Quick-Hitters: Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly Previews Alabama
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly met with the media for 15 minutes on Monday morning to preview Friday's meeting with No. 1 Alabama (11-0) in the College Football Playoff. The third practice to prepare for the Crimson Tide will be held this afternoon.
Personnel-wise, he indicated that both sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton, who suffered an ankle injury against Clemson on Dec. 19, and junior wideout Braden Lenzy should be good to go. Lenzy has been slowed by a sore hamstring all season and has caught only seven passes for 63 yards this year.
“Kyle has done a nice job," said Kelly of the safety who earned third-team AP All-American notice today. "We got him some rest, which he needed. He will be able to play at a high level, which he will need to.
“Braden Lenzy will help us. He has speed, which you need against this outstanding Alabama team. He brings that element. We’ll be able to see that Friday.”
Also of interest has been the center position, which has been without junior Jarrett Patterson (foot surgery) since the Nov. 27 game at North Carolina. Sophomore Zeke Correll started versus the Tar Heels, but he too injured an ankle, resulting in senior Josh Lugg starting versus Syracuse (Dec. 5) and Clemson (Dec. 19).
“Zeke and Josh are still at it,” Kelly said. “… I think another day, today, will probably put us at a decision as to who will be that starter. They’re both competing, they’ve both been getting first-team reps. Quite frankly, after today we’ll make a decision.”
On The Strengths Of Alabama’s Defense, And Where The Irish Offense Needs To Be More Consistent
“They are physical up front, which is the motto they have built and Nick [Saban] has built on defense. Certainly athleticism at the linebacker position. And probably the best cornerback that we’ve seen in [Patrick] Surtain II, in all areas. Both corners are outstanding, fundamentally sound in every area. They have all the answers in terms of what they want to do, and they do it very, very well.
"... We’ll have to play up to our standard. In the games that we’ve played well, that will be the kind of execution we’ll need against an elite football team.”
On Whether He Feels Notre Dame Has Something To Prove In The Postseason After Losses To Alabama (42-14 in 2012) and Clemson (30-3 in 2018)
“No. We’re knocking on the door every year playing really good teams. They’re elite football teams. I don’t know why this narrative continues to pop up when we’re always in the games.
“No, we haven’t won a national championship, that’s correct. I’m not changing the record. But we are there every single year and we are grinding it out just like everybody else. Only one team gets to celebrate at the end of the year. We’re going to keep banging and we’re going to keep getting back here. That’s our job and that’s our challenge each and every year is to compete for a national championship — and we’ll continue to do that.”
On What Kyle Hamilton’s Presence Allows Coordinator Clark Lea To Do Structurally On Defense
“Certainly he creates a bigger call sheet. You can do a lot more with somebody with his range, his ability to come down and play close to the football, yet play deep in the middle of the field. That’s a unique skill set. His range in coverage doesn’t hurt, either.
“There are a lot of things he does extremely well and there are things he’s going to do better as well. He has not reached the level that he’s capable of playing at. He’s going to get stronger in the off-season. I think you’re going to see him in the weight room do some things that are going to allow him to grow his game even more.
“As good a football player as he is right now, I think you’ll see next year somebody that can possibly take his game to an even higher level in terms of blitzing, giving us some additional calls on our call sheet when we insert him into our defense.”
On What Has Been Tweaked In The Program Since The BCS National Championship Game In January 2013 To Continue To Aspire To The Top
“If you’re not getting better every year in everything in life, you’re getting left behind. You need to look internally at what you’re doing. Even after going undefeated [in the regular season] that year, we lost in the national championship game and we were looked at as not a very good football team. We need to look at the things that could help us grow and we’ve been doing that each and every year.
“…We’re a different program (from 2012). We have to be. You have to change and you have to be able to stay up with current trends and things that are occurring every single day. We all do, right, whatever business we’re in. We’re a different organization, we’re a different program.
“We stand for the same things. Our mission is still the same: to graduate champions. The way we go about things on a daily basis, how we develop our players, who we’re looking for in the recruiting process — they still have to fit Notre Dame and what we stand for. But you’ve got to be ever-changing, you’ve got to be able to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in college football. That’s just the nature of it.”
On Whether To Play Tempo Or Try To Shorten The Game With Time Of Possession Against Alabama
“Certainly we’re cognizant of the fact that this is an electric offense and scores bushels and bushels of points. We want to be able to play complementary football, and that is keep Alabama’s offense off the field while we’re certainly scoring as well.
“We’re not running the Princeton four-corner offense, but we are trying to run our offense which has been one that has traditionally been a ball-control offense. That still has to be in our mind in terms of we can’t come into this game and change who we are. The nice part about it is that’s kind of been our DNA this year. We’ll need to continue to do that. We can’t be three-and-out. We want to hold on to the football because we want to play complementary football and keep Alabama’s offense off the field as best we can.
“… We want to run the football based on who we are and how we’ve operated this year. We will have to run the ball more effectively than the last time we played.”
On What Makes Alabama Wide Receiver DeVonta Smith So Explosive And Effective
“Extremely detailed in the route running. I think everybody knows about one’s speed and hands. Just somebody that is that young and has the ability to run such precise routes and understands the game so well — his football intelligence I would assume must be off the charts the way he plays the game.
“It just reminds me of a veteran in everything he does in terms of playing the position at such a high level.”
On Whether There Is Something That Can Be Taken Away From Alabama’s Offense Without Giving Up Other Things
“Not really. It’s the balance of Najee [Harris] and his ability to run (1,262 yards, 24 touchdowns) and catch the football coming out of the backfield. And then Smith and John Metchie III (44 catches that average 17.8 yards). Smith is just that good of a player that playing one-on-one against him is very difficult.
“When you’re doubling him, you’re losing one in the box and now you’re putting Harris in a very favorable situation with a very good offensive line. Not a lot of good answers there.”
On Needing To Be Ever-Changing, And How Nick Saban Has Gone From Leading A Team That Used To Be Regularly No. 1 In Defense To Now No. 1 In Offense
“An explosive offense that has all of the trappings of today’s college offense, NFL offense. I think we’re seeing a lot more NFL resembling college today. This is not Pro, I-formation, let’s run it up inside and play great defense. They’re still playing fundamentally sound defense, but with the offenses as they are today, it’s very difficult not to give up some yards.
“You’re seeing fundamentally sound defense, you’re still seeing the same principles, you’re seeing at times elite play in certain position groups at Alabama. And then an offense now that can rival the very best college offenses in the country.”
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