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Sports

Kelly reflects on Lousiville, looks ahead to Pitt

| Wednesday, October 21, 2020

In his Monday press conference, head football coach Brian Kelly reflected on Notre Dame’s 12-7 victory over the Louisville this past weekend and also discussed the Irish’s first road game of the season against the Pittsburgh Panthers this upcoming Saturday.

The Irish offense struggled for the majority of the game on Saturday, raising concerns about the passing game going forward. Kelly discussed the wide receiver situation and the fine line between practicing too hard and being successful on Saturdays.

“There has been a revolving door at the wide receiver position,” Kelly said. “I think we probably push them a little bit too much in practice, and we’ve got to be able to pull off a little bit in terms of making sure that our guys have got fresh legs. They’re practicing so hard and so well for me that we’ve got to be able to see the benefits of that on Saturday. So it’s just work in progress. And we’ll continue to work on the details of the passing game with those receivers going forward.”

Kelly also acknowledged that injuries among the wide receiving corps have been a big concern. Speedster junior Braden Lenzy has been struggling to get healthy, Kelly said.

“We couldn’t even get Braden Lenzy up to his full speed,” Kelly said. “This kid is a gamer. … He’s trying to play. We’re hoping he’s going to be better this week.”

One of the positives from Saturday’s game was the play of the Irish defense. Kelly gave credit to young players stepping up in the absence of some veterans.

“As it relates to our run defense, we took away their best play, which is the outside zone play,” Kelly said. “I was very pleased with the run defense. I really liked the play of [Jacob] Lacey and [Howard] Cross III being in there without Myron [Tagovailoa-Amosa] and Kurt [Hinish] being a bit banged up for us.”

Kelly acknowledged that the Irish do not have a balanced attack on the offensive side of the football at the moment.

“I’ve always talked about the ability to be equally as effective throwing it as running it, and right now we’re so much better running it than throwing it,” he said. “I want the ability for teams to respect our ability to throw it.”

Kelly said he knows that his team needs to improve and continue to grow as the schedule gets tougher over the next few games.

“That’s going to continue to be a priority in our focus that we’re going to push the ball vertically down the field,” Kelly said. “We have got to continue to grow. We got to continue to get better. We need to get better moving forward and that is by attacking defenses down the field in our passing game.”

Although senior defensive lineman Kurt Hinish has been banged up this season, Kelly discussed the impact that Hinish has had on the team this year. 

“He’s played a lot of football, and he’s smart. He can reach stances. He can sense where the back is lined up. He’s a guy that watches a lot of film and knows football really well,” Kelly said. “He not only has the strength and and the physical ability, but he’s a smart football player. He’s a high-IQ guy who knows what they’re trying to do scheme-wise, and he can defeat that scheme in front of them because of his veteran experience and his ability to watch a lot of film and know the opponent.”

This Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh will be the first road game of the season for the Irish. In this COVID-19 era of college football, traveling on the road presents a whole new set of challenges. Because of this, the Irish will do their normal pregame Friday activities while on Notre Dame’s campus. They will then take a plane to Pittsburgh Friday evening. 

“We have looked at all the things necessary for us to be successful on the road relative to travel and coordination,” Kelly said. “We will treat Friday on the road just like it’s Friday here at Notre Dame Stadium, which includes eating our dinner downtown at Century Plaza and then getting on the plane after a big meal so there’ll be no food on the plane.”

Kelly saw his team adjust to the changes in procedures a few weeks ago after some positive COVID-19 tests, and he is confident his team will adapt for this Saturday’s game.

“We’ll talk about what the expectations are of everybody, and that we just follow the procedures and protocols that we lay out for them,” Kelly said. “Similarly to what was new for them here on campus when we made some changes here two weeks ago, they’ll have to follow them the same way.”

When asked about Pittsburgh, Kelly praised the Panthers’ coaching staff. 

“They’re always well coached,” Kelly said. “[Head coach] Pat Narduzi knows defense and Mark Whipple is one of the best options for offensive coordinator in the country.”

Kelly also discussed the difficulties of playing at Heinz Field.

“Going on the road to Heinz Field, that’s obviously a difficult place to play,” he said. “Last time we played there, we had to squeak out a tough victory in the last minute. We know what to expect from a really well coached tough and physical football team.”

Kelly said the physicality of the Pittsburgh defense is what worries him the most ahead of Saturday’s game.

“A Pat Narduzzi coached football team is tough and rugged,” Kelly said. “They’re always going to play Notre Dame hard, and they’ve got some game wreckers on defense. And quite frankly, they’re going to get after the quarterback. They’re going to play physical, and they’re well coached. That’ll keep you up at night.”

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