NOTRE DAME, Ind. – By 6 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday evening the rumor mill was in full effect. Rumor had it that Tommy Rees would start this Saturday when the Notre Dame football team takes on Miami in Chicago. Irish head coach Brian Kelly put the rumor to rest almost as soon as his post-practice media session began.
“It’s the same guy who’s been the starter the last four weeks,” Kelly said with a chuckle in his voice. “I thought I made that pretty clear, but Everett (Golson) will start in week five and we expect him to start in week six and seven and eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, and 13.”
Kelly’s laughter transitioned to a tone of exasperation that the question was asked as he discussed Golson’s evolution just four games into his playing career.
“There’s so much development that’s taking place that’s not on Saturdays,” he continued. “He’s learning how to practice and communicate and he’s getting other guys lined-up. He couldn’t line-up underneath the center when we first got here. He’s doing all those things. It’s coming.”
“We’re not a finished product yet and I got a guy in Tommy Rees that is a guy that come in and help us while we go through this process of learning, and I’m comfortable with it. I guess that’s all I really could say, but yes Everett will start.”
Golson has passed for 641 yards at a 56-percent clip with three touchdown passes and three interceptions in his four starts. Rees has come off the bench twice to help lead the Irish to victories over Purdue and Michigan. While Rees is popular in the locker room, Kelly says he thinks he has the “pulse” of his team regarding who his QB should be.
“I feel very comfortable saying that our football team will respond to whatever decision I make. I think I’ve got the trust of our football team,” Kelly said. “They know that I’m gonna do whatever is in the best interest of our team to win right now.”
“For a Manti Te’o and a Tyler Eifert in particular who came back this year for another season-I know that I have their support in particular that whomever we put out that at the quarterback position-I’m doing it in their best interest to win right now.”
“I’m gonna do what’s in the best interest of our football program for the immediate right now and for the future.”
Young Guns Under Fire
With a passing game that has registered 1,002 yards in the last two weeks, Miami has a passing game that is sure to be the biggest test so far for Notre Dame’s young secondary. Sophomore Matthias Farley is set to make just his third career start at safety, while freshman Nicky Baratti is gaining more experience as he goes as well. They could potentially be exposed the most by Miami’s fleet of speedy receivers.
“I think he’s been tested two weeks ago against Michigan where he had to be a run support guy (and) he had to play some man (coverage),” Kelly said of Farley. “We expect them to perform back there. We can do a lot more things in coverage and hopefully that will give him more and more opportunities to perform at the level we hope they do.”
Phillip Dorsett, who is Miami’s top receiver with 28 receptions for 464 yards, is himself just a sophomore. The 5-foot-9 receiver is having a breakout year after totaling 14 catches for 147 yards all of last season.
When Will They Run?
The Irish running game (or lack thereof) was a subject of conversation on Thursday. The Irish have rushed for just 561 yards through four games for an average of 140 yards a game. Take out the 293 yards on the ground in the 50-10 win over Navy and ND has averaged just over 89 yards in its last three games.
“It hasn’t been talked a lot about, but we were a heavy gap-pull team last year,” Kelly began on the subject of his offense’s running game. “And we are much more of an inside-outside zone team this year. The reads are very much different for the running back. You have to be so much more patient. We’ve really spent this week on the patience for Cierre (Wood) in particular in our inside-outside zone game. He’s done a really nice job of that.”
Kelly called the “idiosyncrasies” of the differences in the blocking schemes “really big”, but emphasized the time that was spent in practice this week on his back’s, Wood in particular, being patient making those reads. He added the switch has nothing to do with new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s philosophy as much as it does Kelly’s own personal preference.
Wood has totaled just 95 yards in the two games he has played since his return from suspension. Theo Riddick leads the team with 242 yards on 63 carries (3.8).
Carlisle Seeing Red
Kelly announced that USC transfer Amir Carlisle will “redshirt” this season. The running back came to Notre Dame after spending an injury shortened season in the Trojan backfield. The Irish had hoped to get him healthy enough to contribute right away this year, but that will not happen.
“He will not play this year,” Kelly declared. “He’s made close to the kind of recovery we were hoping and we saw some really good things from him, so we don’t want to waste him now. He’s really close and to try to fit him in into week five or six and use up another year (of eligibility) for a half season wasn’t prudent in my mind.”
The plan is to shut Carlisle down and move him to the scout team to help the Irish defense prepare for the rest of this season. He would then have three full seasons of eligibility remaining that would run through the 2015 season.
Carlisle came to Notre Dame with an injured ankle that was made more complicated by nerve damage he suffered even though the ankle healed “completely” according to Kelly.
“It was difficult for him to stay at full speed for a long period of time,” Kelly explained. “That nerve now has regenerated. It’s a painstakingly long process and sometimes there’s not a real calendar to say when that comes back. It looks like we got him back.”
“He’s a great kid,” Kelly continued. “We’re really happy for him that he’s gonna be able to be here for another three years.”
While the decision has been made on Carlisle, it has not been made for the freshmen who have not seen any playing time yet this season. Kelly says there are a few who are “on the bubble” that will force him to make a decision soon. The decision will have to be made by the team’s sixth game of the season.
To Bye Or Not To Bye
The question of when the best time to have a bye week is one that always comes up. In a perfect world the bye is probably best timed at the exact midway point of the season, but that didn’t happen this year. Kelly said his perfect scenario would be if key players were injured, but that was not the case for the Irish heading into their bye after four games.
“We weren’t a M-A-S-H unit. We were banged-up a little bit,” Kelly said of his team’s health after the Michigan win. “You could say maybe we’d be better two or three weeks from now, but you know you’re always gonna deal with the bye week and at Notre Dame whether it’s good or bad it’s always gonna be about a transition of getting them back focused.”
Kelly’s approach to the bye week has been to balance rest for his players with the extra time to prepare for the next opponent. He said this past Monday’s first practice back after some time off for the team was the longest and most physical practice of the week.
Getting Their Kicks
Senior punter Ben Turk saw his average go from 38.3 in 2010 to 40.3 last season. He has been solid this year at 40.7 and a long punt of 53 yards, but he has been shaky at times as well.
“We’re just trying to minimize the big mistake,” Kelly said after calling Turk a “great kid”. “The 22-yard or the 18-yard shank-we’re just trying to minimize that. He’s been a lot more consistent and we’ve really just this year focused on consistency of drop.”
Kelly complimented defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who works with the punters, for helping bring day-to-day consistency to Turk’s approach to punting.
Kelly has said before and reiterated on Thursday that Kyle Brindza will be a multi-purpose man next year – meaning he will handle kickoffs, field goals, extra points, and punting duties.
“We think he can do all the jobs,” Kelly said of the sophomore from Canton, Mich. “We brought in a number of punters in the summer (who were) recruited off of a high-profile list and felt like we’ve got the best guy right here.”