Kelly discusses playoffs, red-zone struggles
Mary Green | Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Placed behind three undefeated teams and one-loss Alabama, Notre Dame stands fifth in the season’s first College Football Playoff (CFP) ranking, released Tuesday night.
However, the Irish (7-1) are seeded ahead of eight undefeated teams — Baylor, Michigan State, TCU, Iowa, Memphis, Oklahoma State, Toledo and Houston — and the only team to have defeated them, Clemson, took the No. 1 slot.
While Notre Dame sits on the outside looking in at the current top four seeds, the ones who will advance to the playoff semifinals in January, head coach Brian Kelly said he believes in the strength of his team’s résumé.
“We have to win more games, but I’ll stand up our schedule to anybody else right now,” he said. “We still have a loss, so that obviously counts. But it’s really for us what’s in front of us and what we have to do each and every week.”
Kelly especially pointed out the most recent games Notre Dame has played against No. 1 Clemson, Navy, USC and No. 22 Temple, a four-game stretch in which the Irish earned three wins and one loss, a two-point defeat to Clemson.
“The last four teams we played, three were undefeated when we went into the game, and one was our natural rival in USC,” Kelly said. “They had a combined record of 25-6 right now. I don’t know many teams that have had that kind of record, opposition’s record, in the last four games. What I’ve told them is they’ve been tested. Their mettle has been tested over the last four weeks. Let’s use that to our advantage in the way we play. Don’t worry about the score. You can’t control those things.”
Along with not worrying about the score, Kelly said there wouldn’t be too much his staff would be paying attention to in regards to the CFP rankings. Of Notre Dame’s four remaining opponents, only Stanford is ranked, checking in at No. 11.
“We won’t think much about it at all, other than talking about what we need to do, what we need to do better as a football team,” he said. “There’s a lot of areas within each group that we felt like after the Temple game that we’ve got to focus all of our time and energy on if we want to be in this conversation next week and then the week after.
“So our goal is to be in this conversation into December. The only way we can do that is if we clean up some of the things from the Temple game. That’s how I’ve addressed it to our team.”
While Notre Dame has not been exceptionally efficient in the red zone throughout the season, the team’s shortcomings were especially present against Temple on Saturday, when sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer threw two interceptions in that area and the Irish had to settle for a field goal on another trip.
“It’s certainly a number that we’re aware of, that we have to really clean up the turnovers, converting field goals into touchdowns,” Kelly said of his team’s red-zone efficiency. “ … We’ll take some extra time this week. We’ve done some more self-scouting in terms of play calling, what we’re doing down there. But I think at the end of the day execution from everybody, a heightened awareness of where we are, then a little bit more extra practice time.”
Kelly said his staff will try to get all 11 players on the field in sync when it comes to red-zone situations instead of focusing in on the play of a single player or position group, like the offensive line.
“When you get down there, it’s so game-plan centric,” he said. “Teams are really dictating down there what you do. Are they laying off in coverage? Are there eight or nine guys on the line of scrimmage? I mean, you’re in a short field, right? It’s so game-plan oriented down there in terms of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
“It really requires all players to be functioning together. That’s the real point of this relative to efficiency down there. You can’t just rely on your offensive line because they may not be able to block everybody. A back may have to run through a tackle or two. A quarterback may have to be on time to hit the corner route and be precision and precise with that throw and be on time.”
Now vs. then
After eight games last season, the Irish also stood 7-1, with the lone loss to one of the country’s top teams in Florida State. However, the season spiraled out of control from that point, and Notre Dame lost its last four regular-season games to finish 8-5.
But don’t think the 2015 squad is the same as the 2014 one because of those similarities, Kelly said.
“I think the schedule’s a little bit different,” he said. “We had to go out to the West Coast twice, to Arizona State and to USC. Then we had a Big Ten team in Northwestern and Louisville — had a very tough schedule, didn’t play quite as well, obviously.
“This team is a different group, different personalities, a little bit different offensively in terms of what we’re doing, as well. Last year is probably more of a learning experience that we have going into this November than it probably is more than anything else.”
A big part of that turn came as the result of a string of injuries beginning around that time in the season. This year, the Irish suffered similar bad luck at the start of the season. Though he said he’d prefer to not have any hurt players at all, Kelly said the 2015 injuries came early enough to allow Notre Dame to adapt the rest of the way.
“If you start having injuries late in the year, it’s a lot more difficult, I would think, to get your guys ready,” he said. “We’ve been able to work together and get these guys put into a very good position relative to where they are right now. To start having injuries late in the year would be very difficult.”
Quote of the day
“Totally unacceptable. It’s not what we’re about. It’s not who we are.” — Kelly on Kizer flapping his arms after scoring two touchdowns against Temple. Kelly said the backstory was Kizer, an Eagles fan, was mimicking Eagles players, but added, “it’s not who we are as a team or as a program. It won’t happen again.”