Kelly Expects Terp's Best

Irish head coach sees talent, proof of offensive production in this week's struggling foe.

You and I see 2-7. Brian Kelly sees a team with skill position talent that put 45 points on Clemson and 31 on West Virginia respectively.

You and I see the nation's 116th-ranked rush defense. Kelly sees a group that held Georgia Tech, the nation's No. 2 rushing offense, to 21 points.

You and I saw those three games as three more Maryland losses in a string of seven defeats over eight games. Kelly? He saw all the little things on the coach's film that turned potential Terrapins wins into frustrating defeats for embattled first-year head coach, Randy Edsall.

So while fans and media try to predict if Notre Dame can win by more than the 20.5 allotted points odds makers from Vegas gave the Terrapins in Saturday's contest, Kelly will deal with a more bottom-line reality.

"They're playing Notre Dame," Kelly stated flatly when asked about facing a squad that's collected half of its wins (1) vs. FCS (Division II) competition.

"Teams are going to play their very best. Maryland will play their very best against us, as has every team we've gone against; they've played their absolute best game of the year," Kelly offered, adding "Maybe you don't get that, but I get that from the coaches after the game."

Saturday's game is unique in that the Irish – wearing "home" green jerseys at the technically neutral sit of FedEx Field in Landover, MD – are playing the visitors in their own backyard.

"I think we saw last week you've got to really play well when you go on the road," Kelly said in reference to the seven-point comeback win at Wake Forest. "Other than the last couple of minutes of the Michigan game we've been very good on the road over the last year and a half, and we're going to expect the same because we're going to need it."

"I can tell you this from watching film and studying them offensively," he continued of Maryland. "They can put some points on the board. Look at the West Virginia game (37-31 loss), the Miami game (a 32-24 Maryland victory to start the season) the Clemson game (a 56-45 defeat to the then undefeated Tigers in mid-October). They have skilled players; two quarterbacks that can do a lot of great things for them, throwing it and running it, and defensively they've got some athletes."

Kelly is likewise familiar with Edsall – so too should be Irish fans as the former's Connecticut Huskies squad exited Notre Dame Stadium on Senior Day 2009 with an overtime win vs. the Irish. Connecticut ran for 238 yards that afternoon.

"It's the first year for Randy Edsall; I know Randy Edsall," Kelly said. "He's a darned good football coach, and he'll have the memories of coming in here to Notre Dame and beating Notre Dame and playing physical. That's what his teams will do."

Maryland's at its best offensively running the football (57th nationally at 162 yards per game). Notre Dame is just 12 spots higher on the deceptive list (Purdue ranks ahead of Notre Dame) as the Irish average nearly a yard more per carry than does Maryland (and Purdue).

(Back) Outside the lines

Kelly was asked Tuesday how he feels about a neutral site game in the opponent's backyard. He reiterated that its part of the program at Notre Dame, and he'll show up wherever asked for a football game.

"They make the decisions and they tell me what bus to get on; I have a card that tells me what seat to sit in, and I show up," Kelly joked. "We're excited. Listen, playing on the East Coast, part of our recruiting, it's a great area to recruit, get great exposure on NBC in primetime. We're really happy about those things, but we're treating it as though we're going to play Maryland in Maryland."

(Both of Maryland's wins – Miami and Towson – occurred in-state. The Terrapins lost on Senior Day last week to Virginia, 31-13 to conclude their home slate at 2-5.)

Part of the festivities Saturday night will be oft-referenced uniform and helmet changes for the Irish (and the Terrapins). A healthy portion of Irish fans have rejected the notion that the unranked Irish should concern themselves with such fashion statements, nor should they placate recruits who might like the stylized look better than the staid, traditional uniforms the Irish generally don.

"Look, the only people I care about relative to the uniforms are the 105 guys that were in this room when we showed it to them, and they were excited," Kelly stated. "All due respect to everybody else that has an opinion, I really don't care about theirs, I care about what my players think, and our players love it.

"We're going to stay with those kinds of things that still fall within our color schemes and our logo-ing, and kids like that stuff. So if our kids like it, then I can tell you I'm certain that the recruits like it, as well. And that's really the only people that measure for me relative to who likes them and who doesn't like them."

While Kelly didn't admit to veto power, he did indicate that the changing looks are player-driven.

"I would tell you this: If they didn't like what we showed them, I would not even touch the topic again," he said of his players' outlook. "But they're the ones that generate this. The players come to me, they see what other teams are doing and what other programs have, and they bring it to them, and I shoot it up the flagpole and see if anybody likes it and then go from there."

Big Men on Campus

Notre Dame's roster featured a healthy number of tandems crucial to its success this season. Running backs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray, cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton, and offensive tackles Zack Martin and Taylor Dever. Each pair plays a position at which the Irish are otherwise not especially blessed with veteran depth.

Fortunate for Kelly and his staff, the only top tandem to endure major injuries this fall was his senior bookends Ethan Johnson (expected to return) and Kapron Lewis-Moore (out for the season). Their backups have played well in their stead, an eventuality Kelly prepared for upon his arrival in December 2009.

"It was number one. It started with the defensive line," Kelly said of his efforts to build depth at the program. "We're not done. Our second phase in recruiting is what we're in right now and that's the secondary.

"You look at Wake Forest, for example: that was a deep and talented group of young men, not that we don't have some nice players; we do, but we're nowhere near Wake Forest in terms of depth in the back end of our defense. That will be the next point of emphasis in terms of developing our defensive backfield," he added.

"And so that's the next stage in developing a great defense; you start up front and control the line of scrimmage. Now the next challenge for us is teams aren't going to run the ball against us," Kelly offered. "They're going to see that we need to get the ball out on the perimeter. We need to challenge their secondary, and that's where we have to continue to build and deepen our football team on the defensive side of the ball."

The freshmen defensive end pair of Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt has yielded immediate dividends. It was expected by Irish recruiting mavens and considered early by the Notre Dame staff.

"That's why you take four flights and you wait in the airport for a flight into South Bend that's been canceled six times," Kelly said of the team's recruiting efforts last season. "That's the work that our guys have put in, because we knew the importance of putting our football program in the position we need to move forward – developing that depth on the defensive line. That was job one."

Mission accomplished.


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