Brian Kelly discusses Spartans, development of secondary
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, September 14, 2016
No. 18 Notre Dame picked up its first win of the season against Nevada last Saturday, but the Irish have no time to hang their hats as they prepare for a top-25 clash with rival Michigan State.
Heading into the primetime clash with the Spartans (1-0), Irish head coach Brian Kelly stressed the importance of toughness, both physically and mentally.
“Well, you have to play physical football,” Kelly said. “They’re a physical team. They’ve got a mind set of the way they want to play. They’re going to run the football. They’re going to be physical on defense. So you have to be tough minded as a group, you know, in all three phases.
“It’s a winning team, so they know how to win. We watched film after film of their games in the Big Ten, and there’s a lot of opponents that have them on the ropes and they find a way to win whether it’s Ohio State or Indiana who has a great chance to win the game, but they come back and beat them.”
One aspect of mental toughness the Irish (1-1) will have to exhibit is the “next man up” mentality, especially in the secondary. Sophomore cornerback Shaun Crawford tore his Achilles tendon in Notre Dame’s 39-10 win over Nevada, senior safety Max Redfield was dismissed from the team following his arrest last month and graduate student safety Avery Sebastian suffered from concussion-like symptoms following Notre Dame’s first game against Texas. Additionally, it is uncertain whether junior cornerback Nick Watkins will return this season, as he is healing from a fractured left humerus.
The secondary is undoubtedly an area of special interest for the Irish, but even if Watkins is medically redshirted for the 2016 season, Kelly said no drastic changes will be needed. Instead, Kelly stressed the need for the team to be able to deal with the loss of key players and to come back from poor performances, such as in the case of sophomore cornerback Nick Coleman.
“Every year, you’re going to lose key players, and you have to be able to prepare for that going into camp and know that somebody is going to be called upon to step up,” Kelly said. “Look, Nick Coleman had a poor first game. He would be the first one to admit it, but what we did is went right back to work during the week to get Nick Coleman to be ready to step back in, and I think the work we did with Nick Coleman during the week put him in a good position to have a good game against Nevada.
“And I think that’s coaching, and I think that’s teaching … and that’s what you have to do to prepare for that next man in. Because you’re going to have key injuries, and you have to prepare for those scenarios instead of saying, ‘You stunk today you’re on the bench.’ No, we’re going to need you, Nick, and we’re going to need you to bounce back and here is how you’re going to do it. Nick now finds himself in the starting position playing against Michigan State in a key game.”
Offensively, Kelly highlighted the line as a unit that has improved in Notre Dame’s two contests and said the criticism the unit has received should be directed at play calling in some cases.
“So the center has to be working with one of the guards, so that combination requires the center to be involved in a lot of things,” Kelly said. “So I think the best way to answer it is it’s not always just the five. It’s sometimes getting the right play. There were two or three instances where we were in the wrong play, and it couldn’t be blocked effectively.
“So there is a little bit of that in there. So I think sometimes to some they look at it and go, what’s wrong with the offensive line? Is it some of it has to do with getting in the right plays? Some of it is combination work that we need to continue to work on and that is two guys, working together, because individually they’re pretty good and they know their assignments. It’s when to come off a block, when to stay on something and that’s where it will continue to get better.”
Kelly also touched on the evolution of the receiving corps, which he felt played well against Nevada despite senior captain Torii Hunter Jr.’s absence, and the balance of the offense overall, saying he likes how many people are touching the ball.
“I think getting [sophomore] Chris Finke a couple of catches was absolutely a good thing,” Kelly said. “We would have liked to have gotten [freshman Kevin Stepherson] the ball down the field. He was beating the corner and we were late in getting him the ball, but he’s gaining more with confidence. We’re gaining a little bit more confidence at the quarterback position, seeing what he can do.
“I thought Corey Holmes ran a great route on third and 15, and we got him the ball to the wide field. That, to me, was the first time that DeShone said, ‘All right, I’m going to let this rip to the wide field,’ like he did with Will Fuller without any hesitation. So we’re starting to see those signs, and, again, those are just small signs. But we’re moving in the right direction to gain that balance with some of those younger receivers.”