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Kelly talks Georgia, player development on radio show

| Friday, September 20, 2019

Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly sat down with Irish men’s basketball announcer Jack Nolan for another episode of “The Brian Kelly Show.” With a matchup against the No. 3-ranked Georgia Bulldogs just a couple of days away, Kelly talked about the challenge of getting his team to stay composed with such an emotional game looming.

“I think the hardest [thing is] the ability to manage your emotions, so you can play this way week in and week out. That’s probably the most difficult thing because they love playing these games, but they also have to love playing next week against Virginia, a top-25 team,” Kelly said. “The balancing of those emotions is probably the most difficult.

“So, it’s taking this and making sure that you can manage your emotions through a long schedule. You’ve got to play your rival too, USC, which obviously they’ll be excited. Then you’ve got to play Michigan at Michigan. That to me is the challenge more than it is getting up for Georgia. Certainly, they’re going to get up for a game like this, but it’s coming back the next week. … You don’t have an easy game the next week. When you play at Notre Dame, that next week is a difficult challenge. Managing the emotions is very difficult.”

Kelly also talked about specific players for the Irish, speaking to maturation of senior wide receiver Javon McKinley. McKinley rose above struggles plaguing him throughout his Irish tenure to score two touchdowns in Notre Dame’s rout of New Mexico and is now a key rotation player for the Irish.

“Out of Centennial High School, a high level recruit, a guy that we were counting on. Just slow in his developmental process,” Kelly said. “He had to make a decision and the University had to make a decision on, ‘Is this a guy that we want to invest in?’ He did a lot of good things when he was here and he earned a second chance.

“I think I said that in the press conference after the game. He had a lot of good will on this campus. He’s a good kid who made a bad choice and a bad decision, and he’s making the best of it. He’s been a different kid since that day. All the things that he’s done with the team, all the things that he’s done in the classroom, we’re just seeing a different kid that has raised his level of accountability in everything that he does.”

Kelly said McKinley has squashed any doubt about his dedication to the team, consistently being one of the hardest workers day in and day out.

“There were times that we wondered about his commitment to the game and I would not question his commitment to his teammates or what he’s doing on a day to day basis,” Kelly said. “We wear GPS to monitor the player load for each practice and a typical player load on a Tuesday, Wednesday for a wide receiver would be somewhere in the 522 to 525, which is calibrated on his movement throughout a two-hour practice. He’s typically somewhere in the 650 range and he’s able to handle that and handle it well. It says a lot about what his commitment is now, and I think you’re going to see a kid that’s going to impact us each and every week for the rest of the season.”

Along with McKinley, Kelly said that another player who will be integral to the Irish this season and has shown great improvement is junior kicker Jonathan Doerer.

“It’s early and when we talk about improved player, you can list guys that played last year that are now playing or guys that didn’t play. I probably, early on, I’d say Jonathan Doerer, who really struggled in a lot of areas last year, both mentally and physically,” he said. “I really like his improvement, because a lot of that he had to handle himself.

“Kicking, and the NFL is dealing with it too, you see the kind of turnstile of kickers going in and out because it’s such an individual skill that that they have to handle themselves. I’m really proud of Jon and the way he has handled the development of his approach to it.’

Kelly even gave a taste of what Doerer is capable.

“And I’m just not throwing this out just to throw it out, but today he kicked one from 61 yards and he has that kind of leg,” he said. “Look, are we going to call one from 61? I hope the heck not. But he has that ability and it’s nice to see that he’s taken that over from a mental standpoint and really mature.”

However, with the Georgia game being the talk of college football this weekend, Kelly had to address the matchup. Despite the Irish being underdogs, Kelly is not emphasizing that mindset in his team.

“If it had anything to do in my 29 years of winning or losing, I would address it the first time that I get in front of them. It really just doesn’t. If you have to rely on extrinsic motivation to get your football team ready to play a game, then you’re in trouble,” Kelly said. “So, I really leave that up to whatever they want to do. If they want to look at it and if it helps them, fine, but as a head coach, I stay away from all those things because it really doesn’t help me in my focus and in my preparation for what I need to do in covering the things that are necessary for them to be successful, so I stay away from it.

“The external motivation stuff has never been really one that has been effective for me. It could be for an individual and if he chooses to use it for himself and feels that that can help him, that’s fine. Whatever gets him in that emotional state that helps him, I’m fine with that, but very rarely do I use something that is out there, where we are a two-point or 10-point or 15-point favorite or underdog.”

While Kelly wants his players to find the ideal motivation, he is wary of them getting caught up in the media hype and losing focus on their true opponent.

“If you’re distracted for a second against Georgia, they have a guy named D’Andre Swift he’ll run past you if you don’t fit the A-gap,” he said. “So, if you’re distracted because you feel like, ‘I want to make a play on this and I’m not going to fit the defense the way I should because I want to make a play,’ that’s my point and you have to fit every play and every play has got to be 11 players playing together. I just haven’t seen it in my career that that is a way to get your football team ready.”

Kelly also offered praise for Georgia’s play in the trenches, as well as their starting quarterback in junior Jake Fromm.

“They’re very good and [head coach] Kirby [Smart] is very smart,” Kelly said. “What he does really well is he matches up. His personnel is a matchup defense. He’s going to put guys in position that match up against our guys and they’re not very complicated defensively, but he does a really good job with his personnel.”

“Certainly, coming in as a freshman [two years ago, Fromm] was tentative at times. He’s not tentative at all,” Kelly said of Fromm’s play this season. “He is going to fit it into tight windows. He is going to be smart with the football. He doesn’t turn it over. I think his completion percentage is at 75%.”

In all, Kelly succinctly summarized what his team must do this Saturday.

“We’re going to have to do a great job against them.”

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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