Brian Kelly a ‘Moron’ for Not Playing Javon McKinley More for Notre Dame

With three offensive starters and a key backup in warmups instead of pads on Saturday, Notre Dame needed someone to step up on offense.  Javon McKinley saw the opportunity and seized it to emerge as a potential weapon for the Irish offense moving forward.  The outburst also had his head coach in a self-deprecating mood.

“He’s been a guy that has been kind of lost in, you know, cyberspace, if you will, and he’s now going to have to play a significant role,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly of McKinley.

McKinley’s breakout performance had reporters asking Kelly if McKinley should get more targets and had Kelly in a joking mood.  “I don’t know how to respond to that, other than I’m a moron,” Kelly quipped.

Coming into this weekend, Javon McKinley had one career reception – an 11-yard grab two weeks ago against Louisville.  He only recorded two more yesterday afternoon, but they were massive.  McKinley hauled in a short Ian Book pass on a crosser and turned it into a highlight reel worthy, 65-yard touchdown that included six broken tackles.

His second wasn’t as crazy, but was still impressive and also found the endzone.  McKinley ran a simple go route and hauled in a 20-yard touchdown from Book by high-pointing the ball and grabbing a contested catch.  That quality is something the Notre Dame offense needs this year with Miles Boykin scoring touchdowns in the NFL already.

Kelly got a bit more serious though in describing what McKinley’s role might be moving forward. “He’s a physical presence. As you know, he got on the field in a first-team rotation, so we’re starting to get it here, and figure it out, that he’s not a No. 2. He can play as a No. 1,” Kelly said.

McKinley was on the field with the first unit because Notre Dame played on Saturday without starting slot receiver Michael Young for the second consecutive game as he recovers from a broken collarbone.  Lawrence Keys got the start at the slot with Chris Finke moving outside, but McKinley’s physical presence could give him the nod next week against Georgia which would also allow the Irish to move Finke back inside.

“We like his size. We like what he’s done. Look, he would have been playing a long time ago if — if we had the young man playing at a consistent level,” Kelly said.  “He is showing that. He is practicing well. He is doing the right things both on and off the field. You guys don’t want to hear this, but all those traits are starting to show themselves, and he’s preparing himself for a big year for us,” added Kelly.

Following McKinley’s single reception outing against Louisville, I wrote that it made sense to get McKinley on the field more on the outside to allow Chris Finke to work more on the inside where he should excel.  After yesterday, McKinley only further cemented my belief that a lineup of Claypool, McKinley, and Finke gives Notre Dame the best chance to win next weekend in Athens.

While Lawrence Keys has shown lighting like quickness in the slot, he and Finke are not complementary players in the offense – they are much more similar than they are unique.  Both are quick, fast, and athletic – traits that make both perfect options in the slot.  When you move Finke to the outside, however, his size becomes a liability and his ability to get open is short spaces goes out the window.

As a result, Finke has just 59 yards on the season through two games, and 54 of those came on a toss pass that was more of a glorified run than a pass.  Finke should be racking up catches in bunches in this offense.

That is where it looks like Javon McKinley can help this offense.  People forget that McKinley came to Notre Dame as a top-100 player by most recruiting services after dominating a high level of high school football in California.  It has taken a long time for that talent to become evident at Notre Dame, but after Saturday, it is easy to see why he was once a highly sought after recruit.

Two years ago, Greg wrote about McKinley being a sleeping giant for the Notre Dame offense.  It didn’t happen then as McKinley struggled throughout his Irish career with consistency.  Some practices he would dominate, others he would disappear.  That inconsistency kept McKinley off the field other than on special teams.

Of the field issues nearly derailed McKinley’s career earlier this year as well.  McKinley was arrested in the off-season for an incident involving an altercation with police.  Charges, however, could eventually be dropped after McKinley entered a pretrial diversion program.

It appears as though McKinley has put his on and off the field issues behind him and is finally playing the potential that was evident in his high school film.  And the timing could not be any better for Notre Dame.

Next weekend in Georgia, Notre Dame is going to be facing faster, more physical corners.   Lining up McKinley and Claypool on the outside gives Notre Dame two big wide receivers who can make catches when they aren’t necessarily wide open – a luxury they are likely not to have in Athens.   Book is going to have to lob up some passes and trust his receivers can come down with them.  We know Claypool can do that and on Saturday McKinley showed he could as well.

A lot is going to have to go right for Notre Dame next weekend if they hope to escape Athens with another W.  One of those things could be getting the ball in Javon McKinley’s hands more often.  If they do, Brian Kelly won’t have to call himself a moron for the second week in a row.

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  1. I’m sick and tired of hearing how this upcoming game is “test” for Notre Dame. Yes, it is a tough test for ND…But IT IS ALSO a test for Georgia. Yet nobody ever seems to say that…as if they have nothing to prove! Baloney!

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Oh, Georgia has something to prove as well Bruce, even though on paper Georgia is as good as anyone and better than we are. (Doesn’t mean that we can’t win. I hope we do and think we can.)

      Trouble is, neither team will “prove” anything by winning, and both teams will “prove” something by losing. Football fandom is suffering from confirmation bias with both of these teams: whichever team loses proves that it doesn’t belong in the hallowed halls of the elite, while whichever team wins still doesn’t prove that it does.

      1. Agree Bob: This will never change with a four team playoff format. Big games will be play-out games but not play in games until the last regular season game and the conference championships, which should be play-in games and often are.

        BGC ’77 ’82

    1. BBoru – Agreed. The offensive line has to play the kind of game that the great ND O-lines of the past would appreciate. And why not? Why shouldn’t this one be decided in the trenches, like so many other “big on big” games? As Solomon once put it “there is nothing new under the sun”.

      BGC ’77 ’82

  2. Amen, Frank.
    I’ve been wondering for four years why McKinley hasn’t been a key part of the WR rotation. When I asked that quite loudly at the game, a fellow fan scolded me for being “negative”. Playing the guys who give you the best chance to win ( see Miles Boykin for three years b4 his breakout vs. LSU is another example). It makes me wonder who else is being underutilized. But so that I’m not dismissed as being so “negative” again- I saw some very impressive displays of excellence ( I know -it was NM, but still) on both first and second units yesterday that gave me so much more hope post Louisville ( Hamilton, Claypool, Bauer, JOK, Gilman), and the ever-underused best DL ND has, Daelin Hayes, and others. Kudos to Bilal, Elliot, Ade, Ian, and others for showing how much better they are than they showed during game one.

    1. It’s Kelly’s MO…

      Dexter Williams barely saw the field til his senior season even when fully eligible. Wasted talent…

      Hamilton probably needs to be a starter now. Does anyone think that Jalen Elliott is truly better? I get it’s only a couple of games but you can just see it out there.

      Jurkovec plays in only two series and then they bring the 3rd string guy in!? He is going to transfer if Kelly keeps this up. I mean his first throw was MONEY to Lenzy!!

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