Kelly discusses Syracuse game, quarterbacks and team health
Elizabeth Greason | Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Irish head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media Tuesday to discuss the team’s progress and win over Florida State, as well as his squad’s preparation for this weekend’s Shamrock Series matchup against Syracuse at Yankee Stadium.
Kelly said, in terms of preparation, the No. 3 Irish (10-0) will stick to the same practice and travel schedule they have employed throughout the season this week, practicing at home Friday before hitting the road.
“All year we have avoided any unwanted travel, extra travel. We have not visited stadiums. We’ve gone right to the hotel. We’ve changed up that routine, which saves us a good hour,” he said. “It gives us another hour or so at the hotel to rest, stretch, nutrition, recovery. We won’t do that in New York. It’s just, again, it’s been part of a long-range plan on how we wanted to handle travel throughout the course of the entire year, starting with going to San Diego and staying on eastern standard clock, and coming back and staying an extra day. It’s really residual of all of that leading up through going to [Los Angeles] next week.
“So little bit of a change of schedule throughout the whole thing. We’ll practice here on Friday, and then head to New York.”
Kelly said he is not concerned about the grass field and lack of a crowd at Yankee Stadium because his team has played on a number of grass fields already this season.
He noted that while he initially would have preferred this weekend’s game were a regular home matchup at Notre Dame Stadium, he has accepted the perks of playing in New York.
“You know, back in January we thought about moving the game. I know [director of athletics] Jack [Swarbrick] was certainly supportive if we could have logistically done that. But at that point, once that decision was made that we were going to play it, we’ve moved past that,” Kelly said. “We’ve made all the appropriations for this to be prepared for this game. So we’re really past it at this point. If you asked me in January, if we had a conversation, yeah, I would have liked it at home. But after that, it was vetted and it was decided to go to Yankee Stadium. I’ve got other things on my list I’ve got to deal with.”
Kelly said one of the pluses about being in New York will be the show of support from the Subway alumni contingent that will heavily factor into the fan base Saturday.
“When we talk about subway alums, your first thought is New York City, New Jersey. But it’s everywhere, obviously. Those that love Notre Dame and have never been here,” Kelly said. “ … Especially in places like Staten Island, New York City, Jersey City and all the areas that have been staunch supporters, but also pretty good football in that area as well. So, it helps us in recruiting too.”
Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush
After not playing against Florida State (4-6, 2-5 ACC) due to a rib injury, junior quarterback Ian Book will be back in action against the Orange (8-2, 5-2).
Book’s backup — and former starter — senior Brandon Wimbush stepped up Saturday for 130 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and 68 rushing yards. However, the Irish will return to Book this week, Kelly confirmed Sunday and re-stated Tuesday.
“We’re pretty clear that he’s ready to play,” he said.
He said Book went through his own workout Monday and will practice in full with the team Tuesday.
“We weren’t out on the field practicing [Monday]. He had his own workouts [Monday], but he felt good,” Kelly said. “He went through all of the workouts, threw the ball, he was in the weight room. He’ll practice today for the first time.”
Despite Book being back under center, Kelly said last weekend was certainly not the end of the road for Wimbush.
“I think there will be time to write about it. I think he would like this to be much more about there’s more to the story, and let’s not write the obituary yet,” Kelly said. “I just think that everything that he’s done leading up to last week was indicative of who he is. So, I don’t know that anybody really should be surprised, because he’s been really consistent in who he is, in everything that he does, both on and off the field. I think that just becomes another chapter. But I just think there’s more to write here. I don’t think it ends with last week. I think there’s more exciting things coming from Brandon.”
Kelly mentioned a number of players who have made notable progress over the course of the season and over the course of their college careers. One of these players is junior defensive lineman Daelin Hayes, who Kelly feels has come into his own over the past few weeks, as he has begun to focus on his consistency, as opposed to making big plays.
“He has become more focused on the details of the position and playing the game one play at a time. And we’re seeing that pay off. He’s playing really good football. Now competition helps. And there’s competition at that position,” Kelly said. “But I really think that Daelin has settled into a really good spot where his focus is let me just be a really good football player and work my craft, and all that other stuff will take care of itself.”
Another player who has had a long journey over the course of his career is senior tight end Alizé Mack. Kelly said he is proud of Mack’s improvement and ability to stick with the team and the game of football during all of his ups and downs, on and off the field.
“You know, just the consistency and proud of his development as a young man in all facets, and it’s showing itself on the field. I knew it would. It just takes time for some guys. They develop later than others,” he said. “Everybody wants them to be there right away. We do. Fans do. But some guys take longer than others when they’re between the ages of 18 and 22 years old. And you sometimes don’t know when that happens. But the great thing about it for him is he stuck with it. When there were low points, when he could have walked away, he knew he shouldn’t have, and he hung in there, and all the credit goes to him.”
He also credited safeties coach Terry Joseph with the progress the safeties — namely juniors Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott and senior Nick Coleman — have made this season, as well as the simple fact of their increased experience.
“This is really about experience and maturity for a guy like Jalen Elliott, and we saw that coming along. It takes time, and we’ve seen him develop. Alohi Gilman was a talented player that played as a freshman. We knew he had the ability to come in and be a plug-and-play player right away. So I think that that’s probably more to it than anything else. Player development over a period of time, and living with that over a period of time, and some of the bruises that come with it. Then Alohi Gilman who can step in and play,” Kelly said. “You know, we’ve seen, I thought Nick Coleman had his best game of the year. Obviously made a lot of really good plays. That’s a guy that had a lot of plays last year for us, and he stepped up and played. So there were a lot of guys that played a lot of football that are starting to step in, and we’re seeing that investment, if you will, from last year where we weren’t talking about making a lot of plays.”
Win in November
One of Brian Kelly’s three goals at the start of the season was to win in November. That goal has been successful so far this month, and the head coach attributes it, in part, to the health of his team. Compared to past seasons, the Irish have remained remarkably injury-free, with graduate student offensive lineman Alex Bars’ torn ACL being the only major injury to a key Notre Dame starter.
“You know, I think one way to look at it is the same 11 guys that started against Michigan on defense, are the same 11 guys we’re rolling out against Syracuse. There’s a good start right there,” he said. “Offensively, you know, we’ve been able to add pieces to the offense, and we’ve lost a really good player in Alex Bars, but we seem to be growing on the offensive line.
“So you’re adding pieces as the season goes, and I think everybody would want to say how do you play better in November? Stay healthy. You know, stay healthy. Who wouldn’t want to be back in September when you’re feeling great and you’re 100 percent and you’re fresh? So I think health has a lot to do with it. Our guys are in a good spot when it comes to their health, and we’ve taken great pains to make sure that the recovery process has been a point of emphasis this year.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Kelly said the Orange are a threat for turnovers, this season especially, and are good at stopping squads on third-down opportunities.
“[They excel at] taking the ball away. Extremely opportunistic this year,” he said. “So I think they’ve come up with some big turnovers. Their third-down scheme is pretty good. They force you to be precise in terms of throwing the football. They employ a pretty good third-down package. It covers the field really well, so you’ve got to be precise. I think fundamentally sound would be, for me, the best way to describe their third-down package, and they force you to execute.”
Offensively, Kelly said one of the biggest threats to Notre Dame is Orange quarterback Eric Dungey. At 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds, the senior is a physical quarterback who brings an element of toughness to the opposing line of scrimmage that many opponents have not this season.
“When you have a guy that is fearless and has that kind of toughness, he’s going to do whatever he needs to do to find a way to make something happen. You know, he’s not a guy that’s going to make poor decisions. He’ll try to make a play here or there, but he’s 225 pounds. I mean, he’s a big kid too,” Kelly said. “So I’ll give you an example. It’s third-and-three or third-and-four in the zone read, and he keeps it, and there’s a guy standing right there. You catch and tackle him, and he’s going to fall forward for four yards. He’s just a tough guy. And that toughness kind of envelopes that entire offense. It’s not a finesse spread offense. There is a toughness to it, and I think it comes from him.”
Aside from Ian Book’s availability, the only injury Kelly provided an update on was that of sophomore defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. Tagovailoa-Amosa was originally expected to return next week for the final game of the season. However, Kelly said he would not be available against USC.
“We’ll condition him next week. He won’t be ready to play for USC,” he said. “He’ll be ready to condition, get back in football related activities, but he’ll be [ready for the] postseason.”