Kelly turns focus towards winning close games
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, October 12, 2016
At 2-4 and heading into yet another tough matchup against Stanford, Notre Dame has seen the blame game become an increasingly popular activity amongst its fans, as they have put the onus on anything from the weather to bad snaps to the young defense.
At his press conference Tuesday, however, Irish head coach Brian Kelly attempted to shift the blame for the poor showing versus North Carolina State onto himself.
“I’m not making any excuses for it,” Kelly said. “But, you know, on my behalf, I probably should have done a better job of preparing them for the eventuality of close games.”
Kelly came under fire last weekend for choosing to throw the ball as often as he did in the poor weather conditions in North Carolina, as well as for his fiery sideline demeanor throughout his career at Notre Dame. However, Kelly said his attitude on the sideline is genuine, and he has no plans to change it.
“I’m just coaching. I’ve got a great relationship with my players. I’m just coaching,” Kelly said. “I’m being Brian Kelly. If people have a problem with that, then they’re not going to be friends or fans of Notre Dame football. I can’t help that. I don’t feel like I’m crossing a line. I think I’m being who I am. I’m being direct. I’m handling the situation as it hits me.”
Kelly did say, however, he has identified certain things his team can do to start winning close games, although he declined to get into specifics, and said he will rely on his past success in close games to improve this year’s squad.
“For me, especially with the success that I’ve had in coaching, I’ve won those [close] games,” Kelly said. “It’s not just by luck. So it’s important to drill down deeper and to find out why we win those games. I think I have a pretty good understanding of why we won those games, and I think it goes to our preparation and what we have to do and how we prepare our football team. And self-disclosure, too, to realize that when you get to the fourth quarter, you’re going to have to find a way to win.”
In each of their losses this year, the Irish have been within one score and had a chance to win late in the game. Kelly added that while his staff needs to coach better, this year’s team is relatively inexperienced in close games, a factor that contributed to some of the losses.
“These guys don’t have a ton of those games under their belt, you know, they just don’t,” Kelly said. “Like I said, we were 2-2 last year in these games, and it’s not like they’ve won five of them. We only have one guy that took any reps at all, and he’s on defense coming into the season. It’s not like there’s a bunch of guys on offense that all experience, you know, late-game comebacks, including [junior quarterback DeShone Kizer].”
When asked if his young team may lose faith in their ability to play in close games, Kelly said he does not expect his players to ever lose confidence in themselves.
“As long as their head coach believes — and I believe — in them and they know that, then they’ll never stop believing,” he said.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup against Stanford, Kelly said a big area he is focused on is special teams. Against the Wolfpack (4-1, 1-0 ACC), the Irish special teams unit gave up a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, which proved to be the deciding score in the game, and Kelly said the unit has to eliminate such costly mistakes.
“Well, I want to eradicate the big plays that we’re giving up, because I think we’ve had dynamic plays from a special teams standpoint,” Kelly said. “Our coverage teams have been really good other than the mistakes that we seem to make, and they’re catastrophic. They’re big.
“So moving forward is to still have the athletes on that team, still get the quality players that are on that team and continue to do the things that we’re doing other than some of the crazy, big plays we’ve given up.”
Kelly also said he has tweaked the special teams’ practice routine to find better results.
“We’ve added to our special teams,” Kelly said. “I’ve changed up when we run our special teams. We take more teaching time now and in pre-practice. We put all our offensive players in tackling circuit now. So we’re doing a lot of things that I’ve never done to better teach and coach that group. We’re on it every single day in terms of looking at how to be better in it.”