NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The weekly press conference for Notre Dame Fighting Irish head football coach Brian Kelly returns and the Fighting Irish are 9-0 on the season. With the latest matchup against Northwestern behind him, Kelly is talking to the media on Tuesday at Noon about the upcoming game against the Florida State Seminoles. As always, Irish Illustrated and 247Sports are on-hand to provide live updates for our Fighting Irish football fans.
BRIAN KELLY: As I have done customarily, just kind of recap last week what we did well. I was pleased with the way that we obviously go on the road, all the things that go along with having to play on the road against a Power 5 team. Got a bus down there, a night game, preparation, all those things that our guys had to go through. I think they handled it very well, extremely mature. They played with good energy. I thought that they handled all of those things extremely well. I think what we have to do better is certainly the penalties were much higher than they have been in the past. We turned the ball over the first couple of series now, first series of each of the last two games. I think what we’ve learned is that when we play with a sense of urgency, this is a really, really good football team. So what I mean by ‘sense of urgency,’ if you take certain plays, areas of the game, we fumble on the first drive, our defense is really up to the challenge and stops the momentum of Northwestern in the game. We go on an 98-yard drive. We really turned things around in the second half. It seems like when this team is pushed, they really play well. So it’s my job now to get them to play with that sense of urgency for 72 plays, if that’s the average number of plays that you play. I think that’s what I’ve learned about this football team, is when they play with a sense of urgency, it’s a really, really fine football team. We have our times where not that we don’t play with a sense of urgency at a level that is so far below that, but we can play better at spurts. I think we’ve got to get to that through our preparation. The challenge this week is to practice better, practice faster, and be locked in for those six seconds. For 72 plays, that’s about seven minutes of playing time actually, that’s what we got to get to. That’s what we learned about the game. Good victory on the road. Now we come home. One of our goals this year was to defend our home field. This will be our last opportunity to do that. We certainly want to be able to finish that goal off. One of them internally we had was to protect this stadium. Finishing that off against Florida State is certainly very important to us. Last home game for a number of seniors. That’s obviously important, as well. But I think just playing to that standard that I talked about in terms of that sense of urgency is most important. Florida State is a talented football team. There’s no doubt about it. They’ve improved throughout the season. They’ve gone through a lot of flux on the offensive line. But what’s consistent are their play-makers. Two quarterbacks, Francois and Blackman, that can certainly throw the football. They’ve got a number of really talented play-makers. Cam Akers at the runningback position. Big back in Patrick. Gavin, Murray are as talented a tandem of receivers that we’re going to find. All three of them are outstanding players. We’ll be really challenged. Matthews is a great return man, as well. This is what you would expect from Florida State from a skill standpoint, outstanding. Defensively Burns is as good as there is off the edge. Great pass-rusher, great length. He plays with a good motor. Christmas inside. They play a lot of guys. A lot of defensive linemen. They roll them in and out. Young at linebacker, but athletic. Then in the secondary they’ve lost some really good players, but they got some young guys coming. An improving football team, one that has a lot of talent, one that you have to really respect. If not, they can certainly do some damage. For us, we have to play with a better sense of urgency for the entire four quarters and continue to play to our standard.
With that, open it up to questions.
Q. I wanted to ask you about a couple seniors who won’t be playing for you this Saturday, Bars and Crawford. Talk about their roles on the team, what they do in practice on a day-to-day basis, if anything. Also, with Crawford, is there progress where you say, Maybe next year he might be able to help us?
BRIAN KELLY: Oh, yeah. He’ll be back next year. He’ll be back this spring and competing, Shaun Crawford. He will be back next year. He’s already made that commitment to play next year. He’ll be back competing in the spring, working to get back into a competitive situation. Alex is around us all the time. He’s in our meetings. He travels with us. Extremely active. He’s on the field. He’s with the linemen, taking special care and attention with Banks in terms of trying to do as much of passing on any of the knowledge that he has in between the coaching. He’s extremely active in what we’re doing. Shaun is in a different role because Alex is not playing again. Shaun is in that rehab mode. When we’re out of practice, he’s usually in working on his rehab, then he comes out to practice a little bit later. So they have different roles because Shaun is working to come back.
Q. As you go down this stretch with your nickel package, I know you don’t want to play Julian against the slot all the time, but is it a matter of whether Bracy or Houston is giving you more? How do you look at that situation?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, the way we solve that situation is that we moved, as you know, Julian around on Nagel. He hooked up on Nagel all over the field. We have that as part of our game plan, that we can move him around on who we feel is a target that we want to lock up. That is one area of our defensive coverage scheme that we can continue to employ. We got to get more production out of that position, there’s no question. Bracy is back in a position where he’ll get a chance to compete for playing time this week. His traits are starting to show themselves to where I felt like he had a really good week last week. That will put him in a position where, if he has a good week this week, you could see him getting some playing time. But the nickel position has to be more productive for us. That still is going to focus on Houston and Nick Coleman.
Q. With Jafar in the Northwestern game, he got four touches. I don’t know if that was injury-related or the flow of the game. Do you feel like he can really complement Dexter down the stretch, different skill sets that they have?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, he suffered an ankle injury in the Navy game and never really — tweaked it again during the week, never felt right. You could see it from his play. His play was not at the caliber of what it had been in the past. It hampered him in the game. He wasn’t as explosive. He knew it. He’ll be better this week because of it. But, yeah, no doubt those two are great complements. We just didn’t get the kind of production out of him because he was a bit limited.
Q. I’m sure this is a little bit of a dilemma. Yoon comes back from an injury, then Jonathan doesn’t have the best day kicking off. Is there a risk in your mind going to Yoon down the stretch here with the kickoff just based on the fact that’s a lot of workload for him?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I think we’re getting to that point now where the last two weeks, Northwestern and Navy decided they were going to fair catch every ball. So most teams have now begun to do the calculations. They’ve had enough of a body of work on their kickoff return team to figure out. For example, we’ve had 38 kickoff returns, actually 36, because two of them were onside kicks. If you wanted to take the time, if you had a boring day on your hands, you could figure out what our kickoff return average is. So teams are now figuring out, is it worth the risk of having a penalty or a fumble on a kickoff return that will put you before the 25 yard line. You’re going to go into your game, and you might know whether a team is going to fair catch or not. I think we can, long story short, activate Justin if we need him to put a kick or two out of the back of the end zone because we’re now at that part of the year where teams have made the decision that it’s probably not worth the risk to start a possession on the 11 yard line with a holding penalty.
Q. Everyone talks about the process you go through. Without giving away all the secrets, what are some of those things that go into this process that has gotten you to this point so far?
BRIAN KELLY: I think the most important thing is for our guys to have an understanding of what those traits are necessary to be a championship player. Our mission is to graduate all of our players and play for a national championship. What are the traits necessary to get to that end? What do you have to have? One that I talk about all the time is an attention to detail. That’s going to carry over on Saturdays. How does your locker look? Are you 10 minutes early for meetings? Do we have to remind you about study hours, going to class? That attention to detail is something that carries over. That’s part of our process.
Q. That attention to detail, that focus you talk about, is that something you can coach, or does a group just have it or they don’t?
BRIAN KELLY: No, it’s something that you have to build within your program. Certainly you want to recruit players that already have that, but they’re not finished products. It is demanding it every single day, making sure that they’re accountable if they don’t reach those goals every day.
Q. You mention every week this group is a different team than years past. The level of focus on this team, where does it compare to other teams you’ve had in the past?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think all teams that I’ve had have had some form of focus. It’s the entire group. This group in particular just needs to be reminded about what to do on a day-to-day basis. Once they’re reminded about what to do, they go to work. There are other years where you could remind them, they had a hard time doing it. Once you remind this team what to do, they stay on task.
Q. Among the many seniors, this didn’t exactly go individually for Brandon Wimbush the way he thought it would. You said yourself before the Wake Forest game, hard time sleeping that night knowing about the change. What was it like approaching Brandon about the change, the way he’s comported himself since that?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think we’ve all had to deal with tough conversations. When you care for somebody, you know that they’ve been successful, done all the things you’ve asked them to do, we’ve all had those tough conversations in one way or the other. You confront him, sit him down. We had a conversation about it. It’s usually the followup that are the more difficult conversations. The first one is pretty short and to the point. It’s the followup questions that usually occur after. You have to stay in constant communication. He’s been great. He’s handled himself great. He’s been a great teammate to Ian Book, quite frankly. He’s been as supportive as any player on our team that I’ve ever coached. He’s been there for him in the locker room at halftime. The first one that sits down with him and talks him through what’s going on, what we need to do, is Brandon Wimbush. He’s been such a big part of our success this year. He’s got to stay ready. Who knows what happens, right? Every week we remind him. He knows that he’s one step away from going back out on the field. He’s practiced really well. I think that’s the biggest thing more than anything else, is it’s easy to lose your edge when you’re not starting. He’s fought that. So he’s just been a great teammate and he’s kept himself prepared. Those conversations are never easy, but you have to do what’s right for the team.
Q. In past situations like this you said you’d be disappointed if the reaction wasn’t one of disappointment. Did you sense that? Was there almost a resistance of why?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, I mean, I think at first you’re getting hit over the head, so you don’t have, like, 10 questions ready to go because you weren’t prepared for it. His questions were after the fact. Those questions are normal ones. After you take a little bit of time, you know, you start to come up with some questions. What did I do? Was there something I could have done better? There’s a bunch of things that start to come to the forefront after you’re given the news of you’re not going to be the starter moving forward. After, we stayed in communication with those things. He went to work on them in practice. You could tell this is the right kind of player that can handle this situation because he’s going to work on the things he needs to to be a better quarterback.
Q. Tommy Rees kind of went through this. How did that experience maybe help with Tommy imparting to Brandon about staying the course?
BRIAN KELLY: You can’t measure how important it is to have a coach that has gone through that here at Notre Dame. Tommy was obviously there for him to kind of go over those things. It’s been extremely helpful to keep him positive, working towards, like I said, being a better quarterback than he was six weeks ago.
Q. How much leeway does Ian Book have to change the play at the line of scrimmage or has that been mitigated by the decision making after the snap with the RPOs?
BRIAN KELLY: There’s really two things going on. There’s very little changing of plays within the structure of the offense. There’s RPOs, then there are built-in outlets for run plays that you can get the ball out. An RPO is much more of a structured pass within the run game itself, whereas if you’re getting overloaded into a particular run, you have some outlets to get the ball out. There’s really two different variations to it. The RPOs are a little bit easier because they’re structured on one particular player that you have to have your eyes on. The outlet throws, you have to have a better understanding of the entire design of the play. We missed several of those in the first half. We picked them up in the second half. Those are the structured plays within our running game.
Q. Overall, do the results speak for themselves in terms of Books’ decision making as it pertains to the RPOs?
BRIAN KELLY: Yes. In both of those instances, much better. He’s pretty much 95 to 100% on the RPOs. It’s the run game adjustment throws that we continue to make progress on.
Q. Have you found overall his decision making is better in the second half than the first half?
BRIAN KELLY: He needs to see it. Once he sees it, he’s great. He’s not a whiteboard learner. He is an in-game, once I see it, I got it. He gets some things that we haven’t seen before. He needs to see it. Once he sees it, he can make the adjustment.
Q. Doesn’t necessarily carry over from game to game? He needs to see it that day?
BRIAN KELLY: If he’s seen it on film, if he’s seen it in practice, he’s fine. We’ll adjust. If you’re giving it to us for the first time, it’s like anything else, we have to make the adjustment. Once we make the adjustment, he’ll be fine.
Q. You said in your opening remarks that Florida State has improved every week. A lot of people are going to sit there and say they’ve given up 106 points the last two weeks. Where have you seen the improvement from?
BRIAN KELLY: I think offensively primarily, their structure. I thought they were really efficient. They threw for 421 yards last week against North Carolina State. They had a hard time slowing them down, North Carolina State. Didn’t get enough possessions. But very easily, if they can make a couple of plays defensively, that’s a different game. They weren’t in some games early on. They were literally not in games. So that improvement has put them now in a position where if their talent, right, and their ability to eliminate some mistakes and penalties, now they’re back into some football games. They were having a hard time doing some of the very basic things in the first couple games. They’re much past that now as we get later into the season.
Q. As a coach who has taken over programs before, is that common first year with a program?
BRIAN KELLY: It’s interesting. Sometimes you’re taking over a program, and you’re kind of adapting to what has already been built. Sometimes you are a 180 to what was going on there. I don’t know, because I’m not in that building. I’ve seen the results of both. I’ve seen some guys go in and adapt really well to what’s already there, play really well with that change. Then I’ve seen coaches go in and it’s a 180, it takes a while. It really just depends on the people inside that building, the personalities, what’s really being talked about. I’ve seen it happen both ways.
Q. As Willie hands over the play calling duties to his offensive coordinator now, does that change any approach? Do you have other things you have to worry about entering this game?
BRIAN KELLY: No, I don’t think we have to worry about anything other than the receivers and the quarterback. I mean, the back is outstanding. They’re going to try to push the ball down the field vertically, so the passing game still becomes a legitimate threat whether Bell is calling it or Willie is calling it. They’re both good play callers.
Q. I guess I’m interested in numbers, uniform numbers. How do you decide which players get what numbers when they’re coming to school here? I went to the roster. At least 20 numbers that are duplicated. How do you make sure those two same players aren’t on the field at the same time?
BRIAN KELLY: Well, it has been a bit of a management issue. We don’t make any commitments in recruiting. We don’t promise anybody a number. We say, Hey, we’ll look at it when you get here. Give us three of your choices for numbers and we’ll see if we can accommodate. If we can, we’ll try to. Then we go through camp, we try to put the numbers together that make sense, then try to look at carefully who is on special teams in particular as to whether those numbers would cause a problem. If they do, we need to make some changes. We made one, we had two 33s that we had to make an adjustment with. So it’s something that I have to look at and manage during the season.
Q. I guess it came up during a Florida Atlantic game, two players with the same number on the field.
BRIAN KELLY: We had it earlier I think in 2014 where we had two number 3s on the field. We’ve been down this road before. We look at it, manage it, make sure that we don’t have anybody that could possibly get on the field that would have a duplicate number.
Q. I notice on the roster there aren’t any number 1s. Is there a reason?
BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, we’re waiting to overtake — we want the number one winning percentage in college football, then we’ll issue that jersey out to a player that befits the traits necessary to be the number one winning percentage in college football.
Q. ‘Celebrity’ might be too strong of a word.
BRIAN KELLY: For me, yes, I think it would (laughter).
Q. How do you think Ian Book has sort of handled being the quarterback at Notre Dame over the last month and a half?
BRIAN KELLY: That’s a good question. I think he’s handled it pretty good. I think he’s aware of the scrutiny that comes with this position. I think he’s very cognizant of the fact that now whatever he does, wherever he does it, he’s under a microscope. But I think it hasn’t changed the way he prepares or the way he handles himself with his peers. So I think if you’re kind of balancing those two things, I think he’s handled it well because it hasn’t changed. He’s a lighthearted kid. He doesn’t get too wound up, not too high, not too low. I think he’s handled it pretty good.
Q. Can you give us more insight on Drue Tranquill’s recovery this week, how much further along do you expect him this Saturday?
BRIAN KELLY: I’m not trying to be the doctor here, or not the doctor. It really doesn’t matter what anybody says. It just matters what Drue says. Drue tells me he’s playing every down. He’s committed that he believes he is in a good position that he can play every down this weekend. We’ll see how he practices today. He had no ill effects from the game. Didn’t take a step back. Feels like he’s stronger, that he could play every play.
Q. This week you’ll practice him as if nothing had occurred?
BRIAN KELLY: I think we would like – our training staff, myself in particular, Clark Lea – would like to be judicious with his reps. We’ll see if crazy man Drue Tranquill will abide by that. We’ll see what happens. He doesn’t want to come off the field.
Q. I think last weekend you were on ESPN, they asked you about are you surprised you haven’t won a national championship yet, the bigger picture questions. To go back-to-back double-digit wins, is that a significant achievement? Is that just a number? It’s something that hasn’t happened here in a very long time.
BRIAN KELLY: I’m never good at these things in terms of I stay in the moment. I think when we get through the season, we got to get to double-digits. We’ve got nine right now. But I think any time you get to that, it marks a stability in your program that everybody wants to work towards. I think that’s probably the most important thing.
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