FORT WAYNE – Brian Kelly said he knew it would take time for his team to form an identity this season after Notre Dame went 12-0 in the regular season and earned a spot in the BCS championship game last year.
And even though the Irish don’t have a clear picture of who they are after Saturday’s 31-24 road win over Purdue, Kelly is in no rush to speed up the process of defining his team with unbeaten Michigan State coming to Notre Dame Stadium this weekend.
It takes time, Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. We are playing great competition. We are getting tested, and we’re making progress. I like to make progress through winning.
Kelly said he liked the evolutionary step the defense took against Purdue (1-2), even though the No. 22 Irish (2-1) gave up more than 20 points for the second straight week.
Notre Dame held the Boilermakers to 38 rushing yards, scored a defensive touchdown for a second straight game and, if you take out Purdue’s first and last scoring drives, yielded only 119 yards and nine first downs. The Irish also responded to a lost fumble by Amir Carlisle on their 42 with 8:10 to play clinging to a one-touchdown lead by forcing the Boilers to go three and out.
We played much more physical, I was very pleased with that, Kelly said. Obviously stopping the run, Purdue, this offense is built to run the football, and that’s what they wanted to do. They weren’t able to do that. Those are all great forecasts for us, being more physical, better communication.
The two big leaders on our defense in terms of communication are the safety and the Mike linebacker. They’re no longer here (graduated linebacker Manti Te’o and safety Zeke Motta). Those are new communication positions. That’s evolving And last night, we saw with a lot of shifts and a lot of changes in the offensive sets, we saw great communication last night. We never really were in a bad situation relative to communication. Some of the basic tenets that we are looking for defensively are starting to come together.
Kelly said the offense will form an identity based on the talent available and how quarterback Tommy Rees, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the first three games, leads the unit.
We’ve got a quarterback who’s a very smart kid, Kelly said. That offense is going to evolve around what he can do.
Notes: Freshman quarterback Malik Zaire, who missed the first three games because of mononucleosis, posted on his Twitter account that he we cleared to play, but Kelly said, He might be suspended for violating the rules relative to information. Kelly said linebacker Kendall Moore and safety Eilar Hardy, who were suspended against Purdue because of rules violations, are back this week.