Notebook: Kelly getting a kick out of Notre Dame freshman Justin Yoon
SOUTH BEND —The quiet, little homecoming subplot Saturday night at Fenway Park doesn’t score big in sentimentality.
But freshman Justin Yoon’s return to the Boston area as a reliable, potent force for the nation’s No. 30 scoring offense is one of the reasons Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly’s arrival in his hometown this weekend comes with a buoyant smile.
“I have a lot confidence in him, because he’s really diligent in his routine, his preparation, attention to detail,” Kelly said Thursday night after practice as the CFP No. 4 and AP fifth-ranked Irish (9-1) brace for the 23rd-ever clash with rival Boston College (3-7), this one in the Eagles’ backyard.
Yoon was born in Ohio, and his South Korean native parents have been living in Nashville, Tenn., but Yoon went to boarding school at Milton (Mass.) Academy for his high school years, just 10 miles away from Fenway.
He made just three of his first five field goals this season and missed two early-season extra points, but since correcting a mechanical issue that the Irish coaching staff and Yoon discovered watching practice tape, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound freshman has nailed his last seven field goals and 26 straight PATs, making him 10-of-12 and 42-of-44, respectively.
Included in his run of converted field goal attempts was a school–record-tying 52-yarder in a 41-24 victory over Navy on Oct. 10.
“He’s not somebody that has ups and downs,” Kelly said. “He’s not affected by elements.
“I like that approach to the way he goes to work every single day. He picks his (target) line. He sticks to it. He’s committed to it. And I think that’s the mark of a really good specialist, and that’s what a lot of the kids respect about him.”
After missing last Saturday’s 28-7 win over Wake Forest and all but a quarter of ND’s 42-30 road win at Pitt on Nov. 7 because of a concussion, senior C.J. Prosise’s quest for the 18th 1,000-yard rushing season resumes Saturday night.
“He practiced all week, felt good,” Kelly said of Prosise, the nation’s No. 23 rusher who stands 25 yards away from 1,000 as he plunges ahead against the nation’s No. 1 rush defense and total defense Saturday night.
“I think his words were, ‘Feels like himself again.’ So he had a good week, fresh legs. That’s always the first thing you see when you have a couple of weeks off like he did, but he looked good.”
Prosise will tag-team with freshman Josh Adams, who recorded the second-most prolific (147 yards) and fourth-most (141) rushing games ever by a Notre Dame freshman in Prosise’s absence.
• Kelly confirmed Thursday night that starting nose guard Daniel Cage (17 tackles, 3 tackles for loss) will miss his second straight game after suffering a concussion.
The Irish last week played defensive end Isaac Rochell inside and rolled in freshman Jerry Tillery in Cage’s absence. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Bonner got some significant snaps as well, working into the interior defensive line rotation.
• Unless there’s a depletion at safety between now and Notre Dame’s postseason game, Kelly has decided to keep grad Avery Sebastian out of the lineup and preserve the strong possibility of being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
Sebastian, a grad transfer from Cal, suffered a broken foot in ND’s season-opening 38-3 waxing of Texas and hasn’t played since, though he recently resumed practicing.
“I’m not going to throw him on the team just to run down and help us on kickoffs,” Kelly said. “He’s practicing every day, is learning the defense, continues to learn every single day.
“And if we get in a situation where we lose some frontline guys and we need to win, we’ll play him. But if we don’t have to, we won’t.”
• Senior nose guard Jarron Jones remains a 6-6, 315-pound cheerleader, but he made the travel roster for the Boston College game and is closing in on a full return to practice for availability this postseason.
The 2014 starter suffered a torn MCL in mid-August and was expected to miss the entire 2015 season. Since he already redshirted as a freshman in 2012, playing in this postseason would next burn an additional year of eligibility.
“He’s probably another three to four weeks (away),” Kelly said. “He’s getting close. He’s made great progress. It’s all about strength of the muscles around the injury. It’s not the injury itself. It’s just having enough strength.
“He’s hit a lot of the targets. I’m pretty certain he’s going to be able to help us in postseason play.”
Notre Dame on Thursday worked in practice on the trickiest part of Fenway Park’s logistics — substitutions.
Since both teams will be on the same sideline, shuttling players in and out of the lineup, as well as the communication that accompanies that, becomes a formidable challenge. That’s especially true if the action is taking place near the end zone away for where a team’s respective bench is situated.
Each team’s “box” will run from one of the 5-yard lines to the 45. There will be only a 10-yard buffer between the teams.
‘’It’s a little more in depth than you might think,” Kelly said of the substitution patterns, which have already been worked out via conference call with the officiating crew. “We have to add some calls and some signals to make sure all of that goes smoothly.”
Besides the sheer distance that the players may have to cover just to get in and out of the game, it may chew up so much of the 40-second play clock, there will be very little time for the offense to make pre-snap adjustments.
“Any (offensive personnel) changes that are made, the defense is going to have the chance to match those changes,” Kelly said. “So it really falls on the shoulders of the offense that if there are any changes that are made down there, you better be ready to get the play off quickly.”
Stanley steams ahead
Notre Dame senior offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley remains in the running for two major postseason national honors that narrowed their fields of contenders on Thursday.
The 6-6, 315-pounder from Las Vegas was named as one of six semifinalists for the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s top interior offensive or defensive lineman.
The other semifinalists are Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango, Stanford offensive guard Joshua Garnett, Alabama center Ryan Kelly, Alabama defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson and Indiana offensive tackle Jason Spriggs, the latter a former Concord High standout.
The list will be cut to three finalists early next week.
Stanley is a finalist for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year award, one of five and the only one who doesn’t play for a Pac-12 school.
The other four finalists for the award, to be announced on Dec. 8, are Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, USC linebacker Su’a Cravens, UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn, and USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, who also took home the Heisman Trophy, was the inaugural recipient in 2014.
“I’m 50 percent Tongan,” Stanley revealed earlier this season. “My mom (Julie) was born in Tonga. I just got a travel tattoo to show a piece of my culture, and I’ve very proud of the culture and to be a part of it.”
Meanwhile, ND linebacker Jaylon Smith did not make the cut to five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Award, emblematic of the nation’s top defensive player.
The five who did are Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich, Duke safety Jeremy Cash, Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib and Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland.
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. EST; Fenway Park, Boston
TV: NBC Sports Network
Radio: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)
Line: Notre Dame by 15