Kelly talks injuries, preparation for Pittsburgh and Ian Book
Elizabeth Greason | Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Irish head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media Tuesday after No. 5 Notre Dame’s win over then-No. 24 Virginia Tech, its first win over a ranked opponent on the road since 2012, discussing the victory and the squad’s next matchup against Pittsburgh this weekend.
Given Pitt’s proclivity for taking down top-10 teams, as it defeated then-No. 2 Miami last season in their final game of the regular season and eventual national champion Clemson in the 2016 season, one might consider the Panthers (3-3, 2-1 ACC) a perfect trap game for the Irish (6-0), but Kelly does not expect his team to come out flat.
“I think we didn’t play with enough passion at times [against Virginia Tech],” Kelly said. “I think one of the things that we talked about is that that wasn’t our best performance in a lot of ways, and we have to play with more energy. We have to play with more passion, and that is going to be the emphasis this week in terms of how we need to play against Pittsburgh.
“You know, this is really about going back to the practice field, having much more of a focus on how we prepare. We have a great deal of respect for Pittsburgh and how they’ll come out to play us. We know that this is a big game for them. But for us, it’s important that we play at a higher level this weekend.”
Kelly said despite the fact that Notre Dame was able to come away with a resounding 45-23 win over the Hokies (3-2, 2-0 ACC), he was not all that pleased with his team’s performance, given the fact that most of Notre Dame’s best play came in the second half.
“Certainly what we learned is that we need to play four quarters. We played well in the second half. Probably didn’t play our best in the first half,” he said. “Certainly we have some room to grow, and we’ve got to be better there.”
As the season has progressed, an increasing number of freshmen have begun to see playing time. Kelly noted, in particular, linebacker Shayne Simon and safety Paul Moala. He attributed increased participation to the fact that the freshmen have had time to adjust to the pace of college life and the NCAA game.
“We had 14 out of the 27 signees that took that trip to Virginia Tech,” he said. “We’re getting into the year now, where it’s starting to maybe slow down a little bit for them. Some of the guys are starting to see the game a little bit clearer, maybe a little too fast early on, and we’re starting to see that. Shayne Simon would be one of those guys. A little too fast early on. Maybe he was overthinking the game a little bit. It’s starting to slow down. Paul Moala is another guy who you saw on kickoff, who we’re starting to see the game come to him a little bit, and I think you’re going to see some guys continue to show some of that growth as we move forward.”
The running back position has been anything but consistent this season for the Irish. Sophomore Jafar Armstrong went down to a left knee infection right as senior Dexter Williams was making his season debut, while junior Tony Jones Jr.’s ankle has not been at full strength for the last few weeks, limiting him as well. And yet, the rushing game as been one of the squad’s strengths. Kelly credited running backs coach Autry Denson, a former Irish back himself and the holder of the school’s all-time rushing yards record, with the unit’s success this season.
“Autry has had to adjust to a number of different factors in there with a quarterback in [sophomore] Avery Davis who has moved there; Jafar Armstrong, who was a wide receiver; Dexter, who wasn’t around for the first four weeks; Tony Jones, who was banged up,” Kelly said. “I think what it says a lot about Autry is just his ability to stay calm under not an easy circumstance. It’s not the same group of guys every week. He’s had to go in there and reshuffle the deck each and every week. I think it takes an extraordinary coach and teacher to stay on task each and every week when it’s somebody new, and we know that about him. He’s been through it himself as a player here. He knows what it’s like, and he’s been able to do a great job with that room of getting the players ready that are available to him.”
Kelly was quick to dispel any rumors that junior quarterback Ian Book would not be starting against the Panthers this weekend.
“No, Ian Book will be the starting quarterback on Saturday,” he said.
He went on to discuss the traits that led him to recruit Book and what Kelly thinks makes him a good fit on the Notre Dame roster.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to have the final say on quarterbacks because they go to culture. I really liked Ian,” Kelly said. “I got a chance to spend some time with the family in the recruiting process. I liked his efficiency. We were looking for somebody that could come in without all of the fanfare that was — maybe that’s not the right term, but was almost a fly-under-the-radar kind of player but had all the tools and was extremely efficient and was a good fit, and that’s kind of — didn’t take much convincing, he was the kind of guy for Notre Dame.”
He added that Book has handled the immense pressure of being the starting quarterback at a program like Notre Dame very well, despite his “under-the-radar” personality.
“It’s incredible scrutiny on the quarterback position at Notre Dame, incredible scrutiny on the quarterback position for Notre Dame. Silly scrutiny on the quarterback position at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “So yeah, I think if you could ever find yourself flying under the radar a little bit, that would be a great thing. Whether it’s real or not, it’s hard to say.
“His happened to pan out that way, you know, but he’s not under the radar anymore, Ian Book.”
Kelly said junior defensive lineman Daelin Hayes, who missed the start against the Hokies with a stinger, should be able to practice in a non-contact contact capacity this week. He is day-to-day and Kelly is hoping to see him return to practice Wednesday and potentially play this weekend.
“He is getting better. He’s got good strength, which is a great sign,” Kelly said. “Generally if there’s weakness associated with that, that could be a longer-term kind of injury. He’s got great strength. Now it’s just a matter of getting that full feeling back in his arm and hand, and he was reporting progress in that regard. We’ll be aggressive in his conditioning with an eye towards thinking that this could resolve any day.”
Kelly also noted Jones Jr. has made major improvements in terms of the health of his ankle, and should not be limited anymore.
“I think this week he should be in a position where he’s not limited by carries or time of the game,” Kelly said of the junior running back.
Kelly also provided an update on the status of Armstrong, who underwent surgery to clean out a left knee infection. Armstrong spent six days in the hospital to help drain the knee.
“He’s up and moving. He’s getting range of motion,” he said. “The draining of that knee now has completed itself in the sense that he now can get into the full rehabilitation of getting that quad strength back. He’ll get the sutures out at the end of the week. Obviously, we’ll get him back into range of motion next week and then see where we go from there.”
Kelly’s final injury update revolved around junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr., who left the field a number of times against the Hokies with a mild ankle sprain.
“Any time you have an ankle sprain with a corner, you know you’re going to be careful with him,” he said. “But we think he’ll be fine for Saturday.”