Brian Kelly's Notre Dame debut went so well, he rewarded himself with a little college football TV watching of his own.
Kelly said he watched the final quarter of Cincinnati's 28-14 loss at Fresno State on Saturday night. Kelly led the Bearcats to a 12-0 regular-season record last season.
"That was more of a relaxation after a great win, more so than being inquisitive about how they were doing," Kelly said during a teleconference. "It was a relaxing night because we had a win."
Kelly was still relatively relaxed Sunday afternoon when he reviewed Saturday's game with the media and with good reason.
Notre Dame avoided any "gross errors," according to Kelly, in Saturday's 23-12 victory. And the Irish had a good showing from their offense, defense and special teams.
Irish quarterback Dayne Crist completed 19 of 26 passes for 205 yards in his first start. The junior hit receiver TJ Jones for a 5-yard touchdown, and most importantly, Crist didn't throw an interception and the offense didn't get called for a penalty.
On defense, Notre Dame had four sacks and two interceptions and only gave up 10 points with two of Purdue's points coming on a safety.
On special teams, David Ruffer went 3 for 3 on field goals of 22, 46 and 37 yards.
And the only real hiccup was receiver Michael Floyd's fumble near Purdue's 2-yard line with 6:32 to play in the third which could have sealed an Irish win as they held a 20-3 lead at the time.
"In an opener, I think more than anything else, you want to try to play as disciplined as you can," Kelly said. "You want to be good against the run. You want to be solid at specials teams and not turn the ball over. We certainly did turn the ball over one time at a critical juncture, but by and large, we hit those relative to the first game the goals that we had. Everything that we saw relative to film on offense, defense and special teams, not what I would consider gross errors. Most of these are things that we can get better at from Week 1 to Week 2."
As for improvement in the Irish's next game, another home game against a Big Ten opponent (3:30 p.m. Saturday vs. Michigan), Kelly said he expects players who got their first taste of college football or playing a new position to make the biggest jump.
Jones, a freshman, caught three passes for 41 yards, and offensive tackles Zack Martin and Taylor Dever, both making their first starts, kept Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan from teeing off too many times on Crist.
Theo Riddick, a running back turned receiver, had two catches for 13 yards, and running Cierre Wood opened his college career with runs of 16, 15 and 15 yards before finishing with 58 rushing yards and two catches for 14 yards.
On defense, linebacker Carlo Calabrese matched the team high with nine tackles, and the defensive line found it had depth with Hafis Williams, Tyler Stockton, Sean Cwynar and Emeka Nwankwo stepping in to allow starters Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams and Kapron Lewis-Moore to get a breather.
There were also five freshmen contributing on special teams, headlined by receiver Bennett Jackson's four tackles.
"We had a lot of guys in there for the first time," Kelly said. "I think you will see great improvement on them. We are looking for TJ and Theo on the offensive side of the ball to get better.
"Defensively, our corners were outstanding. What we will want to see is continued improvement from the drop position. You know, I think that was a key for us because we lost (linebackers Darius) Fleming and (Prince) Shembo."
Kelly has a plan for making sure Fleming and Shembo are available for all of the game against Michigan after both linebackers were sidelined with cramps and unresponsive to IV treatment.
"We just have to do better job with diet and nutrition in terms of supplements," Kelly said. "They cramped up, we couldn't get them back through traditional IV methods. We'll keep an eye on them during the week."
Kelly will also keep an eye on safety Jamoris Slaughter, who sprained his ankle against Purdue.
Kelly said the injury isn't the dreaded high ankle sprain, and he expects Slaughter to be available Saturday. But the junior will ease into the week.
"We'll probably keep him out until Tuesday or Wednesday and see how goes from there," Kelly said. "We're much more encouraged. You always fear high ankle sprain when it first occurred. It doesn't appear to be that way."
No need to panic
Linebacker Manti Te'o had a characteristic game Saturday in that he tied for the lead in tackles with nine.
But the sophomore also uncharacteristically missed some tackles against Purdue.
Kelly said the missed tackles appeared to be a result of Te'o being a little overexcited for the season opener.
"He's all over the place. He swung and missed a lot out of the strike zone, which was uncharacteristic for him," Kelly said. "He was in great position so many times. I just think in the first game, maybe a little bit too excited.
"He's got to slow down a step. He was in great position, got our checks down very well. He just missed uncharacteristically some tackles that I'm very confident he's going to make in the future."
Kelly said scout team players will always have a chance to break through and play on team's he coached.
Exhibit A, Bennett Jackson.
The freshman receiver impressed the defensive staff so much they told Kelly that Jackson needs to play right away for the Irish
"He lasted about two days (on scout team), actually, when all my defensive coaches were knocking in my door saying this guy is too fast, he can't be on scout team," Kelly said. "It was pretty clear we had to find a place for him. As you know he had a great game. He had four tackles, one assist and three exceptional effort plays as well. We'll try to gradually work him in on offense. Because he is obviously going to be a player for us."
Kelly said cornerback Gary Gray needed to improve his work ethic to be a major contributor at Notre Dame.
Consider the jab at the senior a success.
Gray had nine tackles – a team-high eight solo tackles – a tackle for a 1-yard loss and tipped a pass into Ian Williams' hands to save a touchdown against Purdue
"My comments are always pointed for reasons, and my reason for doing that with Gary was that we knew he was a very, very talented football player and needed to show that every day in practice," Kelly said. "He certainly began to do that. He came to practice with a consistent focus, and you can see what kind of player he can be."