As top-ranked Clemson gets set to visit No. 4 Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend, Ind., our good friends at Irish Sports Daily.com provided us with Monday’s transcript from Brian Kelly’s weekly press conference.
Here is what the Notre Dame head coach had to say about the Tigers, the game and so much more.
On No. 1 Clemson:
“We’ll begin with the opponent in Clemson, the #1 team in the country and deservedly so. Everything they do, they do well in all phases of the game, offense, defense, special teams. Consistent in everything. Their record since 2018 is 36-1, so I’d be repeating if I didn’t say Coach has done an incredible job here. Consistency is really what’s amazing about this football team and what Dabo has done.”
“Again, in all phases, their well-coached, prepared for everything. We’re excited about the opportunity to play the #1 team in the country. We have a great deal of respect for them and I know our guys are excited about the opportunity.”
On looking forward to Clemson and “saving stuff for Clemson” thought:
“Anybody that says they are holding plays or schemes for a team later in the year, I just don’t buy that. I’ve been doing it for over 30 years. There might be a play, a trick play; you might hold out that you might have in your arsenal because you’re up by 28 points and you don’t use. You save it for the next week.
“In terms of who you are and who you want to be – that’s who you are at this point of the season. You have to prepare for a lot of things when you play a Brent Venables defense because there is a different blitz each week. There are different looks. It’s three-down and four-down. That’s what makes them great. That’s what makes him one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.
“In terms of who you are, your scheme and what you’re doing week in and week out, we both are who we are. It will come down to the execution of those schemes more than anything else. You’re really not holding anything back from that perspective saying, ‘Hey, we got Clemson in six weeks. We’re not going to do this or not going to do that.’
“We’re not coming out in split back and running the veer. They’re certainly not going to come back and change what they do, even if Trevor Lawrence was the quarterback. They’re going to be who they are.”
On trying to bother a young quarterback:
“We played Trevor Lawrence when he was a freshman and there are some that you think would have difficulty in certain situations relative to third down and different coverages. But they’re well-coached. These kids see a lot now and are well-prepared. DJ will be well-prepared for the different things we show him. The most important thing is to make sure he’s not comfortable back there.
“You’ve got to get a great pass rush, you’ve got to get him to move their feet, you’ve got to make sure they don’t get in a rhythm, which is really the case for a lot of quarterbacks. I just think whether you’re a freshman or whether you’re a senior, I think a lot of the axioms are still the same. You don’t want a quarterback to feel comfortable. For us, defensively, get him out of a comfort zone, don’t let him in rhythm, don’t give him the easy throws that are comfortable for him and make him do some things he doesn’t want to do.”
On being prepared for big moments in big games:
“We’re 29-3 over the last 32 games. We’re not a team that’s easily overcome with the moment. We’ll be just fine. We’ve got to execute and certainly the last time we played poorly, we’ve won 12 in a row. You’ve got to execute, you’ve got to play well in the moment, but this team has exhibited they’re not a team that’s going to back away from a challenge. When they’re down, they’ll certainly pick up their pace and answer any challenges that are in front of them. I have no question about that.”
On where the program is today:
“We’re 29-3 in our last 32 games. I don’t know. We’ve won 22 consecutive games at home, we’ve 12 in a row. I don’t know, you guys decide.”
On player excitement for Clemson and managing emotions:
“I think what I’m saying is that this is a long haul. This isn’t a destination point for us this weekend. We’ve got many more games. We’re playing for a conference championship. It’s not like when we were an independent and you need to kind of get these games and validate your place in the college football playoffs.
“We’re looking at winning the conference championship, and we have five conference games (remaining on the schedule). And they all count as one. I know it’s the No. 1 team in the country. Our guys know it’s the No. 1 team in the country. They’re excited about that opportunity. But it counts as one.
“And so you have to be able to balance that off because the next week gets at you immediately. If you empty the tank this weekend and don’t have anything left for BC, they’re going to beat you. Flat out. There has to be a measure of emotional mastery here where you understand the opponent, you’re excited about it. But you have to play your best. That’s what we’ve been building up for, that competitive greatness on Saturday but still understanding that there’s a lot of football still in front of us.”
On if this week is different as it could be seen as the program’s next step:
“No. Look. This game, it … it’s not the end-all for us. For us, we could win this game but if you lose to BC, this game doesn’t mean anything.
“We’re still in pursuit of a conference championship. It’s about steady play. It’s about raising your level of compete on Saturdays, which we’re in the process of doing.
“It’s about consistency in performance. Which, we’re certainly well on our way to checking that box. We’ve shown an incredible consistency as a football team of winning week in and week out.
“Look, you’re going to get opportunities like this and you want to win these games. There’s no doubt.
“We can’t be overly emotional about this football game and lose sight of the fact that we’ve got five more games to play as well. There’s a lot of football still left out. We can’t empty the tank and say, ‘Hey, we beat Clemson, we’ve arrived.’ No we haven’t We’ve got to take this game as an important game. It’s the No. 1 team in the country. You better play really well against a really good Clemson football team. And then get ready to move on and play a BC team on the road that’s really good, too.
On meaning of taking Election Day off:
“We’ve been at this for about a month now, registering our players. Our roster is from all over the country. For them to run out to the local polls, they won’t be going over to Clay Middle School to vote tomorrow. They’re not from here. As of yesterday, I think we had 90 of 114 of our players had already voted by absentee, mail-in voting. We’ve already encouraged them to use their voice. When we started this in terms of being socially active, part of it is to do something about being involved and making a change. They can make a change by voting. If they choose not to vote, that’s their choice too. They have that right.
“When you have 90 of 114 guys voting, clearly, this was very important to them. We’ve prepared for that. We’ve been extremely active in it, so they won’t be racing out to the polls tomorrow, but you may see some guys volunteer. I know we’re giving out vote stickers around campus doing some things of that nature, those things that are allowable by NCAA rules and regulations.”
On practice schedule challenges due to Tuesday being off for Election Day:
“We had to come right back in after getting off a plane at midnight and rush our players back into the building during COVID first thing in the morning to get them in the weight room, in the training room and into meetings.
“Less than an ideal situation. It is what it is. Today, we will practice. It really makes it difficult because we’re on a testing regimen that makes it difficult because we don’t get all our testing back at the appropriate time. Then you’re looking at adding antigen testing while you’re waiting for your PCR testing.”
On players voting and the NCAA decision to take off Election Day:
“The NCAA certainly is trying to deal with a number of things that are going on in real-time. If they had all this information in a vaccum, maybe they would have reacted differently. I don’t know.
“There’s some realities to this that make it difficult. We’ll work through it.
“We’ve got 90 something players out of 114 that have already voted because really very few of our players are from this area. They’re from all over the country, so they’ve already voted absentee. They’ll go to class and they’ll all be banging on the door of the football building wanting to do something tomorrow.
“It is what it is and you deal with it. I don’t think there’s any bad intent here. We’re all kind of dealing with the times that they are and we’re reacting to it.”
On CB Nick McCloud’s progress:
“It’s like anything else, when you have somebody who transfers into your program who hasn’t been with you over a period of time, there’s a climatization, acclimation, whatever word you want to use. It takes a little time. Although Nick had a lot of snaps, I think he needed to really get a sense and feel for what our strength and conditioning program was about. That took a little bit. It didn’t happen overnight. He’s fit in very well in terms of our culture and understanding the standards here at Notre Dame. Each program is different. Each program has its own kind of standard if you will. I think he’s done a terrific job of meeting those standards here and fitting in very well.”
On optimism following 2018 Playoff loss to Clemson:
“I look back at the ’18 team. We had three young offensive linemen who handled themselves very well against one of the best defensive lines in the country. We had some young defensive players who I think did a very, very good job. I just felt like we had a lot of young players who were going to continue to grow in our program and we played an outstanding football team.
“People fail to recognize the next week they absolutely blitzed Alabama. Nobody talked about the talent gap there, nobody talked about the coaching gap there. They just talked about the talent gap and coaching gap between Notre Dame and Clemson. I just felt like from the eye test and what I saw that was my opinion. Really all that matters is that we get an opportunity to play Clemson this Saturday and compete against them. Who knows, it might not be the only time we play them this year. There will be enough time to evaluate all of this and there will be plenty of opinions and pundits will make their own assessments. We feel pretty good about where we are. We’ll continue to develop our players in the manner we feel is best for Notre Dame. Dabo is going to continue to doing a great job developing the players that he has in the manner that he has. We have different business plans. We’ll do what we’re doing and it should make for a great game on Saturday, I can tell you that.”
On defense not having individual leaders in national categories, yet defense is one of the top in the nation:
“As it relates to the defense in terms of stats … you know what they say about stats. I really think it’s about keeping people off the scoreboard, keeping the points down. Our defense does a really good job of eliminating the big plays. Keeping the points down and being fundamentally sound. When you do that, I think that those are the most important statistics when you really look at it.
“The rest of those things end up coming out as individual stats. This is a team unit. It’s a brotherhood of 11 guys playing together and that makes it a dangerous defense.”
On improvements this season:
”Well, nobody knew about any of the running backs, so I think we can start there. Outstanding production from three running backs (Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree, C’Bo Flemister).
“Nobody knew anything about the wide receivers. I think we’re starting to show that we’re getting production. We got great production from (Javon) McKinley this weekend. The week before we got great production from Ben Skowronek. I think it was mentioned earlier, Avery Davis.
“We had a freshman tight end coming in that had not played any college football. These are not small feats, now. These guys have to come in, they have to be coached. They have to have the confidence. You just don’t roll them out and say, ‘Hey, they’ve arrived. Let’s go play.’
“I’m really proud of the way our guys have coached them and how they’ve responded.
“It’s easy during this time, where we’re in COVID, the campus is different, there’s no fans, there’s a lot going on, and a lot of these players are really stepping up on the offensive side of the ball and contributing.
“From a defensive standpoint, you know, you’ve had, I’ve already mentioned this, we’ve had four different combinations (starting) at the cornerback position, that are rotating in. We lost some key players on the defensive line. You’re seeing a Daelin Hayes step up. Ade (Ogundeji) is starting to come into his own and playing a lot of football. Bo Bauer has played a ton of football for us. Jack Kiser. So the list goes on and on.
“The safety position, we’re getting really good, complementary play at safety. That’s a lot right there that has developed over these last six weeks and in a very different time for us.
On front four getting home with pass rush:
“You’ve got to understand, the last two weeks we’ve had quarterbacks who are much more pocket passers. The first few weeks, those guys weren’t in the pocket. They were movers. You had Cunningham who is not staying in the pocket; the ball’s coming out quickly. If you really look at the nature of the kind of offenses we’re playing against, Florida State and Louisville, in particular those two games, South Florida, those three in particular, Duke was not, obviously; that was we were getting the rust off us in that game. I thought we got after the quarterback pretty good against Duke.
“My point being, I think we’re getting into a situation where, if you’re going to be in the pocket, we’re going to put some pressure on you and we’re going to knock the quarterback down.
On raising compete level:
”I think we’ve played really well defensively. We’ve given up one real touchdown in the last couple weeks against two ACC opponents.
“I think our level of play definitely has moved the needle in terms of what we’re looking for. That was all about understanding that you can’t up that compete level and be ready for a team like this unless you have great play.
“Really about just raising our level of compete on Saturday so that we’re at a great level to play and beat Clemson and still be in a great position to continue on without worrying about how we play the following week.”
On Clemson being down several players and how COVID can change depth charts:
“We have their depth chart here. I’ll take their fourth Sam linebacker. I’ll take their fifth defensive tackle. I’ll take their fourth defensive end. They’re in pretty good shape.
“I don’t wish COVID and I do not wish them any injuries. They’re going to put out a really good product with the other players they have. We’re going to prepare for the No. 1 team in the country and the guys they roll out – they’re going to be pretty good.”
On Jafar Armstrong:
“We’ve moved him to wide receiver. We felt like where we are in the program at this point that the three backs we have are pretty constant and consistent. We’re comfortable there.
“We think Jafar can be much more of an impact player at the wide receiver position. He will continue to work there. I think when he gets a little more time there, he’s going to impact us and help us win football games.”
On Clemson RB Travis Etienne:
“I think he’s the best running back in the country. I’ll go on record on saying that. Elite speed. Tough inside-out runner and incredible out of the backfield.
“He’s the complete package. When you’re looking up complete running back in the dictionary, his picture and name should be there. That’s who he is.
“I don’t know there’s a back we’ve gone against and we’ve gone against some great backs that is complete of a player that he is.”
—courtesy Matt Freeman, Irish Sports Daily.com
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