Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Brian Kelly Needs Vets To Rise

September 3, 2019

Notre Dame didn’t win in a pretty fashion on Monday night as the Irish pulled away from Louisville on Monday night 35-17. The first game of the season always provides more to work on and Notre Dame knows what it must address in the off week as they prepare to host New Mexico on September 14th.
Quarterback Ian Book struggled to throw the football for most of the night as the California native finished 14-of-23 for 193 yards and one score while adding 81 rushing yards and another touchdown.
Head coach Brian Kelly admitted Book needs to play better moving forward, but wasn’t too concerned about his quarterback.

“I like to watch film first, but there were some uncharacteristic kind of flushing from the pocket that we hadn't seen from him,” stated Kelly following the win. “A lot of it had to do with seeing a defense for the first time. He would have benefited much more from seeing it more. This is the first time he saw the defense. They were in a lot more cover 2 to than he was used to. They were in a stand up defense, trying to get it from the sideline, we were playing fast, they weren't set. 

"I'm not trying to sit here and make excuses for him, but it wasn't a first game where it was cookie cutter for him. So, there was a little less there. He'll be better for it in game two."
While Book seemed uncomfortable in the pocket for the majority of the night, Kelly continued to believe Louisville gave the Notre Dame offense a few looks they weren’t totally prepared for and it caught his signal-caller off guard.

“I just think he was getting out of things a little quick because there was some uncertainty and maybe thinking a little bit too much,” Kelly explained. “He's just got to trust it and that'll come. 

"When we get into a little bit more of a familiar pattern of teams, where we know what we're going to get, of course, we're gonna play seven teams that have bye weeks where we'll kind of throw that out the window again, but we'll have a much more certainty of what he's going to see, and I think that's going to keep him a lot more poised in the pocket." 

One player who raised his game on Monday evening was senior running back Tony Jones Jr. The Florida native rushed 15 times for 110 yards and one touchdown. Jones probably should have received a little more work as over 70 yards came on one drive alone. 

Much has been made about Jones looking a little slimmer, but according to Kelly, his senior back is playing faster as he knows the offense inside and out.

"I think he's really comfortable with his role,” Kelly said. “He knows exactly what we're asking of him and I think that that has made him much more comfortable with what he's doing on a day to day basis. I think there were times where he wasn't certain what his role was and it caused him some anxiety at times. He knows exactly what his role is what we're asking of him and he's been excellent at fulfilling it."

Jones got much of the work on the night as his running mate, Jafar Armstrong, left the game in the first quarter due to an injury that seems to be somewhat of a mystery. 

"We don't know that it's serious and we're not sure that it's groin,” Kelly said of Armstrong. “He was telling us that it was more midline. He's being examined by the doctors right now. He was moving around okay. We're hopeful that it's not something that puts him out very long."

Freshman safety Kyle Hamilton was the star of fall camp and backed it up with a quality night. The Georgia native made four tackles and two pass breakups in his first collegiate game.

Kelly was pleased with Hamilton, sophomore receiver Lawrence Keys III and tight end Tommy Tremble and wants more from his veterans now that the youth have raised their game. 

“Our young players emerged tonight and really showed that they can fill in in areas that are, for me, ones that we needed them to come through,” said Kelly. “We saw [Kyle Hamilton] and his ability to be someone in the middle of our defense as somebody that can defend the pass. 

"We saw [Tommy Tremble] tonight. We saw Lawrence Keys' ability. We actually need our veterans to step up another level of their play, which I'm certain they will. The good news for me tonight as the head coach is that I think the younger players to me show themselves and that now with all of them together, moving forward, this can be a pretty good football team."

Liam Eichenberg, Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara had significant flags thrown on them on Monday and Kelly knows they need to clean it up if the Irish want to take the next step.

“They would like to play a little bit more consistent,” Kelly said. “There was a little rust there. I think game one had something to do with it as well. Young guys have that tendency that they want to show themselves. This was a big stage for them tonight to kind of show that 'this is my opportunity.' So, I think if we're all working in the same direction, everybody's playing at a higher level. This is going to be a good team."

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