Let's just knock your biggest question out of the way first. There wasn't a single shred of new information regarding the status of the five young men caught up in an academic honesty investigation.
That being said, Coach Brian Kelly had plenty to talk about this week. Let's track him through closing down Michigan week and opening up Shamrock Series week. I've consistently said Kelly understands the value of a message track that people can lock on to and easily repeat. People have called him a politician, and it certainly fits his skill of developing and consistently delivering a message that sticks with people.
Week one: Play fast and confident and assert your will.
In week two, Kelly worked on two messages in the build-up to the game vs. Michigan. First, there was the internal message. Knowing the importance of communication, he leaned on Irish legend Lou Holtz to help reinforce the importance of trust and unity:
This message track helped Kelly focus his team on trust, communications, and layering the mental side of the game on top of the physical message from week one. Externally, Kelly also began to work the playoff selection committee with a well crafted statement on the challenge of the schedule. By insisting that his team couldn't get caught up in the hype of closing down the Michigan series because of the sheer volume of challenges that lie ahead, Kelly made sure all listening knew he's playing one of the toughest schedules in all CFB.
Coming out of the Michigan destruction, Kelly started giving his team some wiggle room to celebrate, but also started the process of re-focusing the team. His wishing it "counted as two" tipped the hat to the significance of that game and the satisfaction of throughly out-playing, out-coaching, and out-everythinging the Woverines.
Kelly also started peeling back the curtain on the make-up of this edition of the Fighting Irish. He talked about the value of youth and how this was a team that would go as far as its youthful exuberance could take it. He called it a team with great unity and spirit who loved to play free, loose, and aggressive.
Kelly reiterated that fact in his Sunday conference call (transcript here). In what we've come to expect from him, Kelly compliments the make-up of his current team in a way that seems to throw a bit of a jab.
Q: First two games, it seemed like your team from start to finish played with a far greater energy level, a lot more emotion and passion. Do you see it that way? If so, what is the reason behind that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we've played with great energy. It's the mix of personalities that you have on the team. We don't have a lot of seniors. We got a lot of juniors. A lot of juniors want to play, they want to win. They're not thinking about graduation. They're not thinking about anything else but winning games. We got a lot of sophomores who just want to play. We got a lot of freshmen that just don't know any better. That's usually a good mix. It's a new year, but it's a new mix. I think that mix is pretty good for us right now.
Do you read that as a jab at last year's group? Sometimes it can be hard to tell with Kelly where the compliment ends and the jab begins.
Finally, on Tuesday, Kelly transitioned fully into preparation for the Shamrock Series game in Indianapolis versus Purdue. Knowing that everyone involved has seen how mightily the Boilermakers have struggled to start the season (go read Hammer & Rails for a taste), Kelly is now on message with a seed he's planted frequently with his teams:
We don't rise to the level of our competition, we fall to the level of our preparation.
Prepare yourselves ND fans for a lot of discussion of preparation, little things, and staying focused on the task ahead. Kelly did his best to open the press conference with praise for the enthusiasm and emotion he expects from Purdue on Saturday, and he used references to recent struggles to try to get peoples' attention, but it is going to be a challenge to keep his men focused and on edge coming into a game where everyone will be picking the Irish.
If you believe what Kelly is saying, this is a remarkable team in their unity and love for the game. He paints a picture of football nerds relentlessly preparing and relishing the chance to show off the fruits of that preparation every Saturday, regardless of the opponent. This gives Kelly some comfort that he's going to get a consistent performance from the squad week-to-week. Once this schedule gets truly cranked up, we shall see.
Kelly made one one of my favorite subtle references later in this press conference when discussing the Internet fame of defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder. After the infamous purple-face incident, Kelly talked about how the cameras simply caught Van Gorder in a moment, and that he's mostly calm during the games. There's always a camera on, and Van Gorder's awesome display of passion was captured for eternity - much like BK's own tirade. Thank you Internet.
- Austin Collinsworth is definitely out. Sounds like we might see him sometime after Syracuse.
- Jarrett Grace isn't available for Purdue. Kelly admitted that they need to keep playing this year out in front of Grace as a carrot to keep him motivated, but I'm hoping this is to get him healthy and possibly get a 6th year for him.
- Torii Hunter Jr. is starting to get back in to team work and will definitely get a shot when he's physically capable to go. It wasn't clear this week will be his debut, but Kelly is really high on his skill set and is looking forward to getting him on the field. He'll definitely get reps right away.
- Matthias Farley doesn't like Michigan. Neither do we Matthias.
- Everett Golson is quarterback at Notre Dame, we haven't lost, and he's playing well. Therefore, the Heisman talk is getting started early. Kelly met the questions about Golson's campaign with a thick layer of sarcasm, but it is clear he's found the right trigger man for his offense.