Brian Kelly confident in team’s ability to rebound
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Following a narrow loss to No. 11 Texas in double overtime, No. 18 Notre Dame looks to pick up its first win of the season in its home opener against Nevada on Saturday.
Despite the loss, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he was proud of his team’s resiliency after coming back from a 17-point deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
“[I’m] certainly proud of the resiliency and the effort that was displayed on Sunday night,” Kelly said. “Coming back from a 17-point deficit and putting ourselves in a position to win the game. We were up late in the game. We asked our team to get us to the fourth quarter and find a way to win.”
Now, the team needs to focus on finishing, and Kelly said he will preach that message all week.
“Finishing was not something that we did well on Sunday,” Kelly said. “We competed. We played hard. We put ourselves in a position. We made some plays, but if you really look at it in a microcosm, offensively we had a chance to finish out well or put us in a good position on the last couple of drives, and we came up with nothing.
“ … So the message to the team yesterday was about closing and finishing and hard-fought games on the road against quality opposition you gotta finish. That’s what we did not do in this game — we didn’t finish and that will be a ‘watch word’ for this group as we move forward. Again, I like their effort, I like their fight.”
Going into the contest with the Wolfpack (1-0), the Irish (0-1) have numerous questions that need sorting out — most notably, the quarterback depth chart and a rough defensive showing.
Both junior DeShone Kizer and senior Malik Zaire saw playing time on Sunday, but Kizer stole the show. Kizer — Notre Dame’s starter for most of 2015 — threw for 215 yards on 15-of-24 passing and five touchdowns while also giving up zero turnovers and running for a sixth score. Meanwhile, Zaire played in only three series and gained only 23 yards of total offense. Kelly said no decision has been made concerning playing time against Nevada but added the decision will be made once he has a chance to sit down with both Kizer and Zaire.
“We plan on having two really good quarterbacks the rest of the year,” Kelly said. “I haven’t sat down and talked with to either one of them, so before we do that, we don’t have any plans to make any decisions.”
Kelly did say he expects whoever is relegated to the second-string to maintain a positive attitude at all times while on the bench and to be ready to play at a moment’s notice.
“First of all, it’s about your attitude and your attitude has to be such that whoever the No. 2 is, whether he’s the No. 2 quarterback or the No. 2 running back, you’re one play away from being in there,” Kelly said. “So you can’t let your teammates down, and you can’t let yourself down. You have got in the way of yourself from preparing the way you need to to lead your football team. That’s really 99 percent attitude and accepting the role that you have. If you can’t accept the role, then you need to move out of the way and let somebody go into that role that can accept it and prepare themselves accordingly, so when they are called upon, they’re ready to play. So to me it’s really — it’s all about the attitude.”
The Irish defense has come under intense scrutiny the last few days after giving up 50 points and 517 yards of total offense to Texas. The secondary especially has received a large share of blame, giving up numerous big plays and allowing the Longhorns 10.4 yards per pass attempt. And with graduate student safety Avery Sebastian going through the concussion protocol, the secondary looks vulnerable. According to Kelly, however, the problems in the secondary start with the need for better coaching.
“I think we have the personnel there,” Kelly said. “Look … we were in Cover 3 on long balls. Balls that got thrown over our head, we were in Cover 3 — except for the one that we were in latch coverage the one time we got beat in the seam because our safety was obviously way too wide.
“Primarily, if we just do the ordinary things ordinarily well we’re in good shape. We have to do those better. We have to coach better. If we’re not playing cover three well, we’re not coaching well enough, so we’ve got to do those things better. I know if we’re coaching better and getting that from our players, we will be a better defense moving forward.”
With Sebastian likely out and Max Redfield’s dismissal from the team, freshman Devin Studstill will see a lot of snaps at safety on Saturday, Kelly said.
“He will see a lot of playing time this week,” Kelly said. “Yes, we will have to continue to give him the opportunity to get out there and play and experience the scenarios that you can’t really duplicate in practice. But, yeah, you’ll see a lot more of him on Saturday.”
Questions have also arisen about Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and his ability to fashion a high-caliber defense in South Bend. Kelly is aware of the criticism but said he has no doubt in VanGorder’s ability.
“Like I said, it’s great conversation for everybody to have, but it’s so short-sighted of what really happened in the Texas game,” Kelly said. “What really happened in the Texas game was you had the offense that had a chance to win the game — you’re going to have to play some games where you outscore people. If we’re 10 or 11 games into the season and we have to outscore everybody, I’ll take the questions, you know? And I would say fair enough. We’re in game one of a brand new offense that we saw for the first time, and we got guys that went on to the NFL off this team.
“So I just think we’re jumping the gun. If we’re ten games into this and we’re giving up 50 points a game, I’ll have to answer your questions. … As I said yesterday, I think y’all should relax a little bit. I think our defense is going to be fine.”
Notre Dame suffered injuries to two notable players in the game: senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. and Sebastian. Kelly said that Hunter Jr. is undergoing the concussion protocol and there is no timeline on his return.
“I think with a guy like Torii, anything up to, you know, game time is [possible],” Kelly said. “Concussion symptoms come and go. … There’s no real timeline, you know? When you start to expect somebody to clear — it’s so individual, and you just let it take it’s course and we will prepare accordingly.”
Hunter was the only Irish receiver with meaningful game experience before the Texas game Sunday, and with the possibility of him missing the game against Nevada, the Irish receiving corps loses a valuable asset. Sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown had a breakout game against Texas, notching five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns, but Kelly said he plans to keep St. Brown at the slot position, rather than moving him over to the X position, which may be vacant due to Hunter’s absence.
“I prefer not to move [St. Brown],” Kelly said. “I think he’s established himself in a position that I would like continuity and consistency there. It’s a position that I think more than anything else requires somebody to really build a relationship and a rapport with the quarterback, and if you start to move him around now, it begins to erode some of the things that we have built on over the last few weeks.
“So that’s not an option right now. We’ll look at options from [junior] Corey Holmes, who has been working at the Z but has been cross-trained at the X. Obviously [freshman Kevin Stepherson] and [freshman] Javon McKinley, those would be the places to look right now at the X.”
Kelly did not comment on Sebastian’s status but did say junior defensive tackle Jay Hayes is closer to 100 percent and should see playing time against Nevada.