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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 17, 2011
MICHIGAN STATE – 13
NOTRE DAME - 31
COACH KELLY: Much needed victory for our kids today. We obviously felt like coming into this ball game we hadn't lacked any confidence in our ability to win football games. We just had to find a way to win.
And that was the theme this week. By any means, just find a way to win the football game. You're a good enough football team to beat any team you play. We needed big plays at times of the game. Obviously last week, you know, a lot of the talk was the secondary.
I think they played outstanding down the stretch. Came up with a big interception. And it's nice when you're coaching a team and they're able to bounce back from adversity as a team, as a unit. Then as an individual Gary Gray played one of his best games at Notre Dame since I've been here.
So as a coach to see guys bounce back from adversity as a unit, as a team, and pick each other up. Because we needed everybody. We played six true freshmen out there. George Atkinson, a true freshman, had a big kickoff return for us. And Aaron Lynch was outstanding. Troy Nicholas started in place of Prince Shembo at the drop position. Stephon Tuitt. I can go on and on.
So it was everybody. It was seniors. It was juniors. It was sophomores. Everybody pitched in and we found a way to win. That will open up to questions.
Q. When did you decide to put Atkinson in on the kickoff returns? And is he there to stay?
COACH KELLY: Well, he certainly is somebody that we had looked at all year. It's a matter of maturation and getting that sense and feel for when is the right time for him to go in the ball game. And we felt like based upon some of the things that happened on kickoff return against Michigan, this would be the right opportunity for him.
Q. The frustration you had last year against this team and against this school even before you came here, was that addressed at all this week? Was that a factor in any of this and the way you played?
COACH KELLY: It really wasn't. I think our players were actually asked about it during the press conference today. And it's really for us the history has really no relevance in terms of how we prepare.
We have a great deal of respect for Michigan State and Coach Dantonio. But it was really about us and what we needed to do to be better. And we couldn't relive what had happened in the past, because we needed to do something right now.
Q. Can you take us through your viewpoint of the fake field goal attempt before halftime, what you saw?
COACH KELLY: It just looked like a shovel play up inside. We had some time to talk about it and just remind our guys to be gap-conscious and do their jobs.
And we just did our job on that. And obviously able to come up with a big play.
Q. Is there any more that you can tell us about Prince Shembo's situation?
COACH KELLY: I think other than what's already been established is that he had a family emergency and he's attending to that matter.
Q. How did you feel like Filer and Nicholas stood in in that spot?
COACH KELLY: Next man in. They went in there, true freshmen playing at the drop position. We've had about six weeks' work there. Did a very good job. He's a very confident kid, too. So there was no question that he was going to go in and play.
And we needed Steve. And Steve came through for us as well. Hadn't played a lot of drop for us. Had focused primarily on four-down pass rush. So guys just pitching in. Everybody finding a way to help us win.
Q. Your push up front, you talked about Lynch, could you talk more about him and just the general push you got from the front?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, obviously there were a number of times when they were forced to throw the football. We were able to pin our ears back and Aaron is, you know, outstanding pass rusher. I think he showed that today.
If he didn't get to the quarterback, he got held. Stephon Tuitt did a great job for us. We moved a lot of guys in there, kept them fresh and kept the pressure on them.
Q. How would you characterize Tommy Rees's play today, especially after two early turnovers?
COACH KELLY: I thought he managed the game well. Obviously the turnovers, one, he's got to have a clock in his head, get rid of the football. There was a game on the backside. He was waiting for something to come open.
He needs to make a decision there. The interception was one of those things through game plan and game film study he knew he made a mistake. They had an alert player that drops down off their fire zone. He knew right when he did it.
So this is still about repetition. This is still about learning. Experience but what I liked about him he managed the game for us. He went in there knowing that we had to find a way to control the line of scrimmage to the point where we could run the football and set up some passes later that gave us big play touchdowns.
Q. What inspired you to go to a full contact practice on Wednesday? Did you think it had any impact? Have you done that before? I know you haven't here at Notre Dame done that before in your career?
COACH KELLY: I just think it was a mentality that we wanted to continue to establish that we're not letting up, that losing is unacceptable. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We can't feel like, well, we didn't get this break and we outplayed our opponent but we didn't win. I didn't want any of that.
I wanted our guys to be focussed on getting better. And we needed to get better in some certain situations and so being able to tackle in a very short period of time. I don't want to make it sound like we tackled for 45 minutes. We did not. But we had a live, spirited practice and I think it was good for our guys at that time and place of the season.
Q. Have you done that before?
COACH KELLY: Yes, in certain situations we've felt like -- and, again, you have to take the pulse of your team. You gotta have health involved. If we were banged up and down to a lot of guys out, we probably wouldn't have done it.
But the timing was right for us to do it in that instance.
Q. Blanton had a pretty good day even beyond the interception, could you talk about what he brought out there today?
COACH KELLY: He's extremely active. He's got great instincts. The ball is in the air, he's going to get it. I feel confident no matter who goes against him that when the ball is in the air he's going to make a great play on the ball. And sometimes you try to coach that as much as you can.
But some guys are just good at it. And he's really good. And he's a spirited guy. He's really, you talk about guys that lead by example, he also leads, he's probably one of our more emotional leaders back there. So when you need a big play, he seems to be around the ball quite a bit.
Q. I saw before you guys left the field to go off after the game you kind of grabbed him and talked to him. What did you tell him then?
COACH KELLY: I just said that from my perspective you know he's the kind of guy that can make things happen. He's got to continue to do that. Make things happen, positively. Don't sit back and wait. And we had a conversation that I didn't want our DBs, in particular, Gary and him, to sit back and be apprehensive based on last week. I said be aggressive. He said: Coach, I was maybe too aggressive on that play. I said: Make sure you don't tell anybody that. You were correct in all of your alignments and assignments.
Q. We all know about Michael, but T.J. had three catches, Tyler two catches. Are you sensing Tommy is developing chemistry with either of those guys?
COACH KELLY: I think that's true. And we talked about this with our local guys the other day, is that I think it's really a good thing when you can develop that rapport with the other players. And all of them are younger players as well.
So Tommy's developing that rapport with all of them. We know about Michael. Michael, it was hard to get the ball to him today. And we worked hard at it. But when we got some one-on-one matchups Tommy was able to find the guys that needed to get the ball.
Q. You helped them, the team that really likes to run the ball and run it well, 29 yards, forcing them to throw it 54 times, what was the key to that? Was that your game plan force them out of what they like to do and what would you attribute the success to?
COACH KELLY: Well, again, I think all the basic tenets of good football starts with stopping the run. And we've done a really good job of that.
The question was when we force you to throw, how are we going to play on the back end, and I thought we played very well. Mixed the coverages up well. Played some new nickel coverages and got really good pressure.
I think when you press a team that's so conscious of running a football to throwing it 54 times, those are numbers that generally resonate into good things happening, playing against a Michigan State team.
Q. Does that speak to your confidence in your secondary, that you felt like forcing them to throw was the way to beat them?
COACH KELLY: No, what it really was we got up on them. We got some separation which forced that. But we knew that we had to play better in late games in our nickel and dime defenses in the back end. And we're going to continue to be challenged in that respect, because I think we're going to do a good job against the run.
Q. You guys turn it over again a few times today. Obviously they didn't hurt you quite as bad as they did the first two games. Do you feel like you're at the point where you take the bad with the good as long as there's enough good to win some games at this point?
COACH KELLY: I don't. No. We've got to hold onto a punt late in the game. We can't do that. And Tommy's developing, and I'm not happy with interceptions but he knows what's happening and he's going to continue to get better.
Q. Going off that, there were imperfections in the game, do you feel like your guys dealt with the imperfections maybe better than they did the first week at all?
COACH KELLY: That's what I said to our team. We found a way to win, when you're 0-2 and you feel like things could be just going against us, we got bad luck. And they didn't feel that way. If they did, you maybe have a different outcome in that football game. But I think we stressed all week about you gotta make your own luck, and we did. We turned the ball over and then we made a play with the big interception.
And so I think in answer to your question, our guys hadn't lacked confidence. They just need to finish. I said at halftime, I think I said finish, finish, finish more times than I've said anything else to a team. And that's all we said. Finish the game, find a way to win.
Q. Tyler Eifert appears to be really valuable on third down. It seems like most of his catches come in that situation. Is that happenstance, or is there a reason behind that?
COACH KELLY: No, he's hard to match up, because obviously you've got to pay attention to Theo Riddick and pay attention to Mike. And T.J. will beat you if you let him.
I think he showed that today. Tyler can get matched up inside/out, when he gets matched up inside/out. When he's matched inside/out, he's usually matched up on a linebacker. And he's the guy that's going to win a lot of those matchups. So very valuable player for us in that respect.
Now, we try to force one to him. Tommy's interception was trying to force it to Tyler in the third down situation. We had a conversation about it and he found him when he needed to.
Q. Brian, can you talk about the schematics? Coach Dantonio said it was an ambush run two-for-one and that sprung George. And what was the setup for that?
COACH KELLY: Well, there are schematics that we thought we'd employ this week that were different from what we've done in the past and we felt like we had an opportunity to create a small, very small seam. And it was going to be -- we talked about it during the week at practice. It was going to open and close, going to have one shot at it. And you gotta beat it with speed.
That's what prompted us to go with George, because we felt if we could get him a sliver he was going to be able to make a big play. And certainly that's what occurred. So the schematics of it were such that the other two times we couldn't catch that theme and he went down pretty easily. We've got some work to do.
Q. Big picture with this team, sounds like this week the focus, attention to detail was where you want it to be. On these guys were they kind of desperate for a pay-off? How much longer do you think these guys could have gone before, without being rewarded for that focus, that attention to detail may have taken a hit?
COACH KELLY: I didn't care about them. It's me. I couldn't take it any longer. I had to listen to you guys another week. I wasn't going to show up.
You know what, I think it's like anything else. I know one thing is that they weren't lacking confidence, but sooner or later you gotta get paid. You gotta be validated in what you do. And so it was a big win for us.
Q. Your sudden change defense, I think after three turnovers I think you only gave up three points after the turnovers. Do you try to impress upon the defense you've got to step forward and pick up the offense when they're struggling to turn the football over?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it's all part of the day-to-day conversations that occur. In preseason camp we create those sudden change opportunities. We talk about it.
So I think you have to address those things. We do. And, again, I think our defensive mentality is such that they feel like they can play with anybody. They wanted to get validated in the back end of the defense. And again I'm not saying we've arrived. But they're prepared for those sudden change opportunities.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports