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Kelly recaps year one

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While he hasn’t been in a reflective mood yet for the assembled media, head coach Brian Kelly did take a look back at the season with’s Jack Nolan, speaking candidly about his first season in charge of the Irish.

The whole video gives you some good insight into the season from Kelly’s perspective, but for those of you that don’t have 16 minutes, here are the highlights:

As many Irish fans are doing, Kelly all but admitted to thinking about what could have been for this Irish team, a 7-5 unit that very easily could’ve been a 10 win football team.

“Usually it’s the woulda, couldas,” Kelly said. “The Michigan game. What happens if we’re a little bit better prepared at quarterback? Michigan State, can you defend a field goal in overtime? Probably the Tulsa game, the end of that game. So you look at those, but if you get those, maybe something doesn’t go your way. Maybe they don’t drop the ball at USC, and that goes against you. When you look at the season in that regard, I still think you get what you deserve. We made some very good progress and our football team got better at the end of the year.”

I don’t know what it is, but I’m guessing most fans feel better that Kelly acknowledges that those three games were opportunities missed. When the year was at its lowest point, it was hard to go anywhere on the internet that didn’t point to one of these three instances and wonder openly if Kelly had what it takes to make it in South Bend.


One of my favorite exchanges in the interview had to do with the very real problem most first-year coaches inevitably face — inheriting a team that isn’t theirs. This is Kelly’s third new team in seven season, giving the coach and his staff real experience in rebuilding programs, but his approach really nails one of the main dilemmas.

“I don’t know if there was one singular moment as much as there was consistency in the way that we dealt with each other on a day to day basis,” Kelly said. “We went from the stepdad to the real dad and built that relationship over time. I don’t know that there was one thing, I think that it was a matter of players and ocaches coming together and trusting each other and that was probably the turning point.”

When you look at it from a family context you begin to understand the true challenge these coaches face, starting over with 18-to-21 year-old kids that had a fierce allegiance to the coaching staff that found and recruited them.


When asked about the future at quarterback, Kelly made it clear that next spring is going to be an exciting one for Irish fans as Notre Dame finds out what type of offense gives them the best chance to win.

“We’re in flux. Clearly, we’ve got the QB situation that has to be sorted out,” Kelly said. “I think it’s going to be a good situation. We’re going to have guys with some experience, with Tommy and Dyane. I think it’s going to be a great situation. We’re going to add some young talent to the position and I think it’s going to make for an exciting piece. We’ve got to get the quarterback position settled down and then we can take the direction based upon the players where we want to go offensively. Do we want to play fast? Do we want to play no huddle? Do we want to line up and be in two backs? We’ve got the ability to do so many things on offense that I think the quarterback position will settle that in the spring.”

We broke down the quarterback derby of 2011 last week, but it should be an exciting spring.

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.”


Kelly confident Robinson will rebound

Notre Dame v Florida State

Corey Robinson‘s season was already off to a slow start. And that was before a difficult night at Clemson. The junior receiver came into last weekend with only four catches, held out against UMass after a pregame tweak of his knee put a scare into the Irish.

Robinson’s knee checked out fine. But mentally, it appears that the sure-handed junior is struggling.

Just before halftime against the Tigers, Robinson failed to reel in a long catch that would’ve given the Irish a much-needed touchdown heading into half. Early in the fourth quarter, a high throw from DeShone Kizer on the Irish’s first failed two-point conversion play slid through Robinson’s hands. Made worse was a mental mistake by Robinson, the Irish needing to use one of their second half timeouts when the junior wasn’t on the field.

Coached hard on the sideline by Brian Kelly and coached up by his position coach Mike Denbrock (as we saw on both Showtime and Fighting Irish Media’s ICON), the staff is doing it’s best to get Robinson’s confidence back.

With some wondering if Robinson’s struggles should open the door for talented freshman Equanimeous St. Brown, Kelly talked about their belief that the junior will return to form.

“Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”

There’s no better place to showcase that belief than against Navy. The Midshipmen don’t have a defender physically capable of matching up with the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who will likely face his share of single coverage with Will Fuller likely demanding safety help.

Then it’s just a matter of Robinson showing the hands and confidence that made him one of last year’s most consistent performers.

“Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make,” Kelly said. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.”