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Kelly discusses USC coaching tumult, Prosise

| Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Facing off against rival USC is always a noted matchup on No. 14 Notre Dame’s schedule.

But after last year’s 49-14 blowout loss, the last and perhaps bitterest in a string of four straight defeats to close out the regular season, the Irish (5-1) have a little bit more invested in Saturday’s game, head coach Brian Kelly said at his press conference Tuesday.

“After getting beat last year out there, it’s been one that we have really set our eyes on in terms of wanting to eradicate that in our minds in terms of that game itself,” Kelly said.

Kelly said he expects a different team to show up this weekend at Notre Dame Stadium than the 2014 Irish team, which was riddled by late-season injuries and competed without “the grit and determination that we needed.”

“They knew that’s not Notre Dame football, and you don’t play that kind of football here at Notre Dame and use it as an excuse,” Kelly said. “You build your program, and you don’t expect those days to occur. So we kind of have talked about what our standard of play was and is, and that’s not our standard of play.”

Notre Dame will meet a Trojans squad surrounded by many uncertainties in the midst of a tumultuous week. USC athletics director Pat Haden announced Sunday that head coach Steve Sarkisian would take an immediate leave of absence to seek treatment for alcohol-related problems, and he was replaced in the interim by offensive coordinator Clay Helton. Haden then said Monday the University had fired Sarkisian and would open up a search for a new head coach.

“Coach Helton, obviously, being put in the role of head coach is somebody that I have a lot of respect for,” Kelly said. “He’s been in this role before. He does a great job as an offensive coordinator, and I’m sure he’ll have his football team prepared and ready to go. It’s a rivalry game for them as well. It’s a chance for them to respond.”

Despite the quick and unexpected transition from Sarkisian to Helton, Kelly said he didn’t think the Trojans’ offense would be too different than what they have prepared for.

“Play-calling is such a combination of art and science. Now that [Helton] is clearly running the program, you tend to see a little bit more of that finish come out, where maybe Steve had his thumb or stamp on it,” Kelly said. “I think certainly it would make sense that Clay would have a little bit of his. But I don’t think you go too far from what they are and who they are as an offense.”

Kelly said he didn’t expect this week’s commotion to affect the competitiveness of the Trojans (3-2, 1-2 Pac-12) on Saturday.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country,” he said. “I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride, so they will come out with that here at Notre Dame — there is no question about that.”

Kelly himself has been brought up in the conversation speculating possible candidates for the USC head coaching job, but he quickly deflected those rumors Tuesday.

“What we do here is we avoid the noise, and that would be considered a lot of noise,” he said.

Protecting Prosise

Senior running back C.J. Prosise has carried the bulk of the Notre Dame offense through its first six games, averaging 161 combined yards per game, 129.8 of those rushing on about 18 carries each game. His output has helped the Irish, who are averaging 502.7 total yards per game, to their most productive season since 1970, the last year their per-game average was over the 500-yard mark.

Because the offense has relied so much on Prosise, Kelly said they will protect the senior from contact headed into the seventh game of the season.

“We’re going to thud [freshmen] Josh [Adams] and Dexter [Williams], but C.J.’s not a guy we’re going to thud this week,” he said. “We’re going to take a week off, and then maybe we can add some more thud back into our work, but we have to be careful with it.”

Irish freshman running back Josh Adams runs towards the cutback lane during Notre Dame’s 41-24 win over Navy on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Adams had eight carries for 38 yards in the game.CAROLINE GENCO | The Observer
Irish freshman running back Josh Adams runs towards the cutback lane during Notre Dame’s 41-24 win over Navy on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Adams had eight carries for 38 yards in the game.

A new ‘way of life’

As has been the case for the entire season, Kelly’s entrance into the press conference was preceded by the arrival of the Showtime production crew, complete with cameras, a boom microphone and videographers. However, the head coach said he doesn’t bat an eye anymore at their continual presence.

“I would say it’s no longer an experiment; it’s a way of life,” Kelly said.

“Especially when you go to the bathroom, and you have one of those [microphones] on, and you go, I’ve got to take this off. So I think it’s now become more commonplace, and everybody’s much more comfortable with cameras and microphones and things of that nature around.”

While the finished product of “A Season with Notre Dame Football” has featured storylines such as Jerry Tillery’s non-football interests, Corey Robinson and Romeo Okwara’s ukulele jam sessions and DeShone Kizer’s adjustments to the starting quarterback role, the former “experiment” wasn’t always smooth sailing. Kelly said the adjustments to the show’s presence were made easier by the work of the crew sent to capture the good, the bad and the behind-the-scenes moments of Notre Dame’s season.

“It was a difficult transition early on,” Kelly said. “We have a great staff that’s working on it every day and has done a great job communicating with the staff, as well as with Showtime, where we feel like we need some space, so I think there’s just been really good dialogue and communication between the football staff and Showtime, and it’s making it work on a day-to-day basis.”

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