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Kelly discusses injuries, run game, looks ahead to regular season finale

| Monday, November 25, 2019

Following Notre Dame’s 40-7 win over Boston College, capping off an undefeated regular season at home, head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media in a phone conference Sunday. In addition to the win over the Eagles, Kelly discussed the state of injuries for the program, goals for the team going forward and how different players have stepped up throughout the season.

“I just think that the game itself is one where you’re always prepared to deal with injuries,” Kelly said. “They are part of the game. We’ve had guys step up and play at a high level.”

He particularly pointed to graduate student offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland, junior offensive lineman Josh Lugg and senior defensive lineman Ade Ogundeji for the contributions they’ve made in recent weeks following the loss of several starters.

“Losing two really good players in [offensive linemen senior] Tommy Kraemer and [junior] Robert Hainsey is not that easy, but those guys have managed to keep things moving in the right direction,” Kelly said of Ruhland and Lugg. “Obviously losing those two guys was a big blow. … Ogundeji has come in, and he’s been all over the field. He’s been outstanding, he’s been active. Again, you’re losing really good players, but good teams have the depth that allows these guys to go in and maintain the level of play. Again, I don’t think you can be a top-tier program unless you have depth and guys that can go in and play at a high level.”

Kelly continued, pointing to Ogundeji’s “physicality, athleticism [and] length.”

“He’s getting much more opportunities to play,” Kelly said. “He just has a great motor. He’s long. He’s relentless. He just has all those intangibles that you want.”

Adding on to the injury update, Kelly pointed to junior defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s progress ahead of Saturday’s game this weekend.

“He’s been day-to-day really. It’s been that mid-foot sprain that for receivers is a tricky injury,” Kelly said. “He has felt good, but he hasn’t been explosive and at that position, you’ve got to have some explosiveness. We’ll have him back out on the field on Tuesday and see what he looks like. If he feels like he can contribute, we’ll have him out there. If not, we won’t. … We worked him out today, and our training staff was pleased with what they saw with him today. They think he can help on Saturday against Stanford.”

Travelling to California might present some obstacles for most teams in Eastern Standard Time, but Kelly is confident that his team will be able to adjust accordingly.

“It shouldn’t be too much of an issue, because it’s really 4 o’clock on our clock and we’ve been between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. for home games,” Kelly said. “It shouldn’t be much of an issue for us in terms of getting us up and running. That’s what time we practice, as well, so that should be right in our wheelhouse.”

Furthermore, Kelly said the earlier start time might even be a welcome change for the players.

“I think our guys are excited about the 1 o’clock start. They can get up and go play the game and don’t have to be sitting around the hotel all day,” he said. “Certainly, the last game of the year, you want to get out and play, so I know our guys are excited about the news.”

Kelly also addressed the run game this past weekend. Sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy recorded a 61-yard touchdown against the Eagles. The sophomore from Tigard, Oregon, turned on the wheels and showed why he was a back-to-back track state champion in high school.

“I think he felt like there’s enough time to run track, but he wanted to really focus on physically getting himself in a position where he could compete in football first,” Kelly said of whether Lenzy would choose to run track with the Irish. “I think there’s time for track. I don’t think that that’s off the table for discussion, but I think his priority was to get ready for football and find a spot, and it seems like he’s doing that.”

While Lenzy attracted much attention Saturday, the minimal use of junior running back Jafar Armstrong did not go unnoticed in the process. However, Kelly confirmed it was simply a strategic decision and did not have large implications for Armstrong going forward.

“That’s the rotation we went with for this particular game,” he said. “I wouldn’t read too much into it. He’s not in the doghouse. He hasn’t done anything wrong. He’s working hard. It was just the rotation we had for this past weekend.”

Finally, Kelly spoke to how the team has readjusted their perspective following the loss to Michigan last month.

“Each week, we had something we needed to focus on, and the first was to reestablish our identity, who we are and our character, especially after the way we played and coached against Michigan,” he said. “That was a primary focus.”

More specifically, Kelly said the team’s goal following their two losses was the win-out in November, a goal that will be put to the final test in Palo Alto.

“We knew we had five games in November, and it’s unusual to have five games. Our focus was to win each game in November — all five games — and we’re four-fifths of the way through it” he said. “That goal is still out there. It’s tangible, and one we want to achieve. … We’re trying to work through that each and every week with kind of a different step along the way that we wanted to get to. Each opponent has presented a challenge that we wanted to work on internally, and we’ve been able to do that.”

Building on that, Kelly said this season has a lot of valuable lessons that can be applied on an individual basis for his players.

“You’re dealing with failures and how you overcome those, and so you’re establishing who they’re going to be when they leave here as well,” he said. “Those challenges that are put in front of you, you want to see them grow from them. Those challenges are part of the game, so you play it as a game and it gives you these opportunities to grow and that’s what we’ve been focused on.”

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