The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are back in the top 10 and eagerly awaiting to see what the college football playoff rankings put them on Tuesday night. This week will be a much different game against the Navy Midshipmen than the Irish just played against the North Carolina Tar Heels, and Brian Kelly was at the mic to field questions.
“We’ll start off by switching gears, literally, and moving to Navy. As you know, a long standing rivalry between the two schools, one that is part of our great tradition in history, and we have such a incredible amount of respect for the academy and playing this game. It’s a hard game. It’s a difficult game. I’ll be quite honest with you. These games are never easy, because you’re playing a style of football that goes contrary to what you’ve been teaching for the past four months. So, it’s a challenge to the coaches and the players to prepare themselves, and you’re preparing against great competitors. They know their strengths and they know their weaknesses, the Naval Academy, and so they play to that. Defensively, they’re playing really well lately. Not giving up points. Keeping the ball in front. Playing a style of defense that complements their offense. I think they’re fifth in the country in time of possession, so we’re back to limiting your possessions, which requires you to be so efficient on offense. I think this is my 11th time, so you probably can go back to your old notes and maybe get a lot of the same quotes, but it doesn’t really change. It’s about being efficient on offense and getting off the field defensively. You’re fighting for every blade of grass out there and like I said, I think Ken Niumatalolo has has done a great job in a year that has not been easy for them in many ways. But they are playing really good football against the better teams, in particular Cincinnati, you had a one score game, good went against UCF, SMU. Houston, a really good competitive game. So, we know that their style of offense, defense, and special teams, because believe me, I’ve heard from Polian four times today about how crazy they are on special teams, and they need more time this week for preparation, so what they do in special teams makes it even more difficult from a preparation standpoint. But again, going back to the game itself, just getting our guys prepared to play them as is a great challenge. Then offensively, look, they’ve got some new players, some guys have moved around on the offensive line, they lost three really good players on the offensive line, but they still execute at a high level, and it’s a difficult offense to defend against. Defensively, they returned nine starters and as I mentioned, playing really good football. Warren’s solid and explosive on the defensive line and Diego Faygo is in the probably top five linebackers that we played against and that’s the honest truth. He’s explosive, very good athlete. He’s the leading tackler. Really, really good football player and can play for anybody in power five. Then the back end of the defense, they made some adjustments. Brennan’s been hurt for the last few weeks, but with him back in, they get more versatility in the back end of their defense. So, the nuts and bolts of this, the triple option is a challenge. They hold on to the football. They’ve been efficient enough to score points and timely enough in their defensive stops to really force these games into one possession games against some really good competition. So, great challenge for our football team to shift gears, especially over the last two weeks going against offenses like the spread at USC and North Carolina, to now have the need to be so disciplined and efficient, both on offense and defense.”
Obviously the triple option is a different monster than dealing with pretty much any other type of offense around college football. Even without the game last year, Notre Dame has a lot of experience on the field against it — as well as plenty of experience coaching and preparing against it as well.
“Chase Ketterer is our quarterback. There’s a group of five guys that have been working together since the summer and working. Assaf is a fullback for us. We’re working midline, triple and that exchange so we can get that down with some speed. The whole thing here is to try to get the initial mesh exchange done with speed because the ball, if you use a nerf ball and you just have it in your hands, you don’t get the right mesh reads, so those guys have been at it since the summer and we practice it during camp. We did a little bit during the season and now we’ll be full go starting tomorrow.”
“So, we have two of those people on board. Mike Elston has been through 10 of these and certainly Marcus had what he felt was a good scheme that he felt comfortable with at Cincinnati. You can say the collaboration of that we’ll continue to move forward with. The successes of both of those you’ll see implemented in what we do on Saturday.”
“If he [Freeman] didn’t play Navy, yes it would have been a question, but because he played and prepared against Navy, it wasn’t a question. But if I hadn’t had film and watched the structure of the defense and how they performed against Navy, it would certainly be a question.”
Speaking of walk-on quarterback Chase Ketterer, Kelly was asked about his recruitment and if Chase was recruited for this game in particular — because this is ridiculously important during Navy week. The walk-on back-up quarterback is the star of practice, because he’s the one that gives the defense the “look” for the game. His effectiveness can really help determine Notre Dame’s success on Saturday.
“100%. We really liked his competitiveness and thought he was an outstanding athlete, but this was a conversation that we had and when we obviously entered into this kind of agreement... “He’s actually done more quite frankly,” he added regarding his expectations of Ketterer. “When we came shorthanded at the quarterback position, he actually handled probably 80% of the quarterback duties on scout team the last couple of weeks. He got a little bit of help from Tyler and Drew, but not a ton. So, he’s actually done much more and he’s done a really, really nice job.”
After a pretty bad 2020 season for the Middies by their standard — it hasn’t got much better for Navy in 2021. After a couple of blowout losses to start the season (and a botched firing / not firing of their offensive coordinator) Navy has played all but Memphis close on their schedule (but still only has two wins on the year). Are they getting better?
“Settling in on a defensive structure. It’s keeping the points down. Marshall, they gave up over 40 points, and now the points are coming down. Teams have to spend a lot of their time or capital, if you will, on the field to score points. It’s shortenong the game. They’re possessing the football, they’re getting first downs, they’re using up all their fourth downs, they’re using all four, and the game closes on you, and by the time you look up, there’s four minutes to go in the half and you’ve had three or four possessions. It’s the way they’re playing, but I think it has started with the defense, in particular, keeping the points down... “You’ve got to pick your spots,” he added on the balancing act. “As I said, I think it was answering the question earlier, the efficiency and effectiveness of your offense comes from players making plays and coaches making good calls. This a game that puts a lot of pressure on your play caller, where you got to pick your spots, because you do have to push the ball vertically. You got to get it down the field. They would love for you to check it down to the back every down and come up and make that tackle, because it’s going to take you a long time, and you may not get it in the end zone. Then they’re really good in the red zone. They have a good scheme. They do a lot of really good things down in the red zone and make it difficult for you to score touchdowns.
“There’s going to be a double pass and there’s going to be something that we haven’t seen before, a formation, and we keep the book on them. When I say the book, I mean we’ve got everything from 2011, 2010 when we played them first, so we try to research all this stuff, and then there’s always something different.”
One of the unique things about playing Navy is the “body blow” theory. It’s a physical game that can wear on a team late in the season — and then follow them the week after the game is played.
“I don’t think you can focus on it. All that is correct in terms of the game itself and the feedback from former players, but this is a year round process relative to our football team. From body scan density and finding out where our guys are with lean body mass, to in-season training, to making sure that our football team is as strong if not stronger than they were when we went into camp. That’s understanding that we have to play a team like Navy later in the season. It’s all part of a well-laid out plan by our strength and conditioning staff and obviously our nutritionists and everybody working together to get to this end where we know we’re going to have a physical game and we’ve got to be at our best late in the season.”
Notre Dame came out of the UNC game relatively healthy. Obviously Kyle Hamilton is a no go this week against Navy, but there was a scary moment with Kyren Williams in the third quarter. Braden Lenzy went into concussion protocol
“Braden was very optimistic. The doctors, when I met with him yesterday, we’re optimistic. Today we weight train and that’s kind of the next step after you’re cleared from the cognitive testing. Then you go into a cardiovascular testing. So, he’s cleared to do that today. If he comes out of the cardiovascular testing today, he’ll practice tomorrow. So we’re on track, moving in the right direction with with him and he’s voiced his absolute want and desire to be on the field. So, we’ll see how that plays out. Hamilton will be having a second treatment today on his knee. He’s made really good progress. We expect that progress to continue through this week. Then he’ll be evaluated next next week as to whether he is in a position to return for the Virginia game. Foskey’s [shoulder] turned out well. Again, some of the bumps and bruises of a high impact game, but nothing that would limit him from and of our competitive stuff this week.”
Kelly also stated that offensive lineman Zeke Correll is available this week.
Even though Hamilton won’t be available this week, Brian Kelly is confident we will see him play again this season.
“I do. I do. Look, it’s his decision and those aren’t easy decisions, and he’ll lean on his family. We have an outside source that we bring in that evaluates all of our players, that he’s got a chance to listen to all that information, but Kyle will make the right decision and what’s right for him. Look, we’re assuming that everything goes great with his knee, right? So, let’s make that assumption, and then if that’s the case, he’ll have all the information in front of him, and we’re going to support him 100%, whatever it is. Again, that’s the nature of where we are today in college football. Guys got to make those kinds of decisions, but we’ll support him. He’s been a great teammate.”
Brian Kelly answered a lot more questions on Monday. Watch the video below for more on Lorenzo Styles, Jack Coan, Prince Kollie, Jonathan Doerer, and more.