Irish Notes: Improvement Imminent?

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spoke with the media Thursday evening after the Irish concluded an extended week of practice in preparation for a prime time matchup with #21 Temple.

ON GUARD

No new injuries struck this week for Brian Kelly’s Irish though the head coach disclosed a pair that had flown under the radar of late, including one suffered by safety Elijah Shumate discussed today on the Irish Illustrated podcast.

“He had a brachial plexus, you know, nerve impingement,” said Kelly of his senior, the victim of a late game sandwich hit late in an Oct. 17 victory over USC. “We needed the (bye) week with him, but he was cleared on Monday for full participation.”

Also on the mend is captain Nick Martin. The fifth-year senior center has an injury similar to that of left guard Quenton Nelson though the former did not miss any time as a result.

“Both those guys are past the stage of any swelling. With these high ankle sprains its just pain they’re having to tolerate,” said Kelly. “At times it becomes a bit of a nuisance more than anything else. They’re moving well, both (Nelson) and Nick have similar injuries that did not get in the way of their preparation at all this week.”

Though the first string offensive line is back intact, the second unit is in flux after the loss of Nelson’s classmate Alex Bars, out for the season due to ankle surgery. Bars started his second straight game in Nelson’s stead before breaking his ankle against the Trojans.

“We’re obviously a little bit thinner,” said Kelly. “(Colin) McGovern has to play inside and outside. He can play a little guard, a little tackle. (Hunter) Bivin will be at one tackle. McGovern can play guard and tackle if we need him to go in on the right side. (Center) Sam Mustipher has been cross-trained at both backup center and guard as well. We’re really working with two guys at that guard position, McGovern and Sam Mustipher.”

Mustipher’s assimilation at guard opened the door for a true freshman to join the varsity.

“We brought (center) Tristen Hoge up,” said Kelly. “He took some reps at center so we could get Sam into guard reps. Hoge will travel with us this week.”

Hoge enrolled last January along with defensive line regular Jerry Tillery and special teams mainstay, reserve linebacker Te’Von Coney.

READY FOR PRIME TIME

Redshirt-freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer unintentionally raised a few eyebrows at his (now weekly) Wednesday press conference, noting that while he considered himself a “replacement” player through his first six outings (Virginia through USC), his goal each day hereafter is to be the best – in the country.

“He’s a very confident kid. I don’t think he’s cocky,” said Kelly of his rookie triggerman. “I’ll give you an example: today I thought his communication, his overall presence today with our offense was akin to a fifth-year senior. He just has a great presence out there. Clearly communicates and takes control out there. If he’s talking like that, he backed it up today.”

Kizer became the first Irish quarterback to both run and pass for a touchdown in three consecutive games since Rick Mirer (1991), turning the trick against Massachusetts, Clemson, and Navy. He’s rushed for 158 yards over the last four outings while throwing for 1,036 with seven touchdowns against three interceptions. 

“Now he has to go execute,” Kelly continued. “Stay within our offense and do what we ask him to do, but he’s a very confident player right now.”

Kizer ranks 14th nationally in passing efficiency, one spot behind Clemson sophomore Deshawn Watson. (USC’s Cody Kessler ranks ninth while forthcoming foe Kevin Hogan of Stanford sits at seventh. Pittsburgh’s Nate Peterman is 18th. The Irish will travel to Heinz Field to take on the Panthers next Saturday.)

POISED TO PRODUCE?

109, 94, 105, 126.

The numbers above represent the national ranking – out of 127 FBS programs, mind you – of the next four offenses the Irish will face.

It’s enviable work if you can get it, and it might remedy the persistent ailment that has plagued Notre Dame’s defense. That is: isolated stretches of breakdowns amid otherwise outstanding play.

“We really feel good about our front seven,” said Kelly of a group that has limited foes to fewer first downs than all but five playoff-contending teams (Clemson, Florida, Alabama, Stanford, and Florida State).

“I think our corners are starting to play more consistently. We have to get more out of our safety play. And We think we’re going to. So it’s consistency in the back end; continue to evolve up front.”

A conduit between both aspects of the operation is middle linebacker Joe Schmidt. The fifth-year senior captain has been scrutinized often this season due to missed tackles and an admittedly ineffective outing in Notre Dame’s loss at Clemson.

“It seems I’ve been asked about Joe Schmidt but Joe’s been solid for us,” Kelly offered. “Maybe he’s missed a tackle here or there…You guys even kind of got me to look a bit at his production numbers. They were down a little bit against USC and Clemson, but those are two very fast offenses.

“Let’s face it,” Kelly continued. “Joe’s a box player. You know what I mean? If you take him and look at what his production was against the two option teams, they’re off the charts. I expect his production over the next five weeks to be really, really high.”

Schmidt posted a combined 18 tackles including 6.5 stuffs (tackles for loss or gains of two yards or less) against the option offenses of Georgia Tech and Navy. He totaled five tackles (1.5 stuffs) vs. the aforementioned Tigers and Trojans.


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