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October 2, 2011

Brian Kelly

Q. I wanted to ask you first off about Ethan Johnson. Do you have any more information on the ankle sprain?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we'll immobilize him for the next few days and then get him moving and see. It's one of those things where it's such an individual case by case situation when it comes to ankles, so he'll be immobilized.
Last night he was in a boot. He'll stay in that until probably midweek, and then we'll start moving him and see what he looks like.

Q. So there's a chance you might have him for Air Force?
COACH KELLY: There's a chance, yes.

Q. In light of that, how did you feel like -- Aaron Lynch got a big dose of playing time last night. How did you feel like he graded out, particularly in his assignments?
COACH KELLY: I just got the grades. I haven't gotten a chance to look at them completely. But you know, for Aaron, obviously a couple things. One, we know about his ability to rush the passer. That's pretty clear. There are some things that we need to continue to work on with him as it relates to gap responsibility and playing the defense. But I'll have a better feel of his technique and how he played against the run, because I think we know against the pass he's outstanding. Once I get that, I'll have a better indication as to his overall performance.

Q. I wanted to back up a little bit on Cierre Wood. It seemed like pretty soon into your time at Notre Dame you thought you had a chance to have something special with him. Before you really even had him in a spring practice or anything, you wanted to move Theo to wide receiver to help open up things. What was it you saw in him that you thought this guy might have something?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think his workouts, the way he was committed in the off-season program. And then obviously in a very short period, we got a chance to see what he could do in spring.
I think all of those things, and knowing that he loves to play the game. He's one of those guys that I want on our football team because he loves competition. I felt with those three things working for him, it was a can't-miss situation. It was just a matter of time, and once he was seasoned enough, I think we're seeing the results.

Q. In terms of wide receivers, I think Michael Floyd didn't get enough touches last week, had lots of touches yesterday, but how about a guy like Riddick really didn't get involved. Where do you feel like he is right now for you?
COACH KELLY: Oh, he's extremely important. You know, it's just week to week when you're in the spread -- they played man-to-man on Theo with a nickel the whole game. I mean, press man with a quarter safety over the top, so it just opens up other things for us. Each one has to understand how important it is.
The only guy that's got to get touches outside the realm of the offense, in other words, that it doesn't come to, is Michael Floyd. Everybody else when they get their chance, they've got to be ready to perform. But the configuration that we saw Purdue employ put Theo in a very difficult position to get a lot of touches.

Q. With the nuances of Air Force's option offense, do you yourself spend a little bit more time with the defense this week, or is this just a normal week for you in terms of how you split your time?
COACH KELLY: No, option offenses require my attention because there's things that we have to do that are not necessarily defensive schemes that we don't have in the playbook sometimes. So I'll be involved with that in terms of decision making, but that's really about it, and those will be meetings. It won't be coaching, it won't be me being on the defensive side of the field more. It'll just be making decisions on how we want to attack the spread attack -- the spread option attack of Air Force.

Q. I think everything seems pretty balanced defense and offense. I'm sure you want more out of your special teams, but is this sort of a case of weather the tide until guys come around? How do you search for answers in almost every department at this point?
COACH KELLY: Well, we didn't kick the ball off very well, as you know. Kicking the ball from where we are, we have to do better than averaging the 15 yard line when we kick the ball. That really puts your kickoff team in a compromising situation. So that starts with Kyle. He's got to kick the ball better. David's 3 for 7 or field goals. He's got to kick the ball better.
The good part is that Ben is coming along. His last, I think, eight or nine punts he's averaging over 40 yards. So those are your three kickers in terms of where we are. We've got to get more out of Kyle; David has got to be more consistent for us. And then the next aspect of it is your specialist in terms of snapping, and of course we have not been consistent at that position, and last night our long snapper broke his hand, so that put us in a situation with a backup in the game.
I'm more concerned with the individual instead of the entire scheme relative to our special teams. I'm more interested in getting Brindza right because he's the best we've got, and getting Ruffer right and getting our long snapper more consistent. Those are the three individuals that have got to play better.

Q. So that was Cowart who broke his hand?

Q. Was that in the fight or was that in other instance when he broke his hand?
COACH KELLY: No, that was in the retaliatory strike that he put on.

Q. Sorry to belabor it, but can he snap for you? Do you have to go in a different direction? How does that work?
COACH KELLY: You know, we've stabilized it. He's going to give it a shot. We'll see how it works out.

Q. A couple weeks ago when you were asked about maintaining an edge for nine or ten more games after that Michigan State game, obviously it's worked for three more weeks. How much more of a challenge is it when you have success and prosperity to kind of convince yourself as a player I've still got to be angry, I've still got to be ticked off and play that way?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it starts with me and what -- I set the tone for the way our team goes to prepare each and every game, and so I'm not happy where we are. 3 and 2 is not what we had in our mindset. It starts with me and our coaches, and they take that lead in the way we go to work every day. I don't see it changing. I'm certainly not going to change.

Q. Back to Eric's question about the option game, is that something you guys spent much time on, whether it be in spring or take a period here or there during training camp?
COACH KELLY: No, we really -- we spent time on option principles but not to the extent that we looked at Jefferson and what he does, and we didn't look at Air Force's scheme, per se, because there's some obvious similarities with Navy, but there's a lot of differences, as well. So we really didn't get into it from that detail other than making sure that our kids understand the option principles.

Q. Our offensive line had no sacks last night. Can you talk about the job they've done keeping Tommy upright?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think you could have asked that same question -- you probably did last year, as well, and they've done a great job of protecting the quarterback, and it's something that we take a lot of pride in. And we spend a lot of time, we really do, in terms of pass protections and getting in the right plays and getting the right things, and that's the running back, too.
Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, both those guys need to get due credit, as well, because they picked up some pressures last night individually that if they don't pick them up, Tommy is going to be on his back. So offensive line has been great, but the back has been really good, as well.

Q. Your offense has been up, it's been kind of middling, but your defense has been incredibly consistent save one quarter for the last ten games. Is there something about playing defense where it's easier to be consistent on that side of the ball than it is offensively?
COACH KELLY: No, I don't think so. I think four of our five games we averaged over 500 yards in offense. We just haven't put the ball in the end zone. I think, you know, consistency occurs as a team. It doesn't come on one side of the ball. I think when you're a good football team, you're consistent on both sides of the ball. I just think that certain games are going to play out differently, and you're looking for that consistency at the line of scrimmage more than anything else. And I think we've been pretty consistent this year in running the football and stopping the run, and I think that's what I look towards more than anything else.

Q. Talk a little bit about Gary Gray. Obviously he had a huge play to kind of get you guys going last night and he's been a guy that's struggled a little bit early in the season. How big was that play last night for the team and his confidence?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think they're all big. Any time you get an opportunity to get an interception, it builds confidence in what you're doing. You know, he's had one bad game in his career here, really, to be quite honest with you. So we feel like he's been a pretty consistent player for us. You know, I think all of our team -- our team has a great deal of confidence in him, as well.

Q. As far as obviously a big game for Michael Floyd last night, what was Purdue doing defensively that you were able to take advantage of?
COACH KELLY: Well, I don't know -- week to week there are different schemes that are employed to try to take Mike Floyd away. They've put Ricardo Adams, 21, shadow him all over the field. Michael Floyd is just a guy that can't be denied, whether you throw the ball 35 yards down the field or you throw it 5, it's just the individual Michael Floyd more than anything else making things happen after he catches the ball.

Q. Considering where the defense was when you took over the team and then considering where you were after the Navy game last year with the defense, has this come together faster maybe, at a faster pace than you expected, or did you feel last year late in the season that the defense was about to break through?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think the Navy game was schematic more than it was kids not understanding how to play the right kind of defense. So if you look at that as not about our players, I think we've showed steady improvement since last year. I think it's continuously been better and better defensive play leading up to where we are right now.
We still have a ways to go, but I will tell you this, that it's tough to run the ball on us, and that's where you want to start. So our starting point was be difficult to run the ball on, and then let's continue to improve in the back end.

Q. That's four straight teams that you've faced with a pretty good interior defensive line tandem. What does that say about the development of your offensive line, and then as it pertains to last night where you guys did a really good job of really getting to the edge and getting around the corner?
COACH KELLY: Well, I still believe our players are stronger, they're more fit, and we play physical. Our backs played as physical as any tandem out there. I mean, you've got to look at the way Gray and Cierre Woods ran the ball up inside as well as the speed they used on the edge. They finished off runs, as well, is what we were most impressed with.
It's just a mentality that we developed when we got here about being the Fighting Irish that we were going to get after you, and it starts up front and it starts in the weight room and it starts when those guys show up for 7:00 a.m. weight training during the year. You start to see it come together on the field.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit about the play of your defensive ends and outside linebackers last night, doing a great job of shutting down Purdue's outside run game?
COACH KELLY: Well, everything gets funneled out to the perimeter, so it's really important that we look at not only the outside backers when we talk about Fleming and Shembo, but Manti and Fox and Calabrese, they're allowed to flow to the football. So it's not just one guy setting the edge as much as our defensive ends do such a great job of keeping people off of those backers. Again, the 3-4 defense allows those backers to run. So it's been really a tandem of the inside and outside backers being allowed to flow to the football.
And then we do a pretty good job of coming out of the back end of our defense, Harrison Smith and Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke, they're extremely effective at fitting to the perimeter in our defensive scheme.

Q. It seems like we never ask you about Manti anymore. Does that speak to his consistency throughout the first five weeks?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he might have had his best game against Purdue. He was very detailed. He's never a guy that we worry about in terms of how he's going to play. But sometimes he tries to do a little too much. I thought this was his most disciplined game in the way he played it. We had one time where he didn't get into a particular area for pass, but he was outstanding against boot, the bootleg series that they employ with Marv. He was really good against Purdue.

Q. Do you look at last night as part of his progression? How do you rate that performance?
COACH KELLY: He's doing some good things. You know, he's getting through his progression much better. He's beginning to now extend plays, which he wasn't doing before. He's getting better in the screen game. Our screen game had been awful, and we have really focused on screens, and it requires the quarterback to change his arm angle, arm slot, make some throws under duress, I call them athletic throws. That progress is being seen week to week with him, and I just think the other areas are developmental. We've got to do a better job of getting the ball to Mike when we're throwing fades. So there's many things that we could talk about, but we're seeing progress in some areas that is pleasing.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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