It isn’t often that Brian Kelly has to get his team’s attention.
Late in Saturday’s 30-27 victory over Southern California that moved the Irish to 5-1, Kelly tried. He raced out onto the field to get a timeout from officials as the Trojans lined up to attempt an onside kick late in the game.
Kelly wasn’t successful but neither were the Trojans as tight end Brock Wright fielded the kick cleanly to seal the win and keep his team’s hopes alive for a College Football Playoff appearance for the second straight season.
Since a 23-17 loss at then-No. 3 Georgia, Notre Dame has shown enough improvement in victories over Virginia (35-10), Bowling Green (52-0) and the Trojans to remain in the picture. They would have to win their final six games — starting with a trip to No. 16 Michigan after this week’s bye — and get some help.
Kelly likes how his team is going about its business.
“I think it’s a mature team in the way they handle themselves,” Kelly said. “They know they have to do the little things the right way. Each week has required our team to find different ways to win. I like the fact that our guys, regardless of the situation, can adapt and adjust and find ways to win.”
After the Wolverines, Notre Dame finishes against Virginia Tech, Duke, Navy, Boston College and Stanford —teams that are a combined 23-12, none of them ranked. An 11-1 finish might be good enough, but the overall strength of Notre Dame’s schedule is generally middle of the pack.
For the most part, Notre Dame’s defense, under second-year coordinator Clark Lea, has performed decent enough. Led by sack-minded defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem (Farmington Hills Harrison) , aggressive linebacker Asmar Bilal and safeties Alohi Gilman and Julian Elliott, the defense is allowing just 16.8 points a game (13th nationally).
The offense is ranked 14th, putting up 39.2 points per game behind senior quarterback Ian Book. He is completing 63.2% of his passes, down slightly from last season but has twice thrown for five touchdowns in a game to an impressive receiving corps that includes wideout Chase Claypool and tight end Cole Kmet.
Tough love at Clemson
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney received some criticism after he lit into Tigers kicker B.T. Potter on Saturday when the sophomore missed a short field goal against Florida State.
Swinney then benched Potter, turning to senior walk-on Steven Sawicki to handle field goal duties the rest of the game against the Seminoles and moving forward.
Swinney responded to that criticism Wednesday night.
“Yeah, I don’t know. I guess I’m the only coach that ever yells at a player,” he said jokingly.
Swinney pointed out that in addition to going after Potter for more than 30 seconds, which was caught on national television, he also voiced his displeasure with senior safety K’Von Wallace after he received a penalty in the third quarter of Clemson’s 45-14 victory.
“The thing is, I yelled at K’Von Wallace a lot worse than B.T. I kicked him out of the game,” Swinney said. “He didn’t play another snap on defense from the third quarter on because he had a personal foul. And it was a bad personal foul. It’s not who we are. It’s not what we do. The cameras only show what they want to show.”
Sawicki has responded well to being named Clemson’s starting kicker, according to Swinney. He had a solid week of practice after making his first career field goal for the Tigers against FSU.
“Sometimes everybody needs a little foot in their rear,” Swinney said. “And sometimes you just need to sit and watch for a minute. But B.T.’s made of the right stuff and he’s had a good week.”