Brian Kelly discusses growth of Brandon Wimbush, health of Josh Adams
Daniel O'Boyle | Tuesday, September 26, 2017
No. 22 Notre Dame’s head coach Brian Kelly discussed his team’s comprehensive success in Saturday’s victory over Michigan State and the season as a whole so far, as well as the health of junior running back Josh Adams, in his Sunday press conference.
Among the highlights for the Irish (3-1) against the Spartans (2-1) was the success of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush in the passing game. Although Wimbush passed the ball only 20 times, he set career-highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer efficiency rating, all against a pass defense that held held its previous two opponents this week to passer ratings below 75. Kelly said he ensured Wimbush could build his confidence early on, in order to help him make more difficult throws later.
“I just feel like getting the quarterback off with some quick throws, some easy throws to get into a rhythm was important,” Kelly said. I wanted to make sure that [offensive coordinator] Chip [Long] got some openers for him in his first nine plays that were high-percentage completions for him and get him into a nice rhythm, which he did. I think he completed maybe four or five in a row to get into a rhythm before we took a shot down the field. So it was orchestrated or planned or constructed that way, whatever word you want to use. But hey, I felt really good after we made a couple of adjustments, and it’s not uncommon when you go through the volume that you do in terms of preseason camp and all the throwing that sometimes the ball drops a little bit. We just moved the ball up a little bit. It was just a slight adjustment, and he’s throwing the ball perfectly.”
However, Kelly also stressed that the passing game is about more than simply the quarterback, and much of Wimbush’s statistical improvement was thanks to making sure his receivers improved from their early struggles.
“I knew that we needed to step up our play in supporting Brandon,” Kelly said. “He had to obviously throw it better, we had to catch it better. I wasn’t alarmed, but it was certainly something that during practice. There wasn’t a time where if a ball was not caught there was not a comment about how important it is for us to focus on the football and catch that football. It was intentional to make sure that our guys were locked in and focused in terms of catching the football.”
With the Irish returning to the AP poll this week, the Irish head coach talked about his team’s growth since last year’s 4-8 season. Kelly said a key part of that growth was focusing more on maintaining discipline off the field.
“It starts really with getting back to the traits that are necessary to be successful, and that is on a day-to-day basis making sure that our players are developing good habits that can transfer themselves onto the field,” Kelly said. “Every day we’re creating the right habits, the right attitude, developing that — the grit necessary. So that stuff happens off the field, too, going to class, making sure you’re not on any lists. Doing all the little things right on a day-to-day basis develops a core within your football team that you can overcome all things on the field, as well. It’s just that attention to all the things that go into developing your football team, not just what happens on Saturday.”
However, Kelly said that seeing the Spartans’ pass-heavy attack let him see areas where his team can improve further.
“It was the first time we really faced a team that threw the ball quite a bit,” Kelly said. “They had 51 passing attempts. We have to play with a little bit more of a sense of urgency in terms of down and distance, recognizing game situations. So there’s some improvement there for us. We’ve got to do a better job with just understanding passing off routes, underneath coverage, things of that nature, inside-out on slant routes in terms of down and distance. So there’s a lot of things that we can improve on there, and again, seeing a team that threw it 51 times last night gave us a real good kind of snapshot of some of the things that we’ve got to really focus in on and work to improve this week.
Junior running back Josh Adams, who ranked sixth in the nation in rushing yards and seventh in yards from scrimmage entering Saturday’s game, touched the ball only nine times against Michigan State, despite rushing for 6.2 yards per carry. Kelly said Adams had some stiffness in his ankle, but wasn’t concerned about the back’s health, choosing to keep him out of the game in the second half due to the comfortable situation the Irish were in.
“When we got up at halftime, he felt some stiffness, so we got a precautionary X-ray, which came clean,” Kelly said. “At that point, we had already started the third quarter, and so we started with [junior running back] Dexter [Williams] and made a decision that we wouldn’t put him back in unless it was absolutely necessary. They put up three on the board, we respond, and at that point, we weren’t going to get him back in the game unless we felt it was absolutely necessary.”
The Irish will face Miami (OH) this Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. Kickoff is at 5 p.m.