Kelly to ensure competitive practices

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly discusses the team's open quarterback competition, offers injury updates, and offers a few methods to ensure physical, competitive practices as the Irish prepare for a Music City Bowl matchup with LSU.

Brian Kelly

Certainly excited about the opportunity to play such a great program in LSU. I know our guys were really excited about the news and the matchup we'll have in the Music City Bowl. Playing in a great town in Nashville and in another NFL stadium really is an exciting opportunity for us. It gives us a chance to obviously get an opportunity to finish the season off with a win.

And any time you get Bowl preparation, that's important for a football team, especially one where we're trying to find ourselves. The additional practices allow us to continue to work with our younger players and continue to develop our players that are currently on our football team. Excited about the Music City Bowl. Excited about the matchup. The town of Nashville makes for some pretty good postseason football and one that we're certainly excited about our relationship with the ACC to give us this opportunity.

Question: Regarding bowl practice, specifically with a guy like Nyles Morgan and some of the younger guys, how important are these next couple weeks of practice for them?

Kelly: They're invaluable. Really if you look at it, we're going to get eight practices prior to going down to the site and another five, a couple of nonc-ontact situations where we're in weight training, conditioning, and meetings. Essentially, you're talking about another spring ball. When you get that opportunity with these younger players, it's invaluable in their growth and development. We need that. We need it desperately, especially for a lot of our players across the board. So it's going to be another building block for these younger players.

Question: After the USC game, you wanted to get more out of these guys. Are you starting to see the response you wanted?

Kelly: Everybody is certainly disappointed about the way the season ended. But you've got to look at each position individually, and there's going to be a lot of competition. When we get back here off the road Thursday, Friday will be our first practice. The tone is pretty clear about what the expectations are. There's competition. There's competition at all positions. So we'll be looking forward to that kind of spirited practice opportunity.

Question: Reading into that, quarterback is one of the positions that there will be competition?

Kelly: I think so, yeah. I think all of the positions, but quarterback there will be competition as well, yes.

Question: Do you have an idea how the reps will be split? Or is it a little too early to tell?

Kelly: No, I think we have to, obviously, go into that practice with a mindset of getting Everett and Malik both an opportunity to show what they're made of and how they're going to compete and allow us to the opportunity for them to both grow, but at the same time, see what competition looks like from that standpoint, true competition. Because, obviously, this was not a competitive situation during the year. Malik was the backup, and I think I made that pretty clear. We're going to let them compete, and we'll see where that puts us come game time.

Question: Lastly, any of the guys who were injured against USC, do you expect any of them to be back for the Bowl game? Max Redfield? Greer Martini?

Kelly: We think Max will be. Greer will be. We think Cody Riggs will be back for the game, and we're hopeful Sheldon (Day) would be back as well.

Question: Brian, getting a look at younger players in a non-championship Bowl game situation, that's kind of the focal point for December. Does that change at all for you with four losses to end the year, and considering the level of the opponent, does it become a little more Bowl specific?

Kelly: No. This is really about improving our football team more than anything else and improving the play. As I told our football team, I really haven't had much problem with this group in terms of their preparation and the way that they work. They put in the time. We're just a sloppy team on Saturday. So we have to find out what's that component? Why is that occurring? What are those things that are happening? So we've got to clean up what Saturday is about. Some of that is communication, trust. Some of that is confidence in your ability to go out and do your job. So this will allow us to really reinforce some of those things over the next three weeks.

Question: For the guys on the injury front, Daniel Cage, Jay Hayes.

Kelly: Well, Cage battled the best he could. He was limited, but we really didn't have much choice. We had to put a young kid in there. Generally, my experience is that a freshman after his first knee injury is not really even going to answer the bell. I'm proud of the way he actually answered the bell. He was largely ineffective, however. And with Jay Hayes, he had an ankle sprain, which was fairly significant. It's going to take some time. We think we'll get him back, but he's limited right now and probably limited for another week or so.

Question: Cage is likely to play?

Kelly: Yeah, I think he's going to be in a position where I think we'll see him back to pretty good health by the time we're able to play.

Question: Brian, with the quarterbacks, how long do you want that competition to go? Do you have a feel for that yet?

Kelly: You know, I think that really what we're talking about is some things that I want to see change that will have to change during practice. And I've already had a conversation with both quarterbacks. So I think it's probably more towards what my eye sees during practice. So I guess in answering your question, it will be when I see what I see will be the duration of that competition. So it may be eight practices. It may be a year. But I'm going to have to see what I need to see from both of them.

Question: And you mentioned that you thought you would have Max back (broken rib). Does that give you enough depth where you don't have to be creative with other people at the safety position?

Kelly: I think so, but... I think (Matthias) Farley's going to have to take a little bit of rep work at safety and get some work back there as well just in case Max can't answer the bell. We're hopeful that he can. We think that he can, but we're obviously very thin there. So it's important that we get some work back there with Matthias as well.

Question: Looking at LSU this season, they're a very physical team. I know in the past you've wanted to have more physical practices. Can you afford to do that given all the injuries that you have on defense?

Kelly: We're going to practice physical even if we have to put out guys that are not going to play this year. We're going to bang and play physical because that's the kind of football we're going to see. It can't be flag football here for the next eight practices. Even if we've got to line up some offensive linemen and put them in defensive linemen roles, we're going to do whatever is necessary to physically prepare our football team for a very physical football team in LSU.

Question: And I'm sure that Kyle Brindza is champing at the bit to kind of get back in the swing of things. Do you feel like you're going to stay with the same operation? Even though Malik now is really involved in the quarterback thing.

Kelly: Yeah, I'm not touching that. I think that's to the point now where Malik just stays out there. If he's the starting quarterback, he just stays out on the field and handles those duties as well.

Question: The last one from me. You seem to be pretty happy with the matchup and the location. Did you as a coach, did Notre Dame as a school have some say in the matchup and the location?

Kelly: Well, as a 'Tier 1' bowl, there's obviously two bowls that we have not participated in. So if geographically there's a preference, we'd like to continue to explore areas that we haven't been to before. So you can read into it from that perspective. We knew that an SEC matchup would be most favorable, and then certainly it became outside of our control what that ultimate matchup would be with the SEC because of how they tier their football teams. So if there's anything that we controlled, it was that we picked up the phone and said, we hope you like us like we like you. I guess that's the best way to put it.

Question: Jacob Matuska on the injury front, is he back.

Kelly: Matuska (different pronunciation)

Question: Yeah, Matuska.

Kelly: First time that I've ever really been able to correct anybody. A slew of e-mails from his parents will get you to get his name right. Could you ask the question again. I'm sorry.

Question: His injury.

Kelly: He suffered a brachial plexus, so he had a pinched nerve, which really had no strength, not enough strength to go in there and battle and compete in the manner we thought was necessary. Had really good strength and full movement. So we think he's going to be able to get back to practice here at the end of the week. He battled in there, but when you're going from 12 to 15 reps to 73, it's not really fair to ask a kid to go that many reps. If we were asking him to go to 30 reps, feel really good about that. So we've really got to get his volume up, and that will really be what we really work on hard over these next few weeks.

Question: Tarean Folston was a little banged up in the game. How did he come out of that?

Kelly: He's okay. He was banged up a little bit, but I think he's fine, and he'll move forward, no problem.

Question: When you're talking about what you want to see from the quarterbacks, I think with Everett it's pretty obvious. But with Malik in a practice situation, how do you want to see him practice differently than maybe going back to August?

Kelly: Mechanically, I think we need a little consistency. He has a tendency to fall off his throws a little bit. I think we saw that in his game performance. Made some really good throws, but has a tendency to lose his balance in his throws a little bit. Be more in balance on throws.

Then I just think some consistency in what he does in the passing game. I really like what he does in the run game. Communicates very well with the offensive line, got his checks in. So there's some things that he needs to work on, but I think it's probably mechanical in throwing the football, being on balance a lot more, and then consistency in the passing game. I think, if we do those two things, we make pretty good progress.

"Everybody's on notice. Coaches alike, our coaches are on notice. Unacceptable."

Question: Big picture, you talk about a team that's sloppy on Saturday. Is that something you can realistically fix over 15 practices?

Kelly: We may have to move over one lane and maybe not be in that speed lane and maybe slow it down just a little bit and tighten some things up, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, we can't give up the big plays that we gave up. They're absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances, whether we're playing a slough of freshmen or not. We're in position to make those plays with good fundamentals and good technique. So we have to eliminate the big plays we gave up.    

       To give up six touchdown passes is absolutely unacceptable under any circumstance. Our coaches know that. Our players know that. Everybody's on notice. Coaches alike, our coaches are on notice. Unacceptable. We have to, obviously, shore up that situation, and then we've got to do a better job on the offensive side of the ball.

Question: You were out on the road last week. What's sort of the message you're hearing from prospects that you talked to about what happened sort of at the end of the year? Their view of where Notre Dame is going. What's your message to them about where Notre Dame is going?

Kelly: Never really had any conversations about anything but wanting to be part of the program at Notre Dame. I think everybody looks at it in more of a bigger picture perspective than maybe one month of the season. I think they look at it over five years here and their five years here more so than what happened over the last month of the season. No, we feel really good about where we are in our recruiting. We've got to finish up strong with a couple of positions, but we've got some midyear guys coming in that have signed their grant-in-aids, and they'll immediately help our football team. So we feel really good about where we are right now.

Question: You guys and LSU are kind of fairly young teams that have shown flashes of potentially being really good. Is this a team that you like from that standpoint? That maybe it's a matchup you guys could even be next year in the playoffs or something along those lines?

Kelly: Well, we wanted to be challenged again. There's no sense going into this bowl game situation and feeling like you're not going to be challenged. I feel like there are matchups there that don't give you the same kind of challenge. This is one that we wanted. Again, they're a formidable opponent, very good SEC team. You can see what their record indicates and what they can do.

We just want to continue to be challenged with the football team that we have. We think we're going to be a really good football team. We've got some things that we have to clear up and address on Saturday. I have no problem with my football team in terms of the way they prepare and all the things that go into winning football. We showed that we can do that.

We're, obviously, a few plays here and there from having a really good football season and talking about different situations. But we are who we are, and we think that this game in particular allows us to continue to not paint a false picture of who we are, but where we need to get better as we look towards 2015.

Question: This is kind of a big picture question, and I hate to go back to one play in particular, but it just seems that the Florida State pass interference call kind of sent you guys on a spiral downward. Is that a moment that you guys kind of look back towards that? Or is it kind of just --

Kelly: No. Certainly I don't think that that had anything to do with the downward spiral for our football team. We had a young team that was very confident that day and believed. Certainly, when you lose four games in a row, you start to lose a little bit of that confidence, but we'll gain it. We'll get it back. They know they can win football games.

A lot of our issues were masked through those weeks. We played a lot of snaps, which left us vulnerable to potential injury, and if we got anybody injured, we were going to be in a very difficult state on the defensive side of the ball. Having said that -- and I made this very, very clear -- we underperformed as coaches on the offensive side of the ball and as players. We needed to carry some games offensively knowing full well that our defense was going to be young and inexperienced. And once that showed itself with injuries, we knew we were going to have to carry things offensively and weren't able to really get the job done.

Question: My last question. I think you addressed this already, but Eilar Hardy would be available for this Bowl game?

Kelly: Yeah, we believe so. We still have some work to do with that. We're still in uncharted territory with this matter. We're going to have to get some further clarification on that.

Question: Sort of a related question about the quarterback competition. Does the winner of this competition have a leg up going to the spring? Or when you get to the spring, is it sort of, okay, back to opening it up and maybe adding DeShone Kizer into that?

Kelly: You know, I'm not really sure. I think it really just depends upon the factors of what improvements are made, what the attitude is. All those things come into play. There's some things that have to change at that position. So we're going to have to see how quickly they are, if we're on the right track, if we're making progress there. That could be an extension into the spring. I really think it's just a matter of we're going to have to take it really step by step.

We know there's competition at the position, and let's let them go compete. Let's be clear. The best I can give you is there's a way I want that position to operate, and it's going to operate the way I want it to operate. If you operate it the way I want it done, you'll be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame.

Question: And a question on Nyles Morgan. Obviously, he had some struggles late in the year adapting to the role he had, but at the same time, he also had some production. I think he had 11 tackles against USC, finished the season with three straight double digit games. Can you talk about what you saw from him as he matured and got more experience and what you expect from him moving into this Bowl game and moving forward?

Kelly: He's going to be a fine football player, but college football, we all know what it is today. It's a numbers game. It's a five-man box. It's a six-man box. It's a spread game, and it's played fast. We played teams that played us fast that messed with the numbers, and he's got to control that box. He was required to do a lot this year in a very short period of time.

All that knowledge is going to prove to be extremely beneficial to him. It didn't help us at the current situation and week to week, but all that experience that he gained is going to be beneficial for him as a football player and for us as a team. But the game is -- when you're on defense and you're playing teams that have quarterbacks that can attack you -- and we got some quarterback that's can attack you, whether it's Arizona State, whether it's USC, North Carolina. I'll even put Northwestern in there with a smart quarterback that can attack you and manipulate numbers and force your defense to move players around. It puts a lot of that cerebral football knowledge on a young kid like Nyles or (Martini), and that's a lot to ask for him, and it was a difficult chore.

Question: You mentioned the quarterbacks, wanting to see how they operate the offense. How much will the LSU matchup and how their attributes fit against that defense play into that decision?

Kelly: Secondary. This is just this is what I'm looking for, and then we'll adapt to LSU. This is strictly what I'm looking for from the position.

Question: And I know it's a young team. Have you had any conversations with players who would be eligible for the draft about Draft Advisory Board paperwork?

Kelly: Yes, we've already sent in those players that have requested the opportunity to be evaluated.

Question: Who are those players?

Kelly: I can't remember. I'd have to look it up. I think it was -- let's see. Nick Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Sheldon Day, and the quarterback, (Everett) Golson. Those are the four guys.

Question: Just want to confirm Austin Collinsworth is out for this?

Kelly: It doesn't look promising as of today that he would be available.

Question: The college football playoff came out, and the Big 12 got left out because they did not have a 13th game on their schedule. That's what the committee chairman said. In light of that information, does that affect how you guys might approach scheduling in the coming years here? Or is there nothing you can do about it at this point?

Kelly: Well, I think everything is a fluid situation after today's decisions relative to who the four teams are. I think everybody is kind of back into their own conferences looking at did we make the right choices in scheduling and decisions? I'm sure Jack (Swarbrick) and I will get back together and look at where we are and are we doing the right things? Certainly, I think it's, again, a situation that has to be looked at and evaluated because it's such a fluid situation. Do we go to six? Do we go to eight? I think all those things are on the table for discussion as well as would we be in at 11-1?

I think those are all valid questions to be asked, and it's our responsibility to be prepared to answer those questions based upon how we're scheduling. Fair question and one that I think we'll have to evaluate, like most conferences evaluate where they're at right now.

Question: Just to follow up on that, I'm not sure how much you think about the past and whatnot, but when you see a team that goes undefeated like Florida State and is not in the top two, do you think that's fair, one, and do you almost think what if we had the system in place when you guys were 12-0 two years ago?

Kelly: Well, again, it's so hard for me to get in the minds of others and how they think. My ballot was public. So you could see how I thought. I had Florida State ranked first.

I think that winning's too hard in college football not to be evaluated on a full body of work. I certainly was impressed by what Ohio State did against Wisconsin, but I'm not somebody that is just easily impressed by one game. I think the whole year has to be looked at. So I think, when you win 12 games and you go undefeated, no matter how you do it, you cannot overlook that kind of work.

So I would be hopeful in saying this because I can't speak for others, but I know how I feel. It's too hard to win in college football, and to leave somebody out that's undefeated would go against the reason why we compete for only 12 or 13 weeks a year.


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