NOTRE DAME, Ind. – After a week without a game it’s back to business for Brian Kelly and his Notre Dame football team. Kelly addressed the media for the first time in 10 days on Tuesday with at his game week press conference. The Irish were able to correct errors from the Michigan game during the bye week and had what Kelly called their most important practice day of the week on Monday.
“We needed to get our guys back into the speed of the game,” Kelly began of Monday’s session. “We had a two-hour practice yesterday (with) full gear and I thought we accomplished a lot of the goals that I was looking for.”
The top goal was to get the Irish focused on a Miami team that has scored 86 points in the last two weeks in wins over Georgia Tech and North Carolina State. Monday’s practice featured more “ones vs. ones” than usual to try to replicate the element of game speed that was not there during the bye week.
“They’re a tempo team, they like to go fast,” Kelly said of the Hurricane offense. “They’ve caught their last couple of opponents not prepared for that. I don’t know there’s a schematic piece that’s not there as much as there is they’ve got some big weapons on the perimeter, two outstanding backs and a quarterback that’s playing better and better each and every week.”
The quarterback is junior Stephen Morris, whom the Irish saw two years ago when the teams met in the Sun Bowl. He was 22-of-33 for 282 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as a freshman in the 33-17 Notre Dame victory. Kelly says Morris is a different player now compared to 2010 when he wasn’t the full-time starter.
“He looks like more of a veteran quarterback, he’s made big plays for them,” Kelly said of Morris. “He’s also somebody that can be on the perimeter. He can run. They’ve run him the last couple of games. He’s somebody that is obviously playing really good football.”
Morris has rushed for 31 net yards on 24 attempts, with a long run of 17 yards. He has been sacked seven times. He has had career-best passing marks in his last two games with 436 and 566 yards and a total of seven touchdown passes and one interception. Morris completed seven passes of 40-plus yards in last week’s win over NC State.
“This will be a challenge for us, but it’s not just for our four guys in the back end (of the defense),” Kelly said of Miami’s deep ball threat. “It’s linebackers being in the right place. It’s getting pressure on the quarterback. It’s just another really good challenge for our defense as we move forward.”
Prior to the Sun Bowl two years ago it had been 20 years since Notre Dame and Miami played on the football field after what had been a heated rivalry at the end of the ‘80s. None of the current players were even born when those games were taking place though.
“It’s always important to impart a little bit of the tradition to our players,” Kelly said when asked how his team regards Saturday’s game in Chicago. “But they’re focused on what this (Miami) team is at 4-1; the kind of schedule they’ve played (and) the teams they’ve beaten.”
” I think that’s our focus and I know it is for our players. They’re focused on this team more than the tradition and the history, because if they’re not they’re gonna get beat.”
Kelly said Irish quarterback Everett Golson is “still cooking” when it comes to his development as a quarterback. Kelly says the youngster needs more time in the oven, but had to come out early.
“He’s still learning all the things that are not necessarily visible from game film,” Kelly said of Golson. He’s still learning how to effectively communicate and how he’s able to lead and all those things. Every practice day is a day of his development. That’s how I take it when I go to the field is that we’re gonna be coaching and teaching every single day with Everett.”
An area Kelly mentioned where Golson continues to work on is checking from one play to another at the line of scrimmage. He said one reason the Irish were able to advance in the running game from 2010 to 2011 was Tommy Rees’ ability to make good checks, but first-year starter Golson is not there yet.
“He does a great job with it,” Kelly said of Rees. “Everett’s still developing those skills. He’s not where Tommy is. That’s where we want to get Everett though.”
Golson was benched for more than a half as Rees ran the offense in the 13-6 win over Michigan and he watched Rees direct the game-winning field goal drive at the end of the Purdue win as well. Kelly says he doesn’t think Golson’s confidence is in question right now though.
“When you’re taking a highly skilled player that is somebody that is a great competitor they’re never gonna be deflated relative to confidence,” Kelly said of Golson’s psyche. “They’re gonna gain more confidence as they understand what they’re seeing.”
Kelly expects Golson’s confidence to continue to grow as he continues to learn.
Leaning On The ‘D’
Notre Dame ranks third in the nation in scoring defense with a team that has allowed just 9.0 points a game through its 4-0 start to the season. Kelly built his offensive identity on being a coach with an offense that plays fast and puts points on the scoreboard at a rapid fire pace. That has obviously not been the case this year, but Kelly says it is because his defense affects the way he manages the game.
“You go through those times of having a football team where you manage the game accordingly,” Kelly explained. “So, we’re gonna make sure that our defense is on a long field, because if they’re on a long field they’ve got a better chance to take it away and give us better field position or turn it back to us.”
While the defense has been stout, the offense is averaged 25.8 points and more than half of the 103 total points this season came in one game. The Irish played at a faster tempo last year, but they paid the price with more turnovers and Kelly is now looking to find a better balance this season.
“Clearly we want to be more of an offense that can have big play capabilities, because we need to score more points, there’s no question about that. We’re not scoring enough points,” Kelly said of his offense. “But as you can see, and it’s been the theme, we’re gonna be careful with the football. We’re not gonna be careless with it. Until we’re ready to amp it up, so to speak, we’re gonna be careful with the football.”
Manti For Heisman
Only one true defensive player has won the Heisman trophy – Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997. With no marquee offensive player on the college football scene, this year could give a player like Manti Te’o the chance to be the next defender to take home the heavy hardware at season’s end.
The latest Heismanpundit.com straw poll has Te’o in a three-way tie for sixth place in the Heisman race, with West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith leading the way.
“If you said it was the MVP does it have to be an offensive player MVP,” Kelly asked out loud of what the definition is for a Heisman candidate. “Sure he’s gotta have some offensive numbers or statistics, but you’re also judged by how you impact your team and what you do on the defensive side of the ball.”
“Heisman Trophy, MVP, top collegiate player – we think he fits those categories.”
Te’o leads the Irish with 38 tackles (16 solo), with 2.0 tackles for loss, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries this season.
The Irish went into the bye week with no new injuries coming out of the Michigan game. The biggest news Kelly had to report on the injury front was for defensive lineman Chase Hounshell.
“Chase is gonna get surgery this week,” Kelly said. “We’re gonna shut him down for the year.”
Hounshell will have the procedure done on his shoulder. The sophomore played in seven games last year, but never saw action this season due to the injury.
Kapron Lewis-Moore and Sheldon Day both played “dinged-up” the last two games, but Kelly says the bye week helped them get closer to full health.
Everett Golson had a shoulder that was causing some clicking, but Kelly says it has cleared-up up “nicely”.
“I’d say the bye week came at a pretty good time for those that were nicked-up,” he said.