It’s game week in South Bend. Irish coach Brian Kelly’s Tuesday press conference served as a reminder that the long and ugly college football offseason was coming to a close as the Irish prepare to take on South Florida at home this Saturday.
Senior John Goodman has had a strong week in practice leading up to the season opener.
Kelly said he feels much more comfortable heading into the season opener than he did in his Notre Dame debut against Purdue last September. The playbook hasn’t necessarily grown too much since then, but Kelly and his players have a much better idea of what plays work well and when they work well.
“I think it’s more knowledge of what you’re capable of doing more so than having more plays available to you,” Kelly said. “We can go back and look at the successes that [quarterback Dayne Crist] has had in reading a particular play or getting us in the right play.”
Even though this will be the first meeting between South Florida and Notre Dame, the Irish coaching staff is more familiar with the Bulls than they were the Boilermakers in last year’s opener. Kelly and some of his carry over coaches faced South Florida when they were at Cincinnati playing in the Big East. In 2009, Kelly’s last season there, he got an up-close preview of Bulls starting quarterback B.J. Daniels.
Daniels is heading into his third season as a starter and is expected to be a big-time player for South Florida. As a freshman, Daniels threw for 208 yards and a touchdown against Kelly’s Bearcats in a 34-17 loss. He accounted for both of USF’s touchdowns, adding one with his feet on his way to a team-leading 74 yards on 16 carries. Kelly said taking away Daniels’ ability to run is a major part of the Irish game plan.
“He’s extremely athletic and he can throw the football,” Kelly said. “You have to go over all those things that put the ball in his hands—whether it be option, or read option, or sprintout, breaking contain—all those things have to be part of your defensive preparation.”
Daniels is complemented on offense by a lot of talent filled with question marks. Wide receivers A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin are both starting against the Irish after missing the majority of last season with injuries. In the backfield, Demetris Murray will split time with junior transfer Darrell Scott. Scott was the highest-rated running back in the country as a high school senior, but severely underperformed in his first two years at Colorado.
While on-the-field talent may be unproven, Kelly said he expects to see the same winning formula out of second-year head coach Skip Holtz that he has shown at previous stops in Connecticut and East Carolina. Kelly put aside the obvious Notre Dame connection and praised Holtz for the consistency he has shown throughout his head coaching career.
“They’ve always been a very solid football team defensively,” Kelly said. “And then their system has really been the same. What he ran at East Carolina, you are seeing that at South Florida.”
With any opening game opponent there is always the potential of a new offensive wrinkle that is nearly impossible to predict. Kelly said his defense has focused on the plays and schemes they witnessed over and over when watching film of Holtz’s teams, but they are also ready to adjust on the fly to any unforeseen “exotic” plays.
Peaking Right On Time
Kelly said Monday’s practice with the team was the best he has seen all month. The players were fresher physically and mentally after taking two holidays over the past give days. Notre Dame’s coaches have tried to schedule their practice to keep the team, which Kelly called the most focused group he has ever coached, in peak condition heading into game week.
“We were locked in pretty good yesterday,” Kelly said. “We know that it can be a grind, but once it’s game week it changes everything.”
Depth Chart Developments
One of the few minor surprises on the Irish two-deep heading into Saturday’s game was freshman Davaris Daniels listed as the No. 2 receiver behind TJ Jones at the “X” position. Senior John Goodman, who was listed behind Michael Floyd at the “W,” will probably end up taking more snaps than the freshman at both positions initially, Kelly said. Goodman and junior Robby Toma complete the five-man rotation that the coaching staff is most comfortable putting on the field. Kelly said Daniels and sophomore Daniel Smith are currently on equal footing for that sixth spot.
At the tight end spot, fifth-year senior Mike Ragone’s quadriceps injury opened the door for some competition at the No. 2 spot during fall camp. Ragone ran at full speed for the first time during Monday’s practice, and Kelly said as long as he continues to be healthy he will be second in line behind Tyler Eifert. However, sophomore Alex Welch and freshman Ben Koyack both took advantage of the August opportunity and will likely see the field this season.
Putting Their Speed To Use
Back-up quarterbacks Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix have an important role this week mimicking B.J. Daniels on the Irish scout team. Kelly said they have used both quarterbacks to simulate the dual threat that Daniels brings to the field on the “demonstration team.” He also said they have stepped in at times when the first team offense and defense are facing off to give the defense a look at a running quarterback when the offense is going full speed.
"“Sometimes when you go in demonstration or scout team it slows down and maybe you don’t have the offensive linemen knowing exactly what to do,” he said. “So we’ve tried to put them with our first unit as well to give us the best preparation.”