Sun Devils present major challenge for Irish (VIDEO)

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Brian Kelly met with the local media on Tuesday to discuss Notre Dame’s trip to Tempe this weekend. And the battle with Arizona State certainly has Brian Kelly’s attention.

A season after playing one of their best games in beating Todd Graham‘s squad in AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Kelly knows it’ll take a similar effort to emerge victorious. With quarterback Taylor Kelly finding his rhythm after missing three games with a foot injury, Kelly talked about the scheme offensive coordinator Mike Norvell employs.

“Offensively I think Mike Norvell, one of the best offensive coordinators in the country, does a great job. Great balance on offense. I think that’s one of the things that stands out right away,” Kelly said. “Their ability to run the football sets up their play action pass… Just a very dynamic offense that is multiple. Multiple formations, multiple personnel groupings, play fast. Very dynamic offense, and they have been for the last few years.”

Of course, Kelly has gotten to know the flip side of the football for the Sun Devils as well. After facing off with Graham as Tulsa, Pitt and Arizona State’s head coach, Graham and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson run an attacking, aggressive scheme that isn’t too different than the one the Irish go up against every day at practice.

“Defensively you’re going to get a very similar look that we try to employ. It’s an aggressive scheme, one that is going to try to take away the run but also try to get the ball away from you,” Kelly said.

That scheme has turned around after some high-profile struggles. Against UCLA, the Sun Devils defense melted down, giving up 62 points and 580 yards of offense. But after escaping Southern Cal on a Hail Mary pass to win 38-34, the defense has helped carry the team, giving up just 10, 10 and 16 points to Stanford, Washington and Utah last weekend.

Kelly talked about the changes to the Sun Devil defense, mostly in their ability to eliminate the big plays that killed them.

“There’s eight new players on that defense, so you could see that they’re understanding what they’re doing a lot better and what Coach Graham wants them to do,” Kelly said. “I think when we broke down the film, I think USC had three plays for 256 yards, three plays for 256 yards. I think they’ve eradicated some of those catastrophe type plays out of their defense.”

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When it comes to the Irish, the biggest personnel change this week was the move of Nyles Morgan into the starting middle linebacker job. The depth chart now lists Morgan in front of Michael Deeb with Joe Schmidt done for the season after successful ankle surgery this morning.

Kelly was asked how the Irish defense will fare with a youngster in the middle of it, and the head coach was candid, especially when discussing Morgan’s inexperience.

“Look, Nyles has been here 12 weeks. He’s had 12 weeks of coaching, and Coach VanGorder is extremely confident in Nyles’ ability to go in there and play,” Kelly said. “We think we’ve got a guy that can go in there. His traits are pretty clear. He’s extremely athletic. We’ll put him in a position where he can help us win a football game on Saturday.”

Kelly quickly praised the freshman’s ability to dig in and prepare. He also talked about the tough teaching he’s already withstood this season, with VanGorder and Kelly not taking it easy on a young player that this staff believes has sky-high potential.

“We have been so hard on him. I think we said to him about three weeks in, ‘You’re either going to quit or you’re going to be one of the best players that’s ever played here,'” Kelly explained. “We’re hard on him, really hard on him, and he just keeps coming back asking for more. That’s the kind of kid he is.”

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Outside of Schmidt’s season-ending injury, just about everybody else got out of the Navy game alive. A season after injuries collapsed the defensive depth chart, it should be all (other) hands on deck, with Jarron Jones, Sheldon Day and James Onwualu back to practice this afternoon.

“Our full medical would be James Onwualu was cleared yesterday through his concussion testing protocol, so he is cleared for practice today,” Kelly said. “Jarron had an ankle sprain which responded well to treatment, so he’ll be full go at practice today. Sheldon Day had a brachial plexus, so he responded well to treatment. He’s strong today, so he’s cleared for practice.”

While I watched a lot of Doogie Howser as a kid, in case you were wondering, “brachial plexus” is the medical term for “stinger,” so Day got out of a nasty collision with Onwualu in about the best condition you could ask for.

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A week after emerging as one of the better wide receivers on the field against Florida State, sophomore Will Fuller disappeared on Saturday against Navy. While he scored his ninth touchdown of the season against the Midshipmen, his three catches for just 16 yards didn’t sit well with his head coach.

When Kelly was asked about redshirt freshman receiver Torii Hunter finding more snaps this weekend, Kelly turned the focus to his emerging star receiver.

“Well, if Will Fuller practices the way he did last week, [Torii] will get a lot more playing time, because that’s the way he played,” Kelly quipped.

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After playing seemingly every road game with a primetime kickoff, last week ABC announced that kickoff will be in the 3:30 ET time slot, with a local kick scheduled for a relatively early 1:37 p.m.

The news was a surprise not just for fans, but for the Irish coaching staff as well. And while the logistics make for an easier return to South Bend after the football game, it’ll require a slight tweak to the standard away game schedule.

“We were in a routine of playing night games, so I mean, my preference, I’m a coach, so I’m a product of habit. I would have preferred the habit of playing night games,” Kelly said, when asked about his preference.

“Having said that, it will make no difference on the outcome of the game, whether it’s at noon, 1:30, 2:30, 6:30 or midnight. I’m used to getting in that routine for our football team. It might have been a little bit cooler at night. Other than that, no excuses, let’s go play.”

With high temperatures expected to be in the low-to-mid-80s on Saturday, the Irish have already started working with their nutrition team to add additional fluids to their diet.

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Lastly, graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy had surgery today as he continues his battle with cancer. Kelly said that surgery was successful.