Brian Kelly, Irish ready for bigger challenge

Posted Sept. 04, 2012, at 7:07 p.m.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — No. 22 Notre Dame jumped into the AP poll Tuesday and coach Brian Kelly called the ranking “white noise” as the Irish get ready for their home opener against Purdue.

Kelly said his team had no jet lag or after effects from their trip to Dublin last weekend where they routed Navy 50-10.

“My own eyes, talking to our players, no excuses,” Kelly said. “We feel great.”

After preparing for Navy’s triple option offense the last two weeks, the Irish will have to adjust to a more conventional approach and a sharper passing game from Purdue. Both the Irish and the Boilermakers have quarterbacks returning from suspensions — backup Tommy Rees for Notre Dame and starter Caleb TerBush for the Boilermakers — and both are coming off easy wins.

TerBush, suspended one game for violating team rules, has the nod ahead of Robert Marve, who passed for 295 yards and three touchdowns in a season-starting 48-6 rout of Eastern Kentucky.

Former starter Rees, who was arrested after a skirmish with police following a party in May and then suspended for the opener, will now battle Andrew Hendrix for the backup role behind Everett Golson. Kelly called Rees a valuable member of the team and commended him for the way he handled his situation. He said Rees and Hendrix would share second-team repetitions in practice this week.

“Probably more about making sure that we get Tommy up to a level where, you know, he can be sharp if he’s in a position where he had to go into the game, and I don’t know if he’s got enough work yet,” Kelly said. “We’ll see how that progresses during the week.”

And even though Rees had limited participation in practices leading up to the opener and Hendrix played last week in Ireland, Kelly said he didn’t know who might go in first should Golson be shaken up.

Golson played well, throwing one interception but completing 12 of 18 passes with a TD in his first college game. Notre Dame’s running attack, led by Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III, churned up 293 yards and took some of the pressure off the young quarterback.

Kelly said several weeks ago that the strength of this team was in the middle on both sides of the ball. The defense got a 77-yard fumble return Saturday from 306-pound defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who outran everyone to the end zone.

And the Irish may be even more efficient and dominant on the offensive front. The entire left side of the offensive line is back with tackle Zack Martin and guard Chris Watt joining returning center Braxston Cave. Right guard Mike Golic Jr., started at center last year when Cave was hurt, so the Irish figure to be able to move defenses this season.

“This is a collective group of guys that are physically stronger, they are more seasoned and they play very well together as a unit,” Kelly said. “I like the way the group plays together. They are not a group that one guy is not on the same page with the others.”

Kelly said the Irish defense would have to prepare for both TerBush and Marve.

“They will run the quarterback more with TerBush than Marve. They will move the pocket more,” Kelly said. “Marve is a very good football player, (Rob) Henry, as well was a starter there before he hurt his knee. So you’ve got three very capable quarterbacks, and they do some things different. We’ll attack the game plan knowing that we’ll have to defend all, but TerBush will definitely be more involved in the running game than Marve was.”

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