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November 21, 2022

Brian Kelly

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

Weekday Press Conference

BRIAN KELLY: Let's start off with a quick recap of the weekend. As I mentioned, showed great mental toughness in the way that they were accountable for their play, right, and doing their job.

Certainly a game where, you know, not an SEC opponent, but really like the way that they prepared and played the game the right way for four quarters and in less than ideal conditions, not a full crowd, coming off of an incredible environment the week -- well, two weeks prior at Alabama.

All those things usually equal into a change in the way you think. Their consistent application of the process has allowed them to play each game with a faceless opponent and go out and do their job the right away. I was really proud of them. So I just wanted to publicly say that again.

Now moving forward we take on an SEC opponent, which is well known to all LSU fans and Texas A&M. Certainly when we talk about a talented football team, this is as arguably as talented as a football team as we'll see all year. They're young in some areas, but it doesn't take away from the talent that they have on the field.

Jimbo obviously is an outstanding football coach. I've gone against him when he was at Florida State. Certainly this is their game. Last one that they play this year again LSU, their rival, they'll play their absolute best against us, and we'll have to meet and exceed our play.

Certainly outstanding players on both sides of the ball. Devon Achane, the running back, is outstanding. The receiver, one of the best in the country. Again, Stewart is a guy that you have to know where he is at all times.

Defensively, young and talented. Outstanding defensive line. Run to the football. Again, great atmosphere. And one that our football team is certainly looking forward to and has, again, from our perspective handled themselves all year in the right way, and we'll prepare accordingly for an outstanding, talented football team.

But, look, they don't have the wins that they wanted, but all they need is one, and that's to beat LSU. We'll have to prepare very well and perform well on Saturday against this football team. So, with that, we'll open it up to questions.

Q. Coach, just on the offensive line, how are you all working Garrett Dellinger back in, and what's the update on the offensive line going to this game?

BRIAN KELLY: Dellinger got some playing time. I thought he contributed nicely to the rotation playing at the guard position. As you know, we started Martinez at the center position. I thought he did a nice job.

And, again, I think Dellinger's best position is more comfortable at the guard position than he is at the center position, so we'll continue to work him in.

Q. You mentioned coaching against Jimbo. Did it four times when you were at Notre Dame. The hallmark of Jimbo teams, what is it like coaching against him, preparing against him?

BRIAN KELLY: He is talented. He is obviously a great recruiter, and he is talented. He's had talented football teams every year that I've gone against him.

Again, the calling card has always been outstanding offenses, the ability to play aggressive defense and just good football teams. You know, they've always been great games. We look forward to another great matchup again.

Q. Y'all had the chance to win ten games in regular season. It would be the second time it's done here since 2012. Obviously you've done that a few times already. Do you find that there's anything significant for a program just to be able to reach that benchmark?

BRIAN KELLY: No, I don't think they give you any ticker-tape parades or anything, but ten wins is certainly a benchmark when people look back on seasons. You know, I think it does a lot in terms of solidifying your postseason opportunities. I think it puts you in a different category, but I don't think you can go into the season going, hey, we have to get to ten. I think you can go into the season about winning the SEC West.

This is important an football game because we want to continue to get better as a football team as we go into the SEC West Championship Game. So it's important for us because each week for us we're building something within our program.

As I mentioned, the UAB game may not have been as important to other people outside the walls, but inside the walls that was a huge game for us. In terms of, you know, doing our job, the way the job needs to be done when it needed to be done, and that was really important for us. That was a big hurdle for us.

This is another one. It's going on the road against a really talented team that has nothing to lose, and you have to play well because they will play up to you.

I think we just think more in terms of challenges within the program than particular wins at this point.

Q. Just what does the holiday week present as far as challenges to get your team prepared on the road? Just kind of take us through your schedule and how it works for you.

BRIAN KELLY: Well, the think the same challenges on the road are there for you. Thursday we handle a little bit different. We'll practice in the morning, but we'll have Thanksgiving dinner together. We'll bring the coaches' families in. The players will be with us and share Thanksgiving together.

We'll release all of the non-travel players after practice in the morning so they can be with their families. And then really from there it just becomes a normal Friday for us where we'll have meetings at noon and then board the plane around 3:00, 4:00 and get into College Station around 6:00.

Then it just becomes business as usual. Yes, it's just the Thursday really that alters just a little bit.

Q. When you were named the head coach at that podium, I think you were asked about discipline, and you said it was going to be on the players. The team was going to need to discipline themselves. What players, what leaders have you seen that have emerged in that regard and taken ownership of the team?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, as you know, we break our team into squad leaders, and we rotate that throughout the entire football team. I've never been really a believer that there's just three or four captains, and that's it.

I like roving leaders. I like that to come from all forms from freshmen, sophomores, juniors. For example, some of our great leaders have been Mekhi Wingo, who is a transfer from Missouri who is just a sophomore, but we've gotten great leadership from, you know, veteran seniors as well in Mike Jones, who is not even in a starting position right now, but means a lot to our football team.

So I think it's important that everybody serve some kind of leadership role to get through accountability across the board. So that's kind of been for me how you build that accountability and discipline, that personal discipline when you share it throughout the entire football program. And in each class as well.

Q. Now that you have gone through this league for just about a year, you have one more regular season game, anything that maybe was a preconceived notion of yours that has kind of been erased? Just your thoughts on going through this thing the first time.

BRIAN KELLY: No, I think it's lived up to what I had thought. I mean, it's difficult. Each and every week is a challenge.

And you look at the Arkansas game. You know, we played a team that you saw what they did this past weekend to Ole Miss. You have to play well.

And, you know, a lot of people looked at our 13-10 game and said, what's wrong with them? There's nothing wrong with our team. It's each and every week the challenges that you get in this conference, you better be ready to play. There's no week off, and that's exhausting. That's tiring.

That's why I was so proud of the performance of our football team this past weekend against a dangerous UAB team that can run the football and has an outstanding back. That requires effort. That requires grit and toughness to stop a run team like that.

So, no, I don't know that anything has really surprised me as much as I think being in this business as long as I have, I think I got to know the SEC and how difficult it is from week to week, and it's lived up to that.

Q. Just wonder if we could get an update on Josh Williams and if you think he will be back this week. Then Noah Cain's season opportunity last weekend. Just what does his role look like moving forward, I guess?

BRIAN KELLY: I think Noah Cain has helped himself, right? He is not flashy. I don't think he is going to be a guy that makes a ton of people miss, but does he really have to, right?

He plays with low pads. He is physical. He is smart. He catches the ball coming out of the back field. He is reliable in pass protection, and he is tough to bring down. I mean, I just think I mentioned four or five things that are pretty good to have.

He doesn't have maybe some of those, you know, wow factors, but steady and physical. And I think he leads our team in rushing touchdowns in terms of the running back position. So has been extremely effective for us.

Josh is making progress. As we mentioned, he had a knee sprain. We want to be very careful and take our time and bring him back accordingly, but each and every day he has made the kind of progress necessary to hope that he can play this weekend.

Q. You talked about Mekhi Wingo. What points of growth have you seen him and Jaquelin Roy this season? Obviously the defensive tackle position was not very deep after the loss of Maason Smith. Just how have they enabled others to succeed around them?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, Mekhi is the same guy every day. In terms of his work ethic, in terms of what he does in the classroom, he brings a great role model to that room on a day-to-day basis. I think J Roy has really steadied himself in terms of what he has deny on a day-to-day basis on the practice field.

Look, he was banged up a little bit earlier in the season. Had some back issues. I thought there was some inconsistency early on, but he has really steadied himself to give us really good play here down the stretch.

Again, you know, when you are better in November, especially that the position, which as you know is a high-contact position, it says a lot about how he has taken care of himself and doing the right things.

I think both of them are different players, but I think both of them have really down the stretch here been really important for us.

Q. You mentioned Noah's intelligence. We interviewed Greg Brooks after the game, Noah as well. I was really struck by how well they carried themselves throughout the interview, answered the questions that were asked, those kinds of things. How underrated is intelligence in football, and how much has it been a key to this year's success?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, you bring up both those guys. They were guys that we brought in from the transfer portal as well, and I think many people have asked us many times about the transfer portal.

I think it's one of the areas that can really get you in trouble or really can get you out of trouble. And I think it got us out of trouble because we took great character kids that could represent our program in a positive way both on and off the field. I think you bring up the point that both of those guys immediately helped us build the right standards in the program and have obviously been real consistent performers for us. In particular, Noah down the stretch here for us.

I think when you go into the transfer portal, you better know what you are getting. If you don't, then shame on you. I think we knew what we were with getting with those two kids.

Q. Kind of in some ways building off of this and looking ahead. The transfer portal window will up pretty soon after the SEC Championship Game. Especially with y'all playing that game, how do you manage those kinds of conversations with players and just as a staff getting ready for that window to open up?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, those are ongoing. You have to kind of balance them accordingly through the season. We used a lot of the bye week to kind of get ahead of some of that stuff. Some of it is you have to react, but you are hoping to be less reactionary and much more proactive in that.

But I think everybody knows what those dates are, and some of those conversations will have to take place once the window does open up.

Q. I think it's safe to say that you all have been a pretty healthy -- relatively healthy team throughout the year.


Q. To what do you attribute that? This is probably the fewest major injuries that I can remember in a season in a long time.

BRIAN KELLY: You know, so putting together a team that represents that end goal, and that team is our sports medicine team, it's our nutrition, it's our strength and conditioning. It's all of those. It's sports science.

It's that whole team working together on a day-to-day basis. It's educating them and making sure that our players understand that if you want to be better in November, you better have a comprehensive plan that takes 365 days into account. So January and February and March you're not out doing crazy things. What I mean by crazy things, that you are overtraining, but you are training appropriately your football team. So when you get to these days that you don't have soft tissue injuries, that you don't have injuries that keep your kids out of practice.

And I think it's how you practice. Making sure that your players take care of themselves. I can tell you that in our spring we didn't know how to practice, and we learned how to practice the right way, so we would be at this point and have the players available in the month of November and getting stronger as we went along.

Q. There was an intrigue when you took this job about you recruiting in the SEC, and a lot of your first two months on the job was recruiting Harold Perkins, I'm sure, from when he was committed to A&M, I guess. What do you remember about that stretch and kind of getting Harold Perkins to LSU?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, I remember everybody being up in arms when he committed to A&M, and I remember telling everybody to be patient. If we just are patient and keep at it, we'll see what happens.

I think in recruiting a lot of this is, you know, early on here is just keep at it. Be patient. Keep doing it the right way. Keep representing who we are and what our plan is for your development, and you have a chance to get anybody to come here.

And pull our base. Like I said before, make sure we know who the great players are in this state. So I think we've done pretty good in making sure that those things are occurring.

Q. I've had some people ask about Quency Wiggins and how he is progressing and what is he learning and how is he coming along as a local talented kid?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, that's a great question. You know, obviously we've made the decision to redshirt him. He got to his four-game threshold, and we pulled him from obviously dressing. Certainly that was the message I think that was sent to everybody.

He has really flourished in the last month. Kind of the light has gone on. I think what we had early on was a young player that, you know him as well as anybody from being here locally and following him in high school, he had not a lot of high school experience even. Hadn't played a lot of football.

I think coming down with us and me getting a chance to see him every day on scout team, he is learning how to play the game the right way. I'm pretty excited about him moving forward.

Q. Coach, what do you see from Derrick Davis. I know the running back position was a little banged up last week, and what did you see from him just to get some carries later on just during the week to make that move from safety to running back?

BRIAN KELLY: Should have moved him there sooner (smiling). I think what we saw is -- that was his last game. He is at the four-game threshold, and we want to preserve his year because we saw some talent there. So for the Derek Davis fans out there, you won't see him again. He is done for the year.

But, yeah, pretty excited about his future. We want to preserve the years that he has left, and it doesn't make sense now to put him in a game and have that be the fifth game. That's not fair to him. He made a decision to help us out, and we're going to make sure we help him on his end too.

Q. Given that you didn't really need to have to be as aggressive in the portal when you were at Notre Dame, what sort of lessons do you take from this past season when you had to be more aggressive in the portal that you can take into this year?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, it's kind of what I have alluded to. I think any time that you go in and take transfers that have been in other programs, you have to make sure they're not carrying a lot of baggage, and you have to make sure that they understand the standards within your program, what your expectations are clearly, that there's no promises other than the things that you want accomplished within your program. And it's just clearly communicated as to what the things that you are looking for in making this transfer.

As you know, a lot of them were from the state of Louisiana. And so if we can continue down that road where there is a connection to LSU and the state, we want that as well.

Q. This just in. Matt House made the list of semifinalists for the Broyles Award.

BRIAN KELLY: Deservedly so. Deservedly so. Thank you.

Q. Secondly, still learning about you a little bit. Texas A&M player Jalen Preston said something colorful about trying to ruin your team's season when you played a couple of weeks ago. Do you subscribe to bulletin board material? I kind of figured you were more of an inward-focused kind of guy.

BRIAN KELLY: If he was going to be playing for us and he was one of my players, I would right now probably discipline him. But for us it's really about our preparation, and how we prepare is going to make a bigger difference than what anybody says about us.

So I kind of got through that a long time ago that what people say really has little to do on how you play. Look, we know it's a rivalry game. We know it's A&M. Our guys know that. They don't need any more motivation to play this game, so that's a distraction. We'll focus on what will get us to play better, and that's our preparation, and we'll focus on that.

Q. Kind of piggybacking off of what Scott said, usually around here when a defensive coordinator has a lot of success, people try to cherry-pick him. Are you concerned about that at all?

BRIAN KELLY: No. If Matt House gets an opportunity where he thinks he is going to be better for it, I will help him in any way possible. I think that's part of this profession.

He has done an outstanding job. I don't know that Matt House came here to be the defensive coordinator for a year. He is going to have to run through his family and his wife. I think they like it here, but that's up to Matt.

But I would never be in the way of any of our coaches if they have an opportunity to move on to be a head coach, I would fully support them.

Q. You mentioned the great job Jayden did this past weekend. You played him a little bit longer than I was expecting. Just your thoughts on him trying to keep up his, I guess, efficiency and production and just where he is at at this point in the season with two games remaining.

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, so I think more than anything else it's about him continuing to prepare the right way that allows him to play assertive and aggressively, and that I think is where we are with our quarterback.

I felt really good. I know he felt good about his preparation. He will need to do that again this week. I'm not going to give him any excuse as to why he didn't prepare as well or couldn't prepare as well, but that Arkansas week he had the flu. He was sick, and it just wasn't the kind of preparation necessary.

It was great this week, and we're going to have to stay on top of it again because we can clearly see when he prepares well, he plays well.

Q. As best you can tell, why is A&M struggled so much this year?

BRIAN KELLY: It's a young football team. It's a very talented football team, but it's young. So, you know, you can see at times it is really scary and then sometimes there's a loss there of maybe some focus. But if they put it all together, it's not a team you want to be around when they put it all together. It's a very talented football team.

Q. So it seems like in the past couple of weeks a good bit of your players have gotten sick with the flu, but Harold Perkins played his best game. You said Jayden could have prepared better. What do you think how motivated they are to play even though they have to sometimes play through illnesses?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think they all want to play regardless. You know, DeMario Tolan had a 102 temperature on Friday, so we pulled him out of the hotel. His fever broke, and we were able to play him.

Kayshon was sick. He tried to play. We gave him an IV. He couldn't answer the bell.

I mean, everybody is individually different in terms of how they get through it, but they all want to play. They all want to fight through it. Generally we've been very lucky that it's been a quick-moving flu in terms of 24 hours. Once they get through it, they've been able to bounce back and play for us.

Great, thank you.

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