Kelly talks rushing development, USC
Hayden Adams | Monday, October 7, 2019
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly held a teleconference Sunday to discuss their previous game against Bowling Green and preview the upcoming matchup with archrival USC. He began by giving a status report on the injuries to his key contributors.
“[Sophomore wide receiver] Lawrence [Keys III] checked in today and did 90% of his body weight on the AlterG [anti-gravity treadmill], which is an indication that he is ready to be in a practice situation on Tuesday,” Kelly said. “He’s feeling good, so we’ll begin practicing him on Tuesday with the expectation that he’ll be able to play for us on Saturday. [Graduate student cornerback] Shaun Crawford will begin conditioning on Tuesday, and some agility work, some position work. And nobody from the game itself will be limited for practice on Tuesday.”
With junior tight end Cole Kmet and junior wide receiver Michael Young back from broken collarbones, the only remaining major injury for the Irish is that of junior running back Jafar Armstrong, who suffered it on the first drive of the season opener at Louisville. Kelly said there is a chance Armstrong could return to action this Saturday.
“Tuesday would be the time for us. We’ll put him in a much more rigorous environment relative to his practicing. He did quite a bit last week, so we’re confident that we can now put him in some scenarios and situations that will give us 100% certainty as to whether he will be able to contribute on Saturday,” Kelly said. “We believe he can based on what we saw from him last week, so we’re going to put him in some very competitive situations this week, and that will begin on Tuesday.”
Even without Armstrong, over the past few games, the Irish have been able to improve their running game, thanks in part to sophomore Jahmir Smith returning from injury and junior Avery Davis now firmly part of the rushing corps after starting the season at cornerback.
“I think it’s been a combination [of things],” Kelly said. “Over the last few weeks — obviously, we rushed for 230 yards this past weekend — we were effective against Virginia. We didn’t commit ourselves fully in the Virginia game because we weren’t sure of what had at the running back position, but now … we’ve been able to count on Jahmir Smith back [and sophomore] C’Bo Flemister. You saw Avery Davis involved in the running game, as well.”
However, Kelly also attributed some of the improvement to the development of the players on the offensive line.
“I think that’s really helped our overall running game … just the continuity of those five guys working together,” he said. “You’ve got a first-time center working there; I think his combinations now working with the right guard and the left guard, that’s coming together. So I just think the maturation of a group of five guys coming together with a new center, the running backs getting some continuity, Cole Kmet back in the lineup, there’s a blocking tight end, [sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble] being young but now starting to feel some confidence — I think it’s a little bit of all those things coming together.”
The improvement of the ground game bodes well for the Irish, as Kelly said they strive for a balanced offensive attack like they had against Bowling Green.
“That’s what you’re looking for, if you could be somewhere between 200 yards rushing and 300 yards passing that would the perfect kind of balance to your offense,” he said. “We were certainly superior in terms of our personnel, we’re not going to get many of those opportunities, but whatever those numbers are, whether it’s 150 and 275, you’re looking for that kind of ratio [and] balance where you’ve established a running game and have a big-play opportunity in the passing game, and we want to continue down that road.”
According to Kelly, one area he was pleased to see improvement in was the special teams unit, which muffed a punt and gave up an onside kick to start the second half against Virginia.
“I thought they were solid in all areas. We limited their kickoff return situation. The kickoff return was good — our net punt was in the low 40s, we had two different punt returners out there. So, in all those areas we were really solid with a lot of young players that played for the first time,” Kelly said. “So, no glaring mistakes, but also, we were able to learn a lot about some young players by getting them some first-time experience out there — [freshman kicker] Harrison [Leonard] getting a chance to kick. All of those things were a real positive for us on Saturday.”
With the Falcons now behind them, the Irish are turning their attention to USC. Kelly shared his first impressions of the Trojans and the threat they pose.
“[They are] explosive offensively, obviously; [they have] the ability to push the ball down the field. That’s first and foremost. And [they are] probably the best defense we’ve faced from the USC Trojans maybe since I’ve been here,” he said. “They’re very good up front, and now in a four-man front, they can bring pressure. So it’ll be a great challenge for us.”
Kelly also said his players are thrilled for the chance to face their biggest rival at home.
“It’s one that our players really circle each year. Each game we play has a rivalry to it; whether it’s Navy or Stanford or Michigan, we play a lot of rivalry-type games, but USC certainly stands by itself as one that has always had a great tradition to it,” he said. “So, our guys are excited about the game, but know that at the end of the day, this is still about two teams with great tradition that will have to settle it on the field, and you’ve got to prepare the right way. They knew that this game was on the schedule, but they had to take care of business this past weekend. They came in for treatment today and all they could talk about was the opportunity to play USC, so they’re excited.”