Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Irish Notes: November’s Balancing Act

Notre Dame resumed its quest for the college football playoffs with a bonus practice Monday afternoon, that after five days away from the playing field thanks to a late-October bye.

YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE

Less than a month will pass between this week’s matchup at Temple and Notre Dame’s season-ending contest in Palo Alto against Stanford, and the Irish must finish 5-0 over that 29-day span to have a chance at a playoff berth.

Football’s final month of action, however, has offered a mixed bag for head coach Brian Kelly in South Bend: undefeated in 2010 and 2012 (a combined 7-0), uneven in 2011 and 2013 (combined 5-3), and winless last fall (0-4).

With a quarter-century of coaching under his belt including a handful of 14- game seasons at the Division 1-AA level, Kelly knows that while his squad must stay sharp, he can’t continue to tax his competitors if he wants return on his investment at season’s end.

“You have to be very careful in practice that you don't turn practice into just a tempo walk-through,” Kelly offered. “You have to pick your spots. You still have to play fast and physical. You just can't do it the entire length of the practice that you are used to doing maybe earlier in the year.

“You have to find out what the players really need to work on,” he continued, offering that if he utilizes heavy contact in a particular mid-week period, the following day is unlikely to feature the same. “I think you really have to start when you get into November, pick your spots in practice where you really have to focus on those things, because I don't believe you can use the whole program and go two hours and bang your football team, or you're going to lose a lot of the guys necessary to get you over the hump.”

Kelly added that the toughest part of November is upon them: back-to-back trips east to face #21 Temple and #23 Pittsburgh. Thereafter, the Irish return home for a date with Wake Forest and though two more road tilts await, his troops will be able to “See the light at the end of the tunnel,” as Kelly put it, adding “Adrenaline and all those things kind of take over.”

HIS TEAM IS ON THE FIELD

Notre Dame’s bye week respite likely worked wonders a group of athletes that has had but a two-day break from action since training camp began on August 6.

It did little, however, to shuffle the competitive decks among the ranks of the regulars.

That includes the ailing and able-bodied, alike.

“It would probably would be two or three weeks to even get him to the level of play (necessary),” said Kelly of fifth-year senior transfer Avery Sebastian, out since the season-opener against Texas due to a broken foot. “Just one of those things where bone growth has been slow for him. He's been on a stimulator for bone growth. It just has not comeback to the level that most do. So if we can't see progress in the next couple of weeks, then we'll have to decide.

“He's eligible for a sixth year because of back-to-back years of injuries,” Kelly offered. “So we'll have to see, you know, what he's capable of doing for us over the next couple of weeks. But it's just been a difficult injury in the sense that it usually heals up quickly but that he hasn't had the bone growth necessary.”

Ready, willing, but not yet able to crack the game day lineup is sophomore middle linebacker Nyles Morgan. Not with fifth-year senior captain Joe Schmidt ahead of him in the pecking order.

“Well, you know, Joe has been a cleanup hitter for us, if you will, and we don't want to take him out of the lineup,” said Kelly. “I know talking to (defensive coordinator) Brian (VanGorder) about this, in particular, that (Morgan) has just handled himself extremely well. He's been very impactful on special teams for us and he's ready to go in and play for us.

“I think we're just feeling very comfortable keeping Joe in the lineup, having not had him for so many games last year, we want to get every snap out of him that's possible,” Kelly continued. “I think it's really less about Nyles and more about keeping Joe on the field.”

The Irish are 13-2 over the last two seasons when Smith starts at middle linebacker, losing at Florida State in 2014 and Clemson earlier this month.

BATTLE FOR THE NETWORKS’ STAR?

Everyone wants a piece of Notre Dame Football, and it appears the program’s head coach is willing to expand his horizons in that regard.

While Saturday’s game against Temple will be shown on ABC, Notre Dame plays its home games on NBC and this season, each has been re-hashed and repurposed on Showtime as part of the channel’s A Season With Notre Dame Football series.

Now it appears the Irish are headed for the premium cable network’s chief rival, at least if a tongue-in-cheek Kelly has his way.

“I tell you what, they are a pain in my butt,” joked Kelly of Showtime when told last week’s episode showed running back C.J. Prosise in a protective red jersey. “All right, they are off, no more Showtime. We are going to HBO.”

Prosise was held out of contact last week in an effort to preserve the star runner’s frame for the season’s final month.

“That's the first time I've done that in 25 years and I'm sorry that that got out…We're trying to really do our defense as much justice as possible and helping them in tackling and not being able to tag off situations. We have to get better at tackling and thudding the back. (But) I didn't want him to get in there and get hurt during practice, so I broke all my rules and I put a red jersey on a back for the first time in 25 years. It's out there.”

Kelly added that Prosise benefitted greatly from time off during last week’s bye. “He didn't have a red jersey on yesterday, I can tell you that.”

THEY’RE ALL FUTURE STARS, RIGHT?

While most fans of contending teams – and the head coach and assistants of each across the board – remain focused on the here and now in November, another sect of the college football world wonders what the future holds.

In possession of the nation’s ninth-ranked football team and in full contention for a playoff berth, Kelly was nonetheless asked today who among his likely redshirted troops has made the biggest impression.

The head coach picked up where he left off when asked the same in late August.

“Miles Boykin is a guy that is going to be a really good player for us, that doesn't have to play for us but if we have to put in a position, certainly could do some good things for us,” said Kelly of his freshman wideout.

“I think that (cornerback) Ashton White is going to be a really good player for us. (Safety) Mykelti Williams is working with our varsity guys; probably don't have to play him this year. He's going to be a really good player for us.

I'd say all of those defensive linemen are going to be really good players for us,” he added, presumably referring to Elijah Taylor, Micah Dew-Treadway, and Brandon Tiassum. “They are just developmental guys right now. It's going to take a little time. I'd say those are the guys that jump out at me right now.”

Taylor, Boykin, and Williams were mentioned in August as potential contributors if things broke right this fall. It is now expected none from the trio will be needed, though Williams is one more injured safety away from two-deep duties on the back end.


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