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Week Ten: Maryland

Eric Prister | Sunday, November 13, 2011

LANDOVER, Md. — Irish coach Brian Kelly said Notre Dame’s focus throughout the week leading up to its Shamrock Series game against Maryland was to pick up the tempo and to start fast.

The Irish did just that, scoring on their first possession of the game and three other times in the first half on their way to a 45-21 win over the Terrapins on Saturday.

“We asked our team to get off to a fast start,” Kelly said. “We did that. I thought that was important for us to come here and really make a statement early on. I thought we did that — put some points on the board. So when we look at it, [it was] a very good victory for our football team, and I liked their preparation. I had mentioned to many of you around us that I liked our preparation during the week and that paid off today.”

Senior running back Jonas Gray topped the 100-yard mark on the ground for the first time in his career, carrying the ball 21 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns, including the first score of the game on Notre Dame’s first drive. Kelly said Gray’s performance has come to be expected at this point in the season.

“Jonas Gray was what we have all been talking about,” he said. “He’s been a consistent performer for us, and he’s really emerged as a big-time back. That’s why we went with two backs in the backfield for the first time this year; we played both Jonas and [sophomore running back] Cierre [Wood] because they’ve been so productive for us.”

Wood came up just short of rushing for 100 yards as well, gaining 99 yards on the ground against the Terrapins. He took one of his 18 carries into the end zone, scoring from three yards out with just under nine minutes to go in the third quarter.

“We knew we would be able to run the ball so we started with a physical mentality and continued that throughout the game.” Gray said. “It was a big emphasis this week to play at a fast tempo and we did that well. When we do that, we’re a pretty good offense that’s hard to stop. [The defense] can’t line up as fast as they want to, just things like that, and [Kelly] is doing a great job of dialing plays up.”

The Irish defense also put points on the board when sophomore cornerback Lo Wood intercepted Maryland sophomore quarterback Danny O’Brien’s pass in the third quarter and returned it 57 yards for the score.

“[Senior safety] Jamoris [Slaughter] did a great job of closing on that screen and had read that screen out and forced a high throw, and Lo was in a good position,” Kelly said. “It was good to get Lo in the game — he’s going to have to play for us next year so it was nice to see him get a pick six.”

Gray put the Irish on the board first, capping off an eight-lay, 67-yard drive by barreling his way into the end zone from one yard out. After senior kicker David Ruffer added a career-long 52-yard field goal, sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees connected with senior receiver Michael Floyd to give the Irish a 17-0 lead.

The Terrapins answered on the very next drive when O’Brien completed a 13-yard pass to senior wide receiver Quentin McCree for a touchdown. McCree led Maryland with five catches for 76 yards and the score.

Not to be outdone, the Irish took the kickoff and drove 70 yards on 13 plays to take a 24-7 lead going into halftime. Gray once again finished the drive for Notre Dame, powering through the line on fourth-and-one from the one-yard line with just 29 seconds left in the half.

“We felt like it was about — it was less than a foot,” Kelly said of the decision to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-one. “Even if we weren’t a very good running team I was going to probably go for it no matter what. But we’ve been running the ball physically and controlling the line of scrimmage against most teams, so we felt that was not a difficult call at the time.”

Rees, who completed 30 of his 38 pass attempts and threw for two touchdowns, said the increased tempo kept Maryland on their heels and was the key to Notre Dame’s offensive success.

“We wanted to go with a hurry-up with the tempo a little bit, and it worked out,” he said. “I think we caught them when they weren’t lined up a little bit and we could tell throughout the game, the guys were getting tired and I think that has a lot to do with how we pushed our tempo.”

Maryland coach Randy Edsall said that, while there were bright spots for his team, it suffered from too many mistakes throughout the game, as it has all season.

“Notre Dame has an outstanding football team,” he said. “They had something to do with those missed tackles, and offensively we couldn’t get a whole lot going and, same thing, dropped passes. That didn’t help with the continuity of what we needed to get done.”

The Irish scored twice more in the third quarter — Cierre Wood’s three-yard touchdown and Lo Wood’s interception return — to extend their lead to 38-7. Notre Dame has now outscored its opponents 77-13 in the third quarter this season.

“I think our guys settle into the game,” Kelly said when asked about the halftime adjustments he makes. “They’re tuned in. We can talk to them and they know exactly what we want to do in the third quarter and they go out and do it. Again, our guys understand how important it is to get some adjustments made at halftime. There’s good communication, and our guys go out and execute.”

Notre Dame is now 5-0 in the month of November under Kelly. The Irish will try to continue that streak Saturday when they take on Boston College in their last home game of the season.

“I think for us the process is what we do during the week because we’re not at the point where it’s habit, that we do it the right way all the time,” Kelly said. “We’re making good progress there. We really can’t fly at 35,000 feet, so to speak. We have to really focus on the day-to-day.”