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Kelly preps for Wake Forest

Andrew Hendrix

It was business as usual for Brian Kelly, who prepares his team for a trip to Winston-Salem to face Jim Grobe‘s Demon Deacons of Wake Forest.

It’s a game with plenty of connections between schools. Former Notre Dame Provost Dr. Nathan Hatch is now Wake Forest’s president. Track & Field coach John Millar spent 19 seasons as the associate head of the track & field program before getting the top position at Wake Forest. Even athletic director Jack Swarbrick sent a son to Wake Forest.

Before we get down the road too far into the connectivity between the two universities, let’s hit on a couple interesting points Brian Kelly talked about as his team moves into November.

More than a few people wondered why Andrew Hendrix didn’t see the field during the blow out of Navy. Kelly was asked about the decision to leave Hendrix on the bench and go with Dayne Crist, and if that was a sign that maybe Hendrix had taken a step backwards.

“I wouldn’t read into it too much. I think each game is a different game, and the flow of the game is such that we continue to rep him,” Kelly said of Hendrix. “We continue to put a package in there. You know, we like where he’s going, we like his development, but, you know, again, we’re still looking for the right opportunities to get him in.”

So far, we’ve only seen Hendrix run a limited set of plays, most of them coming on the ground, or with very limited throwing options. That said, Kelly is also being careful not to turn his other sophomore quarterback into a battering ram.

“I want to be careful not to pigeonhole Andrew Hendrix into an option quarterback,” Kelly said. “That’s not what he is. He adds a little dimension to that position with his ability to run. Quite frankly, we didn’t need another dimension to the (Navy) game. I thought we were just fine.”

I don’t think Kelly would ever say it, but I think he needed to make sure Crist had his head back on straight before worrying about Hendrix. As much as the future might not include Crist at Notre Dame, he’s still the next man in, and if anything were to happen to Tommy Rees down the stretch, Dayne needs to be ready, as he’s got the best grasp on the offense.

Speaking of Rees, Kelly was asked about his sophomore quarterback in comparison to Wake Forest’s sophomore signal caller Tanner Price. Other than being a left-handed thrower, Kelly was asked to look for some similarities.

“They’re both learning. They’re both experiencing,” Kelly said. “They’re both young in the process, but they’re both the starting quarterbacks. Both teams are having some success. We want more; they want more. But I think that’s the nature of a quarterback that’s gaining experience. So I think there are some similarities there.”

A quick look at the numbers and the similarities are pretty incredible:

Tanner Price, Soph: 152 for 249, 61% for 1,967 yards. 14 TDs 6 INTs. 141.1 QB Rating
Tommy Rees, Soph: 179 for 270, 66% for 1,930 yards. 15 TDs 8 INTs. 138.7 QB Rating

Price had played really consistent football up until last weekend, when he put together a really ugly stat line that included no touchdown passes and three interceptions. Of course, Kelly also pointed out another obvious difference other than the throwing hand.

“He’s a lot taller,” Kelly said of Price.

With Jamoris Slaughter stepping up and playing great football after being hampered much of last season with a foot and ankle injury, Kelly was asked about the incredible versatility Slaughter has shown, playing well in coverage and also down in the box against option teams like Navy and Air Force.

With Robert Blanton successfully transitioning from nickelback/jack-of-all-trades to field cornerback, and two starting positions at corner opening up after the season, Kelly was asked about the idea of sliding Slaughter to cornerback next season.

“I wouldn’t say no, but it hasn’t been something we’ve thrown around, Let’s look at Slaughter at corner next year,” Kelly said. We like Lo and Bennett, their development. You know, it should be that right now we think of him as a safety.”

I don’t have quite up-to-date stats, but neither Lo Wood nor Bennett Jackson have taken a lot of snaps at cornerback, so Kelly may very well be talking confidently about his options in the defensive backfield from a hypothetical standpoint. This spring the Irish are going to need to find some cornerbacks ready to see the field, as Blanton and Gary Gray have played approximately 93% of the total snaps the defense has played.

(Of course, Harrison Smith needs replacing too and he leads the defense is snaps played, so there’s going to be a big hole at safety too next year.)

Lastly, I’ve written less about him this year than any other, but Kelly was asked about the season Michael Floyd has put together for the Irish. His response wasn’t that surprising.

“Spectacular. He’s a dominating football player,” Kelly said of . You throw a three-yard pass to him behind the line of scrimmage and he’s got a burst.”

Funny enough, in his glowing response about Floyd, Kelly also noticed that Theo Riddick got caught from behind by a Navy safety.
“I gave Theo a hard time about this, we threw a pass out I think second series to Theo and he went down the sideline,” Kelly said. “Michael was on the other side of the field, and he might have caught him. That kind of speed, that kind of flatline, run-out speed at 225 pounds, pretty spectacular.
Tough, physical, catches the ball over the middle, catches the short passes. He’s had an incredible year.”

Kelly credits the day when his senior star “decided that he wanted to change his life” as the turning point to Floyd’s excellence. With the senior class being called to the carpet for a lack of leaders, it’s interesting to think about what it’d be like with Floyd joining Harrison Smith as a full-time captain.