Brian Kelly met with the media this afternoon to discuss the Irish’s preparation for Michigan, a game that’s likely been circled on the calendar for every member of ND Nation since last year’s late-game implosion.
With a primetime start and two nationally ranked teams, there’s a lot at stake. Yet don’t tell Kelly that there’s reason to change the team’s focus. He’s been working on keeping this team in check since the offseason.
“We have a sign that is pretty visible for our guys to see when they walk in and walk out of the building,” Kelly said. “It starts with, ‘Don’t Believe or Fuel the Hype.’ That’s No.1. No. 2, ‘Manage Expectations.’ No. 3, ‘Avoid the Noise.’ And 4, ‘Speak for Yourself.’ They see that every single day. I put that up last year; expecting that that was going to be something that we were going to have to deal with. And we’re dealing with it right now, and they have seen that now for over a year and a half. They know what that sign means. And they know if they want to continue to be successful, they need to continue to do the things they are doing.”
We’re still waiting for the video of the presser to be made available. But in the meantime Feel free to watch the near 40 minutes of press conference. Or I’ll pick and choose some of the parts I found interesting.
He’s always been one of the players Brian Kelly spoke highly of, but for the first time we actually got to see what a Notre Dame defense would look like with Danny Spond heavily featured.
After missing the season’s first two games after a scary issue with migraines, Spond got the first start of his career at the ‘Dog’ linebacker, contributing four tackles and looking good at home in coverage.
Here’s how Kelly evaluated Spond’s play, and what he thought of his ability to rally from a pretty significant medical issue.
“He’s a big, physical kid, almost 250 pounds,” Kelly said. “I think once you make that decision to put the gear on and go back out to practice, you’ve handled it, you know, and he pushed the envelope, he was the one who wanted to get out there. And so I think we had no hesitation of practicing him and playing him, because of the way he handled it leading up. He wasn’t, oh, I don’t know if I should play; it’s always been, once I’m cleared, I’m going to play. So I think he handled that before he even got into game week.”
As an edge player with good athleticism, Spond will likely have a big responsibility this weekend as well, needing to give chase to Denard Robinson, a guy that’s gotten loose against the Irish defense before.
Speaking of Michigan’s quarterback, Kelly told us with a straight face that 2011 hasn’t come up when discussing the Wolverines and what Robinson did last year. (If you believe that, well -- I’ve got some beachfront South Bend real estate for you.)
What he did candidly speak about was the type of player Robinson is, what type of challenge he represents, and how the Irish did against him last season.
“Well, I thought we did a pretty good job, really, for three quarters,” Kelly said. “I think if there’s a couple plays we’d like to have back in the passing game maybe; but we liked our plan. We think that we are physically a better football team than we were the previous couple years.
“He’s a superior football player. He’s a difference‑maker. So we have to find a way to limit big‑chunk plays, just like we have the first few weeks. It’s about our defense not giving up those big, chunk plays. We gave them up in the running game in year one and we gave them up in the passing game in year two. We have to eliminate and control those big plays that are out there. If we do that, we feel pretty good.”
When asked the best way to stop him -- whether it was shutting down the run game first or the pass game -- was there a secret, Kelly got in a good little quip.
“If there was a secret out there, you know, we would have probably gotten it way before everybody else. We’ve got great alumni out there.”
It’s a difficult proposition, because you can’t sellout on either one of those. You have to be balanced. You have to be able to manage it and you’ve got to keep him from making big plays. So there isn’t an easy answer to that. He’s a superior football player. He’s not a great player; he’s the best player on the field.”
Irish faithful hope Manti Te’o takes exception to that statement.
He may catch some grief because he tend to notice a few of his missed tackles, but Kelly was incredibly complimentary about safety Zeke Motta, whose role in the Irish defense is even more important now with the loss of Jamoris Slaughter for the season.
Kelly spoke with pride about the work Motta has done to make himself a better football player and person on and off the field.
“I wanted to push him out front because I saw a young man that the way he practiced, the dedication he has to the game, the kind of young man he is, you want him representing your program,” Kelly said of Motta.
“He gets more than Elijah (Shumate) lined up. It’s probably one of the most remarkable developments of a player from year one or year two to year three in that sense. He had a hard time getting himself lined up last year. He has been terrific back there. He’s been physical. He’s played the ball well. And his leadership skills have continued to grow.
“He was a young man that at times had a hard time speaking in front of a group. This spring, I had him speak at our spring banquet, along with Justin Tuck; handled himself well there, and it’s just been a great evolutionary process to see him continue to grow as a person and as a player. He deserves all the credit for that.”
I’ve said it before, but Motta is one physically impressive looking football player. While Harrison Smith had the opportunity to spend a year redshirting before seeing the field, it’s too bad Motta wasn’t afforded the same opportunity, and he still may show himself to be the type of player that gets a chance to play on Sundays.