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Brian Kelly emphasizes turnover ratio

Allan Joseph | Tuesday, September 13, 2011

After his team lost in heartbreaking fashion at Michigan last Saturday, Irish coach Brian Kelly knows Notre Dame will not benefit from any reprieve this week as it pursues the elusive first win of the season.

“After playing in front of 114,000 in a very difficult environment, our guys get another challenge which they’re looking forward to, and that is playing Michigan State,” Kelly said. “We’re excited about the challenge against Michigan State. Everybody is looking forward to playing the Big Ten champs.”

Mark Dantonio, Kelly’s predecessor at Cincinnati, coaches the Spartans (2-0), and thus Kelly has some familiarity with the Spartans’ style of play beyond the two games he has coached against them.

“I know how [Dantonio] coaches his football team. They’re well coached,” Kelly said. “They’re a physical team on both sides of the ball.”

Kelly specifically pointed out Dantonio’s meticulousness and insistence on toughness as attributes that have trickled down to the Michigan State players.

“He demands discipline, [and] attention to detail,” Kelly said. “He demands all those things on a day-to-day basis ⎯ a toughness to his football team. He wants them mentally and physical tough … I know Mark does a great job in attention to those specific areas.”

Coming off a difficult loss, the Irish (0-2) are using their past failures as motivation for a difficult test.

“They’re not pleased with their performance,” Kelly said. “They’re not happy where they’re at. The coaches are not pleased with our performance.”

Kelly believes his team is better than its record indicates, mainly because self-inflicted mistakes have cost Notre Dame each of its first two contests.

“I tell them this: I said, ‘I really believe that you haven’t won a game yet, but you haven’t been beaten,’” Kelly said. “Last year we were beaten. We got beat by Michigan last year. As much as I don’t like to say it, they beat us last year.

“We’ve really had a hand at beating ourselves, and that’s the big difference. If we do not beat ourselves, we’ve got a chance to be the kind of football team that we all believe we can be. I can see it.”

Kelly pointed to turnovers as the most important mistake for the Irish to fix. While his team ranks in the top-10 nationally in terms of yardage gained on offense, turnovers have cost Notre Dame points in each of its first two contests.

“The one stat that really matters to me is the turnover takeaway, and there’s a direct correlation to percentage of winning when you turn the ball over,” Kelly said. “There’s no stat for me that tells the story more than that.”

Tight end situation resolved

Last week at Michigan, Notre Dame was shorthanded at the tight end position behind sophomore starter Tyler Eifert. This week, two tight ends will return to bolster the depth chart.

“Alex Welch is cleared to practice and compete, [and] Jake Golic has been cleared to practice and compete,” Kelly said.

“We do get a couple of tight ends back.”

The return of Welch and Golic is tempered by the loss of fifth-year senior Mike Ragone, who has been lost for the season due to upcoming ACL surgery.

“I’m pretty disappointed for him. He’s been a warrior for us in a sense,” Kelly said. “He’s battled through a lot of injuries. He loves to play the game. He loves competition, and we’re really going to miss him. He’ll still be around our football team. He’s going to help mentor some of our younger players.”

Freshman tight end Ben Koyack filled in late during Saturday’s loss, and Kelly was impressed by his effort.

“All in all, he did a nice job. He’s a kid that’s not rattled,” Kelly said. “I really love his demeanor. First time we put him on the field he didn’t have that look that sometimes you’re concerned about. I think Ben is going to be fine for us.”