Sept. 20, 2011
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon. For us, it was an enjoyable victory. You could tell by everybody's demeanor yesterday at our walkthrough. So we enjoyed the victory. As we have talked about many times before, we have a 24 hour rule, win or lose, so we've put that behind us.
Got a chance to correct some of the mistakes from this past weekend, and now we're moving forward to Pittsburgh, an opponent that obviously for us has been great competition. Been some great games.
But now you've got a new coach there. Coach Graham comes in obviously from Tulsa. He knows us quite well from last year. We're familiar with his system. Now he essentially put in his philosophy and his system of offense and defense at Pittsburgh. When you're watching film, you're seeing a lot of similarities to his Tulsa club.
We've done a lot of film study on their games this year, but we've also looked at last year as well in terms of how the games played out, and also the thing things that we need to do better than last year.
So looking at Pittsburgh, obviously the first guy that stands out is Ray Graham. Outstanding running back, multi-dimensional in that he can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, he can lineup as a wide receiver.
You know, obviously from our standpoint, we look at the quarterback Tino Sunseri is somebody that has great escapability. He's throwing at a much higher percentage. You can see each game he's played in this offense he's got more and more confident in what he's doing. Probably his best game of the year against Iowa.
So the quarterback, the wide receiver, Devin Street, has been outstanding for them this year. He's really come into his own. Last year they had (Jon) Baldwin as their go to-guy. Now Street is their go to-guy offensively.
So, again, from our standpoint, it's being more familiar with Coach Graham's philosophy as to what he did at Tulsa, and we're really preparing for that kind of offense, versus what Pittsburgh ran last year, which under Coach Wannstedt was a totally different operation.
Defensively, their multiple in three down and four down. Defensive end (Brandon) Lindsey is a guy that can come off the edge. They've got veteran defensive lineman. Max Gruder, the middle linebacker, is a lot like the young man that played for Michigan State who escapes his namely escapes me right now but very similar.
Very smart, tough, physical Gruder is, and, you know, from that standpoint, I like their front. They can be in three down, four down, and they're a lot like us in that standpoint. I just remember last year they brought a lot pressure.
They play every coverage imaginable in the back end. You know, you'll see everything from two deep, three deep, cover zero, cover one, you'll see it all in the back end. I think this is a clinic tape for the variety of coverages. So we've got to really keep it simple for Tommy (Rees) so he doesn't have to get in there reading a million different coverages.
Again, Coach Graham is the defensive coordinator, per se. I think he's very involved. You're going to see multiple coverages in the secondary. They'll bring a lot of pressure, mix it up between three down and four down, and give you a lot of different looks. I think that that, from our standpoint, is what concerns us the most.
I'll open it up to questions with that.
It was Bullough, the linebacker from Michigan State.
Q. You guys won the physical battle in the trenches with Michigan State. I'm not sure how many years we would have to go back to find a time when Notre Dame actually did that. What is your reaction to that? How do you feel about that? And what kind of statement do you think that makes about the progress of your program?
COACH KELLY: Well, that's where we started this journey, is to begin with recruiting on defense, and playing a tougher style of football. And to do that, you've got to be able to control the line of scrimmage. You also have to do it physically. You have develop in the weight room, develop a work volume that allows you to do that and play consistency.
So all of those things are coming together for us. When people talk about, what's truly the foundation? It's exactly that. The foundation of this program has got to be built on being able to control the line of scrimmage. That's how you build consistency. We're getting better at that level.
Q. In accordance with that the drive that you had at the end of the first half, the 10 play, 92 yarder, I'm wondering if we might look back that and say that was kind of the start of some really good things from your team. Because you had a lot fits and starts and wasn't a real smooth drive, but yet your quarterback and offense found a way to drive down and score. Can you speak to that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think there are a couple things that stand out. First of all, I think we had four consecutive third down conversions. So conversions on third down were key, which requires everybody to be playing at a high level.
I think the other thing obviously is one of the things that we've all seen, is our inability to be consistent offensively. And, you know, other than a couple of bumps along the way there on that drive, we showed more consistency.
Having to take care of the football, find a way to run the football, those are the things that we're looking for in our offense. Simply, conversions, third down and short conversions, and consistency from our offense. That's what we saw on that drive.
Q. We don't often discuss your assistant coaches, but you've got some guys that have been with you for a while. Tim Hinton is a guy, he's one of them. Talk about him and his coaching style.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he's a great ball coach. You know, first of all, he's a great person to be around. I enjoy coming to work every day and working with Tim. He's just got an upbeat personality. The glass is always half full. You know, he takes it upon himself, if the ball is on the ground, it's a personal accountability for everything.
He never blames the player. He always takes responsibility for himself in terms of our running backs. You know, he plays a huge role in what we do in terms of developing our protection schemes, blitz pickups; he's outstanding at diagnosing those things.
So he's a very valuable part of our staff, but also somebody that I really enjoy being around.
Q. And lastly, Chris Salvi on special teams, a walk-on, he obviously threw a great block on the Atkinson run. What got him on special teams in the first place?
COACH KELLY: Well, we had noticed him for the last couple years. I'll give you an example. We were running kickoff cover drill in camp, and he concussed himself on that. We want him in a live situation, and here's a guy that's just chomping at the bit to get out there. He's just going so hard he knocked himself out. He carries that with him.
He loves to play; his energy is high. I think if there is one thing that I took away from the Michigan State game. Other than the victory, is that we played so many players. The Salvis and the Poslusznys. Puz hasn't played much football. He had two great tackles on kickoff.
You know, you take a look at all the freshman that played, and we got performances from so many people. Salvi is kind of the guy that everybody looks to when it comes to that walk on that really exhibits that kind of determination that walk ons would have.
He's a pretty special player in our program.
Q. You got asked a lot about how you prepare for a night game. How about a noon start? Is that as different from what you're used to in terms of preparation?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, a little bit. Like when I was at Cincinnati we were concerned about noon games primarily because we were on trimesters. We didn't start until I think Cincinnati starts this week, so those kids didn't have class for the first month of football season. Of course you're worried about them staying up late and just make it to practice. So when I was at Cincinnati and we had noon games, I got them up and we practiced at noon.
Here, our guys have to get all their classes done my 1:30. That's hard to do at Notre Dame, which means you got to take a lot of early classes. We weight train in the morning, so our guys are up in the morning. I'm not concerned about it at Notre Dame.
Q. Lo Wood, you thought you might have more clarification.
COACH KELLY: Yeah. It's more of a chronic acute tendon in the quad that has fired up. There's no structural damage. When he decelerates and engages the quad he's got a lot of soreness there. We think we can get him through that. We'll manage him this week.
But our expectations are that he's going to continue to get better and he'll be available for us this weekend.
Q. Do you have to give a little bit more attention to one of the younger guys, like Josh Atkinson or Jalen Brown, on of those guys?
COACH KELLY: No, we'll flip Jamoris like we did on Saturday. But Atkinson will definitely get some work during practice, because just pure reps, he's got to get in there with the two deep and get some work.
So we'll continue to work with him.
Q. Brindza had an awfully nice tackle there for you that on Saturday. I'm not sure if that is part of your drills, but could you comment on that? And is there a time in his career where you could envision him handling all these jobs, or is that just too much in this day and age?
COACH KELLY: That's an interesting question. We're hopeful. We recruited him because he has the ability to do all three, not only kick the ball off, but has that ability. Time will tell. He was a position player in high school. He reminded me of that when I looked so surprised that he made a great tackle. He goes, Coach, you know I played tight end. I said, Okay.
Nevertheless, the ball got outside our coverage and he shouldn't be making the tackle. But to answer your question, yes, eventually that was in the process for us to think about down the road whether he could do all three.
Q. Last one from me: Is there still positive news you have news coming from Prince Jembo's camp?
COACH KELLY: Yes, really good news. That family matter that we talked about has really turned out to be quite remarkable, so we're happy for Prince and his family.
Q. Wanted to take you back to I think your first press conference we asked about the potential of this team. You said you liked the ingredients but you needed to see some games. Three games in here, I know you're maybe not where you want to be win/loss wise, but how can you kind of assess that now that you've seen some games in regard to that question?
COACH KELLY: Well, I like the way we play the game, other than we get sloppy. You know, we can control the line of scrimmages against quality opposition in the first three games. We've been able to run the ball effectively. The special teams has been inconsistent, and obviously the turnovers have been the areas concern.
We played the kind of pass defense that I know we're capable of this past weekend. We didn't see that in a small picture against Michigan. So all in all, the most important thing for us is that we continue to clean up the little things.
Because the big picture looks really good for me, and the big picture starts with developing a toughness, a mentality, both on the offensive and defensive line. We're seeing that through how we defend the run, how we've been able to run the ball more effectively. Those things are pretty clear to me.
Q. We haven't seen your changeup quarterback that you talked maybe implementing. Is that still an option at some point later this year, or has that been scrapped?
COACH KELLY: It's something that we always work on. When we had to make a change at the quarterback position, obviously it forced us to focus back on developing the quarterback position, you know, with Dayne (Crist) and Tommy (Rees).
So it's still in the works. Whether we're able to feel like it fits what we're doing in a game, I think it's a game to game situation.
Q. I don't know if we asked be about Darius Fleming yet since the games have started. How would you assess his play so far?
COACH KELLY: He had his best game of the year. Last week I was asked about him. I think my comments were, Good, not great. We have a high bar for him. He played great. He played his best game of the year.
Obviously now it's one time so it's an accident, as I told him; twice, you know, now you're trending in the right way. Hopefully we'll see it again.
Q. I think you said last week the message was finish the job or the game. What's the message this week to the team?
COACH KELLY: Continue to develop in practice, continue with the same kind of mindset. You can't come to practice now that you've won a game and feel as though, okay, we've arrived, because we certainly haven't.
There are alot things that we need to get better at if we're going to be a consistent winner. Right now, they know they've got a lot of work ahead of them. I want to see to continue to see the same attention in focus in how we practice and that carry that over into Saturday.
Q. Robert Blanton had a really good game on Saturday. At a position where you usually only notice a guy when they're not having a good game, is that something you saw coming from him? Could you sense he was due for something like that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. We felt very strongly about Robert Blanton coming into the season, that he would give us great play. I think he's exceeded everybody's expectations at this point. He's been a consistent performer for us.
He can do a lot of things for you: he can play safety, he can play corner, he can play nickel. As you know, last year he was a great special teams player. We've had to pull him back a little bit on special teams.
But we believe he's a very important part to what we do defensively.
Q. Is there something special about him that he can be so aggressive at that position? A lot of times guys in that position are kind of hanging on for dear life. He seems to take the opposite approach, like he's attacking.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, you know, comes from great high school program, Butler. They were champions. He's just got a swagger and a confidence about him that he carries with him, not only on the field but off the field as well. I think that's very important when you play back there, that you have that kind of personality.
He's a very confident young man in everything he does.
Q. I think I heard after the game that you said something to him about how he could do that on a daily basis. Could you share what that conversation was like again.
COACH KELLY: It was really more towards the kind of play that he has shown. A lot of people say, Wow, Robert Blanton has surprised. We felt like he was capable of that. So it was just a reminder that, from my perspective, he's capable of being a big play guy for us and our defense.
Q. You mentioned a little bit increased toughness in the running game. What role has Chris Watt played in that? He seemed to have a hand in some of your tougher inside runs.
COACH KELLY: Watt's a physical player, there's no question. He brings a strength. The guy that and I don't want to gloss over Chris Watt, because he's been really solid for us but Trevor Robinson and Zack Martin, really good players.
I mean, Martin did some things that if I showed it to you on film, you wouldn't believe it. He's just that good.
So the develop of Chris Watt; Braxton Cave is a better player; Trevor Robinson is not even close to the player he was last year. Physically so much better. And then a consistently out of Taylor Dever. It's a good unit.
Q. Not on the same level with Martin and Dever, but it seems like both of them kind of excel Martin getting to that second level. Is that something you saw right away in Martin when he kind of ascended from never playing before to a starter right away under you?
COACH KELLY: Well, early on in the process of developing our offense, we need athletic tackles. Both of those guys are extremely athletic for their size; they're impressive when they move. I mean, our pull plays are pretty good. We've got a high efficiency. When we pull our tackles, we're difficult to deal with.
So those guys fit the profile that we're look for at that tackle position. Extremely athletic.
Q. Off topic, did you ever get a clarification on T.J.'s penalty?
COACH KELLY: We did. We got a clarification that it, in fact, is not a penalty. That was clarified yesterday by the Big 10 officials. Now, if he does that and puts it in somebody's face or jumps into the Michigan State band, then that would be an unsportsmanlike penalty.
Q. Just to follow up on that, does the NCAA or the referees come in before the season and sit down exactly like...
COACH KELLY: Yes.
Q. And they make it clear...
COACH KELLY: Yes. We went over this. We literally went over this specifically, because our gloves have the Fighting Irish on the inside. So when you put your gloves together, the fighting Irishman is on the inside of the gloves.
So that's my job immediately, because I saw that. That's like giving your eight year old a lighter, you know what I mean? I knew this thing was going to be something that we were going to have to deal with.
Certainly we brought it up and got the green light, so there was miscommunication along the way.
Q. Aaron Lynch, everybody I think was aware of that explosive first step and the quickness. Physically, he doesn't look as well developed as a Stephon Tuitt, but yet what seems so it amazing watching him on tape especially is how overpowering he can be. What do you attribute just the fact that he's also so physically powerful as well to go with that first step?
COACH KELLY: He's an extremely genetically gifted young man, and he's got a desire to want to get to the quarterback. I mean, genetics are one thing. I think we all know he's extremely gifted. But he's relentless when it comes to rushing the quarterback. Some guys just have that relentless spirit to get to the quarterback, and he brings both of those.
He's a pretty good looking kid. I mean, I think we had about 11 scouts in, and they said that he physically looks like an NFL player right now. He's got a lot work to do as it relates it all the other little things that come with being a great player. He's certainly not there as an everyday player yet. He can't play every down yet, but he's getting better.
Q. Is there something in his hand or foot movement or something that makes him that extra special pass rusher?
COACH KELLY: No. I really think it's just his being relentless. He keeps pushing. He's got a great hand strike. He can really beat you with speed off the edge or he can bull rush you. So he's got that ability, so if you set as a tackle, he can walk you back as well as he can beat you off the edge.
That's a pretty good one two punch.
Q. At nose guard they're not going to have the big stats like Lynch or others there, but you seem to have an ideal combination of physical anchors right there in the middle with Nix and Cwynar to be able to really function in that physical capacity that you said is so necessary. Can you just talk about that combination.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think it's why Vince Wilfork got the highest contract for the New England Patriots. His ability to sit in there and two gap out of their three down package is invaluable to the workings of the entire group. Nix and Cwynar are invaluable to what with do. They're really good football players.
Of course, with Nix's size and his first step quickness, he provides us something that is extraordinary.
Q. Just one follow up on Robert Blanton. He had a reputation as the best talker on the team.
COACH KELLY: Yeah.
Q. And he's become extremely quiet now, very reserved. Do you notice that on the field, too?
COACH KELLY: I don't allow talk on the field, so we had our conversations in the first couple of practices last spring. Since that time, he's curtailed the talking. But if you meet him off the field, he hasn't stopped talking. He can go now.
It's great that he's got that kind of personality. He just doesn't talk on the field. He does it with his actions, which is what I expect of him.
Q. He's been extremely humble in front of the media, too.
COACH KELLY: Well, I think he has such great respect for all of you. I think it's pretty clear that he's a smart guy.
Q. You talked about prioritizing and becoming more physical. Can you elaborate a little bit more on how you create that mentality, especially when some of the players may not be guys that you handpicked when you got here?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, developing that mental and physical toughness is a process that you undertake every single day. I think I talked about it a little last week. When we talk about that mental toughness, you know, it's the attention to detail in the locker room, in their life. It's how they go to practice every day.
You know, you're building on that. When we're in stretch lines, shirts are tucked in. We have a no hat and earring policy around here. There is a discipline to that.
I think all those things are the consistency and approach that helps build that mental toughness and discipline. And then you get what you demand relative to physical toughness. We demand a physical toughness from our football players.
Q. You made your transition here last year, went through those inefficiencies. Do you see some of those similar things on tape when you want Pittsburgh with Coach Graham coming in, and is that something that can be taken advantage of in a game plan or schematically?
COACH KELLY: Well, there's no question that they're going to continue to improve. They're still feeling out the whole process. Yeah, there are some similarities there. I don't know if I've drawn any relative to their talent and things of that nature as much as I'm looking at their schemes.
Yeah, it's the natural process of bringing in a system that's so different, because he didn't recruit those guys for that kind of situation. I feel for him in that senses. But they're playing pretty good football. They had Iowa down, so I'm not feeling too bad for them.
You can see clearly it's a new system for them, but you can see especially the quarterback starting to really understand what they're doing.
Q. With Lynch, now that there is some tape of him that opponents can watch, do you feel like the element of surprise really helped him last week, and how do you, I guess, make him realize that's not going to be that easy?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, you know, I don't know. I was on the sideline, and, you know, when you talk about him and Tuitt and Ethan and Kap and Ishaq and Nix, you just keep rolling out big bodies that can go, I think the big difference is we can keep those guys fresh. We can get them in and out of game.
If you got to sit back there and throw the ball 40, 50 times, you're going to have a long day. And it's not just going to be Lynch, it's going to be all the guys that can get to him. What we've done is built really good depth.
Q. You mentioned earlier you played a lot guys defensively. What that the game plan going in? What precipitated that?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think we've been trying to get McDonald some more work, and he's really good in pass coverage. As the game kind of unfolded, he's a pretty savvy guy in coverage. So that worked well for us.
As you know, Prince wasn't available, so that opened up reps for Steve Filer. So it was a matter of circumstances more than anything else. But it's also special teams that opened up that door as well.
Q. We're always asking about guys that are improving or question marks really establishing themselves. Where is Floyd better from where he was at the end of the last year? Can you evaluate his first three games?
COACH KELLY: I would say he's better in just the nuances of being a wide receiver, blocking much better. I know he got called for holding, but he's really physical and he understand where he fits. We've moved him around a lot, as you know. He's been in virtually every position. His knowledge base of being able to pick up so many different positions has probably been the biggest jump for him.
I'm really, really impressed with his burst. He didn't have that burst last year. This year when he turns the corner he's got a burst to him, so those are the two things that stand out.
Q. There were a lot of heroes on Saturday. Would have been tough to almost point to anyone anybody on the roster and say they didn't have a couple of great plays in there. Didn't have Michael Floyd with 150 yards, didn't have a runningback over 100 yards, and yet got it done. Just seemed like there were so many people that elevated their total play for the whole 60 minutes to be a part of something special.
COACH KELLY: I would agree. You know, if you looked at it statistically, if you put up the stats of first three games and said, Pick which game they won, I don't know that you would pick this one.
But I think we all know how games are won: You control the line of scrimmage. I think really when we really pare it all down, our ability to have a running game that opens up so many other things that we can do, where we can get a one on one match up and hit T.J. Jones for a big touchdown.
So if we go back to it, the Louis Nixes and a Sean Cwynars that are grinding it out inside, and the Chris Watts and Trevor Robinsons. Those are the guys that really had an impact.
COACH KELLY: Robby is a valuable player. It's just trying to get him on the field. We're trying to get Theo right and confident, and I think we are getting to that point where we really want to get him on the field and get him right and get him confident.
I think we're getting to that point where we really want to get him on the field because he can help us win. So I think the circumstances have been such that it's held him back a little bit. He's a great team player and anxious to get on the field, and we're really going to try to get him some more playing time, because he can help us win.
Q. The wide receivers seem to have developed since last year. I notices on Saturday there were a couple times where just little things like T.J.'s release off the line on the touchdown allowed him to get that separation. Those things didn't necessarily happen last year. Can you talk about the development of that group?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I could take you down the road here and talk about each one of them. Michael Floyd we did. I like his speed, his ability to understand our offense.
T.J., he's playing with great speed. His releases off the line, you know, key third down on a quick slant, he's got to be physical enough to do that as well. So what you're seeing is the maturation of a true freshman that now has got a year under his belt.
And then Theo becoming more comfortable with the wide receiver role. We're a much better group; we're hard to defend when you include Tyler Eifert in there, and now a quarterback that is building a level of confidence with all those guys.
Dayne had to go through a true freshman in T.J., and a converted running back to wide receiver. Tommy is a beneficiary now of it T.J. having a year in our offense, being physically more developed. A running back who now really understand the wide receiver play.
So there's been a lot development there.
Q. When you look back at your offenses at Cincinnati, you've always had an offense that was balanced. You had multiple guys that could hurt opponents. COACH KELLY: Yeah, Isaiah Pead. Outstanding running back.
Q. How does that help Tommy's former development as these other young guys you talked about, a former converted runningback, a freshman becoming more mature. How does that help his development?
COACH KELLY: Well, he knows that he doesn't have to look to one side of the field. You know, so I think when you talk about the development of the quarterback, his ability to go from right to left or left to right in his read progression. That he can count on the guy who is on the right as well as the guy on the left.
If Mike is lined on to the right, his vision isn't just on Mike Floyd. It could be on the other side as well. That's an incredible tool in developing your quarterback, because he now keeps his vision across the field instead of just on one particular receiver.
Q. Moving forward, do you remind your players that you started the season 0 2, or do you leave that in the past?
COACH KELLY: They know. They know where they are. We try to correct everything that occurs as we move forward. So we don't go back to those things relative to what happened in the past, other than we try to correct those mistakes and then move forward.
They know where they are. I know where we're all trying to get better based upon being a 1 2 team.
Q. Similar question: Does that help you keep them from looking ahead after a win?
COACH KELLY: I'll worry about that when they win six, seven, eight, nine in a row. We're certainly not at that point yet. We have not been infected with success yet. I'll know when that happens.
We need to win more and be consistent and attention to the detail things.
Q. Going back to Saturday, as that kind of the culmination of what you expect from the freshman, a great example of what they can do when Aaron Lynch, George Atkinson are all on their A games?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. I mean, look, I don't know that you ever want to play as many freshman that we're playing, but times are changing. College football is such that these kids are coming in physically so much more mature that they can come in and physically handle the rigors of playing major college football.
I always thought it to be is great weakness within your program when you had to play two freshman. Not when they run as fast as George Atkinson or are as physical as Aaron Lynch.
So I think in the recruiting process, we're now our eyes are wide open to this guy can play right away. If we continue to recruit like we did this past year, we're going to have more of those stories moving forward.
Q. When did you see that philosophy changing? Is that just you or college in general?
COACH KELLY: You know, again, you're looking at Aaron Lynch going against four and five year players, and you worry about their physical ability to get in there and mix it up.
But the last four or five years, these guys are weight training all year, nutrition is important to them, they're taking care of their bodies, and they're coming in and Coach Longo said this, I didn't he said this was physically the most impressive group relative their conditioning level when they came here.
Usually they come in a few weeks after the veterans are here. They come in and they're lost. They're so far behind. This group was not. They were physically ready to compete right away.
Q. Obviously you've had some success against Pittsburgh recently. You alluded to a new coach, new system. My question is, what was Todd Graham in Tulsa able to last year to be effective that Pitt wasn't able to do in the past few years against you guys?
COACH KELLY: Well, they proved to be a very good football team. As you know, a top 25 team, 10 win plus team. It was a really athletic team. They had very good skill on the offense.
I know people say, Oh, it's Tulsa. They were really skilled on offense. They had very dynamic players. They were opportunistic. They returned a deflected ball for a touchdown. They had a punt return.
It was very opportunistic team defensively, an aggressive team defensively, and an outstanding veteran quarterback in their system. They had really good skilled players on the offensive side of the ball.
Q. In terms of the skilled players, do you see the guys this Pitt has and bringing in the new system, do they have the potential to be those skilled players that might have hurt you last year?
COACH KELLY: Oh, yeah. There's no question that they'll be able to recruit to the level they did at Tulsa. There's plenty of those kind of players that fit in that system offense available to coach.
Yeah, it's just a matter of time before they get the kind of players that they want. I think they have them right now. They're just obviously new to their system.
Like I said they had Iowa on the ropes there pretty good.