Oct. 7 Press Conference Notebook
Brian Hartnett | Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Notre Dame currently ranks 78th nationally in rushing offense, accounting for approximately 153 yards per game. But the Irish running game has compared favorably to that of several top teams, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in his Tuesday press conference.
“You know, statistics are a bit misleading,” Kelly said. “We rank ahead of Florida State in rushing per game, and they are the No. 1 team in the country and won the [BCS] National Championship [Game] last year. We rank ahead of Stanford, and you could argue that Stanford is not rushing the ball very well. But that’s what they do.”
Kelly said he expects the running game to pick up steam as the Irish offensive line gets more experience as a unit. Kelly made changes to the offensive line after Notre Dame’s 30-14 win over Purdue on Sept. 13, moving senior Nick Martin from center to left guard, sophomore Steve Elmer from right tackle to right guard, graduate student Christian Lombard from right guard to right tackle and inserting senior Matt Hegarty at the center position.
“We want to rush the ball better,” Kelly said. “But we made a substantial change on the offensive line after three games into the season, and we are still — we’re doing okay.
“We’re going to get better. We’re committed to being better at running the football. … I think that’s the most important thing at this point.”
Secondary starters continue to improve
Kelly paid several compliments to the defense, which surrendered only 205 total yards to Stanford, in his Sunday teleconference. Tuesday, he addressed the efforts of his secondary, which allowed 158 yards and forced three turnovers Saturday.
Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke was responsible for all three of those turnovers, recording two interceptions and forcing a fumble. Kelly said Luke has made the changes in technical changes needed to be a good cornerback.
“What he’s improved drastically on is his technique,” Kelly said. “So, he’s been technically a much sounder corner, a much more dedicated corner to his technique, which has made him a better corner as a result.”
Kelly also addressed the development of junior safety Elijah Shumate, who finished with six tackles against Stanford. He mentioned that the experience Shumate has received since filling in for graduate student safety Austin Collinsworth, who sprained his MCL shortly before the season opener against Rice on Aug. 30, has benefitted the first-year starter.
“He’s great around the line of scrimmage,” Kelly said of Shumate. “He’s got to get better in space off the hash. But we can’t even have those conversations with him unless he has those weeks of experience.
“So [it’s been] extremely invaluable for him and his development.”
Introducing Hunter Smith
Many Irish fans had probably never questioned the team’s kick holder before a fumbled snap led to a missed field goal in the fourth quarter Saturday. Kelly addressed their concerns Tuesday, saying that the team’s current holder — junior Hunter Smith — is here to stay.
“We still believe in Hunter 100 percent; that he’s the right guy for that position,” Kelly said.
Smith, a walk-on chemical engineering major from Raleigh, North Carolina, was on the team’s roster last year but did not see any game action.
“We didn’t just throw [Smith] into it,” Kelly said. “We’ve been evaluating him in that situation for some time. … So we gave it great thought, and it wasn’t somebody that we just pulled out of thin air. He’s been in the program a couple years.”
In Saturday’s cold and rainy conditions, Smith put on gloves when he held for senior kicker Kyle Brindza’s field goal with 7:32 left in the game. The gloves will probably not be permanent fixtures for the holder, Kelly said.
“No, I think it was just a moment of let’s try something different here, and it kind of worked at the time,” he said.
Watching the competition
Although five teams ranked ahead of Notre Dame fell last weekend, Kelly said he wasn’t paying much attention to their games. Rather, his attention was focused on another sporting event.
“I watched baseball [Saturday],” he said. “I get tired of college football, if you can imagine.
“Really, it’s too early in the season to have any significance for me. So I think I was relaxing, and I was watching a baseball game.”