Football: Back on track
Matt Gamber | Wednesday, October 6, 2010
After Notre Dame opened its season with a 23-12 victory over Purdue on Sept. 5, Irish coach Brian Kelly noted that while his team didn’t play a perfect game, he wanted to remind his players to celebrate a victory they worked hard to earn.
That wasn’t the case after Saturday’s 31-13 road win at Boston College snapped a three-game losing streak and improved Notre Dame to 2-3.
“We didn’t have to tell them to celebrate,” Kelly said at his Tuesday press conference. “They knew it was a road victory. Any road victory is one to celebrate. But we just have so many other moving pieces that we spent most of our time talking about it on Monday more so celebrating the victory.”
The Irish didn’t play a perfect game, Kelly said, but he saw signs that his team is improving.
“You just need to win to cure a lot of things. But they’re very positive things,” Kelly said. “I pointed out to the offense the third quarter drive. Those are important steps forward, when you can put together 14 plays.
“And on the defensive side of the ball, when you can limit a team to very minimal rushing [yards], those are good signs. So I pointed out the signs that I see that are positive towards getting this to be habit-forming. But we’re far from that yet.”
Despite some of the positive strides the offense made Saturday, the Irish are still turning the ball over at an alarming rate.
In the win, sophomore quarterback Dayne Crist threw a pick, and running backs Armando Allen and Cierre Wood each lost a fumble.
“How do I coach it? Well, I think first and foremost, you make sure that you’re doing the fundamentals right, so during practice, during individual, we’re making sure that we’re talking about taking care of the football and doing those kinds of things,” Kelly said. “You just demand it. If it’s something that is lack of attention, if it’s lack of putting the ball away, we’re going to address it.
“So we’re pointing out things that we see that can put the ball on the ground. We’re trying to coach it during practice, and then we’re demanding it from our players.”
The Irish special teams got a lift with the insertion of freshman wide receiver Bennett Jackson into the role of kick returner. Jackson returned four kickoffs for 111 yards Saturday, including a long of 43 yards.
“I think certainly you have to have the right mental approach to it, that you’re going to catch it and go,” Kelly said of what it takes to be a good return man. “You can’t think a lot back there … You’ve got to hit it, and he’s got that ability where he’s a bit fearless from that standpoint. So it takes a different kind of guy to do that.”
Jackson had made a splash in the opening win against Purdue with four tackles on kickoff coverage. Kelly has mentioned Jackson’s name in the context of potential playing time at receiver, and the move to return man involved the head coach feeling comfortable with placing a starter back there, Kelly said.
“We had to obviously move one of our starters out of a position there, so that didn’t happen until [last] Wednesday,” Kelly said of putting Jackson in the lineup. “I had not cleared that hurdle in my own mind that I was ready to go in that direction. Once we did, [Jackson] practiced at it hard on Wednesday and Thursday and was prepared for his chance on Saturday.”
No cover jinx
Sophomore linebacker Carlo Calabrese graced the cover of The Observer’s Irish Insider last Friday, and he backed that appearance up by leading the Irish with 10 tackles on Saturday, including one sack and 3 ½ for loss.
He trails only fellow sophomore inside linebacker Manti Te’o for the team-lead in tackles on the season. Te’o has 64 tackles (32 solo) on the season, while Calabrese has 38 (21 solo).
“Carlo is developing into a very solid linebacker and a consistent player for us,” Kelly said. “He’s tackling well in space. He’s much better in his coverage fits. That was some of our concerns.
“I think, really, he’s just tackling better and he’s playing more consistent on a play-to-play basis.”