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Kelly recaps USC, talks bowl prep

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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.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
Getty
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.