That act and ascent to that level remains paramount today as the still rough-and-tumble Stanford Cardinal come to South Bend looking to again bully the Irish up front.
In Wednesday night's media interviews, four out of five offensive linemen agreed (and the fifth had a different interview subject): Stanford's defensive front is the best, toughest, and meanest the Irish have faced to date. Their head coach obviously drove home the point during practice week and he reiterated it Thursday evening.
"It's who we want to be. It's how we want to play the game," said Kelly. "You saw us (against Miami). We ran the ball, we've tried to exert that physical presence, both on the offensive line and the defensive line. It's who we're shaping up to be. So for us to go into a boxing match -- using probably a bad analogy and rope-a-dope -- that's not how I want to play. I want to go in there and slug away. That's the demeanor we want our football team to take shape."
Its taken shape for Stanford, a by-product of the Jim Harbaugh era, one in which current head coach David Shaw served as the Cardinal offensive coordinator.
After consecutive seasons of national Top 10 offense and defensive performances, the calling card is now the Cardinal run defense, ranked sixth nationally and augmented by a physical running game on the other side of scrimmage.
Two years ago and for the entire first half last season, Notre Dame failed to meet the physical and mental challenge. Kelly doesn't believe that will be an issue Saturday.
"I think we'll be able to go in there and play the kind of game we want to play. We've exhibited the kind of signs that would lead me to believe that we can play that kind of football.
"I think anytime you can go and show how you're going to play the game, I think that sends a message. But they know ultimately that they can't win this playing a finesse game. They've got to win it by beating them at what they do well."
As Kelly noted earlier, "No excuses. Go play the game."
Trusted AllyMedia attention on first-time offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has bee minimal since the season began. In part due to Kelly's status as the team's play-caller as well as the reality of a 5-0 mark and intermittent offensive success. For Kelly, the promotion and pairing has been ideal to date.
"He's huge in the offense. He's got a leadership position within the program, in particular, as the coordinator," said Kelly. "He sets a tone at practice, one which allows me to take a step back and spend more time on some of the details of the entire offense. We're both on the same page as to what we want to accomplish, and he's running the offense and it's nomenclature and it's language that is really easy for me to hear.
"I can't (emphasize enough) how important it is to have somebody that knows your offense and can speak the same language on a day-to-day basis. So he's a huge piece in terms of what's going on, and as we continue to identify our strengths and who we are offensively, we're only going to get better."
That offense has thrived due in part to a three-headed monster at running back. The most consistently active member of that group, senior Theo Riddick, is on the mend heading into Game Six.
"He had a good week; had a little bit of an elbow strain. He's been in treatment," said Kelly of his senior who leads the team in rushing attempts and pass targets this fall. "He ran extremely well all week, didn't take any reps off. We've got three guys that we're trying to get that balance (Riddick, Cierre Wood, George Atkinson). We struck it a little better last week, but it's something that we're constantly keeping an eye on and keeping those guys fresh and attacking defenses with three really good runners. We all know Cam (McDaniel) is a very good running back, but we just don't have enough footballs for them."
To date, Atkinson leads the team in yards (269), yards per rush (an obscene 9.3), and big gains (TD runs of 56 and 55, other gains of 32 and 31). Wood has the most yards since his return from a two-game suspension, gaining 213 rushing with two scores vs. Michigan State, Michigan and Miami, and McDaniel in fans gained thanks to tremendous late-game efforts vs. Navy (9 carries, 59 yards; 1 reception 20 yards) and Miami in which he carried 11 consecutive snaps for 55 yards and his first career touchdown.
Said Kelly Tuesday of McDaniel, "Cam is one heck of a good running back. He runs it as effectively as any of those three. He's used to the zone, inside-outside zone. He came from that offense (in high school). He came from the shotgun offense and he runs the ball exceedingly well. We have no hesitation of putting him in the game. We only have one football, that's the problem."
Personnel NotesKelly offered that true freshman Jarron Jones hasn't be completely relegated to scout team status as the team's seventh true defensive lineman.
"We're keeping him alive. He's taken some reps with the defense. (Defensive line) Coach (Mike) Elston works with him in pre-practice," said Kelly. "We'd prefer that he studies this year and works on those things. But certainly if we do come up with some injuries, we feel like he's capable to come in and contribute and help our football team."
Among players medically cleared, Jones, Gunner Kiel (QB), Will Mahone (RB), Mark Harrell (OL), C.J. Prosise (S), John Turner (S), and Scott Daly (LS) are the only freshmen not to see action this fall.
Sophomore (redshirt-freshman) Anthony Rabasa, junior WR Luke Massa, and senior DL Tyler Stockton the only non-freshmen. Massa tore his ACL in late March but is listed as a backup holder on the depth chart.
Rabasa continues to be listed as a third-string Cat linebacker but has not seen action from scrimmage nor on special teams. Stockton hasn't played since midway through the 2010 season.
Senior tight end Jake Golic made his 2012 debut Saturday night in Soldier Field, throwing a key block on McDaniel's end-game score.