With the chance to redeem last season’s most disappointing loss, after 20 minutes of questions about the most recent weekend disappointment, Brian Kelly was understandably sick of talking about USC on Tuesday.
“Are we going to talk about Navy or not?” Kelly openly asked. “I guess not, huh? They beat us last year. You guys know that? Really bad. So my focus is on Navy.”
You can understand Kelly’s frustration, when he was asked 47 questions during Tuesday’s press conference and 35 of them dealt with last Saturday’s loss to USC and only 12 asked about the upcoming Midshipmen. (Stat courtesy of ND media relations sharp Alan George.) But it’s onward to Navy for the Irish, as Brian Kelly was ready and willing to discuss Saturday’s upcoming game.
That’s to the NBCSports.com video crew, here’s the greatest hits from yesterday. As usual, I’ll give some thoughts below:
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Even with the Irish running game not getting into the offensive flow last week, Jonas Gray has continued to put up dominant statistics. With Cierre Wood struggling against USC and dancing a bit too much, Kelly was asked if the running attack would turn into a two-headed proposition.
“I think it’s a very competitive situation,” Kelly said. “I think Jonas has done more from his production per se than Cierre playing so poor. He did not play his best, but I can give you a long list of guys that did not play their best. I think the answer to the question is that Jonas Gray, by his play, has warranted more time on the field.”
Kelly then address Cierre’s struggles — possibly a product of a Southern California kid trying to do too much.
“Part of my job is to get the best out of our players. I didn’t get the best out of him,” Kelly said. “He’s got to figure it out. He’s an adult. He’s got to figure out what he needs to do to play at a high level. You know, there are so many circumstances that we could talk about other than the fact that it’s game time and the lights are on. You got to go play.”
Adding to the pressure on Wood was the fact that he was named the offensive game captain. Whatever internally bottled Wood up, it wasn’t as catastrophic as falling behind 17-0 forcing Kelly to abandon the ground game early, then just as the Irish were about to draw square, Dayne Crist’s fumble pushed the game back to 14 points. Making it difficult for the Irish to run, especially with the Trojans controlling the clock so well.
While everybody seemed to think the week off leading up to the USC game was an advantage, Kelly mentioned that he really struggled to keep his team focused with the lack of structure around them, with both the off week and school on fall break.
“We had an unusual situation, and one that I haven’t experienced before, in that we had a bye week followed by mid-winter break,” Kelly said. “Our players are a very disciplined group. They’re used to getting up early, going to class, being on a regimen.
“During the week, it was a bit of a battle because there wasn’t that regimen during the week. I could sense it. I screamed about it. I yelled about it. But ultimately, it’s my responsibility to get the football team ready. I think we all saw by the way we played in the first 20 minutes of the game, we didn’t play the same way that we played all year. So I told our team yesterday, I’ll take full responsibility for the preparation. You need to take full responsibility about the way you play and the level that you need to play at.”
It’s a little bit of a different tune than Kelly sang about his standard bye-week preparation, but it’s essentially the same message. The life of a student-athlete at any school, especially Notre Dame, is filled with structure. Adjusting to the changes in schedule proved mighty difficult on Saturday. Still, Kelly and his staff will do their part. The players also need to do theirs.
Kris Proctor is likely out for the game on Saturday after dislocating his elbow against East Carolina. That brings in sophomore Trey Miller at quarterback. Kelly talked about the differences between the two.
“Obviously Procter is a lot more experienced, but Miller threw the ball very well and very effectively and led his team back,” Kelly said. “They’re going to run their system and plug in the next guy and run the same system, so for us it doesn’t change anything. You know, this is one system where you don’t go in and go, If quarterback A plays we do this, and if B is coming in then we got to do that. So there is no difference as it relates to the two quarterbacks. The skillset is the same. There’s a little bit more experience with Procter.”
One area where Navy will likely take a step back is in option execution. Miller just doesn’t have the experience running the triple option that Proctor had, meaning that Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive staff might need to dumb down the running portion of the game plan, while also taking some playaction deep shots at the Irish cornerbacks, who will likely spend a lot of the day in one-on-one coverage.