Oct. 2, 2013
An Interview With: COACH Brian Kelly
COACH KELLY: Another very talented football team. Coach Graham has done a terrific job in really energizing Arizona State. They come off a great win against USC and have played very good football. Great energy on defense, very active. You know, of course we've got some history here. Coach Graham at Pittsburgh, we played them, and of course at Tulsa, as well. Very familiar with the style of offense and defense.
Again, offensively, Kelly, the quarterback, is precise, throws a great ball, talented receivers go up and catch the football. Grice is a tremendous back, just a very talented football team, and obviously played very well this past weekend.
A great challenge for our football team. We're excited about playing in North Texas in the Shamrock Series. It'll be a great atmosphere for our football team. The Shamrock Series has been a great piece of our schedule over the last few years, enjoying different parts of the country, and it's a great area for our football alums and our fans, so we're excited about the venue, and again, another very, very good opponent in Arizona State. Should be a great matchup.
Q. I know every dome is a little bit different. You guys did some walk-throughs at the two domes. Was there any kind of fore planning for this weekend with any of that?
COACH KELLY: There isn't per se. If it was a loud environment and we were on the road, we expect it to be a pro-Notre Dame crowd. We obviously hope the noise won't be a factor, though we will practice with music this week and be prepared if we, in fact, need it. But other than that, generally it's just getting used to visually picking up the football. Like you've mentioned, we've walked through at Ford Field and we've walked through at Lucas Stadium and we've thrown the ball around and we've punted the ball and kicked it, and our guys have acclimated quite well. I don't expect there to be any issues.
We will have a similar walk-through on Saturday prior to the game at Cowboy Stadium.
Q. You touched on Grice. The way they use their running backs, pretty diverse.
COACH KELLY: A lot of similarities in terms of how we've used Amir and George. They're coming out of the backfield, catching the football. You know, again, just they like to keep them involved in the passing game, free releasing them out of the back, getting them involved in screens, and obviously in their running game. You have to account for them at all times.
Q. What couple of things would you mention in order to slow Arizona State down? What do you guys have to do defensively?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it still comes down to, for us, if you look at the Oklahoma game, the two big plays that we gave up were critical. We can't afford to give up any big plays. They catch the ball very well. They're a team that will challenge you on the perimeter throwing the football, and you have to keep Kelly in check running the football, as well. He's very capable through their zone read package of running the ball. Containing the quarterback, running the football, and obviously not giving up the big chunk plays. We gave up a ball that got over our head in cover-3 and then the 56-yard slant. Eliminating the big plays defensively is absolutely crucial to our success.
Q. Last week's opponent really forced you to defend the field, sideline to sideline. Would you anticipate a similar approach from Arizona State?
COACH KELLY: I think so, and there's a lot that goes to that in terms of force and contain, and if you look at how we defended it, they got the ball outside a couple of times, but it didn't go to winning and losing the football game. Winning and losing the football game last week was turnovers and the two big plays. I thought that by and large we minimized most of those plays to under 10 yards, but we will get attacked on the perimeter, there's no question, we will have to continue to be on top of our game there.
Q. It was interesting watching Atkinson last week. It was almost like with each carry you could see his confidence grow. He was cutting better. He did a couple of jump cuts. Is that the ultimate how-to video that you can show him? I would think that would be something that he could see and improve on just based upon observing that.
COACH KELLY: I think one of the highlights for us offensively, and there weren't a lot, as you know, one of the highlights offensively was watching George continue to get better at the position in those particular things that you've mentioned. You know, running through tackles, really using good vision, and continuously, for us, making better and better decisions. There's still some room for growth there. We feel like he missed a couple of cuts here and there, but as coaches, it's gratifying to see the development of a young man like George Atkinson, and we saw that against Oklahoma.
Now we want to see that next stage, and we want to see that continue.
Q. Following up on George, what do you feel like got into him that pushed him to that next level, because you've been wanting that for a while.
COACH KELLY: Yeah. You know, it's one of those things that I think he knew that he was not going to get the share that he wanted, the share meaning the carries, unless he did the things that we were demanding, and that was run with more authority and utilize his size, because we know about his speed. Everybody has chronicled, and it's clearly that's what he has as a skill, but he was not running with the kind of physical presence that we wanted and so it was a constant coaching point in practice, and I had talked to him several times on the sideline that this is how you have to play. You cannot be tackled. You cannot be brought down by the ankles. You have to run through tackles.
I think it just hopefully -- it's resonated to the point that that's what you're going to see. If we can get that on a consistent basis, we've got a very talented player on our hands.
Q. With Andrew Hendrix, do you want him pushing and practicing as if he's challenging Tommy for the job, or do you want him to say, hey, this is my role and I'm going to get really good at this?
COACH KELLY: I don't know that you can go into the game and say, well, I'm just happy with a half-dozen snaps. I hope that -- and the way we presented it to Andrew is, look, you've got to help us win. You've got to help us win football games. So his mindset has to be, look, I want to keep adding more to my plate. I want more and more. But he's got to be more effective than he was on Saturday. He can't go in there and we get two false start penalties. We can't miss a wide-open receiver. We've got to do a better job on our zone read.
So if he's going to get more on his plate, he's got to be more productive, and we need him to be more productive. To answer that question is probably a little bit too premature. We've got to get him to be more effective when he goes in the game because he's going to go back in the game on Saturday, and he's got to be more effective in that role and then let's look to add on to that, and then maybe get to your initial question of, hey, you know what, I'm going to push Tommy Rees as the starter.
Q. What's allowed Cole Luke to get on the field and have so much of a role as a true freshman?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think skill first, the capacity to pick up what we're asking him to do, but I think there's -- Devin Butler has been able to do that, too. I think you'll see a little bit more of him this weekend, and I think both of those freshman corners have shown not only the physical ability but the mental capacity to be able to go in there and compete, and I think you'll see that from both of them.
But Cole has done a nice job, and I think early on I think is why we went with him, because he was able to pick up and grasp some of the concepts a little bit earlier, but Devin has done a really nice job. This week he was our special teams player of the week for his physical play on special teams. We see a young man there that's growing quickly, as well.
Q. Do you hope to or feel like you'll get a bump, a recruiting bump from being in Texas, having a presence in Texas this week?
COACH KELLY: I think it helps. I certainly think that any time that you're able to -- well, for example, we'll be able to go down there on Friday and get out and see some games with our coaches, so certainly being able to get down there will help us in that perspective.
Certainly getting some recruits locally to come to the game, you know, we certainly can't see them but we can provide tickets, that helps in that respect. A bump would probably be a good word. Is it going to seal the deal for us in a lot of these instances? Probably not, but it certainly helps to have the kind of exposure there.
Q. Your pass rush this year, can you assess where it is and how you feel like it could improve?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think if you're looking at how we have pass rushed in the past, you're probably looking at a group of guys that has not been more than three- or four-men rush. We're not a group that sends five and six consistently. We generally play coverage. When we've needed to add pressure, we've done a pretty good job, and then this past weekend we bring five and we give up a lane and the quarterback is able to convert.
I think it's been a mixed bag. At times it's been better over the last couple weeks, but it needs to continue to get better, no question.
Q. Tied in with that, what's Sheldon Day's status this week?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he's better than he was last week. We thought he had a chance to play, and then he didn't look very good in pregame. A lot of reasons for it I don't want to get into, some of the things in pregame. And then I didn't feel like he could give us -- the way the game was going to be played, it was four open, and it was kicked out on the perimeter. We just didn't feel like it was the kind of game that he was going to be able to help us with. We think that he's going to be able to help us this weekend, though.
Q. Tommy has been getting besieged on Twitter and there have been all kinds of nasty Tweets towards him. How do you tell him to handle social media? Do you tell him to stay away from it?
COACH KELLY: Look, if you're the starting quarterback at Notre Dame and you can't handle those things that are inevitably going to come your way after a loss, then you can't be the quarterback at Notre Dame. It comes with the business of being the quarterback at Notre Dame. You have to avoid the noise, when it's good and when it's bad. And that's just the nature of it. It comes with being the quarterback at Notre Dame.
Q. It seems like other teams have been attacking the perimeter, and the sacks are down this year. How much have teams attacking the perimeter kind of taken the defensive line out of the game for you?
COACH KELLY: Well, it's clearly a reason for them, getting the ball out quickly, getting the ball on the perimeter, but I will go back to what I said earlier. I think Tim asked the question, if you break down the game, they did not win the football game by throwing bubble screens and getting it out on the perimeter. They're doing it for other reasons.
What we need to do a better job in is keeping the ball, staying above the cut when we're in three deep, not giving up quick slants for 56 yards. Obviously if we minimize the big plays and the turnovers, we're talking about a different football game here.
So that's how Oklahoma played us last year. The ball was quick, it was out on the perimeter, we kept it in front of us, we kept the points down. They kicked a lot of field goals. We just gave them four touchdowns, one on a scramble in cover-3, one on a 56-yard slant and two that our offense coughed up to them, there's 28 of their points. If you break it down, that stuff on the perimeter, as long as we can keep it to a minimum, we're okay with that.
Q. Last year the defense didn't have the big plays against them. At this point last year I think they were in the top 20 in like nine of the defensive categories. This year I don't think they're in the top 20 in any. Are teams doing a better job do you think? Have they had a year to look at it and figure out what to do, or do you still think it's a problem with communication or a mixture of both?
COACH KELLY: No, I just think it's a different year and it's a different group of guys. You know, different teams that we're playing. I think it's just a combination. I don't think we would settle on one particular area. I think it's everything, a combination of all of those things. We still have a lot more football to play.
Q. Last year at this point the thing you knew is that you knew that you had a defense you could count on game in and game out. At this point what do you feel confident no matter who you're playing that you can do, that you can depend on game in and game out at this point?
COACH KELLY: I think our defense is solid. I don't think they're spectacular, but I think it's a solid defense that we can win with. We uncharacteristically gave up two big plays that we're not accustomed to giving up. We're solid as a defense. We're not spectacular, but we're solid.
Offensively we have yet to find the balance that we're looking for. We have to obviously -- if we rewind here -- we were talking about how well we were throwing the football and how poorly we were running it. Now we're talking about how well we're running the ball and how poorly we're throwing the ball. We have to find our balance there offensively, and I think that for me is where we're really pulling our hair out is trying to find that balance from an offensive standpoint. We're going to play, I believe, well enough defensively to win the rest of our games. We've got to get ourselves where we have enough balance offensively to run the ball and throw the ball effectively. And as you know, our margin isn't great. You can't turn the ball over. You turn it over and give points up, we're going to be fighting against it.
Q. Is Kelly initiated into the running game like Bell was last week, or is he mostly a drop back and break out of the pocket, break containment to where he got his 80 yards last week?
COACH KELLY: His long run was part of a design zone read, but he is elusive. He does extend plays, and he's athletic enough that he can run the football and pick up yardage. So it's a little bit of both. He's not like McKnight in terms of -- in the Oklahoma offense, it was -- the offense was set up for him to run the football. Bell threw it but could run it, Kelly throws it but can run it is the best way I can answer that question.
Q. About Kona, how much of an adjustment is it for him to fill in Sheldon's position after spending all his time learning nose? How different is that position?
COACH KELLY: Well, there is a learning curve there because the responsibilities there change quite a bit. I thought he's done a pretty good job. We had some missed assignments for him, and here's the biggest difference: The volume. His volume jump was huge, and then you're getting tired. We've got to get him out. We're getting less productivity, so I think that's been the biggest jump. He's been able to settle into the role relative to what we're asking him to do, but we have to be much more careful with the amount of reps that he's getting. That's probably been the biggest concern, more so than fitting into the stud position versus the nose position.
Q. And then what's the message you're sending? What's the glue that's keeping these guys together this week after the frustration from last week?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, well, they've been together. We've been together on -- these guys have been together for four years, and it's the constant day-in-and-day-out relationships, everybody knows what's expected, everybody knows what to do on a day-to-day basis. Again, I think when you're talking about a program that has won a lot of football games over the last couple years, they just want to go out and play better football. I mean, that's really their goal.
It's interesting, and we talked a little bit about this: They're not walking around campus flashing their 12-0 rings. They don't have a 12-0 ring. They're not wearing a conference championship ring. They have an immense amount of pride in what they accomplished by playing so well and winning games that what drives them is winning, and they want to win. They want to win football games, and they want to play good football week in and week out.
So what drives them, what the glue is, is for them to go out, prepare and play good football week in and week out, not what the destination is for one game, right? Not whether they play in Florida or Texas. It's taking that week of preparation and going out on a Saturday and playing really well and the satisfaction of doing that and having it all come together.
Q. You mentioned margin of error a couple times today. Do you feel like this team has a much smaller margin for error when it comes to wins and losses than last year?
COACH KELLY: No, no. I put on -- incidentally, you know me, I don't live in the past. I stay in the present. But it's okay to be reminded, and I put on a clip of about -- a 10-minute clip of last year where Pittsburgh hit one off the upright in overtime, and we had to rally in the fourth quarter against BYU and that Tommy had to throw one after trying to call a time-out to Goodman on the sideline to keep a drive alive during Purdue to eke out a win last year. My point being the margin last year was razor thin, and the margin this year is razor thin.
What we haven't done well quite frankly is the ordinary things, and last year we did the ordinary things much better. We have to do the ordinary things much better. We have got to stay above the cut in cover-3. We've got to run routes better. We've got to pick up protections that are day one protections, we've got to pick those things up. We've got to complete easy balls. And those are the little things that we've got to do better.
So the margin I think is about as thin as it was last year, and the difference between 5-0 and 3-2 is about five or six plays, and that's kind of where we are at this point.
Q. When you're trying to fix all the little things, many, many little things, is that a harder correction to make in season than if you just had one issue that you're trying to throw kind of all your coaching attention at?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I don't think there's a ton of them. I think what we're talking about here is being smarter, being more disciplined and then attention to detail. I think there's three things that we have to coach better, and as coaches we have to be locked into those three things in our preparation during the week, and we've got to get those things on Saturday.
I think those are the three things that we're going to have to really do a better job with.
Q. I'm curious how DaVaris fits into that mix about attention to detail. That's been something he's been working on for the last couple years. What do you want him to take out of Saturday or the last couple Saturdays moving forward?
COACH KELLY: He's got to do the ordinary things much better.
Q. I just wanted to revisit George. Is running hard a choice for a running back, and did you get much of a handle on why he made that choice last weekend or why he hadn't been making that choice, if it's a choice at all?
COACH KELLY: You have to decide that that's what you haven't been doing. He has to convince himself, first of all, that he hasn't been doing it. So we have to sit him down and show him clip after clip after clip. Isn't this a tackle you should be running through? Shouldn't you be getting through this tackle? How did you get tackled here? So it got to the point where we had to physically sit him down and show him clip after clip after clip. These are tackles that you must run through. They can't tackle you. You're 220 pounds.
And I think that constant coaching and teaching and showing, he then convinced himself that, well, what coach is actually saying, I think I believe that now, and then he believed it and then he did it.
Q. Can you tell us when you guys did that, and was it you and Tony?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think it's Tony has been trying to talk about it. We had to actually get him -- Chuck got the clips together and actually sat him down and started to really hone in on him individually seeing it.
Q. Arizona State has allowed I think it's 230 or more rush yards the last three games. What do you see that's made them so vulnerable, and I imagine you'll be able to control their tempo on offense?
COACH KELLY: Well, you would think at first looking at it, that boy it's easy to run against them, but you're in a lot of negative plays. If you really go through the numbers, you're in a hit-and-miss situation because they bring so much pressure. You have to do a great job of managing the negative plays against them.
If you're not on in terms of picking up a lot of their pressures, you can be turning the ball over and putting yourself into some negative down-and-distance situations.
Those numbers are a bit misleading because a lot of those yards were USC late in the game, the ballgame was over. Again, we have to run the football, there's no question about it, but we have to solve some of their pressures to be effective running it.
Q. And then you've got one of the best D tackles in Nix. What do you see in Will Sutton comparing the two of them?
COACH KELLY: Well, he's one of the better inside guys, there's no question, that we've played. He's extremely active, great feet, physically at the point of attack he's going to be a handful, and he's got great complements around him, athletic, they move, they're one of the better D-lines that we'll see this year.
Q. The winning attitude you talked about earlier, the week-to-week being the goal, was that something you had to change when you got here, and when did that take hold?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we worked on it when we got here, the very first day. There's a lot that goes into winning. It's not just on the scoreboard, as you know. It's so many of the little things on a day-to-day basis, away from the football building. It's how they take care of themselves. It's Thursday nights, it's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All of that goes into the program building and winning and taking care of yourself. It's not just what you do coming over here. It's summer workouts. I mean, I could talk hours about how you get that.
And then you have to have wins, right? You've got to have some confidence and build that confidence. There's got to be trust. There's got to be a belief in what you're doing, and that all takes time.
Q. The cut-ups of all the close calls from last year that you showed them, was that to try to inspire confidence or remind them about the little things? What was the message?
COACH KELLY: No, that was to my point that it's hard to win unless you do the little things right because the margin of winning and losing in college football is so fine. It's so fine on a day-to-day basis. It doesn't matter who you're playing. You go across the board week in and week out, it's a battle, except for maybe one team in the country who's made it look easy, everybody has got a battle from week to week to win football games and to win them consistently. Everybody will have a battle to win a game or two or three, and that's the nature of it.
So understand that, that that's what's going to happen. You've got to find ways to win, and those little things, doing the ordinary things make a difference.
Q. You mentioned you would look at appealing the Ben Councell decision. Have you looked into that?
COACH KELLY: We did. It was not overturned, so he will sit out the first half.
Q. Does that change schematically what you do on defense in that first half as far as what type of groups you'll have on the field?
COACH KELLY: No, Romeo Okwara will be the next man in at that drop position.
Q. Carlo Calabrese, seems like he's been active in the backfield and around the line of scrimmage in the past few weeks. Has he changed something to be more aggressive in that part of his game?
COACH KELLY: No, I think he's playing downhill, I think he's hitting open windows, I think he's being aggressive to where he's asked to attack the line of scrimmage, and he's done a nice job for us. I think he's played good football for us this year.
Q. You mentioned Kona getting a lot more volume, but it seems Louis as well as Stephon also are taking a lot of snaps there.
COACH KELLY: Yes, sir.
Q. What effect, especially since you're playing so many quarterbacks does that have on the overall defensive plan?
COACH KELLY: Well, I mean, just to give you an example, Louis played 72 snaps. Last year he was averaging in the mid 40s to 50. You know, the volume is up. He had zero loafs, and he played a whale of a football game. But he's playing a lot of football. He's playing a lot of football. And those are our best players, and we want them on the field.
We're trying to give them as much of a blow as we can, but we also feel like we're a better defense with those guys on the field. You're in kind of that when do you take them out and when do you put them in?
Q. With Ishaq, he was kind of considered maybe that next defensive end. How is his role coming along this year, because he has to play he's wearing a lot of hats.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he's playing much more than he's ever played, and he's obviously playing in our nickel package as well as he's getting some reps in at the defensive end position. I couldn't tell you exactly what his numbers are, but they're up much more than they were last year.
But he's taken Shembo's reps and he's taking Kona's reps when he goes in. So one of those guys is out generally speaking when he goes in, unless he's in nickel, and then he's taking Kona out and then Prince is in the game.
Q. I know you've mentioned in the past is going into a bye week with a loss. Is there an extra sense of urgency
COACH KELLY: I would say going into this week is even worse than going into a bye week with a loss, but I'll grant you that. I think any week is a bad week going into it with a loss.
Q. Especially you have got midterms coming up. Is this the kind of week where you put the gas a little bit stronger there?
COACH KELLY: Well, if it means redoubling our efforts, we work really, really hard, but everybody around here wants to win football games, and that doesn't change from one week to the other. But nobody is happy after a loss, not one player, not one coach. We want to win badly. Badly.
I don't think that we ever equate wanting to win with spending more time in the office because if you do, you don't understand how to win, because I've never equated it to -- if you've got to spend more time, you don't understand how to work to win anyway. We all want to win. We need to coach better. We need to communicate better. We need to play better, and that's our focus.
Q. What are some of the characteristics of Coach Graham's teams?
COACH KELLY: Aggressive defensively. You're going to get a lot of different pressures. I think there are a lot of exotics on special teams. You're going to get the quarterback lined up in an offensive set punting the football, swinging gate, offensively misdirection. Again, I go back to Tulsa and Pittsburgh and now at Arizona State, you've got a lot of different offensive and defensive looks. You're not going to get a cookie-cutter approach to playing the game in any one of those facets, and that's been his kind of philosophy, if you will, and what he's staked his success on, and he's done a great job at it.
Q. And then how does the personnel he has now compare with the ones at Tulsa and Pitt?
COACH KELLY: Better personnel. Better personnel.
Q. How would you assess the right side of your offensive line through five games, and what have you seen from Christian and his position switch?
COACH KELLY: They've done a good job. They've done a good job. I think Ronnie as a freshman, first-time starter, has been solid, learning. I think Christian has really grown into his position. I think I would point to just some basic understandings of power, for example, where to fit on the power play, you know, clicking off some games. We've been really -- we gave up a sack late that we should have picked up. But his understanding of picking up inside stunts, I think he's really grown a lot this year, Christian, at the guard position.
I would say that first-year player at right tackle, pleased, and we like the progress that Christian has made at the guard position.
Q. And how confident do you feel running the ball on the right side compared to last year at this time?
COACH KELLY: I would say that we're much more confident that we can run the football either side, right or left. We obviously have two seniors on the left. If you had to ask me where -- obviously if I had one play, I'd go to the left. But we feel like if we have to win the game, we can run the ball to the right side. We don't go in there and feel like we can't win a football game running the ball to the right side.
Q. In the postgame you talked about you and the coaches trying to improve on your coaching. You mentioned that in this press conference today. Can you tell us from a practical standpoint what you have been working on this week to get better as far as coaching?
COACH KELLY: In close games, I thought we've done a very good job in close games. I think what I was talking about more than anything else is that as a group we have to coach better, communicate better to do the little things better throughout the entire game to get better consistency, you know, as a group.
At the end of the day, if your team is not consistent for four quarters, that falls back on not only the players but the coaches. So we have to examine how we're communicating, what we're asking from our players at practice, and so we're examining all of those things.
If I implied that there were things that we're not doing well relative to close games, that was not my intention. I think our kids understand how to win in close games. It was more about a consistent effort in doing the little things right for four quarters.
Q. You talked about doing the ordinary things better. When you do the ordinary things better, does that maybe generate more takeaways for the defense, just given how low that number has been this year?
COACH KELLY: I think it can absolutely help our defense take the football away. Look, it's not a stat that I could put my finger on and say, listen, if we do this we're going to take the football away. But if we're sitting in a curl we're going to get a deflection, if we're over the top of the cut and you're trying to throw the ball deep, we're not going to get a PI when we should be over the top. Those things are going to translate at the end of the day, and we just have to be more disciplined. We've got to be doing those little things right. We're running a follow route and we're running into the -- underneath the dig route. I mean, little things like that that just make no sense.
So that's why we've got to go back and look at how we're coaching it and demand from our coaches to do a better job because if our players aren't doing it, it's a reflection on the coaching. So that's why we have to demand the ordinary things, and hopefully that will translate into more turnovers.
Q. Changing gears looking at a future scheduling, it's pretty recent, but the
government shutdown appears to have had an effect on Air Force and Navy. Is there any concern there or do you anticipate any discussions or any potential of those games getting postponed or suspended if the government shutdown continues, or is that not even on your radar yet?
COACH KELLY: It was brought to my attention just before I came to the press conference that there was a question about that game being played and that the impact as to whether it would have something to do with our game. We will find out more information and then get back with you folks.
Q. If there were a contingency plan in place and that game had to be suspended or postponed, would you consider looking at an FCS opponent to fill that, or is that not even on the table for you guys?
COACH KELLY: Oh, I'd love to look at an FCS opponent. I would be one vote in a room with a lot of probably nos. I probably know how that's going to go. Probably be me and Al Lesar would be the only ones who would say yes on FCS.