Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

10 observations: Brian Kelly speaks after Notre Dame beats Pitt

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I normally would offer 10 observations after Notre Dame's 23-17 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday in South Bend. But most of what Brian Kelly says is better than anything I can write. So here are Kelly's top 10 post-game quotes:

1. ''It's not a beauty contest yet for us.''

The implication, of course, is that he expects some day that it will be a beauty contest. Kelly has won games by scores of 77-12, 70-3, 59-3 and 62-13. Last year, Cincinnati averaged 44.4 points in five nationally televised games under Kelly (47, 34, 47, 49 and 45). Being happy to beat Boston College and Pitt by one point can't last too long.

2. ''Our kids played really har for four quarters. And there's something that they're starting to develop a little bit: They have a belief that they're going to win football games. We're not there yet, believe me, but we're taking the right steps towards hwere we want to go as a football team.''

Notre Dame's defense gets rapped for having slow, overrated players. But you have to like the way they attacked Pitt on the final two drives.  Field position played a role, no doubt about it. But how many times did Notre Dame's defense really go after somebody in that kind of situation last year? Pitt gained 382 yards on 70 plays (5.5 per play) for the game, but only 14 on seven plays (2.0 per play) on the final two drives. Former culprits like Gary Gray and Harrison Smith played key roles.

3. ''This is not a transition year. This is a winning year. We don't allow them to grow. But they're growing. We're going through some growing pains. But I'm a big believer that you can have those and still win football games.''

Maybe it's time to ask Kelly to define what a ''winning year'' is and what a ''rebuilding year'' is. Finishing 7-5 might be a winning year to Kelly, but a rebuilding  year to Notre Dame fans -- or at least not what they had in mind when Kelly talked about his ''five-minute plan.''

4. ''Our quarterback needs to continue to develop.''

And Kelly is going to keep riding Dayne Crist even on the sideline on national TV until he does develop. Some people are concerned Kelly overdoes it when he berates p layers on the sidelines, but you're already seeing it pay dividends in ''mental toughness'' with Crist. He was sacked on Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage as the Irish started with a three-and-out.
He responded by leading back-to-back touchdown drives of 77 yards on 13 plays and 80 yards on 15 plays. He topped off the latter with a 10-yard touchdown run down the right sideline after escaping a tackle at the 15. Compare that run to his weak attempts on back-to-back plays midway through the fourth quarter against Michigan State and you'll see the difference in Dayne Crist.

5. ''It's probably to the point where you have to make a decision to shut him [Kyle Rudolph] down for a week or you keep playing through it. He's a tough kid. You can't tell Kyle Rudolph you're shutting him down.''

Well, actually you can. And it's Kelly's job to do it. Rudolph, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury since early in preseason camp, had a 95-yard touchdown catch against Michigan, but has not been nearly as effective the past three weeks.

He had one catch for one yard against Stanford and had a costly drop that helped lead to a Stanford field goal late in the first half. He had a two-yard touchdown catch against Boston College, but nothing else. Saturday he had five receptions for 38 yards, with a long gain of 12 yards. And another drop.

Rudolph is pretty good at 75 percent, as Kelly noted, but at that level a lot of players can fill his shoes. When he's 100 percent there are few tights ends in the country who can do that. Not a diffcult choice after all, is it?

6. ''Again, got off to a pretty good start offensively, but as we've shown, we are really good at stubbing our toe, whether it be a penalty here or a drop there. But that's us. So you're going to have to get used to it, because I'm trying to get used to it or it's going to make me look really old real quick.''

Sounds like Brian Kelly thought his offense would be a little further along halfway through the schedule than it is. But that's not a surprise. He's used to having someone either with experience in his system or experience with the spread offense as his starting quarterback. The last time he was in this situation at quarterback, he went 4-7 in his first season at Central Michigan.

7. ''It's hold on and try to get it down the field. We're really micro-managing the offense in a sense until we can let it go.

''And we can't just let it go because we make too many mistakes. So we're really trying to manage it -- ball-control throws, mixing the run, high percentage kinds of looks for our quarterback, until we get to that point where we can just rip it and let it go. But we're not there yet.''

Crist completed 61.5 percent of his passes (24-of-39), which is better than his 58 percent rate coming in, but not good enough. He missed his first three passes, completed 12 in a row, then threw six consecutive incompletions. That's not the kind of consistency that will make the no-huddle spread offense percolate.

But he did not throw an interception or lose a fumble (Pitt had one interception and lost a fumble), which as Kelly noted, is progress. 

8. ''We were a little concerned that matchup [vs. Pitt defensive end Jabaal Sheard] could be an issue, so we wanted to try to tire out [Pitt's] front four.''

With tackle Taylor Dever out with a hamstring injury, Kelly moved Zack Martin from left tackle to right tackle and inserted Matt Romine at left tackle.

The Irish ran the no-huddle spread at a faster pace than they have run it all season and it produced two touchdowns. They couldn't sustain it, but it seemed to serve its purpose of wearing down Pitt's defensive line. The Irish gained 115 yards on 23 plays in the fourth quarter -- not that impressive for the amount of plays they ran. But much better than last week, when they gained 28 yards on 14 carries in the fourth quarter against Boston College.

9. ''Ruffer is doing things that not many people, including myself, thought he could do. Nobody thought 50 yards was like automatic.''

When Kelly was asked in the preseason if there was a personnel decision that he had to get right, he said the placekicker would be it -- Nick Tausch, who hit 14-of-17 field goals in 2009, including 14 in a row; or David Ruffer, who was 5-for-5 after Tausch was injured last season.
Ruffer, a senior walk-on, was the surprise pick, but so far it has been the right one. Ruffer kicked three more field goals Saturday -- including the aforementioned 50-yarder. He's 11-for-11 for the season and 16-for-16 for his Notre Dame career -- breaking Tausch's school record of 14 consecutive field goals.

10. ''I think that's something that's developed through this year ... an identity on defense. More than anything else, they're developing an identity that, 'Listen, we may bend a little here and there, but we'll keep you out of the end zone.'''
Notre Dame's defense held Pittsburgh to three field goal tries in building a 20-3 lead late in the third quarter. And two of them failed -- one was wide right the other because of a bobbled snap.
They allowed two touchdowns in the final 18:12 of the game and the Irish defense still has a lot left to prove. But considering the weapons on Pitt's offense, including 6-5 Jon Baldwin (nine receptions, 111 yards, a 56-yard touchdown) and running backs Dion Lewis (13 carries, 64  yards) and Ray Graham (8-44), you have to give Notre Dame the credit it deserves.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on October 10, 2010 3:35 AM.

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame ready to 'put it all together' vs. Pitt was the previous entry in this blog.

Brian Kelly will call ref supervisor on pick call against Theo Riddick is the next entry in this blog.

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