Kelly discusses Navy game, starters, receivers
Mary Green | Tuesday, October 6, 2015
With his team’s record now blemished with a loss, Irish head coach Brian Kelly admitted Tuesday he was unsure of what No. 15 Notre Dame’s future holds.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked if a one-loss Irish team can still make the College Football Playoff. “But we do know what we can control, and that is winning each week. So what we really talked about is we have no margin for error, and we have to pay attention to every detail. It was really about the focus of this group is one week at a time.
“Each game is the biggest and most important game we play and really focusing on that. It isn’t concerning yourself with big picture.”
Notre Dame (4-1) will look to bounce back Saturday against Navy, the second team it will play this season that features a triple-option offense. The Irish defeated the first, Georgia Tech, on Sept. 19, 30-22.
“Preparing for Navy is a very difficult chore,” Kelly said. “[Midshipmen head coach] Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job, obviously, in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak. He’s developed not only his offense to the point where they compete nationally — I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that.”
Kelly said Notre Dame will have to avoid a sluggish start against Navy (4-0) like it did in the loss to Clemson, falling behind by two touchdowns after just seven minutes.
“We started slow. Is it the hour and 15 minute bus ride we’re not used to taking prior to the game? I don’t know, but we did start slow,” Kelly said. “Believe me, we look at everything when it comes to those things. We can’t have slow starts. Our guys know what the mantra is. They know how important it is to get off to a fast start. If we get off to slow starts, we’re going to be in trouble in every game that we play.”
Though he didn’t see the field against Georgia Tech, junior Max Redfield will start at free safety against Navy, Kelly said. The head coach added Redfield’s start comes in the wake of “his best game since he’s been here” against Clemson.
“He was physical, double-digit tackles, was our highest point producer,” Kelly said of Redfield’s performance against the Tigers. “ … That’s the kind of football he’s capable of, and we need to see that kind of performance week in and week out. He played very well against Navy last year, and we expect a similar performance on Saturday.”
Sophomores Quenton Nelson (sprained ankle) and Tyler Luatua (concussion) are listed as the starters at left guard and tight end, respectively.
Kelly said Luatua was cleared for contact in practice Tuesday, and Nelson will have his walking boot removed Wednesday.
“He improved dramatically from not running that ankle around over the last 36 hours, or less than 36 hours now,” Kelly said of Nelson. “Our protocol is, any type of high ankle sprain, we like to get you in a boot, keep it immobile. He’s not a wide receiver, so we feel pretty confident we can get him back, but we’ll see how he responds tomorrow when we start moving him around.”
Nelson suffered the ankle injury against Clemson, while Luatua hasn’t played since the win over Georgia Tech.
Junior Torii Hunter Jr. led Irish receivers against Clemson with five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown, a breakout performance after totaling four catches for 57 yards — including a long of 20 yards — and no scores in the previous four games.
However, Kelly said Hunter’s game came as no surprise to him based off the practices the slot receiver has had since preseason camp.
“I think he’s done the things necessary for him to be a feature player within our offense. I think it’s just been a matter of getting his chance and his opportunities,” Kelly said. “Amir [Carlisle] is playing at that position, so [Hunter]’s sharing a position more so than, say, Will [Fuller], where Will is out there playing 95 percent of the snaps. So I think it’s just getting his opportunities, and when he gets them, making the best of them. He clearly at that position had many more opportunities based on the way coverages were being dictated in that particular game.”
Kelly also said he spoke at length with junior Corey Robinson on Monday. The receiver has struggled throughout the 2015 season, grabbing one catch for 15 yards against Clemson and just five receptions for 60 yards this year.
“I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will,” Kelly said. “He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”