Notebook: Brian Kelly likes the way Notre Dame defense pushed back against distractions

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The Notre Dame defense, purportedly driven to distractions last Saturday in a regressive performance against Wake Forest, had even more distractions thrown at it this week.

And managed to put a smile on Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s face anyway.

“Distractions are always going to there,” Kelly said Thursday night after practice for Saturday night’s showdown in Miami Gardens, Fla., between his No. 3 Irish (8-1) and seventh-ranked Miami (8-0).

“It’s how you handle the distractions.”

How the ND defense handled them in a 48-37 score-apalooza with Wake Forest was coughing up 587 total yards to the nation’s 32-ranked offense. That’s only 12 fewer yards than it had yielded to USC (No. 14 in total offense) and North Carolina State (No. 30) in the previous two weeks combined.

The defensive players’ response to the step backward this week?

“They practiced the way they had practiced (before prepping for Wake),” Kelly said. “Every week they had created a new line of scrimmage. Last week they did not create a new line of scrimmage in practice.”

And consequently, practice made imperfect on Saturday.

Kelly said first-year Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko, a nominee for the Broyles Award, took six practice clips of last week’s practice that were duplicates of what happened in the Wake Forest game and showed them to the team.

“Coach Elko did a terrific job,” Kelly said. “You could see that we did not execute very well in practice, and you could see the same six plays how they weren’t executed very well in the game.

“He was great at showing our players it was in their preparation. And they’ve prepared very well defensively this week.”

Miami ranks 25th in total offense (461 yards per game), the second-best ranking among ND’s 12 opponents this season. The Hurricanes are 44th in scoring offense (31.5 ppg), the seventh-best ranking among Irish opponents. Kickoff is 8 p.m. EST, and ABC has the telecast.

“I think they’ve done a good job of focusing on what’s important right now,” Kelly said of the Irish defense, “and that is in their preparation.”

Personnel matters

According to Kelly, the only one of a handful of players who sat out or were limited in ND’s win over Wake Forest last Saturday, who won’t be available this weekend, is wide receiver Cam Smith.

Per Kelly, Smith received a platelet-rich plasma treatment on Wednesday for a lingering hamstring injury.

It will be the fourth straight game on the sidelines for the Arizona State grad transfer, who has battled injuries throughout his college career. He has eight receptions for 60 yards and a TD this season, but his only catch beyond the first two games of the season was a six-yarder at North Carolina on Oct. 7.

• Kelly said quarterback Brandon Wimbush showed no ill effects in practice this week from a contusion/bruise to his left (non-throwing) hand, though the junior did wear a glove with a pad on it.

“Whether he does Saturday, I’m not really sure,” Kelly said.

• Running back Josh Adams (run down), defensive end Khalid Kareem (hyperextended knee) and tight end Alizé Mack (concussion) were all deemed 100 percent.

• Running back Dexter Williams (thigh contusion) is not 100 percent, according to Kelly, “but he could definitely help us (Saturday night).”

Chasing success

After recording one catch for 16 yards in the first two games of the season combined, sophomore Chase Claypool has ascended to the top spot for the Irish in both receptions (24) and receiving yards (354), with two TDs, going into game 10.

Last season the 6-foot-4, 228-pound Canadian had five catches for 81 yards.

“I think he’s ascending still,” Kelly said on how Claypool responded this week to career highs of nine catches and 180 yards last Saturday against the Demon Deacons. “But he’s learning the game continuously.

“Practice for him is still about learning how the details matter most, and he’s figuring that out. But he comes with a great attitude. He’s not going to be a guy that plateaus out. He’s eager to learn, but there’s a lot of teaching going on every day here.”

Scouting Avery Davis

When the Irish emulated Miami quarterback Malik Rosier in practice this week, it was a three-man job, as it is most weeks with scout team prep.

The trio comprises true freshman Avery Davis, senior Montgomery VanGorder and junior walk-on Nolan Henry.

“Depending on what the scheme and situation is, all three of them are working,” Kelly said.

The 5-foot-11, 202-pound Davis is redshirting this season, but has impressed Kelly when facing ND’s No. 1 defense in practice.

“I think if you would just be playing 7-on-7, he wouldn’t be the first guy that you would kind of go over to,” Kelly said of the Cedar Hill, Texas, product. “But when it’s game situations, and there’s 11 guys out there, the ball comes out quick. He makes good decisions. Obviously, he’s very athletic. We’ve been impressed.

“We have a thing called ‘basics.’ We’ve run it after the end of practice, where the young players get a chance to run some of our basic plays. He’s been really good in those situations.”

More media for Weis

Already a media fixture this fall with TV gigs for FOX Sports and Comcast Northeast, former Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis is now delving into radio.

Starting Friday, the 61-year-old will co-host “Airing it Out” with Bruce Murray on SiriusXM’s NFL channel (Channel 88). The show will air weekly on Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon EST.

Weis coached the Irish from 2005-09.

Tranquill in running for Lott

Notre Dame senior rover Drue Tranquill was named a semifinalist for the Lott Impact Trophy, recognizing excellence on and off the field among college football players on the defensive side of the ball.

The other eight semifinalists are Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson, Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, Virginia linebacker Micah Kiser, Washington State defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa, Oklahoma linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Stanford defensive lineman Harrison Phillips and USC linebacker Cameron Smith.

The winner will be announced Dec. 10. Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o won the award in 2012.

Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love (27) returns an interception during ND's 48-37 win over Wake Forest last Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)