The message didn’t change much from Irish head coach Brian Kelly this week. Notre Dame is readying itself for a fist fight Saturday afternoon against Stanford.
The Irish have talked all week about the old school, physical battle they expect from a Cardinal team that has pushed Notre Dame around for three consecutive wins in this series. Kelly said he is counting on his team to fight back this time around, playing more like George Foreman than Muhammad Ali.
“For us to go into a boxing match, using probably a bad analogy, and rope-a-dope that’s not how I want to play. I want to go in there and slug away,” Kelly said Thursday night. “[The Irish players] know ultimately that they can’t win this playing a finesse game. They’ve gotta win it by beating them at what they do well.”
Both teams will rely heavily on the ground game Saturday. The Irish plan to rotate all three of the running backs to keep fresh legs late in the game, and they won’t shy away from using sophomore quarterback Everett Golson to keep a defense honest like they did in a 41-3 win over Miami last week. Kelly has no designs to run Golson into the teeth of the Cardinal front seven a couple dozen times. He did say that if Stanford starts to overcommit to following the football, the Irish quarterback could make them pay.
Senior running back Theo Riddick had a full, healthy week of practice, Kelly said. Riddick missed the second half of the game against the Hurricanes with an elbow strain.
“He ran extremely well all week, didn’t take any reps off,” Kelly said. “We’ve got three guys that we’re trying to get that balance. We struck it a little bit better last week, but it’s going to be something that we’re constantly keeping an eye on and keeping those guys fresh and keep attacking defenses with three really good runners.”
Kelly said for the second week in a row his team’s “Perfect Thursday” practice just about lived up to its title. He said the team is starting to understand the importance of heading into the weekend with a crisp practice to boost confidence in their game plan.
- Sophomore Kyle Brindza struggled to drive the ball into the end zone on his kickoffs in Soldier Field last week. He had two touchbacks on eight kicks and came up well short of the goal line multiple times. Kelly said that wasn’t intentional. Brindza just didn’t have good balance when he struck the ball.
“When he is balanced and has a great plant he’s going to kick it deep in the end zone,” Kelly said. “They had one return that I was not happy with where the ball got outside our defense but we did a really good job when they did in fact return it in terms of average field position.”
- Notre Dame gets back to playing in daylight for the first time in more than a month this week. The last time the Irish had an afternoon kickoff was against Purdue in the second week of the season. Kelly said at this point the change in schedule is not an issue with his team.
“The times that I’ve been concerned in my career have been those noon starts when it’s the first time you play a noon game because you’re really jump starting your schedule then. But the 3:30 start [is] not much of a difference for me in our routine,” he said.
- While the Irish would prefer freshman defensive lineman Jarron Jones sit out for the entire season, Kelly said he is getting work at defensive end before and during practice in case he needs to step in for an injured player at some point.