BYU football: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's shift from risky approach is working

By Al Lesar

South Bend Tribune

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 9:33 a.m. MDT

l-r: Head Coach Kyle Whittingham of Utah and Head Coach Brian Kelly of Notre Dame meet after the game. The University of Utah lost to the University of Notre Dame in NCAA football at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SOUTH BEND, Ind. —

If there were such a thing as a Mid-Season National Coach of the Year Award, Brian Kelly would get my vote.

Of course, with six football games left in the regular season, that award and 85 cents (Can you believe it? Vending machines in The South Bend Tribune newsroom went up a nickel. Don't they know what journalists make?) will get you a Diet Pepsi.

Even before most of the leaves have become rakeable, Kelly and his Notre Dame players have proven wrong all those media mopes who predicted a 7-5 season and insinuated a coach search rather than a bowl game.

It's BCS or bust now. The bandwagon has plenty of room.

This crusade might have started the week before the overseas thrashing of Navy. It could have had all the makings of a Hollywood movie (sorry Rudy, this one should be better). Heck, if NFL Films can document a week in the life of the Irish, why not let a full-length motion picture chronicle the entire ride?

Can you imagine the drama? Quiet. Hear that pin drop? Cue the music. Drum roll, please. Kelly (played by Matt Damon, Sean Astin would be too cliché), scowl on his face, is at the podium of the Gug waving "The Daily Bugle" above his head, ranting how these local yocals have no respect for his time-tested player development skills and no appreciation for his national impact on the college game.

The script for this contrived soliloquy wouldn't have anything to do with "The Gipper," and wouldn't rival Rockne for motivation, but it would stoke the fire for an "us versus them" chip on the shoulder that at least would have challenged the Irish toward a positive trajectory.

Production on the screenplay will last another couple months, at least. The final six games of the season, along with the bowl game, will decide whether it turns out to be one of those motivational — overcome the odds — sort of feel-good films or a horror flick. Bloopers have been kept to a minimum thus far.

The fuel that will get Notre Dame through the second half of its season won't come from Hollywood or fire and brimstone speeches.

Right about now is when the player development kicks in.

There are at least six players on defense and three on offense who are obvious success stories in the realm of player development.

Senior safety Zeke Motta is probably the guy who has made the most progress. During his first three years in the Notre Dame program, the cerebral part of the game was never his strong point.

Earlier this season, Kelly said that even last year, Motta had trouble making sure he was in the right position. Now, with the season-ending injury to fellow safety and secondary leader Jamoris Slaughter, Motta has been given custody of the entire crew.

Corners Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell don't act like guys playing for the first time. They're aggressive. Tight coverage doesn't fluster. Ball's in the air? Go get it. Jackson leads the team with four interceptions this season. Russell has one.

Jackson, who got noticed because of his play-making ability on special teams, is among the tackling leaders with 27. Russell has 23.

Before leaving the secondary, Matthias Farley is another mountain of talent who was just a mole hill of production this time last year. Without much of a football pedigree behind him, Farley has had his God-given athleticism molded into a football discipline.

His interception and subsequent 49-yard return against Stanford was a critical play.

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