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Monday Morning Leftovers: On Brian Kelly, defensive lines & Notre Dame in the NFL

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As has been well-covered already, the conversation around Irish coach Brian Kelly changed quickly following Notre Dame’s 20-19 loss to Georgia on Saturday night. The conversation did not change because of the defeat, but rather because of a terse exchange Kelly had with a reporter in the postgame press conference.

For the majority of Kelly’s tenure in South Bend, he has been criticized for being too much like a politician, sidestepping questions and offering non-answer answers whenever it suited him. That look aged much better than Saturday’s pointed attempt at pithiness.

The unexpected aspect of it is Kelly had delivered an excellent press conference to that point. He expressed disappointment in the loss, credited Georgia and discussed the areas the Irish need to improve. If he had simply blown by the final question of the evening — perhaps like a politician — he very well may have been praised for how he handled defeat.

“We’re really close to being the kind of football team that can play with anybody. We were short on a couple things today. We’ll shore them up and we’ll get back at it next week, and I like my football team.”

That could have been his final answer of substance. It would have been a strong note to essentially close on if Kelly had then simply offered generic responses to a question he did not like.

The question: “What exactly will be different [following this close loss compared to last year’s one-possession losses]?”

The possible answers: “We have better leadership in the locker room.”
“This is this year. That was last year.”
Or even project bravado. “We’ll win next week. That’ll be different.”

As much as the exchange may bother many, it is engaging in it at all that most baffles.

— A high school buddy attended the Auburn at Clemson game Saturday night, wearing the visiting shades of blue-and-orange. His praising words of the experience included, “Bar before was phenomenal. View was great. … Tailgating beforehand was great as well. Fans were surprisingly welcoming.”

That last observation has come to be a theme in the modern era of scheduling. When non-traditional but high-profile foes visit each other, the fans engage with respect and cheer more than anything else. The most vivid and pertinent example may be the testimonials any Irish fans would offer of their trip to Oklahoma in 2012. The Sooner fans were happy to see blue-and-gold. Even in defeat, the exchanges were universally pleasant.

The majority of accounts this weekend indicate that was the feeling around Notre Dame Stadium. If there was undue frustration about the influx of Georgia fans, it was not aimed at them, but rather the Irish fans who accommodated needs for tickets.

— Apropos of nothing, $600 would pay for a full football season’s cable and internet bills. Then, one could watch any games he or she wanted for five full months. It would also cover the majority, if not the entirety, of one month’s rent of a one-bedroom apartment only miles from campus. If not living in South Bend, $600 would pay for the gas needed to drive 1,000 miles roundtrip to all the Notre Dame home games this year. That radius extends to Minneapolis, or to Nashville, or well past Pittsburgh.

Think about the hundreds of drinks $600 could buy. Literally, hundreds. Depending on the weekend, $600 could even pay for a round-trip flight to New York City.

— That Clemson conversation with the Auburn Tiger led to thoughts about defensive lines in college football. If the Bulldogs domination of a vaunted Irish offensive line showed anything, it showed defensive lines beat offensive lines of equal talent in college football. It is similar to receivers beating defensive backs of equal talent.

The defensive linemen (or receivers) know what they are trying to do. They make the first move. The offensive linemen (or defensive backs) are trying to stop that. They must rely on reactionary moves.

That dynamic was a key reason Clemson beat Alabama for the national championship a season ago, and it remains a key reason the Tigers are near the top of the heap again this year.

It is why North Carolina State was a trendy sleeper pick this offseason. This space was guilty of that one, in particular, but do not chalk it up to a mistake just yet. The Wolfpack did get back to winning this week and could make life difficult for a freshman Florida State quarterback by the end of the month.

Even Notre Dame’s defensive line showed the reality of this dynamic Saturday night. An Irihs defensive line with questions bested a Georgia offensive line with questions. Equal talent levels favor the unit able to attack. By definition, that will be the defensive line.

Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

To anyone saying an offensive line should attack, the primary purpose of an offensive line is to prevent an attack. They are blocking, not rushing. It is in the job description.

— With all that in mind, let’s file a College Football Playoff prediction in these parts. Alabama, Clemson, USC and Oklahoma State.

— Some Notre Dame in the NFL notes: Former Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt signed a five-year $60 million contract Saturday. A day later he may have ended his season with a torn biceps, MRI results to confirm pending.

Former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith saw real, meaningful action Sunday night, and he did not disappoint. Smith notched seven tackles and forced a fumble in a Dallas Cowboys victory.

Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer got the start for the Cleveland Browns. The team lost 21-18 to Tuitt’s Pittsburgh Steelers, but Kizer completed 20-of-30 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown, also throwing an interception and rushing for an additional score.

— This will be posted throughout the week as a reminder: The Notre Dame at Boston College game kickoff time has been moved to 3:30 p.m. ET. It will be available on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

The Irish were initially favored by 14.5 points, though that line has already moved to 13.