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Kelly speaks ahead of consequential matchup against No. 3 Georgia

| Tuesday, September 17, 2019

In his press conference Monday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly continued to comment on his team’s performance against New Mexico on Saturday while also emphasizing a shift in focus to the contest against No. 3 Georgia this weekend.

In summary of No. 7 Notre Dame’s (2-0) victory over New Mexico, Kelly highlighted new players taking on the opportunity to perform, along with veterans continuing to play solid football.

Ann Curtis | The Obserever
Irish senior defensive lineman Khalid Kareem rushes the quarterback during Notre Dame’s 66-14 victory over New Mexico on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

“You know, obviously the ability to have a nice performance at home is welcoming, but I think as we got a chance to look at the film in more detail, having some players that have not played significant roles, you know, having them step up and play very well was very pleasing,” Kelly said.

Kelly said a few players stood out especially during the game.

“Some of our young defensive linemen played well,” Kelly said. “You know, linebacker [sophomore] Bo Bauer played well. Certainly from an offensive standpoint, [sophomore wide receiver] Braden Lenzy had two really nice plays, [senior wide receiver] Javon McKinley, you know. For us, [sophomore running back] C’Bo Flemister had a number of opportunities, not necessarily in ball carrying opportunities but should be in blocking. Ran hard on a couple of occasions. So overall it was really pleasing to watch a lot of young players get an opportunity to go in and produce. Any time you put together a win like that at home, it was good to see. It obviously will do well for us as we continue to move forward. A lot of our veteran players played very steady football for us. There are some areas we can always get better at, and that’s part of the evaluation as well. … There were certainly some things we did well, certainly some things that we’ll have to do better against the opposition that we’re playing this weekend, and I think we have learned a lot about our football team.”

Kelly discussed how the offensive line unit is still evaluating. Although it’ll likely need to elevate its play in the near future, Kelly said as of now it is moving along.

“We’re two games into it,” he said. “You know, we’re still evolving. [The offensive line was] not asked to do a lot of things on Saturday. We put a lot of points on the board. So I mean, there’s no grades that we’re giving out right now as a complete offense or complete defense, we’re two games into the season — though I can and we need to continue to improve, we need to continue to get better. We need to coach better. We need to play better. So I mean it’s where we should be probably after week two in that process of working to get better as a unit, individually, and finding what works best for the group relative to somewhere we want to go.”

Junior Avery Davis, who has moved positions constantly throughout his career, got a chance to prove himself on the offensive side of the ball against New Mexico on Saturday — and he took full advantage, scoring the first touchdown of his career.

“Well, we saw it — he ran almost 23 miles per hour,” Kelly said. “We haven’t had that since Will Fuller, so we know he has elite speed. Again, I think this has been much more about trying to find him playing time. We know his skill set. I felt that way when we moved him to defense, that he had the skill set. It was just getting him on the field and getting him an opportunity. Probably the answer to the question is the same way — a skill set is one thing, it is getting him the opportunity, and I think he has the best chance of getting those opportunities on the offensive side of the ball right now.”

Kelly’s confidence in the younger guys who stepped up against New Mexico is significant, as the head coach said such confidence in them will persist heading into Notre Dame’s game against Georgia this weekend, who is certainly on a different level than New Mexico.

Kelly said he had “no doubt” those same star players from the game against New Mexico will make plays against Georgia.

“Again, a lot of it is the ability to have the confidence to go out and do it,” he said. “[Senior wide receiver] Chase Claypool too. Look, it is still about a standard. When you catch the ball, you run over three people regardless of who they are. Go ahead, take that, and show that on film, Chase Claypool looks pretty good regardless, universally. Depending on the opponent, it really doesn’t matter. So all those guys just needed the opportunity to go up there and make a catch. Lenzy needed to go up there, make a catch, take the ball away and run through a tackle. So there is no doubt [that] the competition will be greater, but you need to make some plays to build that inner confidence that you can do it all the time.”

As far as the matchup coming up this weekend, Kelly made it clear victory will require a different level of play than it did this past weekend.

“The competition that we’re playing this weekend will certainly require us to play our very best,” Kelly said. “[Head coach] Kirby Smart and the Georgia program are synonymous with winning and being successful, and we’re quite aware of that. We played them a couple of years ago in a hard fought game which we came up short. So again, we know the talent that they have. Offensively, an outstanding offensive line, they have four, five starters back there. Andrew Thomas is probably a first round draft pick. But they’re extremely physical and a big offensive line that moves very, very well and protects Jake Fromm very well. Jake Fromm obviously played as a freshman against us, showed great poise and has continued to, obviously, develop into being one of the premier quarterbacks in college football, throwing the ball at 75% completion percentage. He’s an outstanding player, making all the throws, plays with great confidence. He has a great offensive line. He has great weapons around him: Andre Swift at the running back position; Aaron Cook. They have probably five running backs that can touch the field and do great things with the ball in their hands.”

Kelly said Fromm has “great weapons” around him that makes Georgia a tough competitor, including a “great offensive line.”

“I don’t know what else you say about them,” Kelly said. “Just a very balanced offense that can run it, can throw it. A quarterback that manages it extremely well. That’s before you even get to the defense, that obviously Kirby takes great pride in that defense, and certainly has developed a great group again. This one is talented, but it is really deep as well — the depth that they have. Especially on the defensive line, that they can run six, seven that we counted I think last night, eight guys that are interchangeable within their three and four down structure. All of them productive players, and that’s not even counting Rochester — I mean, the guy that’s been out. He’s a great player, too. Both inside linebackers back, I think Reed has been there … we remember him being all over the field against us a couple of years ago. Campbell Stokes, the corners, just again SEC top level defense, well coached. And attacking when they want to and can play zone coverage, man coverage. Again, probably not telling anybody here what you haven’t seen. It is all true. It is all true. Very, very good defense. Depth, talent at every position, experience. And I think more than anything else, from our perspective probably the deepest defense that we have seen in the sense that they can keep bringing players at you.”

The Irish have seen “great defenses” over the last three years, Kelly said, but none that had the depth of the current Georgia team.

“[They] can kick it — great kicker, punter, have all the tools, no perceived weaknesses in this group,” Kelly said. “So we’ll try to muster together 22 guys, get them on a plane, go down to Athens and see what we can do.”

The Irish will have junior tight end Cole Kmet back from injury this weekend, Kelly also confirmed in his press conference.

Notre Dame’s matchup will kickoff in Athens, Georgia Saturday at 8 p.m. The game and site have been chosen for ESPN’s broadcast of College Gameday as well.

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