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Football: Getting it done

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A gritty 15-12 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday restored confidence in Notre Dame’s ability to close out games. After eight penalties for 85 yards, two untimely turnovers and a missed field goal, Irish coach Brian Kelly reaffirmed the strides his team still needs to make in his weekly press conference Tuesday.

Nevertheless, a win is a win, no matter how ugly.

“I look at the first two weeks where we averaged over 500 yards in offense, and we lost both games,” Kelly said. “For me it’s really about winning games and making certain that we do that. I’d rather do that and be out-coached and win ugly … Beauty points, style points — I’m not really interested in those things.”

Luckily for Kelly, sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees administers the Irish offense with little of either. But the young quarterback once again delivered a late fourth-quarter touchdown when the Irish needed it most, finding junior tight end Tyler Eifert with a six-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winner against Pittsburgh.

“You can put together an incredible highlight reel with Tommy Rees this year,” Kelly said. “And you could also put together a blooper film. So it’s really being able to gain that consistency of play after play after play. A lot of that is learning and experience, and that’s where we’re at.”

Rees committed another two turnovers in the contest, bringing his season total to nine. Nevertheless, Kelly reaffirmed his confidence in Rees’ ability to improve as the season progresses, downplaying the possibility of a potential switch back to senior quarterback Dayne Crist as the starter.

“We better not be talking about this stuff next year or there will be another quarterback playing,” Kelly said. “But [Rees] is learning. Some of the body of his work is really good and some of it needs great improvement, and he knows that. I know that, and we believe that he’s capable of being more consistent for a longer period of time.”

Although Rees’ inability to scramble and his limited “escapability” pose potential threats to a spread offense, Kelly identified specific features that could be incorporated into the offense moving forward. The coach said stretching the field vertically with the long ball and more touches for senior wide receiver Michael Floyd, who tallied 27 yards on just four catches in Saturday’s contest, would be looked at moving forward.

“I think there’s going to be some games as it unfolds that [Floyd’s] not going to get 10 passes — it’s just the nature of the game,” he said. “I think there’s a number of ways that we can continue to make sure that he gets the appropriate amount of touches, but we just don’t want that to be a consistent kind of scenario more than anything else.”

After completing the first leg of the season, Kelly stressed the importance of keeping his players healthy heading into the heart of the season. After playing three consecutive teams currently ranked in the USA Today top-25 to start the season, Notre Dame does not face a currently top-ranked opponent until the season finale against No. 4 Stanford.

“Going into week five, the most important thing is that our guys are taking care of themselves and making sure that we’re able to get all of our players at 100 percent on Saturday,” Kelly said, “because when you play the kind of schedule that we have in the first five weeks, you’ve got to make sure that your guys are ready to play every week physically.”

Contact Chris Masoud at cmasoud@nd.edu