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Football: Kelly talks improvement

By Matthew DeFranks | Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Irish coach Brian Kelly looked back at last year.

He looked at a 10-minute clip that featured Notre Dame’s close calls in 2012: the heave to John Goodman against Purdue, the missed field goal against Purdue and the end of the BYU victory.

His purpose?

“My point being the margin [for error] last year was razor-thin, and the margin this year is razor-thin,” Kelly said.

Last year, the Irish went undefeated in the regular season and won five games by seven or less points on their way to the BCS National Championship Game. But this season, Notre Dame (3-2) has stumbled into two double-digit September losses.

Kelly said the Irish need to do the basic tasks in order to return to their winning ways.

“We have to do the ordinary things much better,” he said. “We have got to stay above the cut in cover 3. We’ve got to run routes better. We’ve got to pick up protections that are Day One protections. We’ve got to pick those things up. We’ve got to complete easy balls.”

In both of Notre Dame’s losses, the Irish kept the game within a touchdown in the fourth quarter but surrendered 75-yard touchdown drives to seal the games.

“So the margin, I think, is about as thin as it was last year, and the difference between 5-0 and 3-2 is about five or six plays, and that’s kind of where we are at this point,” Kelly said.


Running against the Devils

No. 22 Arizona State is coming off a 62-41 throttling of USC and a brand new ranking.

But in the past two games, the Sun Devils defense has allowed at least 240 yards on the ground, despite boasting one of the best defensive lines in the country. They are giving up 192 rushing yards per game.

“You would think at first looking at it, that, boy, it’s easy to run against them, but you’re in a lot of negative plays,” Kelly said. “If you really go through the numbers, you’re in a hit and miss situation because they bring so much pressure. You have to do a great job of managing the negative plays against them.”

In the last two weeks, in splitting games against Stanford and USC, Arizona State (3-1) dropped backs for a loss 10 times.

Up front, redshirt senior defensive tackle Will Sutton leads the Sun Devils. The projected first-round pick and All American has 13 tackles on the season, with 2.5 of them for loss. He also has one sack.

“He’s one of the better inside guys, there’s no question, that we’ve played,” Kelly said. “He’s extremely active, great feet, physically at the point of attack, he’s going to be a handful. And he’s got great complements around him, athletic, they move, they’re one of the better [defensive lines] that we’ll see this year.”


Hendrix to play again

Senior quarterback Andrew Hendrix saw significant playing time during Saturday’s 35-21 loss to Oklahoma, mostly in a specially designed package to highlight his running skills.

Kelly said Hendrix will play again Saturday against the Sun Devils.

“You’ve got to help us win football games,” Kelly said. “So his mindset has to be, look, I want to keep adding more to my plate. I want more and more. But he’s got to be more effective than he was on Saturday. He can’t go in there and we get two false start penalties. We can’t miss a wide open receiver. We’ve got to do a better job on our zone read.

“So if he’s going to get more on his plate, he’s got to be more productive, and we need him to be more productive.”

After the game Saturday, Kelly said the coaching staff implemented the Hendrix package to diversify their offense.

Hendrix went 0-for-1 passing the ball and ran five times for 10 yards while picking up two first downs.


Councell, Day updates

Junior linebacker Ben Councell will miss the first half of the game Saturday after an appeal to overturn his suspension was denied.

Sophomore linebacker Romeo Okwara will replace Councell, who was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Oklahoma, on the field.

Councell has six tackles in five games of action this season as freshman Jaylon Smith’s backup.

Sophomore defensive lineman Sheldon Day, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, has a better chance to play this week, Kelly said.

Senior defensive lineman Kona Schwenke has five tackles in the last two games as Day’s fill-in.


Air Force, Navy games in the air

The government shutdown has forced military academies to suspend intercollegiate games, which could affect Notre Dame’s games against Air Force and Navy.

Air Force and Navy are scheduled to play each other this weekend, but that game may not occur.

Kelly said he did not have any information on whether the shutdown could impact the Irish.

While Notre Dame has never played a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent, Kelly said he would not be opposed to scheduling one in lieu of one of the service academies.

“I would be one vote in a room with a lot of probably ‘no’s,'” Kelly said. “I probably know how that’s going to go.”

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu