For Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, there is a fine line between being ecstatic that his team has entered the bye week unbeaten, and being realistic enough to know that it has several areas of less than stellar play that need attention if it hopes to continue down this path of success.
With each news conference, the third-year coach seemingly has to walk that tight rope between lauding his team for winning three consecutive games against Big Ten opponents, and keeping the Irish Nation, as well as his group of 18 to 22-year-olds, grounded.
“We need to continue to get better on offense, there’s no question,” Kelly said on Sunday following his team’s 13-6 beating of 18th-ranked Michigan.
That is a dose of medicine (some refer to it as reality) by the coach.
“But we just played in Ireland, played Purdue, who’s pretty good, played Michigan State at Michigan State and Michigan and beat two top 20 teams,” Kelly added.
And a heaping of sugar to follow up that medicine with.
The Irish have played very well at times – on both sides of the ball. But while the Notre Dame defense seems in mid-year form already, it’s the offense, particularly in Saturday’s win, that desperately needs more time to develop.
A lot more time.
“Yeah, we need to get better, there’s no question,” Kelly repeated. “But we’re 4 0, and our guys are going to continue to get better. We’ll be better in November than we are now, and if we continue with that mindset, we should be fine.”
The 10th-ranked Fighting Irish has to get better by October, let alone November. With Stanford (ranked 8th, 3-0) and Oklahoma (16th, 2-1) on the docket next month, Kelly’s team will have to make major strides offensively (it had just 239 yards of offense against a .500 Michigan squad) – particularly at quarterback. But on Sunday, Kelly was including multiple facets of offense that needed attention, not just the quarterback combo of Everett Golson and Tommy Rees.
“I think if you look at us, we’ll have 10 guys do the right thing and one guy not,” Kelly explained. “I think all of the things that go to putting points on the board. We’ve left a lot of points out there that are there for the taking, and it’s not just the quarterback. It’s the right tackle or the left guard, it’s the wide receiver. We just need to gain a sense of consistency on the offensive side of the ball. I don’t think it’s a particular scheme as much as it is we just have to continue to practice and hone in on everybody doing their job. It’s one guy here, one guy there.”
Golson has started each of the four games thus far this season, but Rees has finished three of them, with the Purdue and Michigan games being due to lack of confidence in the sophomore by Kelly. The coach was adamant following the win on Saturday that Golson will remain the starter, and he knows that any future success is tied directly to the young guy.
“It’s going to really center around the quarterback play,” Kelly said of where his team heads this season. “Everett is going to continue to work hard and get better.”