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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

Kelly discusses Navy preparations, next season

When No. 8 Notre Dame takes the field Saturday against Navy, it will be looking to put last week’s 41-8 loss to No. 3 Miami (FL) behind it.

And so far this week in practice, Irish head coach Brian Kelly believes his team has successfully done that.

“Our preparation has been really good,” Kelly said. “I mean, when you’re talking about the defensive preparation, there has to be such an attention to detail in everything that you do, and that’s where Navy gets you. … We’ve been talking about how important our traits are, and they really have to be applied this particular week against this team.

“ … This has been a big week about getting back to our process and staying focused on the right things, and I think they did a very good job.”

Irish graduate student tight end Durham Smythe runs with the ball during Notre Dame’s 41-8 loss to Miami (FL) at Hard Rock Stadium.
Irish graduate student tight end Durham Smythe runs with the ball during Notre Dame’s 41-8 loss to Miami (FL) at Hard Rock Stadium.

Helping the Irish (8-2) prepare for the triple-option attack of the Midshipmen (6-3, 4-3 AAC) this week has been junior linebacker Robby Regan — the team’s unofficial option quarterback on the scout team, according to Kelly — and junior quarterback Nolan Henry.

While it’s unclear who exactly will be the actual starting quarterback for the Midshipmen, as both junior Zach Abey and sophomore Malcolm Perry could both be under center for Navy on Saturday, Kelly said he expects the triple-option to pose the same challenge it always has for the Irish under head coach Ken Niumatalolo. And that means getting off the field on third downs to avoid taxing the defense on long, extended drives will be key for the Irish, according to Kelly.

“We’ve got to get off the field on third down, and sometimes you have to prompt it with some different looks,” he said. “ … It’s not like Navy hasn’t seen every defensive structure, but it’s key for us to get off the field.”

One advantage the Irish have is the relative health of its team heading into the weekend’s game. Kelly said just about everyone on the roster will be healthy enough to suit up Saturday, the lone exception being Cam Smith. Kelly said the graduate student wide receiver will sit out against Navy, and he hopes to have Smith back by next weekend when the team travels to Stanford.

Saturday’s game at Notre Dame Stadium also represents Senior Day for the Irish, as 27 players will be recognized for their contributions to the program. Amongst the group includes four of the team’s starting offensive lineman and all three of the team’s starting linebackers — two units which feature a combined five captains for the Irish.

Although some of the players at those spots have eligibility remaining, none of those individuals have made a decision as to whether they will return next season. Although the team faces the strong possibility of losing its core on both units, Kelly said he’s not worried about that at this point in the season, even in reflecting on the players’ potentially last home game as members of the program.

“It’s an interesting time because some of these kids haven’t made decisions as to who’s going to come back and who’s not going to come back, so we’ll get to recruit once the season is over,” Kelly said.

Kelly did say, however, that he believes the team has some potential replacements they would feel comfortable starting next season already in the program.

“I’ve really liked the development of [sophomore offensive lineman] Liam Eichenberg,” Kelly said. “He’s really developed physically where he’s in a position where he can start for us [next year]. [Freshman offensive lineman] Josh Lugg physically has developed to the point where we feel like he could be a starter for us. Those guys we feel really good about.

“From a defensive standpoint, [freshman linebacker] Jeremiah [Owusu-Koramoah] has got some really interesting traits, and we’ll be interested to work with him this spring.”