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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 13, 2010
UTAH – 3
NOTRE DAME - 28
COACH KELLY: Today, obviously, for our football team was a moment that you really can't explain unless you're with us all the time, and that moment is shared between players and coaches. We were able to do that in the locker room after the game.
I bring that up only because as you know, and it's been talked about quite a bit, you know, our seniors were playing in their last game. Through the last three weeks we certainly have had a great deal of adversity that we've had to overcome together as a group. In those times to steal a quote from Coach Parseghian, adversity elicits traits sometimes that we didn't think we ever had.
I think for our guys they saw themselves in a different light. I don't want to get too philosophical other than to say that our seniors really provided great leadership over the past few weeks, and it was evident even in our bye week. That's a time where generally at 4 and 5, seniors check out. They are thinking about graduate school or their next job.
We had a drill that we did on Thursday that told me that our football team had moved to that next phase in its development. And we just played. We were excited about competing, and that's what happened today.
You saw it today was a football team that didn't have on their shoulders the traditions and reputations and all the things that you have to worry about sometimes being a football player at Notre Dame, and they just flat out played.
We'll continue to build on that to play the game. Because it is just a game. And today you saw a team -- and Utah is physically and mentally a tough football team -- and today we were able to beat them at their game.
Physically on the line of scrimmage we were able to run the football in crucial times. We were able to control the line of scrimmage against a team that runs the ball very well, our defensive line in particular played very well against the run. And that's the kind of football that you have to have as a winning program. You have to out-physical your opponent and be mentally tougher, and today. Questions?
Q. Tough as you said it was to describe that moment, would catharsis be a good word for it, relief? What adjectives would you use to describe it?
COACH KELLY: I think our kids were just the consistency of our approach since we got here is starting to obviously move through the entire program. That message that is consistent on a day-to-day basis.
I could feel it. I could feel it last week that finally we were -- I don't know what it was. It's hard for me to describe. We were taking a huge load off our shoulders and going back and just being college students and football players. And not carrying all the burdens of everything that goes along with being a Notre Dame football player and the great tradition and championships.
I could see it coming in practice. We were just playing. We're back to playing the game of football the way it needs to be played. I think that's probably closer to that definition.
Q. That drill on Thursday, what did it entail, if you can give us details?
COACH KELLY: Generally what happens on a Thursday the kids want practice as quick as possible to get to the weekend. They want Friday, Saturday, Sunday off. Thursday was a three on three drill. In that three on three drill you had a quarterback, you had a running back, and you had three offensive players and three defensive players. Skill, big skill and power.
So you had three wide receivers against three DBs with a quarterback and running back, and you've got to get ten yards. It was competition at its best. We had seniors in there. We had guys that were injured that we had to pull out of there that wanted to go.
Harrison Smith and Mike Floyd were banged up and injured, I had to pull them out of the drill twice. That's why they were captains today.
Just that toughness, that physical and mental toughness that you need to be a champion, and that was on display.
Q. I don't know if you gave Tommy any pregame words of encourage, given this was his first career start, if so, what were they? And how much are you and the team looking forward to the experience of playing Army at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx next week?
COACH KELLY: There is a lot of dialogue between me and Tom and all the quarterbacks, obviously there's got to be a lot of dialogue. Just, Tommy is a young man that really understands the game of football. Whether you're in the spread and five wides or you're running tackle pull or power, which we ran probably more times than I think we've run power here in a long time, he can handle the adjustments that are made.
We felt the game plan was such that he could handle what we gave them, so there was a lot of conversation. Certainly, we're looking forward to the match-up against Army. Yankee Stadium, all of those things are great, but it's another opportunity for us to get closer to six wins as well.
Q. You ran a lot of two tights today, and you mentioned about running more power than you have. Why did you go that direction? What got you to be thinking in that direction?
COACH KELLY: Well, we wanted to get the game in the fourth quarter. That was the most important. Our theme this week was get it to the fourth quarter and let's put this nonsense to bed that you can't win games in the fourth quarter, so let's get to the fourth quarter.
So everything in our game plan was you've got to run the football, we've got to shorten the game, we've got to be high percentage in our throws and not put Tommy in too many positions where we could turn the football over. Felt if we didn't turn the ball over and play clean, we're physical on defense, and then win special teams. Obviously, we did with the fumble on the kickoff that was caused by a great hit by Austin Collinsworth, and then obviously the blocked punt. Win special teams.
That was really the game plan coming in.
Q. How do you turn this from just a moment to a building block?
COACH KELLY: Because you missed the point. It's not a moment. It's the culmination of what we've been working on since December. You don't just pull these out of a hat. You don't just wake up one day and say oh, let's rise up today. It's the consistency of approach from a day-to-day basis and how we go to work every day.
We're not a finished product by any means, but we're starting to develop the mental and physical toughness the way that you need to go and approach this game on a day-to-day basis.
I think I said it a couple of times in the press conference last week is that we're moving in the right direction. I know 4-5 is how we're evaluated. 5-5 now, and I get that. But what I see inside the walls is a little bit different, and the direction we're moving will continue to make progress.
Q. Did you know that it was going to be going outside the walls today?
COACH KELLY: Well, I come in expecting to win each week. I thought we had a great chance to win the football game if we didn't turn it over on offense. That's why you didn't see us spreading the field as much and relied more on a run game, play-action, high percentage throws.
Q. The validation that today shows that the approach is clicking in had, you've been around a lot of football teams. Have you ever been around a team that needed a day like today because of this one and because of all the things that you just talked about?
COACH KELLY: Certainly winning obviously helps them feel better about the commitment that they make. Whatever we do, their commitment has been extraordinary. They've done everything we've asked them to do from day one. So clearly a win helps with that psyche. But we probably wouldn't have won today unless we had in our own minds as players and coaches believed that we were on the right path anyway.
So, yes, to your question. But in the other regard, they had arrived. They were on the same page the whole time.
Q. There were two plays, one Michael Floyd's block on the corner for Jonas Graves. And the other was an incomplete pass that Gary Gray had perfect position on and the guy just stopped because he didn't want to get hit. Where did that kind of intimidation come from that you see that brewing over the week?
COACH KELLY: I just can tell you that it's been moving in that direction. I would have to do the same thing that I'm telling you. Guys, it's going to happen. They're going to breakthrough. Just let's stay the course. And that's hard to do today in a society that wants instant information and gratification. It's hard to paint that picture to anybody, and sometimes to 18 to 21-year-olds.
I believed in what we're doing, and obviously a great deal of our kids did too or they wouldn't have played with the kind of physical presence they played with in this football game against a team that has really, I think, of all the teams that I've seen other than maybe Stanford, played with this kind of physical presence. That is a physical football team.
Q. How will you describe the work done by the offensive line today and what would you expect from them in the future?
COACH KELLY: I told them -- we had talked all week about there has to be a time and place where you win the game up front. It can't be finesse football and fast break, and 30, 40 throws. There's got to be time and place. This was a game where it had to be won up front. I think just putting it on their shoulders from that perspective, and committing to it and staying with it.
They knew that they were going to be central to the success today and our defensive line. This game was won up front.
Q. Duval's a guy that's kind of had to wait for a long time to evaluate his day. Talk about what it was like to see him score two touchdowns?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, the formation grouping that we had today put two tight ends on the field. Our two big guys. We were going to get a lot of cover one, a lot of man-to-man, and we told Duval for the last ten days, this is your game. You're going to get matched up. You're 6'4", you've got to help us. You've got to be there for us. And he was there huge.
He got the matchups that we were looking for in one-on-one, and Tommy put the ball where it needed to be. We were expecting a lot of opportunities to Duval in one-on-one coverage, and obviously he got the job done.
Q. TJ, where's he at?
COACH KELLY: He got injured during the week. It was pretty physical the last ten days of practice. He's a tough kid, but he got banged up a little bit. We just didn't think he could go. We wanted to make sure that he's healthy moving forward.
So we knew that coming in, and that's why our game plan -- we were a little bit short on some of our play makers that we've had. So we had to adjust some things even during the week when we found out that it didn't look like he was going to be able to answer the bell.
Q. You say your game plan has been more conservative in that you didn't put the air in the ball as much. When you got in the end zone there were three quick touchdown passes, was it something you saw? Was it the Duval match-up?
COACH KELLY: No, it was just the way they played. They either brought all pressure, zero pressure or played seven match. So it's simply what Utah does as a defense when they get backed up. So you're not going to run the football down there when there are eight or nine guys stacking the box. So we're always going to do what we can do to score points.
Q. The package was obviously a bit different. Is there anything in particular that is in the package with Tommy that wasn't in the package with Dayne?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, two tight ends and we ran power, I think 18 times. I don't think we ran it 18 times, I think we ran it five times the entire year.
Again, we were short some guys that are pretty good play makers. I think you guys all know that. So we had to set a game plan that I wasn't going to put this game on Tommy Rees. I was going to take shots when we had opportunities because he's an accurate thrower of the football.
But it was all going to be predicated on our ability to get this thing into the fourth quarter and have a presence on defense as well. And those things came together with, as you know, key plays in special teams.
Q. You touched on it briefly at the start, but with everything this university has been through the last three weeks, can you talk about what the performance today meant and means to the university?
COACH KELLY: It started with our students on Friday night at the pep rally. They were unbelievable. They were all there. Here's a team that's probably not where they want to be, but our students were there in great support. Heck, we even had fireworks here at Notre Dame, go figure.
It was really, I think for us as a team, we felt really good about that support. Then today was terrific. The crowd was as into it as any game that we've been involved all year. So to have that support that we had today and the students being here and our crowd and our support was -- it was really not unexpected, but it was a pleasant surprise.
Q. You've emphasized traditions since the day you came in here. You've had players learn about former great -- other former great players on the cover of your media guide. You said they played unburdened by the tradition. Are you changing the approach in regard to that?
COACH KELLY: I think that was the tradition we were pointing towards and that was leather helmets running out of the tunnel, toughness, the Fighting Irish, and getting back to that kind of football. And you can do it in many different ways. Doesn't have to be two backs and powers and you can do it in four wides as well.
But you have to do it on both sides of the ball. So I don't think I'd back away from that as much as we're still trying to lay the foundation of how you play this game. You play it hard for four quarters. You get it to the fourth quarter and you close.
My career has been built on closing games out and building the mentality of that football team. That's what we had to make sure we got done.
Q. Can you talk about how big Blanton block was?
COACH KELLY: It's interesting. I just said to Coach Elston, I said, you know what, we've just been on our heels too much in punt. You know, we just seemed to always, you know, concern ourselves with the return game and not wanting to get after it. And we worked really hard this week on getting the punt. That was something we talked about, let's get one.
And Blanton's an exceptional athlete who can bend off the edge as good as anybody can. And we set it up pretty good and it was a huge momentum maker.
Any time you block a punt in the game, I think we've seen enough games, they generally lead to real good things for you down the road. So that was a big play for us, but it was a point of emphasis as well.
Q. And Jonas broke off a long run. Did that kind of light a fire under Cierre? And did you think of going back to Jonas after that?
COACH KELLY: No, Cierre is coming along. He misses some things out there, but he runs hard. Probably wants a couple of plays back. Probably thinking about that throw off the sideline, but he's a tough kid. He's getting better each and every week.
We've changed the pace a little bit with Jonas and it was obviously late in the game. But no, he's our number one back. He's going to get better, he's not there yet, but he's going to be better each week. Thank you.
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