SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame football fans are curious as to what they'll see from their favorite team when the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish open the 2013 season against Temple (3:30 p.m., NBC).
Will Notre Dame senior quarterback Tommy Rees play like a veteran? Or will he play like Tommy Rees and throw too many interceptions?
Will the Fighting Irish defense be strong enough to with stand the losses of Manti Te'o, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Zeke Motta, to still be able to carry an inexperienced offense?
Will that group of young offensive talent play to its potential and make this another season to remember in South Bend?
Sure, fourth-year coach Brian Kelly is wondering those same questions, as is the Irish Nation. But more so Kelly is curious as to what he'll see from the Owls, because he truly doesn't know at this point.
Temple brought in a new coach (Matt Ruhle) this season, and with him, an entirely new coaching staff and philosophy. Throw in new ways of utilizing the existing Owl players, and who knows what Temple will unveil offensively or defensively? Kelly sure doesn't. And he admitted such.
“Obviously with a new quarterback, a new offensive coordinator who comes from Tennessee-Chattanooga, there are so many different variables that go into the opener first of all,” Kelly said. “Now add a new staff, a new head coach. So we have to be on guard, and from our standpoint we've got to take care of what we do.”
And what that entails is to play a “clean” game in Kelly's opinion.
“Last year we understood how important it was to get off to a great start, play the game the right way, attention to detail, play with great effort and enthusiasm, and the watch word for us will be to play the game clean,” Kelly said. “Don't turn the football over. Make sure that we're efficient in the special teams game, and hopefully more than that this year. Hopefully we can turn some special teams plays into some big plays.”
The Irish faithful have been terribly disappointed in the punt return game by Notre Dame for quite some time. However, Kelly and his staff addressed that aspect of the Irish attack this off-season and he feels good about where his team is with senior T.J. Jones set to be the punt return threat.
“(T.J.) really wants to do this job,” Kelly said. “I think you have to have that want and desire and belief that you can be really good at it. I think second, we've really looked at a number of areas within our special teams where we can help him in returns.”
Last year was a season where almost every possible thing that could go right for Notre Dame, did. What will this year hold for the Irish? Kelly is simply taking one step at a time for now.
“We're going to have to play well against a team that's coming into Notre Dame Stadium wanting to show very well for their first year head coach,” Kelly explained. “From our standpoint it's an opener, it's where we start the 2013 season, and it's important that we get off to a good start.”