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Kelly discusses preparation for Boston College, Irish leadership

| Friday, November 22, 2019

Irish head coach Brian Kelly hosted his final radio show of the season Thursday night in anticipation of his team’s senior day matchup with Boston College this Saturday.

Kelly and Notre Dame men’s basketball announcer Jack Nolan began by discussing the team’s domination of Navy this past weekend.

“Well we built off what we did in the first half against them last year, [in] which we shut them out,” Kelly said. “It was a base that we had begun to develop over the last year or so and we added a little bit to it. Now they came out and the plan was to run the quarterback and that was, again, because of a lot of the coverages that we had employed, it was their best opportunity to actually move the football. But the one thing about the Naval Academy is that they don’t get the chance to go up against the speed that we have on defense, and we’re long as well. And having that length and that speed was difficult for them to handle and we were able to get the ball away from them, and the turnovers obviously were huge for us in this game.”

The Irish forced two turnovers against the Midshipmen (7-2), two of which came in the form of forced fumbles by senior defensive end Khalid Kareem. Kelly praised Kareem for the performance and dedication to his craft despite the peril of facing the triple option offense.

“I think that says a lot about Khalid Kareem,” Kelly said. “Here’s a guy that is a defensive end, he’s a guy that’s gonna play on Sundays. Last year he was rated as a guy that could go as high as the third round, came back. And playing option football, he’s a guy that easily can tap out in a game like this, but he played his best football against a team that is difficult to play with because they’re in at your ankles, obviously there’s a lot of low blocks in there. … It’s not a game that a defensive end loves to play in, and he just showed how good of a football player he is by playing in a game like this.”

Kelly and Nolan also broke down some film for those in attendance, and examined the late-game scoop-and-score by sophomore linebacker Paul Moala on a pitch.

“Here’s Paul Moala, a local player from Penn High School, does a great job of getting at the pitch here, deflects it, and is off and scores a touchdown,” Kelly said. “It was great to see him score on that play.”

Kelly said he expects Moala to see more snaps against Boston College (5-5, 3-4 ACC) based on his performance and the similarities between the Eagles and the Midshipmen.

“[The Eagles are] going to run the football if they can, and if it works their way, they could run the ball as much as 85% of the time,” Kelly said. “So you’re going to get a similar kind of [game plan], try to control the ball through running the football, condensed formations and [taking] some shots; very similar to Navy. So trying to get Paul on the field is something that we’re trying to do, with [junior linebacker] Jeremiah [Owusu-Koramoah] as well.”

Despite several injuries to key Irish defensive players, Kelly said the team has remained stout thanks to the tremendous depth they’ve accrued.

“We’ve been able to count on some younger players,” Kelly said. “[Freshman defensive lineman] Jacob Lacey’s played really well for us as a young player. [Freshman defensive lineman] Howard Cross III has played in four games, he’s not gonna be able to play. … He’s a guy that really stepped in and helped us quite a bit. I just think the depth has really played a role, and then our frontline guys have played so well and coach [Mike] Elston does such a great job of developing those guys to play the scheme that we’re seeing week in, week out.”

Nolan then mentioned that, while the Irish offense hasn’t gotten off to as fast of starts as they were accustomed to in past years, the defense has also had strong play to begin games, only giving up 3.4 points in the first quarter on average.

“That’s obviously part of what we talk about in terms of getting off to a great start, and as you know I like to take the football if we can win the toss,” Kelly said. “And you get on the board first, I like our percentage when it comes to scoring, and if you do you’ve got a great chance of winning football games. Defensively, holding them down, scoring first puts us in a good position to win, and we’ve done a nice job with that over the last few years.”

Nolan then shifted the conversation to the topic of senior quarterback Ian Book and the controversy surrounding his status as the starter after the Michigan game. Since then, Book has become the only quarterback in Notre Dame history to throw for at least four touchdowns in four games and at least five touchdowns in three games in a single season. Kelly commented on the shift in Book’s play since his early-season struggles.

“Well first of all he’s executing at a higher level, the whole offense is executing at a higher level,” Kelly said. “So he’s getting great protection, the offensive line is doing a fabulous job. I think the receivers are making plays for him. And he’s been really efficient in what he’s seeing, and he’s been decisive with the football. He’s been on the mark, he’s been sharp. So it’s not just one guy, I think it’s everybody around him has been sharper in their game.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish senior quarterback Ian Book drops back to pass during Notre Dame’s 52-20 win over Navy on Nov. 16.

As Kelly alluded to with the play of the receivers, senior wideout Chase Claypool has managed to show even more flashes of stardom despite already being Book’s No. 1 target. Kelly had praise for the difficult matchup Claypool presents to defenses.

“You can’t say enough about what Chase has been to this offense, in terms of his ability to make play after play, big plays, and … [he] really is a mismatch for most players that he’s gone against,” Kelly said. “Whether it’s Georgia or Navy, he’s won those one-on-one matchups.”

Nolan then asked Kelly about helping Book shut out the noise with a history lesson.

“We were trying to just equate some things that have happened in history, and one of things that Napoleon [Bonaparte] made a habit of was that he wouldn’t read the mail for three days, and that was because a lot of the mail had things in it that would generally get taken care of by the time he got to the mail three days later,” Kelly said. “And it’s the same thing with our football team. You don’t need to listen to that stuff because down the road it’s going to get taken care of, and what was important at that time is not important later. So a lot of the things that were said at that time were really just at that moment, they’re different now, and so sometimes it’s good just to not read the mail. Unless they’re bills, you should pay the bills. … It’s good once in a while to just put that stuff to the side, and you can do something about changing that narrative, and do it by going back to work.”

While Kelly has made a concerted effort to help Book, he said he wants to help any player who is facing trials and tribulations as college football players and student athletes.

“I think that anytime that I can put something into perspective that allows them to deal with what’s current and what they’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis, I try to help them get through those times,” Kelly said.

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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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