Brian Kelly says Notre Dame knows what it's in for when it faces Michigan State Saturday at 3:30 at Notre Dame Stadium in the 4th game of the season.
"We have a ton of respect for Michigan State," Kelly said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "Our kids know the type of game it is. They know what kind of fight it is. I don't have to get them ready for this fight."
Michigan State has the #1 ranked defense in the country, led by defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun---who has a nation leading three defensive touchdowns this year.
"You better know where he is," Kelly said of Calhoun. "He has a couple of fumble recoveries. He's tall and long, extremely athletic."
The Irish are facing their 3rd straight Big Ten opponent and Kelly expects it to be another physical battle against a program that is known for its physicality.
"Outstanding defensive schemes," Kelly said of MSU. "You have to find ways to manufacture runs. You have to play tough physical football for four quarters. It's going to be one of those typical big ten games where the last team standing will be victorious."
If a physical game is what Kelly wants, running back Cam McDaniel may be the guy in the back field. McDaniel was a bruiser last week versus Purdue, running so hard that his helmet popped off in the 1st half and he required stitches to close a wound on his head at halftime. He rushed for ND's first TD on the opening drive of the 2nd half and then pounded the ball during a 13 play, seven minute drive that ended the game.
"We love the way he attacks the line of scrimmage," Kelly said of McDaniel. "He plays with a great deal of passion. He's a football player. He loves the game and everything about it. You pull for a kid like that."
But Kelly isn't ready to says McDaniel is now the guy, stating that circumstances change from week to week on who needs to play.
"We're not going to play just one back," Kelly said.
Kelly still anticipates all five running backs playing, including freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston. Kelly called Bryant a "physical hard runner" and Folston "really smooth."
Kelly also loves the way Amir Carlisle protects in the passing game. George Atkinson has been the de facto Irish starter.
"I think when it's all said and done--they are all contributing," Kelly said. "We just think we have a lot of guys that contribute. I don't know if we have one guy that will be the guy."
The one thing the Irish haven't been able to get from its running back group is consistency and that's something Kelly is still trying to get from his whole team.
"The identity that what we want versus we what we have is in consistency," Kelly said. "We just need to be a more consistent group in how we play the game."
Sheldon Day update
Irish defensive lineman remains in a walking boot on Tuesday but is expected to be out of the boot and ready to practice on Wednesday.
On cornerback KeiVarae Russell
Kelly doesn't feel Russell has lost confidence. Says Russell is still a young guy who is growing.
On the play of wideouts DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones
Kelly: "Having two guys that have proven themselves already to make big plays is big for our offense."
On MSU quarterback Connor Cook
Kelly: "He's big and can run"
Irish pass game
Kelly says Tommy Rees gets Irish in the right protection 9 out of 10 times. That wasn't always the case last year with Everett Golson, who was still learning.
Status of freshman QB Malik Zaire
Kelly was asked if freshman Malik Zaire, who has been out with mono, is in good standing with doctors and with the Irish head coach:
Kelly: "He's in good standing with the doctors. Very good standing."
Zaire tweeted over the weekend that he had been cleared to play, something the Irish coach has had a conversation or two with Zaire about.
Kelly: "He learned his lesson relative to information that needs to stay within the program. He touched the stove."