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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 2, 2018
South Bend, Indiana
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: We have an hour and a 45 minutes to take it right up to the women's basketball game. Get you guys ready for UCONN v. Notre Dame. I just want to be there for the handshake (Laughter). Football coaches like that, handshake before the game.
Certainly, really excited about our ability to continue to this journey on, being invited as one of the four teams in the College Football Playoffs. It's hard to be there. I think it's a combined 50 and one of the four teams. This is what we work for.
Our staff has done an incredible job. Our players certainly deserve all the credit. Each and every week they had to perform at a high level to get this point in wining all their games. As I told them, it really doesn't matter about what people think or say. It hasn't been that case all the year.
It's been what we do, how we prepare and how we play and execute. At the end of the day, we're going to play Clemson in Dallas, and the team that executes the best on that day, as Lou Holtz used to tell me: It doesn't matter if you're the best team in the country; it just means you need to be the best team that day and that's all we're focusing on is being the best team on the day we play Clemson, and we're excited about that opportunity.
So we continue the journey, and we'll get to work on that here later this week. I'm sure you have a lot of questions. I don't have a lot of answers, other than we know who our opponent is, and we'll continue to put our plan together here over the next couple of hours.
Q. How much does the 2015 game you guys played factor into maybe motivation for these next few weeks?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: You know, I don't think that there's much motivation there. I think we're familiar with a lot of the things that they do, and they are familiar with structurally some of the things that we do. We have two new coordinators, they don't, right. So I think we are a little bit more familiar with what they are doing offensively and defensively.
But other than that, there's no -- the external factors don't really play a big part of Playoff competition. When you have four really good football teams, it's really about execution, because they are good football teams and who executes the best.
The external things, really don't play much into these games.
Q. And how much will you handle this preparation in a similar way to the first week of the year against Michigan, two big teams, for you obviously you get four weeks to prepare. How much will that mirror each other, these two preparations?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: It's different. It's different. The best way I could tell you, it's a little bit like -- so it's not like a Bowl game preparation. This is different. And keep in mind, we've got some guys that have this game opportunity, as well.
So there's two factors here that are different than a Bowl game. One, it's not a one-and-done situation. We expect to win and to continue to play and two, we've got some guys that can play in this game and we don't have to use a redshirt year for. So those two factors are involved.
The other thing is, you know, you're really dealing with a preparation to continue to play, so this is like, the best way I could probably put it is this is like spring ball preparation, preseason camp and in-season wrapped all in one. So it's a little bit of a different preparation.
Q. How do you find the sweet spot between rest, recovery and actual game-planning and so forth and does it vary from year-to-year with your teams?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: So this is a comfortable area for me. I built, you know, kind of who I am as a coach on Playoff competition and being in the Playoffs and understanding how to prepare during Playoff competition.
So I've got a pretty good sense of how we need to prepare. Now we've got exams going on and that has to be taken into consideration, but you're also -- you've got to get them peaking for December 29th and peaking in a sense of tackling and execution and special teams and all of those things that you've got one shot at it.
So you have to have all of those things, you know, humming at a high level against great competition. So that's what I said; there's going to be some days where we're out there just in helmets.
There's some days out there where we're running bench control with every kind of situation that can happen in the game and there will be some times out there running inside-drill where we're grinding, 70-play scrimmage, tackling. So all of that has to be part of the plan, and you have to do it while you've got exams going on and making sure that you're resting and recovering.
So I think I've got a pretty good sense of how to do that. Our guys trust me; that we'll get it done the right way and we'll go to work on that beginning, really, on Saturday.
Q. I would imagine when you invested in Aaron Banks in October, you kind of had one eye toward what you might see in the Playoff. I'm wondering, how has that investment paid off for you, and what is maybe the capacity for the line as a whole to improve during December?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think there's been steady improvement throughout the entire season. We'll have this conversation next year about their continued improvement, because obviously when we talk about Tommy, he's a guy that continues to improve, Hainsey, Liam and Banks.
So you have four guys that are getting better each and every week, so there's improvement there. Sam's the veteran of the group, right, and so I see it each and every week as improvement as a group.
I think we expect to see that through these next few weeks, as well, that they will continue to grow together. So I don't see how that's going to change; I see that that continues to evolve as an offensive line unit that continues to get better.
I think Liam's ankle will be better. He's been limited with a high ankle sprain and he's fought through it. So I think you'll see a healthier left tackle.
Banks continues to get better. Tommy gets more confidence each and every week. I just think it's a group that, you know, is getting better each and every week.
Finalists for the best offensive line in the country -- I mean, look, they are not the group they were last year, but you know, those two kids that played here last year, you know, they are two -- I think two of the top rookie linemen in the league, so hard to replace those two.
Q. What are the early returns with Myron so far, and what do you think you might be able to get out of him in a Playoff?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, he started moving around yesterday. I'll get a better eye on him later this week. I'll be able to answer that question a little bit more in-depth, but the early reports are that he's moving.
I think we'll probably next week get a better sense when we get him in football-related activities to give you a better example of hey, I saw him do this, I saw him do that. He's cleared in the weight room. He's at, I think it was 80 percent on the alter-g, which allows him to do fully, you know, on-the-ground movement exercises.
So I think we're really close. I'll have a better sense next week.
Q. And with Brandon, is there more value to you for him to be your No. 2 quarterback or to explore other roles for him or can you do both and get something out of that?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: You know, I think we've all seen that every team that has a Brandon Wimbush tries to get him in the game. I think Kirby tried to get fields in the game, but God, is it hard. It's hard to disrupt the rhythm and the timing.
Yeah, we're going to keep working on that. We'd like to see Brandon be more involved in the game because we think he can impact it. It's just trying to get him into the flow of the game without disrupting what you're doing.
So as much as I keep answering the question about -- and they are valid questions -- we have to do it seamlessly, so it makes sense, and he's part of it.
We're not going to protect him in the sense that we did during the year. If we can get him in and not disrupt the rhythm of the offense, we're going to play him and not worry about, well, we've got to keep our No. 2 safe.
Q. How proud are you of this team?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, you know, pride is kind of a -- you save that for when your kid gets an A on his first chemistry, right, or you know, he comes home and doesn't miss curfew, right. That's, to me, as a parent, that's pride, right.
This is more of a sense of -- you know, the best way I could explain it is that I'm happy for them, right; that they took -- that they took a process that requires delayed gratification, in a world where everybody wants it right now; and they put aside a lot of those things that require immediate gratification and put it aside and said: I'll wait for that, right. I'll put that aside.
So that's a different feeling. That's a sense of gratitude. That's a sense of accomplishment and a sense of completion for me that we have a group that's special that can do that.
Q. And then in the ESPN show, Coach Dabo said that you should be the Coach of the Year. What does that mean to get respect from a guy like that?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Dabo is good at deflecting all of that. I think Dabo should get it (Laughter).
Look, there's so many candidates. Coach Clark at UAB, there's a program that for two years was not playing football two years ago. So there's a lot of deserving candidates.
I didn't get into this business to get Coach of the Year, you know, so that's great that he said that. I think he's done an incredible job. I think Nick Saban has done an incredible job.
It's like our players, right. If they came in here and said I'm only in it to get the Heisman, we would be like, okay, well, what about team awards. I'm more interested in our guys winning an actual championship.
Q. Was wondering if you had any anxious moments after the games were played yesterday about -- with everybody doing their campaigning to find their spot, and in that regard, and prior to that, had you guys decided, we think we're probably in, here is who we're probably going to play, and have you started doing some scouting on Clemson before?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: So you know, I have a way of handling things in my own mind before. I felt like if we didn't get in, we were going to go the UCF model -- and I had already talked to somebody about a statue, a Brian Kelly statue, right. We would be the national champs; so a statue, and I would get on the "Play Like a Champion" sign, 12-0 and that would be fine with me.
I had already convinced myself that if we didn't get in, that would be fine, too.
Q. Do you think four teams is enough in this? Do you think they should expand it?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, you have this as Power Five, right and that's why Central Florida is excluded in a sense, right.
And so the only rational explanation held through today, right: If Georgia gets in, then it throws this whole Conference Championship thing, you know, out the window; so they kind of held serve there.
But I still think the debate is out there as to whether four is sufficient because it's pretty clear that there were six teams that were clearly there and it has been that case.
So I don't think the conversation is going to go away. And to say that there's not an appetite, I'm not sure that that is 100 percent correct. I think that is a good news story and a good way not to; I think there's going to be continued conversation about it.
Q. If you would, could you share the time, what you have scheduled as far as with the exams coming up, when you'll be able to do things with the players, when they will go home, when you will regather?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: I'll give you a quick rundown on it. We went three days last week, weight training. We ran them seven-on-seven unsupervised; the things that are allowable by NCAA.
This week we'll go four days and then we'll practice on Saturday and Sunday for the first time. So we'll get practice one and two, if you will. We have our Echos Banquet on Friday.
So two weeks, if you will, after the game, will be conditioning, weight training and getting after it. I mean, really getting after it in the weight room with some running, some seven-on-seven and then our first two practices will be next Saturday and Sunday.
So we get into Thursday being the last day of classes. Friday, Saturday, Sunday being reading days; so we have to be selective with our times and then we get into exams.
And when we get into exam the second week, we have to be really intentional with the times. We really only have small, slotted windows, so our practices have to be segmented a little bit different than a traditional practice.
Q. And when the exams are all done, you'll practice a couple times here and send them home?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: We'll leave on the 21st. We'll finish up on the 21st. They will then be reporting to the site on the 24th. They will get a few days with their family, report on the 24th and then we'll play on the 29th. We'll fly all back here together in preparation for the Championship Game.
Q. I know yesterday you spent the afternoon putting your patio furniture away.
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I did. I had snow all over it.
Q. Last night did you spend any time watching Clemson, and what have you seen from them this year, and what do you anticipate as being their strengths?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, you know, certainly their offensive firepower is outstanding. Etienne at the running back position, great depth. We all know about Trevor Lawrence and what he can do at the quarterback position, wide receivers.
Defensively, one of the defendant defensive lines in the country, and a team that wins and knows how to win.
So again, Dabo has done an incredible job with consistency, I think four consecutive ACC Championships.
So a winning football program, great culture, great players. You have to go take it from them. They are not going to give it to you.
Q. You said earlier that you've kind of built your career on trying to be a good playoff football coach. How are the Playoffs different from just a Bowl game in your mind?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, the Bowl game is a whole different mentality. You're thinking about yourself and what Bowl gifts you get, what's the -- this is it for me; maybe I don't play; I don't want to get hurt.
There's a different mindset. This is: We're on a journey here. We're going to continue on the next step. We want to win a National Championship.
So it's just a totally different mindset in getting yourself ready to play that first round or in this instance, the semifinals.
Q. And we've heard this a little today, but will that be your language with the team, not that we have a game, but we've got a game and then another game?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, it is a Playoff bracket. It just happens to be a little further along. We're deep into it.
You know, all of our work was done in November to get us into the final four. Now there's four teams left. They are all great teams. You've got to be really sharp for two weeks.
Q. In December 2012, you guys were celebrated, the miracles campaign, playing for a national title after many down years and Manti getting all the awards, The Home Depot show, and Alabama was kind of smoldering.
This year it seems like you guys are somewhat in the background and everyone is talking about Alabama may be the greatest ever, etc. How is that maybe perhaps helping in the preparation and focus in season compared to 2012?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think the best thing about it is the 2012 Alabama team is not in this Playoff bracket because people forget how physical of a football team that was, offensively and defensively. So that's probably the best news.
The second part of that is that this is a better-prepared football team, coaching the head coach, everybody associated with it, our staff, support staff. Everybody's been through it. And I can prepare our players better for it, as well.
Our football team is much more balanced. We were going into that game on the backs of our defense. We can hold our own on offense in this run, as well, so I just think better prepared all around, and you know, it doesn't change the competition level. There's still great football teams, but let's not forget that 2012 Alabama team was pretty special.
Q. What did you most learn about yourself and the team in the preparation from that 2012 experience and apply it to now?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, you know, in terms of preparation, I thought our preparation was fine. It's just that the moment was really big and so we'll prepare for the Playoffs and the moment and flipping to that competitive mindset, which we've done a much better job over the last year and a half in preparing our guys for that.
I just think we're further along. I'm better at it in terms of being able to help our kids with it and I think just being in that moment hence you prepare your football team for it.
Q. You had mentioned earlier about the potential to play some players, some freshmen, without losing a year of eligibility. Are you investigating that option with some receivers or others who haven't played?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Yes, they have been practicing for us, and there are some things we think we need against the competition that we're playing, and we'll see how that plays out over the next few weeks. But we think there's a couple guys who could help us in a few areas, yes.
Q. Could you be specific?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: I just think if you look at our offense, there's some areas that I think from a speed area that I think could help us out.
Q. You said you're better at preparing your team for the moment over the last 18 months. How so? What things can you point to?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, I just think the whole episode last year of the Miami thing where it was such a big moment, and I thought we were ready for it. You know, the Playoff environment is similar to that, and so I want to make sure that we handle it in a similar fashion.
So we'll take some of the precautions or some of the steps necessary to make sure that when we flip to a game kind of mentality that they are ready for, you know what may happen in that kind of environment.
Q. With Ian Book, how much do you think the month break will help him with the rib injury and helping get him back to where he was in October?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Ian, to me, he's still evolving as a quarterback. He drops his shoulder and he runs through a defender for first down. That's not a guy that's worried about his ribs.
I just think that, you know, in a game situation, he's still evolving as a young quarterback and I think there's going to be a couple of games where he's not at his best each and every week but his B game is pretty good.
We're just going to need his A Game for a couple weeks. I just think the more practice he gets, the more time that he's out there; the more efficient that he is in practice, I think we're going to see the growth continue for him. I don't know that the injury really was a huge factor for him not to be as efficient.
Q. So he wasn't 100 percent, but he wasn't 50 percent; is that kind of what you're saying?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Yes. I don't think it hindered him to the point where he missed the double move to Finke, you know what I mean.
Look, every game's different. Every game presents itself in a different fashion. That was his first rivalry game against, you know, the Trojan helmet and the mystique of the Coliseum, and it may not be big for you because you've been to the Coliseum, many times and when you walk in there that's nothing to you. That's the first time he's been in that stadium. That's the first time he's played in that game. That's different for a 20-year-old.
So he needed to experience that. He has. I think he'll be better for it moving forward.
Q. Just lastly, personnel note, Kevin Austin; is he available?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: He is. He is. Yeah, look, at the end of the day, you guys know, if a guy is not available, his leg's not broken, right. His leg's not broken, but he's got to do all the things, he's got to have all the traits necessary for him to be involved in what we're doing. So you can put two-and-two together.
Q. Earlier today, Sam Mustipher and a couple other guys talked about how it's exciting they make the Playoffs but really it's nothing to celebrate yet. As a coach, just hearing that from your guys, does that make you happy that they are not really celebrating this; that this is just kind of a step, rather than accomplishment in itself?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, 12-0 barely got them into the Playoffs. You know, there's no accomplishment, right. This just got us in, okay. That was just enough to get us in. Now we've got to go accomplish something.
So this is what they wanted. You know, I can put it in front of them but this is what these guys wanted. They want to win a National Championship.
So all they did was punch their ticket into the opportunity in the Playoffs to win a National Championship, so now it's go-time. Now we got in, let's go achieve something. So that's how they see it and that's a great mindset.
Q. Is that kind of an uncommon mindset for a team to have? To make the College Football Playoffs in Notre Dame history, that that feels like an accomplishment, is it rare for a team to not view it that way?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, their why is different. Why did they come to Notre Dame? They didn't come to Notre Dame to not be a national champion. They came here to be a national champion because that's the standard.
Listen, they go 12-0, they don't even get on the "Play Like a Champion" sign. You don't get on that sign. You only get on that sign if you win a National Championship. So there's no significance of it, so they get that. That's their why. Their why is to win a National Championship.
So for them to sit around and pat themselves on the back for being 12-0, that doesn't get them anything. So they get that. That's why they come here. They want to win a National Championship.
Q. On the Clemson side, they also made a quarterback change midseason and went to the true freshman. When you look at Clemson's overall season, do you see similar kind of story arcs between the two, you and them?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Not really. (Laughter). No, I mean, honestly?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: You know, their backup quarterback leaves, right. He transfers. Our kid stays, you know, and helps us win a crucial game against Florida State. And I'm not, you know, saying anything negative about it but it's a different story. Their quarterback goes down against Syracuse, and they have got to bring in a third-stringer to kind of rally the troops to win the football game.
We go to Brandon Wimbush, and here is a kid that's won 11 games. So they are kind of different stories. They still end up being undefeated teams during the regular season, but they get there differently, yeah.
Q. And lastly from me, you were on the recruiting trail a lot this week.
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: All week.
Q. How much excitement did you find amongst parents and recruits, that sort of thing, about the season that you guys just had?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: I didn't wait in line in the coaches offices this week. It was awesome (Laughter). No, I guess if Saban was there, I would probably have to wait for Saban.
But no, certainly Notre Dame has always carried a great amount of respect in recruiting, but you know, it's certainly a lot easier to go around the schools and get that kind of recognition.
Q. Obviously as you mentioned, you and your staff were busy this past week. Have you assumed since this past week Clemson was most likely your opponent coming up?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think we were thinking that if it was chalk and it stayed the way it was going to stay, and the teams that were supposed to win, would win, yes, that it would be Clemson and we were preparing accordingly.
Q. Did your guys have an opportunity to start looking at them this week? Is that a natural thing to do?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, but you know, to the level that none of the coaches really sat down and we haven't game-planned, but here is the one thing: We've seen Clemson a lot this year because of the ACC, their part of our film exchange. So there's one thing that we do know is we've seen a lot of Clemson film from offense and defensive perspective.
Q. And what makes their defensive line as good as it is?
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, their players are really, really good. I don't mean to be --
Q. I guess I'm looking for specifics of those players that you're referring to.
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: Well, they have all the pieces, right, so they have the long, athletic edge player with the physical two-gap inside player.
So they don't have just the one, you know, kind of player that most defensive linemen have, a one-dimensional player. They have them across the board: Long, athletic edge players, inside two-gap players with quickness. Like there's no weakness across the front four. I mean, they have all those guys.
So you can't pick a particular guy and say, we're going to run at him or we're going to run away from him or we're going to slide the protection to him. Well, if we slide it over here and we leave him one-on-one, that's a problem, or we're going to chip this side with the back.
If there's a one-on-one across the board, they are all problems. That's what makes it difficult.
Q. And not having personally looked a whole lot at the season yet, but I know South Carolina had some success through the air. How were they able to do that? Obviously you have to control that defensive front --
HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY: They are young. They are young. They lost some players back there. There are some younger players playing. They are aggressive. You know, always been an aggressive team. You know, we threw it pretty good in the rain in '15.
You've got to protect. If you can protect, you know, you can get the ball out. There's an opportunity, but if you can't, good luck to you, you're going to be on the ground half the day.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports