Following a less than stellar 48-37 win against a quietly solid Wake Forest team, Brian Kelly held his weekly Sunday press conference, in which he addressed questions from Saturday and previewed a renewed “Catholics versus Convicts” game coming up on Saturday. Now that we’ve got the rambling prologue out of the way, let’s get right into it.
Survive and Advance
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won yet again on Saturday. It wasn’t always pretty, but luckily “prettiness” isn’t a metric with any relevance for the Playoff Committee. And on a weekend in which contenders like Penn State and Ohio State dropped out of the Playoff conversation, and fourth-ranked Clemson won by a touchdown against a team the Irish beat by three touchdowns the week prior.
At this juncture of the season, survival is key for Kelly’s Irish.
Sure, you want to blow every opponent out by 20 or more points. Sure, you want to hold each opposing team to under 20 points. Sure, you want to see your Heisman candidate running back continue to put up ridiculous numbers every single game, without fail.
But expecting such perfection without interruption would be fallacious in a sport played by 18-21 year old humans.
This Irish team is human, and they showed it on Saturday. However if there were any time to show chinks in the armor, it would be against Wake Forest: in a game you can win without being perfect, and leading into a monumental match-up with the Miami Hurricanes.
This game should serve as motivation for the Irish. It was a bit of a wake-up call, one that screams “You have to stay focused!” It may seem like that should go without saying, but maintaining that high-level of play game in and game out is much easier said than done, even for some of Nick Saban’s teams.
And there might not have been a been a better time for that reminder. Next week Notre Dame will travel to Miami to face the undefeated Hurricanes, who just spent their Saturday night beating up on a very good Virginia Tech team. The implications for both these teams are huge, as the loser’s playoff hopes will take a massive hit.
This upcoming game against “The U” is being hyped as a throwback to the 80s’ own “Catholics versus Convicts” pseudo-rivalry. Only time will tell if this game will prove to be that significant, but for the here and the now, that’s all just noise.
All that matters - as Kelly likes to say - is going out and dominating your opponent for 60 minutes.
Notre Dame has a chance to dominate yet another marquee opponent, and continue to advance in their playoff hunt.
Other Notes from the Press Conference:
- A few injury updates: Brandon Wimbush has a bruised hand and will be fine, Josh Adams was not in concussion protocol but was held out for precautionary reasons, Khalid Kareem suffered a hyperextension in his knee but will not be limited, and Alizé Mack will return to practice on Tuesday.
- Commenting on the Miami team that the Irish will face on November 11th, Kelly said, “Oh, it's a heck of a football team. An experienced offensive line. The quarterback is extremely productive. Athletic defensively. All over the place. Lead the country in tackles for loss. Just a team that obviously is very confident.”
- On Julian Love’s near pick-six: “Julian Love has been key...That definitely gave us a great deal of energy and momentum...Yeah, big play of the game. There were others, but clearly that was a big one.”
- Miami’s defense was inexperienced last year, but Brian Kelly made sure to point out how that is no longer the case: “Obviously another year under their belt. They know their jobs a lot better... It's just a much more veteran group.”
- “Yeah, I would say in your tenure, when it starts to reach the level it has for me, you become a lot more aware of the history, the tradition, the success, the rivalries from that perspective than maybe in your first two years,” Kelly glowed about living up to Notre Dame’s standard, “You've got your head down, you're really grinding.”
- On Dexter Williams’s continued health issues, “ It's a day-to-day thing. We'll just have to see how he responds on Tuesday.”
- Kelly loved having Deshone Kizer back on campus last Friday, “I love having our former players come back. They're always welcome...It feels great as a head coach to see those guys come back and be part of it.”
- Kelly touched on the difference between this upcoming game against Miami and his last trip to Miami Gardens against Alabama is 2012: “ I like the way this team is built for big games in terms of our physicality and our ability to take the ball away defensively. Kind of feel better about going into this game than maybe the national championship game.”
- The defensive performance was not up to standard against Wake Forest, and Kelly commented on the reason for it. “ Maybe got too cute in terms of what we were trying to accomplish. Maybe trying to cover up some things that we thought they knew about us. Didn't do what we normally do. We'll take some of the blame for that in terms of coaching. I think that's part of it.”
- He continued, “Then we got up 41-16. We didn't handle ourselves in a manner to close out the game the way we have all year. So a little bit of coaching there, a little bit of having a killer instinct on defense, and Wake Forest executing extremely well.”
- Nick Watkins was suffering from tendinitis this past Saturday, and pulling him out of the game was simply a coach’s decision.
- Deon McIntosh wasn’t highly recruited, but has been a consistent presence for the Irish thus far, as Kelly acknowledged, “I think he turned it on himself. His off-season workouts really amped things up, too, in terms of his physicality...He did this on his own. Like anything else, right, he got an opportunity and made the best of it.”
- Kelly was asked if individual stats or the Heisman campaign ever play into the decision to keep a player in or take a player out, and he shut that notion down quickly. “ No, it never comes into it. It's health over all those things.”
- On the importance of Te'von Coney to the defense: “He's an important player in what we do. The structure of our defense puts him at the center of what happens defensively in terms of run fits, the passing game. Te'von has been a very, very productive and important player for us, absolutely.”