NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The bye week is over and the Notre Dame football team is back to work. After more than a week out of the view of the media, Brian Kelly was back at his podium on Tuesday as his Fighting Irish prepare to play USC. The Irish practiced for an hour on Monday to get back into the swing of things after going with a different approach during last week's bye.
"We used a balance of weight training, conditioning (and) a little bit of rest," Kelly said of last week's schedule. "(We) gave our young guys an opportunity to practice a little bit. Most of our veterans had a light week."
The bye week allowed players with bumps and bruises to rest and heal, but what is most important now is the game that is four days away. Southern Cal is coming to town and the Irish again have a chance to beat their oldest rival on their home field for the first time since 2001.
"I did not know that," Kelly said when asked whether he would convey to his team the last time an Irish squad beat the Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium. "I wasn't aware of the history of that."
While the particular history of wins and losses has not been a topic of discussion when it comes to USC, Kelly admits the undeniable nature of the rivalry from his squad's perspective. While most other teams see Notre Dame as one of the top rivals on their schedule each year, the Irish have a different rival at the top of their list.
"I think our players would be the first one to admit that this is our rivalry game," Kelly said of USC. "This is our game that we look forward to against USC. It's one that (is) on our calendar as - I don't want to say a red letter game - but one that we really look forward to. It's such a great matchup, great tradition, great history and it's part of the history of Notre Dame football."
Kelly has downplayed the rivalry in the past, saying his Irish needed to beat the Trojans more. Southern Cal has still won nine of the last 11 meetings dating back to 2002, but the Irish have taken two of the last three - with both wins coming in Los Angeles.
"We would hope that both programs are competing each and every year for BCS bowls and playoff opportunities," said Kelly. "I think that's where both programs want to be is that they're on equal footing - that you don't have to wait three or four years to get a win."
The biggest difference for USC this time around is a new head coach after Lane Kiffin was fired after the Trojans' loss to Arizona State. Ed Orgeron, a former Pete Carroll assistant and also the former Ole Miss head coach, has been promoted to interim head coach for the remainder of the season. USC took a few more shots downfield in last week's win over Arizona in his first game at the helm, but Kelly does not expect to see sweeping schematic changes this week.
"He's not going to go in there and scuttle the offense and special teams," Kelly said of Orgeron. "His personality is coming out in his football team, but he knows all of his players and there's an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator for a reason. There will be some slight variations and we'll have to be prepared for that, but they're going to be who they are 6-7 weeks into the season."
The bye week gave a player like Sheldon Day the chance to rest even more. Day has not played since injuring his right ankle in the Sept. 14 win over Purdue, but Kelly says the defensive lineman will play this Saturday.
"Sheldon is a guy that doesn't stay blocked and he's a very good pass rusher," said Kelly. "He's a combination of a guy that early in the season was giving us great pressure as a pass rusher and wasn't staying blocked. He'll figure into our game plan on Saturday."
Wide receiver Daniel Smith and linebacker Jarrett Grace both had successful surgeries after suffering season-ending injuries in the win over Arizona State. Smith had a plate and screws inserted into his ankle. He was seen driving to the Gug on a motorized cart after Kelly's press conference.
Running back Tarean Folston suffered a slight hamstring injury at the end of his 36-yard run against Oklahoma according to Kelly. Folston played only sparingly and had no carries against Arizona State as a result, but Kelly expects him to be "part of the mix" at running back this weekend.
Freshman linebacker Doug Randolph and safety Nick Baratti are both recovering after having shoulder surgeries in August. Kelly says freshman receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., who broke his leg prior to arriving at Notre Dame, has practiced well lately. Kelly thinks Hunter would be in the mix at receiver if not for the injury, but he will not play this year.
Defensive lineman Tony Springmann had an infection after having season-ending knee surgery during training camp, but Kelly says he is doing better now. Another defensive lineman, Chase Hounshell, is apparently closer to seeing practice time soon. Hounshell had a second shoulder surgery last spring, but Kelly says he hopes to have pads on the junior within the next two weeks.
The ranks are thinner in the middle with Grace lost for the season with his broken leg. Freshman Michael Deeb could eventually see some playing time at one of the two inside spots, but Kelly really does not want to have to play him unless absolutely necessary.
"Dan Fox and Joe Schmidt will be 1-2 at that (Mike linebacker) position," said Kelly. "It will be Carlo Calabrese and Kendall Moore at the Will linebacker position. Michael (Deeb) will be the swing guy at Mike if there's any need at that position."
"We'd like not to have to play him if we could," Kelly continued. "But if we have a situation there where a man goes down he's got to be ready to play, so we're preparing him to play and he's capable of playing."
The overall numbers at inside linebacker are thin as the Irish move forward past this season, Fox and Calabrese will both graduate, leaving the now injured Grace as the most experienced returning inside linebacker next season. Kelly was asked about the possibility of reserve outside linebackers Romeo Okwara or Ben Councell possibly moving inside next year.
"They're going to be on the field, there's no question," Kelly responded. "Both of those guys are going to play a lot of football for us (but) where, I really couldn't say at this point. We really like both those guys."
"We've got plenty of guys that can play there," Kelly said. "There (are) lots. If you just look at the body types, we've got plenty of guys. Coach (Bob) Diaco, if he needs to, he's got plenty of guys that can play inside, even if they're not on the roster as Mike linebackers."
Former Irish head coach Lou Holtz is on campus this week. Holtz and the 1988 national championship football team will be at Friday's pep rally and will be honored during Saturday night's game. Kelly was asked if he will have time to speak with the ESPN commentator.
"I think the question is will he carve out time for me," Kelly joked. "Lou is extremely busy and I think you ask him if he's got time for you more than anything else. We are going to get a chance to spend a little bit of time."
Kelly will introduce Holtz to the crowd at Friday night's pep rally and Holtz will also speak during the festivities.