Notre Dame suffered a tough loss on Saturday to the Georgia Bulldogs 20-19 in a game the Irish had multiple chances to take the lead in late in the fourth quarter.
It was just the second start for junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush in his young career and his first against an Associated Press top-25 program. Wimbush finished 20-of-40 passing for 210 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Given Wimbush's status as a young signal-caller, Irish head coach Brian Kelly sees Saturday as an opportunity for Wimbush to take a step forward in his development.
“I think game recognition, what he sees in the game, then trusting the teaching,” Kelly said of the points of emphasis for Wimbush moving forward from Georgia. “You have your teaching and you go through it during the week, then it happens in the game. Just trust what you see and go with it. Don’t be indecisive. Be decisive, trust it and go with it.
“I think that’s probably the biggest learning curve for all young quarterbacks, is that at times they become a little bit … they think a little bit too much instead of just trusting it and going with it. Just trust your teaching. I think he learned a lot from that game. I think it will be a springboard for him.”
When asked about what Wimbush could have controlled better during the game against Georgia’s talented unit, Kelly noted the answer wasn’t necessarily simple, but it came down to the finer details.
“Third down, for example, with under eight minutes to go in the game, he pulls the ball,” Kelly explained. “He needs to stick his foot in the ground and go north and south instead of bouncing it out. Just the little nuances of the game. He’s not doing anything outlandish or well outside, but those are experiences he’s never had before. He’s learning those things, then he’ll take the next step.
“A couple things in protection where he easily could have flipped the protection and gotten Josh in a better position to pick up the buck [line]backer. Indecisive to make the check in that situation. We could talk about 15 different things. They’re really details of small, minute things you may not see. But when he went through them this week, he’ll be better for it next week.”
KELLY TALKS OFFENSIVE PLAY CALLING
Saturday wasn’t just a big stage for Wimbush. It was also a big moment for new offensive coordinator Chip Long. Kelly discussed what he feels Long learned from being the Notre Dame play caller and the attention that comes with that position.
“I think it’s a fair question,” Kelly stated. “You know, I could be the harshest critic. I’ve play called in all kinds of environments. Maybe I shouldn’t even comment on it publicly, but we had plenty of opportunities to score enough points to win the game through play calling.
“We would have liked a couple plays back here and there. We could have called a couple of better plays here and there, maybe executed better here and there.
“But we look at it as an ‘all’ thing. In other words, we needed to coach a little bit better, make a couple more plays. But I think we walk away as a group — as a group meaning players and coaches alike — that maybe one more good play call, maybe one more good play, and I think we win the game.”
IRISH SAFETIES STARTING TO PROGRESS
In 2016, junior Nick Coleman was playing cornerback and faced some early season struggles, which may have led to a loss of confidence. Coleman made the switch to safety and Kelly shed some light on how to approach a situation similar to Coleman and rebuilding confidence.
“We got to find something that he’s good at,” the head coach said. “That’s the first thing. When he’s not having success, let’s find one thing. What we found was special teams for him. We got him on special teams. He started to have some success on special teams.
“Then as we built him back from early in the season, we got him involved in some dime play. Then he had some success in the dime play. Then he gained some autonomy where he could say, all right, I can do this. Then relatedness, Now I’m part of the team.
“… I think we were past the confidence level when we got into the spring, at a new position, moving him from corner to safety. I think that was a big shift. This was a big game for Nick Coleman in getting both those backs down on the ground, and he did that. He’s going to build on that moving forward.”
Coleman isn’t the only young safety starting to come into his own. Sophomore Devin Studstill has performed well through two games and is taking more and more reps away from classmate Jalen Elliott.
“You’re looking for growth from year one to year two,” Kelly said. “The growth has been in consistency in assignment. He has been, for [defensive coordinator] Mike [Elko], I would say somebody that he knows is going to get the right checks and communicate effectively what Mike wants back there. He continues to progress in his tackling. He continues to progress in his coverage skills.
“But I think if we were to highlight one thing as to why he is now in a competition back there with Jalen is that consistency in communication with our defensive structure.”
KELLY LIKES HIS TEAM'S BOUNCE-BACK ABILITY
Last season seven of Notre Dame’s eight losses came by a single possession. Georgia provided the same results. Kelly has much more confidence in his team and their ability to win the close one this year.
“I really like our team,” Kelly said. “I think it’s a totally different scenario … I stay in the present. In the present, I really like the way our team is put together. I don’t think much about last year. I think about how our team played on Saturday. So, my vision and my eyes are on how that team showed grit and toughness, didn’t back off.
“We needed to make another play, no question. But our defense gave us three shots with 8:30 and less to go in the game to win it. We needed to make a play. I just loved our sideline. Being able to walk up and down the sideline and sense, you know, their fight, how they felt about the game. Just a different feeling for me, and one where at the time it’s hard to articulate those thoughts and feelings right after a game.
“But staying in the present, my eyes and what I hear and what I see, it’s just a different team.”
EXPECT MORE DEXTER WILLIAMS
After rushing for 124 yards in the season opener, junior running back Dexter Williams did not record a single carry against Georgia. Kelly wants that to change moving forward.
“He was part of the game plan last week,” Kelly explained. “I know I was asked the question. Circumstances and the way the game was going made for a tough insertion [against Georgia's three down linemen]. It became a heavy-pressure game. It was a decision that was made during the game that it didn’t work at the time.
“But he’s got to get in the game. I made it clear to our offensive coaches that he’s got to get on the field. We’ve got to use his talents.”
Kelly also provided injury updates during this afternoon’s press conference including senior wide receiver Freddy Canteen and junior defensive lineman Elijah Taylor.
“Freddy has an injury, a subluxed shoulder,” Kelly stated. “He is doubtful for this week. … Elijah has been slow. The process is taking a lot longer in terms of getting him where he needs to be.
“In last talking to our training staff, they could not give us a clear [if Elijah was] ready to go in there and change direction at a level necessary to play championship football.”