For a brief moment, Notre Dame had knocked off the defending national champions. And then we saw the flag. An offensive pass interference penalty wiped away a go-ahead touchdown against Florida State, and a 34-31 victory turned into a heartbreaking 31-27 loss. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly talked about the penalty and the game at his press conference on Sunday.
Q. Wondering if after watching the film you had any more clarity or an explanation as to why the penalty was called at the end of the game?
COACH KELLY: Actually, I have less clarity. I guess it was actually called on Will Fuller, not C.J. Just adds more uncertainty as to the final play.
Again, the play itself in terms of what we ask our kids to do, it was pretty clear what happened on the play. Florida State blew the coverage and they got rewarded for it. So it’s unfortunate.
Q. In your estimation was there anything that Will could have done differently on it?
COACH KELLY: No. I mean, I think he’s working back inside. He did not go out of his way to impede the defender. The official that was furthest from the play that had the ability to see it saw it differently. That’s the way it goes.
Q. I think you have run that play a couple previous times in the first quarter. Against Michigan you ran it. Are you going to have to go back to the drawing board and do anything differently with that play now that it has been called against you?
COACH KELLY: No. I mean, all these analysts that say it’s the same play, it’s not the same play. We ran it out of a bunch formation. It’s a different play that was run earlier for a touchdown. The one ran for Michigan was a different play. This is a totally different play, one we had not run before.
We’ll continue to run our offense. Those are parts of it that we think are still effective plays.
Q. Coach, I’m curious, sometimes when you go into these games and expose some flaws, it also exposes some strengths. What were your takeaways from the game in those two areas?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think we’re starting to gain some consistency on the offensive line. We made that big move on our first bye week. It’s a big move to make when you’re coming off a big win against Michigan, but one we needed to make. I think that’s starting to show itself.
We continue to show we’re very, very good against the run. I think if you have those two things working for you, you can control the line of scrimmage, those are really big things to take with you from this game.
Q. In terms of trying to build momentum, I know it’s a loss, but do you talk to your team about playoff possibilities? Do you work on your stuff and not talk about it? How do you approach that as a coach?
COACH KELLY: I think a little bit of both. I think they’ll see that they’re respected nationally for the kind of team they are, but yet there’s a number of things that we needed to do better in the second half to put this team away.
I mean, you got to take the belt from the champion. You can’t leave it up to a decision that’s made at the end. We’ll talk about. If we’re in this situation again, you got to close, you got to finish. I think we’ll do a little bit of both.
Q. I believe last night you mentioned you thought Everett was fine. How was he today? Was it just maybe dehydration that led to the cramps?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it was just dehydration. We put him in, gave him an IV in between series, and came back, he was fine. He checked out fine this morning.
Q. Personnel things. With Jarrett Grace, are you to the point where you’re going to have the same kind of discussions with him that Austin Collinsworth is having with his folks about a potential sixth year? Also, as far as some of your redshirts that haven’t played, are you getting to the point where they’re out of play for the rest of the year?
COACH KELLY: Jarrett’s situation is where he has two years remaining. He would have consecutive years back-to-back where he would have the ability to appeal for an additional year.
Austin’s is a little bit more immediate. I think Jarrett will continue to go from week-to-week and see how that goes.
As it relates to the potential redshirt kids, I think we’re going to continue to do what we can. We took Jhonny Williams with us. We took those young kids with us to give them the sense and feel to keep them ready. We don’t want to play them unless we have to.
If it comes down to getting into the playoffs and winning, we would play them, but it would have to be that kind of scenario.
Q. I would imagine this is a big recruiting week for your staff. Are you going to be part of that effort? Will you be able to get out on the road, as well?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’ll go Tuesday. The entire staff will be out by Tuesday night. I’ll be on the road on Thursday, recruit Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Q. After last night, what is your take on the game? I know you came up on the short end, but what do you think about the game?
COACH KELLY: Well, I just loved our guys, their mentality going on the road in a hostile environment. It really did not affect them. They played physical, controlled the line of scrimmage. We made plays against a team that had won 22 in a row. You love that about your team, its psyche, the way they went into the game. So all those are huge things.
You’re still disappointed you didn’t come out with a win because of all those things you had working for you. I think if we take something from this, when you get a team like this, you outplay them, you got to put them away. You can’t leave it up to a decision at the end of the game. You got to make sure that you put them away, and we didn’t do that.
Q. I know you have a bye this week. How are you going to get the team mentally focused for the game against Navy? You don’t want a letdown against Navy.
COACH KELLY: Well, we need to give our kids a break. They’ve been going since June. Our first bye week we kept them here to stay on top of their academics.
We’re going to give them a little time off. But we’ll come back recharged, ready to go. We know we have a great history with Navy. We know how difficult an opponent they are. Our guys won’t take Navy lightly because we’ve got, as I said, a long history with them and know how difficult the games are with Navy.
Q. David Robinson’s son, the wide receiver for you guys, how great to have him on the other side of the ball. Is it a new wide receiver combination with him and Golson?
COACH KELLY: No, he’s always been a piece. He was focused a little bit more in some timely situations. But it could very easily have been Will Fuller or Chris Brown or C.J. We have some depth at that position.
Certainly when you look at Corey, he’s a great sized kid. He’s got range. Everett got him in some matchups that we really like. I think you’ll see we’ll continue to move the ball around to all of our receivers.
Q. Brian, Ben’s status?
COACH KELLY: He was ruled out of the game because of a concussion that he received on the last play of the North Carolina game defending the on-side kick.
Q. In terms of the way Florida State approached the penalty play, is your feeling the way C.J. was engaged or had contact with the defender, that that would negate him being called for that? I’m curious what your take was on how Florida State approached the play.
COACH KELLY: So he was on the point. We were in a bunch situation. First of all, it’s my understanding now that Will Fuller was called for the penalty, not C.J. So C.J.’s job is to get into the end zone and turn around and be a big target.
He was immediately grabbed at the line of scrimmage. He’s trying to get depth into the line of scrimmage, into the end zone, so Corey can clear a path. As that contact was being made, it was seen – I guess, I don’t know who saw it as interference – but you’ve got two guys that are trying to fight for space. We saw it as such.
He’s supposed to find space, sit down and be a target. Again, it’s a play that is a pretty common play in NCAA football where you’re setting a point, the guy turns around, the ball is thrown. The ball was thrown quickly.
C.J. didn’t even have a chance to turn around, which may have led to some of the optics that people were talking about on TV, that was blocking. But he was simply trying to get his space in the end zone. Then, of course, now we’re hearing it was actually called on Will Fuller. It’s hard for me to really put it all together.
Q. (Question regarding Florida State player throwing helmet for a penalty.)
COACH KELLY: They said they missed a call. They said they just missed it.
Q. Your players have had different reactions to wins and losses. This one is probably as stunned as they’ve been. What do you want them to take away from that? How do you think they should be feeling coming out of this one?
COACH KELLY: Well, there’s great disappointment. You never want the let the game be decided by a referee. You want to control the game yourself. What happened at the end was out of our control. We feel like we did the things necessary. We’ve got to be able to control finishes. That means make a couple more plays. If you got the champ, you can’t win by split decision, you got to knock him out. I think that’s what we want to take away from this.
Q. Given that Corey has never had 25 to 30 touches a game, is that something you have to monitor and watch so he doesn’t wear down later in a game?
COACH KELLY: No. I’m not as concerned about that. We’re not really a 25- or 30-carry offense. We try to spread it around the best we can. He’s clearly playing great football for us. I anticipate him to continue to get a number of carries.
Q. Just wanted to clarify. You say it’s now on Will Fuller. Is that based on something you have been told from the officials after the fact or was that when you went back and watched the tape, you saw that was the call on the field?
COACH KELLY: No. The officials announced that, in fact, was the call. I think it was incorrectly relayed in the play-by-play. The officials announced on the field that it was Will Fuller.
Q. But you haven’t gone back to double-check in case they didn’t make the wrong call on the field?
COACH KELLY: We’ll have our conversations with the supervisor of officials for the ACC here a little bit later this afternoon. I’m sure we’ll get even less clarification.