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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Kelly discusses Miami preparation, run depth

On Tuesday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly looked ahead to what is arguably No. 3 Notre Dame’s biggest matchup of the season, as it faces off against No. 7 Miami.

The resurgence of “Catholics vs. Convicts”

Both the Irish (8-1) and the Hurricanes (8-0, 6-0 ACC) have had bounce-back years after struggling to live up to high expectations last season. Kelly had nothing but praise for his counterpart, Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt, who is now in his second season with Miami.

“Mark Richt has done a terrific job of coaching a group of young men with great athletic traits. This football team that we play no doubt will require our very best,” Kelly said. “ … Really good football team across the board. Offense, defense, special teams. But it’s not just about talent. It’s well-coached. You can see that. It’s a lot easier to kind of put together a bunch of talented players, but to coach them, get them in the right position, line them up, getting this group to play together with a great amount of energy, Mark’s done a great job. Really good football team.

“I know our guys are excited about this championship drive that they are on now. This part of the season, obviously in November, all of the teams that are in contention are focused on one game at a time, and it’s single elimination for most teams.”

Irish junior running back Dexter Williams looks over his shoulder as he runs during Notre Dame’s 48-37 win over Wake Forest on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Irish junior running back Dexter Williams looks over his shoulder as he runs during Notre Dame’s 48-37 win over Wake Forest on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Kelly played down the historic rivalry between the two schools, however, and he instead said his team is focused on the here and now.

“They know the history and tradition,” he said. “They are aware of all those things. But they know that they have to play really well, and they have to play better than they did last week. I think that’s what they know more than anything else.

“I don’t think that they spend a whole lot of time thinking about the history and the tradition. Although, there were some great matchups, and I don’t want to sell those short. But the real focus of this group is that they know they are playing a really, really good football team, and they have to play well.”

The run game

After finishing a meager 80th in rushing offense last season, Notre Dame has jumped all the way to fifth this season while averaging over 300 yards per game. Kelly said the commitment to being a physical team in the offseason has paid off, as seen in the team’s radical transformation.

“It was a change of philosophy in terms of what we were going to really hang our hat on, if you will, in terms of who we were going to be, our identity,” he said. “So our identity was going to run through that offensive line. You know, when you talk about it, it's one thing.

“ … When we broke through with over 500 yards rushing against Boston College, I think that that was really where everything started to kind of show itself; that this is who we were going to be, and then it's certainly taken shape from there.

“In the off-season, there was a commitment to it: The hiring, the philosophy, the total makeover of our entire mental psyche in terms of being physical was all part of that. But I don’t think it really takes hold until in the season when that’s all backed up by actually doing it. And you can talk about all that stuff, but if you actually do it and stick to it, I think that that’s when it really starts to come together.”

“ … We should be really good at running the football here at Notre Dame.”

Preparation and distractions

After Notre Dame’s defense gave up a season-high 37 points to Wake Forest this past weekend, Kelly downplayed the claim that the Demon Deacons (5-4, 2-3 ACC) capitalized on Mike Elko’s scheme. Instead, he said the team didn’t live up to its expectations for preparation in practice due to a variety of reasons.

“Preparation needs to be better. We didn’t prepare quite the way we had prepared in other weeks,” Kelly said. “We just need to go back to our process and our process has to be the thing that drives our defense and our offense each and every week.

“ … You would have seen that Wednesday wasn’t the same Wednesday practice as it was the previous weeks, and it showed itself in the way we played against Wake Forest.

“ … They didn’t find the key to unlock the secrets of the Elko defense. … This is really about playing with the right intensity and the right mental approach to the game. We just didn’t prepare in the manner that we prepared in the other weeks, and we’ll do that and we’ll need to do that moving forward.”

When asked about whether the College Football Playoff rankings had anything to do with it, Kelly dismissed the notion.

“The enemy is the distraction. The enemy isn’t the College Football Playoffs,” Kelly said. “They know that they have to — there’s internal distractions, and there’s external distractions. The external distractions, we’ve got those covered pretty good for our guys.

“It’s the internal distractions where they start thinking about, ‘Oh, you know, maybe — maybe I don’t have to play quite as hard this week; maybe I don’t have to get all the nutrition and sleep I need this week; maybe I don’t have to play quite as hard this week,’ and it’s the internal distractions.”

Kelly’s legacy

Saturday’s matchup with the Hurricanes will mark Brian Kelly’s 100th game in charge of the Irish. For the head coach, it has been a tremendous honor to lead Notre Dame for eight seasons, but the current focus is getting a win against Miami.

“I'm honored to have gotten the opportunity to coach 100 games,” Kelly said. “I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever get a chance to coach one game at Notre Dame. So to think of 100, I can't even wrap my arms around that.

“Look, I try not to think in those terms. But I’m honored. I would have liked to have won even more games for our fans and for our players. But my focus is on beating Miami, and that’s what we’re hoping for 100.”