Kelly, Irish prepare for re-tooled Bell-Dozer

Kelly discusses new Oklahoma starting quarterback Blake Bell, Notre Dame's penchant for winning close and late, last year's defensive success as a blueprint for this week vs. the Sooners, and a sea of green.

Home underdogs for the third time during his Notre Dame tenure, Irish head coach Brian Kelly welcomes Oklahoma to South Bend Saturday, the back-end of a two-year home-and-home series that kicked off last October with a seismic Irish upset.

Notre Dame's 30-13 victory over the Sooners, prohibitive favorites (12.5 points) entering the contest, launched the Irish from national curiosity to contender status late last season. One month and four games later, Kelly's undefeated squad sat atop the polls, earning a spot in the BCS National Championship game.

According to Kelly, that landmark victory earned last season in Norman will serve his current Irish well Saturday in South Bend.

"I think our guys know exactly what they have to do, playing them before, watching them on film, knowing the tradition and history," said Kelly. "There's a feeling around the room that everybody's attention is on Oklahoma. They know what to expect and they know what Oklahoma is bringing to guys' attention."

His team's decisive upset win 11 months ago was keyed by a defense that surrendered just 15 net rushing yards while limiting a 52-pass effort to just three gains in excess of 19 yards, one in garbage time.

"I thought we played very well, yeah," said Kelly when asked if last year's win was his best-played at Notre Dame. "I thought defensively our game plan was to keep the ball in front of us, minimize the big plays. I think that's going to have to be the case again. Offensively we were able to find a way to run the ball into a very difficult box look and eke out a couple of big plays. I think you're going to have to see a similar kind of effort. It's going to have to be our best game of the year in all phases, including special teams."

Irish Will Take Close and Late

Seven straight and 10 of the last 11.

Kelly's success in games played *close and late (technically those decided by a touchdown or less) has keyed the program's recent run of 15 wins in its last 17 contests, including two already this season.

(*Including Michigan 2013, and both USC and Oklahoma 2012, all games that included a one-score deficit midway through the final quarter, Kelly's Irish have won 12 of their last 14 competitive contests.)

And though the sky has sunk to a new low in the eyes of many Irish followers of late, it's logical to assume Saturday's tussle between the sport's blue bloods will come down to the final quarter as well.

"When we first got here I don't believe that we were able to win some of those games," Kelly said. "We're four years into our program. Our kids believe that if they prepare the right way and they take care of the things that they're supposed to do that they have a belief. 

"Look, it's the will to prepare and it's the belief that they can win, you carry those with you. (But) you still have to perform. We didn't perform late against Michigan; we lost the football game. Even though we prepared and we believed you can win, you still have to perform. I know our guys have confidence that they can win each and every game they play, but they also know that they have to make plays."

Green…but Blue and Gold

Social media announcements urging Irish fans to wear green Saturday sparked conversation that the Irish might follow suit on the field for the first time at home in the Kelly era.

Rest assured traditionalists and those of the superstitious ilk, your Irish will take the field in the House that Rockne Built clad in their standard blue and gold.

"We will not be wearing green jerseys, but the Leprechaun Legion and the Kelly Cares Foundation will be giving out upwards of 40,000 pompons. It's a green-out officially this weekend for Oklahoma."

Notre Dame has won 10 straight in South Bend for the first time since the beginning of the Bob Davie era, 1997 into early 1999 when Michigan State registered and then head coach Nick Saban recorded a 23-13 victory as six-point underdogs. The Irish got back on track one game later with a 34-30 home win over then rookie Sooners head man, Bob Stoops.

No, that's not Troy Niklas under center…

At 6'6" 251 pounds, Oklahoma senior quarterback Blake Bell casts an imposing presence behind center. Bell last season was the first player to score a rushing touchdown vs. Kelly's Irish. He's notched 24 in total on just 118 career carries.

Through three games this fall, albeit vs. inferior competition, Bell has added the forward pass to his arsenal. Included is a 413-yard, four-touchdown performance vs. Tulsa in his debut start, a 51-20 Sooners victory.

"He threw it to really fast receivers, he's got an outstanding receiving corps," said Kelly when asked about Bell's progress as a passer. "He's got a nice touch on the ball, a good presence about him.  He looked like a thrower, not a runner. I know he's a big, physical strong kid, and I think he was used last year more in the goal line offense. He's much more than a goal line offense quarterback. He's a skilled passer of the football, and I think he maybe got a reputation that is not really fitting of who he is."

Stoops chose Bell to lead his Sooners vs. the Irish after the latter replaced injured starter Trevor Knight and then proceeded to dominate the Golden Hurricanes.

"Calm, cool and precise," Stoops said of his expectations for Bell. "I expect him to run the offense. Let everybody else be nervous and all excited. You just be calm about it."

Asked how Bell best stresses a defenses, Kelly offered, "The biggest challenge is (he has) runs and passes built into the same play. That's where it really becomes a challenge, because the kid can throw the football. I think that's being overlooked, is that he throws the ball very well.  I think we see him more as a passing threat.  He can certainly run it, but he's a passing threat."


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