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Cutting Through The Coach Speak: Navy Week

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As Notre Dame recovers from a crushing defeat against the Clemson Tigers, head coach Brian Kelly gave his weekly press conference in preparation for the annual contest against the Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back at Clemson

To begin, Kelly acknowledged that the team did get off to a slow start against the Tigers on Saturday night.  When asked for his opinion as to the cause, he suggested that facing Clemson’s fast offense after playing an option team in Georgia Tech and a lower level opponent in UMass may have contributed.  Essentially, the team was down 14 to nothing by the time the Irish were able to settle in against the Tigers.

Coach Kelly went on to define the standard by which he measures the team’s performance in games: the team must start fast, have attention to detail, give great effort, and finish strong.  On Saturday night, the Irish had the boxes next to effort and a strong finish checked, but starting fast and, at least for roughly three quarters of the game, attention to detail were glaring incompletes. Drops, fumbles, and interceptions generally fall into the category of attention to detail, and Kelly pointed out that "we caused a lot of the issues in this game."

In terms of play calling, Coach Kelly said the coaching staff had come to the conclusion that it would be difficult to run the football, especially because Clemson had made a concerted effort to put an extra player in the box so that the Tigers would have numbers on each play. Most of this talk came in regard to several questions about the performance of the offensive line. Kelly felt that it would not be fair to place the blame for the ineffectiveness of the run game squarely on the offensive line.  In his opinion, inexperienced running backs and some untimely play calls contributed to the final product.

Finally, Kelly praised DeShone Kizer’s high football IQ and indicated that it is a major element to his rapid progression in the starting role at Notre Dame. In exchanges with reporters, he highlighted the sophomore signal caller’s escapability, and that Kizer’s ability to evade tacklers while keeping his eyes down field and eventually make a completion is something that can’t be taught. Notably, Kelly provided some insight into the development of all quarterbacks under his tutelage. He said that the first thing freshman are taught is to learn the protections at the line, so that they can protect themselves in game. Kelly went on to say that this approach, coupled with Kizer’s expansive understanding of the game has allowed him to develop nicely and has also helped the offensive line be more efficient in pass-blocking.

On To Navy

Kelly opened the presser by telling those assembled that he believes Navy is a top 25 team, and his USA Today Coaches’ Poll ballot reflects the same. He gave some praise to Navy QB Keenan Reynolds, acknowledging that this will be the fourth year in which he has played against the Irish and that while there is reason to feel prepared, they are aware of how dangerous he can be running their option offense. He also said that it is imperative that Clemson not beat the Irish twice, meaning they can’t dwell on the last-second loss to the Tigers as they prepare to take on the Naval Academy.

Notre Dame’s head coach felt that playing Georgia Tech earlier in the year, and the existence of the resulting game film, will benefit both sides somewhat equally. While Navy will get a first look at how Notre Dame is approaching the option this season, the time Notre Dame has banked preparing for the option and reviewing the film has allowed Brian Van Gorder’s defense to focus on more of the intricacies of defending a well-executed option. Ultimately Kelly voiced his belief that he would rather have played Georgia Tech early than have not played an option team at all before this matchup with the Midshipmen.

Max Redfield looks to be the starter on Saturday.  Kelly cited previous strong performances against the Midshipman, coupled with a good evening against Clemson as the reasons for that decision. It appears that the watchword for Redfield, as for Cole Luke, is consistency – a theme that Kelly emphasized repeatedly. With regard to the cornerback position, besides the improvement needed from Luke, Kelly admitted that Kei’vare Russell needs to play better, but that he is expecting a breakthrough since the senior’s effort in practice is top-notch. Kelly remarked in passing that the year off has taken a toll on Russell’s level of play.

Looking to the future of the Irish offense, Kelly believes that Torii Hunter Jr. has been establishing himself since fall camp, and though it seemed he had a bit of a coming out party against Clemson, it was just a matter of getting an opportunity and a good match-up for him to begin to make more of an impact.

Kelly gave a vote of confidence to Corey Robinson, saying that "he will get the job done for us." It seems that the coaching staff is certain that Robinson can be effective in the passing game, but that the young man is less sure. Kelly said that he had a conversation with Robinson (as it seems he had with many players) after the Clemson game, and told him that the receiver needs to believe in himself and be more aggressive in attacking the football in the air. This was all in response to a question regarding the possibility of Torii Hunter Jr. or Equanimeous St. Brown overtaking Robinson on the depth chart. To this, Kelly said it was a reasonable scenario, but then proceeded to explain his confidence in number 88.

In terms of Navy’s defense, Kelly feels that the unit is playing its best football since his first year at Notre Dame in 2010. As such, he emphasized that the team cannot afford to get off to a slow start against the Midshipmen.

On the injury front, Tyler Luatua (concussion) has been cleared for contact, and Quenton Nelson (high ankle sprain) will have the walking boot off tomorrow and should begin running. He is tentatively expected to play on Saturday, but that will depend on how he responds to running tomorrow.

Playoff Outlook

Kelly said that the only thing the team can control is winning each week. Now there is now margin for error and that the team's focus will be on one week at a time. The best response after a loss, according to Kelly, is to win.