An October 2015 trip to Clemson was accompanied by a hurricane. A 2010 bowl trip to El Paso unexpectedly brought snow. And twice last season, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his Irish football team were tasked with playing under the weight of humidity (Tallahassee) or heat (Tempe).
Now, in a return trip to the Valley of the Sun, Kelly and the Irish are forced to deal with the completely unexpected:
No change at all.
“We were outside today on Dec. 23. You’ll have to go back and check your records, but that could be the first time the Notre Dame football team has been outside practicing on Dec. 23,” said Kelly of a 61 degree Wednesday in South Bend (the listed high temperature for Scottsdale on Jan. 1 is 64 degrees).
“We had referees today. We wanted to practice live special teams. For proper preparation for our team, I felt like six weeks was too long to go without tackling kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, things of that nature,” Kelly continued. “I don’t think our guys were too enthusiastic about it, but we got that accomplished and felt good about that.
“Then we spent time in the red zone, which I think is an area of needed improvement, especially with DeShone (Kizer) and him growing from a decisiveness factor. He needs to be a little more decisive down there in the red zone. So we spent some time there and then some end-of-the-game, two-minute stuff. We wanted to do some things defensively in two-minute, end-of-game drives, things of that nature. So we got those things accomplished today.”
Kelly added that the Irish would finish with 14 practices by the time they tee it up in the Fiesta Bowl. Much of the work included his best working against one another.
“Ones vs. Ones.”
“The implementation of that speed element of 1s vs. 1s is absolutely crucial in my estimation to putting together the proper practice plan,” he offered.
“Fourteen (bowl practices) is a lot. It’s the most that we’ve had since I’ve been here. So we’ve gotten a lot of that work. It will be mostly tempo work (for) Ohio State.”
Irish players were dismissed for Christmas with their families following today’s practice and will reconvene as a team in Arizona on Sunday.
A 1-2 PUNCH?
Starting running back C.J. Prosise continues to mend from a high ankle sprain suffered Nov. 21 against Boston College. Though he’s not since taken a hit, Kelly believes Prosise will be good-to-go vs. the Buckeyes.
And if so, the Irish will have a backfield tandem well-equipped to move the chains against perhaps the second-best defense the squad has faced this season.
“I think he’s at that point where when we get down to Arizona, we’ll be able to accelerate him into contact situations,” said Kelly of Prosise who practiced the last two days. “Rob (Hunt), our head trainer, feels really good that (Prosise) should be ready to play. We’ve got to push him through a threshold of feeling confident on cutting and things of that nature. He’s had enough time to be where we need him to be. I think we’ve just got to get him over that hump of feeling like structurally, ‘I could do something here.’
“By the time we get into next week, we should have a real good feel for where he is.”
Freshman Josh Adams has received ample reps in his stead. Adams rushed for 168 yards at Stanford in his first career start and previously ripped off 147 in three quarters of relief of Prosise (concussion) at Pittsburgh. Adams averaged 8.2 yards-per-carry during the two contests.
“They complement each other so well,” said Kelly. “Josh has proven himself to be such a hard, inside, physical runner, and C.J. clearly gives us that home run ability. So if we could ever get them tagged up together, it would be a very lethal one-two punch.”
Combined, Adams and Prosise produced 10 games in excess of 100 rushing yards. Only the Massachusetts featured both eclipsing the century mark with most of Adams’ damage occurring after the outcome was no longer in doubt.
NOW THAT’S DEPTH
Arguably the best “Next Man In” of the six-season Kelly era, quarterback DeShone Kizer has earned plaudits nationally for his crunch-time efforts, dual-threat abilities, and poise under pressure.
Along the way, Kizer has benefited from the guidance of not only Kelly and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, but from the man he replaced at the trigger.
“Most injured players that I’ve been around separate from the team for a period of time. They just naturally separate. He hasn’t separated at any time from the team,” said Kelly of initial starting quarterback Malik Zaire. “It’s been as if he’s had an ankle sprain, not a fracture/dislocation
“So quite contrary to any other player I’ve had, he’s maintained that close association with everything that we do. Meetings every day. He hasn’t missed a meeting. I’ve been there every day. He has not missed one quarterback meeting. He’s at every practice.
“Now he’s full gear taking one-on-one reps and throwing the football. He’s probably 60 percent. He can’t load on his ankle, but he’s out there still throwing the football. Pretty amazing young man.”
One who’ll compete over the next 12-to-24 months against a suddenly more seasoned incumbent starter enjoying a pretty amazing rookie season.