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Kelly talks team ahead of marquee Stanford game

| Friday, September 28, 2018

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly addressed many of the looming questions heading into the team’s matchup against Stanford on Saturday in Thursday’s press conference, most notably, the quarterback question. 

“We’ve prepared both quarterbacks,” Kelly said of senior Brandon Wimbush and junior Ian Book. “They’re both ready to play and you know, we think that it’s in our best interest to have them both ready.”

Although Wimbush didn’t play last weekend after Book was moved into the starting role, both will be expected to come prepared against the Cardinal (4-0). Freshman Phil Jurkovec played a series against the Demon Deacons. Jurkovec, a highly recruited dual-threat quarterback, has been woking with the scout team, a decision Kelly said has provided the coaches plenty of opportunity to observe him while actually helping his overall development. 

“What you have to do is look at how he handles himself with the control and command of running that offense,” Kelly said. “He’s still has to be controlling it with cadence and making sure guys line up right and throwing the football … I don’t want to paint the picture that he’s not working on skill development as a quarterback. He’s just not working on specific game plan from week to week.”

On the other side, Kelly said he’s expecting junior Cardinal quarterback K.J Costello to come into arguably one of the biggest games of his career unrattled. 

“He’s gritty,” Kelly said. “ … he’ll have a couple plays that maybe don’t go his way, but he hangs in there. Regardless of what the situation is, he keeps playing and makes plays and gets his team back into the game … he can fit balls into some pretty tight windows.”

That same perseverance was was highlighted in Stanford’s thrilling overtime win against Oregon, where the Cardinal were nearly down 7-31, but then returned a fumble for a touchdown and eventually put the Ducks away 38-31. Costello threw for 327 yards while completing 19 of 26 passes.

Knowing the capability to the Stanford offense to put up points and stay in games, Kelly said it’s really important for the Irish to strike early.

“We’ve been really effective in those first drives of the game, including when Brandon was in the game,” he said. “We weren’t with Ian, but then we scored 56 more points … we don’t script plays … it’s just been getting into a rhythm.”

However, Kelly said the Irish are expecting a slight change in terms of pace from last week’s Demon Deacon offense, which ranked third nationally.

“We’ll still rotate in the manner that we have,” he said “… but it certainly changes … we’re gonna play our top guys but this won’t be a situation where we feel like we’ve got to get a guy out just to get a guy out.”

Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Ian Book scrambles to pick up yardage during Notre Dame’s 56-27 win over Wake Forest on Saturday.

As the quarterback debate continues to unfold, Kelly highlighted the different strengths each player brings, even comparing Book to Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, in terms of playing style.

“Ian Book is a skilled player,” he said. “One of the things he does really well … is he can throw out to his left, to his right. Those are athletic throws that he can make under center that are really difficult … he bounces around, he has an energy about him that injects it into the other 10 players. 

“[He] just opens up the kind of passing game that fit the offensive structure. The tight ends always been part of it, but Ian’s gonna find the tight end and you know, he’s been part of it.”

Rejoining the offensive, previously injured junior offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer has officially been cleared.

“He’s gonna play quite a bit,” Kelly said. “[Senior offensive lineman Trevor] Ruhland you’ll see in the game as well. We’re getting really good play out of [sophomore Aaron] Banks too.”

As Notre Dame gears up to host their first top-10 matchup since 2005 against a team known for its discipline and toughness, Kelly said they will rely on their experienced leaders, including graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill — a player he’s seen develop throughout his career with the Irish.

“[I knew he] would impact our program from a toughness standpoint … his demeanor… he was gonna be a positive impact on our football program.”

The Irish and Cardinal will kickoff at 7:30 pm Saturday night inside Notre Dame Stadium.

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