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Football: Challenges Ahead

Christopher Masoud | Wednesday, August 31, 2011

As far as home openers are concerned, Notre Dame has enjoyed an .844 winning percentage and has recorded a victory in nine of its last 10 contests, including a 23-12 victory over Purdue last season.

As far as Irish coach Brian Kelly is concerned, 2011 is a new season, South Florida is a potential BCS contender and Bulls coach Skip Holtz is a formidable opponent because of his track record not his lineage.

“South Florida is going to be a great challenge for us,” Kelly said. “It starts with their head coach Skip Holtz. He’s done a very good job in a short period of time. What people need to understand is that he’s had great experience as a head coach. A lot of publications have picked them to be a BCS team, a big challenge for us in the opener.”

While many have earmarked Saturday’s contest as the return of former Irish coach Lou Holtz’s son to Notre Dame, where he served as a player in 1986 and an assistant coach from 1990-93, Kelly maintained that his players have remained focused on the task at hand earning the first win of the season.

“We were locked in pretty good [Monday]. I think we’ve taken breaks at the right time for our team not to be stale mentally, and I think those breaks have allowed us to have a lot of energy in our practices,” Kelly said. “We know that it can be a grind, but once it’s game week, it changes everything.”

The task will be made especially difficult by the exceptional talent of Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels. Entering his junior season, Daniels has amassed 4,576 yards of total offense and 36 touchdowns in his first two full seasons, which was capped by an MVP-performance in South Florida’s 31-26 victory over Clemson in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 31.

“As it relates to players, you start with B.J. Daniels, the quarterback,” Kelly said.

“When I was in the Big East we had to try to defend B.J. Daniels, and it’s a challenge to say the least. He’s extremely athletic, he can throw the football. Here’s a young man that obviously has a lot of confidence and momentum coming into the season.”

In order to simulate Daniels’ dynamic style of play, Kelly said the scout team has used freshman Everett Golson and sophomore Andrew Hendrix in practice.

“When you’re dealing with a quarterback that’s a dual-threat with the ability to run, you have to go over all those things that put the ball in his hands, whether it be option, or read-option, or sprint-out,” he said. “Everett and Andrew certainly assist in that preparation. Both of them have helped this week in preparing for B.J. Daniels because they’re both guys you have to defend as it relates to running the ball.”

In the end, Kelly’s familiarity with South Florida may give Notre Dame the advantage in the first meeting between the two programs, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. As the former coach of the Bearcats, Kelly led then-No. 8 Cincinnati to a 34-17 victory over then-No. 21 South Florida on the road Oct. 15, 2009, limiting Daniels to 284 yards of offense and two touchdowns.

“Purdue was a lot different for me last year because I had not played Purdue,” Kelly said. “If you’re stacking up openers, I’m a little more familiar with South Florida and coach Holtz and his style of offense and defense. We’re always going to be ready for that exotic play.”