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Kelly recaps USC, talks bowl prep

Nov 30, 2010, 3:07 PM EST

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There was no Tuesday morning press conference this week, and players and coaches will not be made available to the media this week. That said, Kelly gave some insight into what was going to happen this week during a Q&A he did with the voice of the Irish radio broadcast, Don Cirqui, who filled in for UND.com’s Jack Nolan in the weekly Inside Notre Dame Football broadcast.

Particularly interesting were some of Kelly’s comments on managing quarterback Tommy Rees, who played his worst game of the season, especially after some halftime adjustments by the USC coaching staff. As the Irish struggled to throw the ball with any consistency in the second half, Kelly talked about the message he relayed to his freshman signal-caller.

“Manage first and second down,” Kelly said. “I’ll take care of third down for you. We needed to do a better job on first and second down.”

When the Irish took over the ball with 6:18 to go in the game and having given away the lead, their second half drives had all failed. Consider the drive chart for the second half up until this point:

ND 3rd N29 15:00 Kickoff N29 13:31 Interception 3-0 1:29
ND 3rd N24 10:54 Kickoff N28 09:25 Punt 3-4 1:29
ND 3rd N15 07:46 Punt N10 07:30 Fumble 3–5 0:16
ND 3rd N15 05:34 Kickoff N24 03:38 Punt 3-9 1:56
ND 3rd N10 02:12 Punt N33 14:05 Punt 6-23 3:07
ND 4th N21 10:35 Punt N21 10:28 Interception 1-0 0:07
ND 4th N23 06:18 Kickoff U00 02:23 * TOUCHDOWN 7-77 3:55 #
ND 4th N01 00:36 Interception N01 00:00 End of half 3-0 0:36

Not exactly confidence inspiring. Yet Kelly and his staff stayed positive with Rees and the offense, preaching a simple message.

“We had a good feeling offensively, if we just took care of the football,” Kelly said. “We had enough confidence that in the worst case scenario, we were going to tie things up.”

One of the smartest decisions Kelly made was a first down throw to Michael Floyd, getting the Trojan defense off balance with a throw when the passing game had sputtered for all of the second half.

“The pass to Mike Floyd for the first down to get us good field position on that last drive,” Kelly said, pointing to the most important play of the drive. “We ran a boot leg, moved the pocket and got Tommy outside. It was wet conditions and he threw a great ball to Mike and picked up about 14 yards.” (I think it was officially 11 yards, but who’s counting…)

After Cierre Wood picked up another huge gainer on the counter play that launched the two-minute drill touchdown before halftime, he laid the ball on the ground, which Tyler Eifert alertly fell on. That was all Kelly needed to turn the game over to senior Robert Hughes, who moved the Irish almost the rest of the way.

“Robert Hughes just lowered his head,” Kelly said of the senior who earned the game ball. “Running north/south, running physical. I wanted a change-up back, and he showed that in the fourth quarter.”

The rest (with a nice assist to Ronald Johnson) is history…

*****

There’s been no word out of Notre Dame on potential bowl destinations, but expect that to change in the next few days, as the Irish already have an internal plan in place.

“Wednesday, we’ll have a team meeting and then we’ll set our bowl schedule,” Kelly said. “I don’t know that we’ll know exactly where we’re going, but we’ll have it narrowed down, because we have to work around our exams and study days. By Wednesday we’ll have a plan and this is an important time for us, as we’ll get a chance to work some of our younger guys.”

The Irish will be able to use up to 15 additional practices, incredibly important workouts for redshirt freshman and other backups, but also players like Bennett Jackson, Austin Collinsworth and Daniel Smith — freshman that saw the field in special teams, but may be thrust into action at wide receiver next year with the departure of Duval Kamara and the uncertain future of Michael Floyd, who is now one touchdown shy of Jeff Samardzija’s school record.

The Irish are now 7-5 on the season, played more bowl eligible teams than anyone else in D-I football, and have slid up the Sagarin rankings to a respectable 29th (although they trail a Trojans team they just defeated and six loss Oregon State).

Without a doubt, the Irish should’ve gotten a victory against Tulsa (and while they didn’t deserve it that Saturday, I’d expect the Irish to beat Navy if they played today). But a 3-0 November and a victory over USC in season one of the Kelly era, certainly helps the projections for Brian Kelly and staff, especially considering the injuries the team endured this year.

  1. vegasmike74 - Nov 30, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    And the award for best use of a bye week goes to…Bob Diaco! Marked improvement in fundamentals (tackling) and discipline (less overpursuit) means ND is bowl bound!

  2. tlndma - Nov 30, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    I’d like to say we would beat Navy but, credit where credit is due, that was a beatdown.

  3. domjay - Nov 30, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    The navy game was such a beat down that you have to just put that one behind you. The games that still bother me are of course the Tulsa game but also the Michigan game. This is the second year in a row that an extremely mediocre Michigan team beat an ND team that was far and away the better team. I’m tired of losing to Michigan especially when they are pretty average at best. Hopefully next year we can beat Michigan and use the game as a springboard to a great season.

    • tedlinko - Dec 1, 2010 at 10:15 PM

      The 1986 season started with a loss to Michigan (certainly not a mediocre Michigan team–actually a great Michigan team). But it was a frustrating loss because we came so close. The rest of that season we had one frustrating loss after another (and one beatdown by Alabama). Finished 5-6 but the final game of the season was a comeback win over the Trojans. And that game was the springboard to a great run, including a National Championship two years later.

      That was Year 1 of Lou Holtz and,, while this isn’t an exact parallel, I see a lot of similarities to Year 1 of kelly. That year we were better than our record, but we just didn’t know how to close out games. This year we were in a lot of games but blew the Michigan, MSU and Tulsa games with late mistakes or failures to execute. But both teams grew a lot during the season and didn’t quit or get down on themselves late in the season as they could have. They both finished strong and set the tone for next year.

      I for one feel very good about the future of this program. I think we will beat Michigan next year – handily – and I think we won’t continue losing to teams we should beat.

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