For the Irish, it's Game 5 and a shot at climbing above .500 for the first time since the season's opening kickoff. For Purdue, it's apparently much more.
"This is their Super Bowl; this is the biggest game on their schedule by far," Kelly said in perhaps an overstatement regarding a Boilers squad that must face a Top 5 Wisconsin team in November. "There's no question about it. We're going to get everybody's best shot."
Kelly however added that the proverbial "best shot" isn't what decides a 60-minute contest.
"I think that what we're saying is, when we play a team, we're going to have to win the game because they're not going to give it to you…you've got to go win the game. You can't wait for them to give it away to you because this is a game that they circle on the calendar," he added.
Purdue has offered Notre Dame its best shot more often than not in Ross-Ade Stadium, taking the Irish to the wire in 2009; winning handily in 2003 and 2007; and offering a seismic upset of Bob Davie's first team in 1997, that following an 11-year run of dominance at the hands of Lou Holtz.
The Boilers added a classic win vs. the like-talented Irish in 1999, earning the victory after a Drew Brees touchdown dive and subsequent clock snafu by Notre Dame at the Purdue goal line ended the contest.
Aware that Purdue will be at its peak after two weeks of preparation (and a warm-up battle vs. FCS school Southeast Missouri prior), part of Kelly's preparation plan this week was a crisp, 90-minute, physical practice session on Wednesday (Thursday will never include heavy contact).
"We need to make sure on our end that we take care of our players and don't do too much," Kelly offered, adding "Because there's so many things we could work on. We could be out there three hours. We're 90 minutes in practice right now. Some coaches would want to be there for two-and-a-half to three, but you lose that (crispness) on Saturday."
Saturdays are of course the end game; the end result of victory or defeat all that matters and one that ultimately erases a good or bad week of practice – certainly for fans, and in the final determination, for coaches as well.
Is it possible for Kelly to keep his Irish at an emotional peak on 12 consecutive Saturdays?
"I try to keep them away from being emotional and (have it be) more about loving to play and playing with enthusiasm," Kelly said. "I think emotion, as you know it can come up and come down, but if you really love what you're doing and you love to play…that's why in recruiting I want guys that love to play whether there's 81,000 in that stadium or if nobody showed up.
"Would you still love to play?" he continued rhetorically. "I think if you work on emotion as being the watch word, I think you're up for some rocky times. I really look for enthusiasm. So keep ‘em fresh, keep ‘em excited; and I think that carries the day."
A valuable 20-minute breakKelly's Irish have been outscored in the fourth quarter this season, though the 38-31 deficit is skewed a tad by Michigan's 28-point explosion (then again, it resulted in defeat, so maybe its not skewed at all).
But Notre Dame's defense, whether faced with a deficit (USF), big lead (UM), or tight contest (MSU and Pitt) has held the fort immediately following the halftime break, allowing just six total points in the 3rd Quarter this season.
"That's what we're trying to build here. We knew that our success was going to be linked toward building a defensive philosophy and a mentality and a way we play," Kelly said of the team's 21-6 3rd Quarter advantage this season. "I've looked at 15 years of recruiting at Notre Dame: the skill players will find their way here; we're going to get them.
"We have to continue to develop our defense. We're building a mentality and a confidence level that needs to continue to grow."
Notre Dame outscored its foes last season in the 3rd Quarter, 89-55 over the 13-game season.
On replacing a QB, valuable versatility, and Theo…You likely thought about. I know I did. But Brian Kelly, did not. Despite his well-publicized struggles through three quarters Saturday in Heinz Field, quarterback Tommy Rees' playing status was apparently never in jeopardy.
"No. No, I did not," Kelly answered when asked directly if he considered removing Rees in favor of any quarterback. "That's generally a feel, too, that I have; I didn't feel that at all.
"There's more to it than just playing the game. I know winning is the most important thing, but there are other things going on that you don't see that I see and hear on the sideline. That never became a question in my mind."
Safe from a game-day benching for the foreseeable future is senior free safety Jamoris Slaughter. Though the previously oft-injured athlete ranks at the bottom end of most statistical categories through four games (9 tackles, no big plays) Kelly offered that Slaughter's overall game is at a high level.
"Jamoris is playing really well; really well. He's made that a very interesting situation relative to reps," Kelly noted in reference to the job-share with fellow free safety Zeke Motta. "They both have to play, but Jamoris, he's on a hot streak right now."
Part of Slaughter's duties involves cornerback action, often against the opposing slot receiver, in the team's nickel defense. "He played corner on (Robert) Blanton's interception against Michigan State…now, I don't know if he was supposed to play corner," Kelly joked, referencing the defense's mad scramble before that game-defining snap. "But I think we're on the page, he's got great versatility."
Note there yet: Versatility was purportedly a key strength for junior slot receiver Theo Riddick entering this season, but the would-be punt returner/kick returner/receiver/runner/Wildcat QB has seen his job description pared back drastically since the season opener.
Riddick appeared set to debut in the backfield on a 3rd Quarter snap vs. Pittsburgh Saturday, but a timeout (by the Irish) resulted in a formation/play change. He finished with six receptions including a key 17-yarder among his three grabs on the go-ahead drive late, but Riddick has yet to carry the ball from scrimmage, nor has he returned a punt since Week One or a kick-off since Week Two.
"He's still in that curve; still peaking. He still hasn't arrived yet," Kelly said of Riddick who converted to the slot position upon the coach's arrival in 2010. "I like the way he practices and (he's) overcome a lot moving to that position. I think he's ahead of schedule in the sense that he's picked up the offense.
"He doesn't have a lot of (missed assignments). He doesn't have a lot of mistakes out there. It's consistency in catching the ball. And since that first weekend, he's been really good."
Asked if Riddick could re-appear in the punt return game, Kelly offered, "Yes…we're working through some of those things right now."