SOUTH BEND — If Brian Kelly is playing the same game that a large chunk of the Notre Dame head football coach’s fan base seemingly is, he’s pretty good at keeping it a secret.
The game? How would this (fill in your favorite shortcoming) play out at No. 3 Georgia on Sept. 21?
From the outside looking in, Notre Dame’s 35-17 eventual subduing of Louisville Monday night in Cardinal Stadium was non-repugnant enough to give the Irish a one-spot bump to No. 8 in both the coaches poll and the Associated Press writers poll, both released Tuesday afternoon.
For those filled with angst over a possible Clemson sequel in 2 1/2 weeks, it felt like whatever the opposite of a moral victory is.
Which is why Notre Dame’s linebacker position group is so fascinating to track as the Irish (1-0) roll into a quasi-bye week ahead of their Sept. 14 home opener with New Mexico (1-0). There’s no facet of the team at this point that can sway the Irish eventual win total more at this juncture.
For better or for worse.
The extra time between games won’t be used for recovery, with the exception of convalescing starters — tight end Cole Kmet, wide receiver Michael Young and running back Jafar Armstrong.
“This is much more about continuing to develop our football team in terms of its preparation,” Kelly said Tuesday. “So it’s different in that respect.”
Kelly’s ND teams are 10-1 in games directly following a bye week. The second Irish bye this season precedes ND’s Oct. 26 clash at Michigan.
By the numbers when it comes to linebackers, they stacked up like this Monday night:
l Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: 9 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hurry
l Drew White: 5 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack
l Asmar Bilal: 4 tackles
l Bo Bauer: 2 tackles, at least one of which came on special teams
l Jordan Genmark Heath: 1 tackle
l Jack Lamb: 1 tackle, 1 fumble recovery
l Shayne Simon: 1 QB hurry
What the numbers don’t reveal are missed assignments and/or missed tackles.
White (mike), Bilal (buck) and Owusu-Koramoah (rover) were the starters. Lamb played strictly on third downs in Notre Dame’s six-defensive backs package. Bauer (mike), Genmark Heath (buck) and Simon (both) rotated in at the two inside linebacker positions.
The reason Kelly likely isn’t playing the How would this play out at Georgia? game with his linebacker group is that he expects significant evolution to occur, both in performance and what the rotation looks like now that there’s a game to help with the evaluation.
“(That) allows us to move forward now with a little bit more of a plan than we had maybe before coming into this game,” he said.
“At the end of the day they’ve got to be assignment-correct and they’ve got to tackle the football. If they have all those other things and they’re not assignment-correct and can’t tackle the football and get it down on the ground, it doesn’t matter if they have all the athletic ability in the world.”
Kelly was able Tuesday to identify why junior running back Jafar Armstrong left the game early in the first quarter Monday night with two carries for 10 yards and a 16-yard reception to his credit.
He couldn’t yet pin down how long Armstrong might be out of action.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior suffered a soft-tissue injury, the coach said, in the groin/abs area, and was scheduled to have an MRI done on Tuesday.
“He’s had a sports hernia injury that was repaired in high school,” Kelly said, “so we feel good that there’s no structural damage. But we need obviously to examine it further. So he’s getting an MRI and we’ll have more information as we move through the week.”
l The Irish hope to know later this week whether tight end Cole Kmet can return to full contact in practice after suffering a broken collarbone in practice on Aug. 8, the first day in full pads during training camp.
He’ll undergo a scan on Thursday, Kelly said, that could provide the green light for a return at short end of the original four- to 10-week recovery prognosis.
l Young suffered his broken collarbone nine days later, on Aug. 17, and was expected to have an X-ray taken Tuesday or Wednesday that could clear him for non-contact football activities, including catching passes, Kelly said.
“He will follow very similar steps along the way as we work through — not the same kind of break, but a similar protocol as we work to get them both back,” Kelly said.