UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 9, 2018
BRIAN KELLY: Good afternoon. Just to recap on last week what we did well was handle the elements on the road in a very difficult place traditionally to play in. Certainly what we learned is that we need to play four quarters. We played well in the second half. Probably didn't play our best in the first half. Certainly we have some room to grow, and we've got to be better there.
What we learned, I think, more than anything else, is that we can overcome adversity. We lost some key players, played, went on the road without some key players, and our guys stepped up and played extremely well.
Handling adversity, handling a road environment is something that I'm really pleased with with last week. And then we've got to play for four quarters. So that's kind of a recap from last weekend.
Going on to Pittsburgh now, again, when we talk about Pittsburgh, Pat Narduzzi is somebody that I'm very familiar with as a former Michigan State defensive coordinator. We've had many battles with him, and now as the head coach, we know the style of football, physical, hard-nosed, run the football, aggressive defense. We're going to get that again. They beat a very good Syracuse team last week, coming off a great victory, a lot of momentum.
Really like the way they're playing. Their middle linebacker is really -- having him back in the middle, 57, is a guy that really helps them defensively, structurally, really get things going with their front seven.
Defensively, again, it's a structure that's similar to what we've seen in the past with Michigan State, aggressive corner play, aggressive 3rd down pressures. So again, something that we're familiar with, but one that you have to be really in tune, and we'll have to do a very good job of picking up their pressures.
Offensively, they're running the ball very, very well, as well as anybody that we've seen this year. This is an offense that wants to control the line of scrimmage. I like their offensive line. It's a veteran group. They play exceedingly well together as a group. The running back situation, you know, Ollison and Hall are contributing, both of them, at a high level. They're big, physical backs, they play with a fullback, so it's good old-fashioned get-after-it football, which is synonymous with Pittsburgh in terms of who they are and what they've been as an identity.
Really good wide receiver group, Mack and others that have now stepped in for them can break the game open. They've got a really good kicking game, returners. Kessman had two 50-yard-plus field goals.
So a team that certainly wants to come in -- and each year now they've upset a top-ranked team, Miami last year, the year before Clemson, so certainly a capable football team and one that you have to be able to match their physicality and their will, and it's led by their head coach, Pat Narduzzi, who does a great job. Have a lot of respect for him.
That's a quick overview of Pittsburgh and the respect that we have for them, and we're going to have to play well certainly to beat them.
Q. Brian, you mentioned Daelin Hayes' situation on Sunday; do you have any more clarification on where that's kind of headed?
BRIAN KELLY: I think he's a day-to-day really. You know, I think I mentioned to you that he had a stinger. Those typically clear up in most cases immediately. Some linger. He is getting better. He's got good strength, which is a great sign. Generally if there's weakness associated with that, that could be a longer-term kind of injury. He's got great strength. Now it's just a matter of getting that full feeling back in his arm and hand, and he was reporting progress in that regard.
I think we're at a day-to-day situation. He'll be out there today in a non-contact situation, and he'll be non-contact until we get full resolution with the stinger.
Q. Even before you had some injuries on the defensive line, we've watched that position grow up a lot since 2016.
BRIAN KELLY: Yes.
Q. Can you maybe give us some insight into Mike Elston's developmental model with that and why that works so well?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think the first word would be patience. I think the next would be what you just mentioned; there has to be development in our model on the defensive line. Very rarely is it plug-and-play. We're fortunate that we've had some players over the years, but there has to be a level of patience in developing our players from a fit standpoint, and then obviously having the ability to go out and impact the game, and I think we've seen that with a number of our players.
Patience, developmental, and I think Mike has done a great job of -- in that room, creating a culture that when it's your time, you're playing at a high level.
Q. A couple of kind of injury-related questions. With Jafar still, same kind of timetable with him?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, he's up and moving. He's getting range of motion. The draining of that knee now has completed itself in the sense that he now can get into the full rehabilitation of getting that quad strength back. He'll get the sutures out at the end of the week.
Obviously we'll get him back into range of motion next week and then see where we go from there.
Q. And Drew with the cast, how do you feel like his comfort level with it was in the game? Any big-time soreness after the game with it?
BRIAN KELLY: No, I think that he -- well, first of all, level of soreness goes from player to player. He plays with a high level there. Other players would probably be bothered.
No, there is some -- you have to acclimate to that, the cast. He got caught inside a couple of times with his left hand being the lead hand, and he struggled a little bit trying to get outside. He's getting used to playing with that cast, and he felt it a couple of times on Saturday. He's much more aware of how to use that and be cognizant of it. But he'll be in a better place with it this week.
Q. How do you feel about the kind of evolution of your nickel position, where it's going and how it's played to this point?
BRIAN KELLY: We've got to get better there. There's no question. From a technique standpoint, I mentioned it again, we were in two trail, we got caught behind the receiver in two trail. We've got to be in better position. But you know, we've got two guys there that we feel are best-suited for the position in Houston and Nick, and they're going to continue to get work on it. We're going to spend even more time on it. And those are the two best players in our program for that position. So we've got to continue to coach it. We've got to continue to develop it. You're looking at the two guys that are going to have to continue to grow in that position.
Q. Coming off an emotional win on the road this past week and the bye week, coming off next week, do you fear this could be maybe a trap game of sorts for your team?
BRIAN KELLY: No, we weren't very emotional. I think we didn't play with enough passion at times in that game. I think one of the things that we talked about is that that wasn't our best performance in a lot of ways, and we have to play with more energy. We have to play with more passion, and that is going to be the emphasis this week in terms of how we need to play against Pittsburgh.
You know, this is really about going back to the practice field, having much more of a focus on how we prepare. We have a great deal of respect for Pittsburgh and how they'll come out to play us. We know that this is a big game for them.
But for us, it's important that we play at a higher level this weekend.
Q. Do you think the fact that Pitt has beaten two ranked top-10 teams the last few years, do you think that helps your team maybe not overlook them, because they have a track record of beating top teams?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, again, I think it's not even part of our conversation. Again, we have a great deal of respect for our opponents, but really this is much more about how we prepare. We're not pleased with the way we played for four quarters last week, and our emphasis will be on our performance and playing much better.
Q. (No microphone.) What kind of year is he having overall, and what does he mean to the rest of the group and what they've been able to do, and how would you describe his personality, and how does that play into that room and affect that room?
BRIAN KELLY: Senior statesman, if you will, not extremely vocal, but when he does speak, people listen. He is taking much more of a vocal leadership role in the last week or so since Alex Bars has gone down. It's his best season thus far since he's been here. Consistency, technique, all the things that are part of what an offensive lineman needs to be at the top of his game, he has been there. It's really fun to see him playing at such a high level.
Q. And his personality?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, as I mentioned, I think his personality is one where he's not very vocal, but his presence and the way he comes to work every day is one that rubs off on everybody else. He's so professional. He's so squared away in everything he does. His attention to detail, his focus. When it's business time, he's a pretty locked-in guy.
Q. I've got two questions. The first one is kind of silly, and I'll get that out of the way first --
BRIAN KELLY: Silly questions. Silly questions. Interesting how silly questions would be asked here today.
Q. Thank you. The first question would be, my silly question is, you mentioned the other day where you were getting used to the music of today, and as long as this keeps going you'll go along with it.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah.
Q. What was on your phonograph in 1980, in the '80s and stuff like that? What did you like to listen to?
BRIAN KELLY: It's the same music that's on my iPhone today. That tells you a lot about me. It was Bruce Springsteen, a lot of Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run. I think I listened to -- I'm on 15,000 times now, so that makes me a pretty exciting guy, if you want to hang out. (Laughter.) So I know all the words. But it doesn't get boring. I guess that's why coaching doesn't get bothering to me.
Q. Now the more serious question.
BRIAN KELLY: Good.
Q. By my count on your depth chart, you have six receivers who are 6'4" and taller. Besides the obvious advantage of the mismatches that occur when you throw to them, what else do you get from having such big receivers on the field, and when did it start to become part of the recruiting plan to go after those kind of kids?
BRIAN KELLY: I think it started to change for me about 15 years ago where more players wanted to play on the offensive side of the ball. When offense changed from much more of a pro-style to much more of a spread, you had a deeper talent pool. Guys started to show up on that side of the ball that were longer and taller and -- especially at that position. I think I started to see the proliferation of that position in terms of profile starting to change as I was recruiting. And it just continued to go in that direction.
Size obviously does a lot of things. One of it is obviously catching radius. They still have to be able to run, but they give you other options. Obviously blocking on the perimeter is another thing that really helps you quite a bit. And then I think it allows you to do some things from your offensive perspective and your running game, as well. You know, you've got to be able to put the ball into some low spots in low areas. Those taller receivers allow you in the spot passing game to give you some good match-ups.
Q. Six games, 15 sacks. I think everybody would agree that your pass rush has been better than that stat indicates. You also have 31 quarterback hurries. You'd prefer the sacks certainly, especially strip sacks, but as long as you're getting pressures, are you good with that?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, we're much more interested in quarterback hurries and getting them out of the pocket and getting them out of rhythm, much more than anything else. Today as you know, the passing game is a three-step passing game. Pass deflections are also part of that, getting your hands up. The escapability of quarterbacks make it much more difficult, obviously, the ability to run. We're much more interested in disruptions, hurries, pass deflections, and getting the quarterback out of the midfield, getting out of it so he's only in one quadrant of the field. If we can get him to escape to one third of the field, get him out of the pocket, we're affecting the pass.
Q. So through six games, halfway, how would you assess overall your pass rush?
BRIAN KELLY: Consistent. There's been a consistent rush on the quarterback in the sense that he's been under duress.
Q. Jafar Armstrong, how long was he in the hospital, or when did he get out?
BRIAN KELLY: Let's see. He went in -- six days. Six days.
Q. As of right now, you would still anticipate that he would be back after the bye week?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah. I think he's trending pretty good. You know, it's complicated in the sense that six days sounds like a lot, but we were draining that knee area and making sure that no infection would get in there. And so it required a round-the-clock maintenance on that, and it's something that's better done in a hospital environment than back in the dorm. St. Liam's is closed for overnight care, so we didn't have that available to us. So it was much easier for us to keep him at St. Joe's.
Q. You had four freshmen defensively that made some significant plays, especially in the second half.
BRIAN KELLY: Yep.
Q. Griffith, the Ademilolas, Shayne Simon on goal line --
BRIAN KELLY: Nice play. Made a nice play on the goal line.
Q. Right. What led you to the conclusion that he should be a guy in there in goal-line situations?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, we had 14 out of the 27 signees that took that trip to Virginia Tech, 14 of the 27. We're getting into the year now where it's starting to maybe slow down a little bit for them. Some of the guys are starting to see the game a little bit clearer, maybe a little too fast early on, and we're starting to see that. Shayne Simon would be one of those guys. A little too fast early on. Maybe he was overthinking the game a little bit. It's starting to slow down. Paul Moala is another guy who you saw on kickoff, who we're starting to see the game come to him a little bit, and I think you're going to see some guys continue to show some of that growth as we move forward.
Q. And as it relates to Simon, did he come in and show you he was a physical player from the outset?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, had the athletic ability, but the game -- again, it's the tactical piece that you have to put together, as well, and sometimes you're just trying to put it all together, school starts, everything, and it's starting now for our guys, the young guys. Everything is now a nice routine, and they're starting to get a lot more comfortable.
Q. Pride left the field a couple times on Saturday --
BRIAN KELLY: Ankle sprain.
Q. Where is he this week or at this point?
BRIAN KELLY: It's a mild ankle sprain, but any time you have an ankle sprain with a corner, you know you're going to be careful with him, but we think he'll be fine for Saturday.
Q. Any reason to believe you'll have a different starting quarterback on Saturday?
BRIAN KELLY: No, Ian Book will be the starting quarterback on Saturday.
Q. Do you ever dabble in newer Springsteen, or is it always Born to Run?
BRIAN KELLY: No, I have them all. I have everything he has ever written or produced.
Q. You said earlier in the year, I think it might have been after Michigan, that your team needed to work on putting teams away, and it's something they probably struggled with early, but they seem to be doing better at that in your last couple games. Where do you feel you are in making progress with that?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, certainly the last two weeks we've done a really nice job with that. I think something is in the ability to complement your defense, and offensively we're scoring some points. We weren't doing that earlier in the season in the second half. You know, sometimes we make a little bit too much. I think we're just -- we're playing a little bit better on both sides of the ball. We can play better as a unit offensively and defensively together for four quarters.
We were a little spotty, obviously, on Saturday, you know, where we had a good run offensively, and then maybe some such a good run defensively. It would be nice to put it all together. We've got some room for growth there. But I think more than anything else, this putting opponents away is much more about -- our guys are in really good physical condition. They can play all day. I think we're scoring some points in the second half that we weren't earlier in the year.
Q. You mentioned areas of improvement and playing well for four quarters, and your players have echoed that more than once this year where they've won but not been satisfied how they've won. What does that say about them that they're that critical of themselves despite having pretty good success to this point?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, they have a standard. We all have a standard within these walls of the kind of play. To be the best defense, to be the best offense, you set a standard. And we're able to visually show them what that standard looks like because they set it by the kind of play that they've had at times.
When they can visually see that and then you take clips from the game this past week and show them what it looks like when they don't, it's easy to be critical of where they are. They're still winning football games. They're still showing resolve. They're still doing a lot of really good things, but it's nice to know that after six weeks that there's still plenty of room for growth.
Q. You've had two teams here in this position before, started off 6-0. One finished very well, the other did not. What are the characteristics of that '12 team that you've identified that you'd like this team to continue to show if they're not or -- I guess just how do you use that as an example of how you'd like them to finish?
BRIAN KELLY: Just staying in the moment. Once you start to get outside of your process and your day-to-day, then that's where things can obviously come apart. So just stay in the moment. Let's make Tuesday a great day, and if we make Tuesday a great day, we should be in pretty good shape.
Q. You've had three different running backs lead you in rushing yards for different games this year. What's your evaluation of the job Autry Denson has done with that group, and what has stood out about his teaching of that group?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, Autry has had to adjust to a number of different factors in there with a quarterback in Avery Davis who has moved there; Jafar Armstrong, who was a wide receiver; Dexter, who wasn't around for the first four weeks; Tony Jones, who was banged up. I think what it says a lot about Autry is just his ability to stay calm under not an easy circumstance. It's not the same group of guys every week. He's had to go in there and reshuffle the deck each and every week. I think it takes an extraordinary coach and teacher to stay on task each and every week when it's somebody new, and we know that about him. He's been through it himself as a player here. He knows what it's like, and he's been able to do a great job with that room of getting the players ready that are available to him.
Q. Status of Tony's ankle?
BRIAN KELLY: Much better. Much better. I think this week he should be in a position where he's not limited by carries or time of the game.
Q. And since we're quizzing you about your music, is there anything that you've heard that the players listen to that you've decided to add to your iPhone?
BRIAN KELLY: No. (Laughter.) No. I had the music right next to our -- it was weird because I never really go out on the field. Last week I had to go out on the field because the speaker was right next to the head coach's locker room, and it was loud. It was really loud, and I couldn't understand half the words.
Q. I apologize for not having any music questions, but I'm sure you've been asked about this before, but the narrative on Ian Book's recruitment seems to be, at least to some extent, that Mike Sanford convinced you. How accurate is that, and what did you see in Ian right away?
BRIAN KELLY: Mike was definitely the lead on Ian Book's recruitment. There's no doubt. Convinced? I don't know if he needed to convince me as much as at the end of the day, I'm going to have the final say on quarterbacks because they go to culture. I really liked Ian. I got a chance to spend some time with the family in the recruiting process. I liked his efficiency. We were looking for somebody that could come in without all of the fanfare that was -- maybe that's not the right term, but was almost a fly-under-the-radar kind of player but had all the tools and was extremely efficient and was a good fit, and that's kind of -- didn't take much convincing, he was the kind of guy for Notre Dame.
Q. Just a finer point on Daelin Hayes, if he can't practice tomorrow, does that effectively rule him out?
BRIAN KELLY: No. No, it doesn't. We'll be aggressive in his conditioning with an eye towards thinking that this could resolve any day. I gave, I think, in our radio interview a six-week window. That's what our doctors -- there's no real data when it comes to brachial plexus injuries and the nerve because most of them come back after 24 hours, 20 minutes. So that's the window I'm instructed to give.
We seem to be making some progress here. It's still something that has to be looked at day-to-day. But we're going to be very aggressive with his conditioning, hoping that this resolves itself.
Q. Is there any relationship to the shoulder injury that he had in high school?
BRIAN KELLY: No, there isn't really. He had an MRI done. It's a C6, and just one of those deals where -- these are manageable. He's got all the facts. The parents have all the facts about him. This isn't something that has any inkling or any medical background of paralysis. That is not in this injury at all. This is simply getting the nerve calmed down.
Q. As Ian plays more and more and there's I guess more of a scouting report on him, do you have to sort of adjust -- anticipate how teams are going to start to defend him as your starting quarterback moving forward?
BRIAN KELLY: No, not really. I mean, if you're pinpoint and accurate and making good decisions within our offense, we just have to prepare you for pressures and different coverages. But not really. I think if you're on point with what you're asked to do in our offense, we just have to prepare you for teams that either want to bring pressure or drop eight.
Q. And I believe this week is sort of the last week before fall break, which usually is associated with midterms --
BRIAN KELLY: Yes.
Q. Do you have to accommodate that in any way? And about some of the freshmen coming on, is this a difficult week for them, or apparently not?
BRIAN KELLY: It's Notre Dame. Let's go. Bring it on. I mean, I told our guys, how do you want to -- you can say this is a tough week, and I've got three exams, and that's not going to do you any good. Let's go at it like warriors. Let's get after this. Let's change the narrative. Let's get up early for the exam. Let's be positive about what we're doing.
It's a mindset. I mean, everybody in the world has got to take exams. You want to use it as an excuse? It's not going to help you. So let's be positive about it, let's get our work done, let's get through Tuesday, and we'll be fine.
Q. The last time you went on the road you beat a top-25 team from Power Five conferences with Oklahoma, you come back and play Pittsburgh, the game was quite weird, you're down 14 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter. None of these players were here for that. You were. Is there anything you can go back to and say, okay, this is something I learned about avoiding the letdown or the emotional high of winning on the road and coming home when you're undefeated and everyone expects you to win by 32 points?
BRIAN KELLY: I honestly can't even remember the lead-up into it. Whatever I did, I probably didn't do a very good job. I'm not pulling anything that I did that week. I'm sticking with what our preparation has been, and the guys have done a really good job because it's really how you reach the group you have in front of you right now more so than thinking about what the group was about back in 2012.
We're going to stick with the group we have and keep working on what we're doing now.
Q. Sticking with the freshmen theme, we're past the half point there, and I think you mentioned in the preseason that with the new freshman rules, four games to play and everything, November would be kind of the month where you'd really want to utilize and take advantage of that.
BRIAN KELLY: Mm-hmm.
Q. With the bye week coming up, too, are you looking to integrate more personnel into the lineup for that final push, especially among the freshman class?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, if you look at guys that have played, you can see we're on -- some guys are already past the threshold, right, some are at two games, and some haven't played at all. So you can kind of do the math. If you see them for the first time against Navy, you can kind of figure out where we are. So we're aware of all those things. Some of them are still in the oven cooking right now that we haven't taken out that we think might be ready in a couple weeks. Others we've already gone past that four-week threshold, so they're playing.
And then there's others that you can see we're kind of nursing along. They've got two games in, six games into the season, so we're kind of hedging our bets on some, too. So you can kind of figure it out. We're in the same -- you're looking at it, we're looking at it, but there's still some more games out there for some young guys to play, and we're kind of evaluating that as we go.
Q. Any of them specifically who have been maybe catching enough of the attention where he can help us in November that maybe we haven't seen on the field yet?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, there's some guys that are probably making some strides. I mentioned one, Paul Moala is a guy who's out there. There's a couple other guys. But I wouldn't want to give them out right now because they're not -- it's not certain that they're going to end up playing, but they're getting really close.
Q. And when you talked about Ian Book kind of being under that radar as far as the fanfare coming in, is there something positive to be gleaned from that, that you don't come in with the expectations where anything that isn't immediate gratification, they get labeled as a bust, whereas this is more of a pleasant surprise?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, you guys have been here a long time. I mean, if I was writing the book, yeah. I think yes, there's a lot to be said for that. It's incredible scrutiny on the quarterback position at Notre Dame, incredible scrutiny on the quarterback position for Notre Dame. Silly scrutiny on the quarterback position at Notre Dame. So yeah, I think if you could ever find yourself flying under the radar a little bit, that would be a great thing. Whether it's real or not, it's hard to say.
His happened to pan out that way, you know, but he's not under the radar anymore, Ian Book.
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