I watched a replay of Brian Kelly's postgame conference on Sunday, and I thought to myself, "I should play a drinking game and take a drink every time he mentions the 'little things' in his Tuesday presser this week." I'm relieved to report I didn't follow through on my plan. Had I stuck to that plan, I'd be getting my stomach pumped right now instead of writing this article.
If ever there were a week to break out the machete and hack through coach-speak to get at what is (and isn't) going on in the Notre Dame football program, it was this week. Coach Brian Kelly spent a full 40 minutes pouring it on for the media on Tuesday. As always, we here at OFD want to try to get past all the "little things" and calls for "day-to-day consistency" in order to get down to things that our community has been discussing.
State of the Team
Let's just start right up top. When asked on Saturday about the state of his team and how Kelly felt about the 2nd loss putting the season in jeopardy, he was quick to dismiss the question. "Don't care," was the simple response. For Kelly, losses represent a need for him and his staff to coach and communicate better. That was also a central theme on Tuesday. The head coach spent much of his time with the media talking about how his team needed to take care of the little things that add up to playing winning football. He responded to a question about the message he's sending to his team with a long answer that was filled with every coaching cliche in the book.
Day-in and day-out relationships.
Doing the little things well
Taking care of your body
Taking care of business 24x7, including time away form the football building.
Kelly wants his squad to continue to believe in the process, to believe in what they're doing, and he's been preaching that message since he arrived in South Bend. Interestingly, to drive his point home, this week he showed his team cut-up's of last year's Pitt, BYU, and Purdue games. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate the very narrow margin for error that exists in college football. Kelly hammered his position of having a consistently razor thin margin for error. His message to his team is clear: doing ordinary things consistently well leads to winning football. Small gaps in consistency lead to the difference between wins and losses.
Personally, I've doled out and absorbed enough coach speak through the years to be OK with all this talk about little things and consistency. I can take it or leave it. It is mostly filler. What really jumped out to me was Kelly's accountability in the process. In the past, I've felt he was quick to throw players under the bus. Here, however, Kelly stands fully accountable. When pressed, Kelly consistently goes to him and his staff needing to be more effective in communicating their expectations to players. Yes, he cites performance issues, but he always backs it up with his own accountability to get things properly communicated to the players.
OK, let's talk a little football...
George Atkinson III's Performance
Larz took GA3 into the film room this summer and talked about him finding an identity. Our friend from the north beat Chuck Martin to the punch by about a month and a half. Apparently Martin sat with George this week and showed him a series of clips that demonstrated him going down too easily. They wanted to impart on Atkinson the importance of running with a physical presence and using his 220 lb. strength along with his track speed. Constant teaching by the staff is helping Atkinson attack his runs with a "can't be tackled" mentality. Of course, what coach speak term did Kelly attach to his running back's performance? Consistency. GA3 has to show it week in and week out, but we're seeing what he's capable of.
Defense & The Big Play
Much of the talk this week has focused on Notre Dame's defense. Kelly isn't so quick to condemn his defense, saying several times on Saturday and Tuesday that spotting OU 14 and turning it over 3 times was the real killer. He feels his D is playing well enough to win the games, but it is the offense that has to step up with (coach speak alert) "balance" and "consistency."
That being said, the defense is clearly not where they need to be. In particular, Kelly hit on the big play. Last year's bend-don't-break mentality was all about keeping the play in front of the D, locking down in the red zone, and forcing FG attempts. Last year's OU game was a perfect example. Saturday, not so much. Just as Eric points out in his review, Kelly called our attention to the 56 yd touchdown given up on a simple slant route. Kelly used this as a perfect example of playing well 99% of the time, but one little play, one little slip-up, can cause the big play and becomes the difference between winning and losing.
Kelly also touched on the performance of his defensive line. There's been a lot of chatter on the site and behind the scenes regarding their production and inability to put up big sack and TFL numbers this year. Kelly specifically pointed to the volume of work guys like Kona Schwenke, Stephon Tuitt, and Louis Nix III have had to take on in Sheldon Day's absence. Nix played 72 snaps on Saturday, a lot of volume for a guy who saw 40-50 max. last year. Kelly and the staff are looking to keep their most dominant defenders on the field without burning them out too badly.
Being the Notre Dame Quarterback
On Saturday, you heard Kelly say his team needs to do a better job with running the ball and balancing the offense so he doesn't have to "put Tommy in a position where he has to carry the whole load." He also was quick to point out that all the criticism goes to the QB, but the line has to block and the WR's have to run the right routes. Not all turnovers, in Kelly's book, go on the QB.
Tuesday, he followed that up in response to a reporter's question about the unfortunate abuse Rees has taken in social media since the OU loss. Rather than lash out at the stupidity and absurdity of bashing the young man and his character, Kelly dismissed the negative press as part of the job. Being the quarterback at the University of Notre Dame is a high profile position, and in Kelly's assessment, if you can't handle the negativity that comes after a loss, then you can't do the job. He's emphasizing to his QB needs to tune out the noise, good or bad, and focus on the process of getting better.
Speaking of getting better, Kelly was quick to say that Andrew Hendrix will see snaps on Saturday. He was also quick to qualify that with the Voodoo Child's need to see the field a bit better. There are a lot of things to like about what Hendrix brings to the running game, but he needs to clean up the delay penalties, and find the open guy when it is available to him. Kelly was asked if Hendrix was accepting his role or hoping to push to unseat Rees as the starter. Kelly again busted out some patented cliches on simply improving and helping his team. He did, however, map it out for Hendrix. First, he needs to be more effective in what he's being asked to do. Next, he needs to add to that and do more. Finally, he can push for unseating Rees. It is pretty clear Hendrix has a small slice of a package, not the whole thing, and that Kelly wants to see improvement before expanding that package.
Quick Hits and Notes
In the post game, Kelly quickly dismissed the notion that they could have attacked to end the first half, saying dismissively that 0:43 was not enough time.
Kelly heaped quite a bit of praise on ASU, noting this was the most talent Graham has had compared to his previous stops at Tulsa and Pitt. They're fast, attack the edges well, and have a lot of athleticism on both sides of the ball.
Our Texas contingent will be happy to hear that the game in that state is considered a nice recruiting bump for Kelly & team, and the staff will be out watching games on Friday. They'll also be providing some targets tickets for the game at Jerry's World.
Sheldon Day should be back in action Saturday. He didn't warm up well enough to play vs. OU.
The appeal of Ben Councell's ejection was rejected. He'll sit out the 1st half on Saturday, and Romeo Okwara will take his place on the depth chart.
If Kelly had one down, he'd run left.
Had I been on the phone or in South Bend on Tuesday (Whiskey and E, hook a brother up), I would have asked about the penalty on Kona. That was a big moment in the game, and the rule that penalizes the player for continuing to play after (an uncalled) illegal hands to the face removes his helmet seems a bit whacky to me.
In a classic BK troll moment, he was asked if the government shutdown could put the Navy or Air Force games at risk, and if so, is there a contingency, like playing an FCS team. Right away Kelly piped up with:
"Oh, I'd love to look at an FCS opponent. But, I'd be one vote in a room with a lot of probably 'no's'. So I probably know how that's gonna go. Probably me and Al Lesar are the only ones who would say 'yes' on FBS. Would you say yes? No, I didn't think so."
In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.