"Are we going to talk about Navy?" an exasperated Kelly pleaded some 15 big picture/USC-related questions into his "Navy" presser. "I guess not, huh? They beat us last year. You guys know that? Really bad (35-17, with mercy shown late, to boot). So my focus is on Navy."
It had better be. The Midshipmen are struggling on the scoreboard, losers of five straight with a 2-5 mark. But a closer look shows four losses by eight points, including a 24-21 defeat at South Carolina in early September and the nation's No. 3 ranked rushing team.
If you're looking for one tell-tale sign as the Irish exit October for Kelly's press conference next Tuesday, it's this: Will the suddenly embattled head coach still want to talk about the Naval Academy, or move onto less unpleasant realities?
Preparation with a purposeNotre Dame's two-week hiatus from the norm in preparation for their arch-rivals had the opposite effect most pundits predicted. Kelly's inference to his team's lethargy leading up to the USC contest proved prescient.
It's a condition for which he took responsibility, noting he might have learned yet another valuable lesson about this roster in the process.
"Preparation for me is the practice format and how we go about practicing. That doesn't change by any standards," Kelly said of his recent comments that his squad's preparation might have been lacking. "It's when you show up for those two hours, where is your head at? What's your focus level?
"We had an unusual situation, and one that I haven't experienced before, in that we had a bye week followed by mid-winter break," he continued. "Our players are a very disciplined group. They're used to getting up early, going to class, being on a regimen. During the week, it was a bit of a battle because there wasn't that regimen; I could sense it. I screamed about it. I yelled about it.
"But ultimately, it's my responsibility to get the football team ready. I think we all saw by the way we played in the first 20 minutes of the game: we didn't play the same way that we played all year," he admitted.
"So I told our team yesterday, I'll take full responsibility for the preparation. You need to take full responsibility about the way you play and the level that you need to play at."
Monday's practices can't involve on-field action. Yesterday's was both productive and telling nonetheless.
"I was looking for a read on our players. We had a lot guys running yesterday for a lot of different reasons," Kelly said. "I wanted to see their body language, how they reacted, and every single one of 'em had the right (body) language, their attitude.
"It just cemented in my mind that our guys want that. They need that. They need that kind of disciplined structure. ‘Here's where you need to be and at this time.' Maybe we didn't have that last week and that affected the way they played."
Kelly added that both tonight's practice and Wednesday would involve hitting, with one caveat. "You know, I think we have to get into a routine that we practice similar to the way that we want to play, without putting our team at risk for injury," he offered. "But certainly we have to have a very spirited practice during the week so that our football team is prepared to play the right way on Saturday. And that falls on me in terms of the preparation."
When it rains it poursKelly's Tuesday injury report offered the first bit of lineup damaging news of the year: as rumored Sunday night, senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore's season is over, the result of a knee injury suffered Saturday.
"Kapron will be out for the season," Kelly stated. "He has a knee injury that…it was a very unusual injury. Our doctors couldn't get a good feel after the game for what it was. He had stability in his knee. He actually detached the medial collateral ligament. It's like an ACL repair. We're still talking four to six months (recovery).
"But (its) one that I haven't seen in 21 years and our doctors have seen very rarely."
Lewis-Moore was already eligible to return next season for a 5th-year in the program thanks to a freshman season redshirt in 2008. He had previously starred vs. option teams, totaling 28 tackles including two for loss in four contests vs. Navy (2), Army, and Air Force.
Classmate and bookend on the left side Ethan Johnson has missed both of the last two contests and most of a third after suffering a high ankle sprain vs. Purdue.
Kelly had previously noted Johnson took part in 11 vs. 11 activity last Tuesday, but added Thursday he had not progressed as hoped. The Irish defensive front could feature three freshmen, one redshirt-freshman, a sophomore with fewer than 50 career snaps, and senior Sean Cwynar vs. the experienced Navy offensive line (four starters return from last year's win).
"You've got great flexibility because we have Chase Hounshell activated. Chase is in the mix. Certainly Kona (Schwenke) is the in mix, as well as (Stephon) Tuitt has flexibility to play inside and outside," Kelly said. "And if we can get some work from Ethan, that helps us out."
Hounshell, Tuitt and Schwenke will each play his second career game vs. the triple option, as will freshman Aaron Lynch.
In better news, Kelly added that junior safety Zeke Motta has been cleared for full activity after suffering a concussion vs. USC.