Starting a new week is always easier for a football team after a victory. Notre Dame's 17-13 win over Michigan State on Saturday was far from a thing of pure beauty, but it was a win.
Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees was far from perfect against the No. 1 defense in the nation, but his 14-for-34 passing day for 142 yards was also far from his worst day in a Notre Dame uniform. There was a time not so long ago when a line like that would have meant at least a couple interceptions for the now senior quarterback.
"That was so much part of the game plan of him making good decisions and making sure that he put the ball where we could only get to it," Brian Kelly said of Rees in his Sunday teleconference. "He did his job from that standpoint. We would have liked to hit a couple of receivers, but again taking care of the football is crucial in the way we're playing offense."
Rees has completed 56-percent of his 141 pass attempts this season for 1,111 yards with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. He is currently throwing just one interception every 70.5 pass attempts, compared to one for every 29 attempts when he was last a full-time starter in 2011.
One of the things Rees does best on game day is making pre-snap reads to change pass protection. The reads put him in a consistently better position to avoid costly turnovers and mistakes. The reads and shifts also take extra time, which it would seem could give defenses more time to make their own pre-snap adjustments. Kelly rebuffed that notion though.
"I think maybe we make a little too much of it," said Kelly. "Some defenses, Michigan State in particular, really (don't) care what you're doing. They're going to run their stuff. Some get into we check, you check, but I think that's probably overplayed too. I think from what we see more times than not defenses are going to run what they run."
"Tommy tries to get us in the right looks most of the time," Kelly continued. "He doesn't get it right all the time either."
Kelly talked during the week leading up to the Michigan State game about his team still evolving and trying to find the right fits with different personnel. He has also always talked about his teams being better in November than they were in September and sees room for improvement on both sides of the ball.
"I think we're still trying to find ourselves in the running game," Kelly said of his offense. "The running back position - we're rotating four guys right now."
Kelly said the Irish offensive line has been "really solid" is pass protection, but needs to continue to evolve as run blockers. The Irish have allowed just three sacks through four games this season.
The secondary is the area of the defense that Kelly was most pleased with after Saturday's game. He noted the physicality they played with being much closer to the way they need to play each week.
"I think it just comes down to you get what you demand," Kelly said of the defense's improved play and overall better tackling. "We demanded more from our defense. We demanded more in terms of the attention to detail."
"I think if you really cut it to the chase here, what we saw on Saturday (was) demanding that our guys do their job. We had guys trying to do other people's jobs and not taking care of their own business. This week was really about you get what you demand and do your job."
Kelly on Stephon Tuitt's continually improving play
"He couldn't cut loose at time in camp," Kelly said of the lingering effects of Tuitt's recovery from hernia surgery. "He dealt with a strain in the same area where he struggled at times really being able to cut loose. He's feeling great. He had a great week of practice. His volume is up, his reps are up (and) you can see he's really starting to come on."
The defensive end recorded his second sack of the season in Saturday's win.
Kelly on freshman running back Tarean Folston
"(We) just like his vision (and) his size," said Kelly. "He's a guy that's always going forward. I guess more than anything else he's just really - you can see that he's got a nice forward lean. We just wanted to get him in the game and give him an opportunity."
Folston had four carries for 12 yards Saturday against the Spartans. Kelly says he did "very well".
Kelly on freshman safety Max Redfield's progress
"We really see a young man that is making progress that we thought he would," Kelly said. "It's a situation where from the safety position with (Elijah) Shumate and (Austin) Collinsworth and (Matthias) Farley in particular, he becomes our fourth guy right now, but he has definitely taken the steps forward that he's getting closer and closer (to) where he could be battling for some playing time. We're really pleased with his progress."
Kelly on Malik Zaire's status after recently recovering from mono
"We're going to prepare him to play in games," said Kelly. "This past week was one where we wanted to get him some reps with the demo squad, but he'll be with us preparing in the game plan. He'll be actively more involved in it this week than he was last week."
"You always want to prepare your third quarterback that if he needs to go in the game he's ready to go."
Kelly on inside linebacker Jarrett Grace's steadily increasing playing time
"He's just got natural linebacker instincts," Kelly said of the junior. "It's a position that he's familiar with. He just fits it very well in terms of run ricochets into his fits. It's just a natural position for him. You can watch three or four plays and see that that's a natural position for him."
Kelly on Carlo Calabrese's game against the Spartans
"(It was) one of his better games that he's had in quite some time," said Kelly. "He's been playing solid football for us. He's contributing on special teams. He's having a good senior season for us. Really liked his attitude (and) his commitment - all the things that you want from your senior. He player real physical football for us on Saturday, so (I) feel real good about the season he's having up to this point."