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The Journal Gazette

Monday, September 30, 2019 10:20 pm

Brian Kelly Week 6 Press Conference

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Coming off its win over No. 18 Virginia, Notre Dame moves on to a matchup against Bowling Green, a game in which the ninth-ranked Irish are favored by close to 45 points. It should be the last "gimme" game for the Irish for a while as the following four games over the next five weeks (with a bye on Oct. 19) will be against USC, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Duke. 

The Falcons come into Saturday's matchup 1-3 with a win over FCS Morgan State and three consecutive losses to Kansas State, Louisiana Tech and Kent State. The most recent game was a 62-20 defeat at the hands of the Golden Flashes on Sept. 21. They had a bye in Week 5, so they'll come into South Bend rested as they try to pull off what would likely be the biggest upset in college football this year.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly likes to use weeks like these for the Irish to focus on themselves and work on details that have been missing. He said after the win over the Cavaliers that this team is extremely talented and physical, but it's weakness this season is that it has been somewhat prone to mental lapses and it lacks attention to detail at times. He wants his team to work on finer points before it takes on the Falcons. 

"This is a week for our football team to really look themselves and say, 'Do I want to be great, or is this as good as it gets,'" Kelly said. "That rhetorical question of our mission here is to graduate champions. This is a week where you can focus on being a champion. All the details that are so important to being one, you get the opportunity to sharpen that this week.

"So I think it's a great week for our football team to really be evaluated on what do they want to be, how good do you want to be? This is a week that they can do that. If they're outside those lines, if they're not locked in, not great in the weight room, if they're not great in the classroom, and not locked in on the practice field, then it's a great indication to me that they don't want to be great, and so we'll be able to address it accordingly."

Here are some more highlights from Kelly's press conference.

On his relationship with Bowling Green defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who was Notre Dame's defensive coordinator from 2014-16, but got fired four games into the 2016 season:

"No, we haven't been in touch. He's had obviously a busy career in terms of moving around a little bit, so we haven't been able to stay in touch. Most of it's been through his son, Montgomery, who was here and is now at Georgia. But going against Brian is always a challenge because he's multiple defensively; you're going to get a lot of different looks. So you have to be prepared for a lot different things. That's first and foremost. You better be ready for a lot of different things.

"Now, as I said, it's not certain that they're at that level where they can bring as many things at you as they did here at Notre Dame, but we'll have to be prepared for that. But that's what you get when you go up against a Van Gorder defense."

On the progress of Ian Book and what he still needs to work on:

"I think in some areas he's made really good progress. I think there is room for improvement in others. But I could probably say that about a lot of players. Again, and I think we all know this, the spotlight is on the quarterback, so the scrutiny on him is ten times on him than it is on other positions. He knows that.

"But if you're asking me where is Ian in this process, I will go back to what I said last week. He just finished his 13th, going on his 14th game. We want to continue to see steady progress in him seeing the field, making good decisions as it relates to protections, our RPOs, and we're not seeing it go the other way. But we want to continue to see that natural process of managing our offense, but also he's got the ability to be explosive. I think that's the next step for him."

On how the Irish have won 13 straight home games, the eighth-longest active streak in the country:

"Execute better than the team we're playing. It starts with you don't get lucky. You've got to win those games. We've had some close games that we have had to find a way to win. Virginia game we had to come back the at half; Pittsburgh game comes to mention; and then there are some games we've played extremely well.

"I think we have a great routine. We love playing in front of our fans; our students in particular are there. And it's been a mantra of ours in our off-season to protect our house. We feel as though it's part of what we do in our workouts in the summer. We rally around that, we workout in the stadium, we run the stairs. It's something that's very, very important to us. So we've been fortunate, and it's obviously been a really positive thing to play at home."

On Julian Okwara, a quiet player, being named a captain this season and having a breakout year:

"Oh, at this time last year if you mentioned captain I would've maybe publicly snickered at you. He just did not have any of those traits developed, and he's developed them because he's wanted to put himself in that position.

"I couldn't be more proud of him. He's respected not only by his play, but, I mean, he is demanding of his teammates as it relates to accountability. He'll be the first one to step up in a meeting and tell somebody that they're not living up to the standard. That really caught our eye and our attention this past spring."

"And then him having his own SWAT team and holding his team accountable, that transformation has been as impressive for one person to move himself into a leadership position that I've seen in my time here."

Injury Report

  • Daelin Hayes: The senior defensive end is out for the season after tearing his labrum against the Cavaliers. He is a candidate for a medical redshirt and a return in 2020.
  • Shaun Crawford: The starting cornerback will be out for 3-4 weeks with a dislocated elbow suffered against Virginia. He has already missed close to three full seasons with injuries at Notre Dame (two ACL tears and an Achilles tear).
  • Jafar Armstrong: The running back is still recovering from a torn abdominal muscle and will not play this week. The Irish continue to target Oct. 12 against USC for his return. He has not played since Week 1.
  • Braden Lenzy: The redshirt freshman wide receiver was active against Virginia, but was not fully cleared from the concussion protocol until Tuesday or Wednesday, according to Kelly. The Irish plan to incorporate him into the offense more going forward.