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Notre Dame Football

Brian Kelly Keeps Focus On Notre Dame Heading Into Home Finale

November 30, 2020

Brian Kelly certainly wasn’t dismissing this weekend’s opponent, but the Notre Dame head coach wasn’t going to give his best Lou Holtz impression either when asked about Syracuse during a call with reporters on Monday.

Holtz was well-known for making even the softest opponents sound like the Green Bay Packers while Kelly offered a more realistic look at the Orange, who come into the game with a 1-9 record this season, having lost seven straight.

“Dino has a young football team,” Kelly said of Syracuse head coach Dino Babers. “It's going to be a process for him, but they play hard on defense. They've got some skill players on offense and we'll have to prepare well.”

In reality, little changes with Notre Dame’s approach though, as Kelly always talks about his team playing up to its standard more than worrying about the opponent.

“Our guys get a chance to finish up the home schedule, seniors playing in their last game, the chance to win a 24th consecutive home game, clinch an ACC berth in the Championship Game,” Kelly said. “All of those are outcomes that are in play this weekend, but I think the most important thing for us is to carry on the play that we exhibited in the second half of the game against North Carolina.

“We respect them and what they're doing, but this will be about how we prepare and our mindset going into the game."

Kelly said he’s been impressed with the youth of the Syracuse defense, where a total of 10 freshmen appeared on last week’s depth chart for the game against NC State, which the Orange lost 36-29.

“It's a 3-3-5 base that can get into four-down,” Kelly continued. “They're athletic, fast and play with toughness. They take the football away. They played their best football against the top offenses in the ACC. They get your attention.

“You watch this defensive football team - they're going to be really good. They have some good players and some veteran players.”

Kelly singled out fifth-year senior defensive tackle McKinley Williams and fifth-year senior defensive end Josh Black.

“Those are good defensive linemen, but the linebackers are young and athletic,” he said. “The secondary - they have two very good corners. That's what jumps out to me.”

Syracuse also has formidable special team units.

“As good of a punter/kicker combination in the league,” said Kelly of Nolan Cooney, who has averaged 45 yards on 67 punts this season and Andre Szymt, who has made 9 of 11 field goal attempts, including 4-5 from 40 yards out.

“They had a kickoff return for a touchdown. They're a top 15 team in punt return. Really good in special teams.”

But Kelly was also honest about a sputtering Syracuse offense that has averaged less than 17 points per game in six contests since starting quarterback Tommy DeVito was lost for the season due to injury.

"We know the offense has not lived up to the expectations, but they lost their best quarterback in DeVito,” Kelly said. “Taj Harris had a career game last week (13 receptions, 146 yards, TD). He can hurt you. We've got to know where Taj Harris is at all times.”

Freshman running back Sean Tucker has rushed for 525 yards and three touchdowns on 114 carries and Kelly said he’s “going to be really good.”

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