Let it be known, Irish fans, KeiVarae Russell disagrees with you – but we’ll get to that later.
Instead we’ll focus on this week’s common belief shared by you, by Russell, and by anyone that’s ever had his or her Sunday ruined because of the blue and gold’s performance 24 hours prior. That is, Notre Dame’s public flogging inside the Los Angeles Coliseum was indeed the hardest contest to watch among the program’s roller coaster 2014 campaign.
Russell took the 49-14 beating personally, not only because he was unable to participate, but because his position mates in the secondary were bludgeoned and left for dead.
“It was alike an assault in the passing game, you know what I’m sayin’?”
We do. And Russell will attempt to extract a measure of revenge this weekend on the heels of his best performance of the 2015 season last Saturday against Navy, one that coincidentally was bookended by, in Russell’s opinion, his two best weeks of practice.
“I wish I could show you film,” Russell offered to the media horde. “I’ve been dominating guys: Will Fuller, Breezy (Chris Brown), all those guys.”
Though he hasn’t been dominating on Saturdays, rumors of Russell’s demise have been greatly exaggerated among a hope-filled Irish fan base.
THE TALKER, THE TALENT
“The closer we come to the negative, to death, the more we blossom.”
Russell is unlikely a fan of the late Montgomery Clift, but they appear kindred spirits nonetheless, as Notre Dame’s senior corner likewise believes he’s primed for ascent.
“We expect so much more of a player of my caliber,” said Russell. “Since I don’t have the stats, I’m (purportedly) having a terrible season? I know I’m going to ball. I know that everyone is going to rally back, because everybody fell off the bandwagon, I’m cool with that. The one thing I’m worried about is that I need to be a better player for this defense in order to win a championship.”
To do so, the Irish defense will need more than the solid play it’s received from Russell to date. In a film breakdown of 73 competitive defensive drives through six games this season, Russell ranks tied for second with Isaac Rochell (behind Jaylon Smith) among Irish defenders as a “Key Contributor.”
But in the same breakdown, Russell was noted as the best Irish defensive player on those 73 drives just four times. (For the sake of reference, Sheldon Day leads the category with 13 while injured backup Drue Tranquill matches Russell’s four.)
In other words, Russell’s played better than you think, but he hasn’t come close to dominating during a game. He believes that’s about to change.
“I play the game with technique and understanding, and then my talent blossoms,” said Russell. “If I allow my talent to blossom, that’s a lot of talent. I believe in my talent. I tried to force too much with my talent (earlier this season) instead of allowing it to blossom.”
Suspended last season and thus stripped of his passion to compete, it seems a tad askew that Russell needed a wakeup call to begin to fully bloom.
“For me, I realize it was my preparation and practice. You know the intensity I bring to the game. I play hard,” he offered. “But I wasn’t (practicing) hard each and every play. You can’t do that; you can’t go through the motions in a sport like this.
“You can tell when there’s a difference in someone’s eyes when they’re really working. If you look at these last two weeks, it’s a different KeiVarae: flying to the ball, disrupting the ball more. At full speed, all the time.
“Promise you,” he continued. “You’re going to see some elite play now. I’ve found it.”