Notre Dame's season has been reduced to two games. Less than 24 hours after the Fighting Irish reconnected to the rails with a stunning 28-3 victory over 15th-ranked Utah, coach Brian Kelly knew it was time to start cleaning up after the party.
A drubbing by Navy last month not only halted a three-game winning streak, it exposed many weaknesses in Notre Dame's defense and in the coaching staff's preparation. The Midshipmen's option embarrassed the Irish and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who explained "we had no Plan B."
Kelly, whose team (5-5) is in need of one more victory in order to earn a bowl invitation, did not make his coordinators available the week following the loss to Tulsa, saying he'd field the lion's share of questions from here on out. So, will changes need to be made in preparation for Army, which also runs a deceptive option?
"Absolutely," Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. "No, I'm not sharing [details]. We have to do a better job than we did against Navy and we are working hard at that right now."
Considering the rejuvenated atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night versus Utah, this week's neutral-site tilt with Army (6-4) at Yankee Stadium is less attractive to Kelly than staying in South Bend.
"I think any football coach would want to sleep in his own bed and play in a stadium, especially like it was yesterday, with 80,000 fans," Kelly said. "But I also know the realities that there has to be when it comes to looking at your schedule and television, there has to be time and place where you move those games to give you the best leverage nationally. I'm a realist in that sense and I'm a football coach, and that is, you tell me where to play them and I'm going to play them."
Stepping up on Senior Day
After shining as a freshman, senior WR Duval Kamara never reached his potential. After starting 21 games at linebacker, fiery classmate Brian Smith lost his spot with the first team this fall. Both provided a lift for an Irish squad thinned by injuries in Saturday's rout. Both of Kamara's receptions went for touchdowns and Smith totaled a team-high 10 tackles.
"Yeah, they'll still continue to play important roles offensively for us," Kelly said. "I think it's pretty clear that when we're looking at the last couple games, and evaluating our players, Duval is a guy who can help us in matchups and Brian is a guy that has a lot of snaps under his belt. I don't see this as a situation where, because a couple guys will be back, and in particular [wideout] T.J. Jones as well as [linebacker] Carlo Calabrese, I still see these guys playing significant roles."
Junior linebacker Darius Fleming (St. Rita) left after the first quarter with a concussion and freshman Prince Shembo was a productive replacement with five tackles and a sack.
"Darius did not play after the first quarter; he suffered a concussion," Kelly said.
"Fleming will be back this week. He was cleared today through a battery of tests."
Theo Riddick (WR, ankle) and Ian Williams (NG, knee) were both thought to be lost for the rest of the regular season after being injured earlier in the year, but Kelly is optimistic that Riddick may return in time for the finale at USC.
"I think we got a really good shot at Riddick," he said. "We're gonna move him aggressively this week. He'll be in a lot of drill work -- straight-line stuff -- then we'll start to move him laterally probably Thursday. So I'll get a really good feel for his availability for USC. But we're on track for him returning for the USC game.
"Ian, we're going to have to wait until the end of this week to know whether he can be braced up and still be active enough for the USC game."