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Notre Dame needs to ‘respect’ Vanderbilt, its Stanford-inspired defense

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says he's always just focused on trying to find a way to win, no matter what that might look like.

More and more, the greatest mistake Irish head coach Brian Kelly identified in No. 8 Notre Dame’s 24-16 win against Ball State on Saturday seems to have been made in the week before kickoff against the mid-level opponent.

“We didn’t play our best, but what we did well in that game is that we won the game,” Kelly said Tuesday. “What we need to do better is certainly I’ve got to prepare our football team better. What we learned is that we have to be so much more intentional in our process during the week.”

“Our guys know that what we’ve learned from last week is that we got to be locked in on our process. If we’re not locked in on our process, this is a difficult game. You can get beat any week.”

On Sunday, Kelly said he felt the Irish took a few days to level off their emotions after their season-opening victory against Michigan, noting they did put together a good Thursday practice before facing the Cardinals. That fits in line with his view of the week as a whole at this point.

While that phenomena should not be feared again this week, if not this season, the underlying theme that may have allowed for it is one always possible when dealing with 18- to 23-year-olds. In this specific instance, Vanderbilt went 4-8 last season; Notre Dame might view the Commodores as more akin to Ball State than to the Wolverines.

“It starts with respecting your opponent,” Kelly said. “It carries itself into the way you practice. You have to have that build up throughout the entire week. I think our players really understand that the whole week cumulatively gets you ready for Saturday, not 24 hours prior to the game.”

Getting ready for Vanderbilt may bear some similarities to the annual task of preparing for Stanford, specifically as it pertains to their defense. Commodores head coach Derek Mason arrived in Nashville in 2014 after spending the previous four seasons as a Cardinal assistant coach. In 2011, he began a three-year stint as defensive coordinator, spending the first of those seasons sharing the duties with Jason Tarver, now the first-year defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.

Defenses change, coaches alter their approaches, and rosters vary immensely, but that familiar Stanford pedigree provides Kelly and his coaching staff a starting point for study.

“They definitely change up, but you do get structure and know what they like vs. particular down-and-distances,” Kelly said. “You can bet they’re going to be in these kind of looks on third down, they’re going to have multiplicity, going to bring pressures.

“We play Stanford once a year, so there is some carryover there.”

The sophomore tight end suffered a high ankle sprain against the Cardinals and will be “limited”, per Kelly, giving him a “doubtful” designation for the week.

In other words, expect Kmet to take off the next week or two in cautious hope he can be 100 percent before the actual David Shaw defense arrives on Sept. 29.

ON 9/11
Perhaps he has discussed it before, but this scribe does not remember previously hearing Kelly’s memories of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Then the head coach at Grand Valley State, he was going through the normal routine of a week, as might be expected.

“It was really one of the first things I thought of today,” Kelly said on the 17th anniversary of the attacks. “Certainly such an important day in so many lives that were lost.

“We had a suite of offices in the end zone. I was drawing up cards as the head coach. I had three full-time assistant coaches; I drew all the scout cards as well as the head coach, the offensive coordinator for the scout team.

“We had this old box TV that was on as just backdrop. One of the guys ran up from downstairs and said there was a fire in one of the towers. We turned it on.

“We were playing our rival that week, Ferris State, ended up canceling the game.”

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