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Brian Kelly previews No. 16 Notre Dame’s matchup against No. 23 Navy

| Wednesday, November 13, 2019

After No. 16 Notre Dame’s 38-7 victory over Duke on the road last weekend, Irish head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media to preview the squad’s matchup against No. 23 Navy.

With a 7-2 record on the season so far, Kelly opened the press conference by lauding the offense of the Midshipmen, which is led by senior quarterback Malcolm Perry.

“Certainly [we would] like to build off last week’s performance both offensively and defensively,” Kelly said. “We know our opponent very well. Have a great deal respect for Navy and Ken Niumatalolo and what he has done this year in particular. He’s really just put together a really good football team in all phases, offense, defense, special teams. Malcolm Perry is a dynamic offensive player. I think he’s top 15 in the country in rushing, and he’s the No. 1 rushing quarterback in the country. Dynamic, explosive player. Last year he played slot — he didn’t play quarterback — now he’s back at the quarterback. He’s precise, very secure with the football. He’s a point guard, distributing, making really good decisions. Very difficult to defend. Obviously the triple option — they lead the country in rushing offense. … We know them well, and each game is a very difficult game because you’re preparing only two or three days for a very, very good and efficient offense.”

Kelly talked about the development of Navy’s defensive unit and the challenge that poses for the Irish this weekend.

“I think what’s impressive is the top offenses that they’ve played, they’ve kept them to over 100 yards less than their normal averages,” Kelly said. “Their rush defense is outstanding. They’ve been very aggressive. So from a transformational standpoint, their defense is so much better at everything that they do, from coverage to getting after the quarterback, tackling. Again, it shows statistically in terms of where they are and how they’re playing.”

When asked if senior defensive lineman Jamir Jones’ production has surprised Kelly given how little defensive end he has played, Kelly answered with a firm no.

“He’s probably — and I think [defensive line coach] Mike Elston would tell you this too if he was standing here — performance versus trust, and he ranks up there in the top corner of both,” Kelly said. “In other words, trust in assignment and doing what he’s asked to do and performance, he’s about as good as we have on our football team. Just a really smart football player. Assignment sound.

“A couple weeks ago, against Virginia Tech, he was asked to stop the outside zone play against the quarterback, and at the same time, hold on to the tight end on the throwback. That’s a tough assignment. You get caught up in the wash there, and you forget about them. But we trusted him so much that he could do that dual assignment. That’s how we feel about him.”

After a booming offensive performance from the Irish in Durham, North Carolina, Kelly attributed the effectiveness of the offense to its experience and its leader, senior quarterback Ian Book.

“They’ve seen everything,” Kelly said. “First of all, their in-game adjustments, the ability and certainly the coaching. I mean, [Midshipmen offensive coordinator Ivin] Jasper and [head coach] Ken Niumatalolo have seen everything. They can make adjustment to what you’re trying to do in a split second. Not that the coaches at the high school level can’t. They’ve seen it all as well. But you’ve got the best and brightest that are playing at the academy that can make some quick adjustments in-game, at halftime, so they’re not going to be fooled by what they see.”

Secondly, Perry is an “outstanding quarterback” that can stress opponents in many areas, Kelly said.

“Because at the end of the day, when you’re talking about the quarterback, how do you defend him?” Kelly said. “Really, you have to play a lot of the cover zero against them. If you’re not, it’s a slow march to the end zone because they certainly do a great job of having a quarterback that can continue to make yards each and every down. So I think the reliance on having smart players that can make in-game adjustments; I think the fact that the quarterback-driven offense allows them to really make it difficult on you to defend them. And, again, experience at the coaching staff.”

Kelly said it will have to be a collective effort for the defense to stop the unique offensive scheme of the Midshipmen this weekend.

“We’re going to have to play really well in all facets,” he said. “The fullback, they’ve got depth at that position. They’ve got two very good fullbacks. But it requires all 11 players. If you’re not attentive to all areas, you’re going to have some problems. So it’s not really just one player. I think you got to have great effort from all of those players.”

Senior safety Alohi Gilman used to play for Navy before transferring to Notre Dame. Kelly discussed his thoughts of Gilman when the Irish squared off against him.

“Extremely active; really good tackler; somebody that for us got our attention immediately,” Kelly said. “I think that when you’re playing a team like Navy and you’re trying to make sure that you stay up with them in terms of scoring points, anybody that stands out on that defensive side becomes a problem for you because you’ve got to work away from them or you’ve got to have them in your game plan. And he was a guy that you didn’t want to throw to his side. You wanted to try work away from him. Consequently, he was noticeable.”

Having experienced a potentially confidence-shaking loss against No. 15 Michigan, Notre Dame has bounced back with a few victories, which Kelly attributed to the team’s leadership.

“Well, there is really good leadership not only amongst the captains, but there is real accountability amongst all of the players,” he said. “That means that it shows up during the week to a standard that’s been set in how they prepare. They know that you reap what you sow. That means if you work really hard during the week, put in the time, hold each other accountable to that end, that it’s going to pay off for them. Where are they? They’re at high level of mental toughness in that they hold each other to a level and a standard that has allowed them to continue to work towards getting better as a football team. As long as they stay in that mindset, they’ll be pretty good.”

The Irish will square off against the Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

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