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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

Kelly reflects on win over Clemson, looks ahead to Boston College

On Monday, following a win against former No. 1 Clemson at Notre Dame Stadium, Brian Kelly spoke to the media about the accomplishments of the team, as well as what lies ahead.

Kelly was asked if he allowed himself to “soak in the moment” after beating the No. 1 team. 

“My normal routine is to go back home and be with my family. And we really don’t talk much football,” Kelly said. “So I didn’t get much time to think about number one because they weren’t thinking about number one. And then the next morning, we come back in [to practice], you know, so pretty glamorous life, huh?”

Even though Kelly didn’t have a moment directly after the game, he had one a little later.

“What you think about is, more than anything else, is the players and how they’ve sacrificed so much during this time of COVID. And for them to give up so much and not have a real senior day and not really have the kind of things that other seniors have had, it’s been so odd,” Kelly said. “And you know that the fans rushed the field. And our players were like ‘This is crazy.’ But they also know it was those seniors’ last home game, so there were just so many emotions, and I think most of it was centered around our veteran players and all of our players that have worked so hard to get to that moment.”

Concerns also arose about COVID-19 cases after the fans stormed the field.

“My concerns are not great,” Kelly said after mentioning that the team was tested Sunday. “In terms of the post-game students on the field, those students were tested during the week. And our players were aware that they needed to get off the field in a timely fashion. So we don’t believe that that’s going to be a situation that is going to affect our football team. But you know, we’ll have plans in place in case it becomes an issue.”

The Clemson matchup was a big game for several teammates individually. One such player was sophomore running back Kyren Williams.

“The focus was for our backs to be more active than protections. Clemson ran a lot of twist games and stunt games that knocks off your offensive lineman. So even though we were in a six-man protection, you know, the back didn’t get out a lot and it limited us a little bit in some of our check down opportunities,” Kelly said.

Another was freshman tight end Michael Mayer, who was described as a “linchpin” for the team by one of the interviewers. Though Mayer had setbacks early on in the game, he responded “like a champion.”

“For players in their freshman year to continue to ascend, there has to be a mental performance component that is different than most freshmen. And he has that,” Kelly said. “Case in point is that when he came over, after the red zone situation that he was in, he handled himself incredibly well. He didn’t throw a helmet, didn’t throw a tantrum, just started breathing, talking to himself in a manner that, ‘I’m going to make that play next time when I’m given that opportunity again.’ He just handles himself like somebody that has been in our program for more than one year. It’s very unique. He’s had very little mental performance training. The little bit of mental performance training he has had he has taken to it and built upon it and that’s why he’s had the kind of success he’s had.”

Junior linebacker Shayne Simon’s progress was also mentioned.

“We’re really pleased with his progression,” Kelly said. “There are still some things out there that we need him to work on: shedding blocks, getting off blocks, a couple of instinctual things that I think he can get better at. But he’s attacking the line of scrimmage. He is finishing off tackles. He’s got really good awareness and space in the past game. We’re really seeing somebody that is elevating his game.”

However, just because Simon is improving does not mean his position is secure. 

“There’s still some competition out there,” Kelly said. “And we like it. We like to keep the competition lively out there. But really pleased with where he’s going. And he’s got some room to continue to grow, which is a great thing.”

Senior wide receiver Avery Davis and graduate student wide receiver Javon McKinley also had successes during the game.

“There’s a great amount of satisfaction when you see those guys have the kind of success against your top-level talent,” Kelly said. “Avery Davis was running away from everybody the other night. Javan McKinley was taking the ball and making plays. You know, he ran away from the corner that he was going against, who’s one of the finest corners in the country.”

Davis and McKinley’s progress also reflects on the football program as a whole.

“That’s what you want in your program,” Kelly said. “You want to see guys later in their careers continuing to see their development and that, to me. ... People so many times talk about Hallmark moments. I look at it from a different perspective. To me, program development is when your older players are still developing and when they get a chance to play, can play championship-level football. It’s satisfying.”

Kelly also commented on the defensive line’s performance, specifically with regards to third-down defense.

“If I could tell you how much time that we spend on third down, you’d be amazed,” Kelly said. “There are a lot of intense studies. There’s a lot of intense situational substitution. You’re looking at matchups, you’re looking at how you can put yourself and leverage yourself defensively for the best situation. We’ve done really well in those areas, in keeping it in third and long. And once you get the third long, now the numbers start to tilt towards you, and that’s where we've been really effective.”

Specifically, graduate student defensive lineman Daelin Hayes has advanced both as a player and as a leader for the team.

“He’s an integral part of what we’re doing,” Kelly said. “Daelin was always vocal. He now is extremely pointed in when he talks. Pointed in the sense that the guys are really listening to what he has to say because it’s clear that he has their ear. You do that when you’re a man of your word, that you’re trusted, and they see how he’s performing as well. And your best players, by and large, gain a lot of credibility as well. So you’re seeing all that happen with Daelin Hayes this year. So he’ll be extremely important next week and in the weeks to come.”

Following this big win, Kelly commented on how this team compared to what he thought championship teams looked like in 2012 after their National Championship game against Alabama.

“I said that the physicality of Alabama was such that we needed to duplicate that in our program. And here we are, where I feel like our physicality was a separator in terms of the ability to control the line of scrimmage,” Kelly said. “We rushed for over 200 yards and we kept them under 50 yards. So controlling the line of scrimmage was what my vision was in terms of what a championship football team looks like. And then those other pieces come together in different forms, but that physicality was certainly at the heart of it.”

When asked how his current team compared to the 2012 and 2018 teams in terms of makeup, speed and physicality, Kelly said: “Overall, on all three levels, it's a more physical, faster football team across the board.”

He said this lineup had a lot of differences from the past teams, even though graduate student quarterback Ian Book held his position in 2018 as well. 

“Ian Book was a young quarterback,” Kelly said of Book’s time with the 2018 team. “There were some really good pieces about that team. But this team, you know, obviously has a lot more experience, depth, athleticism and speed.”

Book was also mentioned with regards to the Irish’s matchup against Boston College on Saturday, as he and BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec, former member of the Notre Dame football team, are said to have a good relationship.

“Look, the quarterback meeting room is a very supportive one. And I know Phil and Ian were supportive of each other,” Kelly said. “Quarterbacks are going to be very supportive of each other.”

Jurkovec’s transfer also raised concerns for the matchup, as he is familiar with Notre Dame’s playbook. 

“When he was here, he was fairly bright in terms of understanding what we were doing,” Kelly said of Jurkovec’s ability. “The normal progress that most young players were making in the program he was making.”

Kelly was asked how Jurkovec is different now from how he was last year as a part of the Fighting Irish.

“Phil’s in a different type of offense than the one we were asking him to be part of last year,” Kelly said. “What he’s doing this year, on film, is he’s making plays outside the realm of the offense, which he was very accustomed to doing in high school and when he was here as well. Outside the pocket, he’s a great scrambler. He could throw on the run. He’s got a strong arm. ... But I would say that the offenses are so dissimilar it’s hard to really compare where that progression is. But the one constant is he can make plays outside the pocket.”

On their upcoming matchup against Boston College, Kelly said it is a “great challenge” for the team.

“You can tell watching this team, they play hard, very gritty, tough team, well-coached. ... It's going to be a great challenge for us,” Kelly said. “They’ve gotten off to a nice start this season and are playing good football. They’re five-and-three and looking to obviously get a great victory against us. So we’ll have to be prepared.”

Kelly also spoke on how he planned on raising the team’s level of play again after Clemson. 

“I think the first thing is the constant application of our process, so stay consistent with what we’ve been doing. And so that constant application of our process has been something that we’ve done now for close to four years,” Kelly said. “The constant application of our process starts with the ability to understand how important each day is in our preparation. We’ve got a lot of work to clean up. We’ve got to be a better football team. There’s a number of areas that have to get cleaned up technically and tactically in all three phases.”

Heading into Saturday’s matchup, injuries on the team came into question. Kelly does not believe any of the injuries sustained at the Clemson game will prevent any player from playing this weekend.

Junior wide receiver Braden Lenzy has been out for the past few weeks with a hamstring injury. Kelly provided an update on his current state.

“Braden was running full speed ahead straight line on Friday. We will begin a change of direction today. We'll see how he responds. If he looks good today. We will put them in practice tomorrow,” Kelly said. “And then it will be how he handles portions of the practice as to whether he would be ready to play this week. If he’s not then obviously he’ll have the bye week and he’ll certainly be ready for North Carolina.”

Kelly looked ahead to how the team will establish a routine to prepare for several more games on the road.

“They’ve got a pretty good routine. I think I like our routine. We do all of our work here on Friday,” Kelly said of the process. “We eat downtown at the city center, do our meetings, then get on a fairly short flight, usually under two hours, get to the hotel, get our snack and go to bed. And now it’s game day. So it’s been pretty good.”

Going off of that, Kelly said a 3:30 p.m. game is great for the Irish.

“It really stays in our wheelhouse in terms of the routine. So our guys are well accustomed to it now that we've been on the road a few times,” Kelly said. “This will be really comfortable for our guys to go ahead and do it again.”