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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Football: Balancing act

It appears No. 21 Notre Dame was thinking outside of the box during its 41-30 loss to No. 11 Michigan on Saturday night.

When the Wolverines (2-0) loaded the box with eight men, the Irish (1-1) opted to throw over the defense instead of rushing the ball. Irish senior quarterback Tommy Rees threw the ball 51 times while Notre Dame only ran the ball 19 times.

During his weekly press conference Tuesday, Irish coach Brian Kelly defended the strategy Notre Dame used Saturday.

"If the box is plus‑one and plus‑two, there's not much of a running game," he said. "And then we got behind. We were down two scores. We had to speed the game up and throw the football."

Rees finished 29-for-51 for 314 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Irish ran for just 96 yards.

"Look, I want balance just like everybody else in America wants balance," Kelly said. "But look, we have to throw the ball effectively when we are called upon to throw the ball and we have to run the ball effectively when we are called upon to run effectively."

Kelly said if teams continue to stack the box to stop the stable Irish running backs, he will call on Rees to beat them.

"I would welcome it every single week," he said. "I'm very confident that if you want to play us that way, we're going to beat you, and that's just fine with me.

"I have absolutely no question in my mind that if you want to play us that way, with Tommy Rees, you will pay for it."

Another rivalry?

After a week that started with "regional rivalry" and ended with the Chicken Dance, the Irish travel to Purdue to take on the in-state Boilermakers.

Kelly, who last week waffled on whether Michigan was a rival or not, wasted no time in calling the Boilermakers (1-1) rivals.

"I think any time that you're playing a team in‑state, there's certainly a recognition of that as a rivalry game," he said.

Kelly did, however, say the Irish were more focused on themselves than Purdue after a "stinging loss" to Michigan.

"Purdue's going to be ready for Notre Dame," he said. "We have no doubt about that and we respect our opponent.  But, look, we've got to put blinders on and we've got to focus on ourselves. We're not a finished product. We've got some work to do."

The Irish have played Purdue 84 times and have beaten the Boilermakers five consecutive times.

"I don't want to minimize the fact that we're playing Purdue, because I think that we clearly understand who they are as a Big Ten opponent, somebody within our state, and the natural rivalry because we've played so much," he said.

Zaire still not cleared

Freshman quarterback Malik Zaire has still not been cleared for contact, Kelly said.

Zaire, who was suffering from mononucleosis, has been held out of the last two games.

Senior receiver Luke Massa will serve as the emergency third-string quarterback until Zaire returns.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at