And we're back...
After a week away, Brian Kelly resumed his usual schedule this Tuesday and got in front of the media to preview this weekend's game vs. USC in South Bend. Brian Kelly fans and detractors will each find plenty of fodder in the coach's comments this week. Let's take a look at a few of the stickier topics. Then we'll wrap up relating Kelly's answers to a few hot topics here on OFD.
Troll On Brother Kelly...
Never one to miss a chance to throw a jab, Kelly took a good amount of time to emphasize not only USC's prowess as a quality football team, but also their important role as ND's chief rival. He took the time to first say:
"It's a great rivalry game. Our guys certainly recognize it as our rivalry game, and it should be just a great football game."
Then, aided by a phenomenal set-up on the nature of the USC rivalry, he fired away with:
"I think we go through the season in so many weeks. It's you know, I think it's on the other side. In other words, other teams really calling it their rivalry game. I think our players will be the first ones to admit that this is our rivalry game. This is our game that we look forward to against USC."
"It's one that it's on our calendar as I don't want to say a red letter game, but one that we look forward to. It's such a great matchup, great tradition, great history. It's part of the history of Notre Dame football that they really recognize as that one singular game."
Thankfully, Brady Hoke doesn't wear his headset during the week either, so he wasn't able to catch Kelly's presser. I'm guessing he wouldn't have been amused. Well played BK.
Don't Bait a Troll...
After one reporter tried to bait Kelly into a discussion about Coach Holtz being on campus this week, things got a bit interesting. Kelly handled the Holtz challenge well by flipping the script and implying it was Holtz that had the much more challenging schedule:
Hopefully, I'll be able to fit into his extremely busy sports, ESPN schedule.
Then, things got even more testy:
Question: Brian, I know you're not big on history that you've had no part of, but you mentioned to your team that they haven't won at the stadium against USC since 2001. Is that any kind of emphasis this week?
What follows is a pretty artistic set of generalities and coach-speak regarding staying focused and looking forward. Most people would have been excused to answer that with a few expletives and sarcasm, but Kelly handles it smoothly with a discussion on this year's team and their "clear and focused" attitude.
Towards the end of the conference, Kelly is asked:
Question: The game here two years ago, there was a bit of a fallout afterwards in terms of teams coming back together the next week. You're 20 3 in the regular season since. What do you feel you got out of that weekend as a coach, even if it was a negative at the time, that helped you kind of put a better foundation on the program that you guys have been building on ever since?
Clearly, this reporter is fishing back in to the "my guys" discussion from 2011. To his credit, Kelly isn't going to let this guy troll him. While he spits out some nice generalities on learning, taking accountability, and moving on, Kelly isn't going down that road, nor is he acknowledging those specific events. For a coach that had that moment and the "deal with it" thing, he shows an admirable level of humility and accountability in the last bit of his answer:
So there were things that we look back on now, and if we could have done them differently, we would have done them differently, but they all go towards that experience that you have as a group, and they made us better as a football team.
While that wasn't a great moment in ND football history, look at all the success since. Kelly is wisely determined to move on, even if a portion of the media and fan base won't let it go.
Let's Talk Some Football...
When discussing the performance of Prince Shembo vs. ASU, Kelly hit on a theme that shows up in Larz's excellent film review of the game. When the defense is able to get the QB to hold the ball for just a bit longer, guys like Shembo and Tuitt are going to get home. Speaking of the D-Line, Kelly indicated that Sheldon Day is back and ready to go and will play on Saturday.
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, Kelly dives into some great technical technique discussions on DB play. Listen to his great answer about in-phase and out-of-phase techniques for the DB's and how they're being coached to "rake across the basket" to strip the ball when they're out-of-phase with the receiver's hips. The hot topic of pass interference leaks in to the discussion when Kelly points out:
15 yard penalty is a big difference than an NFL penalty. So you need to be aggressive as well.
Clearly, our guys are coached that 15 is better than the really big play, so play it tough.
As I mentioned, Day is back.
A lot of the vets who have seen heavy game action in ND's first 6 contests had a light bye week, while others saw a pretty heavy volume of practice reps. One of those guys working hard and taking reps was Amir Carlisle. Kelly attributed Amir's lack of touches to the quality play of others at the position more than any dissatisfaction with Amir's work. Kelly also acknowledged his staff was keenly aware of the USC transfer's intense desire to play well vs. his previous team.
Kelly wants to see Michael Deeb keep the red shirt on, so it is Fox and Joe Schmidt at one ILB position and Carlo Calabrese and Kendall Moore at the other. Deeb will be prepared to play, but barring another injury, he won't see the field. Kelly was asked about the apparent lack of roster depth at that position and gave a very interesting answer:
We've got plenty of guys that can play there. There's a lot. If you just look at the body types, we've got plenty of guys. Coach Diaco, if he needs to, he's got plenty of guys that can play inside, even if they're not on the roster as mike linebackers.
Perhaps Eric would like to suggest some tweaks to the ILB recruiting profile?
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, Kelly heaped praise on young Romeo Okwara's potential:
...he could play a number of positions. He's athletic. He's long. He could be a pass rusher. We think he can stand up, and he can he certainly can play on his two feet. He's an athletic kid. He just needs the opportunity. He just hasn't had the chance really.
[He reacted] The way I would expect of him. He was livid. He was mad. And then he handled it like a captain, senior, leader -- although he doesn't have a "C" on his shirt, he handled it the way that I would expect somebody of his character to handle it. He just went to work. And worked on getting better.
Look, he had every excuse in the book. The first thing he could have said is, hey, I went to mike. I'm the will. You know what I mean? He already had a built in excuse. Didn't use one of them. Didn't use any of them. Just went to practice and went to work harder.
He could have been disruptive, could have done all those things, but that's why Dan Fox is a special kid.
On the injury front, Daniel Smith and Grace are both home after their surgeries. Tarean Folston appears to have recovered from a tweaked hammy in the OU game (likely from this play immortalized by the all-powerful FDM). Torii Hunter Jr. is looking very good in the work he's doing, while Hounshell and Springman are still a ways away. Doug Randolph and Nicky Baratti were, apparently, surgery buddies, having their work done by Dr. Ratigan on the same day. According to Kelly, Randolph and Kelly are working hard on their rehab:
I think they're doing a lot of ab work and tanning right now. So they're in a light rehab process.
Brian Kelly everyone... don't forget to tip your waitresses, and try the veal!
Thanks to our friends at und.com and FIDM, here are the transcript and video of today's proceedings...