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September 21, 2013

Brian Kelly

Notre Dame – 17
Michigan State – 13

COACH KELLY:  Let's get to this.  Go ahead.  I know y'all need to get back.

Q.  (No microphone.)
COACH KELLY:  Yeah, it's what we expected.  Excellent football team in Michigan State.  Physical, great defense.  We knew it was going to be this kind of football game.  Somebody was going to have to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter.  We were able to get the touchdown and hold them from scoring one.
That's the way I envisioned the game.  That's the way we called the game.  I was telling my athletic director, I wanted to throw the ball so bad on those last few drives.  But we felt like we wanted to put our defense back on the field and not give Michigan State, because they've been so opportunistic defensively, an opportunity to win the football game on defense.
That's the way we constructed the game, found a way to win.

Q.  How would you explain your team's ability to consistently win close games?
COACH KELLY:  Just tough‑minded group.  We've got that instilled within our kids.  The way we coach them, the way we go to practice, the way we work day in, day out.  That's the way we want them to play the game.
We talk about it.  I mean, we came into this week knowing and respecting the way Coach Dantonio plays the game and his team.  They're tough and physical.  We had to match that.  We knew what we were getting into.
We talk about it and expect it from our team.

Q.  Defensively, did you feel like you got some things cleaned up from the last couple weeks, tackling assignments, that kind of thing?
COACH KELLY:  Yeah.  As you know, we had been alluding to the fact we made some changes.  We think it's starting to come together.  It's hard for it to all be there in the first four weeks when you're playing three Big Ten teams in a row.
You could sense it.  The pass‑rush was better.  We were on body a lot better.  Assignment was much better.  We gave up 30 yards, 45 yards in penalties that we'd like to eradicate.  Definitely you could sense that that defense is starting to come together.

Q.  Talk about your depth on defense, especially Kona's game.  You had two freshmen corners on the field late in the game.
COACH KELLY:  We played a lot of freshmen on both sides of the ball.  We were on the field a lot, as you know.  If you look at the breakdown, I think it was almost 10 minutes there late in the game.  Jarron Jones played quite a bit, too, on the defensive line.
Again, it's kind of how we've put this team together, is that we need to count on the depth, especially in this freshman class.

Q.  Offensively you mentioned you wanted to throw the ball there late, but chose to run down the clock.  About this time or a little bit later last season, your running game started to kick in.  Do you see any signs that it's going there or is this going to be a different type of offense, different type of team?
COACH KELLY:  Well, you can call it what you want.  I'm sure Michigan State has different feelings.  That's all man‑to‑man.  I know it's quarter coverage.  That's how it's talked about.  That's man‑to‑man.  Those safeties are downhill.  Those linebackers are in the box.  Those are nine guys hawking the run game.  It's tough sledding in there.
You have to win throwing the football against Michigan State.  You're not going to win running the football against them.  We missed a lot of opportunities in the first half.  We missed the chances we had early on.  Then the way the game went, you know, we were going to run the football.
They took a lot of time off the clock in the third quarter.  We chose to play against the wind in the third quarter and take the wind in the fourth.  We were just playing that game in the second half.

Q.  The changes you did make to the lineup on defense, talk a little bit about the thinking behind that.
COACH KELLY:  Again, I think if you look at their reps, I don't have it in front of me, they all played a great deal of football.  We're just trying to get the right mix and the right lineup and the right guys in the right place.
But I wouldn't say that we're at that point where we're definitely sold we have the 11 guys in the right place.  We think we're closer.  We still have to do a little bit more work.
Everybody now knows what's expected of them.  I want to be careful what I say here.  What we wanted to do more than anything else is let these kids know what our expectations of them are and how they play that position.
So they're all playing at a higher level because we set some clear expectations.  We saw that today.

Q.  Is Matthias healthy?
COACH KELLY:  He's healthy.

Q.  Offensively, you don't throw or plan to throw to draw pass interference penalties.  Is there an advantage offense there in some ways the way the rules are, where if you throw it up, your guys have a good chance of getting it?
COACH KELLY:  Absolutely, no question.  When you know that the quarterback is going to throw it back shoulder, the defensive back does not know where it is, you have an advantage in that situation.  You're going to get some pass interference calls when you put the ball in a good position.

Q.  How would you assess the play of the secondary, specifically Matthias today?
COACH KELLY:  I couldn't talk about one particular guy as much as I could talk about overall we were much better.  Our assignments were clearly followed through much better as a unit.
We had to make some adjustments on some of their spot routes.  I thought we did a very good job of playing a little bit more trail coverage.  We mixed things up a lot better.  I thought the guys were on body when we needed to be.
I think, more than anything else, assignment correct.  We got our hands on the ball.  That's key for us.

Q.  Then Corey Robinson's play today?
COACH KELLY:  He's a big target.  He tracks the ball so very well.  Look, if you can keep the ball in a position where he can play six‑six, he's very difficult to defend.

Q.  The pass interference, as those started getting called more and more, was that something you tried to keep throwing those deep passes?
COACH KELLY:  No.  We want to complete them.  We were getting pulled and tugged.  We just felt like the only way you're going to complete passes against Michigan State, as I mentioned to you before, it's one‑on‑one, all man‑to‑man.  You can call it whatever you want, it's man‑to‑man coverage.  Safeties are downhill, the backers are playing the run.  On the outside it's a one‑on‑one situation.  They're fighting for the football.

Q.  Sheldon Day dressed today.  Kind of an emergency situation guy?
COACH KELLY:  Yeah, I would consider it.  He could have played today.  He would not have been 100%.  We think we'll get him at 100% next week.

Q.  A lot of penalties.  Neither offense played great.  Talk about how an ugly win is still a win at the end of the day.
COACH KELLY:  I would characterize it a little bit differently.  I think both defenses really carried the day here today.  I think Michigan State has a great defense.  They're very difficult to play against in so many fashions.  I think 31 is probably one of the best corners that we've gone against, and I've seen them all.  They're just a very difficult defense.
I thought we played very well today up front, getting three‑man pressure and four‑man pressure up front.  When you can do that, you can drop a lot of guys in coverage.  I think the defenses had a lot to do with today's ballgame.
If you would have asked me last week about what this kind of game was going to be, it wasn't going to be a beauty contest.  I felt like it was going to be this kind of game.

Q.  Brian, did you feel like the interception on the half back pass maybe was somewhat of a turning point?
COACH KELLY:  Any time you pick off a pass and a drive, it's a definite momentum builder for your football team.  Certainly any time you get a turnover...  That's why it was so important for us to not turn the ball over in the fourth quarter.  I thought Tommy did a good job even when we scored in the fourth quarter, he threw the ball away when he didn't get the look he wanted a couple times in the red zone.
Taking care of the football was an absolute premium.  We did and they did not.

Q.  Stephon coming in and getting that sack...
COACH KELLY:  It was good to see Stephon Tuitt.  He's rounding into the kind of shape we all want him to be in.  We're getting that push.  We're seeing that from Shembo.  We're starting to see those guys really start to round into that kind of presence that we saw last year.  It's getting better.

Q.  Kyle, he missed one field goal.  Talk about the weapon he's turned into.
COACH KELLY:  He got the game ball for us.  He flipped field position for us in the fourth quarter, which to me was as important as anything that happened today, pinning Michigan State back twice in field position that tilted the field in our favor and allowed them on a longer field.
You know, you never want a punt blocked.  First one that we've had since we've been here.  It was just a poor effort situation.  Those don't normally end well when you have a punt blocked.  But he battled through it and came up with two great punts in the fourth quarter for us.

Q.  To see Tommy under 50% completion percentage is a rarity.  Seems like he was pressing in the first half.
COACH KELLY:  He just missed open receivers, yeah.  I mean, we had guys open.  He just didn't hit 'em.  He's not going to shy away from it.  He had guys open and he didn't connect.
This was not a hitch, spot, screen, bubble, high‑percentage game.  This is grip‑it‑and‑rip‑it.  That's the kind of game it was.  You're going to hit big plays.  You're going to score some touchdowns.  So throw the completion percentage out.  You're either going to make some plays or you're not.
We had our chances to make some big plays and we didn't cash in on them when we had our chances.

Q.  Whether you pass or run, how important is it for your system Troy Niklas as a blocker?
COACH KELLY:  That's a good question.  Very, very important.  As you know, he is part of not only our blocking, but he's a great tight end who can catch footballs for us.  He's also part of our protections as well.
Thought we did a very good job today of picking up pressures and stunts, gave Tommy a chance to complete a lot of balls.  Obviously his percentage wasn't where we want it to be, picked up some key third‑down situations when Troy was called in to block.  He's a guy that does a lot of jobs for us.

Q.  In the fourth quarter when the offense found a rhythm running the ball, what will you expect from your offensive line in the future?
COACH KELLY:  Yeah, I mean, it's like I've been saying earlier.  You're just trying to carve out an existence in the run game against a defense like this.  You have to run it well enough to win the game.  We ran it into the red zone to score a touchdown.  We were third‑and‑short a couple of times.  We just couldn't convert.
You got to be efficient enough to win football games.  That's what I'm looking for in our running game, efficient enough to win games.
Thank you.

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