Brian Kelly praises team’s improvement after key victory
Elizabeth Greason | Wednesday, September 5, 2018
During his Tuesday press conference, Irish head coach Brian Kelly recapped No. 8 Notre Dame’s marquee win over Michigan to open the season Saturday and looked forward to his team’s matchup against Ball State. Kelly said he likes to review any given performance based on a drill he calls “well-better-learned,” in which he, his team and his coaches look at the squad’s performance and determine what the Irish did well, what they can do better and what they learned from the game.
“I think when we look at the Michigan game, what we did well, our football team had an accountability and a responsibility to each other that was outstanding, and I mean, as it manifests itself that accountability and responsibility was over seven, eight months in the working, and it showed itself on the sideline. It showed itself in the way they played,” Kelly said. “They played together. There was great communication on the sideline. We had guys that were locked in. They were holding themselves to a high standard. They did that very well. They stuck to our process. When we talk about what they did well, that was great to see.”
He noted the Irish (1-0) learned they need to play a full four quarters of football to really put an opponent away.
“What we learned is that we have to finish off an opponent. We had opportunities to put Michigan in a very difficult position, and we did not, and so I think we learned a lot from that experience,” Kelly said. “When we see an opportunity to put an opponent away, we’ve got to have a dominant mindset and be able to do that. I think we’ve learned a lot about that.”
To end the exercise, Kelly said the Irish need to work on staying focused on the details, particularly on special teams, which was an area where the team struggled against the Wolverines (0-1), even giving up a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown.
“From our standpoint, as we continue to grow the attention to detail on special teams,” Kelly said. “We have guys that are anxious and need to just continue to just focus on our process and relax and just have an attention to detail. There’s certainly a lot of really good players on that group, but the attention to detail is not where it needs to be.”
Kelly talked about the fact that he is particularly pleased with the development a handful of players have made, both in the offseason and since they arrived on campus for the first time. One of those players especially is Alohi Gilman, the junior safety who transferred from Navy last season and was forced to sit out the season. Saturday was the first time he was able to take the field in a Notre Dame uniform, and he made his impact known, coming away with seven tackles and two broken up passes.
“He was, I would say, again, from a safety position, active at the line of scrimmage in terms of his tackling and run fits, and he was on body. He was making plays both in the passing game and the running game,” Kelly said of Gilman. “He was noticeable in his presence at that position, and he brings an edge to our defense that maybe we lacked at times.”
The Laie, Hawai’i, native made the decision to transfer to Notre Dame when the military academies instituted a new rule that prevents players from going to the NFL.
“He just felt like when they made a new rule in the academies that they were going to require you to have your — you could not go to the NFL,” Kelly said of Gilman’s decision to transfer. “I mean, you had to have your commitment fulfilled, it changed his perspective, and he reached out, and I think that a few phone calls were made legally during that period of time, and we pursued the transfer regulations.”
Kelly noted that Gilman provides an element of energy to the defense that has been lacking at times, so the ability to bring Gilman out on the field is an asset to the defense as a whole, especially considering the football skills he also brings to the field.
“Playing the safety position is a reactionary position. You see it, you react, and it requires great instincts, and he has really good instincts, and he’s a sure tackler,” he said. “I mean, we’d like to take all the credit for Alohi, but Alohi has got great football instincts, and when you have those instincts, you then build it into eye discipline and technique and all the things that fit within our system to get the complete player. But he brought a lot of that with him, and then it’s up to us to coach him within our system.”
Kelly also discussed the progress junior defensive lineman Daelin Hayes has made over the course of his career, stating he is pleased with how Hayes is playing, especially considering his position is not one that is always one that gets a lot of notice.
“I think we all get enamored with pass rush, and I think I could just point to [junior lineman] Julian Okwara’s ability to drop in coverage and really make two fine plays in coverage, and that position requires both the ability to play the run and certainly pressure the quarterback and be one eleventh of what we’re doing defensively. When Daelin Hayes is in his pass rush lanes, he gives [senior lineman] Jerry Tillery an opportunity to pressure the quarterback,” Kelly said.
“Again, he’s taken the next step up in terms of being disciplined in terms of what we’re asking him to do, much more physical at the point of attack, using his hands, shedding blockers, being much more disruptive at the line of scrimmage.”
Another defensive lineman who Kelly has been pleased with recently is junior Adetokunbo Ogundeji. While Ogundeji had a slightly different recruiting profile than many other players at his position, Kelly said having had players similar to him drew the coaches to him, and he is beginning to live up to expectations.
“We had had some success with [former lineman] Romeo Okwara, who we felt had a similar profile, that was just a little bit outside of the weight and distribution relative to size, and we felt like his length, and if we could develop him in our program, that we could really have somebody special,” Kelly said of Ogundeji. “And he’s continuously showing us that we may have made the right decision there each and every month as he continues to grow and become more, I think, football savvy day in and day out. He almost blocked a punt. He came real close. He’s just really starting to scratch the surface as it relates to football.”
Special teams was one area in which the Irish struggled against the Wolverines, particularly on kickoffs. Sophomore kickoff specialist Jonathan Doerer struggled throughout the game and was eventually pulled in favor of senior kicker Justin Yoon, who the Irish save for keep to just field goal attempts and extra points. Kelly assured that Doerer will be back on kickoff duty against the Cardinals.
“I don’t want to use Justin Yoon. We needed to get Jon right,” Kelly said. “Obviously, he got in his own way, and he’s a talented player. You know, we needed to go rescue him and get him out of the game. He wasn’t throwing strikes. But he’s going back in, and he’s going to kick off and he’s going to get it right. He’s a talented player, and he’s committed to doing it, so he’ll be back out there.”
But when it comes to kick coverage, Kelly was pleased with junior wide receiver Chase Claypool’s performance. However, the one player Kelly feels is most overlooked for his successful contributions to the squad is also a special teams representative: junior long snapper John Shannon.
“I think the guy that doesn’t get much credit is John Shannon,” Kelly said. “Our long snapper is pretty darn good. He doesn’t get any love, so let’s give John Shannon some love. He runs down there and covers kicks.”
Kelly also noted that a number of freshmen will be getting more and more reps as the season progresses. Freshman linebacker Shayne Simon will be cross-training as both the mike and buck linebacker.
“He’s going to cross-train at the Will linebacker position,” Kelly said. “We just think he’s a really good player that has good instincts, and I think [defensive coordinator] Clark [Lea] feels comfortable, as I do, that with the three technique predominantly kicked his way that we can call a game and let him run and hit and play the position for us if need be.”
Kelly also said that the Ademilola twins, Jayson and Justin, will see some more playing time, as Jayson made his debut Saturday and Kelly believes Justin is on the verge of a breakthrough.
“They have really good football instincts. Sometimes it takes a little while to get a sense and feel when the tight end blocks down, you’re not running upfield, but you’re squeezing and feeling the tackle, and just instincts,” Kelly said. “They’ve got really good football instincts. So you can play off that a lot quicker, and you can accelerate the teaching and the learning when they come in with some really good football instincts.”
Kelly announced Sunday that sophomore defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa had broken his foot and would undergo surgery and is expected to miss 10 weeks. Tagovailoa-Amosa could return at the end of the season, thanks to changes that have been made in the redshirt rule that would not require him to count his sophomore year as a year of eligibility, should he return at the end of the year.
With Tagovailoa-Amosa out, Kelly expects freshman lineman Jayson Ademilola to see an unexpected jump in playing time, as he was the next man on the depth chart.