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Football

Brian Kelly discusses Wake Forest preparations, College Football Playoff rankings

| Wednesday, November 1, 2017

On Tuesday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly addressed a number of issues leading up to No. 3 Notre Dame’s home matchup with Wake Forest this weekend.

“We’re in the ACC swing of our schedule with obviously a very tough opponent last week in North Carolina State. I think this week brings another challenge, a very explosive offense,” Kelly said. “Wake Forest obviously was extremely efficient last week. Arguably, probably the most experienced quarterback that we’ll play. [Senior John] Wolford has been in the system, has experienced the ups and downs and growing in this offensive system. Led them last week to over 600 yards, counted for five touchdowns, just really knows it very well. So that will certainly be a challenge for us.”

Anna Mason | The Observer

Irish junior tight end Alize Mack blocks a defender during Notre Dame’s 49-14 win over USC on Oct. 21 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Wake Forest

The Irish (7-1) hold a 3-0 all time record against the Demon Deacons (5-3, 2-3 ACC), with the last matchup coming in a 28-7 win in 2015 at Notre Dame Stadium. But, this year, the game has bigger implications, especially for Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Elko was hired this offseason after serving in the same role at Wake Forest from 2014 until last season, and Kelly said the program wants to win for him.

“I’m sure he would like to get through this quickly,” Kelly said on the situation. “You know, it’s never easy. You know, you can imagine, on one side of the fence how people see it and perceive it, and then on our side, you know, we have a lot of pride in our program. I know all of our players, offense, defense and everybody involved in this program, from Mike and [linebackers coach Clark] Lea, [who followed Elko to Notre Dame from Wake Forest this offseason], we want to play really well for them.”

And while Wake Forest still plays a similar style to Elko’s, Kelly said the Deacons present a threat with their progression.

“There’s a lot of similarity to the defense that we’ve seen in the past,” he said. “Again, I think it’s still about personnel, and their personnel is probably, in terms of the safeties and corners, emerging. You know, I think it’s probably a much more mature football team.”

Injuries

On the injury front, Kelly announced that junior tight end Alize Mack is continuing with concussion protocol but was noncommittal on the potential of him playing this weekend.

“He’s in the next stage working through the protocol,” Kelly said. “You know, elevate the heart rate today and see where he goes from there.

“ … It’s so much of an individual day-to-day and how they progress. Each guy is different, and you really don’t know until they go through the cardio piece. They’ve got to get through the cardio piece, so when they — he’ll get activated today through the cardio, and then how he responds to that piece, then the next stage can or cannot occur, and so we wouldn’t know until after today.”

Kelly also said sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr. and senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner are progressing well and look set to be healthy enough to play.

“[Jones’] issue was more of he had a bit of a hip pointer. The ankle is doing better and much better,” Kelly said. “I think it’s not even the concern as much as the hip pointer. He had treatment today, feels a whole lot better. I would expect him that he’s going to be somebody that is active in what we do on Saturday.

“ … Bonner squatted yesterday in our speed squats and actually went up in his speed squats. We don’t have any concerns there.”

Playoff rankings

With the Irish placed No. 3 in the first edition College Football Playoff rankings, Kelly said his team knows that it has high expectations placed on it, but stressed it is taking it one game at a time.

“We talk about awareness. You can’t enhance until you’re aware. They’re aware, and for them to enhance their situation, for them to continue to get better, they need to know where they are,” Kelly said. “After that, the enemy is distraction. Get back to your process, do the things that got you here. You really have to embrace what we’re doing.

“Look, if you embrace what you’re doing, people embrace you. If you don’t embrace what you’re doing, they’ll kick you to the curb. It’s the way it goes. They understand that, and they’ve been really good about getting to this point. I’m pretty confident that they understand how to keep this thing moving in the right direction.”

Kelly also said he doesn’t entertain hypotheticals, and for the Irish to have a successful season, it comes down to dominating every opponent.

“I try to stay in the moment,” Kelly said. “Winning is not even something that we think about. I’ve got to tell you, I’m honestly giving you the truth in this answer: We just want to dominate this weekend. If we do that, we’d like three more chances. And then at the end of the year, if they say that that’s one of the four best teams, that will be fine.

“We’re just looking to dominate this weekend, that’s all I can tell you.”

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby is a junior PLS/Economics double major from Smithtown, New York.

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