Playoffs or not, Irish get back to work

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Notre Dame’s playoff hopes are dead. But the Irish are not.

Head coach Brian Kelly met with the media on Tuesday for his weekly press conference, reminding everybody that there are still three very important games on the schedule.

“Look, we haven’t talked about playoffs since day one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “So there is no change from that standpoint. There is not one day where I went in front of them during the year and we said, ‘All right, need to keep winning if you want to go to the playoffs.'”

While fans of the Irish caught in the title wave of chatter about inclusion into college football’s first Final Four, the reality is quite a bit simpler for Kelly’s team. And while last weekend’s loss still stings, it’s on to Northwestern.

“The focus for us is about playing better football,” Kelly said. “You know we’re disappointed in the way we played last week, now we got an opportunity to do something about that, and we got a chance to do something at home against Northwestern.”

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After another botched field goal attempt, Kelly acknowledged that he’ll be making a change at holder. Backup quarterback Malik Zaire will take over for Hunter Smith, hoping to solidify a situation that’s been shaky since the Irish’s narrow victory over Stanford.

“Malik will take over that responsibility. He will be our starting holder,” Kelly said. “We’ve had three drops. Three’s too many. Can’t take a fourth, so we’re going to make a switch at that position.”

Zaire’s move to holder isn’t one that Kelly took lightly. And while he stuck with Smith, a walk-on who works exclusively with long-snapper Scott Daly in practice, Zaire will still spend the majority of his time with the quarterbacks during practice before getting reps as holder during special teams segments.

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For as miserable as Northwestern’s offense has played this year, the Wildcats defense has done a very good job. With Everett Golson and the Irish passing attack going up against a surprisingly stout secondary, Kelly said Nortwehstern’s success in holding opponents down in the passing game (the Wildcats are giving up just 210 yards passing per game) reminded him of the Irish defense under Bob Diaco.

“They’re a lot like we were defensively, where they don’t give up the big play,” Kelly said. “They are okay with you taking short hitches and short stuff. They’re okay with you screwing it up way before they do…

“They keep the ball in front, they stay over the top, and do a very good job of corralling things and rallying to the football. Very similar scheme, what we ran in the last couple of years and not giving up the big play defensively and banking on the fact that you won’t be patient enough.”