One trip stands out

Kelly's Irish experience heightened elevation...and awareness during Bowl Week.

Bowling, hypnotists, even weight-free practice (more on that below)…there've been plenty of distractions for the Irish and Hurricanes this week. But with the game now less than 24 hours away, both Brian Kelly and Jeff Stoutland have entered the business faze of Bowl Week.

Man vs. human nature

One team peaked while the other stumbled to the regular season's conclusion. But none of that matters now for two programs ready to tee it up after a 20-year, and 30-day, lay-off.

"It's been a great week with plenty of things to do," Kelly said. "I know Coach Stoutland probably feels the same I do, that we're excited to be within 24 hours of playing a game. It's a great atmosphere, but now we're thinking about the competition. We're thinking about Miami vs. Notre Dame and putting on a classic.

The Sun Bowl wasn't the pre-season goal either squad, but the chance to face an opponent and program of such high caliber will certainly suffice.

"This has been one (Miami) that gets your attention; now being excited and execution and following through…that's why there's anxiety as a coach going into a ballgame with such a layoff. But their battery is fully charged, let's put it that way."

Neither team has played since November 27, Thanksgiving Saturday.

"It's interesting because (due to the layoff), in some instances, this game becomes an opener again. There are (similar) feelings as a coach that there are some unexpected things that are going to be realized in a game.

"But the tenets of winning football games don't change that much: you can't turn it over; you have to be able to run the football and defend it. For us it's going to be trying to do the things we did in November."

Miami, conversely, would like to forget November. Notre Dame turned the month into a defensive showcase en route to a 3-0 finish – back from the depths of a 4-5 start.

The Hurricanes lost their last two games and a head coach.

Interim leader Jeff Stoutland (who'll be retained as the team's OL coach) used the extra time to fix glaring issues he saw with his offense.

"(The layoff) gives you time to correct or improve in an area. For us it was (committing) turnovers and one of my pet-peeves: pre-snap penalties," Stoutland said. "So we targeted that a bit in our practice opportunities.

As for any surprises he or the Irish might have for Friday?

"When you have a little more time to plan – for instance during the season you have things in your back pocket you might not use – so you go over what you didn't show those but practiced (those plays).

"(And ask) Is it applicable to this game? Those are some things you look at."

Man vs. Mother Nature

The Christmas Holiday offered the Irish a respite from the football field. That necessary break was possible because it was preceded by three days of heavy practice (December 20-22) and when practice resumed in El Paso, Kelly immediately noticed something was amiss.

"I thought we were a bit lethargic in our first practice but I didn't know what the elevation level was here (3,800 feet)," Kelly said. "When I realized, I felt much better, and the (team's) energy level picked up in our next practice. We had a very good day (Wednesday). I think we're back to the point where everybody feels better with their three days of practice here."

That change in elevation elicited a change in preparation as well.

"We changed our strength and conditioning in that we did not move any weights this week," Kelly said. "It was the first time all year that we did not (lift) weights. We did some more cardiovascular work; some rope work and ballistic movement work. And we felt our team moved around and handled the elements better."

12 months of conditioning and ample evidence that a new and improved strength and conditioning program has taken root will be put to the test one last time in 2010.

More than the game

While leisure activities are part of the reward of a bowl game, Kelly noted that one trip – one privilege – stood well above the rest since the team arrived in El Paso on the 26th.

"Oh without question the experience at Fort Bliss," Kelly said of the teams' Tuesday trip to the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery School located approximately 45 miles northeast of El Paso.

"The interaction our players had with the armed forces was invaluable for them and it just gives you insight into how fortunate we are to have those young men and women protecting us. And they got a dose of reality when they saw weapons simulation and the armor and what goes into defending our country.

"That is by far the most important thing we've done all week." Top Stories