South Bend, Indiana
BRIAN KELLY: Sure you would like me to start with about a 15 to 20 minute recap of the Bowling Green game. Probably not, I wouldn’t think.
Although I was pleased with our guys in the way they handled themselves and stayed focus and prepared. We were able to obviously learn more about our football team as we prepare for USC this week. Prepare for a team that is very, very deadly on offense in the sense that they can make you pay if you are not prepared and playing every single play.
It bears itself out on film. Washington is doing a great job really playing every play. They just let their guard down for one play and Pittman goes for 44 yards on them. That’s the kind of offense they have. I think Coach Helton is to be commended for obviously having one of the top passing offenses in the country having gone through a couple different quarterback situations.
You know, to bring some stability to the offense after losing your starting quarterback and then having to go to a true freshman and then certainly having to play Slovis and Fink, you know, he’s done such an incredible job.
I think you start there offensively with the best wide receiving core that we’ll see all year without question. You know, the trio of Pittman, Vaughns, and St. Brown, just very, very talented group, and they complement each other extremely well.
Pittman is explosive. Gets down the field. Big play receiver. Catches everything that’s thrown his way.
Vaughns obviously has got great length. It’s a matchup issue.
And then St. Brown in the slot is physical, competitive, does all the tough jobs as well.
So just a very, very talented group of wide receivers. Again, the best group that we will see and many of us see.
Now the thing they have obviously with their new offensive attack, you know, puts you in a very difficult situation in terms of how you’re going to defend them, which opens the run game. Malepeai and Carr are two outstanding backs. Add Markese Stepp to the mix, and now you’ve got a downhill, big, physical runner.
Carr with elite speed, naturally gifted, can come out of the back field. I think Malepeai a very underrated back that can do all the jobs for them.
So very good complement to their passing game. We expect Slovis to start obviously. As a true freshman, he’s been really, really good. Shows savvy and poise. Very good arm talent. He can throw the ball all over the field, and he’s extremely accurate, throwing it over 70% completion.
So we’ll certainly be prepared for both, but expecting Slovis to start.
Offensive line, extremely athletic. Fit very well into the new scheme they’re running in the air raid attack. Have done a really good job at doing the job that they’re asked to do.
Defensively I really like where they have come defensively. Much more physical presence on the defensive line I think across the board. It’s just a unit now that can hold up. They’re in four-down instead of three-down, you’ve got Rector who is a three-year starter.
They’re getting great play out of the freshman Jackson, and inside the two tackles are as good as we’re going to see. They’re very difficult to move inside. Linebacker core, you know, I think Houston has there. It seems like every year we turn on the film Houston is there. He’s a three-year starter. Geo is back playing the Mike linebacker position. Very instinctive. They like to pressure him off the edge. Another very, very explosive player for them. And then they nickel out quite a bit.
In the backfield they’ve been banged up a little bit. Looks like they’re getting some guys back in the backfield, but Hufanga is the guy that makes that a very, very good unit back there. He is very good against the run. He can cover. Very physical, instinctive, and outstanding football player back there.
Again, som very good athletes in the back end as you would expect from USC, and they are in good position to make plays. It’s a really good football team that we’ll have to be our best. They’ve got excellent return men. We’ll have to be on top of it in special teams, and should be a typical Notre Dame-USC battle. Should be a great football game and we expect a great challenge. Looking forward to it.
I know our guys are excited. I’m sure they’re coming off a bye week healthy and ready to play their best as well. So that’s my take on USC. They’ve done really, really good job of putting themselves in a position to challenge for the Pac12 championship and put themselves in a position to obviously do great things this year.
With that, open up to questions.
Q. Brian, you mentioned how strong their receiving core is. I would imagine there is a great need for cornerback play. I see Cam Hart is already in your two-deeps. Wondering how comfortable you would be playing him this week or soon in a high level situation. Same with K.J. Wallace. Evaluate those two freshmen.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, obviously this is a week where you would like veteran presence out there. They’re on the two-deep; I would rather have Stephon Gilmore at two deep and some NFL players to match against these guys.
But Donte Vaughn is gonna be a guy that’s going to play this weekend. We’ve been strategic in the games we’ve played, so you’ll see him this weekend. He’ll be the first man in.
And then, you know, from there, that’s where it gets interesting. We’ll have to be creative in coverages and make sure we put our younger players, if in fact they’re called on, in a position to succeed.
Q. When Alohi was looking to transfer, I know USC was one of the schools that had an interest in him. I’m curious what you remember of the process? It’s different than high school or a grad transfer. The process of luring him here, and do you — you guys played against him, but did you really know what you had when he showed up here and was on a recruiting visit?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I thought I knew exactly what kind of player he was having gone against him and focusing primarily on the defensive structure for Navy that week when we played them. I knew the kind of player he was and how well he played against us. So I was pretty certain this was a guy we wanted to aggressively go after. Mike Elko handled most of the daily interactions, and Coach Polian. So I couldn’t tell you exactly who was in it, who the other schools were, other than they came to me and said, Coach are we in on this? Are we going to go down this road?
I remembered the film I watched and I just simply gave them the green light to go pursue it.
Q. Last one from me. You had a lot of freshmen play, including a few who hadn’t played before. Anybody kind of jump out at you from Saturday that made an impression on you?
BRIAN KELLY: Foskey looked really good, Isaiah. He’s just got some traits at that position that are fairly unique. You know, I think we still continue to really like what we’re seeing from Howard Cross, his explosiveness.
So not to mention the others that you mentioned, I don’t know that there was a guy that was out there that we felt like he doesn’t belong here. So it was a good day to get some evaluation, in particular a lot of the defensive players.
Q. One of the guys, the threshold guys we didn’t talk about yesterday was Kaiser. Still have some flexibility there I guess. Where are you with the idea of redshirting him or still using him the way you have been?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, again, I think you can probably see that we’re going to be very careful with guys if they’re not making more of an impact on one or two special teams. We don’t want to jeopardize a year in those kinds of situations. We have had enough conversations with our guys internally that they know where they stand.
Without giving away too much, you can be assured that we’re not going to be surprised about somebody playing too much or too little.
Q. The idea of seekers of contact among the wide receivers. (Indiscernible) has that phrase and they all talk about it. Not running out of bounds. Looking to get the extra yardage. How pleased are you with the receiver group, including the tight ends in terms of running people over when necessary or just being physical after the catch?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think it’s part of — when it’s part of what you’re coaching and you talk about on a day-to-day basis, I think they understand what we’re asking for. We don’t want them to be foolish and initiating contact when that’s not necessary, but if there are yards out there to gain by being physical, we want them to do that.
I think all of them clearly understand that there is more playing time for those kinds of players. I think they clearly have the message about how they can earn more reps if they show a physicality to their game.
Q. On the redshirting topic, what’s the process for you guys? How intricate is the plan going into the season of who you want to redshirt and how you want to manage those four games? Is that something you reevaluate every week? Is there someone in charge on game days to make sure guys don’t get in?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, we have — I have coordinator meetings on Sundays and Tuesdays to kind of set week as to who is on the depth chart, who are guys that are touchable and who are untouchable.
So we start the year in a similar fashion as to who do we see as guys that are probably going to be playing in some capacity all year, and who are — let’s get a look at them in the first few weeks and see where we are. I think you can see some of those guys that are starting to kind of show themselves. And then let’s pick four games.
So I think there is kind of three different groups that those guys fall into, and now it’s starting to kind of shake itself out.
So I wouldn’t say it’s very complicated or intricate. It’s about evaluation and seeing guys that can help us win football games in roles. Those guys that are playing significant roles in more than special teams, well, those are easy decisions. It’s the guys that are in limited roles and how those limited roles can either be parceled out to four games, or these guys are just too good and they have to play in special teams because they’re impacting us.
Q. Then some seniors have been under consideration for a redshirt. What is that discussion like with those guys, and do you need to commit to them that they’re able to come back for a fifth year and do they need to commit to you, because they could easily grad transfer?
BRIAN KELLY: Certainly. Yeah, they hold the final card in that whole process. You know, I think there is trust built within the relationships that we have, so those were candid conversation that there can’t be 100% guarantee because we’re playing for today. If we need somebody, they have to recognize the fact that we need you right now.
You know, certainly some guys have already had to make those decisions, that they’re committed to this team right now and are playing for this season. You know, we certainly have player-to-player sit-down conversations and their families regarding those situations.
Q. Last year your defense gave up, or your team I guess, gave up 52 points in the third quarter, so like four points per game in the third quarter. This year you’ve given up six, bot field goals against Georgia. I’m sure that can’t be a coincidence.
BRIAN KELLY: You know, we were looking at the numbers last week and they obviously told a similar story. Look, it’s a team that has played a system now for a second season. There is a lot more continuity as a group, and clearly Clark is in his second year of calling defenses, so there is a lot of the pieces in play.
Some of it is just good fortune. I don’t know that we can sit here and count every point, but it’s the second year in a system of defense with some I would say more continuity in terms of what we’re doing defensively.
Q. We in the media always talk about halftime adjustments, and 99% of us don’t know really exactly what that always entails.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah.
Q. How good is Clark Lee at doing that?
BRIAN KELLY: I think the whole group is really good. I think that Mike Elston and Clark Lee will talk first about any adjustments that need to be made in the front seven. Terry then will talk about anything that needs to happen in the back end.
Real quickly, Bowling Green we were short on a couple calls in terms of having somebody in a good position on the quarterback. One of their quarterback keeps, we didn’t have a safety in a really good position. Had to make an adjustment there. We didn’t have an in-and-out call on a bunch because of a certain call.
So those are the kind of adjustments that are made at halftime that are within your system of defense that you just have to apply at halftime. They all meet in my office, the defense, and I’ll listen to that and I’ll go to the offense, which is the in the coach’s locker room, and that one is a little bit different because you’re chronicling libraries of plays you want to use against defensive structures you’re getting.
You’re not sure what’s going to happen. We were getting a lot of pressures, so these will go well against what we’re seeing. It’s adjustments based upon what you’re seeing and where you need to make the adjustments.
Q. With regard to Kevin Austin, does he practice with you on a daily basis?
BRIAN KELLY: He does, yes.
Q. Is there a possibility he still sees action this season?
BRIAN KELLY: We’ll see. It’s a week-to-week situation.
Q. What makes the Notre Dame-USC rivalry so special?
BRIAN KELLY: The tradition. Going way back, obviously this game being played for so many years as an intersectional rivalry, they’re not up the street. They’re across the country. Great players have played in it. Great coaches that have coached in it. Nationally televised.
So I just think the history, the tradition of it being played every year, it’s one of those rivalries that hasn’t gone away. It’s part of college football, yeah.
Q. How dynamic is a player like Jafar Armstrong, and what will he add to the offense if he plays on Saturday?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, he’s a dynamic player; just hasn’t played very much. I don’t know if we can expect him to throw on a cape and play like Superman this weekend. There is going to be a process of coming back, especially at the running back position. You can’t go from not playing fro six weeks and have a workload of 50 plays. If we could get 20 plays out of him, that would be terrific. We’ll see how things go this week.
We put him in very competitive situations. I think I talked about that after the game. We’ll see how he responds to go this competitive situations.
Q. You saw you posted on Twitter a picture of you and your son at senior night at St. Joe. How do you balance being the head football coach at Notre Dame and being a father, and what would it mean for you to see him be a coach someday?
BRIAN KELLY: Oh, I do not want him to be a coach someday. I can tell you that. There isn’t a balance. Those that say there is a balance are not telling the truth. It’s trying to make the time that you have quality time. So doing things like that that are impactful, senior nights, things of that nature, is what’s most important.
And so I think that’s what you try to do as a father, is to make those moments impactful when you get the opportunity.
Thank you for the question.
Q. I know you guys are still working your way through Jafar in terms of where he is at, but if he is able to play for you to some degree, what does he bring to the offense that you’re currently missing?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, first of all, he was a trained wide receiver in high school, so we start with really good sense in the passing game, ball skills, route running.
The second element is he’s explosive. When I say that, it’s the a combination of speed and power. He has top end speed as good as any of the backs. He’s over 220 pounds.
So explosiveness, the ability to obviously route run and catch the football. Very smart and highly competitive individual. That’s a pretty good resume for that position.
Q. When we originally talked to Cam Hart last, he indicated that he was looking to play cornerback. He thought that was his best future position. Was that shift initiated by the staff because of need, or did he also approach you? Probably is an easy buy-in.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, this press conference is starting to sounds like everybody just makes their own decisions, but it’s not that really easy. I think in most instances these are conversations we have one-on-one. We’re suggesting in most of these instances what maybe is the best interest of the individual, whether it’s redshirting or coming back or changing a position.
In this instance, we were suggesting to Cam it may be in his best interest to play corner. Now, if he balked totally and said, That’s not for me, that’s not what I want to do, that doesn’t sound right to me, we would have maybe had a subsequent conversation to lay out to him why we thought.
Today I think it’s really about trying to have a genuine conversation with your plays about why you think it’s in their best interest, and then they have to commit to it. So in this instance, Cam was committed to making that switch.
Q. You said you went through an evaluation to see that. You don’t see 6’2″ and a half, 208 cornerbacks.
BRIAN KELLY: No.
Q. What did you see that made you believe his skillset would fit well there?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, balance. Balance, agility, change of direction. So the ability for somebody long to transition from back pedal. Because that’s the biggest thing, how you can flip your hips and then break out of your back pedal on the football.
And then there has to be a natural kind of easy movement, if you will, in doing so. And there was a lot of ease to that movement, those transitions. Terry and Todd and Clark and myself all felt like this was going to be an easy transition for him.
He’s still got a lot of work to do. You know, he’s far from being in a position where we feel like he can go out there and handle it by himself. We would have to be very limited in what we’re doing.
But so far so good.
Q. Do you still look at Houston as a potential contingency option at corner, or do you want to have his reps mainly…
BRIAN KELLY: We would rather not. We need him at safety and playing inside for us. We would not be doing him a service if we are moving him outside.
Q. So you see his future permanently at safety?
BRIAN KELLY: You know, I would be careful about anything permanent, but right now our focus is working him inside.
Q. USC’s offensive system, how does it pressure you in different ways with Graham Harold there? I guess if you look back at last year’s game, how much they threw the ball, what did Clark learn? What did you learn about your defense? They had a lot of success, but nothing really got behind you.
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah. Yeah, there are a couple layers there. So it really wasn’t necessarily the same system, but they did play like that against us, where the ball came out quick, free access throws.
We kind of morphed into trying to keep the ball in front of us. This is a bit of a different offensive system where large splits, they are keeping pressure on you; it’s a very fast tempo. They’re keeping pressure on you in that they’re looking to push the ball vertically down the field much more than perimeter quicks out and run-after catch.
This is a big-play offense. If you are short in the box, tackle to tackle, they’ll run the football. They had over 200 — and I don’t know, 230, 240 yards against Washington.
Now, it didn’t materialize in terms of the scores they wanted, but that’s where you have to decide how to play them, vertically and then how are you going to play them. Are you going to play them equal numbers in the running game? If you are, you’ve got to be able to hold up in terms of getting them off the field.
Q. Is the Utah game indicative of what they’re about, where if they can get you one-on-one with a safety that’s open to them?
BRIAN KELLY: Absolutely. That’s 100% what they would love, is low safeties, one-on-one matchups. If they can get that, that’s option No. 1 for them.
Q. Big recruiting weekend for you. Curious about the feedback you’ve picked up from prospects who have come through about the facilities, whether that’s important, whether it turns their head, whether it’s something on the list that isn’t near the top?
BRIAN KELLY: So we had one event there. It was very well-received by both in our questionnaires that we get information from. We are going to use it again because of the information we got from that.
So that was a one-shot deal. Because of that, it has prompted us to use the facility more.
Q. I guess it’s not I think a flashy facility.
BRIAN KELLY: No.
Q. So I guess in the feedback you got what do prospects really like about it?
BRIAN KELLY: It’s a an additional piece to everything else.
Q. One quick one. October obviously is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, something that hits close to home for you. What are you most proud of in terms of what the Kelly Care Foundation has accomplished and is accomplishing?
BRIAN KELLY: I think more than anything else, it’s the ability to strengthen community outreach here and be active in this community. Wherever we’ve been we’ve been active in the community, but we’ve touched over 150 different organizations just in the greater Michiana area. Certainly looking at a foundation there are different scopes, right? Research, which is absolutely crucial. And then there is building foundations for specific causes.
We do have some pillars of community education and certainly health, but one of the things I think stands out for me is just being so actively involved in so many different needs here in this community. That has been something I didn’t know we could touch so many in such a short period of time.