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Kelly looks ahead to Duke matchup after late win over Virginia Tech

| Tuesday, November 5, 2019

After No. 15 Notre Dame’s 21-20 victory over Virginia Tech, Irish head football coach Brian Kelly addressed the media in his weekly Monday post-practice press conference to preview the squad’s impending matchup on the road against Duke.

Kelly began the conference by saying things have been a bit quiet as the Irish begin preparation for Duke, and he went on to compliment Duke’s offensive game.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Notre Dame senior wide receiver Chas Claypool tries to evade a defender during Notre Dame’s 21-20 win over Virginia Tech

“All right, we’ll get to work here. Obviously getting back to preparation this week for Duke, a little quieter around here. I don’t know why, but it seems like if you win it’s a lot quieter. We are going to continue to try to do that. Our preparation will be such that we’ve got our players understanding what it takes to prepare and play the right way,” Kelly said. “We’ll build off that and go have some fun, play the game, enjoy it, enjoy being with your teammates. Play fast, play physical against a really good Duke team. They’ve had a week off to prepare for us. … Coach [David] Cutcliffe does a great job offensively using personnel groupings — what they do best — and taking their pieces and really putting them in good position to succeed, starting with [redshirt senior Quentin] Harris at the quarterback position. Dual threat quarterback. Also the second leading rusher on the team. Throws it well in the one-on-one matchups. Has got a good, experienced offensive line, a young offensive tackle who is playing really well for them. Just like what they do. They’re very smart. Last time up here, they beat us. [They’re] a well-coached football team. The two freshmen, [Jalon] Calhoun, the slot receiver, and then their offensive tackle are really helping that offensive football team grow up quickly. But, again, well-coached on the offensive side of the ball. [They’re] utilizing the talents of Harris extremely well. Jackson is a really good back as well.”

Kelly went on to comment on the athleticism of Duke’s defense, saying that, overall, the Blue Devils are a solid, well-coached group of players.

“Defensively obviously very impressive players. [Victor] Dimukeje and [Chris] Rumph [II], the front four is very, very good. Very, very good front. They play the run very well. Got some really good athletes and are deep on the defensive line, one of the deeper groups that we’re going to play,” Kelly said. “They’ve lost a couple linebackers to graduation, but, again, those guys are extremely athletic. I think in the back end of their defense, they would like to play some man coverage. They have got some guys that can run. Good looking team across the board. Athletic. Not afraid to, as I mentioned, pressure you and play man coverage. We’re going to have to be on. Offensively we have not executed at the highest of levels. We are going to have to execute better. The turnovers have to obviously go away.”

Notre Dame finished the game against Virginia Tech with an impressive — and crucial — scoring drive, and Kelly said the Irish will look to build on that tempo as they head to Durham, North Carolina.

“We’ll build off the last two drives offensively of the game against Virginia Tech. We went, you know, 91 yards before we had a penalty called against us, which I’m not sure why that was a penalty, but it was called against us for a — we cut a blitzing linebacker, which pushed us back into a field goal situation. Then we come back with an 87 yard drive,” Kelly said. “Finished the game on two really good drives. We will need to put together more of that consistency offensively and continue to play the kind of physical defense that we played. If we do that, we’ll present ourselves well against Duke.”

As far as the injuries to junior offensive lineman and captain Robert Hainsey and sophomore linebacker Jack Lamb, Kelly said Hainsey should be back by spring, although he doubts he’ll be involved in contact drills by then. Lamb, on the other hand, will be out for at least this week, according to Kelly. He went on to comment on who will replace Lamb in the nickel package.

“We’ll probably look at a couple guys right now that we think can fill in,” he said. “[Sophomore] Shayne Simon might be a guy that you might see moving into that position. [Junior] Jordan Genmark Heath. There are a couple guys we think can fit in there and do a nice job for us.”

Freshman safety Kyle Hamilton tallied an interception during the Irish win Saturday, and his impressive numbers this season might dictate to one that he is the starter. Kelly went on to comment on Hamilton’s development, and what he expects for the true freshman as far as the future goes.

“What comes easy for him is roaming the middle the field. Great instincts, great vision, plays the ball extremely well in the air. I think that’s pretty obvious in terms of his coverage skills and obviously finding and seeking the football. I think continue to develop in the tackling department. He’s got to fit and come downhill and be part of our run fit, so tackling,” Kelly said. “And then just, you know, the rigors of playing college football, all the games that he’s asked to play and the physicality associated with it. So that’s just a matter of time. That’s weight room, that’s conditioning, that’s training. I think that’s going to take care of itself; both of the things that I mentioned as things that he needs to continue to work on. He just has a huge upside.”

Sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy has shown signs of promise throughout the season, and Kelly fielded a question about how the sophomore ought to develop in order to start putting up full starter numbers.

“I think it’s consistency — and he’s done a really nice job. But we wanted a little bit more size on the field against Virginia Tech in terms of what we are trying to accomplish with one-on-one matchups. A lot of man coverage on the outside,” Kelly said. “Just wanted a little bit more size with [senior wide recievers Javon] McKinley and Chase [Claypool]. I think he’s done a really nice job in terms of adding consistency to his practice preparation. I think that was one area that held him back a little bit. I think we’ve really seen some growth there. We like his competitiveness. I think just a matter of time that he continues to add more to the trust bank and that he gets more playing time as we continue to move forward.”

Kelly went on to praise the efforts of the kick returners this season, saying that, despite one notable error, the unit has done a great job so far this season.

“Other than obviously making a key mistake on the kickoff return, they’ve done a good job. I mean, we fair caught a lot of balls, and that’s through analytics and developing kind of a mindset as to how we want to start our drives. So that has not led to any concerns within my conversation with [special teams coordinator] Brian [Polian] relative to who is the right guy. We’re just looking for if we do in fact return it, we want that thing out past the 25.” Kelly said. “We thought that [sophomore wide receiver] Lawrence [Keys III] might give us a little bit more, and we still believe he does. He’s got a burst. He got caught on the back side one time where we didn’t expect the ball to be kicked that shallow or short, and it allowed them a short edge that got him from behind. So I really think it continues to develop. If you give us a kick return, I think we’re going to do it. Other than that, we are going to fair catch. I think Lawrence Keys continues to be the guy we push out front.”

Senior quarterback Ian Book, despite receiving criticism in some places this season, has continually said he remains confident as the quarterback of this team. Kelly commented on how crucial that confidence is for a quarterback.

“Look, if you lose your confidence here as a quarterback you can’t play quarterback at Notre Dame. There is just so much noise. So in the recruiting process, it’s like question number one, two, three, four and five, you know, and making sure that you vet that out in the process in terms of what kind of personality does he have, what are his traits, his makeup. Can he handle the noise? Those are absolutely crucial,” Kelly said. “Watching a guy throw the ball around in 7-on-7 is one thing. Can they handle all that is encompassing with this position here at Notre Dame is much more important. So in the recruiting process we felt like he could handle all those things. Although it’s difficult for everybody when you don’t play particularly well, we felt like he had what it took to stand up to that. You know, he did, and he’s come out on the other end and should be better for it.”

The Irish offensive unit, under Book, has seemed to resort to the screen pass often unsuccessfully this season. Book and junior running back Jafar Armstrong did manage to connect on one the other day, but Kelly said the unit’s screen game needs to improve in the coming weeks.

“[The screen game is] not where we want it to be. We’ve got to be better on the perimeter with our screen game. It was setup really well with our two tight end package and that we had run two or three inside power players, some missed direction off it. So it was setup quite well, but we have got to be better on the perimeter screens,” Kelly said. “They’ve been a struggle most of the year. We’ve got to keep at it. And, again, I think it’s got to open up for us. Been a little bit better. Lenzy has hit a couple that have been good. We needed to be a little bit better on a screen that we called on Saturday, but we’re not going to go away from it. We’re going to keep working it. The slow screen was obviously pretty good. Those become hit and miss when you’re working in the slow screen to the tailback because of the little things that can happen. But the perimeter screens have to get better.”

Kelly, in reference to offensive coordinator Chip Long and his play calling, said that, although you could point to a few problems, overall play calling has been good.

“I think it’s been good. I mean, calling plays is an art. You know, there is a science to it. I think that when you look at it through that lens, and I certainly do having experienced that view, there is a number of times where we had some plays called that were perfect fits that weren’t executed to the level that we need to,” Kelly said. “Then there were a couple plays that were called that weren’t the best play calls. So we always go back at the end of the day. We’re always looking at what can we call better in certain situations, what can we execute better. And then are we tipping anything off that’s giving the defense a chance to cover a particular play. I think that’s what I concern myself more with anything else, is that are we showing something that is a tip to the defense. So far, I haven’t seen that. I’m pleased with what Chip is doing in terms of his play calling. Now it’s a matter of executing at a higher level.”

The Irish will square off against Duke (4-3, 2-2 ACC) at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.. The game will not be televised nationally but will be broadcast via the ACC Network.

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