Notebook: Brian Kelly considers juggling Notre Dame personnel

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —The difference in the 7-1 record and the No. 8 ranking Notre Dame held in the AP college football poll at the same juncture last year and its identical bottom line heading into Saturday’s road test at Pittsburgh (6-2) may be personnel choices.

Last year at this time, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was forced into some unpalatable ones in November when injuries mounted, particularly in the depth- and experience-poor defensive front seven. The upshot was four straight losses to end the regular season.

This year there are some personnel shifts he’s pondering that would be voluntary. They include getting sophomore defensive end Andrew Trumbetti more involved in the pass-rush mix and perhaps some others, situationally, for the same purpose, to boost the team’s No. 83 national ranking in sacks.

The ND coaching staff is also pondering whether to broaden roles for backup quarterback Brandon Wimbush and running back Josh Adams, both true freshmen and both impressive during what playing time they’ve received.

With Wimbush, it’d be about saving some wear and tear on starter DeShone Kizer in the running game. Kizer has 318 yards rushing on 72 carries, but 54 of those 72 carries have come in the past four games. At that pace (13.5 per game), he’d finish a 13-game season with 140 carries.

That would be the second-most by a Kelly-coached quarterback in his 12 seasons coaching on the FBS level. Kent Smith amassed 157 carries for Kelly’s Central Michigan team and finished with 443 rushing yards in 2005.

And with a run of strong rush defenses continuing, including the nation’s top run defense — Boston College — coming up on Nov. 21, the temptation to have Kizer running to take pressure off the traditional running game would seem to be greater, moving forward.

“We've given it some thought,” Kelly said of using Wimbush more. “It's been a discussion. Is there a time and place we can use him in some of the run-game scenarios that we have?

“It's certainly not out of the question, and we're going to continue to work with him if, in fact, we feel there's a need to run the quarterback more, especially in those kinds of defenses that are playing a lot of man coverage, that we would get him ready for that.”

Adams, meanwhile, could be added as a short-yardage option, something that’s also increasingly falling on Kizer’s shoulders.

“We throw (these questions) around just like you do,” Kelly said. “On Sunday when we get together as a staff, ‘Should we get Josh more carries? Big, physical kid in the red zone?’ All those things are things that we're going through as well.”

Upon further review?

The irony in the longevity of the buzz over the Brian Kelly-David Grimes sideline dust-up Saturday night in Philadelphia is that one of the most noticeable evolutions in the Notre Dame head football coach this season and last has been less purple face, less rage — at least when directed at his own team and staff — and ultimately less attention.

You can’t divorce that context from the big picture if you’re going to include Kelly’s less-recent past of sideline pyrotechnics.

Some of the national flyovers critiquing the event bordered or even crossed the line into the absurd, including playing the race card.

The incident in question took place during Notre Dame’s last offensive possession of the third quarter of its 24-20 win over Temple, after the Irish had picked up two 15-yard penalties in a three-snap span — tight end Nic Weishar for offensive pass interference and center Nick Martin for tripping.

That set Notre Dame up for a second-and-33 from its own 24, with the Irish leading 17-10. The possession ended in a punt. But not before Kelly turned and lunged at Grimes, grabbing a fistful of the assistant strength and conditioning coach’s jacket before the two could be separated.

Kelly on Tuesday, during his weekly mega-press conference, reiterated and expanded his explanation and perspective on the event.

“First of all, I'm responsible for the sideline,” he said. “Our sideline was not where it needed to be. There were some things going on, on the sideline that were unacceptable. It falls on my shoulders.

“If we were to get a penalty in that time of the game, it would have fell on me as being somebody that can't control the sideline. So moving forward, we've made some changes to how we're going to do things on the sideline and how we'll have a better sideline situation.

“Having said that, I wish the situation never occurred. I regret that it happened. David and I have met. We have met about the situation. We've moved past it. David is a valuable employee. He is a guy that does a great job here. He'll be with us a long time.”

My two cents: Not Kelly’s proudest moment Saturday night and one I figured he would come to express regret about, which he did.

But also important, the outburst is inconsistent with the Kelly I see and speak with four times a week every week during the season. Again broader context matters.

A special angel

Senior reserve safety John Turner missed Saturday’s game against Temple, instead — with Kelly’s blessing — spending what turned out to be the final hours of mom Stephanie’s life with her.

“You only get one and I was blessed to have a great one. Heaven received a beautiful angel today. Love you so much!” John tweeted on his Twitter account on Monday, shortly after Stephanie lost her battle with breast cancer.

Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel beautifully captured her story, with Stephanie and her family watching daughter Lauren help Indianapolis Brebeuf to an Indiana state soccer title Saturday, roughly 40 hours before Stephanie passed. 

“We talked about it as a team (Monday),” Kelly said. “John was given time off to be with his family. Very courageous battle. I think Gregg Doyel had a nice piece in the Indianapolis paper about the family. It was very touching. It really affected some of our players.

“So we gave them some time, some of the players, in particular, that were affected about the loss of John’s mom. Touched a lot of players here in the program.”

Squibs

• What some interpreted as quarterback DeShone Kizer mocking the Temple Owls by flapping his arms during TD celebrations Saturday night was actually, Kelly said, Kizer paying tribute to the childhood favorite Philadelphia Eagles, who happen to share Lincoln Financial Field with Temple.

In either case, Kelly was not amused.

“Totally unacceptable,” he said. “It's not what we're about. He was mimicking a lot of the Eagles' players. That's what they did. But it's not who we are as a team or as a program. It won't happen again.”

• Kelly was asked to compare Everett Golson and DeShone Kizer, and the coach didn’t back away from the question.

Now, he was comparing the 2012 version of Golson, now at Florida State, vs. the redshirt freshman year Kizer has experienced so far.

His preference was Kizer.

“Just the confidence, I think more than anything else, is probably the big difference between the two,” he said. “Everett was a great athlete, could do a lot of things, strong arm. But the makeup of the quarterback position in itself, I think leadership, command, I'd have to give the nod to DeShone at this point.”

• Punter Tyler Newsome is trying to shake a rough night, in which his longest punt against Temple on Saturday night — 41 yards — is below his 42.3 average.

Newsome averaged 33.8 yards per boot on four punts, only one of which landed inside the Owls’ 20.

“He was really good against USC, as you know,” Kelly said. “He was really good the week before. He was off mechanically. We watched the film. His drop was off.

“I think what we learned from that, in particular, was that he's got to make those game-day adjustments. If his drop is off, the drop of the ball for his punting mechanics, he's got to be able to make those in-game adjustments.

“That's maturation of a young kid and a punter. That's what he'll do moving forward.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush (12) breaks away on a touchdown run during the Notre Dame-Massachusetts NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN