Talk of the TownSaturday's season-opening win over Purdue offered Irish fans a new topic of conversation…or at least changed the conversation's tone.
Senior cornerbacks Gary Gray and Darrin Walls produced the best tandem effort at the position in recent memory. They, along with the Irish safeties, have a new challenge Saturday as the speed and quickness of the Wolverine's skill players far exceeds that of the previous opponent.
But Kelly noted there won't be a major schematic change to combat that skill set.
"I don't know that there will be much of a difference in the back end of our defense from week to week relative to what we expect them to do," Kelly noted. "If their players stay above the cut, if they're a cover two, get your hands on and reroute and be in a good position to tackle.
"So we're not going to be that much different from what you saw against Purdue in our scheme. We're who we're going to be…getting our guys to play fast and tackle well. If we can do those two things, you won't see much of a difference schematically."
Asked if he was close to having the luxury of one, two or three "lockdown" corners, Kelly explained the misnomer of the overused term.
"I think that term is when you're playing a lot of man-to-man coverage. Quite frankly, our corners are in double zone quite a bit," Kelly explained.
"I think (‘lockdown) is when that guy is put on an island. I can take my guy and he's going to beat you virtually every time. We don't get into those situations very much."
Given the opportunity, Kelly again expressed the preference for the physical.
"But I can tell you the thing that we ask them to do is to be solid tacklers on the perimeter. Both of them showed to be very solid tacklers on the perimeter. If they can get that, I'll take that over a lock down corner."
Injuries: the good, the bad, the seriousNotables that struggled with either minor or worrisome injuries Saturday included linebackers Darius Fleming and Prince Shembo and free safety Jamoris Slaughter. Fleming and Shembo (cramping issues) should be fine. Slaughter's status appears in doubt.
"He had a procedure where really he's a day ahead (of normal schedule)," Kelly said of Slaughter's ankle sprain. "(It was) a procedure that requires 72 hours of absolutely no walking, and he was jogging in (team stretching Wednesday). "So he's a day ahead. We'll see tomorrow and then I think I'll see a better picture of that heading into Friday." Slaughter's return is imminent. 5th-year senior center Dan Wenger's is not.
"Dan and I had a long conversation today," Kelly said. "He's had these concussions. We're going to have to make a decision as to whether we're going to be able to put him back out on the field. We're really hesitant to do that right now. He had another concussion yesterday so that's his second concussion in a matter of three weeks.
"That's a decision our medical team is looking at right now," Kelly continued. "Dan's involved in that decision. Dan's family's involved. So we should be very cautious with anybody that's had two concussions in a short period of time."
If Wenger does not return to the field this season, his football career would likely be over.
"Right now we have to be extremely conservative when we have a young man that hasn't had game contact and has suffered two concussions," Kelly added. "We're never going to make any announcements on a young kid's future in the media but player safety here is of the upmost concern. We'll try to make a decision here in the next few days."
Rattling Robinson197 rushing yards. 19 completions in 22 pass attempts, 186 passing yards. One career start. One win.
All eyes will be on Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson Saturday in South Bend, but Kelly doesn't expect that to influence the young signal-caller.
"Not in the offense that they run; their offense is set to run the football," Kelly offered of the notion Robinson could succumb to the pressure of a national audience in a rivalry game. "He'll throw the ball and he's very accurate (too). Most of his throws were containable throws; within five or 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. But he certainly can throw the football if you're falling asleep on him he can put the ball over your head.
"The point I'm making is: he's a running back. And the only way I know to take a running back out of play is to hit him and make sure you tackle him. If you really want to take it to the root (the game's top story): you have to tackle this kid."
Rattling Rich-RodNotre Dame possessed the football for less than four minutes of Saturday's third quarter vs. the Boilermakers. During that 3:44 of total possession, the Irish offense scored 7 points. Conversely, Purdue used its 11:16 to run 23 plays while ringing up a goose egg on the scoreboard.
To boot, Kelly's Cincinnati offense ranked last (120th) in time of possession last season, but No. 4 nationally in points-per-game (38.62). You can probably guess the staff's view of the overvalued Time of Possession statistic.
Still, keeping the ball away from Denard Robinson and not allowing Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez a play-calling comfort level would appear to be a prudent tact this Saturday.
Kelly has an alternative viewpoint.
"Get up on them. Score a lot of points," Kelly said while noting that maintaining possession is also logical.
"There are some option principles (in Michigan's attack)," Kelly explained. "Option teams don't like to fall behind. They do and they get off schedule and they have to do some things they don't want to do.
"One (plan of success) is controlling the football; the other is put a lot of points on the board and it changes the way they manage the game, too."
Player Points5th-year senior cornerback Barry Gallup has played the role of Denard Robinson as Notre Dame's Scout team quarterback this week. Gallup was recruited as a running back and has practiced at that position as well as wide receiver before converting to cornerback this August in an effort to help the depleted unit.
Kelly has been pleased with the unselfish competitor's approach this week.
"Really smart," Kelly said of Gallup. "He understands the offense; very quick. He's elusive, he's strong. He can stay on his feet and give us a great look as a 5th-year senior."
Michael Floyd: The junior receiver led the Irish with 5 receptions for 82 yards in the team's opener. But more was expected from the potential All-American. Kelly has at least one quick fix to ensure additional involvement in the offense.
"One way is to keep the ball in bounds when we throw it to him. Don't put it up in the band section," Kelly offered in reference to two potential touchdown tosses from Dayne Crist that sailed out of bounds vs. the solo-covered Floyd ("Solo" and "Floyd" = potential touchdown.)
"I think the band members would appreciate that as well," Kelly joked before adding the obvious. "I think the offense is always going to be ‘How do you get the ball to Michael Floyd?' But teams are going to double; and Theo Riddick has to step up…guys like that. The game will kind of dictate that. If they're doubling Mike, we're going to do something else."
Protecting the Pivot: Kelly noted that former center Mike Golic, Jr. would return to compete as a backup center in Wenger's stead. Golic was listed on Saturday's opening depth chart as the second string right guard behind Trevor Robinson. Backup left guard Chris Watt will also provide support at center.
Armando's Evolution: Two coaching staffs (the former and the current) have lauded the work ethic, leadership, and team-first approach of running back Armando Allen, who last year became a solid, if unspectacular runner when healthy. Kelly expounded on Allen this week, noting that the senior continues to improve…and that he may have no choice.
"I think what I see more than anything else is a sense of urgency. He clearly understands that he's got to get it done; because the next guy in (Cierre Wood), he can get it done. (Allen) clearly understands that.
"I thought his work athletic changed in the spring. I wasn't that fired up about his work ethic in the spring. He showed toughness in camp; he came to work every day; he didn't beg out of anything. And I think he developed himself in a lot of ways to prepare himself for the kind of game he had Saturday and he'll play like that each week."