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Tuesdays with BK: Jefferson Nightmare edition

Oct 4, 2011, 5:02 PM EDT

Air Force Notre Dame

Goodbye Purdue. Hello Air Force.

Brian Kelly met with the assembled media today and talked about wrapping up Purdue, prepping for Air Force, and getting ready for head coach Troy Calhoun and his very dangerous quarterback Tim Jefferson.

If you’re curious what Kelly thinks about Jefferson and what he does to a defense, this quote should do it:

“It’s just a nightmare,” Kelly said. “He throws the ball so well that, again, you’re put in so many conflicts dealing with this offensive structure, and it starts with Jefferson’s ability to throw the football.”

Here’s some video highlights from this afternoon’s press conference. As usual, I’ll fill in some thoughts after:


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If you’re looking for a main storyline this week, it’s how well can Bob Diaco and the Irish defensive staff put together a gameplan that’ll shutdown Air Force’s option-based offense. After having their scheme rightfully cross-examined after the bludgeoning it took against Navy, Kelly talked about how the experiences playing against Navy and Army helped as they prepare for Air Force’s offensive attack.

“We have to play the way we play,” Kelly said. “We cannot become so out of character in stopping the option that we forget about the things that we teach every day. That is playing physical, flying to the football, great tackling. I think you’ve got to be careful because sometimes option, you get this sense of, Hey, it’s option. But we have to do what we do. That is, we’ve got to play physical at the line of scrimmage and we’ve got to tackle well as understanding the option being the most important principle.”

Kelly hits on, to me, what is one of the more interesting developments of the Brian Kelly era. While Kelly was known as an offensive mastermind before coming to South Bend, what we’ve actually seen is a guy that doesn’t really plan to out-scheme you, but simply beat you by finding a core competency and have his team excel doing just that.

If you’re looking for a reason to be confident against Air Force, it’s that Kelly believes that the strength and physicality of this defense is good enough that it simply needs to do what it does. Sure they’ll gameplan and make tweaks because of the option, but they’ll do that inside the framework of the defense’s principles — a unit that’s developed pretty impressively in a short time under Kelly and Diaco.


After spraining an ankle early against Purdue, Kelly is still unable to figure out where Ethan Johnson is in his progress toward seeing the field this weekend.

“He is still in that walking boot. He will be until about Thursday. We’ll take it off. We’ll have to see how he moves around on Thursday,” Kelly said. “When you immobilize for 48, you’re hoping for great results. We’ve been very aggressive in the treatment, but we’ll have to really see on Thursday. He’ll be involved in all of our drills, our walk-throughs. He’s going to be an inside guy for us, so he’s just got to be physical at the point of attack. It’s not like he’s going to have a lot of different things going on. We hope he’ll be able to answer the bell.”

I don’t expect to see Johnson this weekend, only because I think the coaching staff thinks that they can get by without using him on Saturday and give him two full weeks to get ready for USC. That said, Kelly pointed to an interesting personnel decision, choosing to use Johnson as an inside guy — likely in the mix with Louis Nix and Sean Cwynar, not necessarily at defensive end.

Kelly made it clear that both freshman, Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, will play this weekend against Air Force, giving the youngsters a chance to team with Kapron Lewis-Moore, who has had some productive Saturdays against option teams in the past. I’d also expect to see Darius Fleming with his hand on the ground, giving way to Steve Filer or Ishaq Williams outside at linebacker.


Kelly had one of the better lines of the press conference when talking about the continued development of sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees.

“He’s been in some big games and some very difficult environments. He’s developing that scar tissue that you need to play quarterback with me as well, and that is he’s constantly being challenged to be better. He’s taken very well to that. I think all of our players have a great trust in him.”

The term “scar tissue” really resonates with me and is a great way to describe the evolution of a quarterback. Thinking back to the past few quarterbacks at Notre Dame, there were certainly cuts and scrapes along the way that aided in the development of these players.

Brady Quinn isn’t who he is without a few very tough football game in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Same for Jimmy Clausen. You’re seeing that Kelly believes that Rees is a guy that understands the offense and will only continue to get better, helping to refute the growing narrative that Rees has a low ceiling.

Kelly then talked about the decision to stick with Tommy against Pitt, even when it seemed like Dayne Crist might have been a better option.

“Even though he probably didn’t have his best game against Pittsburgh, there were many people asking why we didn’t go back to Dayne,” Kelly said. “I think Dayne is extremely capable of running our offense, being successful, but we wanted consistency and continuity, and we felt Tommy was going to give us that.”

I’m starting to think it might make sense to put together a up-tempo scheme for Crist, something that allows him to use his under-appreciated running ability and also get him on the field against Air Force. Sure, sophomore Andrew Hendrix or freshman Everett Golson might be better in a true dual-threat capacity, but neither have the command of the offense that Crist has.

Crist hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy, but he has shown himself to be a pretty decent runner, something Tommy just doesn’t have in his arsenal.





  1. lordsummer - Oct 4, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Keith, you touch on a point that I think has been forgotten in the ND 2011 quarterback saga, and that is Dayne Crist’s injury history. I feel for the guy…so much talent, but joints of glass. I have to think it has run through Kelly’s head at least once, “Why go back to Dayne, fix his head, and then have him rip a knee or ankle and have to go back to Rees anyway?” That said, garbage time against Purdue proved that Kelly thinks he’s likely to need Dayne again this year.

    Who knows whether he’s planning to bring Dayne out in the running capacity you mentioned, but I wonder how likely that is against Air Force (or Navy), especially this week when Air Force just practiced for their key rival who runs a mobile QB offense. I know the spread and the triple option are different, but I don’t know that the mobile QB package helps you against AF the way it would against a Big Ten, PAC-12 type of team that doesn’t see as much of it.

    • amwilson18 - Oct 4, 2011 at 10:15 PM

      I heard from Irish Sports Daily that Kelly actually asked Dayne if he wanted to go into the game. But all and all I feel it’s the best play. The only way Kelly will need Dayne is If Tommy is to go down, Crist gives us the best chance to win. Simply by his game experience and knowledge base of the offense. As much as I would love to see Golson under center, he will struggle and he needs to save the year of eligibility.

  2. jerseyshorendfan1 - Oct 4, 2011 at 7:50 PM

    It would be long odds to bet that Rees can make it through he entire year unscathed. Of course we’re going to see somebody come into a game for him at some point. Good point above about Crist’s injury history. I have watched the play where he had the second knee injury a couple of times (against Tulsa I think?) and he runs down the sideline and gets hit going out of bounds, but it didn’t look like that bad of a hit. I was surprised the damage to the knee was as bad as it was. It looked like something that most players would pop up from and run back to the huddle.

    • notredamegrad - Oct 4, 2011 at 9:23 PM

      Knees are crazy things. People tear ACLs without any contact in other sports. Tendons are crazy, too. I ruptured a tendon in a finger just catching a football and had to wear a splint for three months to regain full motion.

      I don’t think it was the hit on Crist, but the fall that caused the ruptured tendon last year – I heard that in person, how he landed and the speed at which he hit the ground looked a lot worse than it did on tape.

      Sports injuries are just hard to predict or “see” from outside the body – Eifert gets a helmet pounded to his kidneys in mid-air and pops back up; Floyd dives to catch a TD (nothing out of the ordinary) but snaps his collar bone on landing and is out for weeks. You just never know. It’s tough to call someone “injury prone” after two incidents though, however serious they are. I agree about the chances of Rees making it through the season unscathed – but with the kind of protection the o-line is giving him, who knows? It’s just great to have a QB 2 worthy of Kelly’s – and our – confidence.

      • waydomer - Oct 5, 2011 at 1:06 PM

        The patella tendon that Crist injured was where the graft was taken from to repair his ACL the previous year. They use that tendon because it rarely ruptures, but Crist’s was obviously weakened from removing the graft. Accordingly, hard to say he is prone to injury as under the circumstances seems to be a freak injury.

      • notredamegrad - Oct 5, 2011 at 1:31 PM

        Waydomer – wow! Thank you for sharing that. I didn’t know that was where the graft was from, but that makes a lot of sense of an unlikely injury. That both challenges claims that he’s “prone to injury” and suggests just how frustrating that injury would have been. I am impressed by Crist’s resilience in recovering from it, as from the ACL tear.

    • bernhtp - Oct 4, 2011 at 9:35 PM

      Rees has a few things going for him that reduce the likelihood of injury:

      1. He doesn’t have an injury history.
      2. The offensive line has been getting him great protection.
      3. He isn’t fast; he doesn’t run the ball and doesn’t hold it long when flushed.

      I bet Tommy makes it through the season without missing a full game. Of course, it only takes one big hit or one bad step to change this, but I think these factors tilt the odds in his favor.

      • seeeye - Oct 5, 2011 at 10:44 AM

        Please throw a “knock on wood” in there.

  3. irish2011 - Oct 4, 2011 at 8:20 PM

    As long as we play sound Defense we should be fine. I’m still waiting for I. Williams to have a bust out game. Go Irish!

  4. ndgoldandblue - Oct 5, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    I like how Kelly mentioned that the team has to avoid becoming out of character. They definitely have to prepare for the option, and they have to know how to defend it, but they can’t change their personality. And, up to this point, their personality has been that of a physical defense that closes on the football fast. They have also improved their tackling in space, so I hope that continues on Saturday.

    I am also glad that Kelly and all of the coaches aren’t giving the Air Force option too much respect. For some reason, I think the D gave the Navy option attack too much respect last year, and they ended up playing a little tentative (over-thinking) and soft. We want to go in with the mentality that the Air Force offense is worried about our D and not the other way around. The mental aspect contributes to a team’s production and by not overpraising Air Force’s option, we aren’t stacking the deck against ourselves. For too many years, I felt that the Irish had the talent to beat USC, but they gave the Trojans too much respect. They were defeated even before they walked onto the field. Does that make sense or is it completely hogwash?

    • dbldmr - Oct 5, 2011 at 12:01 PM

      I think it’s the difference between reacting to the other team and imposing your will on the other team. As I watch the defense this year it seems to me that it is less tentative (except for one horrific quarter) and tries to dictate the flow of the game. Michigan State couldn’t run the ball. Pitt couldn’t run the ball (…and then Ray Graham exploded five days later against SFU). Purdue couldn’t run the ball.

      If everyone understands his responsibilities and doesn’t allow himself to play out of position I believe the defense will make it difficult for Air Force to consistently move the ball. Players have to avoid the temptation to make the spectacular play and instead make the play that the coaches want. Stop the run. The rest will take care of itself. Air Force is not going to win the game if they are forced to go to the air.

      This defense looks better by the week. Another performance like the last three and ND moves to 4-2.

  5. joeschu - Oct 5, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    Low ceiling narrative 😉

    • joeschu - Oct 5, 2011 at 4:24 PM

      Keith, I just went back and saw your reply to my 5 things comment RE: the QB situation. I wasn’t asking for a total re-hash, just why you think Dayne is a better option in mop-up time, and your paragraph or 2 on the situation here tells me a lot.

      You’re putting an interesting wrinkle out there with this “quick snapping, zone-read-option” change-up style. Personally, I remain convinced that letting Hendrix get his first scrapes and scars is the better long-term option, but I definitely see your point.

      If you go with Dayne as the change-up, it doesn’t really address what happens to Rees’ confidence if that package proves successful, but if you believe (as I do) that EG or Hendrix are the future, then that becomes a lot less relevant in the decision process.

      At this point, I’d be shocked if anyone other than Rees takes a snap in a less-than-4-score-lead(or deficit) game.

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