NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly spoke briefly on Wednesday about the state of the team, and practice this week, as they prepare for South Florida.
“Well, obviously, the test is Saturday in terms of really getting your identity,” said Kelly. “You practice things and certainly look toward the way you want to play, but I think it all has to come together in the way you play the game. I think we have an idea what we want to be like, and we practice those things, but we actually have to go and do it.
“So I think after the first game, we will be able to come back and say, ‘this is our intent and what we are looking to do, or we wanted to this but we weren’t able to do it, so we have to figure out why.’”
Kelly and the rest of the coach staffing have stayed on message about their desire to be a mentally and physically strong team.
“It’s the same each week,” said Kelly of the team’s practice schedule. “Today is a workday, and you have to be professional about the way you go to work today. It’s hump day. It’s just like anything else in life. Wednesday, you have to be mentally tough, so we talk about mental toughness on Wednesdays. Tuesday is more of that physical toughness and tomorrow is perfect. We want a perfect practice. So each day is really the same.
“Obviously, our coaches, players, and the media, we all want a game so we have something to gauge ourselves by. Saturday will come. It’ll be here. We’re still at Wednesday. We had some work to do today, and we have to remind them of that.”
Kelly noted that he is still apprehensive before games, even after 29 years of coaching.
“Absolutely,” he replied when asked if he will be anxious on Saturday. “There are different kinds of nervousness. One is not being prepared, and one is coaching 18 to 21 year olds. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience, having your kid taking the car for the first time, it’s similar to that. You are still, obviously, confident in your plan, but it still has to come to fruition.”
The head coach was also pleased to report that, as it stands now, the team has no new injuries going into the season opener.
“We are happy with the way we have paced out our camp,” said Kelly. “Where we are physically, we feel very fortunate at this point.”
As the coaches try and ready the players for all the different scenarios that can arise during the course of the game, the difference between year one and year two can again be quantified as it pertains to familiarity.
“I think we added one or two situations,” Kelly noted, as opposed to the 48 new scenarios they had to address for the first time last year. “We rehearsed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and moving that back and how that impacts your play-calling. Also, a couple situations with the run off – 10 seconds. Other than that, I think we have covered mostly every situation. If we haven’t, we will call a timeout.”
Kelly, who places a value on character first within his team, does not seem overly concerned that unsportsmanlike conduct will be an issue for the Irish.
“It’s not my kind of player that would commit that kind of foul,” said the coach. “He knows that’s not what we want from him. So we will handle that appropriately.”
Kelly also discussed the strategy for implementing the younger players into the game for the first time.
“In our defensive meeting with staff, I don’t think it’s been such that you can’t have these two guys in at the same time,” Kelly said of having freshman defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt playing simultaneously. “We’re hopeful that we don’t have to play them a lot, that we can ease them into playing in the game.
“They are certainly going to have to play, I think we know that. I don’t think we have said they can’t play at the same time. Once we have confidence in a player, we are going to put him into the game.”
Although the head coach will have to wait until Saturday to get a better evaluation of his team as a whole, Kelly gives every indication that his players will be ready for South Florida. With almost three decades of coaching under his belt, and 179 wins, it is hard to argue with experience.