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Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly and staff are still figuring things out for this Irish team

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Things could be worse

Toledo v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are 2-0 on the season and have fallen in the rankings due to close wins against unranked opponents. ND could very well be 0-2 right now thanks to an uncomfortably long list of issues — but they aren’t. Brian Kelly and his staff still have the opportunity to turn things around for the better, but that aforementioned list will need to be addressed.

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On Monday, Brian Kelly spoke with the media about the issues at hand, which included this week’s opponent — the Purdue Boilermakers.

PROTECT THE COAN

Notre Dame has been very poor in pass protection with Jack Coan at quarterback. Some of it is the offensive line, and some of it is in how Jack Coan moves around (and out of) the pocket.

“We’re playing with our third left tackle, so that’s one element. But I thought that later in the game Tosh Baker did a nice job using this length, he used his hands and his arms and his size. He’s 6-8. You can’t teach that. I think there were a couple of occasions where we didn’t pick up a corner blitz and that’s generally not on the offensive line. Then I think we had a situation where we miss identified where the blitz was coming from. So, a little bit of everything. I think that when we look at it and evaluate pass protection, I think everybody says, ‘Well, how’s your offensive line doing?’ We don’t feel like we’re in a bad position on the offensive line. We have to be cleaner and better in communication across the board, whether it’s a tight end that’s in protection or a back or a quarterback in terms of identifying who he has to throw off of.”

NEXT MAN IN

The Irish lost starting left tackle Blake Fisher for 6-8 weeks in the opening game against Florida State, and then against Toledo, they lost Michael Carmody — the guy that replaced Fisher. Third string LT Tosh Baker came into the game, and it was a struggle. Carmody’s status is still a bit in the air even after he was still listed as the starter this week.

“We’re going to hold off on making that decision. It’s not a, ‘Hey, he’s definitely out.’ He has an ankle sprain and he’s going to play against one of the best pass rushers. So, we’re not going to put him out there if he’s hobbling. But he felt pretty good yesterday. The report was better than we first thought. We’re gonna see if we can get him ready. If we can get him ready, we’re gonna play him. If he’s not able to go out there and handle one of the better players, look, regardless of the case, that tackles getting help from a wide receiver or running back or a tight end, the protection is moving that way, but if he’s in a position he can play, we’ll play him.”

MORE NEXT MAN IN?

Brian Kelly believes that they are playing the best offensive linemen that they have, but did suggest getting more snaps on the inside of the line. That could mean freshmen guard Rocco Spindler seeing some meaningful time.

“I think it’s players. Look, it’s not I don’t like this guy over the other guy. I like the best guys. So, we’re gonna play the best players. We’re down to our third tackle. I think I answered Tim’s question in maybe more of a way that could address the millions of followers that you have on Twitter that are asking this question. But we probably should rotate a little bit more inside, because we’re playing too many plays. Those guys, the load on them is a lot. They’re young players. So maybe you’ll see a little bit more of a rotation inside, but we’re playing our best five and now our best eight, right? We’re down to our third tackle. But could we get a rotation inside at the guard, there’s a possibility for that this weekend.”

QUARTERBACKING A RUNNING GAME

More concerning than pass protection is the inability to establish a real running game over the last two weeks. There was a move to freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner during the Toledo game, and he was able to help the Irish on the ground — both with his feet and his presence.

“Well, it certainly opens up the running game when you have a quarterback that can pull off of an end that’s chasing a play down from the backside. I think the plan all along was to get Tyler some work and that was going to enhance our running game as we transition a little bit there. So yeah, I can’t disagree with that. He helps our running game. We still are I think in a process of of fine tuning what we really want to be relative to the running game and I think we’re getting closer to what we feel like is going to be our staple plays. Look, running the ball, for me still is about short yardage, right? Goal line, play action, setting up your play action, and then running when everybody knows you need to run. If you can’t do any of those, you don’t have a running game. Other than that, the rest of it is what’s the best look to move the football downfield.”

“Ultimately, I’m going to put the quarterback in the game, but Tommy and I are on the same page. If had a serious objection based upon what he had in his mind, then I would go with him. But we were on the same page that when we were backed up, we were looking for Tyler to go in at that time.”

“Well, I think he’s definitely further along than tucking it and running it. But we’ve kept it as a specific package for him. We haven’t enhanced it too much more. We’re going to continue to enhance it and add more each and every week. We’re going to add more this week. I think what we wanted to do is make sure he knew how to protect himself first and once he knew that relative to protections, we were going to continue to add more.”

NOW IT’S A DEBATE

Once a team dips into the depth chart at quarterback during a close game, the debate begins. Kelly had more to say about his QB’s.

Jack Coan’s day:

“He [Jack Coan] played pretty darn well, especially after you throw us a pick six. You wonder and engage somebody who we’re still dating here, right? I mean, we’ve just met. So there’s a lot of things, adversity in particular, that you want to see how quarterbacks going to handle himself and he handled himself terrifically. He came back in and was really good. With another quarterback in the game, he was totally focused and engaged in terms of what was going on. He was watching the defense, was asking questions and then comes in and leads a drive in 26 seconds down the field and dislocates his finger at the same time, and doesn’t come out of the game. We could give him passing grades.”

The relationship between Coan and Buchner:

“Well, it’s helpful. I’ve had less warm embraces from other quarterbacks. So yeah, that’s extremely helpful. That’s the kind of guys they are. We were pretty transparent when we went into this transfer process about what the roles were going to be. We had a good sense of the personalities involved in this, but yeah, I would tell you that’s kind of what we expected.”

ALL ABOUT PURDUE

“Certainly for us, it’ll be a great challenge. Looking at this team, Purdue, in terms of where they are compared to last year. I think Jeff’s done a great job of retooling both on offense and defense. Defensively in particular, obviously we know about Georgia Karlaftis. He is probably, arguably the best pass rusher in college football. Great motor, can play the run, extremely active, plays with his hands really well. We have to have a plan for him. He is a guy that you just don’t say, ‘We’re going to deal with him one on one.’ We have to have a comprehensive plan for him. Alexander at the Will, athletic, he looks bigger and stronger from last year. I really like Cory Trice, the corner. I think he’s as good a corner as we’ll see. He plays press man, he plays the ball well. They tackle well on the back end. Very, very sound and fundamental defense. Playing four down, back to four-down base defense. But it’ll be a great challenge for us.”

“From an offensive standpoint, I think everybody focuses on David Bell and he is an outstanding player. He’s a game breaker and again, another guy that you have to have a plan for. He’s going to beat you one on one. So, we’ll have to do some things relative to bracket coverage or things that they do against Mike Mayer, but you have to know where he is at all times. But having said that, Jack Plummer, boy has he been impressive. His accuracy is off the charts. Really impressed with the way he throws the football, but more importantly, putting it on his guys. I think he’s over 70% completion and it looks pretty effortless to him. Been very impressed with him.”

“Unfortunately, they lost their best back in Horvath, who I’m sure was anxious to come back here to South Bend and play. But they’ve got obviously Big 10 backs that will come in and play in his place. They are featuring two tight ends, getting the ball to the tight ends. The thing about it is that the coach Brohm is a really good play caller. He’s gonna utilize every different misdirection, play action, trick play, he’s got great creativity on the offensive side of the ball. Marty Biagi does a great job with special teams. You’ve got a lot of things going on there.”

“A really good football team. They’ve done a really good job. They’ve got obviously a really good win against Oregon State. Connecticut wasn’t much of a problem for them. But this is a great rivalry and it’s back and we all know that these games are really close and hard fought. So, again, a great challenge for our football team and one where we’ll have to play a whole lot more consistent than we have in the first two weeks.”

“He’s [Plummer] accurate, right? I mean, in terms of he can make it a long day because his precision and throwing is really good. Then if you try to get too aggressive, he can put the ball over your head. He’s got really good receivers and it’s not just Bell, he’s got two good tight ends. It’s a really good offense. We’re going to have to do some things in coverage. We can’t just lineup and play man the whole day. We have to do some other things to disrupt them and wee’ve got to get a pass rush. So anytime you face a really good quarterback, I think the narrative stays the same, right? Give them some multiple looks in the back end and throw him off his timing. I don’t know that that’s ever changed in my 31 years. So how do you disrupt a good quarterback? We’ll have to do the same against this kid.”

On George Karlaftis

“Well, what makes a great pass rusher? I think it’s first, he’s got fast twitch, so he’s got athletic ability, right? You have to have that element. Then he’s got an incredible desire to get to the quarterback. He doesn’t have a sack this year, but he’s got 11 hurries. So, he’s going to disrupt the quarterback. He doesn’t get frustrated. He just keeps coming. I think that relentlessness and that attitude. So three things, right? He’s got the athletic ability. I think the motor that he has in terms of the way he plays and then his mindset. He just will keep going. That’s what makes great players, whether their defensive ends or whether they’re quarterbacks. He just has those unique traits that make him a great player.”

Kelly started his Notre Dame career against Purdue (and is undefeated against the Boilers), but the Irish have not played them since 2014. Kelly was asked about that first game.

“I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. It’s been a long time I honestly don’t remember the circumstances of the game itself and I think that would tell you a little bit about how big of a moment it was for me in my first game at Notre Dame. But I knew about the rivalry. I knew about Purdue. I knew about it’s always a tough game and the games that we’ve had with Purdue are just close and hard fought because they’re two schools from the state of Indiana and that’ll be the case again this weekend. So, not that I remember a lot of the specifics or particulars, I haven’t researched it or looked it up, but know it’s gonna be probably similar in a hard fought tough football.”

SO WHERE IS THIS TEAM AT MENTALLY?

Notre Dame has not played to its standard in the first two games of the season, and are very lucky to be 2-0 right now. Kelly was asked about his team’s mental status this week.

“They have a standard and winning is not simply their standard, right? They want to be champions, and they know that this performance over the last couple of weeks was good enough to get a win, but it’s not going to take them to a championship level. So they know and we know as coaches, we have to coach better and they have to play better. I don’t think there’s anybody in the building walking around going, ‘This is the best tool football team we’ve ever had before.’ But we also remember that in 2018, we had the hands team on the field against Ball State and we went undefeated that year and that was a 4-8 team in the MAC. There’s no panic. We got to get better. We know the things that we have to work on. We are transitioning some personnel, but we’re we’re committed to playing to a higher standard and I think our guys, if you’re asking what the pulse is, nobody’s content with, as coaches or players, just winning games without playing to a standard and we’re not playing to the standard. We’ll keep working towards that.”

THE PRESSER

You can watch the entire presser here:

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