Notre Dame vs. Stanford: 5 things Brian Kelly said
It’s common knowledge that those within the Notre Dame football program have mostly been euphoric with the turnaround that has occurred from last season to this one.
Veteran Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly feels so strongly about being pleased with his team’s 9-2 record as it heads into the final regular season game at Stanford Saturday (8 p.m., ABC) that he didn’t mince words when asked about it Tuesday.
“I’ll take it,” Kelly said in a press conference Tuesday if he would’ve accepted a 9-2 mark at this point prior to the season. “It’s that simple.”
Kelly touched on a number of topics Tuesday when he met with the media and here are five of those topics.
REDEMPTION BY REBOUNDING
The No. 8-ranked Fighting Irish (9-2) have bounced back from a dismal 4-8 season a year ago in a big way, which Kelly is pleased with, but he is even more happy that his program has redeemed itself against teams that smacked Notre Dame a year ago.
“There is a lot here in the sense that a win against (Stanford) is important because it’s the Legends trophy,” Kelly said of a traveling trophy that this rivalry shares. “Getting that back is very important (and) it would give us all of the traveling trophies this year, which is something that is kind of important to us, that we’ve talked about.”
Notre Dame has lost to Georgia and Miami (Fla.) this season, neither of which handed the Irish a loss last season.
Kelly’s team has been able to reverse a 2016 loss against Michigan State, North Carolina State, Navy and USC, with Stanford being the final opportunity for redemption from a season ago.
“Beating all of the teams that we had lost to last year,” Kelly said, “it is significant for us, in terms of turning the tables on last year.”
A LOT LEFT
With his team teetering on the brink of not getting into the College Football Playoff, Kelly said there remain important reasons to play good football this season.
“It probably puts us in a really good position to be considered for a playoff spot,” Kelly said optimistically. “But, most assuredly a New Year’s Six (bowl game) slot, which obviously, that’s a selective position and one that everybody has got their eyes on when talking about a great season.”
The Playoff is probably a stretch, but Kelly is right when he talks on getting into a New Year’s Six bowl game (Orange, Fiesta, Peach or Cotton Bowls), The Irish have a very impressive resume, even in considering the recent blowout loss against the Hurricanes in Miami.
“If you’re in the top eight (teams),” Kelly said of the Playoff rankings, “you’re strongly considered. We need another top 20, top 25 win and I think we’ll be strongly considered.”
“I think the teams that are up there have all had one bad day and we had one bad day, too.”
Stanford is ranked 21st in the latest Playoff poll.
SPECIAL TEAMS HAVEN’T BEEN THAT
The Irish have enjoyed improved special teams play this season under the teaching of new special teams coach Brian Polian. However, Kelly said that there is still room for improvement in certain areas of play.
“I think that it has been a mixed bag,” Kelly said. “I don’t think that it has been a negative for us. I would have liked a little bit more maybe from our kicking game, but we’re trying to get a true freshman kicker involved.”
First-year kicker Jonathan Doerer has kicked off 23 times for an average of 61-plus yards with six being touchbacks.
Kelly was lukewarm for redshirt junior punter Tyler Newsome, who currently ranks 28th in the nation with a 43-yard average.
“The punting has been OK,” Kelly said. “I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been fair to middling, but we haven’t been bad and we haven’t been great.”
The Irish had a special teams gaffs in their recent win over Navy, but when punt returner Chris Finke fumbled the ball away deep in Midshipmen territory, it could’ve proven costly.
“He’s got to fair catch,” Kelly said of Finke, who is reckless at times with his receiving. “He knows how to fair catch. That’s pretty easy. I think that it is just a poor job on his part.”
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THANKFUL FOR A LOT
Kelly was asked what he was appreciative for heading into this holiday week and he didn’t hesitate to mention that he has a lot to be grateful for.
“My family,” Kelly said of his appreciation, “and certainly the opportunities that we’ve been given here in this country; the freedom of choice and the opportunity to coach football at Notre Dame. I am thankful for all of those.”
Those within the Notre Dame football program will gather at the Morris Inn on campus Thursday and celebrate Thanksgiving before the team flies out to California.
Kelly said that the day is always a special one for the program.
“We get a chance to bring our families in, as well,” Kelly said of the gathering. “We started doing it a couple of years ago before we headed out to the West Coast and (the Morris Inn) is a great atmosphere.”
“You get to share that with your family, and you have two families there. You’ve got your natural family and your football family, one you spend a little bit more time with during the year than the other, so it’s great that you’re able to share that with both families that you are around all year.”
LOVE FOR LOVE
Stanford is making a whole-hearted campaign to tout its star running back Bryce Love for the Heisman Trophy, and Kelly understands why.
“He has that ability to break that first tackle and then ultimately, he’s got incredible speed,” Kelly said. “He’s got elite speed and he breaks tackles, and that is a lethal mix.”
Love has gained over 1,600 yards on the ground and is averaging an amazing nine yards per rush.
His 15 rushing touchdowns are tied for the most nationally within Power 5 programs.
“You have to tackle this guy,” Kelly said. “That is what makes him a special player.”
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