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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 7, 2017
South Bend, Indiana
COACH KELLY: Afternoon. Let's start on Miami. Mark Richt has done a terrific job of coaching a group of young men with great athletic traits. You know, this football team that we play no doubt will require our very best. Just to kind of go through what we see on film and we know a little bit about them last year and I would say a little bit about them, because we have a different football team and they are a different football team, as well. So there's not a lot of going back on last year. It's really about both of these teams this year.
And offensively, a new quarterback; Rosier is a gritty kid. As a first-year starter, he find ways to make plays. He's a lot like Brandon when you look at him. He just, you know, finds ways to win football games, whether he's going to run for a first down or make a key play. He keeps the drives alive.
Braxton Berrios is the engine to that offense, no doubt about it, but he's also extremely productive. So it's one thing to be the emotional leader but you know, he averages I think close to 15 yards per catch and I think he's somebody that you have to game plan for in the special teams game as a punt returner.
You know, Homer has done an incredible job of coming in for the loss of Walton, who we all know is one of the best running backs in the country. But Homer leads the team in rushing. I think he's got six touchdowns. Very shifty, athletic player that can go the distance and has really done a great job for them.
And a veteran offensive line; I don't know that you point to one guy other than they really -- they work well together. It's a group collectively that you can see that they communicate well with each other. It's a real solid unit across the board.
And I think Herndon may be the best tight end that we see all year, in terms of his skill-set. He's a match-up problem for us that we have to identify. So all in all, you know, an offense that creates a lot of problems from the quarterback down to the receivers. Veteran offensive line, tight end and the running back is certainly one that has stepped in there to do a great job.
Defensively, they lead the nation now in tackles for loss, and I think you start with Jackson and Thomas on the edge. Both of them extremely athletic, can rush the quarterback, but also can play the run and can also track down a number of things that go on offensively. And when I mean track them down, they can make up for a lot of things that are going on defensively in terms of getting to the quarterback, chasing down a quarterback, chasing down plays from the back side, extremely athletic.
McIntosh and Norton inside, disruptive, tackles for a loss. It's an outstanding front four. The linebackers run and tackle as well as any group that we've played. Quarterman, Pinckney and McCloud and they don't come off the field. They are guys that stay on the field in first, second and third down and we don't see that very often.
We see a team that shows themselves in terms of personnel quite a bit, in terms of taking the linebacker off the field and getting into nickel. They can play a number of different coverages by keeping three linebackers on the field and that's pretty hard to do today in college football. A unique skill-set in that group.
Then on the back end, Johnson at the safety position, is their leading tackler. Outstanding safety. I think Redwine, you know, he brings a nice skill-set because he's a former corner who can play the No. 2 receiver, and then depth at the cornerback position, Jackson, Young. You know, Delaney is probably healthy to play now so they have got great depth there.
Really good football team across the board. Offense, defense, special teams. But it's not just about talent. It's well-coached. You can see that. It's a lot easier to kind of put together a bunch of talented players, but to coach them, get them in the right position, line them up, getting this group to play together with a great amount of energy, Mark's done a great job. Really good football team.
Exciting. I know our guys are excited about this championship drive that they are on now. This part of the season, obviously in November, all of the teams that are in contention are focused on one game at a time, and it's single elimination for most teams.
With that, I'll open to any questions.
Q. Updated us on Wimbush and Adams on Sunday. Any changes or do you still feel optimistic?
COACH KELLY: They are good. They had a great day in the weight room yesterday physically. So there are no concerns about their readiness and what their physical stature is for going into the game.
Q. Your team has gone from 80th in rushing offense to fifth in one year, and I know that there's a lot of things that go into that. But from the offensive line standpoint, what they did in the off-season, buying into maybe the mentality, what was kind of the dynamic like behind the scenes in terms of their improvement from last year to this year to be ready for this kind of offensive line?
COACH KELLY: Well, the pieces were certainly -- it was a change of philosophy in terms of what we were going to really hang our hat on, if you will, in terms of who we were going to be, our identity.
So our identity was going to run through that offensive line. You know, when you talk about it, it's one thing. But when you actually do it, I think it started to show itself, you know, certainly we didn't run the ball as effectively as we wanted to against Georgia.
But I think when we broke through with over 500 yards rushing against Boston College, I think that that was really where everything started to kind of, you know, show itself; that this is who we were going to be, and then it's, you know, certainly taken shape from there.
So in the off-season, there was a commitment to it: The hiring, the philosophy, the total make over of our entire mental psyche in terms of being physical was all part of that. But I don't think it really takes hold until in the season when that's all backed up by actually doing it. And you can talk about all that stuff, but if you actually do it and stick to it, I think that that's when it really start to come together.
Q. After the Georgia game, there were a lot of people, certainly on the outside pointing at the offensive line, and saying, why aren't they better. What was that week like between the end of Georgia and the 515 yards, what were those guys like in terms of their demeanor?
COACH KELLY: They were fine because it wasn't all on the offensive line. It was a number of things that we needed to do better collectively at a number of different positions from tight end to quarterback to running back to coaches, everybody, and it was still becoming more comfortable with what we were doing schematically, as well.
There wasn't a panic. There wasn't finger pointing. It was, let's continue to do what we're doing and we'll breakthrough.
Q. With Daelin Hayes, when things weren't coming for him, he seemed like a real patient guy, very mature and so forth. Now that the game's kind of coming to him, he's a productive starter. Where do you feel like the next steps are for him in terms of -- because I'm sure there's more out there for him.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think playing the game with a consistency for him week-in and week-out is everybody's probably next step. How do you get to that level of consistency? You know, his focus is great. You know, how does he get to peak performance every week? I think now it becomes the mental piece for him and growing from there.
I think the great part about it is he knows those things, and he's working on them each and every week.
Q. There's a bunch of coaches who are turning around the second year: Mark Richt, Scott frost and there are some others. Is there any connection between what has happened here, going 4-8 to now, and to them in their first two years turning things around?
COACH KELLY: I really don't know the specifics of those other programs to be quite honest with you.
I think what is pertinent relative to Notre Dame, and this is my opinion, and you can choose to believe it or not, is that our foundation was in place. What we needed to do is make some changes that allowed us to grow again. And so in other situations, there's a full kind of new staff, new blood, new energy, if you will, and it changes kind of like the wind coming through the door.
This one was different. I've had three other jobs where I came in and it was a whole change of, you know, the entire look was different and it creates an energy that's different.
This one was much more about the approach on a day-to-day basis changing and the plan changing from what it was before. Just this business plan was different. I can't comment on the others because I'm really not sure what they looked like.
Q. After looking at film, after looking at the defense, what needs to change moving ahead for Miami after this weekend?
COACH KELLY: Preparation needs to be better. We didn't prepare quite the way we had prepared in other weeks. We just need to go back to our process and our process has to be the thing that drives our defense and our offense each and every week.
So if you were in our meeting yesterday, you would have seen that Wednesday wasn't the same Wednesday practice as it was the previous weeks, and it showed itself in the way we played against Wake Forest.
There's no -- they didn't find the key to unlock the secrets of the Elko defense. There's no -- there's nothing like that. This is really about playing with the right intensity and the right mental approach to the game. We just didn't prepare in the manner that we prepared in the other weeks, and we'll do that and we'll need to do that moving forward.
Q. Is there any reason why? Seemed like every week you were the same but this week wasn't.
COACH KELLY: Well, I can point to a number of factors and most of them have to do with maturity and making sure that distractions don't creep in. Many coaches are in press conferences talking about how those distractions cost them a loss. It didn't cost us a loss.
We were fortunate that we were up 31-10 at the half and hadn't played very well defensively. Played one really good series in the third quarter, and then didn't play up to our level defensively again, and then got up 41-16 and started looking at the scoreboard.
So a lot of it was not sticking to our process, not paying attention to detail. Really not staying locked in and staying focused, and a lot of that had to do with being distracted by other things. If we're distracted, that's the kind of defense we'll play, and it's not good enough.
Q. Second week in a row, you're facing the number one tackles for loss team. A lot of Miami's comes from sacks, quarterback pressure, and with their ability to turn you over in the secondary, what's your chief challenge combatting that, especially on third down?
COACH KELLY: Well, I mean, look, it doesn't change, right. Leveraging third down for us has been key all year. Staying out of the long third-down situations so we can -- look, we've done this all year. We're taking third down and trying to cut it in half because I like fourth down, too.
So really trying to keep out of those third and double-digits. If we can keep them into third and manageable, then the quarterback can run, too. So don't force it, don't turn the football over, make it manageable on third-down situations, and worry about the quarterback whether he throws it or he runs it. That's really the key for us.
You start getting up into those 12, 13, 14, 15, you're in trouble. That's what we've done really well all year is we've leveraged third down in our favor.
Q. Just wanted to follow up a little bit on the question with the running game. Do you see this as a long-range philosophical change, or is it more temporary for this year predicated on the strengths that you have with the offensive line receiving core and an inexperienced quarterback, because next year, Brandon will be experienced, the receiving core will be more experienced and maybe line will be less so.
COACH KELLY: I think we're always going to get outstanding linemen here at Notre Dame. I think the trend in college football is going to be that, you know, I think RPOs have got a chance of going away. I think that there's less desire to want to see linemen downfield and that rule is getting some pushback in terms of how it's being even officiated now.
I think it's going to come back to putting a premium on offensive line play. We have a great history of getting great offensive linemen here.
So I don't know if that answers the question, but we should be really good at running the football here at Notre Dame.
Q. But always willing to adjust, too, at the same time based on your strengths?
COACH KELLY: No, I don't think you want to get painted into a corner. But I think you have to be able to -- especially as we get into the month of November, looking at how we're going to schedule, you know, I'd like to see Florida State up here in November playing against Notre Dame in those kinds of -- where you've got to be physical. I think the teams that want to come up from the south up here; I think our demeanor and physicality should be part of who we are.
I think that's maybe a departure from where I was before, but I'm learning every year and trying to get smarter.
Q. Staying on the topic of November and how you've mentioned that this team is specifically built for November, looking at the field Sunday night at Miami at the Dolphins game, seemed in pretty poor shape. I think they had to replace it four times. You had a game like that at Stanford in 2011. Is there any different mold of -- going into that game, longer cleats, or do you stay with that physicality aspect, too?
COACH KELLY: Well, we're not going to change who we are. We might change our shoes. Certainly today, we'll wear screw-ins, instead of the molded, and try those out. We haven't used a screw-in shoe. You know, it limits what you can do, because you can't go from field turf and use the screw-in on field turf and then go on the grass. So one unit has got to stay on the grass the whole time. It changes how you practice.
But I think we are going to put probably one of the units in screw-in today and one of the units, offense or defense, I haven't decided, in molded and maybe switch it, just so they get the screw-in shoe on them for the first time; and then have that option to use a screw-in, instead of a molded on Saturday.
So we have options for the field conditions and that's all we -- I just want to produce options for our guys, and if we don't do it here on Tuesday and Wednesday and we don't have that, I don't want to throw a screw-in cleat on a kid that's never used it before, because it's a different shoe.
Q. Either way, you feel that the way you've built this team this year is advantageous to the conditions you might face there?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I'm not really that concerned. I mean, there are some slipping, but it's going to be for both teams. There's really not much you can do. Everybody's playing in the same kind of conditions. We've seen it on film but they are not unplayable conditions to that point and it's not something that we're going to get distracted by.
Q. You guys have played extremely well on the road this year, but it's been about a month since you've been on the road. Does that change anything in terms of just reminding guys again of how to prepare, because it's been awhile since you've been on the road?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we'll go through our routine we had when we started our three-game road swing. Just the crowd noise and silent cadence and preparing for road distractions and things of that nature. It won't take much for them to acclimatize, and then getting ready for night games, they have had that.
Yeah, we do have a checklist that we'll go through, but it won't take them much to get back on that train.
Q. Obviously being in a Top-10 match up this late in the year is always going to be exciting. Does the fact that it's Miami add to it, based on the history of this rivalry for you?
COACH KELLY: I don't think so. They know Miami. They know the history and tradition. They are aware of all those things. But they know that they have to play really well, and they have to play better than they did last week. I think that's what they know more than anything else.
I don't think that they spend a whole lot of time thinking about the history and the tradition. Although, there were some great match-ups and I don't want to sell those short. But the real focus of this group is that they know they are playing a really, really good football team and they have to play well.
Q. What do you think it says about college football that a year ago, you were 4-8, they were 8-4, and a year later, both teams are right in the heart of it; of how quickly things can change and teams can become some of the best teams in the country.
COACH KELLY: Well (chuckles) there's a number of ways I can answer that question. Fans could be more patient. I'm sure that's not the answer you wanted (laughter).
I would just say that college football, 85 scholarships, you know, the ability for teams to invest in player development, it's really important to so many institutions that everybody's got a fair shot at being competitive year-in and year-out.
Q. You were just mentioning your defense's intensity playing a full 60 minutes. Curious when you look at them on film, what do you see on that defense as far as its intensity playing throughout the game?
COACH KELLY: Well, they really love to play, and that's pretty clear. Their effort is outstanding. Obviously the group, Manny Diaz does a great job with the group in terms of its, I would just say, demeanor, right. They run the ball; they are athletic, but it's a group that's excited to be playing. So you can see that energy. There's great energy.
My comments at the outset were this is an athletic and talented team, but that's not enough. You can be athletic and talented but that's not enough. It's well-coached. You could take a collection of 11 really good athletes, but if they are not well-coached, they are just running around and they don't just run around. It's very purposeful, and they have created obviously some energy with their take away chain. I think that's what it's called. I hope I haven't messed that up. I haven't been paying real close attention to it, but I think they have used that collectively as a way to galvanize the group.
But it's a really well-coached, athletic group.
Q. You were just saying a second ago, I know your focus is on playing better than you did last week, but how much do you toe that line of, hey, we do have this tradition with this team, we have this tradition with where we're trying to bring the program back to at Notre Dame. How much do you toe that line of what this series has meant, what this rivalry has meant, and of course just playing better than you did last year?
COACH KELLY: You know, we just talked about that we haven't lived up to the standard that we have and there's a standard we need to play at. You know, we're going to play to that standard and we're going to have to play to that standard against Miami.
So for us, it's been about our total preparation and it's been about our process. We went back to that yesterday in our weight training and our film study. The rest of it is for you guys to talk about, and we're very respectful of that and we're aware of that and we love being in the position we're in. It doesn't help us in our preparation, though, for Miami, so it really doesn't do us any good spending time talking about it.
Q. Injury run down: Dexter, AlizĂ© and calm Smith?
COACH KELLY: Okay. Dexter, his explosion was back yesterday in our high clean-pull. I'd say he's getting closer and closer. You saw that he didn't have that full speed on Saturday, but I think we're getting closer there. We're optimistic for a good week.
AlizĂ© will practice today. And Cam is going to go today. We took another picture of that hamstring. Didn't quite like what we saw but we're going to let him stretch it out today and see how it goes. We saw a little bit of, you know, some cloudiness in that hamstring. We'll see how it goes today. And hopefully he's able to go at full go today.
Q. As you watched film on Brandon on Saturday, what did you like and did you feel like it was his best game?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it was his best game. It's still about the fundamentals with him mechanically, drop, consistently with his drop, consistently with the pocket, pocket awareness, vision, the field, seeing the field.
So this is still a work-in-progress. Much better. I think that we're at that point now where he's starting to feel the drops where it's becoming much more of -- we're closer to unconscious competence, where it's been conscious competence; he has to think about his drops all the time. Hopefully we're getting closer to that level, and we're having a great week and we can carry that over to Saturday.
Q. You mentioned practice and using the term "distraction." I think the assumption would be -- to distract you would be the college football playoff -- did you get a sense of -- any of that --
COACH KELLY: No.
Q. Or what do you think the distraction may have been?
COACH KELLY: Well, I mean, each player is different. Drue had three engineering projects, and he was up until, you know, two, three o'clock in the morning. Those are distractions. They are needed. I mean, he had to take care of those. But you know, he had three hours' sleep on Thursday and Friday. It's welcome to the life of a college student at Notre Dame.
Now maybe we had some other guys that had distractions that could have been handled better. But the enemy is the distractions. The enemy isn't the college football playoffs. They know that they have to -- there's internal distractions and there's external distractions. The external distractions, we've got those covered pretty good for our guys.
It's the internal distractions where they start thinking about: Oh, you know, maybe -- maybe I don't have to play quite as hard this week; maybe I don't have to get all the nutrition and sleep I need this week; maybe I don't have to play quite as hard this week, and it's the internal distractions. So that's where we spend most of our time.
Q. Is it two silver lining-ish to say that some of the things that happened last week are positives for the next three games?
COACH KELLY: I don't. No, we use them at great learning and teaching opportunities for our guys.
Q. This is major big picture. This is your hundredth game here?
COACH KELLY: (Sighing) Oh, more. More big picture stuff. I get headaches with this stuff.
Q. I get curious as you reflect on a hundred --
COACH KELLY: I got asked whether we were going to forever run the ball here (Laughter). I mean --
Q. For the next hundred years --
COACH KELLY: I think it was for the next hundred years.
Q. Does that number feel like an abstraction to you --
COACH KELLY: What did you ask --
Q. A hundred games here.
COACH KELLY: I've been here a hundred games?
Q. This is your hundredth games.
COACH KELLY: That's like a thousand dog years, isn't it?
Q. I'm curious how this place maybe has changed you as much as when you come in, you try to change it; you come in, you try to build something and change some things.
COACH KELLY: It's focus, refocus. It's really focus, refocus at Notre Dame. You have to stay on top of it.
I mean, I'm honored to have gotten the opportunity to coach a hundred games. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever get a chance to coach one game at Notre Dame. So to think of a hundred, I can't even, you know, wrap my arms around that.
Look, I try not to think in those terms. But I'm honored. I would have liked to have won even more games for our fans and for our players. But my focus is on beating Miami and that's what we're hoping for one hundred.
Q. You mentioned Miami's turnover chain that they have, and those kind of props popping up all over college football. What's your stance on all the gimmicky and prop stuff that's been popping up?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think everybody has something within their program that is set to elicit something for their players to lock into something, right.
Everybody's trying to -- kind of like I said before, right, what gets your guys locked into something. The turnover chain is something of a prop, but you know, it gets them really focused on, hey, you know, as a team, we win, right, as a team. But here's your little individual piece. You know, we live in that society today.
So whatever works for you to get that and get the most out of your players, I can see how it would happen, but I think each program is trying to come up with those kinds of things to help them maximize the success.
Q. And then Brandon hasn't thrown an interception since Boston College I think. I don't want to jinx anybody here -- (laughing) -- what do you think it is about a young quarterback that has allowed him to protect the football, knock-on-wood, I suppose, the way that he has?
COACH KELLY: It's one of our core tenets. We coach it every day. We try not to talk about it like that (Laughter). We talk about having great ball security, making good decisions.
Really, it's how we'll be successful is if we take care of the football.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports