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Football: The road ahead

Matt Gamber | Tuesday, September 28, 2010

With the announcement earlier in the week that the Irish will play Wake Forest next season to complete the 2011 slate of opponents, talks of Notre Dame’s scheduling practices have, as they do every year, begun. And, with the team’s 1-3 start against three tough Big 10 teams and a strong Pac 10 contender, some want to question whether this type of schedule gives the Irish the best chance to win.

Brian Kelly isn’t one of those people.

“It will be a strength having a schedule like this moving forward,” the Irish coach said at his Tuesday press conference. “I think with our spring and summer preparation, coming into the year [in the future] we’re going to be further ahead when we play tough competition right out of the gates. Maybe it’s not showing right now, new offense, new defense, new special teams. At times we’ve been sporadic.

“But I’m still not in favor of throwing [Football Championship Series] teams in there. I still feel like we should be playing the kind of schedule we’re playing, and I think it’s going to pay off for us.”

Don’t knock on Wood

While sophomore running back Cierre Wood hasn’t been able to duplicate the explosiveness he displayed in the opener against Purdue, Kelly said he and his staff still love his potential.

“We’re still really high on Cierre Wood,” Kelly said after releasing a depth chart that listed senior Robert Hughes, not Wood, as the No. 2 running back. “This is not ‘let’s push Cierre to the side.’ He’s a young kid now. … This guy’s got four games and everybody wants to throw the poor kid under the bus. I think he’s going to be a really, really good player. He just needs time.”

Kelly did address the elevation of Hughes, who saw his first game action against Stanford and made two catches for 43 yards.

“On of the things that Robert can do and utilize against [Boston College Saturday] is he’s a big, strong, physical kid and he may be able to help us a little bit in pass protection,” Kelly said.

One other depth chart note: freshman wide receiver Bennett Jackson, who has made five special teams tackles through four games, is now listed as an “or” at the kick return slot, which has been a relative disappointment thus far.

“Bennett Jackson is somebody that’s doing a great job in all the other areas of special teams,” Kelly said. “So we want to obviously try to get the ball in his hands as well.”

Night test

Saturday’s game against Boston College will be Notre Dame’s second night game on the road this season, as the Irish kicked off their loss to Michigan State at 8 p.m. two weeks ago. Having already experienced a night game on the road in a tough environment should help the Irish against the Eagles, Kelly said.

“Our last time on the road, I thought our kids handled the emotions of the game, the atmosphere, very well,” Kelly said. “We expect to do the same thing. We want to make a couple more plays than we did against Michigan State, in terms of the last time being on the road.”

Just as the Irish haven’t changed their general approach to a road night game, Kelly said his team has maintained the same sort of attitude in its preparation after three straight losses.

“There is no difference in where we are from this week to last week, other than we’re all wanting to win a football game. Everybody has got the same feeling,” he said. “Look, I coach and I teach. That’s what I do. And I’m going to coach and I’m going to teach motivated student-athletes. If you’re not motivated to be coached or taught, how am I going to teach you?

“So our guys understand what that means, and they’ll come to practice ready to win and ready to be coached and taught.”