It's (been) as easy as 1-2-3One notable depth chart change Saturday involves part of the 2010 squad's non-scholarship trio of perfection: short-snapper Bill Flavin, holder Ryan Kavanagh and kicker David Ruffer have teamed to connect on 18 of 18 field goal attempts this season.
Flavin is lost for the season (ankle) but head coach Brian Kelly has enough to keep him occupied without fretting too much over Flavin's backup - 2009 short-snapper and this season's starting center, Braxston Cave.
"Not bad," Kelly said of Cave's snapping efforts this week. "He's gotten a lot of work on it.
"As you know in the spring, he was pretty much the guy for us. He's gotten a lot of experience. He should be able to handle the duties because he shotgun snaps so much. I don't think its something that's high on our list of concerns; there are a couple of other things a little bit higher."
Arguably more important than the head coach's faith in Cave is that of the man executing the third and most difficult leg of the snap/hold/kick routine, Lou Groza Award semi-finalist David Ruffer.
"He's good. Braxston's worked on it all season. It's just that Flavin was good and it gave Braxston a little bit of a rest," Ruffer noted of Flavin's August ascension to the role. "This summer when I was here (Cave) was working with Ryan and I. He's basically the same as Bill."
With Ruffer one of three Irish players available to the media following Wednesday's practice, the line of questioning for the perfect field goal kicker predictably turned to the end of Notre Dame's most recent loss.
"Obviously I wanted to kick it," Ruffer said of the potentially game-winning 36-yard field goal forsaken for an extra end zone shot downfield. "If you're trying to get me to second-guess the coach, you're barking up the wrong tree. He (Brian Kelly) was trying to win the game, I stand behind him 100 percent."
Ruffer noted that his visible display of anger following the Golden Hurricane's game-ending interception was due to the resulting loss, not the lost opportunity to attempt a game-winning kick.
"It was because we lost. That (stunk) more than anything else."
The non-scholarship senior ranks among two handfuls of Irish seniors that could apply for a 5th-year of eligibility at season's end. Unlike classmates Harrison Smith (Wednesday) and Gary Gray (two weeks prior), Ruffer has yet to indicate that he'll apply for one more season of college football…and classes.
"I'm going to treat (Saturday) like it's my last game in the Stadium," Ruffer said of the impending Senior Day festivities. "There's a time and a place (for a decision). I'll have a talk with Coach Kelly about next year whether I'm going to be home in Virginia working somewhere or back here playing football."
When pressed, Ruffer noted he has not given a thought to a potential NFL future.
"We still have three games left and hopefully a bowl game ahead of that," Ruffer noted of his immediate concerns. "And if the cards fall into place and I come back next year, hopefully 13 more games with the Irish. Any sort of career in the NFL is a year-and-a-half or two years into the future."
As noted above, senior safety Harrison Smith plans to return, telling the media Tuesday that "It (Saturday's game) is not the last one for me. I have a fifth-year. So that question doesn't apply to me."
Rees between the linesFreshman backup Tommy Rees performed well in his third career appearance, setting a program record for freshman signal callers with four touchdown passes vs. the Golden Hurricane. Rees' first four career touchdown passes have been statistically offset by four career interceptions (three vs. Tulsa; one vs. Michigan).
Head coach Brian Kelly is cautiously optimistic regarding Rees' immediate future.
"We have to manage some things out here. He's a true freshman," Kelly noted. "But I would say I'll have a better answer (regarding Rees' increased role in the offense) after Saturday, and you can ask me in the press conference."
Kelly switched gears quickly when speaking of Rees' strengths as a college football neophyte.
"I enjoy coaching Tommy. I don't consider him a high rep guy, though I didn't consider that to be the case with Dayne (Crist)," Kelly offered. "But it's nice to coach a kid who gets it and we can move to the next, to the next and to the next thing.
"(Rees) has a really good, innate ability and grasp of the concepts we're laying out when we talk about sideline to sideline – 53'1/3 x 120 (the dimensions of a football field) – and he can see the big picture.
"It makes communication a lot easier. He clearly understands, and it's part of his background. He's a kid that's been around the game all his life – he's a gym rat." Kelly added that former starter Dayne Crist was not necessarily his point of comparison.
"I don't want to cast a picture that somebody wasn't and (Rees) is, but he really has a good grasp of the conversation when it comes to the spread."
Wood's impressionPrior to the start of the 2010 season, you'd have been hard pressed to find an Irish fan not excited about the potential of redshirt-freshman Cierre Wood. As noted on these pages, no former freshman redshirt has ever progressed enough to lead a future Irish team in rushing yards (at any point in his college career).
Cierre Wood enters Saturday's contest 340 yards behind injured senior Armando Allen for the team lead. He'd likely need a fourth game (Bowl appearance) to surpass Allen in 2010, but he is, nevertheless, the team's odds on favorite to win the starting job entering the 2011 season.
Kelly has enjoyed his first season coaching the precocious, outspoken runner.
"As a coach, you relish the opportunities to see kids grow up, and he's doing that every single day," Kelly said of the first-year contributor.
"Some days I want to get after him and other days I want to put my arm around him. That's Cierre. He's growing up. I thought (Tuesday) he had as close to a perfect a practice that I could imagine for him."
We need him. We lost a very good back in Armando," Kelly continued. "(Wood) is a guy that has got to continue to develop in the spread. He really was a downhill back who lined up in the I-formation and hit that thing and had great second level speed.
"Now he's got to hit it a little bit more east and west, and pick it and stick his foot in the ground, and hit it. That's coming. I really see good progress, and it's really enjoyable to coach him."
Wood's 40-yard touchdown burst vs. Western Michigan is the longest rush of the 2010 season to date and the longest touchdown run by any Irish ‘back since Ryan Grant's 46-yard burst at Stanford at the end of the 2003 season. Wood has 46 touches from scrimmage totaling 292 yards and two rushing scores over his last three outings as the team's primary tailback (though he split time with Allen vs. Navy).
In the Week Nine loss to Tulsa, Wood became the first Notre Dame ‘back to catch two touchdown passes in the same game since Tony Fisher did the same vs. West Virginia in 2000. He's the only active Irish running back to score a touchdown this season (2 rushing/2 receiving).