Notre Dame opens its season Saturday against Michigan. Tuesday, coach Brian Kelly held his first weekly press conference of the 2018 season. Here are some of the highlights from the event.
Kelly's opening statement: "Michigan is an outstanding football team. It certainly is exciting for our team to finally get into game week and game preparation. The last few days has been one of managing the focus and concentration as you kind of flip the switch and get ready to play somebody. It's been about eight months since we've played a football game, which seems like a lot of preparation to actually get to a game. You can imagine our guys are excited about getting into game-week preparation and playing an outstanding football team in the University of Michigan. ... This is something Jim (Harbaugh) and I wanted to get on the schedule, so be careful what you wish for, but I think it's great for college football, we're excited about this matchup. I know our kids and our coaches can't wait for Saturday night."
...Michigan's offense: "Where do I start? Certainly from an offensive standpoint, you're talking about an offense that returns some very good offensive linemen that have experience. They've put the pieces in the right places on the offensive line. (Cesar) Ruiz goes back to center which is his natural position. (Jon) Runyan at tackle, I think they have it now where I think they all fit together quite nicely. Certainly two running backs with a lot of Big Ten experience. (Chris) Evans and (Karan) Higdon complement each other extremely well. I could go on and on. I think everybody has heard the lead-up to Michigan, we have a great deal of respect for them. (Quarterback) Shea Patterson will come in and run their offense quite well. Again, an experienced player in the SEC. Very talented, can throw it, can keep plays alive. (He's) a guy who will get the football out to some talented players certainly, we're aware of the news reports on (wide receiver) Tarik Black (note: Black is out indefinitely with a foot injury) and we feel terribly for him, but Nico Collins will be a very, very good receiver for them, along with (wide receiver) Donovan Peoples-Jones, who we know quite well, is a talented receiver. Two talented tight ends who will be featured, so this is an offense with weapons, Patterson will disperse the ball around. Again, I think (Patterson's) extremely talented and will pose a great challenge for us."
...what positions or players for Michigan "keep [him] up at night: "Each and every week, when you're playing Top 10, Top 15 teams, you have to have a plan or plans for guys that can impact the game, there's no question. Losing sleep, no I think I've gone through that in my career. I think now you have to have answers. If you're losing sleep it means you're not doing your job, in the sense that you better have answers for guys that can impact the game."
...the status of running back Dexter Williams (who has been reported to have had a disciplinary issue over the summer): "He'll be dressed and on the sideline and we'll see what happens after we kick it off."
...who cracked the wide receiver rotation besides Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin and Chris Finke: "I think you're going to see Kevin Austin's going to be part of it. Michael Young's going to be part of that rotation. Those two have guys have proved themselves to be part of it as we move forward. We play three or four tight ends, so I think you have to include that as part of what we do. Then, the multiple running back situation. So, I wouldn't look at it as just a wide receiver group as much as incorporating tight ends and running backs into all that, being pass receivers and touching the football."
...the team's quarterback and running back situations: "Brandon (Wimbush) is our starter. We're going to go in the game (thinking) he needs to win the game for us. We'll put a gameplan together for Brandon Wimbush to win the game for us. If there's any need, we feel great about Ian Book as our No. 2. As it relates to the running back position, it's much different in a sense that we rely on different skillsets as 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D that they all are capable of helping our football team. We haven't established a 1, 2 like we have at the quarterback position."
...how the Notre Dame-Michigan game came to be scheduled: "Jim (Harbaugh) reached out to me. We were both of the same opinion that we wanted to try to get this game back if we could. There are so many other things as you know that make this difficult. I know we play next year, but after that who knows how this may work again, given both of our limitations relative to scheduling."
...what questions do you still have about your team going into the opener: "I think there are some years you're still learning about your team at different levels. This team, I know a lot about. There's a lot of players back from last year. There's different levels of concerns or question marks that you have about each team. The 2017 team, we had major questions about the quarterbacks, there were major question marks defensively about different positions and Mike Elko's first year. Each year there's different questions about teams. This team, I don't have any questions about its ability to go out and compete against anybody. They've played USC and Georgia and they've played North Carolina State who had a really, really good football team. They've competed at the highest level. I'm not really concerned about how they're going to show up and play against Michigan. We'll have to execute extremely well. Sometimes I'm more concerned about how we'll adjust to seeing things for the first time against an opponent that we're really not sure of some things we'll see on offense. So maybe some of the adjustments we'll have to make on the sideline. We've got a pretty good sense of what's going to happen defensively. There will be some wrinkles, but we've got a pretty good sense there. I think it'll be some of the adjustments that will have to be made in game, moreso than 'how are my guys gonna react in this first game.'"
...difference in his players' mentality this week: "As you get into game week there's definitely, they begin to get more focused. This is where your guys have to really begin to lock in on their process. I know you hear that all the time, what does that mean really? They have to hold on to something so they don't become distracted. This is where distractions, January, February, March, through April, May, June, July, there's not a lot of talk. You go to weight training, you go to practice, nobody's really talking about you. There's not a lot of distractions, you can really focus in on what you're doing every day. When you get into game week there's a lot of talk about what's gonna happen, are there tickets, can I get tickets, all that and so you can get distracted. You really have to focus in on your process, your attention to detail and really staying focused on what's important right now. As we get closer to the game, that's why you hear coaches talk about process because there's a lot of buzz, these kids can get easily distracted when it's really important to be locked in on what they're doing."