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November 21, 2017

Brian Kelly

South Bend, Indiana

BRIAN KELLY: Let's just recap with Navy. Just a gritty win. Our guys played really hard. Very difficult game to play when you have the ball only six minutes in the second half. You know, we could have gotten a couple more possessions with some key stops. We didn't get off the field when we needed to. I think you can point to a couple of plays, that 3rd and 16 where we've got to get the fullback down, maybe gets us a couple more possessions. But we never let go of the rope.

Our guys kept fighting, trying to find a way to win a football game, and they did. Really proud of their effort. Guys like Shaun Crawford, just throwing his body in there, really turned into -- I think there were 27 plays at the end of the game, something like 19 of the 27 were quarterback sweeps, and it just turned into single-wing, grind-it-out kind of football, and our guys just persevered. So it was a good win.

Happy for our seniors. Happy for the way that they finished off the first year in the new stadium, other than a close loss against Georgia early in the season, really a good home schedule for our guys.

Now we go back to traditional offense and a really good Stanford team that's playing well. You know, a lot to play for here. You know, there's a lot here in the sense that win against this football team is important because it's the Legends trophy for us. Getting that back is very important. It would give us all the traveling trophies this year, which is something that's kind of important to us that we've talked about in our room here. You know, beating all the teams that we had lost to last year, significant for us, as well, in terms of turning the tables on last year. A team that we haven't beat out there since 2007.

Certainly another nationally-ranked team, and finally, it probably puts us in a really good position to be considered for a playoff spot but most assuredly a New Year's Six slot, which obviously that's a selective position and one that everybody has got their eyes on when they're talking about a great season.

So a lot of really big things to look at, but most importantly, we've got to play the kind of football that we played earlier, later in October, and that starts with obviously being as a football team more complete, offensively, defensively, and in our special teams.

Hard to do that against Navy offensively. I know there's a lot of people that are saying, you know, you need to be this and you need to be that. Look, you know, what we were really good at offensively was wearing people down, and we didn't wear many people down against Miami because of the way and the nature of the game, and it's hard to wear anybody down when you have the ball for six minutes in the second half.

You know, it starts with being more complete as a football team, and we'll look to do that against a really good football team, and certainly Stanford, and I think offensively, their offensive line, one of the best ones we'll see all year. I think their physicality is who they are and what they're about. Bryce Love is going to be the best back that we see all year. He's up for finalist for the Doak Walker, obviously premier back in the country, 1,700 yards, very fast, breaks tackles. The impressive thing about him is his ability to break tackles. That's what really stood out to me. And I think they're really settled in on Costello as the quarterback. He really now has kind of opened up the offense, I think, in a sense, if you think of that in terms of Stanford. Good, quick release, athletic, big, can move, and I love their receivers. Big kids that run really good routes. Irwin and Whiteside are rangy, athletic receivers that are match-up problems. So really an offense that will stress you in terms of running the football, and then obviously they get the ball in space with their receivers.

Defensively, you know, that 3-4 defense, they're rangy at the 4 techniques. The nose, Phillips, is as good as there is in the country, and at the outside backer position, you know, they've got great experience, veteran presence out there, and I think the real strength of their defense is in the back end. I think Justin Reid is as good a safety as we'll see all year. David Shaw does a great job. Obviously they're playing really well right now, so it will be a great challenge for us on the road.

I've kind of chronicled all the things that are out there for our football team. We've got to focus on playing better from snap one to snap hopefully 75, 80, 85, and being much more consistent from the start to the finish.

Great opportunity, playing on national television. Last time we played on national television it wasn't our best football. They get to write the last chapter on this season. What a great opportunity for our football team.

With that, we'll open it to questions.

Q. Equanimeous, Cam Smith and Dexter, what does their health look like?
BRIAN KELLY: Working backward, Dexter, I think he's about as 100 percent as we've had him. He looked really good yesterday moving around. I think he's got to play a big role for us on Saturday. We expect him to, and that's the plan going in.

We're going to see about Cam tomorrow. We're going to get him running and see what he looks like.

EQ passed his exertion physical activity yesterday. He is cleared for non-contact practice today. So he is moving along through the concussion protocol.

Q. And if the non-contact goes well today, possibly contact on Wednesday?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, if he passes today with no ill effects, then he'll be in a limited contact on Wednesday and he'll have contact on Thursday.

Q. With special teams just overall this year, just curious your assessment. I know that you had high hopes for a lot of improvement, and you haven't had the big gap disaster plays, but is it where you want your special teams to be at this point?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, I think it's been a mixed bag. I don't think it's been a negative for us. I would have liked a little bit more maybe from our kicking game, but you know, we're playing -- we're trying to get a true freshman kicker involved. I thought he had a pretty good game kicking into the wind against Navy.

The punting has been okay. I don't think -- I think it's probably fair to say that we've been fair to middling, but we haven't been bad, and we haven't been great. And sometimes to be great you've got to have one great game breaker. You know, you've got to have somebody that changes the game, and I don't know that we have that guy right now. So then it's up to guys doing their jobs, and I think for the most part, we've had guys, other than the mistake we made on Saturday, we've had guys doing their job.

Q. And Chris seems like he's been reluctant to call fair catches a lot this year. Do you feel comfortable sticking with him?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, we do. I mean, he's got to fair catch. He knows how to fair catch. That's pretty easy. I think that's just a poor job on his part. We did a poor job with the gunners, as well. Those guys have to help out in that situation and protect him a little bit better. But he knew the circumstances. We're fighting for every position. We don't need to try to grind for two or three yards in that situation.

Q. For I think the second time in three years, your offensive line is up, semifinals, one of seven teams for the Joe Moore award. I wanted to ask about the two youngest guys on the line, Hainsey and Kramer, just your assessment of their year overall, and going forward, are they both tackles? Is one of them going to be a guard do you think in the future?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think they both have played solid football for us to good football at times. I think there's been some learning curves, but standing here right now going into the last game, if you ask me about playing two first-time starters, I'm pleased with their performance.

You know, moving forward, I think it has a lot to do with other players now that are going to get a chance, and Liam Eichenberg and Josh Lugg, there's going to be a very competitive situation now. You know, I offered my parking spot to Quenton Nelson to try to get him to come back. He didn't bite on that because if we could get him back, then that would change some things, too.

But clearly there's going to be some competition there, and that will kind of decide where those positions kind of move to.

Q. I know how much you love big-picture questions --
BRIAN KELLY: So this is a big-picture question I would assume?

Q. It is. As you went into this year, you weren't thinking about just having a good season, you wanted to build a model that you thought was sustainable beyond this year; is that correct?
BRIAN KELLY: That's absolutely correct.

Q. What have you seen this year that leads you to believe that's going to be the case, that you didn't just have a special team and a special group, that this is going to be a pretty good model moving forward?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think any time that you have a shift within your program, the only way that you can go about and really lay down your mission is that it has to be sustainable. So sustainability starts with what your mission is, and that is to graduate all your players and play for a National Championship, and then how are you going to get there, and that is to build the traits on a day-to-day basis that will help get you there. That's the sustainable piece, building those traits amongst our players.

So those two things work together. The rest is business as usual, right; recruiting, recruiting the right kind of players to Notre Dame, having the right coaches in place, strength and conditioning, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams, all those other things, as well. But it starts with the sustainability is really your mission, and then how are you building towards that mission.

Q. Could you expand on Stanford a little bit for me if you would; is this just another opponent that you have to prepare for like any other? Seems like because of the similarity of the schools and the high-character guys that maybe there's a little more to this series?
BRIAN KELLY: No, I mean, clearly you're going against a team that stresses you from a tactical standpoint, and they're a physical football team. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They're well-coached. You know, outside of the apparent similarities from a university standpoint in terms of academics, you know, on the football field, they stress you from how they play the game, you know. You know, a 3-4 defense that is long, makes it difficult for you to do a lot of things, and then they get into nickel and four-down, and offensively, you know, a great running back and a physical offensive line. So it's really, to answer your question, more about their style of football than it is about -- and of course who they recruit, right; smart, tough, well-coached, disciplined players. You know, they don't beat themselves.

Q. It's been kind of a tough situation for you, I think 2-9 against top-20 teams on the road. Has there been one common theme why that's been a bit of a struggle to overcome these types of games?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, playing top-20 teams on the road. It's hard to beat top-20 teams on the road. You know, I don't keep track of those records, but I'm sure there's been some really good games in that mix of 2-9, but you know, you go on the road, it's hard to win on the road, and if you're playing top-20 teams on the road, it's even more difficult. So you just prepare your team the best you can, and when you go on the road and you're playing top-20 teams, they're difficult competition. You're probably not going to be 9-2.

Q. What's the short checklist when you go on the road in these types of games that you really have to follow and be clear to the guys that you cannot do these things or you must do these things?
BRIAN KELLY: It's exactly what we did at Miami that you can't do: Turn the football over. And we fed that atmosphere at Miami, turning the football over. You've got to take care of the football. You can't give anybody on the road that energy that gives them that extra momentum at home, similar to what we fed -- USC gives us a free possession on a punt, and it just gives you that energy. You can't turn the football over. You've got to play mistake free and eliminate big plays. It's not really rocket science. You guys follow it pretty closely. You just have to play poised and disciplined on the road. If you do that, you've got a fair shot of winning those games. They'll be close and hard-fought, and last time we were there, we lost the game at the end, 38-36, whatever it was. We lost by a field goal.

Q. If Equanimeous can't go, how does it maybe change up your receiver rotation? I don't know if that would do a whole lot to your offensive plans.
BRIAN KELLY: Boykin will go in and do a great job. We'll just plug and play him. I think what you'll see is his ability in the game against Navy, he filled in very nicely, caught a couple passes, did a nice job blocking on the perimeter. So I think you just take EQ out and you put Miles Boykin in there, and we keep rolling.

Q. In terms of what Stepherson has given you guys, how would you describe his skill set as a receiver being unique from the rest of that group?
BRIAN KELLY: Tracks the ball very well, has the -- I would say probably more than anything else, just the natural ball skills and the ability to get over the top of a defense. But tracking the ball very well. Easily catches it -- though he dropped one in the end zone. That should annoy him as the best ball catcher, but he tracks the ball very well.

Q. Your defense over the course of 11 games, how do you feel like that group has gotten better, and I want to ask specifically about Kareem, if that was one of the best performances he's had for you last weekend?
BRIAN KELLY: I think our defensive line has been a consistent group all year. You know, you could argue about -- myself included, everybody involved in the football program about the Miami game, but I think every game that they've been part of, they've been -- they've fought. They've been very consistent.

You know, all of those guys played very physical on Saturday. They went in there with a great attitude, and Khalid was one of them. He went in there. He was physical. Would have liked to have seen him make the play on the reverse. But he's -- he's really -- this year has been a breakout year for them in that sense, that he's gained a lot of confidence, and he's made so much progress in the weight room, so from a physical standpoint he can go in there and he can battle with anybody.

Q. Last weekend was Julian Okwara just a game plan?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, it's more of a fit to the scheme.

Q. What would just getting to 10 wins, making a New Year's Six bowl, just mean in a larger sense to shutting the door on last season?
BRIAN KELLY: It doesn't mean that much to the guys. You know, I think that their focus more is that they want to -- this has been a journey for them since January, and they want to finish strong. I don't know that that specifically is kind of like, hey, we want to close the door on it. They just really want to finish strong.

But I think it does close a lot of the talk on last year by finishing strong. I think it sends a really good message from that perspective, for those that are tuned in from that sense.

But to play in a New Year's Six in two out of the last three years is extremely helpful, you know, in terms of recruiting and all of those things. And it's what you play for. If you're not playing for a National Championship here at Notre Dame, you should be looking with your eye towards playing in New Year's Six. I think that means that all is right in the world, in the Notre Dame football world, if that's happening.

Q. If it doesn't mean as much to the guys, what would it mean to you?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I mean, our mission is still to hold out hope for one of the playoff spots. To me it's about preparing our football team the right way and getting them ready for Stanford, and I've never put too much into the wins as much as playing well on Saturday, and so that's been my focus each and every week. I haven't gotten caught up on counting the wins, but if after next week we get a chance to have this conversation again, I'll be able to give you a better sense of it.

But again, it's trying to prepare them for one more game and finishing off the season on a high note.

Q. And then you also mentioned Bryce Love in your opening remarks, but what specifically when you're watching him on film makes him so difficult to defend?
BRIAN KELLY: To me it's his ability to break that first tackle and then ultimately he's got incredible speed. I just love the fact that here's a guy that he's not McCaffrey in terms of catching the football, so he's a different back, but he's got elite speed and he breaks tackles, and that is a lethal mix. You have to tackle this guy, and that's what makes him a special player.

Q. Kind of building off of that last question, as well, when you -- obviously it's probably fun to watch him play unless you're coaching against him --
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, exactly.

Q. And I'm sure coaches feel the same way about Josh Adams, too. What's it like when you get these two Heisman type of running backs going head-to-head on Saturday?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think it's both about how you fit the play, and you have to be cupping the football. Your run support has got to be right on. If it's not -- Josh has had some big games, and in particular he's had some good games against Stanford, in particular in '15. Both teams are well aware of how important it is to fit the runs against two really, really good backs.

Q. Going back to '15, as well, with the circumstances somewhat similar coming up this weekend, do you use anything from two years ago to talk to the guys about how to close the game in that sort of situation, or is it sort of briefly mention it and then just kind of move on and stay more focused?
BRIAN KELLY: No, we just won't play the prevent-to-win defense.

Q. What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?
BRIAN KELLY: Just my family, and certainly the opportunities that we've been given here in this country, the freedom of choice and the opportunity to coach football at Notre Dame. I'm thankful for all those.

Q. There's a possibility that Love might not play as much because of an ankle injury and things like that; I know Scarlett played that last drive. What do they do differently? Are they similar types of backs --

Q. And how do you prepare for maybe Love not playing and Scarlett playing more?
BRIAN KELLY: We're preparing for Love to play. But when Scarlett was in the game, they were very effective. He's a big back. He's 220 pounds. He's physical. Very good back. He's got very good vision. We're very well aware of him in the recruiting process.

He's a guy that -- obviously he doesn't have the home run ability of Love, but he's a very accomplished back, and he's going to get you 1st downs, and you'd better tackle him. They felt like in that situation with Love not available that they were going to play smashmouth football, and he's a guy that they certainly can do that with.

Q. And talking about smashmouth football, with Navy playing possession kind of ball and stuff like that, your defense was on the field an awful lot last week. How are they coming back leg-wise, and what kind of things might you be doing to try to alleviate the --
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, they'll have a couple of weeks off. They're 18 to 21 years old. There's some guys that are a little sore, but it's all hands on deck. I mean, let's go. You've got one game. Today is their last day of school. They've got a few days off. You know, rub some dirt on it.

Q. When will you be flying to the best coast?
BRIAN KELLY: We're going to go Thursday. We'll have a Thanksgiving meal together, and we'll head out right after that.

Q. Following up on having Thanksgiving with your players, what's that like, the atmosphere like, and being surrounded by them for such a holiday?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, we get a chance to bring our families in, as well, so we go over to the Morris Inn. We started doing it a couple years ago before we headed out to the West Coast, and it's a great atmosphere. You get to share that with your family, and you have two families there. You've got your natural family and your football family, one you spend a little bit more time with during the year than the other, so it's great that you're able to share that with both families that you're around all year. It's obviously a fun environment. It's one we're very thankful that we get a chance to spend time with our family and then share that with our football family, as well.

Q. One more question about David Shaw. What's it like coaching against him, and what kind of traits does he bring to the table and the type of job he's done at Stanford?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, the proof is in the success that he's had. He's done an incredible job. He's been consistent. They are who they are. They don't pretend to be anybody else. They continue to, year in and year out, produce top-ranked teams and players that are drafted in the NFL, as well as getting a Stanford education. So he's done a great job.

Q. Aside from the fact when you go to Stanford you're playing a really talented team, is there anything about playing in that place that's perhaps more difficult than other venues? Seems like home-field advantage in this series means more than any of your other traditional opponents.
BRIAN KELLY: I don't think so. I mean, you're going on the West Coast. You've got to be careful with the clock. We're playing at 5:00, so that's not too bad. But no, I just think you have to take the precautions. Our guys are going to get over there, and Friday morning they've got to put their phone on airplane mode because it's going to go off at, what, 5:00 a.m. because people will start texting around 8:00, 9:00 in the morning, and they need to be sleeping. So just getting the right rest. You're still dealing with that three-hour change. That's probably the biggest adjustment.

Playing on grass, they haven't always had the greatest feel surface, but that's not an excuse because we both have to play on it.

But no, I just think they've had good teams, you know, and they've been close games. I think since 2012, these games have been decided by seven points or less maybe. I haven't studied it, but it seems in my recollection they've been really close games since '12. I know the first couple years we got our butts kicked, but since '12 I think they've been one-score games pretty much. I could be wrong. Is that correct?

So just two good teams playing.

Q. If you could go back to January and know that you could get to this point in the year and be 9-2 with a chance to win 10 games --
BRIAN KELLY: I'll take it.

Q. Is it that simple?
BRIAN KELLY: It's that simple.

Q. Suppose you guys win this Saturday; do you think you've created a strong enough resumé that you guys deserve at least strong consideration for the playoff?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think if you're in the top eight, you're strongly considered. We're just outside that right now, or are close to it, I don't know. We need another top-20 win, top-25 win, and I think we'll be strongly considered. You know, I think the teams that are up there have all had one bad day, and we had one bad day, too. You know, we'll have to see how the rest of it goes, but we've got to play well on Saturday. It's important to play well against a really good football team.

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