Kelly preps the Irish for Stanford

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Before the Irish break for the holiday and set off to Palo Alto, Brian Kelly took some time to talk with the media and get everyone up to speed on injuries, Stanford, his Thanksgiving plans, and what the Irish need to do to spring an upset on No. 4 Stanford.

As usual, the guys at NBC took the time to cut us the greatest hits. I’ll give you a few thoughts below as well.

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Not that we didn’t already know, but Kelly confirmed that Jonas Gray tore his ACL. Here are the heartbreaking particulars:

“His MRI came back, and was what we thought it would be —  it was a torn ACL,” Kelly said. “There was some other collateral damage in there that’s going to have to be taken care of as well, and so we’re in the process of setting up that surgery.”

Kelly put the recovery timetable at six months. That should give Jonas plenty of time to get healthy, get back in shape and find an NFL training camp.

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It’s still up in the air whether or not Theo Riddick will be healthy enough to play, let alone transition to running back. But it’s clear that Notre Dame is going to need to get production out of freshmen George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel. Neither have done much of anything from the line of scrimmage and will face one of their stiffest tests on Saturday night.

“We certainly are going to have to count on George and Cam.  They’re going to have to play for us.  They’re going to have to play Saturday against Stanford.  There’s no question.”

It’s a big big week for running backs coach Tim Hinton. We haven’t seen anything out of Atkinson (as a running back) or McDaniel that makes us think they’ll be ready for significant touches. Neither are physically imposing players, and if the Irish can get anything out of them in the running game, it’ll be a great help to keeping Cierre Wood fresh.

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Speaking of Cierre, it’s not as if the Irish running game is left for dead with Gray’s injury. Before he started splitting carries, Wood was on pace to potentially break the Irish all-time record for rushing yards in a season.

“He’s still Cierre Wood,” Kelly said. “There was a good balance there.  Obviously losing somebody that scored 12 or 14 touchdowns in Jonas Gray was a blow to us. But we still have a 1000‑yard rusher in Cierre Wood, and that’s a good thing to have to going into your last game.”

For Wood, this is a spotlight opportunity for the junior running back, who’ll be back home on the West Coast for Thanksgiving. If there’s ever such thing as a springboard game for 2012, this could be it for Cierre, with a national audience there to watch the explosive and shifty runner — something that’s troubled the normally stout Cardinal run defense — take center stage.

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We’ll spend more time this week singing Andrew Luck‘s praises. But one key to his success is the playaction passing game. To limit that, the Irish will need to play great on early downs and force Stanford’s hand, as opposed to try and out-scheme the veteran signal caller.

“I don’t know that he’s going to get confused by anything,” Kelly said of Luck. “I think it’s a matter of us doing a really good job in play‑action and knowing when he’s going to throw it. Putting him in those positions when he has to throw the football is the most important thing. First and second down obviously are very crucial to us.”

With Stephon Tuitt still questionable with an illness, the Irish will need Prince Shembo to play one of his best games of the season, especially if he’s lined up at the drop linebacker position. If the Irish can get solid linebacker play out of Shembo and the combination of Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese, and get Darius Fleming after the quarterback, the defense will have a chance.

(After being held approximately 300 times this year, it’ll also be nice to get Aaron Lynch finishing off his sack opportunities, or at the very least drawing a flag for his efforts.)