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Brian Kelly talks Ball State win, areas that need improvement

| Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish freshman running back C’Bo Flemister evades a defender during Notre Dame’s 24-16 victory over Ball State on Sept. 8 at Notre Dame Stadium.

During his weekly Tuesday press conference, Irish head coach Brian Kelly addressed what he has seen from his team coming off a closer-than-expected win over Ball State on Saturday, and what he expects to see both from the Irish and their matchup with Vanderbilt this coming weekend.

“Coming off a victory against Ball State (1-1). … We didn’t play our best. But what we did well in that game is that we won the game,” Kelly said. “What we need to do better is certainly I’ve got to prepare our football team better. What we learned is that we have to be so much more intentional in our process during the week. We’ve already addressed that. We’ve watched the film. We’ve made our corrections. We’ve moved on to Vanderbilt (2-0).

“We have an SEC opponent coming into town, good personnel, physical, good quarterback. [Vanderbilt senior quarterback Kyle] Shurmur has done a nice job. Defensive structure is really solid, sound. As you would expect, personnel that can play with SEC opponents. Certainly a challenge for us here this weekend, and one that I know our players are looking forward to, our coaches are looking forward to, and know we have to play much better football.”


Offensive line

Last season, Notre Dame (2-0) made headlines about being the best offensive line in the country, winning the Joe Moore Award at the end of the season to back up the claims. On Saturday, however, that award-winning O-line was nowhere to be seen, only managing 117 rushing yards against the Cardinals. Kelly said he feels the line has work to do, but also sees extraordinary potential in this season’s group.

“There’s work to be done. There’s no doubt about that. But I’ve been in it long enough to know where the red panic button is. It’s not even near my desk. But there’s work to be done,” Kelly said. “We have to build continuity, communication, a standard of how we practice, a standard of how we communicate on a day-to-day basis.

“There’s some work to be done, but I’m confident the unit is going to be really strong.”

He added one of the flaws he has seen in the group as a whole is its getting caught on its heels too much and thinking too much before it reacts. He feels the line needs to adjust to jumping off the line from the snap.

“I think the bottom line relative to some of the things that went up front was that just a little bit too much indecision, a little bit too much thinking,” Kelly said. “We need to get off the ball, hit some people in the nose and let’s get rolling. I think there was just a little bit too much — back-to-back weeks, a lot of stuff going on, a little bit too much indecision. This week we’re getting off the ball, be much more physical.”


Offensive production

Against the Cardinals, the Irish were surprisingly ineffective offensively, compared to the success the unit had against Michigan the previous week.

Kelly said part of the reason Notre Dame struggled against Ball State was due to the fact he, personally, did not prepare his team intentionally enough for the opposition, a fact he plans to change this week and for the rest of the season.

“[We need to prepare] everything [better], everything, from tying their shoes to the food that we feed them. Got to control the weather better,” Kelly joked. “Preparation is what I’m responsible for. We’re going to do a better job this week.”

One aspect of the Ball State game in which Kelly was not disappointed, however, was the result.

“I just want to win games. I’ve never been about style points, what they look like, as much as trying to find a way to win a game,” he said of the final score. “I think my entire career has been about if we need to run the football here, even though more points would be better, I don’t want to put us in a position where we could jeopardize winning the football game. It’s always been about time and place in the game, how you can win the game more so than what it looks like.”

One player who Kelly thinks will benefit from the educational experience of the Ball State victory is senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who went from being the team’s leading rusher against Michigan (2-0) to tallying net negative rushing yards against the Cardinals.

“A lot of our run plays are designed within a play itself. A pass play could turn into a design run based upon what he reads. I think what we have to do is continue to make sure that we pay attention to detail within our structure and offense,” Kelly said. “I think Brandon learned a lot from that game. What I mean by that is that he’s given a lot of run-pass options. I wouldn’t buy much into the notion that he’s going to stop running, and we’re just going to be throwing the football. What we really need to do is continue to work towards what his strengths are.”

Wimbush did surpass his career-high passing yardage on Saturday, passing for 297 yards, however, leaving Kelly to discuss another group: the receivers, who he said have made improvements since last season but also have work to do.

“We’e made some contested catches, won some 50/50 battles, been physical as blockers. There’s still that process of growing as a tandem with the quarterback that has to continue to see itself through,” he said. “I’d like to say that all the receivers are on the same page, but we’re still evolving there.

“After Week 2, I’d say we made progress, but I still think maybe in some instances we’re a step behind on a route, still feeling our way through it. … Pretty much where I thought it would be in Week 2, and needs to continue to get better.”


Young players

Kelly noted that this period of the season is the time of year when players, particularly freshmen or sophomores who have not made their ways onto the first or second slots on the depth chart yet, have the best opportunity to prove themselves to the coaching staff and make their way onto the field.

“[Young players are] on high kind of alert this week in particular. If they’re not with us in the two deep, they’re on the demonstration squad, the scout team. They have to play at a high level. They know that. All eyes are on them,” Kelly said. “These are weeks where they can really impress us and give us an opportunity to evaluate them. So, [associate head coach] Mike Elston can come in and say, so-and-so on the offensive line was really impressive today. He went toe-to-toe with [senior defensive lineman] Jerry Tillery. That’s pretty good. Or wide receiver went up over [junior cornerback] Julian Love twice and took the ball away. You have a great opportunity to do that.

“We met with our guys that are down there to let them know that same kind of questions you asked. You still have an opportunity, if you want to play this year, to make an impact. That’s how we communicated it to them.”

One you player who began to make an impact Saturday is freshman running back C’Bo Flemister, who found himself on kickoff return duty for the Irish against the Cardinals. He returned three kickoffs for 65 yards.

“Pretty good vision. Didn’t have a resume really, quite honestly. We were just trying to look for guys that we felt like had shown some things in camp in the first week or so that had pretty good vision, could hit some things,” Kelly said of Flemister. “Again, he’s still learning. He missed a cut that he saw on film this week. I still think we’re evolving at that position, as well.

“We think he’s talented, a guy that we can count on being a good kick returner for us moving forward.”



Kelly updated the status of sophomore tight end Cole Kmet, who left the game with an injury Saturday.

“It’s more of a high-ankle sprain. He’s going to be limited,” Kelly said of Kmet. “It’s going to take some time. I would think he’s doubtful for this week.”

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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