October began with a tune-up game for Notre Dame, a 52-0 win over Bowling Green. Since that convincing victory, Brian Kelly has been emphatic in his praise for his team's maturity and drive in staying focused on the Falcons before moving on to the tougher challenges the rest of the month will bring.
Notre Dame has two more games in October: USC on Saturday and Michigan on Oct. 26. Both of those teams promise to provide much bigger challenges to the Irish than simply remaining focused. There are athletes all over the field for both teams (although the Trojans and Wolverines have left plenty to be desired in execution this season) and Notre Dame will have to play two very good games to get to November at 6-1. Up first is the battle for the Shillelagh Trophy against USC, a game that has been played annually since 1946.
"I know our guys are excited," Kelly said. "I'm sure (the Trojans are) coming off a bye week healthy and ready to play their best as well. They've done really, really good job of putting themselves in a position to challenge for the Pac-12 championship and put themselves in a position to do great things this year."
Here are some more highlights from Kelly's press conference today.
On what makes the Notre Dame-USC rivalry special:
"The tradition. Going way back, obviously this game being played for so many years as an intersectional rivalry, they're not up the street. They're across the country. Great players have played in it. Great coaches that have coached in it. Nationally televised. So I just think the history, the tradition of it being played every year, it's one of those rivalries that hasn't gone away. It's part of college football."
What can running back Jafar Armstrong add to the offense Saturday (Armstrong hasn't played since Week 1 with an abdominal tear):
"He's a dynamic player, just hasn't played very much. I don't know if we can expect him to throw on a cape and play like Superman this weekend. There is going to be a process of coming back, especially at the running back position. You can't go from not playing for six weeks and have a workload of 50 plays. If we could get 20 plays out of him, that would be terrific. We'll see how things go this week. We put him in very competitive situations. I think I talked about that after the (Bowling Green) game. We'll see how he responds to go these competitive situations.
On his wide receivers and tight ends being "seekers of contact" after the catch:
"When it's part of what you're coaching and you talk about on a day-to-day basis, I think they understand what we're asking for. We don't want them to be foolish and initiating contact when that's not necessary, but if there are yards out there to gain by being physical, we want them to do that.
"I think all of them clearly understand that there is more playing time for those kinds of players. I think they clearly have the message about how they can earn more reps if they show a physicality to their game."
On defensive coordinator Clark Lea's ability to make halftime adjustments (Notre Dame has given up only six points in the third quarter this season):
"I think the whole (defensive coaching) group is really good. I think that (defensive line coach) Mike Elston and Clark Lea will talk first about any adjustments that need to be made in the front seven. (Defensive backs coach) Terry (Joseph) then will talk about anything that needs to happen in the back end.
"Bowling Green we were short on a couple calls in terms of having somebody in a good position on the quarterback. One of their quarterback keeps, we didn't have a safety in a really good position. Had to make an adjustment there. We didn't have an in-and-out call on a bunch because of a certain call.
"So those are the kind of adjustments that are made at halftime that are within your system of defense that you just have to apply at halftime. They all meet in my office, the defense, and I'll listen to that and I'll go to the offense, which is the in the coach's locker room, and that one is a little bit different because you're chronicling libraries of plays you want to use against defensive structures you're getting.
"You're not sure what's going to happen. We were getting a lot of pressures, so these will go well against what we're seeing. It's adjustments based upon what you're seeing and where you need to make the adjustments."
On whether Jack Kiser, the 2018 Indiana Mr. Football who started the first four games of the season on special teams, will redshirt:
"I think you can probably see that we're going to be very careful with guys if they're not making more of an impact on one or two special teams. We don't want to jeopardize a year in those kinds of situations. We have had enough conversations with our guys internally that they know where they stand. Without giving away too much, you can be assured that we're not going to be surprised about somebody playing too much or too little."
- Jafar Armstrong: As noted above, the running back is set to make his return to the field this week after not playing since Louisville because of a "rectus abdominis tear." He will be limited, but adds a pass-catching dimension to the running back corps.
- Lawrence Keys III: The redshirt freshman wide receiver/kick returner is dealing with plantar fasciitis and missed the Bowling Green game, but is expected to play against the Trojans.
- Shaun Crawford: The oft-injured cornerback suffered a dislocated elbow against Virginia and will not play against USC. Kelly said Sunday he will begin conditioning Tuesday, with some agility and position work. He is expected to miss 2-3 more weeks.
- Kevin Austin: The sophomore wide receiver has been unofficially suspended all season, with Kelly saying only that he remains on the roster. A "Sports Illustrated" report this week said that Austin could return this season, but will be limited to four games or fewer to preserve his redshirt. When asked Monday, Kelly said that Austin has been practicing all season and called his availability a "week-to-week" situation. Austin was a top 100 recruit in the 2018 class and caught five passes for 90 yards as a true freshman.
- Cam Hart: The true freshman was a three-star recruit as a wide receiver, but he's been moved to cornerback for the foreseeable future and possibly permanently. Kelly said Hart agreed to the switch and he has a "natural kind of easy movement" that makes him a good fit for the position despite being 6-foot-2 and almost 210 pounds.