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Kelly discusses offense, injuries after narrow win over Virginia Tech

| Monday, November 4, 2019

Following No. 15 Notre Dame’s 21-20 victory over Virginia Tech at home on Saturday, Irish (6-2) head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media in his weekly Sunday teleconference to recap the game.

Kelly addressed the injury sustained by junior right tackle Robert Hainsey during the victory, saying that Hainsey will have surgery Thursday. He also spoke about the injured sophomore linebacker Jack Lamb and senior running back Tony Jones Jr.

“Hainsey, he’ll have surgery on Thursday. The only other injury that we have is Jack Lamb. He’s got kind of a hip injury. We’re going to get a further evaluation on it. It’s non-surgical. But he will be out this week. And then we’re going to have further information on that after we have a specialist look at him,” Kelly said.

Zachary Yim | The Observer
Irish senior quarterback Ian Book prepares to hand the ball off during Notre Dame’s 21-20 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I think we should have Tony Jones back and up and going,” Kelly said. “He was close and he probably could have done some things for us, but he’ll be full-go for this week. And for the offensive line, we thought that [junior Josh] Lugg and [graduate student Trevor] Ruhland played well, especially Josh coming in and seeing his first extended time. So we were happy for both those guys that they got in there and were able to impact and compete and gain some confidence.”

Kelly went on to commend his offensive unit for putting together a scoring drive in the final minutes of the game to lift the Irish above the Hokies and secure the victory.

“First of all, what did we see from our guys? Well, they knew that they needed to make a play on this last drive, but they had just driven the football from a tough situation when we started on the one-yard line and moved the ball all the way down the field, and then we got a very interesting call on the one-yard line for cutting a blitzing linebacker [and] that backs us up, but they had already done that and shown the resolve,” Kelly said. “So it was just a matter of telling them, ‘Let’s do the same thing. You know that you’re going to see this drive again. You’re going to get a lot of drop eight. You’re going to get pressure here and there.’ So it was just kind of confirming what they had already done, and [they] felt like they could do that again. And that’s essentially what they were able to put together on that last drive.”

A big part of that drive was senior wide receiver Chase Claypool, and Kelly took the time to comment on his development.

“He’s in a different role, obviously. He was much more complimentary in a sense and that he’s a go-to guy, and a go-to guy’s got to make big plays in a big situation. So fourth-and-10, we’re going to call your number you got to make a big play,” he said. “I think he’s still the same guy. Obviously, he’s bigger, stronger, faster. He’s had another year to develop. But I just think that that tension for wanting the ball and not being afraid of the big moments. I think that’s probably the biggest change from one year to the next.”

Despite that offensive success, Kelly did mention that the offensive unit needs to make more big plays at skill positions, especially in one-on-one situations.

“[Junior running back] Jafar [Armstrong] is certainly a guy that is just coming back from an injury. I think what he feels more comfortable doing right now is using his size and running somebody over. But there’s no question that yards after the catch are also the ability to make people miss,” he said. “We’ve got to earn everything. It doesn’t come easy. We’ve got to scratch and claw, and that’s why we can’t miss open receivers or miss some easy opportunities. We’ve got to take advantage of those, because we’re putting it together, certainly, but it doesn’t come easy, and we’ve got to continue to develop and continue to recruit and continue to put our kids in good position.”

Kelly, on his defensive unit, said that although it can be hard to get pure sacks in college football, the defense has done a good job of pressuring quarterbacks and keeping them out of a rhythm.

“Well, [in] college football, as you know, [it] is very difficult to get sacks — pure sacks — because the ball comes out so quickly. I think we’ve been really good at forcing quarterbacks to get out of rhythm or simply get the ball out of the hand quicker than they want to,” Kelly said. “Sacks, from one perspective, sometimes come from a lot of different players. They could come from secondary players, linebackers, not necessarily your defensive line. But I think what our defensive line has done really well is forced the ball out of the quarterback’s hand or put them in a position where the ball has had to come out quicker than they wanted to.”

Kelly also commented specifically on Ruhland, who was advised by the medical staff to not play the rest of the season but decided to continue playing.

“I think the medical people were just giving him all of their best advice as to where he was physically and whether he could take the pounding in the weight room, all the running that you need to do through the summer. They couldn’t modify him that much or he wouldn’t be ready to play. He said, ‘I think I can handle it. I want to do it. I want to be with my teammates. I want to make my senior year one where I’m not inactive. I want to be active,’” Kelly said. “This is a conscious choice on his part, even after medical intervention — in a sense that this may not be the best decision for him down the road — but he wanted to do it and he’s taking care of himself. He’s kept himself ready, and, consequently, he’s able to step in at a critical time when we need him and come through for us. So, good for him. All the credit to him for getting himself ready mentally and physically.”

Overall, Kelly said the physicality his team showed was good, but the squad will need to execute better going forward.

“I think it was pretty good. We would have liked to have done some things a little better along the perimeter. I don’t know if we executed at the level that we’re pleased with at this time. We need to execute better,” Kelly said. “That’s not just the offensive line. Tight end and wide receiver blocking was not where it needs to be. We’ve got to really do a good job this week in making sure we know who to block and how to block them. We came out of that feeling pretty good about the five guys and where we’re going from here.”

The Irish will head to Durham, North Carolina, to take on Duke this Saturday.

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