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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 11, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We have Coach Kelly here and we'll get started with questions.
Q. Brian, I know you said last night you aren't surprised much anymore about anything. I'm just wondering, I don't think you could have drawn up a thousand yards of offense in two games plus 10 turnovers, 17 penalties. Is that as different a team as you've had sort of on the field than what you expected it to be coming out of pre-season?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think when we came out of pre-season camp, we felt like we had the chance to be a good team. So when you put that modifier in front, 'chance to be a good team,' I can see those things in practice, I can see those things in the development of our players, but that chance to be a good team is everything that you just mentioned: it's those turnovers, it's the little detail things. And until we can clean up those detail things, we can't be a good team.
I still believe in this team. I still believe we're going to be a good football team. But the chance to be a good team is all the things that we're doing right now. We're not giving ourselves a chance to be a good team.
Q. You talked about little things. After week one you talked about learning not to lose before you can win. You talked about the mistakes last night, too. I wonder if you're able to flush out the losing habits at Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and if it's lingering longer than it has for you?
COACH KELLY: Well, there's so many different dynamics. You know, Tommy Rees is in his fifth start and the ball comes out of his hands when he makes a great check versus pressure to go to a one-on-one throw. It's all those little things that seem to show themselves in games.
I guess my answer to that question is, into two games, obviously we don't expect those kinds of mistakes to occur.
They know how to win. They've got to obviously stop making those little mistakes, and we've got to give them a game plan each and every week that puts them in a good position.
Q. Can you give us an update on injuries.
COACH KELLY: Ragone will get an MRI today on his knee. We'll have more information on that sometime tomorrow. Danny Spond has a hamstring. Not sure, we'll MRI that today, as well, and we'll have a little bit more information. As you know, we got shorthanded with the tight end position with Alex Welch being out, as well. We're hopeful to get him. And Jake Golic, we were down three tight ends at one time going into the third quarter there. Hopefully we'll get a couple of those guys back.
Q. Brian, I wondered if you could kind of assess where you feel you are with the punt returns and the punting right now.
COACH KELLY: Well, obviously there's inconsistency in both. Starting with Ben, he's got to get us out of a jam. He doesn't have to kick them 50 yards, but we can't have short fields in the punt game. So he just simply has to be more consistent. He hasn't been consistent this year.
(Indiscernible) fields the ball very well. A couple scenarios occurred out there that show a little bit of inexperience in fielding the ball. He's just got to get north and south.
We had a safe punt, and that generally means in most circumstances when you're in a safe punt that you're fair catching the ball because we don't have a punt return team on the field. We leave our defense on the field.
Having said that, there was so much separation, he's got to use some judgment and field that ball and get us some more yardage.
You know, obviously when you have to put another guy in there in game two, a little bit of inexperience. But I think he's going to get better and better. We've got to get Turk to be more consistent.
Q. You're going to stick with Turk?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he's our best guy.
Q. I'm curious, how do you build mental toughness with a team? How have you gotten teams in the past over it?
COACH KELLY: There are so many things, I couldn't in one phone call get through all of the things that have to occur on a day-to-day basis. But we're shaping our team every single day. Again, there are so many details to that. All you guys care about - and I understand that, and our fans - that it equals wins, and we're not doing that for them. I understand the frustration.
But we're building it the right way. We'll get them there. We're not there yet. I know this journey all too well. I've been on it before. It's frustrating. It's disappointing. It's all those things.
We'll break through. There's too many good things happening out there for us not to break through.
Q. In terms of Tommy's own turnovers, can you kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel with him or is it still a little perplexing, given how poised he is in the other parts of his game?
COACH KELLY: No, I think the last drive shows his ability to lead the football team. The ball comes out of his hands on a great run check to a pass check. We have a one-on-one matchup in a short-yardage scenario. How do you go over those kinds of scenarios? I just don't know. It just comes out of his hands.
That wasn't a lack of poise or execution. It's one of those things that you feel like the sky's falling when things like that happen.
He made one poor decision on the first-down situation where he threw an interception into cover-three. The other one was a mistake by one of the receivers, his first interception.
If you look at what Tommy did out there, almost throwing for 70% completion, getting us into a lot of good run checks, playing against a team that shows all kinds of different pressure packages, that's a very good situation at the end of the day.
Q. The short-yardage situations with the runs, what did you see there when you looked over it on film?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think we had four third down and one to three. We ran it all four times. Each one of those has a component to either check out of and throw the ball or throw component in it. Again, we had some scenarios there that maybe the ball should have come out in a run check to pass. But we'll work on those things in recognition. We had loaded boxes in all those scenarios. That's tough yardage to gain.
I think obviously there's a couple of scenarios where you'd want to go and just pitch the ball out to Michael Floyd in those man-to-man situations when there's eight, nine guys on the line of scrimmage.
Q. I'm not suggesting you do this, but does it ever cross your mind as a coach when you get off to a tough start, I don't think you've had very many of them, where you say, Wow, I'm going to play some of the younger guys? How does that affect team dynamics?
COACH KELLY: It depends who those young guys are. If we feel like they've got the opportunity to help us win, we would definitely play them. We're not left with a ton of options at certain critical positions. Yeah, if I felt like I had three or four young players that have a chance to be dynamic at certain positions and could help our football team, I would definitely play them.
Q. Coach, your team had just about the best first quarter to hope for, but the second half you started making mistakes that seemed oddly familiar from South Florida. Can you pinpoint what's causing the mistakes? How do you get your team to play like they did in the first quarter last night?
COACH KELLY: You know, the game of football, there's another team on the other side, too. They're well-coached. They brought some pressure situations. I thought what's been already talked about, there were some third-down conversions that we left out there, there were some turnovers. One of them was very, very costly because it was in a short field.
Again, if there's anything to look at on the offensive side of the ball, we had over 500 yards and had an opportunity really to put, what, 38, 41 points on the board. Take care of the football.
Q. In terms of the secondary, moving forward do you see any changes in how you play things? There were some blown coverages last night.
COACH KELLY: So you knew what the coverages were?
Q. Well, it certainly looked like it from up top.
COACH KELLY: Okay.
Again, we go to the fourth quarter, they've got about 150 yards in total offense. They made some big plays. One of them was an amazing play by Denard Robinson. We had him wrapped up, ready to pull him down, he makes a great throw in man coverage.
Yeah, I mean, you want to be better in coverage, there's no question. But the guys that we've got out there, I promise you there's not three All Americans that we have on the bench.
Q. Brian, you mentioned you've been on this journey before. Is there something inherent about Notre Dame that makes that journey harder than the journeys you had to make at Central and Cincinnati?
COACH KELLY: I think every school, every place that I've been, has challenges. Not one school is the same. I had challenges in all the schools I've been at in terms of getting the team over. There were those inherent challenges. And there's inherent challenges here. But we'll get through those, as well.
Again, the product that we're putting out on the field, I understand we've got to win. Our players want to win. We've got the chance to be a good team. We can't be a good team until we take care of the little things that are cropping up. I mean, it's pretty clear that until we get those things taken care of on Saturdays, we'll be a mediocre football team.
Q. The players talked a little bit last night about how they feel like they're close to being a good team. Do you feel that way? Do you feel this team is close because you're one play away or you're far because there are so many mistakes that need to get cleaned up?
COACH KELLY: We've made so many mistakes against two pretty tough teams coming out. Again, as you see the schedule, Ohio State is playing Toledo. I mean, teams are playing easy games early on in the schedule. We don't get that luxury. We have to go play in front of 115,000. Those mistakes are more glaring against opponents that are physically pretty good, as well.
I believe that we're going to be a good football team. We won't be until we clean up the little things that keep popping up on Saturdays.
Q. With Gary Gray, is he hurt in any way?
COACH KELLY: No, we wouldn't put Gary out there if we didn't feel like he was physically able to compete.
I think all players at some time are going to have a bang or a bruise or one of those things. Gary was healthy to play. We would not put a player out in a position if he wasn't capable of competing for us.
Q. You were fairly adamant last week that you wanted to keep Theo on punt return. What prompted you to go to Goodman there? And can you also talk about Theo having a productive game after how rough the opener was for him.
COACH KELLY: Well, we thought both was a little bit too much for him. So ultimately the decision was made that we would have him focus on the offensive side of the ball and not have to do both. Obviously, from an offensive standpoint, it proved to be the right decision. He didn't drop a ball. He caught everything that was near him. We still have to work on his decision making on kickoff return.
But really it was more of a conversation that I had with him during the week that I felt it would be best for him to focus just on offense and cleaning that up first.
Q. Coach, it's almost strange to ask you to evaluate your offensive line when you don't allow a sack and have almost 200 yards rushing. How do you feel they handled that pressure you spoke of? How much is on them in those third-and-short situations?
COACH KELLY: You know, each one is a different situation. The first one we converted. I thought our second one we did not block it correctly. We had two mistakes in the front. The third one, we had a pass built into it, and they hit the play. Give them credit on the third one. On the fourth one, in that scenario, we got to check out of the play and we got to throw the football because they had nine guys on the line of scrimmage.
All in all if the numbers are fair, I can evaluate our offensive line and say we did a pretty good job. When the numbers aren't fair, we've got to do a better job of giving our quarterbacks the options as to what he does with it.
Again, with Tommy you're limited. You're not out there going to do a lot of things with the quarterback running the ball. So we've just got to continue. Now that Tommy is in there, in those situations, we've got to continue to develop our third-and-short package with him.
Q. Yesterday was so out of character for Gary. Is it difficult to work in a third corner where there's obviously, in terms of playing time, a major separation between your top two and your next corner? You mentioned so many good teams on the schedule, how do you work a guy like Lo into the mix?
COACH KELLY: I mean, you just got to make the decision really. Looking at Gary right now, he's a senior. If you're pulling him off the field, you're pretty much making a decision that we're going with a younger guy.
We're not at that point with Gary. We're two games into the season. He's got a lot of pride and he's a guy that has shown that he can bounce back from a tough day. The cornerback position is such that you're put out on an island. Sometimes it doesn't go your way. But I'm very confident Gary is going to bounce back next week.
Q. Coach, now that you've looked at the film, could you go over what happened there in the last 30 seconds, the 60-yard pass reception, how many breakdowns were there?
COACH KELLY: They ran a double-post wheel. We squeezed hard on the curl. The wheel out-flanked our defense. There's a couple of key coaching points on how you play that route. It's a very common route. It's not like it's something we haven't seen before. So we'll address that with those guys that were responsible for it.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone. We'll see you Tuesday.
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