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October 22, 2017

Brian Kelly

South Bend, Indiana

Q. I was wondering if you would take us back on your decision to hire Mike Elko and what qualities did you see in him? And also what do you see in him at practice with his interaction with his players?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, there's a number of factors. I'll give them to you really quick: Number one, I loved the fact that he had come up through the ranks, if you will, as a I-AA coach, FBS, non-Power 5, worked his way up through the ranks. And I've always appreciated coaches that have worked that way, because it really is an indicator of your ability to teach and communicate and do more with less.

Secondly, when he got to Wake Forest, his ability to really take the football away. And then, third, the evaluations from so many people that have worked with him. He was great to work with, a great staff member and a bulldog on the recruiting trail. All of those factors were contributors.

Q. And then also how does he interact in practice with his players? We're not there, but you see things that certainly give you an indication why they play so well for him and for you.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it's a trust factor. They really trust him. Obviously this has a lot to do with they know him to have been very, very successful. But that's only part of it. You then have to build a trust with the players that what you do will have a carry-over in what your performance level is.

And he made a quick impact with our players through building a great relationship. He's great with not just the defensive players -- if you ask our offensive players, he takes the time to spend with them as well. And so I just think his ability to communicate and build relationships with his players is the second key there.

Q. The offensive line, they played really well against the defense of Southern Cal. What did they do better last night to get the holes for Josh to run through?
COACH KELLY: I think they've been pretty consistent. I think that was, in terms of 300-yard rushing games, I think it might have been our fourth time that we've rushed for over 300 yards. So there's been a consistency in their performance. And they just continued to go out there with the mindset that they want to control the line of scrimmage. So I don't know that there was anything different last night, as much as there was a consistency in their performance.

Q. Just talk about the intensity you guys had from the kickoff to the end of the game, just talk about the whole team. Did they have more intensity because it's a big rivalry game?
COACH KELLY: We talked about what they needed to do to win this football game, and that was to have a dominant mindset in terms of wanting to dominate their opponent. And they had to have much more focus playing the 11th-ranked team in the country. What we did up to this point, we needed to play with much more of an intentional focus. And they certainly did that.

Q. What did you like most from Kevin Stepherson yesterday? And do you anticipate his role increasing more each week?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think probably what I liked the most was his energy and his assignments, getting all of his assignments correct. There was, I think, just overall focus in terms of getting lined up, having the right energy, really being locked into the game, a maturity that he continues to work on playing here at Notre Dame.

I think it's pretty easy to point out his athletic skills. We've never questioned those. This has been about having the right traits, not the talent. And he's starting to really get that.

And as he continues to show more of that, you're going to see more and more of him on the field.

Q. Last night you mentioned that it was okay for your players to kind of have a big-picture idea of where you guys are being talked about nationally. I guess today Notre Dame's ranked in the top 10. Is that something that you will bring up to your team, and is it important to you?
COACH KELLY: No. We've never talked about rankings. All we've talked about is being aware of the situation. And so what we'll be aware of is that, you know, for so many months there was plenty of negative criticism out there about us and where we were.

But you've got to go out and earn the respect. Now that you've got it, you've got to stay with what has gotten us here. So just being aware of your circumstances is fine. We don't take it much further than that.

And I think you can't bury your head from where you are, but it's still about our process and how we go to work and prepare each and every day.

Q. I wanted to ask you a question about the 2012 team, not the similarities in terms or differences in terms of scheme or accomplishments. But the locker room vibe and the leadership of the 2012 team, where is that maybe similar or different to this team?
COACH KELLY: Well, that was a football team that had some real veteran performers and leaders in that group, very similar to this group. It wasn't necessarily across the board in the sense that, you know, this group has a younger feel to it. There's a lot more younger players than the 2012 team. But there's some dominant personalities on both teams.

You know, you've got a Te'o and you've got a McGlinchey. So you've got some similar dominant personalities. But this team, I think, had to come together with a more common purpose than maybe the '12 team, in a sense because we have a lot of younger football players impacting what we're doing.

Q. And if you can give us a little bit of a rundown, I don't think you had a lot of injuries, but I didn't see Cam Smith and it looked like C.J. Sanders went out a little bit early. And just dovetailing into Dexter Williams, I think he's played one game too much to get a medical redshirt, but is there consideration that petitioning to maybe try to get that yet?
COACH KELLY: No, no, we made a conscious decision not to play Dexter until he got back to 100 percent. We think he's going to be 100 percent for the North Carolina State game. And we've got a lot of big football games. We're going to need Dexter. So expect to see him play a big role in what we do down the stretch here.

As it relates to other players, Cam had a grade one hamstring on Wednesday. He just wasn't 100 percent. We expect him, obviously, back next week. Greer Martini is cleared to practice on Tuesday. We expect him back. And the rest were just really bumps and bruises that we had from Saturday night.

Q. I was curious just in terms of the two-back set with Josh and Tony out there at the same time, what you like about that, where you think that sort of look for your offense can go from here.
COACH KELLY: Well, it's something we've wanted to do, quite frankly, for the last four or five weeks, but we haven't been healthy. Tony provides us another dimension, especially as a blocker and as a pass catcher. He's a big kid. He's physical. And Josh, obviously, is a big physical kid, too.

We just think with two guys that are closing in on 220 pounds in that split set, it's a pretty imposing backfield and gives us another wrinkle within our offense.

But as you know, Tony has not been healthy. We feel like he's back at that level where we can feature that formation. That formation can be broken out and Tony can be a slot receiver in it, which, again, we feel really good about his ability to impact the passing game as well. So expect to see more of it.

Q. Just sort of generally speaking, you mentioned sort of the team acting like it's been here before. There are very few guys on the team who have been in this situation before. So how much of a trick is that in terms of messaging this week moving forward to get guys to not make too much of what happened last night?
COACH KELLY: Right. They haven't. But that doesn't mean that that can't be the way you handle yourself on a day-to-day basis. You go into the end zone and even if it's your first time, you can act the right way.

And so the point of it really was, even though they haven't been there before, you need to act that way. Because that's the only way we're going to continue to succeed here.

If you get all giddy and you're not emotionally stable to stay consistent, we're not going to be able to get this journey completed the way we want to. So that was really the crux of the analogy.

Q. As far as just overall impact to creating an overall vibe of really believing that there could be something going on special this year, where would you rank this victory?
COACH KELLY: Well, I wouldn't rank it anywhere in terms of anything but how it impacts this team. And it was a really good win because it strengthens their belief in how we're preparing. And that's really the only focus that we have is this team right now. What's important now is this football team and what they believe.

And they have a strong belief that they can dominate their opponent. So when you beat a really good football team like USC in the fashion that they did, that strengthens their belief and what they're doing and how we're doing it on a day-to-day basis. That's really all. We don't look at anything else but what's important right now.

Q. You had mentioned there was quite a weekend coming up in terms of recruiting, with all the families and all. What's your schedule been like these past 24 hours, or at least since the end of the game and how much easier is it to sell?
COACH KELLY: Well, it's obvious that you feel a whole lot better talking about a victory in this fashion, especially when you've got a number of kids from the West Coast.

But it started yesterday, six interviews during the day yesterday with families. Met with all the commitments prior to the game. We had breakfast this morning with all the families. And when I'm done here with you folks and my TV show, I'll begin the afternoon with the next six or seven recruits that we have on campus with personal interviews.

So it's a long weekend, but obviously one that is very profitable in that sense, because we've got great kids on campus and it was a great, great Saturday.

Q. Wondering if you could comment on what your offensive approach was early in the game. I think a lot of people were saying, well, you just need to pound the football. But looked like you wanted to kind of get to the edge, maybe get their defense on the run and then pound it a little bit more between the tackles.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, you have a week off, you look at some things that you've done and you want to break some tendencies. We had a couple things that we wanted to get accomplished tactically with getting their eyes off of some things that we had shown before, quite frankly. And part of that, as you saw, was to add some misdirection within the offense, get the ball on the perimeter and then come back and attack them inside/out.

So that's kind of how we started the game with a little bit of misdirection, get the ball on the perimeter, and then come back and attack them inside/out. And, again, a lot of that has to do with your self scouting and how you wanted to attack your opponent based upon some of those things.

Q. How would you evaluate how Te'von Coney responded to the opportunity he had yesterday? I know he's been playing, but obviously this was a full-time assignment.
COACH KELLY: He played his butt off. He was outstanding. And not only obviously sets up the biggest play of the game, which was the strip early on in the game, which sets us up in great field position -- he had two and a half tackles on special teams.

He played the whole game. Obviously came off the field when we went dime and nickel, but played that position by himself as well as contributed heavy to special teams. It was his best performance at Notre Dame.


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