Kelly, Irish ready for their rival

Notre Dame has plenty of rivals on the gridiron. For head coach Brian Kelly and his current crop of players, one stands above the rest, and they're headed for South Bend this weekend.

Notre Dame's head coach caused a bit of an internet dust-up earlier this season when he downplayed the historical significance of the program's rivalry with Michigan.

This week, no history lesson, fine print, or re-definition is necessary. Because while Navy and Purdue rank among Notre Dame's most common continuous opponents, and while the aforementioned Wolverines as well as state neighbors Michigan State and occasional interloper Boston College come replete with ample disdain, and the Miami Hurricanes doubtless elicited the strongest feelings of fan-fueled hate, there's no debate regarding the program's true rival.

The Men of Troy. A team that, incidentally hasn't lost in South Bend since 2001 and hasn't lost a non-conference road game, anywhere, *since 2002.

"I did not know that, so I wasn't aware of the history of that," said Kelly of USC's five-game winning streak in the House that Rockne Built. "Really, what we've talked about as a team is to relay our present goals (and) our goals are pretty clear: We want to win every game that we play the rest of the season, and wherever that takes us, at the end of the season, we'll be excited about that.

"We want to beat USC, and those really are our goals, and we haven't really talked about anything else relative to how that affects how we prepare."

(*The Trojans last non-conference road loss came at #6 Kansas State in September 2002. USC won 46 of its next 48 games played thereafter.)

USC will play the 85th rendition of the rivalry with an interim head coach following the unceremonious firing of Lane Kiffin, just hours after a 62-41 loss to Arizona State on September 28.

"Coach (Ed) Orgeron has been around, he's a veteran college football coach," said Kelly of the long-time USC assistant and ex-head man at Ole Miss. "He's not going to go in there and scuttle the offense and defense and special teams. His personality is coming out in this football team; he knows all of his players. There's an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator for a reason. There'll be some slight variations, and we'll have to be prepared for that."

Kelly admitted he took a moment during the team's bye week to discuss one aspect of the program's history.

"We talked a little bit of history. We talked about the first six weeks, it was a tough six weeks," said Kelly of his 4-2, unranked Irish. "We had some ups, and we had some downs, but we're in a pretty good place right now. Our guys, their minds are clear and focused. We're feeling pretty good about ourselves and our preparation, and we're really focused on playing well Saturday against USC."

Avoid the Noise

Kelly has won two of three vs. USC but the loss occurred in a situation similar to Saturday's. On October 22, 2011, 4-2 Notre Dame welcomed an underdog USC squad -- and nearly 50 official and unofficial visiting high school prospects for the weekend.

Adding to the distraction of the evening was a prime time kick-off, the first since 1990 at the Stadium, ridiculously shiny new gold helmets, and another first -- piped-in music in addition to the traditional band of the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame treated the weekend as an extravaganza and celebration of all things Irish -- USC treated it like football game, and the Trojans hammered their hosts from the outset, winning wire-to-wire and eventually 31-17.

Kelly said outside distractions, including added pressure on the recruiting trail, will play no role this time, that despite the presence of 25-plus visitors.

"We have a great recruiting office, and they'll handle the lion's share of all that work. They'll take care of a lot of that. Our phone calls have been made. A lot of it has been done. We'll spend some of the time with the guys because we've got a long day, so it it gives us  we can carve out an hour with them or so," he noted.

"But 90 percent of our focus will be on the game. We won't be distracted from the recruiting process. We've got a recruiting office that will take care of a lot of that.

"As I told our guys, this is pretty simple, right? The atmosphere, the game, the people around will take care of the environment. And then just win the damn game. Win the game. That's what you need to do.

"So be cordial. If you can say hi to a recruit, if you can shake their hands, make sure you do a good job. High touch, customer service, let's do all those things and do a great job with it, show them a great time, be as gracious as we can with our time.

"But they (prospects) understand. They're football players. They want their coaches to be focused on the game and win the game. That's the best way I could put it to our coaches. We met with them the other day about the weekend.

"Win the game."

Past Airing of Grievances

Notre Dame's defeat during the Trojans 2011 visit spawned a week of finger-pointing, notably between Kelly and players leftover from the previous coaching regime (the head coach's infamous, "You can see the guys that I recruited" utterance). Since the fall-out from stories penned thereafter -- and from Irish players taking to social media to air their respective grievances over Kelly's comments -- Notre Dame has won 20 of its last 25 games, including a 20-3 record in the regular season.

Was the fall-out from the fall against Troy a cathartic turning point for the Kelly era and Notre Dame program?

"I just think it was, you know, one of the pieces along the way," Kelly offered. "Every family's going to have good days and bad days. That might have been one of our bad days, but we kept it in -- we talked about it. We aired out our differences. We took accountability for where mistakes were made, and we moved on from it.

"We didn't relive it. We moved from it. And so I think that's probably the point that, as you move forward, you learn from past experiences, and you build off of those past experiences."

Asked what he learned most from the entire debacle (the weekend, the game, the press conferences and social media releases thereafter), Kelly said, "Win the game, and you get more recruits. That's what I learned.

"How we were able to come back the next week and play so well (a 56-14 win over Navy). There were things that were already in place within the program, or you don't come back the next week and play really, really well. What was clear to me is that we needed to play the game better, and I think that that's what happened. We were more succinct in our approach. We were more exact in the way we played the game, and that carried itself over.

"So there were things that we look back on now, and if we could have done them differently, we would have done them differently, but they all go towards that experience that you have as a group, and they made us better as a football team." Top Stories