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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 31, 2017
South Bend, Indiana
BRIAN KELLY: Well, we're in the ACC swing of our schedule with obviously a very tough opponent last week in North Carolina State. I think this week brings another challenge, a very explosive offense. Wake Forest obviously was extremely efficient last week. Arguably probably the most experienced quarterback that we'll play. Wolford has been in the system, has experienced the ups and downs and growing in this offensive system. Led them last week to over 600 yards, countered for five touchdowns, just really knows it very well. So that will certainly be a challenge for us.
Defensively, again, tackles for loss are a concern for us and getting off track in terms of down and distance. They do a great job there with disrupting offensive tempo. That's been consistent all year. I think guys obviously that concern us in particular, Wolford offensively is a weapon, Montgomery -- excuse me, Scotty Washington is coming into his own, big, rangy wide receiver, 6'5", you can see his confidence is growing. He's a guy that will be a match-up issue for us that we'll have to account for. Obviously Dortch being out is a guy that you have to plan for defensively, but him being out, Tabari Hines is second on the team in receiving, so they plug in a very, very good player right behind them.
So a very good offense. You know, again, I think that there's going to be a great challenge there for us.
Defensively, Duke Ejiofor, one of the best pass rushers that we've seen. I think he's got six and a half sacks, 14 tackles for loss, very loose and very mobile in terms of pass rush ability, can get to the quarterback. Really like his ability to get to the quarterback. We'll have to keep an eye on him, whether we move it back over there or chip him. He's somebody that we've got to keep an eye on.
I think they're very quick up front. Rodney -- again, this is a team that gets a ton of tackles for loss. Very quick. We're big and physical up front. This is a different match-up for us where we're going to have to be very cognizant of their movement, their quickness. A bit of a change from last week with North Carolina State was a big, physical, one-on-one. These guys are fire zoning, moving, slanting and angling, and we're going to have to do a really good job up front of being aware of that.
Back end of their defense, really like the corners. They're really ascending. Bassey has got a couple of really nice interceptions this year. I think, obviously, a lot of the safeties, Glenn and Bates, Bates in particular, he's a playmaker. He really looks like the guy that kind of makes things happen for them back there. Very impressed with him.
Good personnel, very comfortable with the scheme. There's a lot of similarities, a lot of carryovers from last year and the year before. It looks a lot like our scheme, so we're very familiar with what the looks are. But again, you know, it's going to come down to execution and some of the one-on-one match-ups. So really good, solid football team, playing well, Wake Forest, right now, and we'll have to play our best.
With that, we'll start with the questions.
Q. How is AlizĂ© progressing through the concussion protocol?
BRIAN KELLY: He's in the next stage working through the protocol. You know, elevate the heart rate today and see where he goes from there.
Q. What are the chances you might have him on Saturday?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, it's so much of an individual day-to-day and how they progress. Each guy is different, and you really don't know until they go through the cardio piece. They've got to get through the cardio piece, so when they -- he'll get activated today through the cardio, and then how he responds to that piece, then the next stage can or cannot occur, and so we wouldn't know until after today.
Q. How about Tony Jones, Jr.? Where does he stand health-wise?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, his issue was more of he had a bit of a hip pointer. The ankle is doing better and much better. I think it's not even the concern as much as the hip pointer. He had treatment today, feels a whole lot better. I would expect him that he's going to be somebody that is active in what we do on Saturday.
Q. And Brandon and Bonner both --
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, Bonner squatted yesterday in our speed squats and actually went up in his speed squats. We don't have any concerns there.
And Brandon did not seek treatment, so we feel pretty good there, as well.
Q. You know, with Josh Adams running so well and so forth, it's interesting that I still think more than half of your yards come from other people. I'm curious how you felt like Dexter reintegrated himself back into things, and what are your hopes and expectations for him as part of this?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, continue to expand his role, and hopefully that continues to grow, you know, as we progress. Obviously we know he was not 100 percent. We weren't going to put him into a situation -- look, his skill set and his strength is that burst, and when he doesn't have it, he's just not as effective of a player for us. We think that that's back. He'll continue to be part of what we do as well as hopefully get Tony back in there, physical player, and look, as we continue to talk about all these other guys, the other guy that just keeps eating up yards is Deon McIntosh. Before we look at the end of the year he's probably going to end with 500 yards and we'll have that happen. He's a very effective runner, as well. But going back to Dexter, as long as he's able and he has that burst, he's part of what we're doing.
Q. I don't know that you've ever been in the position that Mike will be this week, but playing against your former team one year after you left them, maybe not so much emotionally, but in terms of logistics, is this a real different week for him, or is this --
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I'm sure he would like to get through this quickly. You know, it's never easy. You know, you can imagine on one side of the fence how people see it and perceive it, and then on our side, you know, we have a lot of pride in our program. I know all of our players, offense, defense and everybody involved in this program, from Mike and coach Lee, we want to play really well for them.
You know, it depends on what side you're looking at it.
Q. I know you gave up your coach's poll vote this year. I'm wondering how easy or difficult was that to do every week and try to do a really good job of knowing --
BRIAN KELLY: It was too difficult. Once they started to go to the committee, the committee to me made my vote obsolete in the sense that they could do such a better job of evaluating truly the top teams in the country. You know, I could get a cursory view of it and a look at it, but I couldn't do the kind of job that the committee can do from 1 to 25. And that was my personal reason, just my own personal reason why I decided to step up.
Q. The committee comes out with the vote today, and one of the most popular phrases that always comes up is "style points," and two years ago because maybe in November you didn't win by as much as people would have expected, you lost some in that tally. How do you approach it this year because you have been so dominant, but at the same time you've also been lauded for being noble as far as taking a knee against North Carolina and North Carolina State in the final minute inside of 5-yard line?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I still think it's the committee that watches the game and they see your football team play. You know, we weren't playing and executing very well later in the season. Five turnovers against Boston College is different than dominating a really good football team and deciding not to score. So I really think there's two different things going on there.
I think you control the football game and you have the game under control. I do what I think is right in those situations, so I don't really concern myself with the need to impress anybody. I think if you watch the game and you see the game as the committee would, they'll come to the right decisions.
Q. You talked Sunday about Mike Elston and how it was really non-negotiable for him to return and his value overall to the program itself. How difficult was it at times for Mike because he did interview for the position, and many times in these situations a coach's ego will say, I got passed over. Just being able to handle that and blend in so well with the new staff.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, incidentally, I elevated him to assistant head coach, as well. You know, he's now handling a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities that head coaches need to. You know, he works with the medical staff. He works with the strength and conditioning staff for me. He works as a great conduit for communication with the coordinators. He sits in all the coordinators' meetings. I really want to give him that opportunity to grow across the board, preparing him to be a head coach, because I think he has the ability to be a head coach right away. So he needs to have that kind of exposure.
That was the non-negotiable part in the sense that it felt like he was ready for that next step.
And you know, we wanted to do it because again, the work that he's done here over the eight years, it was a body of work with two different defensive coordinators. His position groups always played with a passion, a fundamental approach to the game, and he's always been one of our top recruiters. He took over our recruiting office and transformed that into a great operation, so everything that he's had his hands in, he's done a great job. So that's why it wasn't negotiable.
You'd have to ask him about his feelings relative to the transition and such, but he felt like for his career that this is where he wanted to be.
Q. The NBC crew mentioned that you had said to them that you felt like your team was getting stronger as the season progressed. Did you mean stronger in the weight room or just in general as a football team?
BRIAN KELLY: No, we have numbers that speak to strength gains in the weight room. Our ability to track it now has really given us a physical edge as we go into each and every week, and it's something that we can relate to our players weekly. Again, we've made incredible strides during the season. We're a stronger football team today than we were in August.
Q. The concept has always been maintain during the season, so that has changed. You mentioned speed squats. Drue Tranquill the other week, you mentioned him. Is that part of a new philosophy?
BRIAN KELLY: Yes, the speed squats and hang clings are all -- without getting into too much technical work involved, you're trying to work things off of a one-rep max. About 75 percent of that needs to be what you're looking at, and we supplement that with band work. The band work gives us just about 65 to 70 percent of the one-rep max, so you're lowering the weight and adding the bands to get to within 75 percent of the one-rep max. And then we're working it off our elite forms, so we're moving the bar fast.
To get that number, we're taking the weight times the speed to get the wattage, and that's giving us the neuromuscular firing that's giving us those numbers that we can track our players. That is applicable to the force against the ground, and we're seeing some great moves for us.
Q. Dr. Selking is very visible on the field before the game, during the game, and I think Pete Sampson has asked you about her before, but what has she done for you personally? What kind of things have you addressed with her overall in game day, et cetera?
BRIAN KELLY: Consistency and message. You know, working on the mental performance piece with our team, we wanted to be able to craft a consistent message in terms of how we wanted to prepare our football team from that mental performance standpoint. So we didn't want to be all over the places, so we wanted to come with something that was consistent from January to right through the season, and you see a lot of that around this room here, are very similar talking points each week relative to our football team.
We've worked collaboratively in putting together the mental performance pieces for our football team since January. She's worked in physician groups, she's worked individually, she's worked with the units, offense, defense and special teams, and then she's worked one-on-one with me, so we could have this collaborative approach to mental performance.
Q. Do you maintain contact with her throughout the season?
BRIAN KELLY: Oh, yes, she's on -- she's a consultant to us throughout the year.
Q. Checkpoints and those kind of things?
BRIAN KELLY: Oh, absolutely. We'll meet three, four times a week, yeah.
Q. Getting back to Mike Elko, how much of an advantage is it having him on the staff and him knowing some of the defensive players that you're going to be working and playing against on Saturday?
BRIAN KELLY: It's an advantage. Bill Rees is a bigger advantage. Bill is an evaluator. It takes out the emotional piece that Mike brings. It's interesting, so I get an evaluation from Bill Rees, Bill does all of our scouting evaluations of the personnel. Obviously his background in evaluating and NFL evaluating has been crucial in allowing us to get a glimpse at our next opponent and getting that evaluation of our opponent and allows us to go to work within our planning. So Bill gave me his evaluation, and we have a standard evaluation of -- he has a standard evaluation. It was interesting to get his evaluation and to get Mike Elko's. There was definitely a little bit more emotion in Mike Elko's compared to the straight, standard, plus/minus evaluation of Bill Rees. So having both of them, we've got a pretty good understanding of the personnel. But just maybe a little bit of a different flavor.
Q. And then on the other hand, they know what Mike likes to do, too --
BRIAN KELLY: Absolutely.
Q. So it's a little bit more -- there's a little bit more psychological stuff kind of working --
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, and I think it'll come down to -- really at the end of the day, this is about execution. This will be about the tenets that we have within our offense, defense and special teams. We've taken care of the football. We've controlled the line of scrimmage on offense. Defensively we've gotten off the field, we've eliminated big plays. We've tackled really well. Those are the basic tenets that will have to show up again. Yeah, we know each other, but I think it's similar to two teams that play each other, know each other that well is a very similar kind of scenario.
Q. Defensively how similar or different are they from a year ago now that Mike is not there?
BRIAN KELLY: There's a lot of similarity to the defense that we've seen in the past. Again, I think it's still about personnel, and their personnel is probably, in terms of the safeties and corners, emerging. You know, I think it's probably a much more mature football team.
Q. If you look at how your team has transitioned over the last month, say four games, do you feel like you're playing better than you were a month ago?
BRIAN KELLY: Oh, yeah, for sure. I mean, our quarterback is maturing. I think that we're more consistent defensively. We're communicating better in the back end of our defense. I just think overall, it's a better football team. I think Kevin Stepherson adds a dimension to our offense, as well. So I think all in all, I think we're playing better as a football team than we were earlier in the season.
Q. As you look at Brandon's progress, what's the next hurdle you're trying to get him to clear?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, it's probably just, again, consistency and footwork, mechanics, boring stuff for you guys. It's really more about that. You know, his confidence is growing. I think he felt really good after the game on Saturday. Would like to probably have a couple of plays back. He had a hot receiver that he missed on a drive route, and he'd like to get the throw back to Stepherson. And we've got to make a couple catches for him. He's probably 13 for 21, 22, and he throws for 200, you know, and then the narrative starts to change.
He wants to get the narrative to change. He's close. We're really close to it, and it'll shift here soon.
Q. The rankings come out tonight; I'm sure you've already told your team, continue to do what's gotten you this far in terms of preparation, and we've heard you say that many times. Do you know it's important for them to know where they stand and what the committee thinks of them?
BRIAN KELLY: I've said this before: We talk about awareness. You can't enhance until you're aware. They're aware, and for them to enhance their situation, for them to continue to get better, they need to know where they are. After that, the enemy is distraction. Get back to your process, do the things that got you here. You really have to embrace what we're doing.
Look, if you embrace what you're doing, people embrace you. If you don't embrace what you're doing, they'll kick you to the curb. It's the way it goes.
They understand that, and they've been really good about getting to this point. I'm pretty confident that they understand how to keep this thing moving in the right direction.
Q. You guys are 7-1 in the playoff picture, clearly headed in the right direction after your busy off-season. I'm sure you saw fans took out some ads before the season started, and I'm wondering what you think about that now?
BRIAN KELLY: I really don't give it much thought, and I didn't give it much thought during the time that it occurred because it comes with the expectations of Notre Dame, and if you don't live up to those expectations, you know, you should expect those things to occur. You know, you can argue about the circumstances and such, but you know, the best way for me to go about and work during those times is to find solutions and change the story line, and that's what I went about to work at it. To go home and get mad and be inactive about changing the story line is poor leadership. So lead during those times is what you should do.
Q. If AlizĂ© can't go this weekend, how may that change the way your offense functions or what you can do?
BRIAN KELLY: It won't change. Cole Kmet is ready to go. He's chomping at the bit. He's ready. He's prepared. He'll get activated. Nic Weishar's role will activate, and Durham Smythe is playing his best football of his career. So you'll see Nick a little bit more, you'll see Cole a little bit more. Brock is in a role, as well, but we'll see how things go this week for AlizĂ©. But we feel good about what the next options are for us.
Q. You mentioned, used the word narrative with Brandon. How is he handling that, because when we talk to him, somebody brought up the rushing touchdowns record, and he's like, well, what's the passing one, that's the one I actually want. Has it been a fairly comfortable situation for him even if it's not going exactly how he may have thought?
BRIAN KELLY: No, he's -- he listens to that stuff. He listens to it probably a little bit too much, and we have to remind him that it's the work that he does in practice and his commitment to that will, again, change what happens, and he's doing it. And it's gradually occurring week in and week out.
Then he heard how many touchdowns Brady Quinn threw, and I think it changed the whole thing, so then he was -- I think he was pretty cool about it after that. I think he said, I'm glad Brady Quinn threw that many touchdown passes, I don't think I can throw that many, so it worked out pretty good actually, whoever gave him that stat. Good work. That was really good because then he forgot about it. He's 20 years old, right?
Q. On the getting stronger as the season goes on, how much do you think that's helped maybe injury prevention or limiting injuries? I think there have been a couple hamstrings but not a lot.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, we haven't had one that -- I mean, Cam's was a one-one plus, you're going to get those whether you're playing football, baseball, those are just natural in movement, competitive team sports. Yeah, I mean, I think that the total preparation of our football team, you know, our whole staff -- Dale Jones has done an incredible job with our correctives. He should get a lot of the credit. He handles all of our dynamic stretch.
We do -- we have an entirely different stretching program and routine, flexibility, stretch program that he kind of heads up. On game day he probably gets his hands on 30 to 40 guys, so he's done a really good job in that respect.
Q. Quick question on Julian Love's play, second pick six of the year on Saturday, but even putting that aside, still impacted the game in a lot of areas. What have you seen from him that's kind of helped him grow in confidence to kind of jump on a route or really kind of battle for those balls?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, he has a unique skill set in that physically he's one of our strongest players from the waist below. And it allows him to really transition well at the position in which he plays. He can really stick his foot in the ground and drive on receivers. He learns well. He bit on a double move early, got hit with a double move again later in the game, and was able to see it coming. So he's got really -- he's really a smart player.
But I think the smarts and the physical tools that he has, you know, obviously put him in an elite class.
Q. We've heard a lot through the season from the defensive players about Coach Elko's simplifying, I guess, of the defense where guys can just worry about their job. How does that affect the secondary and just being able to kind of take their tools and just worry about those jobs?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, you know, I don't want to make it sound so simple that I could do it, because I couldn't. But they're -- what it has allowed our players to do is have a common purpose in the sense that they all can communicate effectively now. There's great communication back there, and I think that sometimes the wording and the nomenclature and the ability to communicate what we want you to do, if that's easy and it's easy to understand, then even if we ask you to do 10 things, you can do it really well.
So the communication has been streamlined. They really understand it well, and that's why you're seeing guys working well together.
Q. Obviously you expected big things coming into the season from Quenton Nelson. Has he in any way exceeded those expectations with his excellent play so far?
BRIAN KELLY: He's played, obviously, off the charts in terms of how we're grading him. But there was a glimpse to that potential and the way he trained in this off-season. He was so far out in front of everybody in terms of the way he trained this year running, in the weight room, everything that we did, he was clearly ahead of everybody. So there was a glimpse, and you could see that something was in store for him in terms of a great year. But it had to happen, too.
So I can't say I'm surprised because the work that he did to get to where he is right now, he's earned every bit of it.
Q. And then you guys have brought the new campaign of 33 truck. I was just curious, what does that hashtag, that message mean to you?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, it's a collective group, 33. It really is about offense, defense, special teams. It's all working together to provide the opportunity for a guy like No. 33 to be where he is. He doesn't get to where he is without all 33 coming together as one. And then within that 33, there's some pretty special players, as well. And if you get a chance, you could look up about our board of directors in there, a guy like Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan, guys like that. So it's really -- somebody has got to be the lead singer, you know. It's a great band, but that's really kind of the collectively all these guys working together. But there's only going to be one guy out in front, and that's Josh Adams.
Q. And I'm curious, are you excited for tonight? Will you be right there at 7:00 watching?
BRIAN KELLY: No, I'm only doing the -- I'm doing the show tonight because Saban passed, Dabo has passed, Franklin passed. They went down to like the sixth or seventh guy that said yes. So that's why I'm on the show. It's true, too.
Q. If you were on the committee, where would you slot you guys?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, for me it's -- that's why I got off the committee. You know, it's hard for me to judge the other teams. I know Georgia is a really good team, and I know Notre Dame. So I'd have Georgia one, Notre Dame two, and then there's no other teams. I think one and two.
Q. The way you guys have been playing, if you guys win out, do you think Notre Dame should be in the College Football Playoff?
BRIAN KELLY: Again, the hypotheticals for me, I try to stay in the moment. And we really don't even worry about that. Winning is not even something that we think about. I've got to tell you, I'm honestly giving you the truth in this answer: We just want to dominate this weekend. If we do that, we'd like three more chances. And then at the end of the year, if they say that that's one of the four best teams, that will be fine. You know, but that's not -- we're just looking to dominate this weekend, that's all I can tell you.
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