Notebook: Kelly sees sustained progress from KeiVarae Russell

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — It wasn’t just the ultimatum Brian Kelly tendered cornerback KeiVarae Russell during the USC game Oct. 17 and captured by the Showtime camera crew.

It was the one Russell issued to himself a couple of weeks before that made the Notre Dame head football coach’s words — essentially, look for the ball or have a seat on the bench — more powerful.

The results so far has been staying power. The good kind.

Kelly said the Russell who collected a career-high 10 tackles, made a breathtaking interception and tipped another pass for a Max Redfield pick in the 41-31 conquest of the Trojans is the same guy who’s been at the top of his game this week as No. 9 Notre Dame (6-1) preps for 21st-ranked Temple (7-0) Saturday night in Philadelphia.

The teams clash at sold-out Lincoln Financial Field. ABC has the national telecast (8 p.m.), and ESPN’s College GameDay will hype up the game from Independence Mall earlier in the day.

“I think KeiVarae understands where he needs to grow and how he needs to approach every single day,” Kelly said Thursday night after practice. “And to be the kind of player he wants to be, he’s got to have those kinds of practices. And I think he’s challenged himself, at least that’s the way I see it.”

It’s the way ND’s now second-leading tackler sees it, too. After languishing through five inconsistent starts in his return from a year in academic/disciplinary exile, the 5-foot-11, 196-pound senior pored through old film of himself to try to figure out why re-entry into the college game was so choppy.

What he saw on film of himself was inconsistent effort in practice, so he made the necessary adjustments. Seventeen of his 42 tackles (40 percent) have come in the two games since the mental adjustment.

“I feel good about his preparation,” Kelly said. “He’s’ set a standard now in his own mind. And once a player sets it, it’s easier for me to coach him.”

Embracing his inner Carroll?

It’s not every day you hear someone from Notre Dame speaking glowingly of Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, even though he’s six seasons removed from his affiliation with Irish arch-rival USC.

But count Kelly as one of a growing number of college coaches who are beyond intrigued with the rugby tackle technique Carroll is helping to popularize through an instructional video Carroll put together on the topic.’s Jon Solomon recently did a comprehensive piece ( on the Hawk Tackle and the momentum it’s gaining on the college level. In theory, the tackling method not only lessens the chance of head injuries, it’s said to be more effective.

“We teach it,” Kelly said Thursday night. “We actually have an apparatus we use as well to teach the tackling. It takes the head out of the tacking circuit. We use it quite regularly. It looks like an inner tube with an inflatable in the inner tube.

“It really allows you to work your feet through the tackle and get your head out of it. So we use it all year in our tackling circuit every Tuesday.”

Personnel matters

Kelly said there were not only no new injuries to report, but three Irish starters have made significant progress coming back from afflictions suffered or exacerbated in the USC game.

He said left guard Quenton Nelson and center Nick Martin both took first-team reps all week. Nelson suffered a high ankle sprain Oct. 3 against Clemson, then played through pain when he came in to replace his replacement, Alex Bars against Southern Cal.

Bars suffered a broken left ankle, ending his season, against the Trojans.

Martin, meanwhile, suffered a sprained ankle against USC, but largely played through it and then benefited from the bye week.

“Both those guys are past the stage of any kind of swelling and effusion,” Kelly said. “So with these high ankle sprains, it is a little pain they’re having to tolerate, which again at times becomes a bit of a nuisance more than anything else.

“But they’re moving well … and that did not get in the way of their preparation this week.”

Starting strong safety Elijah Shumate suffered a neck/shoulder injury against USC but was cleared Monday for full participation in practice this week.

• With Bars out for the season, Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand have recalibrated when it comes to offensive line backups.

Juniors Hunter Bivin and Colin McGovern as well as sophomore Sam Mustipher become the key pieces now. Bivin would be the first option at left tackle, McGovern the likely choice at right tackle and at least one of the two guard spots.

Mustipher, the No. 2 center, cross-trained at guard this week, with true freshman Tristen Hoge moving from scout team to varsity to get some work at center. Hoge will make the trip to Temple.

ND activities in Philly

The Notre Dame Club of Philadelphia is hosting a Friday luncheon at the downtown Philly Marriott. Speakers include former ND football standouts Thom Gatewood and Reggie Ho.

The luncheon runs from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets and more information are available at

The Notre Dame football pep rally in Philly will be held from 6-8 p.m., Friday at Commerce Square Plaza (2001 Market Street).

Brotherly love for Irish

The Irish will play Temple for the first time in Philadelphia (and second overall) on Saturday night, but it will be ND’s 17th game over in the City of Brotherly Love.

And the Irish have mostly been loved back.

Notre Dame is 14-1-1 (.906) in Philadelphia, with a 10-1 mark in neutral-site games and a 4-0-1 record at Penn.

The most recent Irish game in Philly was 22 seasons ago, a 58-27 win over Navy at Veterans Stadium.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame's KeiVarae Russell (6) intercepts a pass over USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) in ND's 41-31 victory on Oct. 17. The senior cornerback also had a career-high 10 tackles in that game. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)