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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 19, 2017
South Bend, Indiana
BRIAN KELLY: Afternoon. Coming off really a very good win against a team that is very stingy defensively and has been for quite some time in Boston College. I'm really proud of the way our guys overcame some adversity.
If you take it from really just before the half where we turn the football over, defense comes up with a stop right before the half, we turn the ball over again in the third quarter, hold them to a field goal and then come up with a big fourth-own stop. Then offensively we find ourselves with three consecutive touchdowns, and that kind of performance is what is expected and needed when you play any Power Five team. You have to just keep playing. I think that's what we've been trying to develop with our football team since January.
So when you're comparing and contrasting and what you're trying to build within your football team, it's that ability to keep playing, overcome adversity, and find a way to win a football game on the road, and they're hard to come by.
So I point to that to our football team in particular about showing some grit in that game. Then winning by 29 points against a Power Five team on the road shows them that they're capable of winning football games even if it wasn't perfect for a period of time.
So we take that, we move forward and go back on the road against a very physical opponent in Michigan State. A team that we're well aware of and what they're capable of. Have a lot of respect for Mark Dantonio and what he's accomplished at Michigan State. A team just a few years ago that, like us, was vying for in our instance a playoff spot, for them being part of the playoffs. So lot of pride, lot of tradition.
They're very stingy defensively. You can see they're very disciplined. Been impressed with some of their younger players. Their middle linebacker, 35. You know, Bullough has been the name that you hear every year. You've got a new name in Bosch at Mike. He's very athletic, a physical player.
Frey has been around for a while as a senior, but a really good inside backer. They've got two of the finer inside linebackers that we'll face. They do what they do. They're stingy against the run. Very physical on the back end, play tight man coverage, mix it up very good with their pressure package, and, again, led by Coach Dantonio's philosophy, they've always been really good defensively.
Offensively on the offensive line, the athletic offensive line, it's really a make-up or makeover of a team that had a lot of veterans. But this is a much more athletic offensive line than Michigan State has presented to us in the past.
Really impressed with some of the younger players. I think you look at the right tackle is a young player, but very athletic and Campbell, I think the best player is clearly Allen, the center, experienced, very good football player. But it's a nice looking offensive line. Athletic, physical, strong, it's what you would expect, but even more from my eye, much more athletic.
Certainly everybody knows about the backs, Scott, Holmes, they ran all over us last year, and certainly we'll have to play a lot better to contain those two backs. And I've been very impressed with Lewerke. Very poised, can run, you know, if you fall asleep in zone option he's going to pull it and he's capable of running out. Had a nice long run against Western Michigan. He's more than just a manager of the offense. He can throw it, highly accurate. I think has more than just escapability. He's fast, he can run.
So good football team. It will be an electric atmosphere. It will be loud. I think playing at BC was a tune-up, if you will, for us to enter into a louder and more boisterous atmosphere, if you will.
I think with our guys being on the road for the first time last week, a lot of guys for the first time, I think it was a great kind of entry into going into an even more hostile environment, if you will, playing at Michigan State. So what's that mean for us? Do what we do. Get back to work today. Really begin Tuesday with picking up our intensity.
We can't afford to have some of the lapses that we had in terms of intensity, in terms of that mental intensity that's required. I like our physicality, we just need to keep it tuned up and dialled up for four quarters. If we do that, that's the most important thing in our preparation right now.
So fire away for you guys in terms of questions.
Q. I noticed in the Boston College game and it seemed like in Georgia as well, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa was in there on the fourth down stop that was so big, getting good penetration in Georgia. Hinish was, I believe, on the field when you had to turn the ball over to get Georgia to give you back the ball with a couple minutes left. What did those freshmen do to earn your trust to put them in those situations this early?
BRIAN KELLY: I think from the very beginning you probably used the word, we trust that they're going to execute the techniques that we've asked them to. They're not jumping out of their fits. There might be times that physically or technically there might be some mistakes, but they're extremely coachable. They're smart. They are always trying to do the right things. I think if you asked Coach Elston more than anything else, are trustworthy. If we ask them to do something, they're going to do it.
And they've got traits, they've got some physical traits that allow them to be effective at the position as well.
Q. Do you anticipate Cam Smith to be back with you this week, and, if so, how does he fit into what you're trying to do with the receivers on the field and all that?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think he'll be back in the rotation. The one thing about Cam is he's extremely physical, great blocker, he can catch the football. We've got to catch it better at all positions, so not just one position. But he's definitely a guy that adds to our receiving depth. And I think he's a guy that will be at 100% this week.
Q. With Michael Young, is he a guy eventually, maybe not this year, but eventually you feel like takes the top off the defense kind of guy, or am I overestimating his speed?
BRIAN KELLY: I think he's got that kind of speed. I think he presents himself in a manner that he could be a guy that does a little bit more than just a guy that is down field. We think he can be a screen guy, maybe a jet sweep guy, screens, he's got a little bit of all of those tools. I think it's too early, really, to tell, other than the fact that we really like his work ethic, his attitude, his football intelligence is really high. So it's put him in a good position early in his career. But I see him as more of a multi-dimensional player than maybe a perimeter player.
Q. When ACC commitment came on, I think with Michigan State there was still a good vibe between the ADs that they'd be able to put together some series here and there like this one, but I haven't seen any on future schedules. I'm curious what you like about this series, what would you miss about it if it went away?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, it's the battle for the megaphone. You guys know that, right? We want the megaphone. I mean, it's all about the megaphone. I think clearly Michigan and Michigan State in terms of proximity, midwest we recruit a lot of the same players. There's been such great history and tradition going back to the '66 game. I just think that history, tradition, proximity, all of those things make for rivalry games.
But more importantly games that attract the attention within the Midwest. I think as games start to kind of lose that local flavor in terms of teams playing each other, this is one that I still think captures a lot of people's interests. So I'm all for those kind of traditional match-ups. The megaphone, thank you very much. We need it back.
Q. You talk about the physicality of Michigan State. When you're deciding what aspect of your running game you want to lean on, whether it's read option, giving your offensive line a little more time to move, and pull and push or something more quick hitting and straight ahead, what are some of the variables that you're considering as you approach how you want to approach your running game?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, well, we try to look at inside, outside zone, pins and pulls, misdirection, and then attacking the perimeter. So on our board, if you were going into our offensive staff room, we have a heading for each one of those elements of our offensive running game. So each piece of those is addressed when we're putting together our running game from week to week. There may be some weeks where we feel like trap, which is a quick-hitting play, maybe more effective versus two wide, three techniques that are getting up field.
If you feel like you have two guys that are more, you know, locked down, inside guys that are not penetrators or deep backers that play a lot of man, maybe you're not into trap.
If you have edge players that are really on the ball, you don't like to get the ball outside as much. You'd rather try to run zone and read. So it really just depends on the defense from week to week. I think what we try to do is attack the defense on all those areas on a wide front, and have all of those available to us each and every week out of our running game library.
Q. Of course the skillset of your offensive linemen, you've got guards that move pretty well, I mean, that obviously has to come into play.
BRIAN KELLY: There is no question. I think what's important to realize is that we're in game three. I think we're starting to get a better sense and feel for what we're going to be really good at. So we have this library. But we're also as a staff, you know, starting to now find out these are the plays that are really going to be our core plays and get good at it.
I think one element of our offense that will continue to be part of it is that you have to add the misdirection plays within your offense, whether that's out of a jet series, whether that's out of counter series, that has to be part of it. You can't just be in pin and pull and read, so there has to be more to it. Some misdirection, if you will. So I think that continues to evolve each and every week.
Q. You kind of hinted after the game that you feel like you have a better idea now which direction you want to go in?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think after three weeks we've got a better sense of where we need to -- I would say this, we can't appease people in terms of what looks good as much as what we're going to be good at. If running the football is what is going to be the common denominator for wins, then that's what we're doing.
Efficiency is the most important thing. Clearly we have to work on our weaknesses, right? So wherever we feel like our weakness is within the offense, we have to get better at those weaknesses each and every week. So we're going to do what we're good at, and that's what you'll see this offense does moving forward.
Q. Obviously, Brandon Wimbush gives you a different dimension with his feet, as he proved again on Saturday. Where do you draw the line between taking full advantage of that and increasing the number of hits he's going to take over the course of a season?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, I think if teams are feeling as though playing man-to-man and turning their back on the quarterback is the way they want to defend us, he's going to run a lot. I know I wouldn't want to be in man-to-man versus option offenses. That's the last thing that you want to do is turn your back on an option quarterback and give him all the fields to run.
Teams are starting to figure out how to defend us too. So we're going to have to, obviously, adapt as we move forward. It's teams that want to play a lot of man-to-man coverage, they're going to have to deal with Brandon Wimbush running the ball, and that's a fact. So having said that, if we see more zone coverages, he's going to have to be able to throw the football too. So we've got to continue to grow as an offense in both of those spaces.
Q. Just curious, how do you get -- or the conversation is about getting your tight ends more involved in the passing game.
BRIAN KELLY: Well, we target them quite a bit. So I'm not too concerned when the play caller is also coaching the tight ends. It's never a sense that he doesn't want to get him the football. If you really look at it and break it down, AlizĂ© had a number of touches. Durham Smythe catches probably the biggest pass in the game that Brandon threw down the field. So I'm pretty happy with the involvement of our tight ends.
Yeah, I think that that continues to evolve in terms of feeling comfortable where they are at all times and getting them the football. I think that that's something that you're going to continue to see week-in and week-out, that the ball is going to be targeted to the tight ends and they're going to be an integral part of what we do.
Q. How have you seen the younger tight ends' progress? Obviously we saw in fall or training camp that Cole and Brock were doing really well, but I don't feel like we've really seen them.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, again, I think we go back to a question of how do we get five tight ends involved in our offense effectively? Again, I think Cole's developing and Brock is a physical player that we try to find a role as a blocking back. That doesn't mean that we don't think he can play, it's just that initial wisher is a heck of a ball catcher. Durham Smythe is a stalwart for us in terms of what he can do. And AlizĂ© makes it hard to get all of them the kind of time that we want them.
But they're all valuable, and if need be, they're ready to play because they get the proper preparation during the week.
Q. Tim asked about Brandon balancing the run and taking hits. What about Josh Adams? Is that one of the reasons you took him out in the fourth quarter to give him a break? How do you balance that during the game a little bit more throughout the season to make sure he's healthy?
BRIAN KELLY: We try to do that during the week, making sure that we monitor him during the week in terms of his player load. We're very cognizant of how we practice him, making sure that he gets the proper work, that he's sharp when we get to Saturday, and then we let our best players play.
So it's really incumbent upon us to do a great job of preparing him, but understanding that he's got to feel really good when we get to Saturdays. Then Saturday, let your best players play.
Q. You're 3-2 versus Michigan State. There's been some crazy games, your first one in particular in 2010. What are your memories of how wild that was going up there, and obviously, how crazy that finish was?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think what I remember my two times up there is just it's loud and it's a raucous atmosphere. They've had a week to prepare for us, and they're going to come out with a lot of energy. They've probably had the first ten plays scripted since May. They're going to look like really good plays. We've got to sustain things for the first few minutes and just hang in there.
When the game settles in, if you're doing really well, it starts to quiet down. If you're not, it's really loud.
Q. I want to take you back to something that came up in your phone call on Sunday, and I'm paraphrasing, but I think you said that Brandon when he was struggling in the passing game was a little slow to see the field open up. Is that what you were getting at?
BRIAN KELLY: It was more about rushing his throws, which, if you look at it in the reverse, he didn't anticipate them. So not anticipating, you could obviously say kind of the way to get to that same kind of answer would be he was slow in seeing him. So he's just has to anticipate him a little bit better. That's building a relationship with your receivers, trusting it, and he's got to trust it a little bit better.
Q. So my question, how do you prepare him for that? Is it more film work? Showing him more work against your top defense? Is it just something that takes time and you have to let it happen?
BRIAN KELLY: No, that's a fair question. I think there's a lot of ways to kind of go about doing that. One would say maybe you go against your defense and give them more speed so he can react in a more intense manner so he can duplicate that better than maybe in a practice.
Another way would be can you do more film study so it becomes more from a picking it up from your brain and seeing it and just that rep. I think that you have to be a little bit more demanding in that when we do it, we're going to do it right in practice and we're going to get it right. And we're going to do it until we get it right and move on to the next play.
Let's not just throw it, not get it right and move to the next play. So maybe that means that we just make sure that we're really good at what we do in the passing game and then expand from there.
Q. You've had a unique look at some of Mark Dantonio's other teams and having followed him throughout the course of your career, does that give you an idea, and if so, could you speak to the kind of characteristics that are kind of benchmarks to his programs that you've noticed in interacting with him?
BRIAN KELLY: This team looks a lot more similar to some of his earlier teams. Extremely disciplined, hard-nosed, play to the echo of the whistle, just resembles a lot more of the teams that I've seen 10, 11, 12, 13, those were supremely talented teams the last few years. This team reminds me of some of his earlier teams.
Q. Since you know how those teams play, how do you beat those teams?
BRIAN KELLY: Score more points. No, I mean, certainly what we did in those games, and, look, one of them went to overtime. The other one was a defensive battle. You're fighting for every inch when you're playing Michigan State because they're going to take care of the football on offense. They're going to play really good defense. That will have to be the case on Saturday.
We can't turn the football over like we did against BC. We're going to have to play really good run defense, which we did last year. We're going to have to put some points on the board.
Q. They are No. 1 in the nation in stopping opponents on third down. What makes them so effective in that?
BRIAN KELLY: I mean, look, they've played two games. I think Western Michigan is a really good opponent. It's hard to judge Bowling Green, but I think they were challenged a little bit better against Western Michigan. Thought they did a really good job on third down.
They've got a nice third-down package that's difficult sometimes to know where pressures are coming from. They've got some guys that come in on third down that can, you know, bring some pressures. They really did a nice job against Western on first and second down and put them in some third and long situations.
I think stats right now as it relates to Michigan State are a little early. It's a stout defense. It's a good defense. I think if you ask them at 11%, they're not into the Big Ten Conference yet. But it's a really good defense.
Q. With Josh, he was not somebody who was necessarily highly recruited coming out of high school. He was considered a three star, and I realize his injuries played a role in that. But what did you see from him in high school, and did you see the explosiveness that he's shown throughout his learning career?
BRIAN KELLY: I think Sampson had him at five star. Didn't you guys have him at five star? I mean, not quite. There's a little bit more to it. I mean, he was injured. I don't think he was evaluated in the manner, so those guys sometimes fall through the cracks.
We saw a guy that had a great size potential. We loved his character, and we saw a guy that had a chance to be an all-purpose guy that could catch the football coming out of the back field, block, and run the football. So I think, you know, again, from a star perspective, we didn't get too caught up in that as much as what we saw and what his potential could be.
Q. Have you ever had any other player break George Gibbs' record?
BRIAN KELLY: No, and Mike obviously does an incredible job of keeping me up to date on all of George Gibbs' records, which he didn't, by the way, so I'm winging it here.
Our kids when you talk about some of the records, we brought up a couple of them in terms of rushing, they like to hear it, but they move through it really quickly.
Q. When he was a senior in high school, Brandon Wimbush was actually challenging the national record for accuracy, completion percentage. Finished at about 73% or so. Right now there are questions about does he have an accuracy issue with all of that? Do you think that's overblown or have you seen things in practice that you'd continue to be confident that he is accurate? Being mindful that high school is a heck of a lot different.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I have absolutely no questions about his ability to play at the highest level at Notre Dame and help us win a championship. You know, accuracy I think is a product of being comfortable within an offense, and an offense that's changed a little bit from what he was used to running. It also has to do with really only having one receiver that has established himself in the program for a period of time.
He's working with some new receivers. So I think just some patience and you'll see him throw the ball with a higher accuracy rate.
Q. Have you seen it consistently since the spring? Was there anything that had to be worked on with the motion, the technique, or just a change in the offense?
BRIAN KELLY: If you look it up, all of his balls on Saturday, they were overthrows. Typically what happens when somebody overthrows, maybe it's not the greatest analogy, but if you're overthrowing in baseball, we can ask Tim Preester there because I know he's a baseball expert, but generally it's just you're rushing.
And he's just -- he needs to just settle down a little bit. It has nothing to do with mechanics as much as he just needs to settle. When he was settled and had his feet set, he threw a beautiful ball to Durham Smythe. So it's just a matter of settling in.
The question that probably hit it the most was recognition, being comfortable with the route, where the receiver is, and just trusting it. Once he gets to that level and trusts it, he trusts that corner route, that six route. He loves to throw that route. You could see that he loves throwing it. Once he gets to that level with his passing game, he'll throw with the same kind of accuracy.
Q. In the days of Tony Rice he was throwing darts to improve accuracy; you don't have anything like that?
BRIAN KELLY: No, we haven't gotten to Tin Cup where he's wearing some kind of device and trying to -- no. We're pretty good there.
Q. Jerry Tillery, his performances have been a little under the radar. Just getting those large snap counts, 50, 60 per game, what is his threshold and what have you seen from him?
BRIAN KELLY: His conditioning level is really good. He's worked at it. Jerry is a different committed player in a sense from last year to this year. He's worked extremely hard in the weight room. Dedicated himself in a manner that, you know, he was campaign manager last year. He was doing a lot of things. He's really focused on football and it's important to him and it's showing on Saturdays.
Q. What has Brandon been like before games? Do you think nerves or pressure of being the first year guy, being the quarterback at Notre Dame has played any role in his game performances?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think it's typical of any first year starter. First one on the road, there's a little bit of that. But I think as we move forward, and I said at the outset, this was the first road game, first road start, you know. There is a little bit of the nerves that go along with that. It was a great tune-up, if you will, for Michigan State.
But he found a way to win. He wasn't throwing the ball very well, so he ran it really well. That's pretty good. He willed himself into finding a way to be successful on Saturday. He's got that kind of will and want and desire to win. I'd love coaching a guy like that.
As he grows into the position, remember, we're three games into this, he's only going to feel more comfortable each and every week. So these conversations that we're having right now are totally natural for a first-year starter. He's had a clipboard and head set, and that's it. Now he's in the middle of it. Yeah, I think that you'll continue to see progress from him from week to week.
Q. Three games in, is it an ongoing process of just learning what plays he's comfortable with, what concepts he's comfortable with in the passing game? Do you ever reach that point or is that a continually evolving thing throughout the year for a quarterback?
BRIAN KELLY: No, I think there are some things that have to be part of what we do because they're complements to what we're doing. So as we really settle in on who we are, there are going to be natural complements that get repped each and every week. So he's going to get really comfortable with those things. So now that we've seen for the last couple of weeks, first week it was all three down, second week it's three down, now it's four down.
So we go back and forth and now we start to get into a rhythm of knowing our opponent. We know our opponent a little bit better this week, and I think we'll get to more comfort level with him.
Q. I know you mentioned Michigan State's a little younger on defense. For a long time they had sort of the same blueprint. I'm just wondering with so many new faces and younger guys playing key roles for them, do they bring anything different to the table stylistically or any new twists, I guess, from what you expect from a Michigan State defense in the last five, six years?
BRIAN KELLY: Structurally they're very similar to what they've done in the past. They're built certainly inside out. Two inside linebackers, really strong defensive tackles. They've had outstanding edge players in the past, now they're really solid players on the defensive end position. But they just look structurally all together. It looks like 11 guys working together play after play.
Q. Your nickel package obviously has slanted in your favor if you can get somebody in and long. Has that been more effective than you thought it would be entering the season? Why do you think that's been as efficient as it has been?
BRIAN KELLY: Pass rush, we've been able to get a pretty good push. The ball has come out in a fashion that's been predictable for us and we've gotten the kind of match-ups that we've wanted. So I think that we've been assignment correct. We put the right guys in the right place. Shaun's a guy that we trust in terms of playing the nickel position, and when you can play on body and get an extra guy into the rush, the ball's got to come out a lot sooner. We don't have guys sitting back there picking us apart.
So I think the pass rush and being able to play a little bit more on body has been effective for us.
Q. Lastly, you mentioned football over the weekend with Shaun today and Michael Young, how much time are you able to target that in recruiting? What are you looking for from a guy that has football intellect?
BRIAN KELLY: Conversations with them when you're recruiting them, talk football. I actually like to talk about other sports. If they don't know anything about Kyrie Irving and the trade with the Celtics, I get a little nervous. If they are so focused on that they don't know anything about sports, that gets me nervous. Kids should know that play the game and understand sports, they should know the sports arenas that they're in. I like to have conversations with kids that understand sports, and those that understand sports, whether it be basketball, football, whatever they follow, other than sports other than football itself, they generally have an understanding of the games.
There are so many carryovers with other sports. I get a little nervous when somebody doesn't know anything about any other sport, so we try to ask those questions that may at the time seem mundane, like why would you ask that question? It's really to find out a little bit more in how tuned in are they to the sport and how they play it.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports