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Utes, coming off ugly loss, pose tough test for ND

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, November 11, 2010

Two weeks ago Notre Dame may have been upset 28-27 by Tulsa, but the argument could be made that No. 14 Utah’s loss last week was even more devastating for the Utes.

Utah (8-1), then ranked No. 5, hosted No. 3 TCU for a Mountain West Conference showdown, only to be blown out by the Horned Frogs 47-7. Whether the Utes are reeling from that result or not, Irish coach Brian Kelly said he expects to see the same high-powered Utah team fans are accustomed to.

“Generally my experience has been a team that has a lot of confidence coming in, is not all of the sudden going to lose all of their confidence,” Kelly said during a press conference Tuesday. “They are going to chalk it up to, hey, we had a bad day, let’s put that behind us, maybe we don’t even look at the film. Let’s get going on Notre Dame.”

According to what Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said in a press conference two days after the defeat, Utah planned to do just as Kelly expected.

“By this afternoon we will have the film [of the TCU game] watched, and it’s time to move forward and not let a hangover affect us,” Whittingham said. “That would be the most disappointing thing, if this affects two games.”

Even after suffering the 40-point loss, Utah enters Notre Dame Stadium as the favorites — a role Kelly does not seem to mind the Utes having.

“What a great opportunity for seniors and everybody in our program to get back on the winning ways by beating a great football team,” he said. “I really haven’t been big on trying to draw those David versus Goliath kind of matchups, and I certainly don’t see that in this game. I see a very good football team in Utah, and one that needs to play up to those standards.”

Utah’s standards include a 31-4 record over the last three seasons, including an undefeated slate and Sugar Bowl victory in 2008. This season Utah topped Pittsburgh 27-24 in an overtime battle to open the season, and hardly looked back before facing TCU. In the seven games between Pittsburgh and TCU, the Utes scored 56 or more points four times, only scoring less than 30 points once.

“It’s a confident group, certainly. You look at some of the scores that they have had,” Kelly said. “They really believe in what they do offensively. It’s a physical presence.

“So I think what I take away from Utah is a personality. They clearly have a personality on the football field. Very confident about what they can do, and they have exhibited that on a very consistent basis.”

Yet that personality is not overlooking Notre Dame. Whittingham cited both Notre Dame’s present team and individuals and its tradition and history as formidable opponents this weekend.

“They have a tremendous receiver in [junior] Michael Floyd. … They have good size up front and good size on defense,” Whittingham said. “[Sophomore linebacker] Manti Te’o is a big, physical presence in the middle. It’s just what you expect out of Notre Dame.

“When you think of Notre Dame, you think of the Four Horsemen, Knute Rockne, ‘Rudy’ the movie. … The tradition, the guys they had there — Joe Montana, Joe Theismann. That’s everything that embodies what Notre Dame is.”