Brian Kelly stepped to the podium Tuesday afternoon the head coach of the No. 5 team in the nation. Ready to bring his team to Oklahoma for the biggest match-up of his career, many believe this Saturday is the one that the Fighting Irish are exposed.
To read some third-party accounts, it’s only a matter of time before Notre Dame crashes back down to earth, likely done in convincing fashion by Bob Stoops’ team. There are just too many questions and too few answers for the Irish.
Quarterback Everett Golson? The redshirt freshman can’t possibly be ready for Mike Stoops’ attacking defense. Notre Dame’s surprisingly stout running game? Good luck moving the chains against a defensive line like the Sooners. And Notre Dame’s resurgent front seven? Try getting through the Sooners’ offensive line. And the Irish’s youthful secondary? Get ready to meet a man named Landry Jones.
Oklahoma is a double-digit favorite, a number usually reserved for Pete Carroll teams. And while nobody felt like telling Kelly that his team was expected to get creamed, the head coach of the Fighting Irish was complimentary to Stoops and his program, while clearly excited for Saturday night.
“Our kids are certainly excited about the challenge of playing Oklahoma,” Kelly said. “It’s a great program, a great tradition. Coach Stoops is doing what we want to do here, and that’s built a program on consistency.”
Kelly spent over a half-hour talking to the media. You can watch the entire video below, or I’ll highlight some sections I found interesting.
In case you were wondering, quarterback Everett Golson is full go. After going through a full battery of tests and some cardiovascular work, Kelly pronounced his young quarterback 100 percent.
“It went very well. He feels great, very confident,” Kelly said. “We wanted to do that more because he hadn’t had really the opportunity to get out there and run, and we didn’t want to wait until Saturday where he’s out there and we have some setbacks. He’s good and 100percent, and he’ll start for us against Oklahoma on Saturday.”
It’s interesting to note that later in the press conference, Kelly was asked a question from a Oklahoma writer about the quarterbacking advantage on the field this Saturday. Stoops, when asked essentially the same thing yesterday, wouldn’t call Landry Jones an advantage over Golson, even though Jones has played in roughly forty more games than Golson.
Kelly was a little bit more candid.
“You would think an experienced quarterback‑‑ somebody that has been there, done that, has won a lot of games ‑‑ would have the edge over a young, inexperienced quarterback,” Kelly said candidly. “But you don’t know until Saturday hits. And that’s the great thing about these games.
We have a lot of confidence that Everett is a great competitor and that he’s going to do what he can do to help us win football games.
“But, yeah, if you look at the match-ups and you were going down the list, you would say that that’s a positive for Oklahoma in that situation.”
For the second time in three weeks, Notre Dame will be playing the de facto national game of the week, with ESPN’s College GameDay on campus in Norman, the first time they’ve been their since 2008.
The distraction of seeing ESPN’s production team crawling all over South Bend will be a little less intrusive this week. But that doesn’t mean the big game doesn’t ramp up expectations and excitement levels for players.
Make that coaches, too.
“This is why you coach at Notre Dame. This is why you coach at those programs that get the opportunity to play in marquee games,” Kelly said. “There’s an excitement but there’s also a realization that that excitement only gets you so far. You’ve got to prepare well. You’ve got to be detailed and organized. And so in times like these, we get that. That’s why we want to be here at Notre Dame.”
Kelly and the Irish will have the entire day to relax and sit around, as the 7 p.m. local kick will make prep time a little bit different than against Stanford.
Expect Bob and Mike Stoops to turn the pass rush loose on Golson, who struggled dealing with the blitzing of Stanford, as well as Michigan’s pressure earlier in the year. Notre Dame has capable players to expose the Sooner secondary on hot reads, with human mismatch guys like Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas, and guys like TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels, who have won their fair share of one-on-one battles lately.
But one tonic for a blitzing defense is an effective screen pass game. Kelly was asked why the reluctance to throw screens over the past few weeks.
“We’re running the football with eight, nine guys on the line of scrimmage. You’re screening into a lot of hats,” Kelly explained. “If we were spreading them out more and had some more space, you know, certainly screens have always been part of what we’ve done. It’s just the way we’re playing the game right now. We’ll keep them off balance with misdirection. As you saw, we had a lot of misdirection motion. That really took place with the screen game for us.”
That misdirection featured George Atkinson on the field at the same time as Theo Riddick or Cierre Wood, motioning into an end-around look while the hand off most likely went up the middle.
Atkinson did get the ball once around end, scoring from two-yards out on a nice move that juked a defender before he dove into the end zone. But that run game will have another added element with Golson’s legs capable of making the play a triple option, in addition to the down-field play-action chances.
It’d also be great to see throwing the ball to Atkinson on the edge of the defense, seeing if the sophomore big-play threat can make someone miss and get down the field.
Lastly, Kelly was asked about the senior class on this roster, the final group of players that Kelly inherited from the previous regime. After a difficult three years that saw the head coach that recruited them get replaced, and two up-and-down seasons with this staff, Kelly talked about how great it has been to help this group of seniors win.
“I’m really happy for them. They have seen the best, and they’ve seen some of the tougher times as well,” Kelly said. “And I think their perseverance, their maturity, their leadership, it’s all about who they are as individuals.
“I think what’s most gratifying for me and the senior class and those guys that are completing their eligibility, is that they have had that perseverance that you need to be successful. And that’s why it’s a pleasure to coach them, and they’re going to be so successful moving on from here.”