Brian Kelly is not going to worry about giving USC a nominal heads-up before the return of the long-standing rivalry Saturday (7:30 ET; NBC). While most coaches would waste time with tranparent gamesmanship before facing a rival — a tactic the Irish head coach bordered on before traveling to Virginia Tech two weeks ago — Kelly went ahead and named Notre Dame’s starting quarterback on Monday.
“[Sophomore Drew Pyne] has done some really good things for us. If we feel like we’re in a situation where we need to call on him, we would, but I think right now, as we look at it, in my mind and I know in [offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’], Jack would start and we’ll continue to get Tyler more playing time.”
That was blunt enough and without any qualifiers to preemptively assuage any speculation about Kelly misleading the media and/or the Trojans. Coan will start in primetime, looking to build off his dramatic game-tying and game-winning drives against the Hokies before the Irish idle week.
To some extent, Kelly sees Buchner and Coan as complementary. While Buchner may struggle with diagnosing coverages after playing only one season of his last three in high school and thus may excel with only a portion of the playbook, his mobility can wear out defensive fronts, making life easier for Coan later in the game when an efficient downfield offensive attack may be vital
“Those defensive linemen are chasing Tyler Buchner, and they are tiring out a little bit, so that pass rush is not quite the same in the first or second series as it is in that last series,” Kelly said.
A more cohesive offensive line could also make Coan’s life easier, something that appeared late in that 32-29 win at Virginia Tech, in part because junior Andrew Kristofic replaced classmate Zeke Correll at left guard. Kelly said Kristofic will start Saturday. Freshman Joe Alt will start at left tackle, another piece of the changes at Lane Stadium.
As much as the figurative headline above those moves is about how the offensive line can better protect Coan, it can also better open holes for the running game, just as Buchner’s running threat can draw defenders away from the running backs.
“It’s a process for us that we feel better about right now,” Kelly said. “We’ve made some changes on the offensive line. We think personnel makes a difference. We think Tyler adds a little bit more balance there because when you have to defend the quarterback, obviously, you can get more diversity.
“You’re going to continue to see an uptick in terms of the running game and it’s consistency.”
To help that cause, Notre Dame often turns to multiple tight ends. That has long been an Irish staple. But with sophomore Kevin Bauman out for a few more weeks (broken) leg and freshman Cane Berrong now out for the season with a torn MCL, Notre Dame is turning to sophomore Michael Carmody. In the time it took the left tackle to recover from a sprained ankle suffered on Sept. 11, Alt established himself as the entrenched left tackle with sophomore Tosh Baker an able backup.
Thus, in a twist that was genuinely unexpected, the Irish depth chart now lists Carmody among the tight ends.
“With Alt being the left tackle, now Carmody kind of slips into doing a little bit of doing everything for us,” Kelly said. “That kind of serves in that role for us. He’s a big guy that can add some size into that 13 package for us. … For the immediate purpose of needing that next tight end, he definitely serves a great role for us.”
Neither Buchner’s apparent ankle injury nor sophomore running back Chris Tyree’s turf toe injuries suffered at Lane Stadium kept them out of practice last week.
“Buchner is good,” Kelly said. “I wouldn’t say he was 100 percent last week, but he got a lot of reps and should be 100 percent for this week.”
Sophomore tight end Michael Mayer “looks to be 100 percent” after sitting out that tilt with a groin injury.