Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly held his usual afternoon news conference on Tuesday as the No. 22 Irish (2-1) get ready to play host to Michigan State (3-0) on Saturday.
Here are some of his thoughts:
On what kind of pressure is on the secondary, specifically the cornerbacks, as the Irish have used their linebackers more this season to get after opposing quarterbacks: "I would say that if you track where we are, we're probably getting back to finding more about the personnel that we have on the field and what we can and can't do, more than percentage-wise. You know, the personnel groupings we have on the field will dictate where we go defensively and as I said the first couple of weeks, we are still trying to find what those groupings are to maximize their potential.
"I wouldn't necessarily draw any conclusions as to whether we are going to bring more pressure or not; it's still we are trying to evolve. The simple answer is, obviously if you bring more pressure, you're giving up some zones. So you either have to play some three-under, three-deep, which vacates some zones and you'd better get there, or you have to play simply some more man coverage; and within that man coverage there's a lot more technique that goes in, because it's not simply you line up wide. It's bunched formations; it's picks; it's fighting through all those complexities of playing man-to-man coverage. So the easy answer is, probably what you already know; that when you bring pressure, you're either giving up some zones and zone pressure or you've got to play man-to-man. I guess what I was saying is that I still think we are not where we want to be defensively in terms of what that structure is going to be yet."
On being able to teach players to tackle with the limited contact at practice: "We really have not changed. That's one of our absolute core principles that we start our practices with the tackling circuit. We have every year that I've been a head coach. We'll continue to do that. I think performance, and your ability to stay on the field, has a lot to do with your ability to tackle. So we will not budge on that element. We are not going to tack it up to, oh, you know, we can't we can't tackle as much anymore because of NCAA rules. I think that's a bunch of bologna. We have to tackle better.
"I believe you still can demand good tackling from your players. And if you don't tackle well, you can't be a great defense."
On how cornerback Bennett Jackson is handling being a captain: "I don't know, I think sometimes when you're put into that position, it has a tendency, and I've tried to let him grow into the position. It has a tendency to put a little bit more pressure on you. You don't want to let anybody down. You want to live up to the incredible history and tradition of being a captain here at Notre Dame.
"You know, I think he was pretty hard on himself. It was nice to see him have some success on Saturday (returning an interception for a touchdown against Purdue), and I hope that that continues to build. But you know, as a person, who he is, the kind of kid he is and how he's respected by his teammates hasn't changed. I think maybe there was a little bit of, you know, pressure that he put on himself that maybe we could kind of help him with moving forward, and I think a little success this weekend helped him."
On Michigan State presenting a physical challenge: "We have a ton of respect for Michigan State. Our kids have played in the game and a lot of them have played in it. They know the kind of game it is. So it's not like I have to stand in front of them and get them ready for this fight. They know what kind of fight it's going to be. This isn't, you know, 'Hey, guys, please listen to me this week.' They know what they are going to get from Michigan State.
"So from that standpoint, it's really for us about preparing them for the multiple looks and the pressures and the things that they are going to do offensively that are a bit different from what we've seen in the past. I think we have got to do a really good job of preparing our players for their schemes and game plan. But they now know, especially a lot of our veterans, they know the kind of game it's going to be; the physical kind of presence that Michigan State brings week in and week out."