Kelly discusses Virginia Tech, injuries and key performances against Stanford
Joe Everett | Wednesday, October 3, 2018
After his team’s big 38-17 win over Stanford last Saturday, in what was Notre Dame’s first top-10 matchup at home since 2005, Irish head coach Brian Kelly spoke to the media Tuesday afternoon ahead of No. 6 Notre Dame’s road matchup with No. 24 Virginia Tech Saturday night in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“[I’m] excited about how our team has kind of come together over the last few weeks — offense, defense and special teams,” Kelly said. “ … Of all that you try to search and find for your football team, is it’s beginning to complement each other.
“…The offense is complementing the defense. The defense is complementing the offense. And certainly the special teams is part of that. And that certainly wasn’t the case early in the year. So when each unit is complementing each other very well, you’re playing usually very good football.”
Kelly said he was impressed by the way the Hokies (3-1) bounced back against Duke after their stunning 49-35 loss to Old Dominion, and mentioned how the Irish are expecting Virginia Tech’s best inside a raucous atmosphere at Lane Stadium.
“Excellent win this past weekend against a really good Duke team,” Kelly said. “Well coached. And very good defense … For them to bounce back after what I’m sure was considered a disappointing loss from their perspective, to go on the road and play as well as they did, tells you a little bit about how their coaches, Coach Fuente and certainly what Bud Foster was able to do defensively, to get that unit to play at such a high level after giving up more points than they normally do, to come back and shut down a really good Duke offense.
“… Our job is to handle the environment and go in and play really good football. If we do that and handle the environment, handle ourselves and our preparation, we’ll be in pretty good shape. If we can’t handle the environment, we can’t prepare the right way this week because we’re distracted, because everybody’s telling us how great we are, then we’ll be in big trouble. But this team’s shown an ability to prepare the right way, a maturity to stay away from the distractions.”
On the injury front, Kelly confirmed that graduate student guard and captain Alex Bars will undergo ACL/MCL surgery next week and will be lost for the season after sustaining the injury against Stanford.
“He’ll have surgery next week. And obviously, the prognosis is such that we’re not expecting anything that is outside the normal ACL/MCL surgery procedure,” Kelly said. “We had a captain’s meeting, which I always have at 6 p.m. on Mondays. He was part of it. He’ll continue — he won’t be able to travel with us this weekend, but he’ll travel with us. He’ll be with our football team. He’s an important part of what we do. So he will stay connected, absolutely.”
Tony Jones, Jr.
Another injury suffered during the Stanford game was that of Tony Jones Jr, who suffered a high ankle sprain. However, Kelly is optimistic the junior running back will be back on the field shortly.
“The treatment’s gone well. I think he’s probably better than we at first indicated or thought,” Kelly said. “We’ll see how he goes today. But I think that after talking to our trainers and Tony, I think he’s in a really good position to get after it today in an aggressive manner on a Tuesday. So better than had been forecasted.”
“… So with Tony and Dexter, [sophomore] Avery [Davis], and then we’ll call up some reserves with [freshmen] C’Bo [Flemister] and Jamir [Smith]. So we’ll have a good stable of backs [against Virginia Tech].
Speaking of the running backs, senior Dexter Williams returned to the field against Stanford after his unannounced four-game suspension and rushed 21 times for a career-high 161 yards. Kelly said the Irish used Williams more often then they planned to, but said the senior is now ready to carry a full workload and commented on Williams’ personal journey back to the football field.
“I wasn’t certain what we could do with him — I was counting on if we could get eight, ten max we’d be in great shape,” Kelly said. “But to his credit, he really worked hard to be in the best possible condition to go in there and impact. So I don’t think there’s any restrictions in terms of what he could do for us moving forward now.”
“ …[Dexter’s mom is] very strong and inspirational to Dexter. His fight to get back to where he is certainly personal. But family had something to do with it as well. Dexter’s always had that personality. But he’s now, I think, just in a better place, a much more mature person that is now able to bring that on a consistent basis day in, day out.”
Another Irish player that also seems to be back on the right track is graduate student Jerry Tillery, who earned the game ball against Stanford thanks to his four-sack performance. Kelly spoke about the defensive lineman’s journey to be great.
“This year, certainly there’s the one story of the development of him as a football player much more now that he’s completed his degree,” Kelly said. “And, in particular, somebody that’s moved positions to three technique and within that, his pass rush. So this is much more of a football piece to the story than it has been at any other time. But his impact as a leader in our football program has probably elevated itself because his work ethic is so much better than it’s ever been.”
Finally, Kelly touched on Notre Dame’s new starting quarterback, junior Ian Book — who has accounted for nine touchdowns over his two starts this season — and what he brings to the offense and as well as what he needs to keep doing and improve on.
“I like that he wins,” Kelly said. “The more in-depth [answer] would be he has certainly created a confidence level amongst the entire unit. And whether it’s escapability, where he can sense the rush, and that builds a confidence level with your offensive line that they know that even if they maybe don’t sustain a block, that they’re going to be okay. So I don’t have to grab or hold. Wide receivers knowing that they’re going to get the football in a position where they can run after the catch. I could go on and on and on. But he’s won football games.
“ … What can he do better? I think every single day it’s continue to prepare for the next opponent, because it’s a clean slate. So that preparation part for a quarterback is really big. And he hasn’t been at it very long. So the ability to come in each week and really lock in on that next opponent and then take what he’s learned and bring that with him. That’s work in progress. So I don’t know that there’s one specific thing that we’ll be working on with him as much as making sure that he stays on track to continue to grow each day.”