Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly addresses the media following the Irish’s big win over Michigan.
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Alabama’s Nick Saban once famously complained compliments are like “rat poison.” Not that he is the only college football coach to say so, albeit perhaps not in language as colorful.
Before and after Week 1, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has not expressed such misgivings. He has maintained the Fighting Irish should be good and are in fact good.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s 24-17 victory over Michigan, his stance was supported by two developments:
>> The Fighting Irish climbed from 11th to No. 8 in the coaches’ poll. That is their highest ranking since Week 11 of last season, when they were 8-1 and No. 5.
>> ESPN Sports Analytics keeps Notre Dame among the four teams most likely to make the College Football Playoff. In the preseason, the Irish were ranked fourth, listed at 42 percent to make the playoff and 10 percent to win the national championship. That has improved to third, at 57 percent to make the playoff and 13 percent to win it.
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“We have a standard. They know what the standard is, and they have met that standard for the last eight months,” Kelly said Tuesday. “They know the standard that we have here, what our mission is, what our process is, and we’ll continue to reiterate that on a day-to-day basis.
“We play Ball State, but for them it’s a nameless, faceless opponent in the way they go to work every day. They’ll know Ball State’s scheme. They’ll know their players. They’ll know tactically what they need to do. But what overrides that is the standard that they have to live up to as a program on a day-to-day basis.”
The Irish were anything but perfect against Michigan. Without blown kickoff coverage and a penalty nullifying a touchdown, they could have won 28-10. Instead, Michigan had the ball with enough time to tie the score or win.
Kelly acknowledged the Irish need improvement in finishing and in attention to detail. He said they covered just one live kickoff during training camp, blaming himself for that. Otherwise, no complaints. Kelly said the Irish have “a mature group of players,” and the opponent does not matter.
“I think what I’ve learned about this team is that it’s a confident group,” Kelly said. “And I could tell that throughout the entire week. I could tell it leading up to the game. They were early for everything. They were not too high, they were not too low.”
He coached in the Mid-American Conference for three seasons — he was 19-16 at Central Michigan from 2004-06 — and was not going to say anything bad about a MAC opponent anyway. Even an opponent like Ball State, a 34.5-point underdog.
The Cardinals opened with a 42-6 victory over Central Connecticut, setting a school record with 652 yards of total offense. Riley Neal passed for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
Kelly called Neal an NFL prospect and compared him to one of his former Cincinnati quarterbacks, Tony Pike. Neal passed for 4,817 yards in his first two seasons but played just three games of last year’s 2-10 season because of injury.
“So this is a really good offensive system, and they know what they’re doing,” Kelly said. “They were decimated last year with injuries, so I don’t even think you can count what happened to them last year.”
Going far with Jafar
Jafar Armstrong was not only making his first start Saturday. How about playing his first college game?
The second-year player, who converted from wide receiver, performed as if he had always been a running back. He rushed 15 times for 35 yards, scored two touchdowns, caught two passes for 11 yards and returned a kickoff for 20 yards. Armstrong also picked up Michigan’s blitzes as a blocker, Kelly said.
“So I think all that versatility in itself is quite a lot, and I think he handled it very well with a great demeanor,” Kelly said. “He wasn’t overwhelmed with the stage, nor with the assignment that we gave him.”
Kelly said Tony Jones Jr. complemented Armstrong “with some physical runs.” Jones carried nine times for 45 yards.
The Irish QB led Notre Dame to a big win over the Wolverines on Saturday night.
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WR Chase Claypool not only caught three passes for 47 yards but made two tackles on special teams. He is maturing and understanding how impactful he can be, Kelly said. “He is a must on all of our kick teams,” Kelly said. … Three freshmen from the 2018 recruiting class played in the opener: Jayson Ademilola, Kevin Austin and Houston Griffith. Another freshman, Shayne Simon, is on the depth chart at two different linebacker positions.
Email IndyStar reporter David Woods at [email protected] or call (317) 444-6195. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.