Kelly discusses confidence in Wimbush, defensive line heading into matchup against Wolverines
Elizabeth Greason | Wednesday, August 29, 2018
It all comes down to 7:43 p.m. That’s when the Irish will kick off against long-time enemy Michigan after a four-year hiatus to the series.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly previewed the game — a matchup under the lights to be featured on ESPN’s College GameDay — during his weekly Tuesday press conference and expressed confidence in his squad’s preparedness for the marquee matchup, which Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh reached out to Kelly to renew.
“Sometimes as you go into these press conferences you forget about the fact that as you give the proper accolades to your opponent, I don’t want to forget our football team,” Kelly said. “We have got a very, very good football team, really proud of the work that our guys have done and we have got some really good football players too and are excited about watching them compete as well.”
Kelly reiterated once again that quarterback Brandon Wimbush had won the starting job under center and expressed his confidence in the senior to lead the Irish to victory, although he added that he also held complete confidence in junior Ian Book as Wimbush’s backup, should he ever have to see game action this season.
“So, Brandon’s our starter. We’re going to go into the game that he needs to win the game for us,” Kelly said. “We’ll put a game plan together for Brandon Wimbush to win the game for us. If there’s any need, we feel great about Ian Book as our No. 2.”
Wimbush, last season’s starter, had a tendency to break away for big plays, but Kelly also noted he often did the opposite: freezing up. He is hoping to hand Wimbush the reins to the offense without fearing he will fail in tough situations.
“We can’t have a fear of failure at [the quarterback] position. We’re going to make mistakes,” Kelly said. “We have to understand the difference between letting our guys make plays and be who they are versus being paralyzed with fear of failure. And Brandon falls under that category. At times, he got himself in a place where he didn’t want to fail. The quarterback position can’t be that. You have to be a guy that is out there making plays. Now, within the scope of the offense, we’re not drawing it up in the sand. But he’s a playmaker and he’s got to go out there with the confidence to make plays. He’s going to make some mistakes but as long as he understands that within the scope of the offense making good decisions, he’s a smart kid, he cares, but it can’t be that we’re handcuffing him that he can’t go out there and make plays.”
Kelly also expanded on the wide receiver rotation, saying that on top of seniors Miles Boykin and Chris Finke and junior Chase Claypool, who are expected to see significant playing time, true freshman Kevin Austin and sophomore Michael Young have also made names for themselves over the course of the offseason and will find themselves as parts of the rotation.
“I think you’re going to see Kevin Austin’s going to be part of it, Michael Young’s going to be part of that rotation,” Kelly said of the wide receiver group. “I think those two guys have proved themselves to be part of it as we move forward. You know that we play three and four tight ends, so I think you have to include that as part of what we do. And then the multiple running back situation. So, I wouldn’t look just as just being a wide receiver group as much as incorporating tight ends and running backs into all of that being pass receivers and touching the football.”
However, one of the question marks on the offense that was left unanswered is whether or not junior running back Dexter Williams will see game action Saturday against the Wolverines. Unconfirmed reports have stated that Williams has been suspended for four games, the first of which will be the Michigan matchup.
“He’ll be dressed and he’ll be on the sideline and we’ll see what happens when we kick it off,” Kelly said of Williams’ status for Saturday.
Kelly noted the progress he has seen at the safety position throughout the offseason.
“I know that we are further along in terms of their ability to impact the game at the safety position and where we need them to be for us to play the kind of defense necessary to beat Michigan,” he said. “[Junior transfer] Alohi Gilman has been a guy that has changed it immediately and then I think all the other safeties that played for us last year are further ahead from where they were last year. From [junior] Jalen Elliott to [senior] Nick Coleman, to [junior] Devin Studstill to [senior] Nicco Fertitta to [freshman] Houston Griffin. And I really think you may see multiple players and us taking advantage of all of their skillsets on Saturday night.”
Kelly also said he is pleased with the strength he believes this team’s defensive line possesses, as its depth will allow the Irish to go head-to-head with a team like Michigan for a full four quarters.
“This will be the deepest defensive line that I’ve had at Notre Dame and look, when you can go and play — and we can play eight on the defensive line without feeling as though we have to cover somebody up — that’s pretty good,” Kelly said. “And how that impacts what we’re doing is that we can stay after you for four quarters when you can go eight deep. There’s not going to be a drop off in terms of somebody has to play 60 or 70 snaps. That’s where you’ll see ultimately the biggest difference. … But when somebody can be fresh and keep getting after somebody, it changes the way that person looks in the third and fourth quarter. So, this will be the deepest group that we have put out there and we expect it to have great production for us.”