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Kelly discusses offense, defense, updates on injuries

| Monday, September 30, 2019

After No. 9 Notre Dame’s 35-20 victory over No. 23 Virginia on Saturday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media Sunday in his weekly post-game teleconference. Kelly talked about the defense’s play, injury updates and Ian Book, among other subjects.

When asked about the improvement of the defense against the run, especially in light of Notre Dame’s (3-1) week one performance against Louisville, Kelly referenced the unit’s increased comfort level in particular.

“The maturity of the group — we’ve got some new players playing in positions at the linebacker position — [junior linebacker] Jeremiah [Owusu-Koramoah] — being much more efficient at what he’s doing on a play-to-play basis,” Kelly said. “You’re really talking about three guys in particular that are settling in in that front seven. That’s a big piece of it. In the Louisville game, the numbers were a lot larger based upon some option things, but I think they’re starting to settle down with a sense that everybody’s starting to know their jobs.”

Now entering the middle of the season, the defense is entering into a rhythm, Kelly said.

“There’s a comfort level there that we’re doing a much better job with communication,” Kelly said. “Guys know where to be [when they are] part of the defense. I think [defensive coordinator] Clark [Lea] would tell you that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are not quite as hectic as they were maybe the first month of camp and then into the first couple of weeks. Anytime you get that continuity with the group, they’re starting to get much more out of the leadership end of things, especially with the Mike linebacker and [junior] Drew [White] taking that over. I think we’re seeing better communication, continuity with the group and just really guys just playing into what’s asked of them each and every week.”

Anna Mason | T
Irish senior quarterback Ian Book scans the defense before the snap during Notre Dame’s 35-20 win over Virginia on Saturday at home.

On the other side of the ball, Kelly addressed some of the shortcomings of the offense, a unit that appeared to struggle, especially in the first half.

“It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a little bit of playing a really good defense — give Virginia some credit — [and] a little bit of coaching,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to put ourselves in a better position, and then a little bit of trusting what you see and you’re teaching. I think a lot of that just has to do with developing [and having] 11 guys come together each and every week. We’re four weeks into it. Obviously, we’re getting better, but we’re not there yet.”

Kelly said endurance will be key for the offense in the coming weeks.

“[The offense is] a unit that’s evolving,” Kelly said. “There are some good things that we saw out there. We’re playing really physical, and that’s a good place to start. But the execution has got to be at a higher level. That’s really what we’ll focus on this week: how we execute better for four quarters. Not just starting fast and finishing strong, but through the middle part of the game. We’ve got to keep that up, and that’s coaching it and then making sure that our players are executing it as well.”

Kelly went on, however, to express his confidence in senior quarterback Ian Book and say that Book ought to trust his ability at the position.

“He’s evolving. I love Ian. He’s a quarterback that needs to trust what he sees and be committed to it. I think if I were to use a word to describe him, he probably just needs to be more decisive,” Kelly said. “We’re just going to work on him being more decisive. There’s some plays out there that he knows he sees after the fact. We’re just going to work on that decisiveness, and once he gets to that level, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

However, the Irish did see an improvement in the rushing attack, which Kelly attributed to a number of moving pieces that showed improvement Saturday.

“[The offensive line is] huge, obviously. The tight ends, too. They blocked very well. … We had four big-play runs. In terms of running the football, we had a 30-yard run, 36-yard run, 15-yard run. Those are big,” he said. “Anytime you control the clock late in the game, you have be able to get off the football. They did a really nice job. It was wide receivers blocking, it was the physicality of the backs. Getting sophomore running back C’Bo Flemister in the game, getting [sophomore] Jahmir Smith in the game — I think that really helped Tony Jones Jr. in the sense that he was fresh late in the game, and we were able to push some piles because of that.”

The Irish are one of eight teams with a perfect scoring record in the end zone, and Kelly attributed that impressive feat at this point in the season to a combination of many offensive weapons.

“It’s a focused area down there. You spend a lot of time during the week. We’ve got big tight ends that we can use, rangy wide receivers and certainly a big, powerful back. Those bode well down in that area,” Kelly said. “I think all of those, when you put those together, are good weapons to have in that area. We’re not a small team in that area. We can utilize those weapons effectively in that area of the field.”

Kelly stressed the importance of varying their offensive schemes.

“I think we’ve been very creative down there. I think we keep people off of tendencies. I think offensive coordinator Chip [Long] does a great job of mixing things up,” he said. “I think it’s a little bit of all of those things. I think we’re built really good for the blue zone and the white zone down there. We’ve been really effective.”

Finally, Kelly updated the media on the injuries sustained throughout the game, which included senior defensive lineman Daelin Hayes and graduate student cornerback Shaun Crawford.

“Daelin Hayes has a labrum tear, so he’ll be out for the season. He’ll have surgery,” Kelly said. “Shaun Crawford has a dislocated elbow. He’ll be out approximately three to four weeks. [Senior wide receiver Chase] Claypool has a right ankle [injury]. It’s not the ankle that he had surgery on. It’s not a high ankle sprain, so it should not affect him this week in practice. Nobody else jumps off the list here, from the game.”

The Irish will be at home next Saturday once again, this time to take on Bowling Green at 3:30 p.m. on NBC.

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