Notre Dame heads into the month of November, traditionally its best under Brian Kelly, with a revamped set of goals still intact but dings and dents starting to accumulate on the depth chart.
Junior linebacker Ishaq Williams will not play against Navy Saturday becuase of a knee injury.
Kelly said Tuesday junior outside linebacker Ishaq Williams will not play Saturday against Navy. Williams injured his knee during last weekend’s game at Air Force. Defensive end Sheldon Day (ankle) and offensive guard Chris Watt (knee) remain “probable” as the team begins practice this week, according to the coach.
Senior nose guard Louis Nix’s status for Saturday also remains up in the air. Nix didn’t travel to Colorado with the team because of sore knees. He worked out Monday, but needs to continue to improve his mobility throughout the week in order to get the go-ahead from the coaching staff. Kelly said playing against Navy, a team that likes to chop block, leads him to be a little bit more cautious with personnel decisions this week.
“I think you can't go into playing the option team with hesitation or doubt,” Kelly said. “When you're playing Stanford and you're firing off the ball and it's just a matter of beating the guy over you, there's less hesitation. …There's a little bit more hesitation in there when you are playing an option team. And we can't have that from our inside guy.”
Avoiding injuries, or plugging their resulting gaps, has been a big part of Kelly’s 20-2 record in the final month of the regular season during the past six years. He’s 10-1 with the Irish. Kelly said staying healthy and keeping his players interested in showing up each day have helped the strong finishes.
“I think your guys have to be mentally and physically fresh as well,” he said. “They have to feel as though when they come in in November that there's an energy to them. They enjoy coming; that it's not a chore.”
Notre Dame’s practices grow shorter as the season gets longer. Tuesday’s practice will be only 90 minutes long. Last Thursday, the team practiced without pads for the first time in a long time, Kelly said. It’s also important, he said, to make sure the team knows what’s coming each day before practice.
If Kelly’s formula keeps his November track record on pace, the Irish might have a chance to battle for a BCS spot at the end of the month. It’s not the bowl they had in mind in August, but after two early losses Kelly said the team reset its national championship hopes for a 6-0 finish during a midseason bye week. Notre Dame is 2-0 since then and playing better football, the coach said.
Irish quarterback Tommy Rees threw seven touchdown passes without an interception in the two wins. He completed 31 of his 43 passes, a 72 percent completion percentage. Notre Dame’s defense has allowed only 20 points in those two games, and none after halftime.
“I was very confident that the markers were there and they were pointing in the right direction,” Kelly said. “That was just a matter they all had to put it together. And they're putting it together.”
After allowing an early touchdown last Saturday, the Irish defense shut down Air Force’s triple option attack by taking away the perimeter runs. That doesn’t necessarily mean the same adjustments will work against Navy’s similar option attack this week.
Kelly said while Air Force runs more plays out of its base offense than the Midshipmen, no one in the country runs the option as well as Navy. With sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds at its center, the Navy offense is full of slight variations that have given the Irish headaches in the past.
“In one respect having gone against Air Force and having the principles of option already repped out is an advantage,” Kelly said. “But certainly they've seen us and how we defend the option as well. So that gives them a week to do some things as well.”
- Kelly said junior wide receiver DaVaris Daniels and running back George Atkinson III are at full health for this week’s game. Daniels had a small hip flexor problem that limited him in Colorado. Atkinson did not play in the second half because the Irish wanted to get freshman Tarean Folston more work in game situations.
- Junior Cam McDaniel was the headliner at running back in the week leading up to Saturday’s win. A helmetless photo of McDaniel took on a life of its own on the Internet throughout the week and landed him on NBC’s Today Show Friday morning.
“If I was his teammate I certainly would have given him a hard time over it,” Kelly said. “I don't know what his teammates did. But I've been in a locker room for 25 years. I'm sure there were a couple of guys who did.”
- Senior Kona Schwenke started for the Irish Saturday and played significant minutes with Nix watching from home. Kelly said he’s been an important part of the defense this seaon, and NFL teams are starting to take notice of the 305-pound Hawaiian.
“We're getting a lot of favorable reports on him being able to play next year as well, at the next level,” he said.