It's Michigan Week

Brian Kelly's weekly press conference touched on a wide variety of topics Tuesday afternoon. Our first of two reviews looks at the focal point of Michigan's offense, attacking intelligently, and learning to enjoy the journey.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly doesn't appear likely to succumb to the ebb and flow of a 12-game season. He's focused, singular in his goal, and consistent in his preparation and approach.

Tuesday, with no disrespect to Saturday's upcoming opponent intended, Kelly noted the reality that no one game counts more than another when the final ledger is tallied.

"From our end, it's a rivalry game every week. We respect our opponent but we go to work knowing that's going to be the case each and every week."

One note of historical advice: Charlie Weis tried to downplay the UM/ND rivalry prior to the contest in 2006 (no Irish player or coach mentioned their rival by name in the week leading up to the contest).

A humiliating 47-21 home loss followed and Notre Dame never again won a big game under the former head coach.

Related? Probably not, but Michigan will always be a must-win among the Irish fan base. Some games do mean more than others.

A Different Kind of Fast

Some QBs are mobile (Robert Marve); some are quick and elusive in a short space (Tate Forcier); and others simply get from Point A to Point B quickly (Jake Locker). Then there's Michigan's new starting quarterback, sophomore Denard Robinson.

"He had a terrific game, a breakout game if you will," Kelly said of Robinson's 197-yard rushing; 186-yard passing day Saturday vs. the Connecticut Huskies. "He was a dual threat; he threw the ball extremely well. He threw it accurately; (has a) strong arm and certainly extremely elusive."

Robinson possess the rare blend of uncommon quickness, balance, and eye-popping straight line speed. He will quite simply be the most elusive and quickest player on the field in nearly every game he plays at this level. And according to Kelly, the Irish defense's Game One experience vs. a mobile quarterback in Marve will have little carryover this Saturday vs. Robinson and the Wolverines.

"It's a different scheme," Kelly stated of Purdue's spread offense vs. Michigan's. "They're (UM) setting up the run for him; running quarterback isolation - we didn't have any of that (vs. Purdue).

"The zone read (which Michigan employs) is a lot different," Kelly offered. "We obviously gave up a big play on a zone read (vs. Purdue) – the big touchdown – so it's a little different relative to how they'll use Robinson. He's going to be the focal point of the running game."

That running game piled up 287 yards on 67 carries on Saturday. Three different Wolverines, Robinson, and the running back tandem of Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith, totaled at least 14 rushing attempts vs. the Huskies. Each scored a touchdown.

A key element of Notre Dame's preparation this week will be the play of the chosen Scout Team quarterback. Kelly was asked but did not offer a name, noting only that whoever gets the call is unlikely to adequately prepare the defense for the blazing speed coming from the north.

"I don't know if you ever can prepare for Denard Robinson at the same speed he plays," Kelly said. "But we've got a couple of people who we think could help us out with that look."

I Sense a Theme

In January 2001, a 9-2 Irish team entered a Fiesta Bowl matchup with upstart Oregon State and was, at best, the third fastest team on the field (if you include the Beavers' second unit). The same appeared true of Charlie Weis' best team in its return trip to the Fiesta Bowl when matched up vs. the Ohio State Buckeyes and again following the '06 season in the Sugar Bowl vs. clearly superior LSU.

Since, few fans or media members have viewed the Irish roster as anything but a plodding group, excepting for the occasional star such as Golden Tate.

Kelly commented on the perception in his post-game press conference Saturday and was asked about that observation again today.

"I think there's a difference between being fast and playing fast," Kelly offered. "I think we think about ‘speed' and we forget really to think about playing fast. Kerry Neal plays fast, that's why he's on the field. (Kelly was asked specifically about the consistent 3rd down presence of Neal and fellow linebacker Carlo Calabrese).

"We want them to think fast and react fast. We want guys that can do that on a consistent basis. Whether it's Kerry Neal or any of the other 10 players on the field, if you are somebody that can't react and can't play fast, then you struggle playing on the field for us."

Asked about relatively slower than expected pace of Saturday's offensive attack, Kelly noted that speed isn't the only element to his offense.

"I just want to be able to dictate the tempo. If I want to go slow I'm going to go slow. If I'm going to go fast I want to be able to keep it fast the entire game and you can't do that unless you work on it.

"But you can always slow it down. So I've always felt in the coaching aspect of practice, that if you go fast, you always have that quality to go at any time."

Upon Further Review

We watch the TV tape replay. You watch the TV tape replay. The staff devours the coach's tape ad nauseam. Opinions from post-game Saturday through the final film session are bound to change as a result.

While allowing for first-game jitters and unknowns among his troops, Kelly revealed a few areas around which practice would be predicated this week. "We're going to have to execute better. And we have to be assignment correct," Kelly offered. "I think those are the two areas that we'll spend a lot of time on this week. Just the execution of blocking and tackling and running the right route and getting into the right protection; then assignments, making sure we have our assignments down."

Kelly was pleased with three big picture elements that showed up on Saturday's game film.

"I'd say at the end of the day, if you look at what we did, I thought we were disciplined. Our football team played disciplined football. I thought that we played with enthusiasm and I thought that there was clearly a great deal of effort," he said.

"If you take those three things: discipline, enthusiasm and effort, and you just say that you're going to apply that to the way this team plays each and every week, I believe that's going to allow us to be successful."

In other words, the exact opposite of last year

Notre Dame struggled to defend Rich Rodriguez's spread attack last September, yielding nearly 200 rushing yards and 240 passing yards while looking decidedly undisciplined in their mode of attack en route to 31 offense (and 38 total) points. Lost in former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's blood thirst for the almighty blitz was a little thing called gap control (or perhaps just control would work?). Purdue coach Danny Hope referenced it in his post-game comments Saturday and Kelly reiterated that discretion is often the better part of valor when defending a team that spreads the field horizontally.

"I think in a lot of ways, call it whatever you want, but there's a lot of option football here," Kelly said of Michigan's offensive approach. "And I think we all know from the basic tenants of sound and fundamental football, it's probably not somewhere where you want to blitz, you want to have assignments.

"You have to be assignment correct when you have a team that has some of the instruments of option within its package. They're certainly not just a ‘Navy Triple-Option team,' but they do have some of that."

In August, one current college football assistant coach told me that Notre Dame blitzed on nearly 80 percent of the defense's snaps vs. Michigan last season. (The other 20 percent were extra points, but I digress…)

Saturday's percentage will be a great deal lower.

"To answer your question, you wouldn't think that blitzing was the first call of duty when you play an (option style team)," Kelly concluded.

Asked to elaborate on his view of defensive pressure, if "control and containment" are essential to his defense, Kelly noted that there are three basics to good defense: containing the football, gap integrity and great tackling.

And the means to that end?

"Good fundamentals. I think sometimes when you bring a lot of pressure you put yourself in a position to make plays or give up big plays," Kelly noted. "Listen, I like to bring pressure just like anybody else, but we're going to pick our spots. It's not going to be (that) we have to bring pressure just because its part of our scheme.

"From our end, its necessary calls and we'll know when we need to bring pressure."

The Irish yielded just one play in excess of 20 yards Saturday – Robert Marve's 4th and 1, 23-yard untouched touchdown run on a read option keeper.

Notre Dame allowed six gains of 20 yards or greater vs. both Michigan and Purdue last fall.

Akin to the "5-second rule" with dropped finger foods

Kelly noted in his post-game press conference Saturday that the team was relatively subdued after the opening win. With a nod to the belief that happiness is a journey, not the destination, Kelly will look to instill a new post-game outlook throughout a roster that's lost more than it's won over the last three seasons.

"I don't know that I wanted them to feel like they won the national championship, but I certainly want them to recognize all the work they put into winning and how special it is to win football games," Kelly said. "I think I always remind every team that I've coached to enjoy the win. We think about it for 24 hours. We have a 24-hour rule (to enjoy the win), but when we get back to work, its time to move on."

Since 1985, Notre Dame has finished an aggregate 68-64-1 in seasons with a loss to either Purdue or Michigan; the Irish are 87-24 overall in that span when defeating both Big 10 foes in the same season.


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