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.