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Notre Dame ready for season opener against Temple

| Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Despite the long break since last fall’s disappointing season, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly expressed excitement Tuesday as the Irish prepare for the season opener against Temple on Saturday.

WEB 20170820, 20170820, Chris Collins, Football Scrimmage, New and Gold game, Notre Dame StadiumChris Collins | The Observer

“I can tell you that from my perspective, it’s exciting to start to talk about playing a game,” Kelly said. “It’s been a long time coming for all of us to begin this season. The preparation, the work, all the things that go into starting a season are now right in front of us. A lot of excitement.

“ … I know everybody has a similar press conference and stands in front of the media and the group and talks about how excited they are. But our team is ready to play. I don’t know that I’ve had many press conferences where I said, ‘Give me the team right now, we’d like to play today.’ We’re ready to play with a few more practice days in front of us.”

While Notre Dame has plenty of uncertainty after an offseason marked by transition, both among players and coaches, arguably the team with more question marks is the Owls. After back-to-back 10-win seasons, Temple lost its head coach Matt Rhule, who left to take the job at Baylor. In steps former Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, and while the Owls should be competitive, questions on defense and at quarterback still remain unanswered. But for Kelly, Temple will be no pushover.

“They’ve got a core of winners,” Kelly said. “Coach Collins takes over a very successful program, comes from a winning background, has played winning football, great defensive coordinator at Florida. He continues to bring that kind of mindset to that Temple program.

“ … All in all, [this is] a Temple football team that has a confidence of winning, and certainly from our standpoint what we have to do certainly in our opener is rely on our training and what we’ve been working on over the last eight months. Those things that were not part of our process are now part of it, and we’ll display that on Saturday.”

The biggest news of the day was that sophomore safety Alohi Gilman, who transferred from Navy to Notre Dame this summer, was denied a waiver to his eligibility, which would have allowed him to play this season instead of waiting until 2018. Kelly said the program is still deciding whether or not to appeal the decision.

And while the Irish appear very talented on offense, defensively there remain questions after the struggles of last year’s unit, which led to the firing of then-defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. New coordinator Mike Elko has brought in a new scheme, and for Kelly, it all starts with defending the run, not giving up big plays downfield and taking away the football.

“If you just came to our practice, you would see those three things being drilled ad nauseam,” Kelly said. “You’d look at the defensive practice field, and you’d see guys mirroring the off-hand of the quarterback, working on stripping the football, run support lanes, tackling, run fits. All of the things that I just mentioned, you can talk about them, they sound great, they’re great sound bites, but you better do something every single day to develop that.

“ … What Mike [Elko] does, he drills that every single day and builds that within the practice schedules. I’ve even had to adjust our practice schedules to make certain that we get that time in the schedule so he can drill that to the point where he feels comfortable that we’re getting to that fundamental kind of football.”

Throughout the spring and offseason, the Irish have been meticulously planning for Saturday. But besides all the practice reps, for Kelly the mental aspect of the game is just as important.

“I think the mental preparation of our football team has been something that I’ve taken quite a bit of time to help develop,” he said. “Total preparation for me is certainly the physical, the technical, the tactical has got to be part of that. But the mental is absolutely crucial. I think this football team is as prepared as any team that I have coached from a mental perspective.

“ … That’s something that will continue to grow, but I’ve taken a great amount of time to really spend time, and our coaches have done a terrific job of really following my lead of working with our football team from that mental performance standpoint and how effective that can be to helping them reach their potential.”

And as the Irish head into another season, the pressure to succeed may be the highest it’s been under Kelly. But for Notre Dame’s head coach, that pressure is not only expected, it’s demanded.

“For me, I’ve always felt like there’s an expectation that you have to have being the head coach at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “It’s God, country and Notre Dame. That’s a pretty high bar. You should live up to that bar. I didn’t live up to that bar, so I think as the head coach at Notre Dame, every year is the same way: You’ve got to live up to that high bar, and this year is no different.

“ … We come into this year, our mission is to win the national championship. That’s a pretty high bar. I think you feel that every single year.”

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby served as Managing Editor in the 2018-2019 term.

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