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Kelly discusses Michigan State preparations, Brandon Wimbush

| Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Coming off a 29-point victory over Boston College, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was proud of the grit his team showed this past weekend, and stressed Tuesday that that same determination, and then some, will be needed on the road at Michigan State on Saturday night.

“Really proud of the way our guys overcame some adversity,” Kelly said. “ … We take that. We move forward. We go back on the road against a very physical opponent in Michigan State, a team we’re well aware of, what they’re capable of. Have a lot of respect for Mark Dantonio, what he’s accomplished at Michigan State. A team just a few years ago, like us, that was vying for in our instance a playoff spot, for them, being part of the playoffs. A lot of pride. A lot of tradition.”

Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush drops back to pass during Notre Dame’s 49-20 win over Boston College on Saturday.Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush drops back to pass during Notre Dame’s 49-20 win over Boston College on Saturday.

Although the Spartans (2-0) went only 3-9 last season, one of their wins came at Notre Dame (2-1) last season in a 36-28 win. Both teams have revamped at quarterback and on defense, but Kelly was quick to point out that this Michigan State team, albeit young, has the look of some of Dantonio’s most successful teams.

“This team looks a lot more similar to some of his earlier teams,” he said. “Extremely disciplined, hard-nosed, play to the echo of the whistle. Just resembles a lot more of the teams that I had seen ‘10, ‘11, ‘12, ‘13. Those were supremely talented teams the last few years. This team reminds me of some of his earlier teams.”

On defense, the Spartans average giving up just over 200 yards of total offense over two games, and have had a whole extra week to prepare for the Irish after coming off a bye week. According to Kelly, the Irish will have to be able to take punches and settle in, despite being on the road.

“They’re going to come out with a lot of energy,” he said. “They probably got the first 10 plays scripted since May. They’re going to look like really good plays. We’ve got to sustain things for the first few minutes and just hang in there. When the game settles in, if you’re doing really well, it starts to quiet down in that stadium. If you’re not, it’s really loud.”

And while the Irish were on the road last week, Notre Dame racked up the rushing yards against the Eagles (1-2, 0-1 ACC), highlighted by junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s four touchdowns. Through the air, however, the Irish only picked up 96 yards, and Wimbush overthrew several balls. Kelly explained that while the run game would be a large part of the offense moving forward, the team still needs to work on its weaknesses.

“We can’t appease people in terms of what looks good as much as what we’re going to be good at,” Kelly said. “If running the football is what is going to be the common denominator for wins, then that’s what we’re doing. Efficiency is the most important thing. Clearly, we have to work on our weaknesses, right? So wherever we feel like our weaknesses are within the offense, we have to get better at those weaknesses each and every week.

“ … But we’re going to do what we’re good at, and that’s what you’ll see what this offense does moving forward.”

Kelly however, has seen no problem with Wimbush’s accuracy or ability as a passer, rather the junior still needs time to adjust to being a starter.

“I have absolutely no questions about his ability to play at the highest level at Notre Dame and help us win a championship,” Kelly said. “Accuracy, I think, is a product of being comfortable within an offense, an offense that has changed a little bit from what he was used to running. It also has to do with really only having one receiver that has established himself in the program for a period of time. He’s working with some new receivers.”

And as Wimbush plays in more road games and gets more opportunities to prove himself, his ability as a competitor will only help him get better.

“ … I think it’s typical of any first-year starter [to have nerves],” he said. “First one on the road, there’s a little bit of that. But I think as we move forward, I think I said at the outset, this was a first road game, first road start. There’s a little bit of the nerves that go along with that. It was a great tune-up, if you will, for Michigan State.

“ … But he found a way to win. He wasn’t throwing the ball very well, so he ran it really well. That’s pretty good. He willed himself into finding a way to be successful on Saturday. He’s got that kind of will and want and desire to win. I love coaching a guy like that. As he grows into the position, remember, we’re three games into this, he’s only going to feel more comfortable each and every week. These conversations that we’re having right now are totally natural for a first-year starter. He’s had a clipboard and a headset, and that’s it. Now he’s in the middle of it.

“ … I think you’ll continue to see progress for him from week to week.”

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About Tobias Hoonhout

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

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