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October 8, 2017

Brian Kelly

South Bend, Indiana

Q. What I wanted to ask you first was kind of what your plan during the bye week, first with rest versus practice versus for the players, recruiting for your staff, and then deeper self-scouting, also, for you and your staff.
COACH KELLY: Today is off for our players and staff. We'll come in tomorrow and have a normal Monday.

Tuesday is off for all the players so we can prep for practice. Wednesday and Thursday, it will be a combination defensive practice, USC and Navy, and then from a coaching standpoint, we'll get by with a few coaches that will leave Tuesday and then the remainder of the coaches will go out on Thursday for recruiting.

So Tuesday, three or four coaches will go out Thursday, the remainder of the coaches will go out. So a little bit of rest. The players then get off, we'll go Thursday, they will have off Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

So four days of rest for the players, little bit of USC, a little bit of Navy for the defense and then recruiting. So a balance of all three of the things that you mentioned.

Q. With Josh, was it kind of your goal just to get him to the bye week in terms not using him until you could get him just 100 percent healthy and ready to rock for the second half of the season?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we were protecting him all week, as well, in terms of his reps and really just trying to get maximum performance on Saturday, and then try to fill in with the other backs.

With certainly Dexter not being able to go at 100 percent and Tony still not at 100 percent, that's what caused us to activate C.J. because we didn't want to put a big load on Josh in this game.

Q. Can I follow-up with one more, just in terms of your other injuries: Bars, Morgan, Dexter, Tony Jones, do you feel like those guys are going to be 100 percent when you lineup on October 21 against USC?
COACH KELLY: Bars is a low-grade ankle sprain. The only other one was Myron. Myron had a chest contusion but he should be fine and then all the other guys would be cleared in some fashion if we were to play this weekend. So no concerns moving forward.

Q. Would the offensive players have off on Thursday?
COACH KELLY: No, no, we'll still be practicing offensively and defensively together. It's just focus and emphasis will be USC and we'll introduce -- 20 minutes of the practice we'll have an introduction of the first time for some option for defensive structure.

Q. Where you guys are at now, at the halfway point of the year, being 5-1, how pleased are you with the first half of the season?
COACH KELLY: Well, this has really been about developing a mindset of our football team, which I didn't develop very well last year and so I'm pleased with that. You know, we've got to coach better and our players have got to play better in the second half because we're going to have five of the next six opponents are ranked currently.

So pleased with where we are at the halfway point but this is not where we want as a destination. I mean, we came into this season wanting to play for a championship and win championships is our mission. Pleased with the mindset and the way that we've developed that but we're going to have to coach and play better in the second half.

Q. What is your to-do list for the bye week, more so than just the schedule, what do you want to get done this week that an extra week allows to you do?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think some of the things from coordinating our passing game to working on some underneath coverage things that I think we need to get, you know, strengthened, and then preparation of a couple of days for USC, that would be from a tactical standpoint, we need to get that accomplished. We've also got to get some guys that are banged up some rest and rehab, and I think that that's very, very important as we get ready for this big push with the next six weeks.

So working on the tactical piece of USC, a little bit of Navy, coordinating our passing game, and then some of the things that we're doing, and underneath coverages, I think are very important. And then the rest part, you know, getting some of these guys back because of the next six or against five ranked opponents.

Q. What do you think it will take as you guys continue on with the season for Josh to kind of get the national recognition that some of the other guys like Saquon Barkley are getting, because he has similar numbers?
COACH KELLY: I think just consistency in performance. You know, if you are going to play USC, North Carolina State, you're going to play Miami and Stanford, a very good Navy team, Wake Forest who is very stingy defensively. You look at the next six weeks; I've always said that the Heisman is not given out in September or October. Championships are not won there. You can lose them but certainly I think the teams that are competing in November are the ones that are going to get all of the individual accolades, as well. Consistency of performance in the back half, I think he'll get all the recognition he deserves.

Q. The play of the punter, seemed like he's doing a really good job playing the ball this year, and the conditions in Chapel Hill, the off-and-on rain, talk about his performance.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he was flipping the field for us. You know, I think we were going against a very good punter at North Carolina as well, and it was important early in the game where we were not consistent on some of our earlier drives. He was a big factor, and I think our kickers, you know, were very good. Justin kicking the ball, I think four touchbacks.

So I think all in all our kicking game on the road was very solid.

Q. Would you have considered a quarterback -- or for the time being, or will he be back on the 21st?
COACH KELLY: No, we're not considering that. Brandon is our starter and Ian did a great job coming in while Brandon wasn't healthy. But no, we're not considering that.

Q. With everything that you've got looming ahead with the teams the next couple of weeks and things like that, and the anticipation and the way you started this season, how do you keep the kids's mindset focused on one at a time, or do you want them to embrace the things that are out there that they can achieve?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think we try to keep them really grounded on, you know, their preparation from week-to-week, and I think that that's what really has gotten us to the point we're at right now is their preparation, their mindset of high-performance Saturdays, one at a time.

I think they have done a really good job of making sure that they are not listening to the noise and really just paying attention to what's hard, and that is attention to detail every single day. That's a hard thing to do for 18- to 21-year-olds on a day-to-day basis and they are doing a great job. We'll continue doing a great job in that regard.

Q. Specifically I know you like the physicality that you brought to the first half of the season, but specifically, what one thing offensively, defensively, special teams, have you been happiest with in the first six games?
COACH KELLY: I think taking the football away. Our ability to, you know, give our offense additional possessions by take aways. We've been starving in that area for a few years, and to see our defense really, you know, transform itself from a group that really never, you know, came up with those plays to one that is thriving in that regard; I think that's probably the biggest transformation.

Q. I was curious how close or different Alize Mack's season to date has gone from what you expected he could be in August?
COACH KELLY: I think yesterday was a snapshot of what we expect. I think maybe a little bit, you know -- it just took a little bit of time for him to get to where we wanted him to. I think the layoff in terms of getting to game -- just game speed consistency is a little different than practice. I mean, he looks great in practice.

But playing the game is just a little bit different. So I just think he needed some games to start to feel comfortable out there. I think we saw a little bit of that on Saturday. I think we're going to be able to build off that. I think it was a great game to go into the bye week. His confidence is up, and I think we'll be able to really build on that in the next six weeks.

Q. Just in terms of Brandon's medical recovery, could you lay out his rehab and where you feel like he'll be in a position where he's ready to go close to 100 percent?
COACH KELLY: Well, we would expect on Wednesday that he would be able to take first-team reps, with nothing on Monday, other than really a mental day in the sense that, you know, we'll lift. We'll go in the weight room and we'll do some rehab. We'll watch this game, grade it out, obviously, with our players. Tuesday we have a day off. On Wednesday, we expect with all that rehab that he would be able to get going on Wednesday and build on that for Wednesday and Thursday. That would be the expectations as I sit here right now.

Q. With four straight victories by at least 20 points, there might be some school of thought that you want to keep it going and you want to keep that rhythm going. If you had your druthers, would you prefer to play this week or is the bye coming at an ideal time?
COACH KELLY: If I had my druthers, I would prefer that the bye would be on the mid winter break schedule. We have a bye this week and then next week is mid winter break. I would prefer that our kids would get a week where they truly can get it off.

But we've got exams this week and then next week there's nothing but preparation. So if we could ever coordinate those two, that's always my ideal situation. Other than that, the bye comes at a pretty good time for us. We want to get our backs healthy. We've got guys that really need to refocus and reset and get ready for this next six, which are obviously games that we'll have to elevate our performance and our coaching.

Q. How about Equanimeous, the blocking aspect has been proved but has not been able to get into a rhythm yet with passing attack. What are your expectations of his development in the second half of the season?
COACH KELLY: Well, I don't think it's a question of development. He's a really good player. We've got to do a better job of getting him open and getting him the football. I think that falls on us as coaches and finding him ways to get him the football. There has not been a consistency there. You know, we have to develop that consistency at the quarterback position and in play calling to really help him out.

You know, he's pressing a little bit obviously with the lack of continuity there over the last couple weeks, but you know, he'll keep fighting and we expect big things from him in the second half.

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