By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
For the third straight week, Notre Dame faces a Big Ten opponent as Michigan State comes to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.
For Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly, that means another physical game as his team comes off Saturday night’s come-from-behind, 31-24 win at Purdue.
After three weeks, Kelly said the team is still trying to find an identity.
The team finding its identity, Kelly said, needs to begin with getting off to better starts.
“You know, I think we all have to take accountability for not starting well,” Kelly said at his regular Tuesday press conference. “I think at Michigan, we had a couple of third down situations early on that we didn’t execute very well, and then we didn’t punt the football again. Same thing in Purdue. We didn’t handle some fronts and some movements up front. Didn’t throw the ball effectively. Didn’t get into some checks early on and then settled down and got into it.”
The slow starts are not acceptable, Kelly said.
“That’s not the way we’re going to play. ... We need to play better out of the gates, and we need to play better early. We can’t rely on having, you know, a great second half comeback. That’s just going to wear out here,” Kelly said.
Kelly also said the Irish still have not settled on a feature running back, and do not feel especially inclined to do that at the moment.
“I think across the country, that singular back, that one guy, has not been able to fit all the things that you want to do offensively,” Kelly said.
“I think the position has now required a guy that is multi dimensional and it’s better to find that maybe in two or three different backs. For us, we think we’ve got five. We haven’t been able to get five on the field. I think we’ve gotten three on the field. We’re still I think in the process of trying to evaluate our freshmen, as well, and we have not been able to get into the ideal situation to do that, You’ve got to be ready when you’re called upon, and you’ve got to show you can do the job.”
The Irish have won nine straight at home, and Kelly said that has come from teaching the players to play the game hard for four quarters.
“We’ve been able to manage game week at Notre Dame very well,” Kelly said. “Our guys know how to prepare, and they understand how to play the game the right way.”
The Irish, after playing Big Ten teams for a number of years, know what to expect on Saturday, Kelly said.
“One of those typical Big Ten games, where the last man standing comes out victorious,” Kelly said. “Our kids have played in this game, and they know what kind of fight it’s going to be,” Kelly said. “We have to make sure we do a good job of preparing for Michigan State’s schemes and game plans.”
On the injury front, defensive end Sheldon Day, who has been nursing an ankle sprain, is expected to resume practicing on Wednesday … Kelly said safety Austin Colinsworth is developing a “trustworthiness” and “consistency” at his position. “He’s really settled us down back there,” Kelly said. … Kelly said senior receiver T.J. Jones is growing into his co-captain role … Defensive end Louis Nix, facing double teams pretty much every week, is going to have to adapt to the attention, Kelly said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do … He’s doing a lot of good things.”