Kelly: Irish need to play their best to beat Stanford

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Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media today to discuss Saturday’s showdown with Stanford. And a week after surviving a five-turnover game against Syracuse, Kelly made it pretty clear that he knew that type of effort wasn’t going to cut it.

“They know that they are going to have to be at their very, very best to beat Stanford,” Kelly said.

To that point, there’s good personnel news that’ll allow the Irish to improve. Slot receiver Amir Carlisle, who sat out against Syracuse after he suffered a knee injury against Purdue, was back atop the depth chart. A week after Kelly called Carlisle’s return just questionable, he expressed healthy optimism that the senior would be ready to answer the bell against a program where he was once a verbal commitment.

“I think we are all very surprised where he is today,” Kelly said. “I’m going to put him in team. I’m going to put him in seven‑on‑seven and I’ll probably give him 50 percent of the reps that I would normally give him and then I’ll have a good sense after today where we are with him.”

Also returning to the depth chart is senior captain Austin Collinsworth, who is listed as Elijah Shumate’s backup at strong safety. Last week, Kelly said Collinsworth was set to play limited snaps, though after the game he acknowledged he was an emergency option only. This week, he’ll likely contribute against a talented Stanford receiving corps.

“Austin, is so much further along,” Kelly said. “I would expect that he would help us this weekend.”

If there’s one major talking point that came up over and over (besides questions about Kelly’s concussion protocol after seeing Brady Hoke’s controversial treatment of Wolverines’ quarterback Shane Morris), it was Stanford’s stout defense. Through four games, it’s the number one defense in the country by a number of statistical measures.

The Cardinal are No. 1 in scoring defense. They are No. 1 in total defense. They are No. 1 in passing defense. And they are doing it with new defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, who was promoted after Derek Mason took the Vanderbilt job, and was on Harbaugh’s original staff in 2007.

Kelly talked about his program’s respect for the Cardinal and head coach David Shaw, who has continued to build from a blueprint started by Jim Harbaugh (more on this later in the week).

“I think we all know a lot about Stanford and Coach Shaw and the consistency that they have played at the national level,” Kelly said. “We have a great deal of respect for their football team, their program, their coaching staff, their players. It’s a veteran football team.”

The game within the game will likely match up Notre Dame’s receivers with a tough Stanford secondary. The Cardinal held USC’s passing attack to just 135 yards, so putting Carlisle, Corey Robinson and Will Fuller to work against veteran cornerbacks Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons is a battle Notre Dame needs to find a way to win.

Kelly talked about the growing confidence among the receivers, especially with Chris Brown getting his first consistent production last weekend.

“I think it’s a group that is gaining confidence along the way. They are making some plays, and I think as you make plays, I’ve always felt that that’s how you gain confidence,” Kelly said. “I think Chris Brown made some plays and you could see he gained some confidence curing the game.

“Certainly Will Fuller is gaining confidence each and every week. You know, so I just think it’s a matter of those guys continuing to make plays. I thought that they blocked well opponent the perimeter, which is another important part of the development of our wide receiving core.

“So we are four games into it. You know, a third of the way, and I think that they have made pretty good progress.”