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Take 5: Brian Kelly Talks Victory Over Virginia, Notre Dame's Identity, Irish Running Backs

Brian Kelly talks about his team's resume, Notre Dame's identity, and some big individual efforts from the 28-3 victory over Virginia

Brian Kelly talks about his team's resume, Notre Dame's identity, and some big individual efforts from the 28-3 victory over Virginia.

1. Four weeks ago, Notre Dame, despite its 5-1 record, was a great big question mark. There was no offensive identity and the defense was alternately shaky and good from week to week. There were issues at quarterback and the offensive line had struggled badly. 

After a 28-3 beatdown of Virginia on Saturday, the Irish (9-1) have firmly established themselves as a legitimate top 10 team; arguably better than that. It’ll be surprising if Notre Dame doesn’t finish 11-1. Credit goes to Brian Kelly and the coaching staff for keeping it together during a mystifying first six weeks. When there is time for reflection, the bye week move of picking up the offensive pace for quarterback Jack Coan will have been the winning play for this group. 

Coan finished the night 15 of 20 passing for 132 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. His quarterback rating was 169.9. He’s been consistently good since the USC game, which is what the Irish needed to have a chance to win out.

2. The Irish should move up at least one spot in the College Football Playoff rankings that comes out Tuesday night. They are currently ranked No. 9, but No. 8 Oklahoma lost 27-14 to Baylor. Kelly is starting to lobby for his team. The Irish need a lot of help to jump into the top four but the idea that it’s possible is impressive considering where the team was after its first six games. Here is what Kelly said about his team in his post-game press conference.

“We're better than we were in September and October,” he said. “So, this football team is getting better each and every week. We've played young players that are now much more mature, playing better. And we're ascending as a football team. So, anytime you're trying to put a resume together, it's about how you play later in the year. And so, the eye test is this football team is playing better defensively, offensively, and we're sitting here 9-1. We've turned over virtually an entire roster, and we're playing pretty good football.

3. Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall foreshadowed what would turn out to be the team’s big problem against Notre Dame in his press conference last week.

You can’t win without a good quarterback. Because of injuries, Mendenhall said, you need two good quarterbacks to get through a season.

If Brennan Armstrong, a Heisman Trophy candidate, doesn’t get healthy, the Cavaliers (6-4) could finish the season with four straight losses. They play Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech over the next two weeks. Freshman quarterback Jay Woolfolk was not ready for prime time He finished 18 of 33 with two interceptions and 196 yards passing. It’s surprising that Virginia didn’t have a better game plan with Woolfolk since it knew two weeks ago that he’d likely have to play. Notre Dame wouldn’t lose that much if Coan gets hurt. Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner have enough experience to keep the Irish competitive.

4. Individual effort stood out for Notre Dame. There were more highlight plays than usual.

Logan Diggs hurdling a guy on the sidelines on a 26-yard run in the first quarter.

Braden Lenzy jumping over a defender to score on a four-yard touchdown pass. 

Michael Mayer catching a pass on a guy’s helmet. 

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And finally, Kyren Williams 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Williams, who was hit early, kept his balance for the last part of the run and dove into the end zone for the score. These are gifted players who have been coached up. They are fun to watch.

5. Notre Dame’s running back group of Williams, Chris Tyree and Diggs has to be one of the better trios in the country. Williams is elite, Diggs is only a freshman who could be elite and Tyree is in the same category. Kelly rested Williams, who finished with 13 carries and 70 yards, for most of the fourth quarter. Diggs finished with 70 yards on nine carries and Tyree had 34 yards on six carries. Using all three seems like a good way to go for the remainder of the season. There is no dip in quality when Williams leaves.

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