The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are 8-1 and looking to rise in the college football playoff rankings. Among the many obstacles in place for the Irish is a schedule that is light on ranked opponents (like none).
It doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t challenges in closing this season out with an 11-1 record. This week for example, Notre Dame goes on the road for a prime time game against the pass-happy Virginia Cavaliers after playing against the triple option of the Navy Midshipmen. Most outside of the Notre Dame bubble won’t quite appreciate that fact like we do — but it is what it is.
Brian Kelly gathered with the media on Monday to talk about Virginia, injuries, and more.
Virginia’s top weapon is quarterback Brennan Armstrong. The signal caller suffered some broken ribs in its win over Stanford which could put his status in jeopardy on Saturday. Regardless if he plays or not — Notre Dame still has to prepare for him.
“Week 10. Virginia. Obviously, going on the road against an explosive offensive football team. I don’t want to bore you with the facts other than its the number-one total offensive team in the country playing at home after a week off. It will be a great challenge for our football team, in particular, our defense. Brennan Armstrong, number-one in total offense. Love the way he plays, right? He’s gritty, tough scrambler. Sam Howell-ish in a lot of ways. Runs the football, throws it with touch accuracy. Just a great competitor. Tough, and will be very difficult to defend as both a thrower and a runner of the football. So, there’s a lot of similarities there to Howell.
“I think what separates this offense a little bit is probably the receivers. You know, (Dontayvion) Wicks, (Billy) Kemp, (Keytaon) Thompson, a battery of receivers, all of them different skill types. Kemp, a great slot. I think Wicks is probably one of the most, I think, complete wide receivers that we’ll see. And then Thompson does a little bit of everything. I think they even list him that way. So, really well balanced.
“A veteran offensive line. They’ve got a couple of basketball players playing tackle. One’s 6’10”. But a veteran offensive line. Very solid running game. So, you know, we’ve got our hands full. Defensively, obviously, their statistics don’t show very well, but they play a 3-3-5. And it’s a difficult defensive structure to work against. So, you’ve got to be really specific in what you do. I think the quarterback has to be really on and be an extension of the play call.
“I think we saw a little bit of that, maybe, the first quarter against Navy when you get a lot of three-down drop-eight. You’ve got to be really, really linked into what the play caller is trying to achieve in those situations. And that’ll have to be the case here. Because in the 3-3-5, there’s a lot of different moving players that you don’t normally see in traditional defenses. So, again, going on the road, great challenge, night game on ABC. We’ll get an opportunity to play before a big audience, and a great opportunity for our football team to continue to improve on both sides of the ball. And, again, an offense that will present a great challenge.”
“We have to do our due diligence there, certainly. They have the ability. They’ve got the transfer (quarterback) from Mississippi State who’s played quarterback. We saw a little bit of the Wake Forest game where the backup came in. And it’s a really good athlete, and he’s a dual-sport guy. I think he’s an outstanding baseball player, too.
“So, look, I mean, we’ve got to prepare for quote-unquote, a Wildcat offense structure as well as, Armstrong playing. And so, we’ll be prepared, but we’ll have to have defensive calls similar to what Virginia Tech’s structure looked like, right? When Virginia Tech went in to they’re second quarterback situation, it was much more about running the football. So, we’ll have to be prepared in that regard.”
You know it’s late in the season when we can use up half of a presser dealing with injuries and the fallout of them as it pertains to the depth chart. Kelly gave updates on a number of players including Avery Davis and Kyle Hamilton.
“Yeah, the MRI came back (on Avery Davis) with a torn ACL. So, unfortunately, we’ve lost Avery for the season. Very disappointed for him. He’s having a great season. He’ll have to make a decision as to what he wants to do next. He has another year (with) the COVID year for him. I think he was planning on, obviously, going to the NFL, but he’ll have to make a decision. I don’t think he’s in a position right now that he’s ready to do that. He’ll be invited back if he chooses to do that, but he’s got some time to make that decision.
“We do not have all the information on Hamilton yet. That’s going to take most of the day. The MRI is complete. But we have other doctors that will take a look at it. The family wants to get completed information, as does Kyle, before any decisions are made. So, I think we’ll have a better understanding of what his status is probably later today.
“I think you’ll continue to see (Kevin Bauman) get more and more playing time. It’s similar to all these guys that are coming back in. It’s one of those things where you start to gradually bring them back in through special teams and add a little bit more to their workload. And I think you’ll continue to see that with him. (Tariq) Bracy had a dislocated finger. The medical report yesterday was that it should not be an issue for him moving forward.”
“I mean, obviously, for him (Drew White) to be able to go through the feeling of a torn ligament and then to get through it from a pain management standpoint, it required a lot. It’s not only the physical but it’s the mental, right? You’re dealing with a torn ligament. And even though it’s a PCL, and it’s explained to you over and over, it’s still a lot. He’s just a mature, amazing guy that was able to deal with it and play really well. So, Friday, he felt really good. He took the brace off, started running around Friday before Saturday’s game. After the game, he’s about where he was on Friday, post game. So, that’s saying a lot. So, we expect good things from him this week.
“In his own mind, he (Chris Tyree) said, ‘I’m past this.’ And that changed everything. You know, he started feeling really good about doing everything again. So, I think we’re past that moment now, where now we’re starting to talk about putting them in the slot. We’re talking about doing other things with him. But I think that moment in the game put us past that.”
“He’s (Josh Lugg) fighting a lower back (injury). And Jeff (Quinn) was hounding me to get him out. And so, it was just an opportunity to get him out of the game.”
Because Notre Dame has the injuries that they have, changes have been made on the roster and on the depth chart. Xavier Watts was moved from wide receiver to linebacker earlier in the year, and now he’s making the adjustment to play safety. Kelly was asked about him and other changes this week.
“He (Watts) had a good game. He did some really good things. We think he’s starting to feel comfortable at the position. And we hope to see him continue that kind of confidence and tackling and play. And so, the expectations are that he plays a role in our success this weekend.”
“So, Lorenzo (Styles) will move into the slot. So, Styles will stay at the slot position. He had been moving in and out of that position. For example, he got 16 snaps. Avery got 44. So, you’ll see a flip there, obviously. Lorenzo will pick up the reps there. You’ll see Kevin Austin play some X (receiver). And when he’s playing X, then Deion will play some W (receiver). So, you’ll see just an insertion of a little bit of what those guys have normally done, but we’ll just move the parts around a little bit.
“I think you’ll see a little bit in the slot higher. Kyren (Williams). As you saw in the two-point conversion, (Williams) was in the slot. You’ll see Chris Tyree play a little bit of the slot in certain situations. And we’ll move Michael Mayer around a little bit. If you remember what we did with Tyler Eifert, he lined up in the boundary, which allows us to kick some of those receivers to the field.
“So, we’ve got enough moving pieces. I think Jayden Thomas moves up from the scout team and take some reps for us to take the load off some of the guys. Don’t expect to get a big bounce out of him in the game situation. But we’re going to need him in for the week in terms of getting up to snuff. And if we have another injury, he’d be the next guy that has to start learning what we’re doing.”
You can watch Brian Kelly’s full press conference in the player below.