Pinstripe Q&A

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood took questions from the media today for Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl matchup.

QUESTION: Brian, if you could, what has been the characteristic that has allowed (Tommy Rees) to thrive during a career that has had a lot of ups and downs?

KELLY: I think it's probably a short-memory and the ability to handle all that goes into being the quarterback at Notre Dame, and I mean the scrutiny and certainly at times, if you look at his career, a very passionate fan-base when it comes to evaluating his play. He's been able to handle that week-in and week-out. It takes an incredible amount of confidence in one's own ability to go out there week-in and week-out when you're under such scrutiny when it comes to your play.

He's going to be, obviously, remembered as somebody that has persevered and overcome some highs and some lows at the same time.

Q: For (Rutgers) coach (Kyle) Flood, could you just talk a little bit about being home for the holidays and being so close to New Brunswick? What does that mean to your players?

FLOOD: I think being a part of this football game for a second time as a program and as a coach for the second time -- first as a head coach -- this is a very special venue for us. Even though the proximity to campus is there, we're still staying a week in New York City. When you spend a week in New York City, around the holidays, there's no better place in the world to be around Christmas than New York City with everything it has to offer.

Even though we practiced at our facility, so we have some of the comforts at home as we go through the football part of our week, we're more in New York City when we're doing the other events that surround the bowl game. It's a really, really special atmosphere and a special time for our players.

Q: In bowl games, in general, the number of trick plays seems to go up. To both of you, why do you think this is? Do your defenses do anything special to prepare for that?

KF: We've gone for it quite a bit on fourth down this year. I think that has a little bit more to do with our inconsistency at kicker than anything else. The trick plays, maybe sometimes you give football coaches too much time and we get a little bit creative.

I think when you're playing defense, if you play good defense it needs to be sound versus everything. As you talk to defensive coaches and defensive coordinators, they're constantly chasing the potential ghosts that are out there and working on trick plays, exotic plays, whatever it is you call them. I think that's part of everybody's bowl prep.

BK: You're trying to win one game, right? During the season it's a marathon to a conference championship or a BCS game, whereas this is one game. You're taking shots that you probably wouldn't take during the regular season. Taking that risk goes up a little bit because it's a one game opportunity and you're not playing for the national championship here. You're playing for a trophy that means a lot and a win. I think that risk factor becomes one that you're willing to work with.

Q: For Brian Kelly, how do you feel like you running game has evolved? Are you happy with where it is now? Also, how did Cam McDaniel avoid being the odd-guy out in that running back rotation?

BK: As you know, I thought that our running game was one that certainly needed to match with who the running back situation ended up being. We were trying to find out who that back was, whether it was (Tarean) Folston or (George) Atkinson. We started with a rotation there and I think we've kind of settled on Folston as somebody that would start the game.

Then we lose three offensive linemen along the way, so that has kind of made it an uneasy situation relative to the continuity, but we have to be able to run the football to be an effective offense. Again, I think the running back situation has provided us a little bit more clarity. Going into this game, we've had plenty of work with the unit.

Again, we would like to have those guys that have been three-year starters in Chris Watt and Nick Martin in there, and certainly they gave us a lot. But I think we've been able to get some continuity with the guys as they were in there.

Now with the running back position as such, I think Cam McDaniel now has really been able to be utilized for what his talents are. We think he is a very instinctive runner. He probably has as good of instincts as we have at the running back position. Very intuitive, can see things, and that's why he has found his niche at that position.

Q: This is also for Brian Kelly, you just talked about being here playing for one win and this trophy, but can you talk about what the difference would be for you guys finishing with nine wins instead of eight?

BK: The game itself, first of all, you hear it's not a BCS game. Coach (Flood) and I, we're competitors first of all, so any game that you put in front of us, we want to win the game. It doesn't matter about the venue -- we love the venue, we love the bowl, we love what's happened for our kids this week, but we're competitive. The old phrase: A game worth playing is a game worth winning, so that's where we start this.

Then, you look at your season and you certainly want to finish with a win, because it definitely helps you in that offseason, in terms of your evaluations.

Then, finally, we've seen eight wins in our program. We've seen eight, we've seen 12. Nine is one that looks better for us as a group. I think that's probably third on the list. It's a game of football that all of our guys want to win because we're competitors.

Q: Kyle, coach Kelly just mentioned the difference between one win here or there. What is the difference for you guys between 7-6 and 6-7?

KF: I think the first thing, and Brian alluded to it, if they put the scoreboard on, we want to win. We know the scoreboard's going to be on tomorrow, so we're going to do everything we can to be 1-0 in that game. Ultimately, you look at the season in its entirety, and I think there's a big difference between 7-6 and 6-7, a winning record and a losing record. That's fairly obvious.

To our senior class who played in this game, it's very important. We remember what it's like just a year ago to lose a bowl game against a good program in overtime. It's not a good feeling in that locker room for the team, it's not a good feeling for those seniors who walk out that door for the last time. Those memories are burned in our minds. They've worked this bowl prep like a football team trying to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Q: For Brian Kelly, can you just talk about what the week's been like for your guys and how much you guys enjoyed this experience? Also, the rich history of Notre Dame in New York, how important is being in New York to this program?

BK: Well I've been to a number of bowl games and BCS games and I can tell you that in terms of the organization, in terms of the detail, where you're going, what you're seeing, you're really leaving here with an understanding of this great city. You also have in the Pinstripe Bowl, the backing of the Yankee organization, (Yankees president) Randy Levine, (Yankees executive director of non-baseball events) Mark Holtzman have done an incredible job of putting together a bowl game that I can tell you, after experiencing BCS bowls, this is as well-run as any.

Our kids have been part of that process of being part of this bowl season. They're going to walk away feeling they were a part of this bowl season as much as any other program, and that's a tribute to the Pinstripe Bowl and the Yankee organization. They do it right.

They also leave with an understanding of the tradition of New York and Yankee Stadium and how many supporters that we have here in subway alums. We went to the New York Stock Exchange with our captains, we were on the floor and one of those employees came up to us who was a '53 grad of Notre Dame who had been working the floor for 50 years. Just getting that kind of contact, I think our players understand how important New York is to Notre Dame.

Q: For coach Kelly, you've mentioned how the program has seen eight wins, its seen 12 wins. When you take a step back and kind of analyze things from a far away perspective, what's it going to take for the program to see 11, 12 wins more consistently and not eight?

BK: Well, we've got to get to nine. And then I think if you look at the last couple of years, we were probably as close to being an eight-win team last year as we were to being a 12-win team. I think we were probably as close to being a 10-win team this year as we were an eight-win team. We're very close to being able to put double-digit wins each year, and that's really the goal in terms of getting your program to double-digit wins and competing certainly for BCS opportunities.

That's where we need to be. We're close, we're not there consistently yet. Certainly the record is what it is. Now our attention is winning this game and making the playoffs. It sounds like an NFL line, but now it will be about getting this program to play for a playoff spot each and every year. That's going to at least need double-digit wins each year.

Q: For Brian, I realize the priority here is to send your seniors out, but realistically, what kind of bridge can this game be for younger players next year? What's the realistic carryover that you can get out of tomorrow?

BK: I think it started when we had our first practice. The ability for them to practice and be part of this preparation, as well as culmination to game, getting a chance to be part of this game and be part of the bowl season, understanding the reward that comes from having a great season. They've experienced a lot of the stuff that we want them to experience, and that is having success leads you to these kinds of opportunities.

Finishing it off with a win will be a small part of it, but it'll be a part of the experience that they've had. They'll get a chance to play in the game. They've experienced the practices leading up to it. Then they'll get the opportunity to look at where they are after this season. I think that's where this begins to now take shape for them.

Q: For Kyle, what does the game tomorrow mean (inaudible)?

KF: I think tomorrow's an opportunity for the program to be 1-0. If you get an opportunity to play in a game, in a bowl game in a venue like this against a storied program like Notre Dame, it's always an opportunity to showcase your program. This is a young football team. It will be a much different football team next year when our senior class leaves and our freshman class comes in. That's kind of the nature of college football. These things are very different year-to-year.

I don't know what it'll mean ultimately moving forward, but I think what it is, it's a great showcase for our program right now to play against a great program like Notre Dame and then, ultimately when that game is over, we'll look to our future in the Big Ten.

Q: Kyle, what's the difference between your offense with (running back) Paul James healthy and not?

KF: I think there's been a significant difference this year. (James) has been able to make big plays in the running game. He's consistently been tough to tackle by the first defender. He's been a difference-maker for us on offense. He opens up the play-action game that we want to get to in every game plan, regardless of who we're playing against. He gives us an opportunity to push the ball down the field, because people have to commit more defenders to stopping the run game.

I think he's as healthy as he's been since the beginning of the year. Is he 100 percent? I don't know that any player in the country is 100 percent right now, this time of year. I think having the bowl prep, having the time from the last game until now, has allowed him to be about as healthy as he's been since the beginning of the year.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories