Avoid the Noise

Brian Kelly hopes the South Bend crowd will be in fervor for the program's first prime time kickoff in 21 seasons. Still, the message to his squad this week will be to stay on task despite the myriad distractions leading up to Saturday night's battle with USC.

A 7:30 kickoff. Green Jerseys (the worst kept secret in South Bend). 4-2 Notre Dame vs. 5-1 USC, a program that hasn't lost in South Bend since Bob Davie and Carlyle Holiday beat Pete Carroll and Carson Palmer in 2001 (not a Twilight Zone episode, that happened).

Pomp and circumstance…a night to remember…an alumni base frothing at the mouth…business as usual?

"I think we all know about the great games that have been played in the past," Kelly said Tuesday of the ND/SC rivalry. "For us, it was breaking through last year and getting a win at USC. I know that they're certainly (hoping) to even that score.

"So it's just going to be a great college football game. It's what you all expect when Notre Dame plays USC. There will be a lot of noise, a lot of hype, and our players just need to focus on what they've done well over the past month or so, and that's playing good football."

The latter point belies what will be the best game atmosphere in South Bend since the #1 ranked Trojans – mythical creatures by comparison to these probation-riddled Kiffin-ites – escaped the House that Rockne Built thanks to a well-timed shove by one Heisman Trophy winner to another.

For the present-day Irish, a team with no margin for error after an early September thud, every game is of equal importance in the long run.

"For us…we want to get into a BCS game. We know what we have to do, and that is we've got to win each and every game we play," Kelly said of the unique quality of this rivalry game. "So every game for us, since going 0-2 has been that way. It's been the same focus for us.

"It's a huge game for us against USC; there is no question about the tradition and the rivalry," he added. "But if we beat USC and don't beat Navy (on October 29), it doesn't mean much. So that is the perspective we take."

Eight was enough

Notre Dame's 20-16 victory over the Trojans last Thanksgiving Saturday ended USC's eight-game reign of terror. Did that singular win change the Irish approach to the longtime rivalry?

"There is a lot more of a sense that we've accomplished something by getting that off the books," Kelly admitted. "Because that builds itself up bigger than it really is when you haven't won. It doesn't make for a great rivalry if you haven't won any games.

"But I didn't notice any perceived changes in our players and the way they handled themselves after the victory. I think it's just been more of let's get this rivalry back to being a rivalry."

The rivalry is one of streaks (more on that later this week), with USC's 8-game streak not even the longest in recent history. Notre Dame won 11 straight and didn't lose to the Trojans (tying once) between 1983 and 1995. Thereafter, both programs won three consecutive prior to USC's 8-game stretch in the Pete Carroll era.

"I think good road wins are some of the things that you have to check off," said Kelly when asked if "snapping the streak" was foremost in his mind upon hire. "You've got to be mature as a football team to win games on the road in the FBS. I think that's more of a ‘check.'

"I think personally it probable meant more to our outgoing seniors last year more than anything else," he continued. "It's really not much relative to this football team in 2011 other than the fact that they know that this is truly a rivalry when you win some games."

The rivalry has been acknowledged. From this point forward, Kelly's focus is on the task at hand.

"The guys know USC-Notre Dame is not a game you need to hype with your players," he offered. "So my feelings are that it's a rivalry because of its tradition and its history. I don't make too much of it. We don't sit here and pontificate about the great games that have been played between USC and Notre Dame. They know those things.

"My job is to prepare our football team to play well on that one Saturday."

Personnel Notes

Two key Irish defenders were withheld from action during Notre Dame's two-practice bye week: senior defensive end Ethan Johnson, who missed the Air Force contest with a high-ankle sprain, and junior linebacker Manti Te'o, who sprained his ankle to a lesser degree three days before the contest but led the team in tackles nonetheless.

"All cleared to play," Kelly said of the pair. "Manti probably feels as good as he's felt in a few weeks. The rest certainly helped him. (He) played very well against Air Force on an ankle that was less than a hundred percent. So the rest really helped him a lot. He was able to practice yesterday.

"Ethan played a little bit in our 11-on-11 series yesterday, which is (first string vs. first string). He's not at a point where he can play every snap yet, but he's certainly going to be able to do something for us on Saturday."

Freshman Aaron Lynch will again start in Johnson's place if the latter is unable.

Also back in the fold is sophomore wide receiver Daniel Smith. The South Bend product missed the spring with a hamstring injury and August/September with an undisclosed leg injury.

"Danny Smith is back with us full go," Kelly said of his mid-season special teams addition last fall. "He was (USC receiver) Marqise Lee yesterday on the demo squad. A Big, tall, athletic kid, so he certainly helped us out yesterday. All three of those guys are back with us."

Smith has not yet played this season and would be eligible for a medical redshirt as a true sophomore should he not see the field. He earned a monogram last season covering kicks for the final seven games, registering a fumble recovery that led to a touchdown vs. Utah in a Game 10 upset in South Bend.

Note: Our next ND/SC feature, "Bring the Noise" will examine the often temperate atmosphere of Notre Dame Stadium.

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