Quick Hits: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's Virginia Week press conference

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Texas is in the rear view.

It's time to look ahead.

Brian Kelly did just that on Tuesday, when the sixth-year Notre Dame coach met with the media prior to his team's road opener at Virginia on Saturday. And as always, ND Insider was there.

Here's a rundown of Kelly's key points.

• After assessing the tape, Kelly said that he believes his defense can be significantly improved from a year ago, as long as key players stay healthy. "I think we can play the kind of defense to compete nationally," Kelly said. "That's what we're going to need."

• Junior wide receiver Will Fuller again proved elusive for defensive backs on Saturday, hauling in two touchdowns, despite the fact that Texas was likely determined to shut him down. Kelly said Fuller's ability combined with the Irish's scheme makes it difficult to slow the electric junior. "We kind of took our shots when we got them, and we'll continue to do that," Kelly said.

• Jaylon Smith led the Irish with seven tackles and a sack on Saturday, and that came as a surprise to no one -- least of all Brian Kelly. When asked how Smith is different from other players he has coached, Kelly responded simply, "I haven't coached a player like him before. Period."

• Kelly expects an aggressive approach from Virginia defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, who previously held the same position at Notre Dame. "He certainly is not a bend-but-don't-break defensive coordinator," Kelly said.

• Kelly affirmed that he'll continue to use junior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. in creative ways, including hand offs on jet sweeps and reverses. "He just always had a knack for run after the catch and jet sweeps and things of that nature," Kelly said.

• Given a few days to absorb the tape and make an evaluation, Kelly commented further on the play of junior quarterback Malik Zaire. "He did a lot of really good things, but there's a lot of room for growth and improvement there," Kelly said. The sixth-year head coach said that he was most pleased with Zaire's accuracy, as he completed 19 of 23 passes. He has room to grow in the running game, however, where Zaire gained 16 yards and Kelly added that he should have racked up 60 to 70 yards.

• Kelly added that in the running game, the coaching staff is comfortable with Zaire running the ball between nine and 15 times per game this season. They feel comfortable with his ability to get down or out of bounds and avoid head-on collisions.

• Junior James Onwualu may not be the most well-known or vocal of Notre Dame's linebackers, but Kelly delivered some significant praise for the former wide receiver on Tuesday. "That guy is one of the best cover down linebackers I've seen," Kelly said.

Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly on the sideline during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN