No. 6 Notre Dame seeks to avoid option hangover vs. UMass
The Fighting Irish are coming off a 30-22 win over Georgia Tech and its challenging triple-option offense.
Since Brian Kelly became coach here in 2010, Notre Dame is 2-3 the week after facing Navy, which features a similar attack - and the Irish struggled in those victories over Wake Forest in 2011 and Purdue in 2012. It also includes a shocking 28-27 loss to Tulsa in 2010, a loss at Pittsburgh two years ago and a blowout loss to Arizona State last season. The Irish are 1-1 a week after facing Air Force, another run-heavy team, under Kelly.
The Minutemen (0-2) will not present the same challenges Saturday, but they have the full attention of Kelly and the Irish (3-0) given that lackluster history.
Kelly believes part of the reason for the struggles is the change in practice routines. On weeks when the Irish play option teams, the starting offense doesn't go against the starting defense.
''So just getting back to that routine that's very, very important,'' he said.
The change this week will be particularly abrupt as the Irish switch from focusing on stopping the run of Georgia Tech to trying to shut down the pass-happy Minutemen.
UMass coach Mark Whipple wants the Minutemen to come out with more confidence than last season at Penn State, when he said they played ''scared, frightened.'' But he felt good with the progress made between a 48-14 loss at Colorado and a 25-23 loss to Temple last week.
''I thought Temple was the best team we've played since I've been back at UMass and certainly Notre Dame is a level up from them,'' said Whipple, who is in his second-year at UMass after previously leading the Minutemen to the NCAA Division I-AA national championship in 1998.
Whipple was asked what a win over the Irish would mean.
''It would mean we're 1-2,'' he said, laughing. ''It's all I can say. I'm kind of in the bunker-mode right now and trying to find a way to make a first down against Notre Dame.''
Other things to know about the UMass-Notre Dame game:
SECOND START: Sophomore DeShone Kizer completed 21 of 31 passes for 242 yards against Georgia Tech, the most yards for an Irish quarterback in his first start since Brady Quinn threw for 297 yards against Purdue in 2003. Kizer believes he can improve.
''I believe the more comfortable I get, the better I'm going to get,'' he said.
FIRST CHANCE: Kelly also hopes he will be able to get backup quarterback Brandon Wimbush, a freshman, in against UMass. A week ago Kelly said Wimbush looked nervous. He looked better this week. ''I like the look week he had,'' Kelly said. ''We're not there yet. But we made really good strides.''
BUILDING TRUST: Backup running back Josh Adams has 10 rushes for 66 yards through three games while Dexter Williams has seven carries for 24 yards. Kelly said the two freshmen have to cut down on mistakes before they get more chances.
''Those guys need to continue to learn during the week so we can get them in,'' Kelly said.
SECONDARY PLAY: The Irish secondary struggled with assignments against Virginia two weeks ago, giving up three passes of 30 yards or more and a total of 289 passing yards.
''I'm not ready to say that we've corrected everything. We're going to have to go out and play,'' Kelly said. ''We'll see. I have confidence that they're going to play much better than they did against Virginia.''
WIN ONE FOR THE POPE: Notre Dame is 4-0 all-time while the pope is in the United States with victories over Georgia Tech in 1979, Michigan and Michigan State in 1987 and Washington in 1995, all during visits by Pope John Paul II.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org