Nov. 17, 2015
University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference
Head Coach Brian Kelly
COACH KELLY: Afternoon. It's that time of the season where each and every week is a refocusing on the attention to really yourself and what you need to do to prepare your football team each and every week. Everybody now knows the offense, defense, and special teams of their opponents. There is plenty of film out there, so it's really about your execution, how you pair, and how you play.
So another opponent that knows us well, Boston College. We've had great games against Boston College. They're always difficult matches, two universities that share a lot of common ground, Catholic universities, outstanding academic institutions, and certainly a program that we're very familiar with, and we'll be playing for the Frank Leahy Trophy. So a trophy game.
Well-coached football team. Steve does a great job. Lot of respect for Steve Addazio and what he's done. Really creating a football team that plays with some grit, determination, toughness. It's a tough football team. It's a young football team, but one that brings along his personality and his style. Clearly they are dealing with the loss of a quarterback as well and making the best of the situation.
On defense, Donnie Brown does a great job as defensive coordinator, veteran defensive coordinator. Their numbers speak for themselves. It's the number one total defense in the country, deservingly so. They are very difficult to run the football on, very aggressive defense. Get up in your face, big, physical, strong, outstanding linebackers.
I think when you talk about some specific guys, Steven Daniels at the linebacker position, Simmons at the safety, they'll hit you.
Again, very, very well-coached, very good defense. And a long line of very good defenses that we've played this year. I think we're going to play seven top-40 defenses this year. So this one is the best statistically in the country this year. So great challenge for our football team.
Again, we've got take care of what we do. We've got to have a great week of practice, and play at Fenway Park is going to be exciting. We're really excited about the Shamrock Series. Going on the road has been something that we've really enjoyed. Playing in Boston, playing in front of great fans. We've got great support in New England and in particular Boston.
There will be some logistical things we have to work through. We're both on the same sideline, so we're working through that in practice, but should be a great venue and a great night for football. So with that we'll open it up to questions.
Q. I'm not insinuating you would have been a teenager or an older person when this happened --
COACH KELLY: When the Red Sox beat the Cardinals?
Q. Well, you were an older person then. But Patriots games at Fenway, did your dad ever take you to one of those?
COACH KELLY: No, never made it to one. Do remember them playing vividly about a game in particular, but never went to one.
Q. And you went back to Boston in 2012. Is this any different for you, different experience, less people asking for tickets?
COACH KELLY: More people asking for tickets. Well, it's the venue, right? It's playing at Fenway Park. It's a 9-1 football team. Though we were undefeated when we went back there. I think it's the Fenway Park attraction, certainly the Shamrock Series is certainly more of the draw.
Q. You mentioned the logistics with the teams being on the same sideline. What about the tight corners in the end zone? Have you -- do you have a good report on what the turf is like?
COACH KELLY: I do not. They felt very comfortable with what they have put together. We've seen pictures, the sidelines, the end zones seem to be adequate where we don't seem to have a concern about our players and safety issues. Feel very comfortable. Got a schematic of it. They laid down new sod, but we played on a lot of fields that laid down new sod fairly regularly in the NFL stadiums.
So I'm fairly confident they're a professional group and feel like the field condition shouldn't be an issue.
Q. With the offense that Boston College runs, is this a good game to have Martini-Grace in the mix at that outside linebacker position? And what do you think you'll get from them?
COACH KELLY: I think we'll get fundamentally sound football. Both those guys are very conscientious players and both can play in space. Greer, I thought, did a very nice job as a cover down linebacker for us against Wake. Wake was in virtually all spread sets. He was out over a No. 2 receiver for virtually the entire game.
When they get into more two tight end sets, Jarrett Grace will get the lion's share of the play. But we'll use those two as a tandem in the loss of James Onwualu.
Q. Jonathan Bonner got some playing time this past weekend. What brought that on? What have you been seeing in practice from him? What did you think of him in the game?
COACH KELLY: I think he brings us a pass rush, and he's becoming a lot more comfortable working inside. He was an outside player for us, and I think it's just Coach Gilmore's feeling much more comfortable with his ability to play the inside tackle techniques that are needed.
As you know, Daniel Cage was not available for us as well, and he became the next man up in that situation.
Q. Another team coming off a bye week, obviously not a coincidence. I think we talked about it a little bit last week. But what's been the greatest challenge playing against teams that have an extra week to prepare?
COACH KELLY: Well, I just think you become who you are and then there are changes in your game plan, and certainly you have to be prepared for some game plan, self-scouting adjustments. Tendencies are broken. You go back and look at what you're doing and you come back and try to do something different.
So you have to be able to do some in-game adjustments, which we were forced to do against Wake Forest, and now we're better prepared and be ready to do that against Boston College early on.
Q. How do you feel at this point as a young quarterback going through those mid-game adjustments where you're at times working off of what you had game planned during the week?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we feel pretty good about DeShone's ability to communicate with us on the sideline and pick things up. He's very smart. And, again, his retention is excellent. At halftime we went over some things that cleaned up some protections for him. We didn't have those issues in the second half. He's really good to work with.
Q. What is your favorite Fenway memory?
COACH KELLY: I've got a lot of them. Recently probably sitting up in the Green Monster seats with my family. That was probably the most recent. As a kid, probably going with my dad to the '75 World Series. I think those probably stand out.
But going to Fenway is an event in itself. It's not just the stadium, but it's the surroundings and it's always an enjoyable time.
Q. Which game of the series did you go to?
COACH KELLY: Cincinnati. I can't remember if it was -- I'd have to look back on it. I don't know it was 5 or 6. One of those. Okay, well, then it wasn't 5. I can't remember if it was that one or one of the others. But it was an exciting game. I know that.
Q. Understanding the Shamrock Series, any concern, though, that this is the first time you're going to another team's hometown and basically the fact that you're selling tickets, this is a home game for them?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I'm not that concerned. I thought the Temple atmosphere and Clemson really prepared you for being in kind of that real hometown. When you drive into the stadium and it's all one team, you kind of are hit with that.
Obviously when we get into the stadium, we think it's going to be obviously a partial Notre Dame crowd. So I think our kids are well acclimated to that. And late in the season now, being on the road, I think they'll be very level-headed about it.
Q. You asked for Romeo the other day. Just talk about he started here so young. Just this season, first four games, one sack, past five, eight sacks. Have you seen him do anything differently or is it something that you've seen that's allowed him to get those sacks?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think confidence is a great thing for many people. I think he's just playing right now with -- he jumps over a back. Launches himself. I mean, he's playing with some of that reckless abandon that at times he was kind of feeling his way through his role in his play, where now he's really confident in what he's doing and how he's doing it.
I think that's probably the biggest key for him right now.
Q. Just seeing how he's progressing now, do you kind of -- I know you make decisions, but do you wish that freshman year you could have red-shirted him?
COACH KELLY: Certainly. But there are no guarantees that he comes back. Because he's already going to have his degree. So the catch-22 here at Notre Dame becomes most of these guys will have their degree. What's the certainty that they come back, right? So when we're on the fence there where we think that they can contribute in some way, we'd rather play them because there is really no guarantee that they're going to come back. If they're not a front-line player, they want to play. And if they don't play, they'll generally try to find another place where they can get on the field. So it's kind of one of those catch-22s for us.
Q. You talked about Wake Forest playing keepaway. Do you expect teams to maybe copy that and try to beat you now? What can you do to prevent that?
COACH KELLY: Well, certainly we've got a pretty good offense, and teams would certainly go into the game thinking that ball control would be a great way to keep our offense off the field and limit our opportunities.
I just think we were pretty good in third down situations. I think we've got to be better on third down. I think we had a couple third downs where we needed to get off the field, and I think that's what we'll have to see, getting off the field on third down has to be key for us.
Q. What are you looking for improved offensively? Because you said you only had 49 plays, but you had the lowest average per play of the season. If you took away that 90-yard run, only three point yards a play.
COACH KELLY: I would say that we just have to be probably a little more aggressive. I thought we were a little conservative at times. Probably a little more aggressive in the areas where we've been pushing the ball vertically. So we'll get back to being more aggressive offensively.
Q. Even though Josh had a great game, do you think he missed C.J. a little bit there?
COACH KELLY: Oh, we're a better football team with both of them, without question. C.J.'s an elite player. Getting him back this week will be beneficial to our football team.
Q. You talked a little about Fenway and some of your memories. But as someone who grew up in Boston, what is it about that place that's so special to our community?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with baseball in itself. Summer pastime. You're dealing I think in particular with getting out of the winter months in Boston, where it can be long and cold and you're outdoors.
So I think a lot of that for me is it's springtime, it's baseball and you're outdoors enjoying being outdoors after sometimes a grueling, grueling winter. I know they went through that this past winter. I think that has a lot to do with it.
Q. There are also two reasons you might be excited for a game, be it an opponent or what's at stake. But has there ever been a stadium you've been more excited to coach in?
COACH KELLY: No, I think it's a classic Shamrock Series. Whether it's Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park. I just think we do a great job of finding those iconic venues. I'll be excited if we could get Lambeau Field. I would be excited in terms of those classic venues. Fenway Park is one of those. This one is certainly a great one, and we'll look forward to more just like this.
Q. You've played a couple teams this year that have had really scout run defenses that have tried to have success against you. And in those games frequently those have also been the games where Will Fuller has gone off. Is that not coincidental? Is that something that will be important to you again this week?
COACH KELLY: I think everybody knows who Will Fuller is. I don't think in particular there is one game where you go, all right, this is going to be the one. I think you still have to be aggressive and pick your spots.
I was answering the question earlier. You know, what do you think you'll do differently? I think we just need to continue to be more aggressive. Even if you are playing zone coverage, you can still be aggressive. It doesn't have to be, well, we're going to load the box and play man.
So I think that that's what has to happen regardless of whether they're loading the box or not. I think our offense really took its shape when we were aggressive down field.
Q. You talk a lot about C.J. and Josh and what they've done this year, but you maybe don't talk about Autry as much. I was wondering if you could speak to what's impressed you most about what Autry has done in his first season here?
COACH KELLY: I just think he's a calming influence to those young players. He's a mentor in a sense that he can really do a great job off the field with them, spends time with them. Does a great job of being there for them when they need him, both -- as I said, he also leads our ministry program. He's there for the whole person.
Those young guys in their transition here lean on Autry quite a bit, and I think he's been a great addition to our staff, especially with those young backs.
Q. How much of what he's doing is really just simplifying things for a guy like C.J. who doesn't have the experience?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think that's some of it. There is no question that C.J. has a pretty good understanding of the entire offense and its verbiage and nomenclature. I think what Autry does is give him a little experience as a running back and can talk to him in terms that only a running back, who was the all-time leading rusher at Notre Dame, can talk to him about. That's a great one-on-one conversation.
So I can't do that for him. Autry can do that and can talk about things that can really connect with him. I think he uses that when he needs it, and I think it's been an effective tool.
Q. Can you just talk about what type of influence have guys like Paul Cantiani and Bernie Gaughan had on you?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think more than anything else they gave me a chance to play college football. When you get a chance to play college football, it opens up so many opportunities for you to grow. Both those gentlemen were my coaches in college and gave me a chance to be a captain and lead and learn how to lead and learn about teamwork, learn about attention to detail. All the things that I espouse today in my own program.
Q. Is there any takeaway maybe from their coaching styles that you have now?
COACH KELLY: Oh, you steal a little bit of everything, right? From my high school coach, Fred Glatz, to every coach that I've been around. Paul Cantiani was an insurance salesman, and, boy, he could sell, right? So you take a little bit of that. He was great at that.
And Bernie Gaughan was a blue-collar technician. I mean, he was every day about football. It was about the X's and the O's, and learning football and watching film and watching tape. So there were two different head coaches. So learned a lot from them.
Q. I had a baseball question for you. You mentioned before this sports were an escape for you when you have downtime in the off-season. What is it about the pace and rhythms of baseball that appeals to you?
COACH KELLY: You can fall asleep for a little bit and keep the game on. It's nice. And wake back up and it's still going on.
I think for the downtime that we have, which is very little, it's not as stressful. It's not as -- it doesn't have the same pace and deadlines. It's competitive, but for me it's a more relaxing way to watch competition. I'm sure Mick doesn't feel that way, but he has a different take on it.
Q. With Torii, you mentioned the catch against Pitt that he had in the red zone. You told him it was going to be a tight window, and you've got to make a great catch. But the routes he had to run to get to that point, is that another area where he's run routes and been able to get into that window to make that good of a catch?
COACH KELLY: No, he's always been a pretty savvy guy. That was a stutter route off of a safety. He was showing if he was going to block the safety and kind of got the safety to sit his seat down and then burst. He's always been really good at that. That's kind of been his, I would say, strength, coming in.
Then he just hasn't had enough of those opportunities. But as you can see, he's getting more of those kinds of opportunities. When we need him, we're going to him. Especially those kinds of plays.
Q. In the last three weeks I think his targets are up, his catches are up. What's he done to really carve out that role since the start of October, November?
COACH KELLY: Probably just us recognizing that he needed to get those touches and just being smarter coaches.
Q. With BC's defense, I think they've only allowed one rush of over 40 yards. Is this one of those games where the lesson for C.J. coming out of Temple was you've got to grind out the three-yard carry? Is this one of those games where that really applies more so?
COACH KELLY: Yes and no. I don't think you can make a living with this team or win or score enough points just trying to stack three-yard runs against them. It's going to be a long day. They would hope that that's the way you kind of play the game. We've got to try to find explosive plays, so that's why C.J. Prosise needs to be in this game.
So, yeah, there are going to be some three-yard runs, and he's got to recognize that that's it. But we hope to manufacture some other ones as well.
Q. You mentioned Bonner being able to get into the rotation and starting Rochell inside. Defensive line depth has been an issue in the last couple years in November. How important is it to have that in this month?
COACH KELLY: We were in desperate straits, as you know, going into the middle to late November last year. We're in a better position. We'll see where it finishes out, but we're in such a better position through recruiting depth. We've got some guys that are actually fresh that haven't played much; that, if called upon, could help us. I think they could step in and do a pretty good job.
Q. When you look at a lot of teams, maybe you can point to one player defensively to game plan against. But with BC, they've got three or four guys that have more than ten tackles for loss, a number of sacks in different places. How do you approach trying to game plan that?
COACH KELLY: It's really a defensive unit philosophy that you're working at more than anything else. So it's not one particular guy. So you're really looking at how they're coached and how they're defending down and distance and formationally.
So you're right. It's not one guy. You're not trying to do this. You're really attacking a system of defense and how it's coached, and that's how you go about it.
Q. You said when you hired Mike Sanford you wanted somebody who would turn the room upside down. Has he done that?
COACH KELLY: I think he's contributed greatly to the energy, the ideas. I think Mike Denbrock has been great. I think Autry, I think everybody has contributed, Harry, everybody. Scott Booker. Everybody has contributed greatly to what we're doing.
I think where we're feeling his immediate effects is he's done an incredible job of mentoring and coaching the quarterbacks.
Q. And finally, Trumbetti, obviously right place, right time to get that interception for a touchdown. But where have you seen the most development in Andrew this year?
COACH KELLY: Well, he's a guy, too, that in similar fashion, like Romeo, is gaining confidence. And as he gains more confidence, you'll see more of his athleticism.
You know, he returned kickoffs in high school. He's really athletic. And sometimes you don't see all that come out until they gain that confidence. He started to gain some of that confidence. I think as it comes along, you'll see more and more of that continue to show itself.
Q. In losing Onwualu -- you talked about what you're gaining from the two guys that are going to move into that position. What do you lose from the progress that Onwualu has made?
COACH KELLY: Well, as you know, he was coming on. He was playing his best football. Against Pittsburgh, he was aggressive off the edge, had a sack. He's gone from being a very, very good cover down backer to somebody that was tackling effectively. And probably as big a loss in special teams. Outstanding special teams player for us as well. So he will be sorely missed. Hopefully we get him back here in a couple weeks.
Q. What goes through the mind of a young defensive end who has a live ball laying in front of him? What kind of explanation did you get for his non-reaction to that?
COACH KELLY: Well, he wanted to be the official on that play. And I said, well, we have guys out there with striped shirts. You don't have one. So you just need to play.
Just a young kid. Overthinking it. Just get on the ball. Again, hadn't played a lot this year. Got in there and just thinking too much.
Q. I don't think we've checked in on Tarean Folston lately. How is he doing? What's he doing? Saw him on the sideline on Saturday.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, doing well. Making really good progress. You know, it's hard because you've got to keep up with Tranquill who is a freak in his rehab. But he's matching him. And it's great to have those guys on similar paths relative to the surgery because Tarean now has to have a bar, and it's Tranquill. And Tranquill is a little bit ahead of him. Why is he a little ahead of you? So they're both making great progress.
The guy who is making the best progress right now is Durham Smythe. We're encouraged with Durham that we may even get him back for a playoff situation or a bowl game. So he's made great progress as well. So these guys are really -- my point is they're really pushing each other and we like where they are right now.
Q. Is there any doubt about Folston's return to the program next year?
COACH KELLY: He hasn't -- he has not indicated to me that he would not be back.
Q. Can you provide an update on the concussion people -- Cage, also Weishar, Prosise?
COACH KELLY: Prosise, Weishar will be in practice today. Cage has not been cleared for practice. Encouraged, but not cleared for practice.
Q. When you have Trumbetti in and you move Rochell inside, team pass rush-wise there was an improvement. How did it grade out overall as far as what you were able to do? Even though you said there were some bits that weren't well done there?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we weren't as pleased with some of our run fits. But the pass rush was as good as it has been all year. A number of hits on the quarterback. 14 TFLs, we were disruptive in that area.
Q. What was your critique of the offensive line? Obviously there are so many things that Wake Forest did that maybe they didn't during the course of the year. The adjustments they were able to do in the second half when Kizer was also able to get into some correct protection?
COACH KELLY: I thought we missed two protections that we should have picked up, and it wasn't -- they weren't easy. They came from distance. We didn't squeeze on a couple of them. They were correctible but difficult. They were first-time pressures that we hadn't seen before. Those you give credit to your option. But we protected the quarterback, except for one late in the third quarter where we had a miss and a sack.
I would say we graded out okay. It wasn't our best day. We played really well against Pitt, we didn't play quite as well across the board. But I think it's pretty much what I had said after the game. It was just an okay performance by everybody.
Q. With Cage, are you taking a similar approach as you did with Prosise with the protocol, not taking any chances?
COACH KELLY: His is -- each case is so different, and Matt Leiszler, our doctor, does a great job. They're so individual that he kind of is working with them individually and personally. And Daniel's is different than all the other cases. So he'll update us daily on what's going on.
Q. At this point of the season, do guys like Alizé Jones, Jerry Tillery, do you see a little bit of a wall that those guys are trying to climb over?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think they're past it. I think they're past it. I think they probably hit that maybe week eight, week nine, right around that mid-winter break.
I think there is a bounceback that we're getting from them now, but there definitely was that time where we lost them for a little bit in terms of their peak. But we definitely see them coming back to where they were earlier in the year.
Q. When you look at Saturday, did you feel like that was one of Joe Schmidt's better games?
COACH KELLY: Joe was effective in the way he fitted the run game for us. Couple of uncharacteristic mistakes relative to his positioning. Couple times he was supposed to be out of the box on a couple of plays, which is uncharacteristic.
But on the other side of it, he made a couple plays that he hadn't been making earlier in the year. So we borrowed a couple from the other end that he usually gives us, which is interesting. No, he was really solid in this game.
Q. You were asked a little earlier about some things that Wake Forest did defensively. But in terms of what DeShone got out of Saturday, when you looked at the tape, whether at the -- I guess maybe some blitzes that he maybe sees in practice from Brian VanGorder, what do you think he got out of that experience?
COACH KELLY: He got a lot out of it. There were a couple things there that we should have picked up and a couple things that he got baited on a couple that when he saw it right away, he knew. He actually knew on the sideline, and we cleaned those up in the second half and they weren't issues anymore.
There were a couple things in coverage that he hadn't done a lot of work on that he clearly knows he got away from some fundamentals, and that's kind of what I talked to him about on the sideline. Look, when new things happen, go back to your base. Go back to your fundamentals, and they'll carry you here.
And that's really what he learned from it. If I get into something that's new or I don't know what's going on, go back to my fundamentals and it will carry you. I think that's what he learned.
Q. This is probably a difficult question. But comparing and contrasting to other quarterbacks you've coached, is DeShone Kizer at the top or close to the top in terms of this is the kind of personality I love to coach as a quarterback?
COACH KELLY: What I love about him is his retention. When I say retention, the quarterback position requires information, and then when you give them that information, they have to be -- they have to listen to that and follow it precisely. They can't kind of follow it. And he's really precise in following the information you give. So he's at the top of the charts.
When you give him information, he doesn't like skip over B and C and go right to D. He's A, B, C and D. And that's what it requires. A great quarterback has to be that detailed. And he carries that with him, and that's what makes him a good quarterback.
Q. Did you have any sense of that last year, and how rare is that for a red-shirt freshman to have that A, B, C, D?
COACH KELLY: Well, I knew he had the traits, and I knew he was really smart in our meetings. I didn't know if he could carry that on to the field, and that was the big question.
Q. We've talked a lot about KeiVarae, but Cole Luke has put together a very solid season. Where do you think he's progressed from last year in his first year as a starter to this year?
COACH KELLY: Eye discipline. It was his best game with eye discipline. Obviously he's got to pull that ball away. On the big play up the sideline. But he's getting so much better with his discipline, and that's what he has to continue to fight and work on every single day. It doesn't come easy. He has to work on it every single day. When he does and he's on it, it's his best game in terms of eye discipline. If he continues down that road, he's going to continue to improve and get better at that position.
Q. How much do you think the experience last year being thrown into the fire helped him for this year?
COACH KELLY: All those things helped. He's not afraid of the moment. There is no question. And I think that helps. If you're sloppy in your technique, if you're not disciplined in what you do, doesn't matter if you play against NFL players. It's not going to help you if your technique is poor.
I think Coach Lyght does a really good job every day of pounding that home about discipline, technique, playing the ball in the air, all the fundamentals that you have to have at that position. We're getting better there.
It was probably our best day. Couple of eye violations by our safety late in the game, if we have those cleaned up, we have a really, really good day in the back end.
Q. DeShone has eight rushing touchdowns. He's coming up on Tony Rice and Rick Mirer who had nine. Pretty impressive. Is there something special about him finding the end zone? Is it a combination of the line? This kid just seems to have that ability to reach in there sometimes.
COACH KELLY: Well, we're running option. We're running option down there. A true read option. Didn't do it with Golson. Didn't do it with Tommy Rees. Didn't do it with the other quarterbacks who were here. So that's one reason.
The other reason is he's 235 pounds. He's big, he's strong. And down there, if you're going to go double out some really talented receivers, you get friendly boxes to run the football.
So I think those two things right there, and he's a guy that enjoys running the football. So you put all those things together, and that's why those plays are called.
Q. Manti Te'o was here on Saturday. I don't know if you got a chance to talk to him?
COACH KELLY: I saw him. I did.
Q. It was nice to see him come back. I know his schedule has been crazy. But to see the fans welcome him and the players. And Joe Schmidt was so complimentary to him after the game. He said something to the effect of thanks for showing me how. Great to see him here?
COACH KELLY: It was great to see him. And Justin Utupo, Kona Schwenke, and all of our guys that we've recruited from distance, to get them all here.
But in particular great to have a young man that is so revered, so well-liked, was so influential on so many people here in what we did as a football program in his time off to come back, those are the kind of bridges you want built for your former players to feel comfortable to come back. It was good to see.
Q. In some ways it to me it seems it was so long ago, but it was just a couple years ago. That was such an incredible season for him. Do you think fondly of those days?
COACH KELLY: Oh, absolutely. Just having Manti out there, you felt like it was going to be very difficult for teams to score points because of his penchant for being around the football, for making plays, for motivating. On the sideline he was always into it. So slept pretty good late in the year with him on our team.
There have got to be some questions from callers who want to know about my overall softball record or something like that, I'm sure.