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Better fall finish priority as Irish begin spring football

March 5, 2018

FILE- This Jan. 1, 2018 file photo shows Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly celebrating with the championship trophy after defeating LSU 21-17 in the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game in Orlando, Fla. Notre Dame won 21-17. Kelly has holes to fill on the offensive line and in the backfield and a competition at quarterback between Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book as the Irish, 10-3 and No. 11 in the final Associated Press poll in 2017, begin spring football drills Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP Photo/John Raoux, file)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Brian Kelly knows the last five Novembers have not been kind to his Notre Dame football team.

Since posting a 4-0 November during the 2012 season, when Notre Dame lost the national championship game to Alabama, Kelly’s Irish have gone just 7-13 in the month, including last season’s 2-2 effort that dropped them out of the College Football Playoff picture after they had climbed as high as No. 3.

“We want to be a better football team in November,” Kelly said Monday on the eve of Notre Dame’s first practice of the spring, his ninth in South Bend.

The Irish, who finished off a 10-3 campaign with a 21-17 victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl, have plenty of questions to answer during the 14 practices ahead of the spring game April 21.

The biggest are on offense, where the Irish must replace running back Josh Adams, who left a year early after rushing for 1,430 yards, and the left side of the offensive line anchored by guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike McGlinchey, who are expected to be top NFL picks.

“I think there are moving pieces there,” added Kelly, who promoted long-time assistant Jeff Quinn to replace line coach Harry Hiestand, who returned to the Chicago Bears. “When you have (center) Sam Mustipher and (guard) Alex Bars, that’s pretty good right there, and experience with (Tommy) Kraemer and (Robert) Hainsey — it’s not a worry of mine.”

Junior Tony Jones Jr. (232 yards) and senior Dexter Williams (360) both spelled Adams despite having injuries of their own in 2017, with Kelly leaning toward Jones.

“There’s no one in front of him that’s a workhorse (like) Josh Adams, so he sees that; that’s a huge motivator,” Kelly said.

There’s competition, too, at quarterback where senior Brandon Wimbush, who started 12 of 13 games but struggled in November and during the Citrus Bowl, will be pushed by junior Ian Book, who started the other game and relieved Wimbush in the bowl game.

Kelly said Wimbush, who ran for 803 yards and 14 touchdowns but completed just 49.5 of his passes for 1,870 yards and 16 TDs with six interceptions, will be with the first unit this spring but Book will get some time.

“By virtue of a lot of the really good things that Brandon did last year, he’ll go out with the first group,” Kelly said. “But we all know Ian was integral in our last win against LSU, and he deserves an opportunity to compete as well.”

Notre Dame’s 4-2-5 defense returns 10 starters for new coordinator Clark Lea.

Getting better in November, however, is a big priority and already being addressed after the Irish got embarrassed in losses to Miami (41-8) and Stanford (38-20).

“We had a weight training (session) a couple of Fridays ago that focused on playing in a hostile environment,” Kelly said. “We had strobe lights and things that distract you . loud noise to simulate the atmosphere at Miami. They saw (a video) the turnover chain quite bit. It was not a pleasant experience.”

A better November in 2018 would be.

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