THE BACKUP’S BIGGEST TEST?
Malik Zaire won’t start Saturday. He might not play. Considering last season’s opening day starter bristled at any mention of a quarterback competition as recently as mid-August, it’s relevant to wonder about the senior’s state of mind entering the season’s second practice week.
“I thought he had two really very good days,” said Kelly, noting Tuesday wasn’t much of a practice day as a result of a 5 am Monday arrival back in South Bend. “Wednesday and Thursday, I thought he was really focused, locked in, and is ready to lead our football team. That’s all I’ve asked him to be: ready to lead our team.
“He’s embraced his preparation, his role and what we’re asking him to do, and that’s all I can ask for,” Kelly continued. “I don’t want anything else from him other than to prepare himself to be ready to go in and help us win.”
Asked of his expectations for starter DeShone Kizer Saturday, Kelly offered, “My expectation is that he’s the starter for this game and we know that based upon what he’s done in the past that he’s been very effective as a starting quarterback. I expect him to continue in that role.
“If he’s not effective, if he’s not what we’ve known him to be, we’ve got one heck of a good quarterback ready to play.”
THAT SHOULD SUFFICE
Both quarterbacks impressed over the summer. Both shined in training camp. One took it to a new level Sunday night in Austin.
Ultimately, that’s how Kelly turned his creation of a dual-quarterback offense into a solo mission.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a crystal clear moment other than he was responsible for six touchdowns and he didn’t take the first series of the third quarter. He made a pretty big statement,” said Kelly of Kizer.
“I needed to let them play in a real game to really break a logjam up. They’re both really good. It was really tied in my eyes and so we went into that game and he edged himself a little bit ahead of the game with the performance that he had.”
First the good news: both of Notre Dame’s concussed starters could play Saturday. Now the refreshing, modern news – assuming they clear the program’s concussion protocol, the decision to that end will be theirs.
“I think in all situations we want to do what’s right for them,” said Kelly of concussion cases. “If (Torii Hunter) is cleared it’ll still be his decision to make. We want to always give our players the opportunity to go through the fundamentals and the protocol.
“He wants to go through it and then if he’s cleared (Friday), we’ll still make a decision if he feels ready to play. Even if you’re cleared, do you feel ready to play? That’s a decision that has yet to be made.”
Hunter’s concussion was replayed throughout the week due not only to the severity of the hit, but also its arguable legality. Sixth-year senior safety Avery Sebastian took two shots to the head on one play during the second overtime in his team’s 50-47 loss at Texas.
He’s ready to roll.
“He’s going to play. At what level he plays we’ll find out,” said Kelly regarding a starting or backup role. “He practiced today and he feels good. He feels like he’s ready to play and wants to play.”
Set to make his 2016 debut Saturday after sitting out the 2015 season (non-medical redshirt) is junior Jay Hayes.
“Jay Hayes had a good week of practice,” said Kelly of his projected starter at Rush End.
Hayes missed the final portion of training camp due to a high ankle sprain suffered near August 15th. Though he likely wasn’t healthy enough to play at Texas, his field absence was also, apparently, scheme related.
“We were in Nickel (personnel) quite a bit,” said Kelly of the defensive game plan in the opening defeat. “We want to be in a lot more Base. That brings in Jay and Daelin Hayes. Te’von Coney, guys like Asmar Bilal. There’s four guys right there that you’ll see on the field that got virtually no playing time.
“On offense you’ll see more Corey Holmes because Torii hasn’t practiced all week and we won’t know his status until after (Friday),” Kelly continued. “Holmes and KJ (Stepherson) are two guys on the offensive side at the X position.”
THE COMFORTS OF HOME
Last Sunday’s prime time kickoff in Austin proved to be a ratings bonanza. It also proved challenging for the road team due to a subsequent overnight flight, a resulting lost day of practice, and the need for rest and recovery.
Oh, and the campus’s time machine. You know, back to the days of window fans and the lack of central air conditioning.
“Some didn’t sleep quite as well in our non air-conditioned dorms last night,” Kelly referenced when discussing his squad’s recovery efforts.
Questioned about his comment by a Notre Dame alumnus who shall remain nameless (hint: he’s older than me, and certainly didn’t encounter a lot of central air in university structures during the early 1980s), Kelly responded:
“Oh did you think that all the dorms here at Notre Dame (had air conditioning) – did you forget? How quickly we forget!
“We had some guys, it was hot (Wednesday) and humid. Some guys didn’t get a lot of sleep because it was pretty sticky on campus.”