whereas I wasn't as confident earlier in the year. He's locked in.

"He's making the checks in the passing game as well as in the run game. I would say that we're at that point now where Andrew Hendrix can go in there and he's not just a change-of-pace guy anymore in my estimation.

Q: Any injuries pop up this week that would keep somebody out against USC? "I hope not."

Q: Would you tell us?: "Wowwww..."


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