Speed off the edge; cannibalism at the point of attackNotre Dame message boards were atwitter (pardon the mixed media metaphor) after the play of freshman outside ‘backer Prince Shembo in last week's blowout of Utah. Shembo racked up a career high 54 snaps (by his head coach's estimate) in place of starting CAT ‘backer Darius Fleming and totaled 5 tackles, one sack (he now has 3.5 on the season) and a late-game QB pressure that ended Utah's final threat.
Kelly was high on Shembo's potential in the fall. Has the freshman powerhouse still exceeded expectations?
"Prince Shembo will bite your nose off," Kelly answered. "We knew that from the very beginning. He's just a tenacious football player. That's the way he plays the game.
"He doesn't necessarily have all of his assignments down. There's a bit of a concern there, whether he's going to find the curl (receiver) behind him or drop to the flat, or be in the right gap. But he just plays with such tenacity that it brings out the best in everybody.
"We could see that in pre season camp just the way he practiced. It was just a matter of getting him lined up and having him become assignment correct.
Though still raw, it's apparent to most that Shembo's greatest strength is as pass-rusher. Kelly knows his freshman has an innate quality in need of further development.
"He separates extremely well. He can take somebody that's 320-325 pounds and walk them back. He's going to be a guy that's going to go better at edge pressure," Kelly observed.
"He's going to be able to add a couple of moves as he develops as a football player. I think we're just scratching the surface as to what he can do for us."
Tommy: take twoHis first career pass - an ill-timed flea flicker - was intercepted. His next seven passes mattered little as part of mop-up duty in Notre Dame's most humbling loss of the last two seasons.
His next 54 went for naught, though 33 of them found Irish receivers (the second-highest completion total in team history) with a program-freshman record four touchdowns intermixed.
He was economical, efficient, and oh-by-the-way, managed to set another freshman record with seven touchdown passes (three vs. Utah) in a two-game span.
Will the conservative game plan employed by Kelly for Rees' first start change in his second?
"I think we'll try to give him more opportunities within what I believe to be his strengths," Kelly said of Saturday's approach. "He distributes very well; his ball placement (is good0. Now it's all about what he sees and how he reacts, so we spent a lot this week on some plays in our running game that could help him. But obviously our receivers are going to have to do a very good job (to help him).
"Again, Tommy's still a true freshman, and this is his second start so we have to keep it in perspective."
Kelly added of the fact that Rees' first three career starts will occur in Notre Dame Stadium, Yankee Stadium, and the Los Angeles Coliseum, "That's not too bad."
(Very) little help from his friend: The disappointment of consecutive seasons truncated by a severe knee injury has not dampened Dayne Crist's focus. Crist remains mentally locked but as a player who had not yet come close to mastering the spread offensive himself, the junior's role as a mentor to the new freshman starter isn't what you might have guessed.
"Dayne's in all of our meetings (but) I think its more confirmation,": Kelly said of Crist's role in aiding Rees. "Dayne's still learning and absorbing a lot….he's stayed engaged, but I don't know that there's a lot of information that is flowing from Dayne to Tommy."
Further impeding Crist's practice (and game day) involvement is the physical restriction of his torn patellar tendon.
"He's been immobilized to the point where he hasn't been able to get around practice," Kelly added.
Crist was not on the field last Saturday because, according to Kelly, he could not get out of the way of potential collisions on the sideline. Crist will thus not travel to Yankee Stadium this weekend, nor will injured tailback Armando Allen (hip surgery) or short-snapper Bill Flavin (ankle) as none of the three are cleared for travel.
Curious George, George Washington...where's George Costanza?Saturday's complete conquest of Utah was a departure from the 2010 norm both on the field and on the sidelines. Television viewers were sure to note the team's usage of oversized flash cards – replete with pictures of such luminaries as sideline reporter Alex Flanagan, the country's first president, and even the nation's favorite cartoon monkey – to signal head coach Brian Kelly's play calls to QB Tommy Rees and the Irish no-huddle offense.
The impetus for the change from red-capped backup QBs to a series of poster boards with seemingly unrelated pictures?
Opponent espionage. (Actually, Kelly said his signals had been "compromised" but the word "espionage" plays better in print.)
Apparently the information age has put a dent in simple sideline signaling and the veteran coach has been forced to adjust, though Saturday was not the first such instance of late-season gamesmanship.
"When the players came back and said, 'Coach, they knew the signal. They were calling the play,'" Kelly quipped when asked how he knew the sideline signals were no longer secretive.
"Every year we have to go in and change up our signals, especially when you're on TV every week. There's a thing called TiVo now. People click it back and forth. When you're out there so much publicly, you're doing a lot of that, you just have to be prepared. So it's not unusual in that sense that we've had to do this before."
Kelly offered that each "has a significant meaning to tempo, play call and the package of concepts for the receivers," and that each has a distinct meaning.
In baseball, a batter suspected of stealing signals from the catcher can be policed on the field, generally in the form of a 90 MPH fastball landing somewhere between his third and fourth rib.
That Eye for an Eye response isn't available in football, though I suppose scoring touchdowns in bunches serves as an ancillary method to gain a measure of revenge.
- Freshman wideout T.J. Jones will suit up and is expected to play Saturday. Jones missed last week's game due to a hamstring strain. The Gainesville, GA frosh will backup sophomore Robby Toma in the slot.
- Brian Smith will appear at both the backup DROP (outside) and WILL (inside) linebacker spots Saturday. Starting WILL ‘backer Carlo Calabrese is expected to return after a two-game, three-week absence from what appeared to be a serious hamstring injury. "Carlo can't play the whole game because he's been out," Kelly noted. "His volume won't be such that he can play 60-70 snaps so (Brian Smith) is going to have to play (inside).
- Speaking of outside ‘backers, Kelly was asked what the position's chief duty is vs. the type of triple-option the Irish will face Saturday. "Generally they have to defend the arc and they have to be able to play QB-to-pitch unless you move the front or change some things up (3-4 vs. 4-3, etc.) and obviously we're going to do a lot of those things,
"Primarily, when you really break it down it's their ability to defend, take on a block, shed it and either get to the dive, QB or pitch (slot back receiving the option pitch outside). It's not unlike playing the inside position, you're just attacking it from a different angle."
- Kelly was mum on the notable changes from the defense's faulty preparations for the Naval Academy's triple-option vs. what the Irish will see Saturday from the Black Knights of the Hudson. Apparently the presence of "Plan B", one noted by defensive coordinator Bob Diaco as noticeably absent from the debacle in the New Meadowlands, has been reincorporated into the plan of attack.
"That comment will not even be something that we could even consider," Kelly flatly stated when reminded of the curious comment in the wake of the 35-17 defeat. Why were the Irish powerless to adjust on that head-shaking October 23 afternoon in the New Meadowlands?
"Under the circumstances of what we had installed, we weren't about, and I was not about to let our guys draw it up on the sideline," Kelly said of the lack of adjustments. "So we've done all the drawing up. We'll have answers. That will not be anything we can use as, ‘We can't make adjustments.'"
- Kelly noted last night that the necessary attention to detail he covets in a Thursday practice was present for the Irish in their final preparations for the Black Knights.