Kelly on targeting, or a lack thereof; Notre Dame’s offensive & defensive lines

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Before fully moving on to preparations to face Miami (OH) this weekend (requisite reminder: 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Irish coach Brian Kelly tended to some business leftover from the 38-18 Notre Dame victory at Michigan State.

Only 10 minutes into the game, Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush escaped a collapsing pocket for a three-yard gain near midfield. Spartans sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie made the tackle by wrapping up Wimbush’s legs. Senior linebacker Chris Frey, part of the initial pressure on Wimbush, pursued the play from behind. His dive to tackle Wimbush began fairly enough, a clean-up effort should Bachie’s arm tackle be broken. With Wimbush secured, though, the airborne Frey tucked his head directly into Wimbush’s back, just below his neck.

Upon reviewing the film, Notre Dame and Kelly felt it was a blatant display of targeting and a missed call.

“It was egregious, and there’s no other way to look at that kind of hit,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That has no place in the game.”

The Irish turned in the play for further review in evaluations of the officials. In the past — Kelly specifically cited the crew that refereed the 2016 game against Texas — such processes have led to discrete discipline of the officiating crew in question.

Kelly is not uniformly in favor of the targeting rule. Frey’s exhibit, however, fit the category Kelly feels should be called.

“I was watching a game on the way back on the bus, and there was a young man thrown out of the game trying to make a tackle, just trying to make a tackle,” Kelly said. “Then we have this instance when this young man was not trying to make a tackle. We can’t seem to get that right, and we have a replay official that is supposed to be looking for that.

“That is extremely frustrating when somebody has to be thrown out of a game trying to make a tackle; somebody is still in the game, and he’s not trying to make a tackle.”

Kelly was presumably referencing the third-quarter ejection of Stanford cornerback Alijah Holder in the Cardinal’s victory over UCLA.

“Tackling where somebody lowers their head as you’re trying to make a tackle and there’s no intention to target, that’s part of the game,” Kelly said. “We just can’t get that right, and it’s extremely frustrating.”

On running backs & health
Junior Josh Adams and sophomore Tony Jones are each battling ankle issues, though Kelly did not indicate one direction or the other if they would be available against the RedHawks this weekend. Adams’ injury — that noun may be too strong, but for efficiency’s sake let’s proceed with it having now inserted this disclaimer — arose at halftime of the victory over Michigan State. “Stiffness” led to an X-ray, which revealed nothing of greater concern. By the sounds of it, Kelly may attribute some of that to fatigue.

“My job this week will be really to monitor the health of the group and making sure that we get them back so they’re 100 percent on Saturday,” he said. “I don’t want to tax one [running back] over the other. I want to makes sure that they’re all peaking on Saturday.”

Jones may have been closer to playing time against the Spartans then realized, only being ruled out when some tentative testing showed his sprained ankle was still limiting his explosiveness. Thus, junior Deon McIntosh saw an influx of opportunity.

“Deon is fearless,” Kelly said. “He’ll go anywhere. He doesn’t have a problem running it up inside. We felt like that was the smart move. This week now, we’ll have to balance that out and find what the best rotation is.”

The fourth piece of the rotation would be junior Dexter Williams. If Adams is full-go, Williams is the No. 2 option to run the ball, sometimes the No. 3 option overall behind Jones’ blocking and receiving skills, but his outright rushing abilities have exceeded any deniability.

“[Williams is] a bit raw in the sense that we don’t like to cage him up,” Kelly said. “… Sometimes you’re just like, give the ball to Dexter and let him go. Maybe that’s not fair to Dexter, but we don’t want to hold him back. He’s got great acceleration. We want to try to get him in open spaces as much as we can.”

Offensive line praise
Whoever leads the rushing attack, he follows the path paved by Notre Dame’s offensive line. After a somewhat disappointing performance against Georgia, the Irish line has excelled in the last two weeks.

“It’s just a group that was still evolving and still coming together, Kelly said. “Each week is a new week.

“Georgia is a good football team, and they beat us that week. We were ready to move on and tackle the next challenge.”

Kelly offered praise for all six of Notre Dame’s contributing linemen, with freshman Rob Hainsey splitting time with sophomore Tommy Kraemer at right tackle.

On Hainsey: “Hainsey is a beautiful pass setter. He’s about as flawless as a pass setter as there is in college football at his age. He’s a young player, so that’s showing itself in practice, and it’s translating into games.”
On Kraemer: “Extremely physical, and that showed itself on film. He’s throwing guys around, literally.”
On senior right guard Alex Bars: “Alex Bars stays on his feet and plays with great balance and leverage. That wasn’t necessarily the case last year.”
On senior center Sam Mustipher: “He is all over this week’s highlight clips, and that’s the kind of pride he has in his performance. And they were late in the game. He was all over the place. … His ability to pull, his ability to snap the ball effectively, he’s made great strides in that area. He takes great pride in it.”
On senior left guard Quenton Nelson and fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey: “Stay away from those two. Each and every week they have a mindset of wanting to dominate.”

Defensive line praise
Kelly gave similar general praise of the defensive counterpart, but also mentioned an area needing improvement.

“I’d give them an A-,” he said. “The minus is probably lost a little bit of focus here and there at times.

“Their ability to use their hands, play with a much better discipline in terms of how they fit in our front seven is probably an A+.”