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Kelly previews top-5 matchup with Clemson in Monday presser

| Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Head coach Brian Kelly spoke with the media Monday ahead of the upcoming home game against Clemson on Saturday. 

The press conference followed another win for Notre Dame against Georgia Tech on Saturday, making their record 6-0. Both the Irish defense and offense held their own against the Yellow Jackets, with graduate students Daelin Hayes and Ian Book leading their respective lines. 

In the press conference, Kelly discussed several other players and their contributions to the team this season. He commented on graduate student Nick McCloud’s improvement since his transfer to the program.

“Nick, although had a lot of snaps, I think he needed to really get a sense and feel for what our strength and conditioning program was about,” Kelly said. “Each program has its own kind of standards, if you will, and I think he’s done a terrific job of meeting those standards here and fitting in very well.”

McCloud recently had his first interception for the Irish against Pitt, a game which Notre Dame won 45-3.

Another player that came up was Avery Davis.

“Avery Davis has been really good for us,” Kelly said. “I think there had been times where we felt like he hadn’t played as fast as he actually is. He’s playing a lot freer, a lot more confident. That’s a good thing for us, because when he gets the ball in his hands, he can rip some runs for us.”

Kelly also commented on Jafar Armstrong and his move to the wide receiver position.

“We felt like where we are in the program at this point that the three backs that we have are pretty constant and consistent,” Kelly said. “We think that Jafar can be much more of an impact player for us at the wide receiver position. And he will continue to work there. And eventually, I think when he gets a little bit more time there, he’s going to impact us and help us win football games.”

Still, most of the questions focused on the Irish’s match-up against No. 1 Clemson.

“Everything they do, they do well,” Kelly said about their opponent. “Consistency is really what is amazing about this football team and in what Dabo [Swinney] has done. So again, just in all phases, they’re well-coached, prepared for everything.”

About the consistency of his own team’s play, Kelly said “we’re certainly well on our way to checking that box. We’ve shown incredible consistency as a football team of winning week in and week out.”

Saturday will not bring the Book-Lawrence matchup that was anticipated, due to Trevor Lawrence testing positive for COVID-19 Wednesday. Instead, freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei will lead the Tigers against the Irish. Kelly was asked how he will handle facing a young quarterback.

“D.J. will be well prepared for the number of things that we’ll show him. The most important thing is to make sure that he’s not comfortable back there,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to get a great pass rush. You’ve got to get him to move his feet. You’ve got to make sure that they don’t get in a rhythm, which is really the case for a lot of quarterbacks.”

As for the defense, Kelly said, they need to “make [Uiagalelei] do some things that he doesn’t want to do.”

Kelly also commented on the defensive line as a whole, and how the best way to judge their caliber is not always with their counting stats.

“I really think it’s about keeping people off the scoreboard, keeping the points down, and our defense does a really good job of eliminating big plays,” Kelly said. “And when you do that, I think that those are the most important statistics, when you really look at it. I mean, the rest of those things end up coming out as individual stats. This is a team unit, it’s a brotherhood of 11 guys playing together. And that makes it a dangerous defense.”

Notre Dame’s defensive line will be an important factor in the game this weekend. Even with a backup quarterback, Clemson is still a formidable opponent for Notre Dame, making this game its biggest of the season. According to Kelly, that fact does not phase the team much.

“Look, this game, it’s not the end all for us,” Kelly said. “We’re still in pursuit of a conference championship.”

Kelly also spoke on the added pressure the undefeated matchup could bring.

“We’re not a team that’s easily overcome with the moment. So, we’ll be just fine,” Kelly said. “So you’ve got to execute, you’ve got to play well in the moment. But this team has exhibited that they’re not a team that’s going to back away from a challenge, and when they’re down, they’ll certainly pick up their pace and answer any challenges that are in front of them. I have no  question about that.”

Kelly also mentioned several times that Saturday’s game may not be the only time the Irish will face Clemson this season.

Kelly said that, although the team is excited, they need to keep sights on the bigger picture. 

“If you empty the tank this weekend, and you don’t have anything left for BC, they’re going to beat you flat out,” Kelly said about their upcoming games. “So there has to be a measure of emotional mastery here where you understand the opponent, you’re excited about it, but you’ve got to play your best. And that’s what we’ve been building up for, is that competitive greatness on Saturday, but still understanding that there’s a lot of football still in front of us.”

Kelly assessed that the Irish are “at a great level to play and beat Clemson.”

In 2018, following the Clemson playoff game, Kelly had similar faith in his team when he said that they were on the brink of something “special.” 

“I just felt like we had a lot of young players that were going to continue to grow in our program, and we played an outstanding football team,” Kelly said.

When asked where he thinks the program is today, Kelly presented the media with facts.

“We’re 29-3 in our last 32 games. I don’t know, we’ve won 22 consecutive games at home. We went 12 in a row,” Kelly said. “I don’t know, you guys decide.”

The team is taking off Tuesday after the NCAA mandated no team events on Election Day. This disrupted the team’s normal practice schedule for the week.

“It really makes it difficult because we’re on a testing regimen that makes it difficult because we don’t get all our testing back at the appropriate time,” Kelly said. “There are some realities to this that make it difficult. We’ll work through it. … I don’t think there’s any bad intent here. We’re all kind of dealing with the times that they are, and we’re reacting to it.”

Kelly said the football program has made an effort to be involved in voting.

“We’ve been at this for about a month now, registering our players,” Kelly said. “I think 90 of 114 of our players have already voted by absentee mail-in voting. We’ve already encouraged them to, again, use their voice. When we started this, in terms of being socially active, part of it is to do something about being involved in making a change, and so they can make a change by voting.”

Kelly said players who choose not to vote have the right to do so.

“But, clearly, when you have 90 out of 114 guys voting, this was very important to them,” Kelly said. “So we’ve prepared for that. We’ve been extremely active in it.”

Even with the eventful week that lays ahead for the team, Kelly remains focused on the task at hand.

“Really all that matters is that we get an opportunity to play Clemson this Saturday and compete against them. And who knows, it might not be the only time we play them this year,” Kelly said. “We feel pretty good about where we are. We’ll continue to develop our players in the manner that we feel is best for Notre Dame. Dabo is going to continue doing a great job of developing the players that he has and in the manner that he has. But we have different business plans. And and so we’ll do what we’re doing, and should make for a great game on Saturday, I can tell you that.”

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