Perhaps it was during Saturday’s one-possession loss when Irish coach Brian Kelly most saw the differences between the 2017 Notre Dame team and its immediate predecessor, even though the close defeat was awfully reminiscent of a year ago. If that was the case, it took some distance from the moment for Kelly to realize, or at least properly voice, that insight.
“I just loved our sideline,” Kelly said Tuesday while discussing the fourth quarter against Georgia. “Being able to walk up and down the sideline and sense their fight, how they felt about the game. Just a different feeling for me, and one where at the time it’s hard to articulate those thoughts and feelings right after a game.”
Immediately after the 20-19 defeat, Kelly was asked a similar question about the close loss evoking memories from 2016’s dismal 4-8 finish. At the time, Kelly offered only a curt response.
He acknowledged the dynamics of that situation during his weekly press conference previewing the upcoming opponent.
“I probably could have handled it a little bit better, but in the heat of the moment, my thoughts were on the game itself,” Kelly said. “I stay in the present. In the present, I really like the way our team is put together.
“I don’t think much about last year. I think about how our team played on Saturday. So my vision and my eyes are on how that team showed grit and toughness, didn’t back off. We needed to make another play, no question. But our defense gave us three shots with 8:30 and less to go in the game to win it. We needed to make a play.”
That play could have come from slightly different play calling, but Kelly insisted he was pleased with the game called by offensive coordinator Chip Long.
Just like a better block from fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey, better self-discipline by sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara or better play diagnosing from junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush all could have made the difference, a play call or two different from Long might have changed the outcome, as well. Then again, just like McGlinchey’s blocks for most of the evening, Okwara’s overall pass pressure and Wimbush’s touchdown run, Long’s play calls were part of what had Notre Dame so close in the first place.
“We had plenty of opportunities to score enough points to win the game through play calling,” Kelly said. “We would have liked a couple plays back here and there. We could have called a couple of better plays here and there, maybe executed better here and there.
“We look at it as an ‘all’ thing. In other words, we needed to coach a little bit better, make a couple more plays. We walk away as a group, meaning players and coaches alike, that maybe one more good play call, maybe one more good play, and we can win the game.”
Speaking of Okwara’s personal foul, Kelly put the onus on Okwara for giving the referee the opportunity to make the close call.
“We just felt like it’s too close to put an official in that position,” he said. “… It’s just a learning experience for Julian. He felt terrible. We told him, one play does not make this game.”
Finke starts; Canteen injured
The or designation between junior receiver Chris Finke and senior Freddy Canteen has been removed, raising Finke to clear-cut starter status. That is at least in part due to a shoulder injury suffered by Canteen. The Michigan transfer lost more than a season of playing time at his former school due to a shoulder injury, so exceeding caution very well may be exercised in this instance. Kelly described Canteen as “doubtful” this week, hence sophomore Chase Claypool slots in as Finke’s backup with junior Miles Boykin taking Claypool’s position on the two-deep behind junior Equanimeous St. Brown.