Kelly shifts gears to North Carolina

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Sandwiched between big-time national matchups, Notre Dame and North Carolina meet this Saturday in South Bend. And while Irish fans have been calling this game a trap since August, Brian Kelly talked a little bit about the mindset that’s needed when dealing with a schedule that includes headliners and land mines, all worth the same at the end.

“I think we do a lot of things to prevent having somebody stand up and really try to re‑center,” Kelly said, preaching an even keeled approach. “Last week, we didn’t make too much of the emotional part of the Stanford game. We talked more about, it’s one game. Yeah, it’s Stanford and the fans are going to be excited and it’s going to be a great atmosphere.

“But in its totality, it’s one game and it’s one step. So we can’t play up each week because you just can’t do it here at Notre Dame or you’re going to stumble. I think it’s been a mindset that we’ve tried to cast into our day‑to‑day preparation.”

Kelly echoed a line that we’ve heard Jaylon Smith attribute to his head coach multiple times. This team won’t rise to the occasion, but rather sink to their preparation.

That attitude helps explain how the Irish have turned playing at home in Notre Dame Stadium into a true home field advantage, winning 16 of their last 17 at home, the only loss coming to Oklahoma in 2013.

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While we still await the smoke signal from the Golden Dome that’ll finally mean the university brass has reached a verdict on the five withheld football players, Kelly discussed a few interesting things during his Tuesday presser. The first was quarterback Everett Golson, who almost suited up for North Carolina.

On the day the Irish flipped Penn State commit Brandon Wimbush, a look back at Golson’s recruitment, and how Kelly decided to go after him was a nice walk down Memory Lane for Irish fans.

“We were looking for a quarterback that fit the style of offense that we wanted to run here. There were very few quarterbacks at that time that fit that profile. And so that was really the connection,” Kelly said. “We knew a couple coaches in the area that had contacted us about him that were familiar with Notre Dame. We did not have a personal contact with anybody. There was somebody in the school that was looking out for Notre Dame that contacted us, and that’s kind of what got us involved there. But after we watched some film and did some evaluation, he clearly fit the kind of quarterback that we were looking for for our offense.”

If you remember back to Golson’s recruitment, he wasn’t a “wow” quarterback from a star-rating perspective. But almost immediately upon signing the early enrollee, Kelly was excited about the South Carolina native, even mentioning his promising quarterback recruit when talking about the Irish during a guest stint during the NFL Draft on the NFL Network.

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Expect the Irish running game to get healthy this weekend against North Carolina’s young defense. That should mean a big day for Greg Bryant, who still is technically just a third-stringer, even if he leads the team in rushing average.

But Kelly talked about Bryant’s evolution Tuesday, and why even though his 4.8 yards a carry is better than Tarean Folston (3.9) or Cam McDaniel (3.6), why Bryant still hasn’t truly emerged as a go-to back.

“A lot of it is learning. Greg is a freshman. He truly is getting his first sense of competition, and it’s going to come for him, there’s no question about that,” Kelly said. “Greg just needs more time to develop, and he will, and he’ll be an outstanding player for us. It’s just, I think everybody wants it to happen right away.

“He just needs a little bit more time and finishing off runs is probably biggest thing right now. He wants and I think I alluded to this maybe last week in one of the conferences that we had, is that he wants everything to be a big run, and he’s got to finish off some runs and he’s working on that.”

No more obvious example of that was the open field stutter move Bryant attempted to put on Stanford safety Jordan Richards. Bryant’s first cut put Richards out of position and capable of bursting into the open field. But Bryant cut back, essentially helping Richards recover, and the veteran safety stopped Bryant for a minimal gain.

“In high school, he could make that guy miss,” Kelly said. “You know, that’s one heck of a good safety at Stanford. Lower your pads, run through the tackle, get us four yards. That’s all we were looking for on Saturday. We were looking for four yards. Sometimes that’s hard, you know, when you’re 19 and you’re used to getting 40 every time you touch it. So that’s just development and it will come.”

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Want another piece of evidence that this Irish football team is developing physically? Kelly told us to check the hot tub. In years past in a heavyweight battle against a team like Stanford, his team took a beating. But not this year.

“I can just tell you in the first couple years here, you know, it was a hot tub-jacuzzi kind of Monday for us,” Kelly said. “It was a bruising kind of game. We weren’t that kind of football team yesterday.”