SOUTH BEND, IND. (AP) - Oh, yeah. Brian Kelly has given it some thought. Who wouldn’t? He’s glanced toward a stadium circled by tributes to former coaches at Notre Dame and wondered how it will feel when he charges onto the field for his first game with the Irish.
In about three weeks, his ears will ring from a roar he’s likely not experienced in his other successful stops in college football. It’ll be his team with those familiar golden helmets _ even if most of the players are not his recruits _ his program and his system that will take the field Sept. 4 when the Irish host Purdue.
“I found myself a couple of times peeking at that first run through the tunnel and how special it will be,” Kelly said. “Special if we win the game. That’s about it.”
Expectations for the Irish could not be higher and Kelly has not ducked them. His plan is to win immediately.
After 21 losses over the last three seasons of the Charlie Weis regime, Notre Dame’s players are ready for a change like the one Kelly has brought to South Bend. He took the job in December following a successful run at Cincinnati that included a 12-0 regular season a year ago.
“His track record and he’s been a winner everywhere he’s been,” safety Harrison Smith said when asked how easy it has been for returning players to buy into Kelly’s plan. “Interacting with him, everybody gets a good feeling.”
Kelly is demanding during practices, which are generally two hours and 15 minutes in duration. He doesn’t want football to be like a job for his players, so he makes practice time concentrated but manageable.
What he wants is nonstop motion from his players and total attention to details _ with helmets on. His spread offense is being entrusted to quarterback Dayne Crist, whose only experience was as a backup for four games to Jimmy Clausen last season before suffering a torn knee ligament.
Running back Armando Allen Jr., who has led the Irish in rushing the last two years, is back for his senior season. The spread will often feature three wide receivers and a tight end. With Clausen and star wideout Golden Tate gone to the NFL, Michael Floyd (92 career receptions) will step up as the go-to receiver along with one of the nation’s top tight ends in Kyle Rudolph.
The offensive line has veterans Chris Stewart, a fifth-year senior now in law school, and Trevor Robinson at guard. Another fifth-year senior, Dan Wenger, is battling Braxston Cave for the starting role at center. And among the 10 offensive linemen Kelly says are capable of playing what he calls championship football, Taylor Dever and Zack Martin are leading candidates for starting tackle spots.
As strange as it might sound, if the Irish’s spread offense clicks the way it’s designed, Notre Dame’s defense could be in for some long afternoons. Kelly wants his team to play fast on offense _ get plays off without a huddle, score quickly and get off the field.
That means if the Irish are rolling offensively, the defense will have little time to rest. After surrendering nearly 400 yards per game last season, the defense has been switched to a 3-4 setup and will be counting on a strong season from inside linebacker Manti Te’o, who started 10 games as a freshman last season.
“We want to build this thing on a solid concrete foundation. With that said, I can’t imagine they do not have a chip on their shoulder based on all the negativity that has surrounded the defense,” defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said.
Also returning are outside linebackers Darius Fleming and Brian Smith. Ian Williams is back at nose guard and Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore are junior defensive ends with experience.