Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Brian Kelly Looking For Championship Focus

September 30, 2019

Notre Dame avoided a let down as they knocked off another Top 25 program in Virginia on Saturday afternoon following the loss at No. 3 Georgia.

It wasn’t all good news for the Fighting Irish as they lost senior defensive end Daelin Hayes for the season and senior defensive back Shaun Crawford for the next three to four weeks with a dislocated elbow.

The good news for Notre Dame is they have built depth at both positions and younger players will now get their shot.

Sophomore cornerback TaRiq Bracy had been sharing time with Crawford all season, but the California native will now take over as the starter when Bowling Green State University comes to South Bend on Saturday.

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly was high on Bracy during the recruiting process despite a lack of size in high school.

“Speed was the first thing that attracted us and ball skills,” Kelly stated on Monday. “Playing the running back position, we felt like he wasn't physically developed yet. He's still not physically developed to the level we want him to be. I think once he gets to that level, I think he can work towards being much more of an elite corner.

Bracy’s makeup speed was something Notre Dame coveted and it’s starting to show itself as he gets more experience. 

“What he lacks right now is just that physical piece where he can be more explosive and breaking on the football,” explained Kelly. “He plays the ball extremely well in the air and he will compete. He's a competitor. We like that about him. I think those traits he showed in high school when we recruited him, that he was very, very competitive and that has definitely carried on since he's been here.

“We were looking for makeup speed. The ability to get back in phases and have the ability to play the ball in the air. We felt like we were short in those areas in particular with the makeup speed and playing the ball.”

Bowling Green might not scare anyone as Kelly didn’t mention any Falcon player by name on Monday, but Saturday will be an important game for the program. 

“This is a week where you can focus on being a champion,” stated Kelly. “All the details that are so important to being one, you get the opportunity to sharpen that this week.” 

Attention to detail is something Kelly challenged his team to on Sunday afternoon as he stated the team was gritty and physical, but admitted they lacked focus. 

Notre Dame needs to be sharp as they look to break in new players in the two-deep as USC looms the following week. 

“It's a great week for our football team to really be evaluated on what do they want to be and how good do you want to be,” explained Kelly. “This is a week that they can do that. If they're outside those lines, if they're not locked in, not great in the weight room, if they're not great in the classroom and not locked in on the practice field, then it's a great indication to me that they don't want to be great. We'll be able to address it accordingly.” 

One area where Kelly can see immediate results will be special teams. It wasn’t a great week for Brian Polian’s unit against Virginia as the Irish have several mistakes, but it didn’t cost them in the end. 

Kelly knows Saturday was an outlier compared to the first three games and wants to make sure his special teams units get back on track this weekend. 

“I feel we're doing very, very well,” Kelly said. “That was a bad day. “Chris Finke is a very reliable player for us. We trust him. Chris would stand here and take full responsibility and accountability. He has to catch that football. He'll be back out there catching punts. He's the best player we have at that position. We trust him. He's just got to catch the ball.

“When it comes to awareness, we have got to be aware in all situations of an on-side kick, especially when a team chooses to kick into the wind when they have the choice in the third quarter.

“We just weren't as good and that is flat out want and desire. That will be addressed today.” 

Notre Dame will also look to extend its 13-game home winning streak, which is the third-longest in program history. 

The key has been simple during the streak.

“Execute better than the team we're playing,” said Kelly. “It starts with you don't get lucky. You've got to win those games. We've had some close games that we have had to find a way to win — the Virginia game we had to come back the at half. The Pittsburgh game comes to mind and then there are some games we've played extremely well.

“I think we have a great routine. We love playing in front of our fans and our students are there. It's been a mantra of ours in our off-season to protect our house. We feel as though it's part of what we do in our workouts in the summer. We rally around that, we workout in the stadium, we run the stairs. It's something that's very, very important to us.

“We've been fortunate and it's obviously been a really positive thing to play at home.”

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