Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly might be accused of looking for the gray cloud around his silver lining. After all, his Fighting Irish are undefeated at 6-0 and ranked fifth in the season's first BCS poll. But Kelly is not satisfied, and feels the Irish have some areas in need of improvement.
Kelly admits that his players are a lot like Notre Dame fans, and alumni like me. They are excited to be back in the middle of the excitement of college football. Everyone is enjoying the success so far, and the high ranking. Kelly maintains a sense of caution, however.
"There's a sense of pride," he allows. "There's no question that when you're talked about and you're putting Notre Dame up there in the top five, there's a sense of pride. I just have to make sure that they understand that with that pride comes a greater obligation to do the thing the right way. I think that's how we'll handle it."
So, what is keeping Kelly up at night and holding his focus as the Irish prepare for their October 20 game against BYU? It's not the concussion symptoms suffered by his starting quarterback, Everett Golson, after a hit in the win over Stanford. He is confident that Golson will be fine - except for his propensity for turning that ball over. That has Kelly concerned.
"Very concerned," Kelly says. "It's something that obviously we cannot continue to have. He's got to take better care of the football, and he's got to do it in practice, and he's got to be smarter."
Golson fumbled three times against the Cardinal, including a strip sack in his own end zone that accounted for Stanford's only touchdown of the game. On the season, the young quarterback has been responsible for all seven of the Irish's turnovers.
But Kelly continues to see signs of growth in Golson and insists that, as long as he is healthy and cleared to play, he remains the starting quarterback.
"He started feeling more comfortable with the rush," he says. "Obviously he's learning about a pressure situation. I was really proud of him today. He grew up. I know it wasn't as clean and the numbers, you can analyze them and say, 'Well, didn't play well.' All I can tell you is that in his growth, he did some things for me as the head coach that allow us to keep progressing with Everett."
Turnovers were the cause for Tommy Rees losing his starting role for Kelly. Turnovers relegated back-up Andrew Hendrix to a third-string role. Golson's turnovers earlier this season led to him being benched in favor of Rees. In a season that has otherwise gone better for Notre Dame than anyone could have expected, turnovers continue to worry Brian Kelly.
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, holds two degrees from Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.