It’s not a theme a head football coach likely expects to when his team approaches the mid-point of a season, but best laid plans and harsh reality are often separated by a cavern rather than a crevice.
Such is the case for Brian Kelly’s Irish.
“I think they’re excited about the challenge ahead of them, not only this week but the week after and the week after,” said Kelly in summation of the week’s practices. “We’ve got a rough schedule ahead of us. We’re going to get better each week; I know that. I like their focus on wanting to be coached and get better as a football team. I know that’s not headline stories for you guys, but we’re pretty boring right now. It’s just boring stuff. I mean we’re working on stuff that you’d rather watch paint dry. That’s what we’re doing right now. Sorry.”
They’re also working on improved practice habits. Not ideal but not surprising, either, for a team saddled with a 2-3 mark.
“In some areas I was really pleased. A much more focused approach to what Thursday should be,” said Kelly of what he formerly referred to as ‘Perfect Practice Thursday.’
“They don’t quite get the whole thing yet, but a real stride in the right direction for me in terms of doing their job and understanding how important Thursday is. I think we lost a little bit about what Thursday was. There was a little bit of a box check there. They clearly understand what Thursday is about. I saw that from both units. There are other things they’d have to do better on Thursday, but there’s progress there.”
IN DEFENSE OF THE OFFENSE
Senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey’s offering earlier this week that he planned to return for a fifth season of eligibility next fall pleased the ardent Irish faithful.
Yet that same sect doubtless wonders: if McGlinchey and fellow left-sider Quenton Nelson (junior guard) are so highly thought of by the NFL, why is the Irish offense scuffling at 4.4 yards per rush?
“We got seven new starters. There are a lot of new pieces,” said Kelly. “And I think I said this the other day, we’re averaging 40 points a game and 500 yards. There are definitely inconsistencies, but I wouldn’t throw it on the offensive line. I’d throw it on perimeter blocking, I’d throw it on decision making, coaching. There are a lot of factors there.
“The right side (opposite McGlinchey and Nelson) is evolving. Half or two-thirds there are still coming together. They’re getting better. Those are two really good players on the left side, I think everybody knows that. One guy or two guys don’t make an offensive line.”
THE RIGHT SIDE
Two other guys expected to make up that offensive line this weekend are McGlinchey’s senior classmates, Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin. The former has been battling an ankle injury he tweaked last week against Syracuse.
“Yeah, he is,” said Kelly asked if McGovern set to make his sixth start this season. “I think Hunter (Bivin) will play too, I thought he did some good things. He’s a big body in there. He’s a pretty good pass protector. He’s got all that experience out at tackle. And he’s a 300-pounder. Kind of like him in certain situations. I wouldn’t be surprised if you continue to see him moving in and out of the game.”
Kelly offered that because the two have worked with junior center Sam Mustipher, junior tackle Alex Bars, and the McGlinchey/Nelson combo for the better part of three seasons, there’s not much lost if a rotation is necessary at one position.
“You do want those five guys to get a sense of working together and combinations,” Kelly began. “You want to build that communication, you want to build that synergy as a group. (Bivin’s) been around long enough that it’s not as critical in terms of maintaining just the five guys. He’s got a pretty good relationship with all those guys. Pretty strong working relationship over the last three years. I don’t think it’s as critical that we could say that it’s disrupting tempo or flow in the game.”
Kelly added that senior running back Tarean Folston is “probable” to return after injuring his ankle one week ago.
NOW AND LATER
This week’s media theme – one driven by Kelly’s decision to employ the services of nearly a dozen true freshmen already this fall – is the potential impact of the class of 2016.
At the top of the fan wish list in that regard is rookie Rush End, Daelin Hayes.
“I think he’s a guy that can play with his hand on the ground but he certainly can drop,” Kelly offered. “We’re working with him as a Rush (End) in the 3-down. Certainly in 4-down he can put his hand down. He has a really good skill set, but he’s rusty. We’re getting the rust off him.
“Re-routing is new to him. Wrong-arming…and again, this is boring stuff to you. But these are the things that are new to him that we’re spending time on. He’s going to be a really good football player. He’s a little bit behind, and we’re going to get him caught up quickly.”
Kelly noted that Hayes is likely to split sub package snaps with junior Andrew Trumbetti at rush end going forward. Junior (redshirt-sophomore) Jay Hayes is also in the mix in the defense’s base looks.
The Future’s So Bright: It’s a recurring theme of Notre Dame in-season press conferences: the freshman phenom – one not slated to play at present – but a competitor clearly ready to take the college football world by storm down the line.
This season’s edition?
“Liam Eichenberg. He’s a stud,” said Kelly of the freshman offensive lineman when asked about a scout team player that his impressed him along with (current varsity cornerback) Troy Pride. “We’re just not going to play him this year. He’s a pretty special player.”
Asked if he was a natural left tackle, Kelly mused, “Whatever he tells me. I just say yes, no, and thank you for being here. He’s a pretty good player.”