This weeks press conference with Brian Kelly allowed for the usual opponent praising but also revealed some interesting nuggets regarding this week’s matchup against Arizona State as well as the rest of the season.
On Arizona State…
Coach Kelly was very complimentary of the Sun Devils offense and defense. Offensively Kelly noted the ability of Arizona State to run the ball as key to their ability to throw. He also noted that receiver Jaelen Strong reminded him of former Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd, a concerning comparison given how effective Floyd was throughout his career. On a follow up question, Kelly discussed the speed of ASU’s offense:
Q. I know in the North Carolina game, tempo and the amount of plays they ran became an issue for the defense. Arizona State has been over 90 a couple times, actually over 100 once. I'm curious what you learned from that North Carolina game, what your staff learned, that will help you if the plays get up into the 90s.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we learned quite a bit from that. I mean, I think from a coaching standpoint, some of our situational substitutions put us in a tough position with some quick screens back towards their bench. That put us in awkward positions. I think we've got a better handle on it. We'll work on it this week, and we'll run some tempo. We'll go against them. We're only 16 plays short, our offense, in terms of how many plays we run versus Arizona State. I think they've run 610 and we've run 594, so we can duplicate their tempo and give our defense a pretty good look at it, as well.
It’s good to know that the coaching staff has been able to identify and correct some of the errors that occurred in the North Carolina game.
Defensively, Kelly indicated that ASU runs a scheme that is very similar to the one run by Coach Van Gorder and the ND defense in that they frequently bring pressure with multiple blitzes. This would seem to work in Notre Dame’s favor seeing that they have been preparing against such a defense all year.
On the defense and strength of schedule…
During his presser, Coach Kelly fielded a variety of questions regarding the defense, specifically the injury to Joe Schmidt. Kelly reported that Schmidt will be serving as a pseudo assistant coach as soon as he can get around the team. More urgently, Kelly discussed the depth and youth at linebacker:
Q. And I know when we talked to you Sunday, you had plan B in mind. You were kind of looking at some plan Cs. Is there any way Ben Councell fits into moving inside, or is he not an option for you in terms of giving you some more depth?
COACH KELLY: No, he's an option for us. We want to take a look, and I don't want to -- I'd give you the information if I had it. We've got to look at a couple things today. We're thin at the position as it is, right, so I've got to -- we've really got to get our hands around a couple things today before I can get to more specifics. We don't have a lot of guys to choose from. Councell, Michael Deeb, we've got to call on Randolph, Austin Larkin. These are the guys that we've got to get a look at today and kind of sort out where we want to go. Greer Martini was brought up as somebody the other day; could Greer Martini go from Will to Mike. That's on the table, as well. I think we'll get a better sense and feel for it. We'll work through some of those things today and get a better sense for it.
The fact that Ben Councell is the only player with actual playing experience being discussed at the Mike linebacker is a little worrisome considering ASU possess the best statistical offense ND has faced all season.
Kelly also let on that he and Coach Van Gorder are excited about the physical tools Nyles Morgan brings to the field, even though he lacks the experience of Schmidt:
Q. Is your game preparation altered a little bit by the fact that you have to kind of, I use the word experiment as far as what's going to be the best answer to maybe replace Joe? Does that take anything away when you're just trying to fill that void?
COACH KELLY: Yes and no. I mean, I think in certain instances there's some things that you would want to do that you know Joe Schmidt can do, and then there's some uncertainty as to what Nyles can do. Having said that, it opens up a whole new path to some things that we couldn't do with Joe that we're pretty excited that we can do with Nyles. You know what I mean? There's some things that we know that we can't do with Nyles that Joe could do, but I know Coach VanGorder is pretty excited about some of the things that he couldn't do with Joe that he can do with Nyles this week.
Kelly seemed to be quietly excited about what Nyles Morgan is capable of doing on a football field from a physical standpoint. He also went out of his way to express how hard Morgan has worked in his time on campus to understand the defense and improve on the mental aspect of the game.
In response to a question about ND’s strength of schedule, Kelly voiced a somewhat heated response to what some would say is not the greatest schedule of all, pointing out that there are no "glorified byes" on their schedule.
Q. That's fine. Your assessment of your strength of schedule to this point through eight games?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think you've got to look at the fact that all power five except for Conference USA defending champs and Rice, who are playing pretty good football right now. I think you take that versus other teams that have really had glorified byes in their schedule -- I think the one thing that you have to understand is the amount of plays that our guys have to play. When you play Navy, you have to play for four quarters. Those are the best and brightest, those are the most committed. They never quit, and you have to play those guys for four quarters. I don't care who you are. You have to play your guys for four quarters. That eats up a lot of plays, whereas our guys, for example, Ben Koyack has played the most snaps of anybody on our team. I think he's played 636 snaps. If you compare that to some other opponents that are ranked ahead of us, they're playing somewhere near 450 snaps. So our guys are playing a very rugged schedule. They're playing a lot of snaps. That makes a big difference when you've got to play that many snaps each and every year, and that's the kind of schedule we play. So regardless of what the win loss schedule is, at the start of the season, when you put our schedule together, you're going to have to play four quarters, and you're going to put a lot on your kids, and that's kind of how I look at our schedule.
The point Kelly makes is a good one. While there are no top notch wins on the Irish’s schedule yet (this problem could be remedied this Saturday) there are also no FCS or very low end Division I teams on the schedule.
· Graduate Assistant Kyle McCarthy had successful surgery to combat his cancer diagnosis
· Safety Eilar Hardy has not been cleared to play yet but is practicing in preparation to play if/when he is cleared
· Safety Max Redfield is improving in his understanding of the game a the coaching staff believes he will be a great player in two years
· Receiver Torii Hunter Jr. will likely receive more playing time if Will Fuller’s effort in practice does not improve
Linebacker James Onwualu (Concussion), Defensive Tackle Jarron Jones (Ankle), Defensive Tackle Sheldon Day, Linebacker Ben Councell (Calf), Cornerback Cody Riggs (Foot), and Safety Austin Collinsworth (Shoulder) all are cleared for practice