Oct. 11, 2015
Q. Brian, after the game, you mentioned the adjustment you made to their fullback with Jarrett Grace. I wonder how close you were able to stay as the blueprint of your defense that you set up for Georgia Tech other than that adjustment on the fullback?
COACH KELLY: We were able to pretty much do exactly what we did against Georgia Tech, added a couple of wrinkles here or there. Just the fullback was hitting wider than it did against Georgia Tech. It was really about getting just a little bit more size there.
What we didn't want to get into, okay, let's slant an angle, then somebody then somebody doesn't get the call, then we gap released somebody. So we stayed exactly what we were doing. We just added a little bit more size.
Q. I thought it was interesting you thought you were close to 15 possessions. It ended up just being 11.
COACH KELLY: I know.
Q. Does it seem like that when you're holding your opponent to three second half points and your defense is getting off the field?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. I think it was because we held the ball for 11 minutes. We had that 11 minutes, so it felt like many more possessions than we actually had. I looked back at it this morning, and I was like, oh, man, I was way off on that.
But I think I was probably responding to holding on to the football for the entire fourth quarter, was probably what I felt more than anything else.
Q. How did Bars play, and what are your expectations for Nelson this Saturday?
COACH KELLY: I thought Bars, for a first start, he did some pretty good things. You know, awareness. Missed a linebacker one time on a power, but did a pretty good job overall. His pass protection was solid. He moves well. He's a really good athlete for a big kid. So I would say overall pretty good start.
Quenton should be able to practice on Tuesday, and then we'll see how that progresses throughout the week. In terms of his effectiveness. But just finished with the doctors and Rob Hunt, and they expect him to get out to practice on Tuesday.
Q. Brian, yesterday Sheldon had -- already this year Sheldon has more tackles for a loss than he did last year. More sacks, passing in the quarterback hurry. I'm just wondering, what do you attribute to the success he's had getting in the opponent's backfield this year?
COACH KELLY: I think he's in great physical condition. I think he's healthy. He played with some injuries last year. And he's just a committed player. He wants his last year to be his best year. He wants to help this football team as a captain, and I think -- he came back for a reason. He came back so this would be his best year and help Notre Dame and help himself, and I think he's living up to all those things.
Q. Is he doing anything different maybe in how he prepared or how he's staying healthy? Anything in his training regimen that you know of?
COACH KELLY: Well, he's definitely much more fit. He lost some weight. Physically, he's stronger. One of the things that we felt like we could do for Sheldon was to -- in getting him back here was that we could get him stronger physically, increase a lot of his numbers so that they would reflect somebody that could get drafted higher, and I think that physical prowess is showing itself on Saturdays.
Q. Curious whether you were disappointed at all when you saw USC lost to Washington on Thursday? Since a win over them in pollster's eyes might not mean as much now?
COACH KELLY: You know, we get that all the time, right? You look at our schedule, and then they go, oh, that team's not that good. I think everybody knows the kind of talent USC has, and regardless of what happened against Washington, we know in this rivalry game what kind of performance that they're going to have against us.
I don't know -- certainly, if they're ranked tenth in the country, that that's going to affect us a little bit differently than them not being ranked, but I still think, when you talk about beating USC, I think it still carries a lot of weight because people know the talent that they have on that football team.
Q. For an outsider looking in at this rivalry, it has quite a history, but in the past nine years or so, it hasn't hit as two ranked teams. You haven't faced a ranked USC team yet. Does that change a rivalry at all? Or is it still the same for the people involved?
COACH KELLY: No, I think it still carries the same kind of -- there's a special feeling playing USC, and I know that that still resonates with our players and coaches.
Look, whether it's a rivalry that goes back with implications to the National Championship or not, for us in the short term, we got beat up pretty good against them last year. For our football team, we certainly want to show ourselves a lot better than we did last year.
Q. Coach Kelly, I had some notes from yesterday's game. Against Navy, you gave up 239 yards in the first half, but in the second half, 79 yards. What did you do at halftime to get that adjustment to stop Navy from rushing a lot?
COACH KELLY: We made a slight adjustment with the fullback, and we possessed the football virtually the whole fourth quarter. So I think offensively we were able to control the line of scrimmage, and defensively we made a slight adjustment to control the fullback.
Q. And talk about Reynolds yesterday, the Navy's quarterback. It seems like he's so tough to try to stop them. You found a way in the second half. What did you do to get him contained?
COACH KELLY: He got injured.
Q. Oh, okay.
COACH KELLY: He got injured, yeah.
Q. That's a good idea. And one more question about the USC game. I know you guys went out after last year and got embarrassed. What's the mindset of you guys back at home, facing a tough USC team except for the loss to Washington?
COACH KELLY: Obviously, we remember last year. We certainly want to perform a whole lot better than we did last year. Certainly, our kids remember not playing very well, and we want to certainly come out with a better performance than we did last year.
Q. Hey, Coach, I wonder, we're hitting the halfway point of the season. Where do you think that your team can play better in the second half? Where's the best areas of growth potential, do you think?
COACH KELLY: I still think consistency in the back end of our defense. I think that's the biggest thing. It's kind of difficult. We played two option teams over the last four weeks. It makes it hard to continue to evolve defensively.
I think that's probably the area that we want to see continued growth is the back end of our defense, and offensively continue balance and development of our quarterback. I think that those are the areas we need to see moving forward.
Q. You mentioned how much you appreciate the swag team and the research and kind of having a year round plan for the option teams. I wonder if it's not just being effective against them, maybe more injury free against them. Have you seen a difference in lower leg injuries the way that your players are maybe attacking the cut blocks than in the past?
COACH KELLY: I think it's a big difference in the way we practice as well, that's a good point. We actually were cutting all week against Georgia Tech, and we were cutting all week this week. And preparing our players for it.
We had no injuries again -- knock on wood -- this week to anything below the waist for any of our linemen. They're a little sore, obviously, but no major injuries there, again, for playing two very physical teams that play the triple option.
So I think that there's some merit to the way we changed up our practice has helped a lot too.
Q. Just a quick follow. Did Tillery get banged up in his shoulder?
COACH KELLY: He had a sprained elbow and a bone bruise. We'll fit him for a brace, and he should be fine for practice on Tuesday.
Q. Brian, I was curious if you feel like you have as good a grip on your team right now as you've had at any point in the year?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, I think we know our strengths and weaknesses. I think that we continue to evolve at the quarterback position. I think we've got a pretty good feeling now about what DeShone can and can't do, his strengths, and what we need to continue to work on there.
I think, as I said, defensively -- and kind of Eric's question about where you are -- I think we need to continue to develop in the back end of our defense. I like our front seven. I like what we're able to do with our offensive line and receivers and running backs, obviously.
So there's a lot of strengths, but I still think there's some things that we can continue to work on. I guess that equals I've got a pretty good handle on where we are right now.
Q. Could you just speak a little bit on, I guess Jarrett Grace, we all know what he went through to get back to where he was. Talking to him yesterday, he felt like that was his return game, where he got called on in meaningful minutes and played meaningful snaps. What was that like to see him go out there and do that and have that success?
COACH KELLY: It was as meaningful for him as it was for me, just to know what he's gone through and to be called upon to come in and play a very important role for us.
If you watched him last year in August and September, you'd say there's no way he's going to be able to play again. To see him come out and compete and do the things -- I was struck by the fact that -- and I don't want to make this a long answer, but the fact that we had a highlight video of him. He was one of our speakers at the pep rally, and all they showed him was on special teams, and I was like, dang, he's much more than that.
To see him get out there and play on Saturday was pretty gratifying that he could get out there and help us.
Q. Brian, I'm just curious the process of bringing in Rob Regan for the program. How did that kind of start? Were you trying to identify a triple option quarterback out of high school to bring into the scout team? What was kind of the genesis to that?
COACH KELLY: Well, Coach Elliott and I had discussions about beginning to put together a scout team for the spring, and as we had talked about it, we had -- we were also going through a recruiting meeting and putting together some names. We were recruiting a kid out of this high school, Hinsdale Central, and one of his buddies was the quarterback. He was a triple option quarterback, and he applied to Notre Dame.
It kind of just got us thinking about, you know what, let's go out and recruit a triple option quarterback and get this thing going and have somebody as its centerpiece, and that's how we got Rob Regan. He got into school here on his own, and the rest is kind of history.
Q. From an athletic standpoint, I mean, obviously Keenan Reynolds and Justin Thomas are two of the more athletic, talented, triple option quarterbacks we've seen in the last decade or so. So where does Rob kind of stack up in terms of mimicking those guys on the scout team?
COACH KELLY: I don't want to put him in that category, but he's very athletic. He was the state wrestling champ. He's extremely athletic quarterback. And he's good at what he does. So the one thing he's able to do is he makes quick decisions, which forces our defensive players to play fast. So if you have the drive, you have to get down on the dive. If you have the quarterback, you have to get to him quickly.
So regardless of his speed per se, he made quick decision, and he makes quick decisions because he's run it so effectively through his high school career. And that was the big difference for us is that he made quick decisions and saw the triple and that helped us.
Q. In terms of his toughness, I know, talking to a couple of players like Jarrett Grace, that he just got beat up so bad this week running the triple option. To take those amount of hits in practice and still get up and still run it, what does that speak to the level of toughness that he has?
COACH KELLY: The guys love him. He sang the fight song. That's the first time we had a true freshman stand up, and he got the game ball and sang the fight song, and there was a huge roar from the team.
He's well respected because he gets banged around. He's a tough kid, like I said. He was a state qualifier. I don't know if he won state champs or he was a semifinalist, but he was a darn good wrestler. So you know he's got a lot of toughness in him.
Q. Brian, just double-checking, you did say no other injuries. I know Nick Martin hopped off at one point, but just checking in on any other possible guys we need to keep an eye on this week.
COACH KELLY: No, Nick's got an ankle sprain, but he finished the game. Martini had a hip, nothing major. I'm going through my list here. Grace, wrist sprain mild. Cage mild. And then just some bumps and bruises. So nobody that shouldn't be able to answer the call for Saturday.
Q. How much of a relief is that considering the beginning of the year with all the injuries, going through two option teams where often that can happen, to come out relatively unscathed?
COACH KELLY: Well, my 1:30 meeting with the doctors has been my most anxious time of the year. So the last couple of weeks, the last two, three weeks have been pretty good. Hopefully, we get that trend continues because certainly -- we get USC this week, and then we get a week off. So that's going to be helpful as we move into the back end of the season.