In back-to-back losses to rival Michigan, Notre Dame has failed to keep quarterback Denard Robinson under wraps for a full four quarters. Irish coach Brian Kelly said their plan to change that this weekend is to keep things as simple as possible.
The Irish defense held Robinson in check for three quarters last year in a 34-31 loss on the road, but couldn’t close out a win in the fourth. Kelly said rather than playing a schematic guessing game about how the Wolverines will adjust this season, he and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco have done their best to let their talented defense go make plays.
“You gotta go into the game knowing that you can’t defend every element,” Kelly said Thursday evening. “We have to tackle well. I don’t want to lose sight of the fundamentals that we have to execute and get caught up in so many things within a game plan. One of the great things that coach Diaco has done is keep things simple enough for our guys to play fast. I didn’t want to try to out think what we have to do.”
On the other side of the ball, Kelly said he’s expecting Michigan’s defense to come after sophomore quarterback Everett Golson early and often. Kelly said the Wolverines brought pressure on 47 of 82 plays in last year’s game with sophomore Tommy Rees under center. With an even less experienced quarterback this year, Kelly doesn’t think that Golson will see anything less.
“You can imagine they’ll probably be cranking up their different looks for us,” he said. “We tried to give [Golson] a lot [in practice this week]. I think his knowledge base and recognition are much better.”
Kelly said overall he was pleased with the way his team responded to a big win in practice this week. He said the message to his players for the past several days was just don’t try be something you’re not, another version of the hype-defraying rhetoric he started to dole out immediately following last week’s win over Michigan State.
Last year’s Irish team appeared to be swallowed up by hype prior to its one primetime night game of the year against Southern California. Kelly said he wasn’t concerned about that happening again. Both groups, he said, were able to equally set aside the distraction, but this year’s team just happens to be playing a much cleaner brand of football.
“I really would rather think of it in terms of not playing well in a big game. That would be my response more so than it was a big game and you didn’t rise to the occasion. I don’t think that was the case as much as we just didn’t play well,” he said.
- Kelly described sophomore safety Matthias Farley, who slides into Jamoris Slaughter’s starting position this week, as “sneaky fast.” In just three games of limited playing time, he’s amassed roughly 140 snaps, according to Kelly.
- Defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and freshman Sheldon Day are both a little banged up after two physical football games against Purdue and Michigan State. Kelly said both practiced throughout the week and will contribute on Saturday.
- Sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels is also expected to play against Michigan after seeing a very limited role against Michigan State. Daniels aggravated an ankle injury last Friday, but had a promising week of practice.
- Freshman Elijah Shumate, who has played well as Notre Dame’s nickel back so far this year, will be more involved at the normal cornerback position for the Irish in the future. Kelly said he expects Shumate to get a lot of work there during the bye week and moving forward from that point.
- Senior linebacker Manti Te’o has finalized plans to return home to Hawai`i next week to mourn the loss of his grandmother and girlfriend. Kelly said he’s monitored Te’o’s spirits closely throughout the week. He said he also had caught wind of a plan for fans attending Saturday's game to wear leis in support of Te'o.
"The students are obviously rallying behind one of their student-athletes. That's uniquely Notre Dame," Kelly said.