NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Notre Dame football team is back to business as it prepares to face Alabama in the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game. The largest media throng since head coach Brian Kelly was hired at Notre Dame three years ago gathered inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex for the second media day of the 2012 season.
Kelly says he and his team are getting geared back up to face Alabama in what he called a “one-game series”.
“Our guys have to get back to the conditioning element,” Kelly said of his team’s physical preparation. “We have to find our timing as it relates to practicing and also be smart enough to know that we certainly want to peak at the right time. A lot of the preparation of our football team leading up to today was the balancing of academics, athletics, conditioning, (and) weight training as we move forward.”
The team is scheduled for practices on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week. They will head home for Christmas break this Friday and then return back to campus on Dec. 27. Kelly said the team also has a pair of community service events it will participate in before this week is over.
Possibly the biggest news of the day came when Kelly announced that nose guard Louis Nix III and left tackle Zack Martin will both return to the team next year rather than explore NFL opportunities when the season ends. Martin was projected by many draft analysts to go no higher than the middle of the third round if he came out this year.
“He is our most outstanding offensive lineman,” Kelly said of Martin. “To have him back along with Chris Watt and Christian Lombard gives us three very veteran offensive linemen returning for next year.”
Kelly said he is also “excited” about getting Nix back for his third year. Kelly said running back Cierre Wood is yet to make a decision on whether or not he will be back at Notre Dame in 2013. Wood will wait to receive an NFL evaluation before he makes his decision. Kelly did not mention tight end Tyler Eifert, who also has another year of eligibility remaining, but Eifert said later in the day that he will decide after the bowl game.
Kelly mentioned two players who had recent surgeries – Ronnie Stanley and Matt Hegarty – both offensive linemen. Stanley had surgery to repair ligament damage on an elbow. Hegarty had what Kelly referred to as a “procedure”, but he did not specify what the procedure was. He says he should be available for spring practice. Hegarty played in nine games during the season, while Stanley plated in two. Neither will be available for the championship game.
The news is better for receiver DaVaris Daniels, who injured his shoulder in last month’s win over Boston College.
“He was involved in all of our drill work,” Kelly said of Daniels. “He was non contact last week. He’ll be in a contact situation next week, so he looks really good and he’s gonna be able to be a key contributor for us.”
Daniels has 25 receptions for 375 yards this season. His 15.0 per catch average is the best of any Irish receiver with at least 20 receptions.
Meanwhile, safeties coach Bob Elliott said during his media time that Austin Collinsworth is still not practicing with the team. Collinsworth had shoulder surgery last summer and Kelly had indicated during the season that he hoped to have the junior practicing with the team during bowl preparations.
Getting It Right in the Red Zone
One of the most glaring statistical differences between Notre Dame and Alabama is red zone scoring. More specifically, red zone touchdown scoring. Alabama has crossed the goal line a whopping 72% of the time (41-of-57) it reaches the red zone, while Notre Dame has scored TDs on just 47% (27-of-58) of its chances.
“We think we’ve addressed those through just maturity and understanding,” Kelly said of the red zone problems. “We’re continuing to work on our red zone efficiencies and specifically just spending more time in practice so he (Everett Golson) becomes more comfortable in that area of the field.”
The Irish were just 1-for-6 in red zone touchdown opportunities in their last game against USC. They settled for field goals four times.
“We feel as though we’ve just been there and haven’t made the plays necessary,” Kelly continued. “Again, you could use the USC game as an example – a number of field goals that needed to be touchdowns. We’re gonna need to score touchdowns when we get in that area against Alabama.”
Talk is Cheap
Alabama was a double-digit favorite to repeat as national champions since the pairings for the game became official two weeks ago. The Irish remain heavy underdogs both in Vegas and in the eyes of most “impartial” observers. It would be easy for Kelly to use the “us against the world” speech, but he says he doesn’t need to go there.
“Preparation is more important than any kind of fire and brimstone speech that I could bring to them,” Kelly commented. “The preparation is really where this is gonna be at and getting your football team to be at its peak on January the seventh.”
“Although I don’t disregard that can have influences on other situations, I don’t see that as primary to what I’m spending my time on. That is making sure that over this month that our football team is peaking for a one game winner take all.”
The Manti Express
The dust has settled after Manti Te’o’s whirlwind awards tour ended just over a week ago. Te’o and Kelly went from city to city and coast to coast from Dec. 3 through Dec. 9 as the Irish linebacker won award after award.
“It was for me an amazing thing to see this young man go from city to city and treat each one of those awards as they were, individually, as important nights,” Kelly said of Te’o. “I also saw him probably as tired as I’ve ever seen him before, because that takes a lot of your energy.”
“The amazing thing about this young man is that he can be so professional and so keyed-in about how important each one of those events are,” Kelly continued. “He didn’t blow off anything. He didn’t not show up for a signing. He didn’t blow off the dinner. He was at everything and then to come back and just be a college guy this week, that’s what makes that young man special.”
It’s Good to be…Governor?
Kelly was asked by an out of town media member if his past in politics and the success the Irish have enjoyed this season might have him thinking about a run for governor in the near future.
Kelly’s response: “Yeah, governor of South Bend. Is there a governor of South Bend?”
Kelly recalled recently seeing a sign at a local muffler shop that read “Long Live Brian Kelly”.
“I think I’ve got one vote from the guy from the muffler place,” Kelly joked. “So I’m pretty good there.”