Last Saturday’s 15-12 victory against Pittsburgh was anything but pretty. But like any good Catholic boy, Irish coach Brian Kelly was able to find the inner beauty in his team and his quarterback as they gutted out a closer than expected win on the road.
Kelly said during a Tuesday press conference that he saw the team take a step forward in building the essential elements of a winning program. The Irish fell well short of the statistics that indicate a championship-caliber team, but Kelly said the fourth quarter comeback showed the intangible qualities Notre Dame has developed.
“One of the things that I liked about our football team at Pittsburgh is that we showed poise and confidence down the stretch,” Kelly said. “Poise, to me, is the ability to raise your level of concentration when it’s most needed. That you can’t talk about, you have to go demonstrate that.”
Kelly referenced last year’s national championship Auburn team, who won five games by three points or less, as a perfect example of how that poise and confidence helps a school pull out close games. Kelly has seen it first hand before. His 2009 Cincinnati BearCats kept their undefeated record thanks to three dominant fourth quarters in their final four games.
He said he saw it again in sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees during a perfect 11-play, 85-yard drive to beat Pitt midway through the fourth quarter. Kelly said Rees(6-1 as a starter) has stayed on the field through a turnover spree in the first quarter of the Notre Dame season because he has that poise.
Rees had his worst half of the young season in the first two quarters against Pittsburgh, but Kelly said after breaking down the film that the sophomore shows more and more flashes of what the coaching staff is looking for.
“You could put together an incredible highlight reel with Tommy Rees this year, and you could also put together a blooper film,” Kelly said. “It’s really being able to gain that consistency of play after play after play. A lot of that is learning and experience. That’s this year. We better not be talking about this stuff next year or there will be another quarterback playing.”
The coach said he continues to preach fundamentals like making smart throws and keeping two hands on the ball while standing in the pocket to try to eliminate turnovers.
The Dog Days of Fall
Notre Dame will play their third physical Big Ten team of the year this weekend in West Lafayette. Purdue coasted to a 59-0 blowout against Southeast Missouri State two weeks ago before a bye this past weekend. There is no question which team will have the fresher legs in Saturday’s game.
Add to that the 8 p.m. start on ESPN, Purdue’s only schedule night game this season, and the Boilermakers have plenty of reason to get fired up to beat the Irish.
“Every team that plays us it’s the biggest game on their schedule,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to get our kids ready to play.”
The challenge of getting up each week is made even harder by the fact that there are seldom walk-over teams on the Irish schedule. Kelly said playing tough opponents during the first few weeks of the season makes it difficult to develop talent and win games at the same time, but he credits the tough start last year with getting his team ready to play well down the stretch.
Notre Dame’s defensive front has received a serious boost from a handful of freshmen players so far this season. Kelly said some new faces might start popping up on the offensive side of the ball as well. He said both freshmen running backs — George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel — were getting very close to game-ready, as is wide receiver Davaris Daniels. One notable exception to the list of freshmen jumping into the depth chart was quarterback Everett Golson, who was not mentioned despite earlier plans to build special packages for him and sophomore Andrew Hendrix.
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