Tuesdays with BK: WMU (and Wednesday) edition

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Yesterday afternoon, Brian Kelly addressed the media to discuss things other than Kyle Rudolph’s season ending injury. Specifically, Kelly talked Bill Cubit’s Western Michigan Broncos.

Here’s a slice of what he said, courtesy of the video guys:


A few observations:

It’s amazing how candid Kelly is when dealing with the media. I think back to the injury of Jimmy Clausen last year and it felt like Fort Knox when trying to get information. Losing Rudolph is a true blow, but Kelly seems to actually live his “Next Man In” philosophy, something that has to help the morale of the team, especially guys like Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone.

You’ve got to think the injury helps the odds of Rudolph returning to Notre Dame for his senior year, but Rudolph wouldn’t address it yesterday.

For me all my thoughts have been dedicated to figuring
out when I’m going to have surgery and where I’m going to have surgery.
Just getting that done as soon as possible,” Rudolph said. “My focus is
all on getting my leg to 100 percent and the first step in that is
surgery as soon as possible and getting that taken care of and going
from there, starting my rehab and getting on the right track to getting

I’m not in the business of interpreting quotes, but if I had to guess it was pretty clear that Rudolph was gone after this season if he stayed healthy.


As much as people are calling the Western Michigan game a week off, I think Kelly’s time in the MAC conference is a huge benefit for the Irish. Kelly was quick to dismiss any comparison between the Broncos and some of the I-AA opponents that dot the schedules of other college football powers.

Well, I think there’s two things. One, you know, playing I-AA opponents
is one thing. This is a MAC opponent. And so that’s a little bit
different,” Kelly said.

He talked about the mindset he had at Central Michigan when they played major opponents from BCS conferences.

“It’s a free shot. Doesn’t cost anything and you pick up the check at the
end of the game no matter what happens. This is an opportunity to go to
Notre Dame, and obviously, get a great victory,” Kelly said.
“So, you know, we had our football team, we had every trick play in the
book, we had every fake and punt and kickoff and we just told our kids
to go after it and play hard and enjoy themselves.”


Not to pat myself on the back too much, but last week I made the analogy of Dayne Crist having to learn a different language when comparing the transition from Charlie Weis’ offense to Brian Kelly’s spread attack.

Yesterday, BK made me sound smart:

“I think the best way to describe it is that he’s learning a new
language,” Kelly said about his quarterback Crist’s development. “He started with French and we are teaching him Spanish. That
development of understanding the nuances, is ongoing. I like where he’s
going with it. He’s developing a sense of the quarterback position as
seen through the eyes of a spread quarterback. And those are some
different — there are some clear differences there.”

During the Pregame 12 Pack, I’ll breakdown the first six starts of Dayne Crist’s career. While his play has been a little streaky, it’s clear that Dayne bought a Rosetta Stone or something.


While Rudolph’s injury news was front and center, the prognosis on Taylor Dever was certainly better.

“There’s some things that he does right now that you would not even know
he has an injury,” Kelly said. “Getting off the ball, firing off and that kind of had
us believing last week he would be fine. And then he got into some pass
sets, didn’t feel quite as comfortable and then pregame, he felt, you
know, really, he was hindered a bit. That’s when we made the move.”

After a sack on the opening play, Zack Martin acquitted himself quite nicely at right tackle, his first game there in his career. And Kelly had nothing but good things to say about Martin’s replacement, Matt Romine.

Good for Romine — a highly regarded recruit that put in the work and now gets a chance to start. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kelly kept Dever out of Saturday’s game, allowing him an opportunity to heal up for one more week, and Romine to gain more confidence on the edge.


Predictably, after six games somebody of course brought up the subject of bowl games, when asking for the definition of success in year one of the Kelly era. Not surprisingly, BK didn’t take the bait.

“Success for us is winning football games. There’s no two ways about it.
As I see it through my eyes, that’s success. And winning games is how we
are going to talk about success as a football team,” Kelly said.

“There are also other things that I’m looking for which I said from the
very beginning is that I want to be a better football team in November
than I was in September. So those will be pretty clear to you, to everybody in this room and to
myself, because they are going to keep track of the wins and you are
going to keep watching our football team. I think we are all going to be
able to say, this is a successful year based upon, this is a better
football team in November, and, they have won some football games.”

All that being said, don’t expect the Irish to turn down a bowl game this year, as Kelly made it clear he’d be incredibly disappointed if the Irish didn’t make it to one. 

“If that means that we didn’t win enough games, that would be disappointing, absolutely,” Kelly said.

An extra month of practice will be absolutely essential for an Irish football team that could have a ton of weapons coming back in 2011.  

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”