Change is in the air. Autumn has begun and temperatures have started to dip. Leaves will soon be changing colors as the calendar changes its page to October.
Change is also in the air at Notre Dame, where head coach Brian Kelly announced that after a 1-3 start to the season he is changing course defensively. Kelly ousted beleaguered defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and replaced him with former Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson for the remainder of the season.
Change is really the current theme of the week for Kelly and his Fighting Irish. Two weeks ago “physical” was the theme heading into the Michigan State game, and that theme was replaced by “urgency” heading into last Saturday’s eventual 38-35 loss to Duke.
Kelly’s change of coordinator was necessitated by a defense that is yielding 33.5 points and 454 yards per game. The change from VanGorder to Hudson is not the only one that will take place for Kelly’s Irish this week.
For starters, Kelly wants his defense to play with more “enthusiasm” and “passion.”
“We made the changes we needed accordingly to bring that back,” Kelly explained at his Tuesday press conference. “That will begin to show itself.”
To achieve that end, Kelly says there will be changes in personnel and the way that personnel is substituted on game day. Without elaborating on specific players or how the Xs and Os of his defense will change, he did say “It’s going to take a style of defense that I’m much more accustomed to — the way I want to play defensively.”
Kelly will have Hudson, who played both football and baseball at Notre Dame, on the sideline during games, while linebackers coach Mike Elston will assist from the press box. Hudson is also expected to provide the “fun” energy during the week and on game day that Kelly thinks is missing from his defense.
Is Kelly done? Not close. The coaching staff and the defensive depth chart do not represent the full extent of his overhaul. The seventh-year Notre Dame head coach vowed after Saturday’s loss that all 22 positions on the team are up for grabs this week (though he did back off that on Tuesday when he said DeShone Kizer will remain the starting quarterback).
The key to the changes Kelly is looking for — offensively or defensively — is that they have to come with the right balance. He cited the number of practice reps players are getting and changing them to get more players involved.
His specific reference was at running back, where Josh Adams had 54 reps, while Dexter Williams, the one player Kelly singled out Saturday for having the right passion to play, had just 10 reps.
“What we can start to do is put a depth chart together that gives a young man a look at saying, I got a shot here,” Kelly said. “I’m part of the solution. I want guys to feel like they’re part of the solution here.”
Change merely for the sake of change is typically desperation. The changes Kelly is making are made out of sheer necessity — both for the balance of this season and possibly for his own future at Notre Dame.