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September 18, 2011

Brian Kelly

THE MODERATOR: We have Coach Kelly and we'll get started with questions.

Q. Brian, curious, you've invested a lot in Tommy. You liked how he managed the game yesterday. I know with young quarterbacks sometimes mistakes are part of what you live with early on. How as a coach do you go about helping him clean those up as you move forward?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think one of them, the one interception, was just staying a little bit more within the game plan. One of those things where a young guy just needs more reps. That to me is not a concern. We'll continue to get better. The other one, he's just got to have a clock in his head on the sack fumble. Other than that, maybe a forced ball to Mike Floyd once in a while.
So overall, all things that I feel like I can work with and that we can work to develop him.

Q. Where do you feel like are the areas where he can get better? What do you want to see? Higher completion percentage? Better footwork?
COACH KELLY: I would say for him, he can't just live in the pocket. We've got to be able to get him on the perimeter a little bit. He's got to be able to extend some plays outside the pocket. Those are the areas that I think he needs more confidence. He's got to make some plays out on the perimeter a little bit more.
He had an opportunity on a key third down where he hit Tyler Eifert and he wasn't able to come up with the ball. Those are the kind of plays he's got to make and gain some more confidence outside the pocket.

Q. A personnel update. What do you expect from Welch and Spond this week in terms of availability? Anything you can update us with Prince's situation?
COACH KELLY: Welch is closer. Again, it's just making sure that those sutures that were just taken out, that he doesn't open that thing back up. I think he's a day-to-day. I think Spond, we'll get him moving this week. I would say he's still doubtful to play this weekend, maybe to an emergency level backup. Prince, things are looking positive. He'll be back on campus later today. He'll be in classes on Monday and at practice.

Q. Aaron Lynch, dynamic game from him yesterday. You're still getting great play from your seniors at that position. How do you work that rotation? What's the right balance with him?
COACH KELLY: I think right now he shows himself very well as a guy that can just get after the quarterback. He's relentless and very, very physical. He doesn't beat you necessarily with speed off the edge; he beats you with power. He's just a relentless player.
Now, as you know, he can only play about a half dozen snaps because he's got to tap out, too. This is a development of him. But as you said, it gives us great depth at that position. They threw the ball over 50 times. We were still able in our four-man rush to get a pass-rush within there.

Q. I know you have so much going on with your team. The 1966 team was on the campus for the weekend. Did you or your team have any brushes with them over the weekend?
COACH KELLY: Yes. I got a chance to shake every one of the '66 players' hands as they came off the stage for our pep rally on Friday as well as our team got a chance to interact with the championship '66 players. Of course, Coach Parseghian was there as well. It was a great way to mix our team with the championship team from '66.

Q. I know you said you liked your team's preparation before the two losses, obviously before the win. Are there things you saw this last week that you would really love to carry over for the next 10?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it starts with our ability to control the line of scrimmage. I think if we can control the line of scrimmage, take care of the football, play better pass coverage, especially at the end of the game, we're probably sitting here with a different record.
I think first and foremost, control the line of scrimmage, stop the run, have an effective running game. If we can carry that over, get better in those other areas that have popped up in the first few weeks, we should have some pretty good success.

Q. We talked about this last week. The guys seemed ornery, angry as what went on. Maybe that fueled them on Saturday. If that helped, can a team stay angry for 10 weeks?
COACH KELLY: They're not going to forget the fact that they've let two games slip away. I'm hoping that the mentality that they carried with them on practice this week is one that stays with them the rest of the season because you're absolutely right, you want that feeling of: We're not going to let this happen again, enough is enough.
Yeah, if there's one thing I'd like to see is for our guys to have that 'enough is enough' mentality the rest of the year. If that's what they do, that's a good place to be.

Q. You're not pushing the buttons on any of this conference realignment circus stuff. From a coach's perspective, you've got a relatively small sample size as a football independent coach versus being in a conference. What have you liked or disliked, advantages or disadvantages, in terms of being a football independent at Notre Dame?
COACH KELLY: Football independence at Notre Dame, I think it's schedule and recruiting. Those are the two things. You can put together a schedule that gets you from the East Coast to the West Coast. Then recruiting, it allows you to have that large sampling. You're not marginalized geographically in your recruiting. On the other side, you're not playing for a conference championship.
There's pluses and minuses. I like the pluses that we have as an independent right now. Like anything else, I think I said this a number of times, we'll keep our ear to the ground.

Q. Brian, the third quarter touchdown pass from Tommy to T.J., I think that was when Michigan State replaced Denard with White. Was that a designed play to go after him or was that something Tommy noticed? With that, how much freedom does Tommy have right now to kind of make changes at the line of scrimmage?
COACH KELLY: Well, on that particular play, our intention was to push the ball vertically. Mike was going to be running a deep route on one side and T.J. on the other. The play was designed to take one-on-one matchups. Wherever they presented themselves, he was instructed to take, in that play, the one-on-one matchup. T.J. had a better matchup because there wasn't any safety help. There was safety help towards Mike.
Those are the little things that Tommy's starting to execute and not forcing a ball into Mike with double coverage. He got the one-on-one with T.J. and threw a great ball.

Q. On the other side of the ball, there were a lot of great defensive performances yesterday maybe overshadowing like Kapron Lewis-Moore. Kapron had a great start to the season. Talk about the consistency you're getting from him.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he plays much more physical. His ability to maintain a high level of play has increased dramatically from last year. He was somebody that struggled with putting together a full series. And now he's able to give us really high-level play for a number of plays.
Yeah, I would agree. I think he's kind of getting lost a little bit. His performance has been really good this year. He's stronger, he's more physical. He's a 300-pound guy. He's harder to move around, especially in the run game.

Q. Brian, how concerned are you're playing a desperate team after they blew a game yesterday? Do you have to be more cautious?
COACH KELLY: No, I don't think so. Again, they're a football team, first year with Coach Graham. They're still learning. They're still learning about the coaching staff. I know where they are relative to that development.
We'll be more concerned with what we do and how we do it than losing a tough game. We lost a couple of tough games, too. The first thing he'll probably do is talk about, Put that behind you because you got Notre Dame coming into town. If you let that linger, you'll get beat by Notre Dame.
I'm pretty sure that what happened last week won't have much effect on what happens this week.

Q. Going back to conference expansion for a minute. As a coach mid-season, how much does your schedule actually allow you to pay attention to these things? How much do you monitor the landscape, so to speak?
COACH KELLY: I know personally as the head coach, you're always listening to what's going on out there. How it affected our day-to-day operation is none. It doesn't affect what we do. Nothing is going to be decided during this season.
But we're listening to it. I know our athletic director, obviously this is a big time in college football, and he's actively involved in it. I hear about it, but I'm focused on my team.

Q. Do you feel all this chatter mid-season takes away from the games playing on Saturday? The biggest news yesterday was Syracuse and Pitt.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think so. I think any time there's movement like this, it takes a little bit away from the games on Saturday. I think for the average fan, they care very little about this. They're more interested in their teams. They know the networks are more interested in showing these games.
I think it's just good talk for the media. But I think the people that are involved week-to-week, their focus is on the game and their opponent.

Q. Where are you at in terms of punt returners? What direction might you go? Do you even know yet?
COACH KELLY: Again, obviously we're disappointed that we put the ball on the ground again in punt returns. We'll have to talk about that later today when we have our meetings on special teams personnel.
We feel like John has great hands. He obviously turned the ball over late. We'll have to evaluate it. It's not certainly where we want to be. It's not like we have a number of guys we can go to either.
We felt like Theo and Goody were our two best. We may have to look at other players at this point. I really haven't decided that.

Q. You looked at the film. Who really stood out in terms of run defense yesterday?
COACH KELLY: Well, we got really good play at the nose. I think when you talk about Nix and getting Cwynar back, that position was really strong for us on Saturday. I think we always talk about it, but both of our defensive ends were able to take on some big tackles at Michigan State. Ethan and Kap played very well against the run. Troy Niklas who came in as a true freshman kept the ball inside of them.
It was really those three guys in the front, the nose and two defensive ends, were outstanding.

Q. Brian, I don't think I've ever seen a coach spend as much time with officials after a post-touchdown celebration. What the refs tell you after that flag on T.J. for holding his gloves up? What were you trying to tell them?
COACH KELLY: Well, we're going to have to get further clarification. I was told specifically that that was not a penalty. So now we're going to have to open up a line of communication to find out where that miscommunication lies.
T.J. simply put his hands together on the back of his gloves as the Fighting Irishmen. He was just showing it to the crowd. He didn't jump into the crowd, he didn't high five, he simply put his hands up.
We have to get a dialogue with both the Big Ten and the Big East and find out where the miscommunication is.

Q. Personal injury question. With Lo Wood in sweats at the end of the game, an update on his status?
COACH KELLY: An MRI was done this morning. We have some preliminary results. There's no ligament damage. He's had a bit of a quad issue in terms of not being able to get full strength in the quad. It hasn't affected him too much.
We think we might have triggered something in that quad area because he had a hard time getting full flexion there.
We're optimistic that it's not a major injury. We're optimistic he'd be able to play this weekend. But I won't know for certain until we get the MRI back this afternoon.

Q. You went to dime with Collinsworth a little bit for the first time this season. Could you evaluate what that gave you.
COACH KELLY: Well, it allowed us to have three deep over the ball. As you saw, we were able to break on the ball extremely effectively. When the ball was in the air, we had three pass breakups in the fourth quarter. It obviously puts you in the three-down rush. There's pluses and minuses there, as you know. We were able to cover both corners up so they can be aggressive underneath, sync, then play the ball while it's in the air. I think it's got a chance to be a really good down coverage for us.

Q. Daniel Smith hasn't suited up for the past two games. Is he healthy?
COACH KELLY: No. He's fighting a leg injury right now. He was not at a hundred percent, so we did not dress him. We'll get him back out there this week and see how he goes. But he has not been able to give us a hundred percent running out. We've shut him down until we get that.

Q. Is that the same hamstring problem that bothered him earlier?
COACH KELLY: No, it's more of a leg injury.

Q. Goodman in pre-season talked about how he needed to work on his hands; that was a weakness for him. He seems to be a sure-handed guy on the punts. Is it a different skill catching punts that he has a knack for?
COACH KELLY: I don't know. I think when we evaluated our punt returners, he was as shorthanded as anybody we had. He was last year, too. Hopefully it's just one of those things where we had a turnover at a tough time in the game and that's it.
But, like I said earlier, we'll continue to evaluate him because he was the best guy we had at the time.

Q. Brian, is Robby Toma a consideration, an option, at punt returner?
COACH KELLY: Yes, he's in the mix, no question.

Q. You mentioned Aaron Lynch tapping out after six plays. That's a stamina issue I assume. Would you expect his stamina to be a little bit better at this stage?
COACH KELLY: No. I wasn't questioning his stamina as much as when you go in there as a nickel pass-rusher, you're expending so much energy in rushing the quarterback that you really do have to tap out in those situations.
So, you know, he can't be on the field long periods of time when we're using him as a guy to get after the quarterback in specific.
So in this game, the way we were utilizing him, yeah, getting us six really quality plays is great because that means Ethan and Kap and Tuitt are getting the rest, as well.

Q. Any other injuries as a result of yesterday's game?
COACH KELLY: No. We came out of it pretty good. It was just Lo really. We're optimistic on his situation. Just bumps and bruises, but nothing to be concerned with.

Q. Ben Turk has been pretty productive the last couple games. David Ruffer came from the student body. Would you ever consider anything like that if it came down to it, trying somebody out from the student body?
COACH KELLY: Heck, yeah. I mean, I would take anybody that had shown the ability to do that, punting the football or kicking. I'm always open to those possibilities. If you know somebody, you can reach me at 1.574...

Q. I have one more year of eligibility (laughter).
COACH KELLY: I'm not looking for a shortstop or third baseman (laughter).

Q. Have you ever done that before in your previous coaching experiences?
COACH KELLY: I have, yes. I've had a couple of walk-on opportunities. When I was at Grand Valley we had a huge walk-on and did, indeed, find a punter.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone. We'll see everyone Tuesday.

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