The Journal Gazette
Saturday, September 11, 2021 1:00 am

Kelly expects Irish defense to cut down on big plays

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Football coaches usually don't want their players to get too high after a win or too low after a loss. After Notre Dame beat Florida State in Week 1, however, coach Brian Kelly wanted his team to be higher.

Kelly said he had to encourage his players to enjoy the victory because they weren't taking any satisfaction in it in the hours after they left Tallahassee to return to South Bend. But Kelly also admitted there were areas where his team needs to improve.

“I want our guys to enjoy winning because it's so hard to do,” the 12th-year coach said. “Then understand that if we want to get to where we want to get to, and that is to be part of the (College Football Playoff), we certainly have a lot of work to do.”

The good news for the Irish is they get a chance to improve on their Week 1 performance when they take on Toledo at Notre Dame Stadium today. The Irish enter the contest riding a 24-game home winning streak, Notre Dame's longest since 1950. The Irish haven't lost in South Bend in more than four years.

The game will be the first with a full capacity and tailgating at Notre Dame Stadium since 2019, and Kelly challenged the fans to be “as loud and as excited about being in that stadium as we are.”

“I'm expecting some rowdy fans,” tight end Michael Mayer said. “I'm expecting a packed stadium, for sure. It's going to be nice not having 80,000 people yelling in your ear on third-and-3 (like there were against Florida State).”

The Irish are coming off an uneven performance against the Seminoles in which they made some spectacular plays on offense and defense.

The defense in particular was hit or miss in Week 1, getting into the backfield and creating pressure on a regular basis but also missing some tackles and giving up more than a few big plays, including a pair of touchdowns of more than 60 yards.

Kelly expressed confidence that first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, in whose system the defense is still getting comfortable, will right the ship.

“Our defense caused havoc,” Kelly said. “We had sacks, we had interceptions, but we gave up big plays. We're transitioning from a different mindset in the way we need to play defense, and you cannot let your guard down for a moment or you're going to give up a big play. So, we've got some work to do there.

“Marcus Freeman will get that done and our players are committed to that.”

Toledo is coming off a 49-10 win over Norfolk State, an FCS team, in Week 1 after going 4-2 in an abbreviated 2020 schedule.

Much like the Seminoles, the Rockets boast a pair of quarterbacks the Irish must game-plan around. Carter Bradley is the better passer – he went 8 for 11 for 183 yards and a touchdown last week – but DeQuan Finn can throw the ball too and is also a talented runner.

Finn ran for 82 yards and a touchdown against Norfolk State.

“This is probably the finest MAC team that we've brought into the stadium since I've been here at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. 

That gives the Irish exactly what they're looking for: another chance to prove themselves.

“The awesome thing about college football is you get another opportunity each week,” linebacker JD Bertrand said. “It's another opportunity to go out there and play better than we did last week.”

Notre Dame vs. Toledo

When: 2:30 p.m. today

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

Records: No. 8 Notre Dame (1-0), Toledo (1-0)

Streaming: Peacock

3 Storylines

Will Superman fly again? Notre Dame All-American safety Kyle Hamilton came into the season with a world of hype and lived up to every bit of it in Week 1, intercepting Florida State twice, including a diving grab on a dead sprint from 35 yards across the field. The play caused defensive end Isaiah Foskey to declare this week that Hamilton "looked like Superman out there." What can Hamilton do for an encore?

Run the ball: Notre Dame gained 5 yards per carry in 2020 behind one of the best offensive lines in college football. Last week against Florida State, the Irish ran for just 1.9 yards per rush. With left tackle Blake Fisher out with a knee injury for the next eight weeks, redshirt freshman Michael Carmody will get the start there.

Peacock: For the first time, a Notre Dame football game will be available only via Peacock, the NBC streaming service. Those who wish to watch the game will have to download Peacock Premium to do so. Certain Xfinity and Cox customers will be able to receive access through their cable packages (Go to or for details.), but everyone else will have to pay $4.99 for a Peacock Premium subscription. For viewers who do subscribe just for the game, it's important to cancel the subscription before it automatically renews for the following month.

Prediction: No. 8 Notre Dame 34, Toledo 16

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