Brian Kelly talks Wake Forest, offensive challenges
Elizabeth Greason | Wednesday, September 19, 2018
After another one-score victory over Vanderbilt last weekend, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was ready to move on to discussing Wake Forest, Notre Dame’s first away matchup this weekend, during his weekly Tuesday press conference.
One area of conversation that dominated the press conference was tempo, as the Demon Deacons (2-1, 0-1 ACC) play an up-tempo offense, averaging over 100 snaps per game. Kelly noted it will be difficult even to substitute players in defensively against Wake Forest, an adjustment Notre Dame (3-0) will need to make, as it has taken to swapping out entire defensive line units between plays.
“Ball State allowed us to move guys in and out. Wake Forest will make it difficult to get in and out of the game, much more like line changes in hockey than it is, you know, you get a chance to get your guys in,” he said. “We’ll have to be very coordinated in getting the changes that are close to our sideline. And you know, again, they make it much more difficult to get your personnel in and off the field.”
The fast-paced offense will be a test for the Irish defense all-around, but Kelly also thinks it limits Wake Forest’s options in terms of what the squad can do to trick the Irish defense — not that that makes the Deacons any less of a threat.
“Force them to punt is the best way [to win]. Right?” Kelly said. “ … They’re going to play fast, but playing fast requires you to keep things fairly simple in a sense. Not that they’re a simple offense, but there can’t be a lot of checking. There can’t be a lot of changes at the line of scrimmage. Last year they did much more of that. So, in some instances you just gotta go play. And, so, as we look at it, we just have to be really on point fundamentally, and we’ve gotta compete every play.
“I think if you think about taking a play off, that’s where that drive extends itself. So our focus is really about playing with much more sense of urgency in everything that we do in all facets. I think if we play with a sense of urgency against a tempo team like this, you know, that’s your best bet in terms of slowing them down.”
Kelly also noted he and his coaching staff have examined the idea of substituting entire defensive units by series, as opposed to on a play-by-play basis, in order to keep up with Wake Forest’s tempo. Two players who should not expect much of a rest, however? Graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill and senior linebacker Te’von Coney.
“They get the rest of their career to rest. I mean they’re young,” he said. “I mean, I think we do a great job with taking care of our players, making sure that they’re getting treatment. But we might be making a little bit too much of how many reps they’re getting. They’re in great shape physically. Drue is — I mean he takes great care of his body. We’d like to find a way to give him some plays off here or there, but let’s go. It’s football season. You gotta play. If we can find a couple plays off here or there, we’ll try, but it’s all hands on deck. … I like them on special teams, too. They’re really good there, too. You know, I think we’ve got a good team, and I want to keep the good players on the field as long as I can.”
Kelly said he feels one of the areas that still has the most room for improvement is in the receiving corps, a group that has seen a lot of rotation, both in terms of personnel and in terms of performance, only making 27 passing first downs and averaging just 7.62 yards per attempt, with a marked dropoff in production against the Commodores (2-1).
“Growing pains. Yeah. Yeah. We’re still growing. It’s pain that we’re all trying to look for that consistency and performance, players and coaches alike. And I think if you had the receivers in here, they’d say the same thing, that, you know, we’re trying to get that consistency and performance,” Kelly said. “So how does that come? You just get back out there and work at it. Nobody is discouraged. Nobody is down on anybody. We know it’s a process for us. And we’re confident that there’s better football ahead of us. But we’re certainly not where we need to be.”
One receiver, in particular, who struggled Saturday was senior Miles Boykin, who only had one catch for 14 yards. Kelly attributed Boykin’s bad game to the pressure he puts on himself.
“You know, I just think we’ve put so much on Miles this year. How many catches did he have last year? Twelve catches, and I think that includes the bowl game. He didn’t play a lot of football last year,” Kelly said. “So we’ve heaped a lot on him this year, and I think the amount of scrutiny has put him in a position where he feels like he needs to be perfect. And that’s not what we’re after with him.
”We just need him to continue to grow each week. And I think you saw a little bit of that frustration this past weekend. Played a really good corner. That kid was really good from Vanderbilt, too, by the way. But not holding his line, vertically, down the field, some of the things that he’s been really good at. And to me that’s frustration. And so we’ve really just got to get him back to the basics and doing the things that he’s really good at, and that’s just the learning process. So we’re going through it a little bit. But I’ve got a lot of confidence in Miles. He’ll be fine.”
One player who Kelly felt had an impressive game against the Commodores was senior tight end Alize Mack, who had three catches for 25 yards.
“Best game he’s ever played here. Now, when I say that, it’s the not ‘wow you’ kind of game. I mean he was getting cut maliciously by their defensive end. It was bad football,” Kelly said. “It’s legal, but it’s bad football. It’s just bad football. And I have no problem saying it. You know, we’re so concerned about frontal cuts and we got a defensive end chopping him on every play, and he hung in there every play, was digging him out, blocking in line. None of the stuff that people see. But that’s what gets you to the next level. Not all this, you know, throw me the ball, catch the ball. Certainly, we know his physical ability of catching the football, but I’ll give that film to any NFL scout and show him what he can do. That was the best game he’s played since he’s been here.”
Running back Dexter Williams is not expected to see the field before the Irish return home from Wake Forest. However, Kelly noted the junior has been making the progress necessary on himself to begin progressing back toward a focus on football.
“He’s been working hard. You know, we’ve been working with him on the things that he’s got to get better at,” Kelly said. “Every single day he’s on our SWAT team, so just representing the little things, classroom attendance, in the weight room, on the football field, just being a good teammate, doing all those little things, he’s been great. So he’s making good progress for us.”
Sophomore tight end Cole Kmet who went down with a high ankle sprain against Ball State is still doubtful for this weekend’s matchup against Wake Forest. However, Kmet has informed Kelly he expects to play for Stanford the following week.
“Cole tells me that he’ll be ready for Stanford. So I’ll go with what Cole tells me. He’s a guy that has worked his tail off in the training room,” Kelly said. “Cole’s a pretty committed guy. So we’ll stick with that. I don’t think you’ll see him this weekend, but he’s shooting for the Stanford game.”