Kelly Q&A: Temple and Season Openers

Kelly Q&A: Temple and Season Openers

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly discusses preparing for Temple, a first-time head coach, and the unique qualities of a season opener.

Kelly on Temple, Season Openers

"Well, we're all excited about game week here at Notre Dame, and certainly getting back on the field for our football team after a loss is the best recipe for any football team.  It's been a long time since we played that last game, and a lot of work, a lot of preparation leading into this first game against Temple.

"We're playing an opponent that certainly, with Coach (Matt) Rhule taking over, we don't know a lot about.  We do know this:  That Matt tutored under Al Golden.  We know the success that Al has had, and I have a great deal of respect for Al and his program and the discipline and organization that the Temple football team is going to have in this game, as well as working for Coach (Tom) Coughlin, you know that this football team is going to be ready.

"They return a lot of players from last year.  We don't know exactly what we're going to see.  We think we do, but I think this is one of those openers where we're going to have to kind of make some adjustments along the way, and they've got some good football players.  You know, I think the things that we look at, first of all, in the opener is playing the game the right way.

"Last year we understood how important it was to get off to a great start, play the game the right way, attention to detail, play with great effort and enthusiasm, and the watch word for us will be to play the game clean.  Don't turn the football over.  Make sure that we're efficient in the special teams game, and hopefully more than that this year.  Hopefully we can turn some special teams plays into some big plays.

"I think we all know openers tend to have some mistakes in them.  We need to play a clean opener against a team that obviously is coming into Notre Dame Stadium and has nothing to lose, and our players understand that going into it.  So a well-coached football team, very good offensive line, big, physical group.

"They return three out of five starters up front; a big tight end, a physical running back.  They've got three wide receivers that have proven themselves in their program.  They wear low-digit numbers, so we know that that means something to their team and to their program. From a defensive standpoint they return one of the best linebackers in the Big East last year, the old Big East Conference, and of course Levi Brown is a guy that can get after the quarterback.

"Again, personnel for Temple, they showed that they can compete with anybody in the Big East last year, and you know that last year we had to take Pittsburgh into overtime last year, so we're going to have to play well against a team that's coming into Notre Dame Stadium wanting to show very well for their first year head coach.  Again, from our standpoint it's an opener, it's where we start the 2013 season, and it's important that we get off to a good start."

Q.  You've had two spotless openers and one that was turnover-ridden.  I'm sure going into all the games you felt well-prepared.  What is it about game week that can, I think you've used the analogy before, turning the keys over to your teenager? What can you do to make sure they take care of the football?

"Well, I think you have a lot of veterans that have been in those openers and have experienced what the level of play is.  Look, everything is built on expectations.  Expectations start and end with how we do things on a day-to-day basis, not leading up to Saturday but how you do things on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and so we have a number of players that understand what those expectations are through practice and through how we handle ourselves in meetings and classroom and on this campus.

"They've been immersed in that on a day-to-day basis.  So into year four, there's not as much of a concern that all of a sudden we're going to forget how to handle ourselves."

Q.  You said you were prepared to play a lot of people on Saturday.  Given the weather forecast, it's going to be very, very hot, are you prepared to play even more people than you anticipated?

"No, I think we're going to play the guys that we believe at this point going into practice today that have shown that they're ready to play.  I don't know that anybody is going to get themselves off that status today.  I think we have a really good idea.

"I will tell you this:  It's a lot deeper than we've had at any time.  I think that there's five running backs that can help us play.  We feel like there's a number of players at the receiving position that can play for us.

"So I think we've got a lot more depth than we've had at any time coming into the season at this point."

Q.  Temple is one of several teams you're going to play this year that had to devote a lot of time during camp on figuring out who the quarterback is going to be.  Being someone that's gone through that several times, how much more time are you able to give overall production-wise during camp when you don't have to go through that?

"Yeah, I think it's a very good question.  The things that you can work on that you don't get a chance to really focus on, for example, communication with your wide receivers and getting in the right play; movement within the pocket, really focusing on, for example, with Tommy, his ability to extend plays.  Where you're focused on reps and calling plays and evaluating who the starter is from one to two, there's so many other things that we were able to work on this year knowing who our starter was.

"I know what Coach Rhule was having to go through.  I've been through that many times.  It's nice that we're able to work on many more things that help our quarterback position out leading into game one."

Q.  Are there any challenges that come from playing against a team with a new coach?

"Oh, absolutely.  I think I know more about Eastern Michigan's defense than I do anybody else.  Coach Snow, who's their defensive coordinator, was at Eastern Michigan last year, and I found myself talking in terms of what Eastern Michigan was doing, and clearly obviously that's not their talent pool.  They've got Temple players.

"So there's that unknown.  Clearly what they did at Eastern Michigan, they might be doing something totally different this year at Temple, so there's that unknown.  Obviously with a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator who comes from Tennessee Chattanooga, there's so many different variables that go into the opener first of all.  Now add a new staff, a new head coach.  So we have to be on guard, and from our standpoint we've got to take care of what we do.  What's very fortunate for us is that we go against a defense that runs both three-down and four-down, and that helps us a lot in our preparation.  But again, we're going to have to be ready to make adjustments on the fly."

Q.  Some of the young guys obviously have to worry about Temple and that's kind of what they're focused on.  Do you worry about any of the veterans looking ahead to Michigan?

"Every day.  Every single day I talk about-- I'm not that far removed from South Florida.  That's what I do.  This is my livelihood, so I think about all those things.

"We focus on Temple, I talk about it every day.  I talk about the importance of playing this game and focusing on this football game.  It'll be a topic of conversation again today, tomorrow and every day leading right up to the Temple game."

Q.  You changed the format game day last year with the walk around and won't have the team mass this year-- "We'll have the team mass."

Q.  But not on Saturday.  With these little tweaks, when you came in did you take a whole analysis of the program and say here are maybe some things that are not getting us at our maximum or optimum level on game day?

"Certainly, yeah.  I mean, we have distinctions that we'll never change, that we never want to change.  We're always going to have mass.  It's important.  It's part of the fabric of Notre Dame football.  It's part of our mission.  There's certain things that will never go away as it relates to Notre Dame and its traditions.

"What I was looking for were simply better ways to manage leading up to the game itself.  We've been able to work together to give our student athletes the best schedule leading up to kickoff.  That's simply been in.  Not to exclude anything or take away anything that is important to our traditions or our history but simply give our student athletes the best opportunity to be successful when we kick that football off."

Q.  In your fourth year here, this is pretty broad, but what do you think might be the most important gains during your time that have helped the program?

"I just think the ability to manage the 24 hours leading up to kickoff.  You know, the pep rally and the luncheon and the demands on the players' time and getting all of those things accomplished.  They're great things and we want to do them all.  We want to be part of them.  We want to be actively involved in them.  We just wanted to make sure that they fit in a schedule that allowed our players the opportunity to really focus in on game time without being overloaded.

"I think we've come to a nice schedule in working with our administration that our players have a very similar schedule now that mirrors what we do on the road and what we do at home."

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