Tag: Tuesdays with BK

Air Force Notre Dame

Tuesdays with BK: Jefferson Nightmare edition


Goodbye Purdue. Hello Air Force.

Brian Kelly met with the assembled media today and talked about wrapping up Purdue, prepping for Air Force, and getting ready for head coach Troy Calhoun and his very dangerous quarterback Tim Jefferson.

If you’re curious what Kelly thinks about Jefferson and what he does to a defense, this quote should do it:

“It’s just a nightmare,” Kelly said. “He throws the ball so well that, again, you’re put in so many conflicts dealing with this offensive structure, and it starts with Jefferson’s ability to throw the football.”

Here’s some video highlights from this afternoon’s press conference. As usual, I’ll fill in some thoughts after:


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If you’re looking for a main storyline this week, it’s how well can Bob Diaco and the Irish defensive staff put together a gameplan that’ll shutdown Air Force’s option-based offense. After having their scheme rightfully cross-examined after the bludgeoning it took against Navy, Kelly talked about how the experiences playing against Navy and Army helped as they prepare for Air Force’s offensive attack.

“We have to play the way we play,” Kelly said. “We cannot become so out of character in stopping the option that we forget about the things that we teach every day. That is playing physical, flying to the football, great tackling. I think you’ve got to be careful because sometimes option, you get this sense of, Hey, it’s option. But we have to do what we do. That is, we’ve got to play physical at the line of scrimmage and we’ve got to tackle well as understanding the option being the most important principle.”

Kelly hits on, to me, what is one of the more interesting developments of the Brian Kelly era. While Kelly was known as an offensive mastermind before coming to South Bend, what we’ve actually seen is a guy that doesn’t really plan to out-scheme you, but simply beat you by finding a core competency and have his team excel doing just that.

If you’re looking for a reason to be confident against Air Force, it’s that Kelly believes that the strength and physicality of this defense is good enough that it simply needs to do what it does. Sure they’ll gameplan and make tweaks because of the option, but they’ll do that inside the framework of the defense’s principles — a unit that’s developed pretty impressively in a short time under Kelly and Diaco.


After spraining an ankle early against Purdue, Kelly is still unable to figure out where Ethan Johnson is in his progress toward seeing the field this weekend.

“He is still in that walking boot. He will be until about Thursday. We’ll take it off. We’ll have to see how he moves around on Thursday,” Kelly said. “When you immobilize for 48, you’re hoping for great results. We’ve been very aggressive in the treatment, but we’ll have to really see on Thursday. He’ll be involved in all of our drills, our walk-throughs. He’s going to be an inside guy for us, so he’s just got to be physical at the point of attack. It’s not like he’s going to have a lot of different things going on. We hope he’ll be able to answer the bell.”

I don’t expect to see Johnson this weekend, only because I think the coaching staff thinks that they can get by without using him on Saturday and give him two full weeks to get ready for USC. That said, Kelly pointed to an interesting personnel decision, choosing to use Johnson as an inside guy — likely in the mix with Louis Nix and Sean Cwynar, not necessarily at defensive end.

Kelly made it clear that both freshman, Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, will play this weekend against Air Force, giving the youngsters a chance to team with Kapron Lewis-Moore, who has had some productive Saturdays against option teams in the past. I’d also expect to see Darius Fleming with his hand on the ground, giving way to Steve Filer or Ishaq Williams outside at linebacker.


Kelly had one of the better lines of the press conference when talking about the continued development of sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees.

“He’s been in some big games and some very difficult environments. He’s developing that scar tissue that you need to play quarterback with me as well, and that is he’s constantly being challenged to be better. He’s taken very well to that. I think all of our players have a great trust in him.”

The term “scar tissue” really resonates with me and is a great way to describe the evolution of a quarterback. Thinking back to the past few quarterbacks at Notre Dame, there were certainly cuts and scrapes along the way that aided in the development of these players.

Brady Quinn isn’t who he is without a few very tough football game in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Same for Jimmy Clausen. You’re seeing that Kelly believes that Rees is a guy that understands the offense and will only continue to get better, helping to refute the growing narrative that Rees has a low ceiling.

Kelly then talked about the decision to stick with Tommy against Pitt, even when it seemed like Dayne Crist might have been a better option.

“Even though he probably didn’t have his best game against Pittsburgh, there were many people asking why we didn’t go back to Dayne,” Kelly said. “I think Dayne is extremely capable of running our offense, being successful, but we wanted consistency and continuity, and we felt Tommy was going to give us that.”

I’m starting to think it might make sense to put together a up-tempo scheme for Crist, something that allows him to use his under-appreciated running ability and also get him on the field against Air Force. Sure, sophomore Andrew Hendrix or freshman Everett Golson might be better in a true dual-threat capacity, but neither have the command of the offense that Crist has.

Crist hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy, but he has shown himself to be a pretty decent runner, something Tommy just doesn’t have in his arsenal.





Tuesdays with BK: Purdue edition


Okay, people — who’s ready to turn the corner from bickering about a quarterback controversy that only exists in the hearts and minds of Irish fans? (This guy!)

While there will be plenty of time for us to keep picking away at the play behind center, Brian Kelly and the Irish continued to trudge forward, sitting at 2-2 and ready to tackle their third Big Ten opponent of the season, the Purdue Boilermakers.

Here’s a sampling of what Kelly had to say this afternoon. As usual, I’ll give some thoughts below:


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If you were looking for the money quote on Tommy Rees, Kelly delivered it late in the press conference:

“You can put together an incredible highlight reel with Tommy Rees this year,” Kelly said about his starting quarterback. “And you could also put together a blooper film. So it’s really being able to gain that consistency of play after play after play. And a lot of that is learning and experience, and that’s where we’re at.

“That’s this year. We better not be talking about this stuff next year or there will be another quarterback playing. But he is learning. He’s got — some of the body of his work is really good and some of it needs great improvement. And he knows that. I know that, and we believe that he’s capable of being more consistent for a longer period of time.”

And there’s the closest thing to Kelly’s response to why he’s rolling with Rees over Crist.

Moving on…


There’s been a lot of talk about winning ugly this week. Kelly didn’t use those exact words, but he talked about the importance of winning and closing out close games. It was as close to a inside look at Kelly’s philosophy of building a team as we’ve seen in some time.

“I ask our players all the time and we talk about all the little things that you have to do to win. Now when you build your program, then the two things that I’ve always looked for in winning teams, and I think the best example is you take Auburn last year who won the National Championship. I think they had six games that they played where they won late or in overtime or won by just a couple of points. I know on my Cincinnati team where we went 12 and 0, we had a number of games that were decided on the last possession. And the point I’m making is one of the things that I liked about our football team at Pittsburgh is that we showed poise and confidence down the stretch.

“Poise to me is the ability to raise your level of concentration when it’s most needed. That you can’t talk about. You have to go demonstrate that. Confidence is the trust in your teammates that they’re going to do their job so you don’t have to do theirs. And those are hard to get to, and I was really pleased, of all the wins that we’ve had, that was the first time that we exhibited in 2011 poise and confidence because if you look at the Michigan game, we didn’t trust in what we were doing in the end, and consequently, we didn’t do the job necessary to win that football game.”

It isn’t hard to think about past Irish teams (specifically 2008 and 2009), and how when the season started going sideways, Notre Dame couldn’t do anything to stop it. Kelly proved in his first year that he had to ability to pick his team up off of the mat. Unfortunately, it was after the Irish had already lost five games. After digging itself a two game hole, a win on Saturday would give us another data point to examine, and more importantly push the Irish to 3-2 heading into Air Force and the bye week.


There’s been some grumbling about the play of Will linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese after watching them miss some big one-on-one tackles so far this year. But ask Kelly what he’s thought of their play, and it’s a completely different tune.

“Both of them have really done some great things,” Kelly said of the duo. “You know, we got matched up a couple of times one on one with the backs, so it forced us to go to nickel because we didn’t like that matchup. But by and large our will linebacker has been outstanding in pass coverage. Calabrese has had a couple of really good plays in pass coverage for us. Danny’s done a great job. We’ve got some really good plays, especially on his pass coverage from our will linebacker position.”

Part of me wonders if that answer was a bit calculated, if only because it doesn’t pay to have other teams hear you acknowledge you haven’t been getting great linebacker play. That said, both guys have 15 tackles each, and three combined tackles-for-loss. Those 30 tackles would be good for second place on the team — 11 shy of Manti Te’o and five ahead of Harrison Smith, really just about where you’d want them to be. When you look at it that way, that’s pretty good production from the position, though I think everybody would like to see the missed tackles cleaned up.


For those wondering if Kelly had plans on playing any more freshman, he let us behind the curtain Tuesday afternoon, where Cam McDaniel, George Atkinson and Davaris Daniels are loosening up.

“I think maybe running back position, you know, we’re ready to give one of those two young guys some work, McDaniel and Atkinson, both of them, you know, we’re really close there,” Kelly said. “Daniels is getting closer each and every week. So I’d say on the offensive side of the ball those would be the three guys most likely.

“Defensively, you know, I think you see the guys that we’re playing right now. I don’t see anybody else hopping in to the lineup or cracking the two deep.”

For those wondering if Kelly would give a guy like Ben Councell or Josh Atkinson a chance to work their way into the rotation it seems like Kelly’s content standing pat with the defensive unit.


Finally, Kelly had a fascinating exchange where he broke down the thought process of going for the punt block on the first series of the second half. He acknowledged the decision backfired, but also gave some interesting thoughts on the parameters for which he calls for a block. Interestingly enough — it’s not when the punted is pinned in his endzone.

“We have a yard line that we will not put one on because you only get two points out of it. You know, I don’t want to block a kick for two points,” Kelly revealed. “I’d rather set our offense up at midfield than try and block a kick for two points because if you block it and it goes out of the back of the end zone, obviously, you know, you get the ball back. But we look in all those terms of when do you go for a block and what time do you do it and then in some instances how your defense is playing.”

Kelly said the call wasn’t an in-game adjustment, but rather one they made before hand, after reviewing tape with Mike Elston. Obviously the outcome wasn’t what the Irish wanted and it was a huge momentum changer, but Kelly made it clear that he has a ton of confidence in Austin Collinsworth, one of his best special teams players.

That’s the first time I’ve ever heard a coach explain his logic, and while at first it seemed a little counter intuitive, it makes a ton of sense.

Tuesdays with BK: Moving on to Pitt

Brian Kelly spring ball

With a win against Michigan State in the rearview mirror, the Irish and head coach Brian Kelly move on to Pittsburgh and Todd Graham, who put himself on the map last year when his Tulsa team can to Notre Dame and shocked the Irish 28-27 last October. The win propelled a Tulsa team that was 4-3 to a 10-win season, putting its head coach on the national radar, where he was eventually scooped up by Pitt after its hiring and firing of former Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood.

Graham came to Pittsburgh and has installed his up-tempo offensive attack while changing the culture of a physical pro-style program that Dave Wannstedt ran. The transition has been a mixed bag so far, with the Panthers sitting at 2-1 after a shocking defeat to Iowa courtesy of a fourth quarter collapse by the Panthers, exposed a few glaring deficiencies that still showed up against cupcakes Buffalo and Maine.

With both coaches familiar with the others’ personnel and system, Kelly is keeping the focus on his team as they prepare for their trip to the Steel City.

“You can’t come to practice now that you’ve won a game and feel as though, okay, we’ve arrived, because we certainly haven’t,” Kelly said this afternoon. “There are a lot things that we need to get better at if we’re going to be a consistent winner. Right now, they know they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them. I want to continue to see the same attention and focus in how we practice and carry that over into Saturday.”

Here are some highlights from Kelly’s Tuesday press conference. As usual, I’ll have some thoughts below.


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It turns out that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on TJ Jones was a mistake by the Big Ten officiating crew.

“We got a clarification that that, in fact, is not a penalty,” Kelly said. “That was clarified yesterday by the Big 10 officials. Now, if he does that and puts it in somebody’s face or jumps into the Michigan State band, then that would be an unsportsmanlike penalty.”

Before we get a bunch of people citing their conspiracy theories, it’s good that this was addressed now and not in a game that was a close contest. With the Irish and a variety of other teams putting their team’s logo on the palms of their gloves, it was only a matter of time before someone was flagged for a penalty.

“We literally went over this specifically, because our gloves have the Fighting Irish on the inside,” Kelly explained. So when you put your gloves together, the fighting Irishman is on the inside of the gloves. So that’s my job immediately, because I saw that. That’s like giving your eight year old a lighter, you know what I mean? I knew this thing was going to be something that we were going to have to deal with. Certainly we brought it up and got the green light, so there was miscommunication along the way.”

It’s weird that SEC teams have been doing this since last year and nobody gets flagged. Notre Dame does it and a Big Ten official flags it. Chalk it up to an “innocent mistake” I guess.


Kelly got off the line of the press conference when he was asked if his 1-2 team had to worry about looking ahead.

“I’ll worry about that when they win six, seven, eight, nine in a row. We’re certainly not at that point yet,” Kelly said before getting out the winner. “We have not been infected with success yet. I’ll know when that happens. We need to win more and be consistent and attention to the detail things.”

A success infection. I think that sounds like a college football coach’s dream.


With the Tulsa game far enough in the past to think about again, Kelly was asked about Graham’s squad last year and was pretty candid with his answer.

“Well, they proved to be a very good football team. As you know, a top 25 team, 10-win plus team. It was a really athletic team. They had very good skill on the offense,” Kelly said. “I know people say, ‘Oh, it’s Tulsa.’ They were really skilled on offense. They had very dynamic players. They were opportunistic. They returned a deflected ball for a touchdown. They had a punt return. It was very opportunistic team defensively, an aggressive team defensively, and an outstanding veteran quarterback in their system. They had really good skilled players on the offensive side of the ball.”

There are certainly a lot of people that are still saying “Oh, it’s Tulsa,” but you tend to forget that the Golden Hurricane ended the season with seven straight wins, an impressive accomplishment regardless of what conference you’re in.


For the first time this season, the Irish didn’t have a 100-yard rusher or 100-yard receiver. But Kelly pointed out some of the important factors that led to convincingly handling a Michigan State team that was thought to be a top 15 team.

“You know, if you looked at it statistically, if you put up the stats of first three games and said, Pick which game they won, I don’t know that you would pick this one,” Kelly said. “But I think we all know how games are won: You control the line of scrimmage. I think really when we really pare it all down, our ability to have a running game that opens up so many other things that we can do, where we can get a one-on-one match up and hit T.J. Jones for a big touchdown. So if we go back to it, the Louis Nixes and a Sean Cwynars that are grinding it out inside, and the Chris Watts and Trevor Robinsons. Those are the guys that really had an impact.”

It was this nucleus that had Irish fans excited about the season and the potential of this group. The good news is, that didn’t change after two unfortunate Saturdays. Of course, the running game stalled out a bit in the second half, giving Kelly and Ed Warinner plenty of ammunition this week as they look to get a complete performance out of the offensive line.

Tuesdays with BK: Michigan edition

Brian Kelly 9

We already covered the big news of the day, with Notre Dame shifting gears and going with Tommy Rees as the starter against Michigan Saturday night.

If there’s one quote that encapsulates the decision, here it is:

“You got to be productive,” Kelly said. “If you’re not, you should be looking over your shoulder. If you’re a productive quarterback doing the things we ask you to do, you should just go out there and play the game the way you know how to play it.

“So when you have two really good quarterbacks, you know that if you’re going to err on one side or the other you want to your quarterback to be productive. I keep coming back to that word. Maybe I’m overusing it. But both of those guys are capable of leading our football team, and those are the expectations that are placed on them.”

Here’s more from Brian Kelly earlier this afternoon, who was ready to put South Florida behind him.

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A few thoughts on some comments that may or may not have been in the video clip:

It seems like Kelly might have backed off his position that Theo Riddick would absolutely be out there returning punts on Saturday night in Ann Arbor. But more importantly, Kelly’s comments focus on Theo’s need for a short memory, on a Saturday where a first half drop ended up snowballing into his worst day in college football.

“Theo is a young man that I think we will continuing to go to Theo. The thing that he has to work on, obviously his body language,” Kelly said. “You know, he can’t get down on himself. We’re going to keep coming to him. He’s going to our guy. He’s got to fight through a very difficult set of circumstances that were presented him.”


Here’s Kelly’s explanation of what happened on Tommy Rees‘ first interception of the night, when Tommy crowned TJ Jones on a crossing route.

“It’s on both of ’em really. When it comes down to it, the quarterback can’t throw the ball to a receiver that’s not giving him his eyes,” Kelly said. “At the end of the day, the responsibility of the football remains with the quarterback.

“Now, all of the things that go into that, you would think that, Okay, get your eyes, you’ve got some green grass, they just weren’t at same page. Again, one of those things that you scratch your head, because we’ve run the route so many times and it’s never happened before; it happened on Saturday. So we’ve got to go back and look at how we’re coaching, how we’re teaching it, how we’re communicating it. All those things have to be evaluated.”

One thing Kelly didn’t mention: If Rees was able to buy just another half second in the pocket, Michael Floyd was ready to break open heading the other way, with nobody between him and the end zone.


Kelly was candid about how he handled Jonas Gray, a senior that’s needed if the Irish are going to continue to run the football effectively.

“I’ll tell you exactly what I said. How do you want to be remembered? As that guy that fumbled on the one-yard line?” Kelly recounted. “Or as that guy in your senior year that bounced back from some adversity and had an incredible season? You know what, I think he’s going to have a very good season.”

While Cierre Wood was as good as advertised in his debut, the staff’s worst fears were probably realized with Gray. It’ll be up to Kelly to make sure he continues to build up Gray, who could be used in a Robert Hughes type role as the year goes on, provided he holds onto the football.


It was hard for Kelly to be too enthusiastic about a game that he’s trying to forget, but you could tell he was very impressed by Louis Nix‘s debut.

When asked if Nix played up to expectations, Kelly was to the point.

“His play exceeded that,” Kelly said. “He played very well.”


Finally, here’s more from Kelly on the decision to switch to Tommy Rees.

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Tuesdays with BK: Sun Bowl edition

Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel

Welcome back to the season’s final Tuesdays with BK, this time coming from El Paso, Texas. In front of a different crowd than usual, Brian Kelly discussed hot topics like Duval Kamara, the future of Michael Floyd, keys to defeating the Hurricanes, and carrying Sun Bowl momentum into 2011.

Our friends over at UND.com have video of the press conference here, but I’ll give you some of the greatest hits:

The news of Duval Kamara’s abscense from the Sun Bowl was explained by the fuzzy “personal reasons” yesterday, and when asked about it today, Brian Kelly didn’t have much to add, other than a little bit of displeasure in the entire situation.

“I’d like to stick him in a snow drift in New Jersey,” Kelly said, referencing the inclimate weather that hit Kamara’s hometown, before answering seriously.

“Personal reasons is the reason why he’s not here,” Kelly said before finalizing Kamara’s status for the game. “I would not know whether or not he shows up in El Paso or not.”

Personal reasons or not, it sounds like Kamara will end his career at Notre Dame in the head coach’s dog house, likely from a decision made over the three-day holiday break.


We’re going to dig into the decision Michael Floyd has to make later, but when Kelly was asked what it would mean if the Sun Bowl was Floyd’s last game in a Notre Dame uniform, he had a thoughtful response.

“These decisions that are made relative to whether they come back or not, I really don’t spend much time on it,” Kelly said. “I look at the present. And in the present, Michael Floyd is somebody that impacted our entire football team. And he impacted it by the way he worked every day in practice. He set a standard, from my perspective, of how you want champions to practice and prepare. Great work ethic, great with understanding what it takes to be a great player. If he does decide it’s in his best interests to move on to the NFL, whether I agree or not, is really immaterial, what he leaves is a standard I can point to moving forward: That’s how you prepare, that’s how you practice. Look at Michael Floyd.”

Floyd sits near the top of every receiving record in Notre Dame history and if he returns for his senior season he’ll likely be guaranteed his name doesn’t go anywhere for quite some time. That said, after sniffing around our mutual hometown and high school alma mater, I’ve got a feeling that Friday’s game might be MMF’s finale.


Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated played a game of fill-in-the-blanks with Kelly, where the head coach tried to relay the key to an Irish victory. Not surprisingly, it included slowing down Miami’s pass rush and protecting freshman quarterback Tommy Rees.

“Number one, we have to be able to protect Tommy,” Kelly said. “That’s absolutely critical. We can’t put this game in a situation where he has to go out as a freshman and decide the outcome. And then defensively, find a way to balance stopping the run with the ability to play the ball in the air down the field. They’re going to run the football, and they’re going to take shots with some skilled players. In other words, you can’t sell out against the run, or you’re going to get in 1-on-1 matchups that Miami can exploit. It’s balance on defense and don’t put Tommy Rees in a position where he has to make plays.”

Keeping Rees protected is the obvious priority, but stopping a Hurricane running attack that could help open up the play-action pass game is critical for the Irish defense. While most of the talk has been about Notre Dame’s strong defense in November, for the season, the Irish have done a pretty good job limiting the run. After a slow start out of the gates (thanks to a killer game by Denard Robinson), the Irish held defenses to a very respectable 3.6 yards a carry in the final nine games of the season, even including the debacle against Navy.

With Ian Williams back anchoring the nose and Darius Fleming coming on of late, the Irish should have a good chance to contain a Miami offense filled with talent, but lacking cohesion.


Beating Miami on Friday would give the Irish eight victories for the season, their first four-game winning streak since 2006, and an awful lot of momentum going into 2011. Kelly talked about what this bowl game means for the Irish heading into next season.

“Any time you take two weeks to practice, you’re always thinking about preparation for the opponent, but you also have an eye towards the future,” Kelly said. “It’s like anything else — you’re going to live in the present but you’re always going to have an eye towards the future. So this clearly, for both teams, there’s 2011 out there as well. We want to win the football game. So the most important thing is the right now. But in the evaluation process over the past couple weeks, you’re also looking at those guys that are going to impact your team in 2011. It’s very, very important to our players, our coaches, everybody associated.”

The Irish’s ceiling could hinge on the return of Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph to the offense, but you can be assured that expectations for 2011 — whether deserved or not — will be sky high for next year.

(At least by this guy…)