FINDING THE RIGHT MIX
Rest assured Irish fans, you can throw out Notre Dame’s disparate defensive performances over the season’s first two weeks, because very little of what you saw or what coordinator Brian VanGorder’s unit experienced will come into play Saturday in South Bend.
The triple option is on deck, and the Irish defensive game plan has begun in earnest the necessary adjustments to deal with it.
"Guys that have a good sense for what the plan is and defending the triple option,” said Kelly when asked about his personnel of choice for the task at hand. “I think they have to have a discipline about themselves. Guys that clearly understand the job and recognize what's being asked of them.
“Clearly, there needs to be some athleticism as well. But by-and-large they have to be able to put up the schemes we're putting together. Those are really important elements. You could be the greatest athlete in the world but if you're lost out there, and it doesn’t make sense to you, you could be a liability defending the triple option."
Notre Dame’s starting lineup last fall featured a trio of first-timers: Greer Martini at outside linebacker, Justin Utupo at defensive tackle, and Drue Tranquill as a rover/safety in an eight-man front. As well, defensive end Isaac Rochell moved inside and defensive tackle Sheldon Day to a DE position.
Asked if familiarity with Navy’s triple-option will help his squad against the bigger, faster Yellow Jackets, Kelly offered, “"There's no question seeing it each year helps, but the ACC sees Georgia Tech each year but that doesn't seem to help them that much."
The Rambling Wreck scored 30, 35, 49, 69, and 65 points in their last five outings dating back to a Thanksgiving Saturday win over archrival Georgia, losing only to Florida State, 37-35, in that span.
LOOKING FOR TOUCHDOWNS, NOT POSSESION
The Yellow Jackets’ offensive prowess offers opponents two clear alternatives: try to play keep away with their own offense, thus employing a conservative offensive approach, or try to keep up on the scoreboard. In other words, let it rip in an attempt to pile up points.
For Kelly, the choice is clear.
"They’ve averaged 46.8 points over the last 10 games which includes wins over Clemson, Georgia, and Mississippi State,” said Kelly. “We're not going to sit on the ball. We have to score points.
“This (Ga. Tech) offense is going to score points, we know it. It's in the history of what they do. The best way to answer the question is DeShone (Kizer) has to play his butt off. He has to play really well. And the other 10 guys around him have to play very, very well. Don't expect DeShone to come out there to hand the ball off and play vanilla offense.
“We have to be aggressive and we have to move the football."
Georgia Tech concluded the 2014 season on an offensive roll but its overall defensive numbers were sub par, at least relative to an 11-3 football team, yielding 31, 48, and 37 points in defeat.
THE MAN, NOT MEN, IN THE MIDDLE
A slow start and lingering doubts regarding his return to form after ankle surgery has put team captain and reigning MVP Joe Schmidt under the fans’ microscope. Not surprisingly, the name Nyles Morgan has resurfaced among a panicked collection of rabid Irish followers.
A five-star prospect per Scout.com, Morgan’s name has been bandied about as a possible upgrade after the Notre Dame defense performed poorly in Charlottesville.
Not so fast.
“Joe Schmidt is better,” said Kelly when asked why Schmidt plays ahead of Morgan. “I love Nyles. (But) we'd have to take Joe off. We have great confidence in Nyles if he has to go in that he can play winning football for us."
Also not likely to see more field time is fifth-year senior Jarrett Grace, at least not this week.
"Jarrett's been hampered by an ankle and a bit of a hamstring the last week or so,” said Kelly. “He's still not 100 percent. If he were 100 percent you would have seen him (against Virginia).
“(And) we really like Nyles but it goes to more about wanting Joe's communication out there. We really like Nyles’ skill set; he's practicing well. If we had to go to Nyles we'd feel good about it."
Schmidt has posted 12 tackles with a pass defended over the first two contests. Game film review credits Schmidt with three QB pressures against Virginia (three of the defense’s five total) and two assisted tackles in which he and teammates (first Isaac Rochell, then Cole Luke) limited ball carriers to no gain.
MORE THAN A ONE MAN SHOW
Freshman punt returner C.J. Sanders finished Saturday with 48 yards on four returns, including one 30-yarder. With Notre Dame’s kickoff return unit in a (two-year) malaise, Kelly was asked if the rookie sparkplug could be called upon to lend a hand?
"What’s under consideration is we made some adjustments on a couple of things,” said Kelly. “We felt like our depth (alignment of the front wall of blockers) was little shallow so we're working on that and we've made some changes on personnel because we don't feel like we were getting the blocking necessary.
“It’s natural to look at (returner Amir Carlisle), but upon further evaluation, we think there are some things we need to coach a little better and guys we need to replace on that team before looking at returners."
Carlisle has returned three kickoffs for 45 yards with a long total of 20 this fall – 115th among 124 teams nationally. He averaged 21.7 yards per attempt as Notre Dame’s chief return man in 2014 (the Irish ranked 74th at a shade over 20 yards per return).
DON’T CRY FOR ME COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Tarean Folston, Malik Zaire, Durham Smythe.
Five projected sarters, all out for the season due to injuries suffered in either August Camp, Game One, or Game Two.
How has Kelly’s crew handled its unlikely injury lot so early in 2015?
“Any team looks at it and says, ‘Boy, why us?’ But as I told our team, nobody really cares,” said Kelly. “And those that do are happy that you have more injuries. They’re in it for their own teams.
“No excuses. Let’s go play. We have players that will step up and we’ll get through it. Everyone has to deal with some adversity. This is our end of it and we’ll be stronger for it.
“I just don’t want to hear any excuses about it and we’ll find a way,” he continued. “That’s what I want to hear from our team. And that’s what we’re going to make sure they understand.”