Kelly discusses potential bowl game, Senior Day ahead of Virginia Tech
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Despite all the challenges Notre Dame has faced this season, the Irish still have a chance to finish the season above .500.
That would, of course, require the Irish (4-6) to defeat Virginia Tech and No. 13 USC in the last two games of the regular season and then best whoever they face in a potential bowl game. But as the Irish face the Hokies (7-3, 5-2 ACC) for the first time ever on the football field, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he is more concerned with how his team plays than the end result.
“Look, as I said, if I had to give you the priorities, it’s more important how we play,” Kelly said. “I want to win, too. But if you look at what our options are, we’re going to practice for about 12 days, you know, and then that’s it. And then we’re going to play one game. So they’re not going to be inactive very long, one way or the other.
“So I’d like to practice. I want to go to a bowl game. I want to win our last two games. But I’m not losing sleep over it. What I’m concerned about the most is how we play. And that’s the most important thing because those are the most important elements on what we’ve had to go through this year. And I want to make sure that how we play is going to be reflective of where we finish and how we build that for next year.”
If the Irish win both games, they are all but guaranteed a bowl bid. In fact, even if Notre Dame finishes its season at 5-7, there is still a possibility the team receives a shot at a bowl game. In 2009, Notre Dame finished 6-6, but did not accept a bowl bid after firing then-head coach Charlie Weis. When asked whether Notre Dame would accept a bowl bid after this season, Kelly said he hadn’t thought about it yet.
“I haven’t given it much thought really to be honest with you,” Kelly said. “Those [are] scenarios I would address probably at the end of the year.”
However the end of the season plays out, Kelly said he knows his team wants to keep playing.
“They want to keep playing. They definitely want to keep playing,” Kelly said.
Saturday’s matchup with the Hokies also marks Senior Day for the Irish, as they will honor their senior athletes before the game. But of the 61 players on the Irish depth chart, 55 have at least one more year of eligibility. As a result, Kelly said he wishes he had the opportunity to have some star players from last year’s team back for their senior days.
“Earlier, I had to [manage the players’ emotions], [but] it’s less and less because we don’t have as many seniors that have used up their eligibility,” Kelly said. “I’m crying right now because I don’t have Will Fuller, he didn’t have a senior day. Jaylon Smith, Ronnie Stanley, KeiVarae Russell — those guys, they were all juniors, and they didn’t really have a true senior day.”
However, for the seniors and graduate students who will play their final game in Notre Dame stadium, Kelly said he tries to find the right mix of emotions and enthusiasm.
“I think it’s never been too emotional. I think it’s been just about right,” Kelly said. “There’s a balance of really exciting about a new chapter in their life, but a bit after the game certainly reminiscing and a bit emotional. I’ve always talked to them about [how] there should be great enthusiasm, and the emotion should show itself after the game.”
In recent weeks, Kelly has shown a willingness to give his younger players more playing time. Freshmen Julian Love, Troy Pride Jr., Devin Studstill, Kevin Stepherson and Chase Claypool have all seen significant time on the field, and Kelly said he felt the freshman class made its presence felt in last week’s 44-6 win against Army.
“We played that game differently than we’ve played all year,” Kelly said. “We played with an edge in that game that we hadn’t played with all year. If we continue to play with that edge, we can be a really good team.”