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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Irish face new challenges for bye week

By Matt Fortuna

With four straight wins and two consecutive 500-plus-yard, zero-turnover performances, Notre Dame enters its bye week on a roll.

At 4-2 halfway through the season and on the brink of cracking the national rankings, the Irish's momentum is at a season-high. But Brian Kelly isn't worried about the bye possibly slowing that down, instead looking at it as the perfect opportunity for his team at the exact midway point of the regular season.

"I'm answering honestly from my perspective as a head coach, and having been a head coach for 21 years, momentum is needed when there's not a lot of wind in the sails," Kelly said. "When you have confidence in your ability, momentum is not a necessary part of that. I think that momentum then becomes a turnover in a first series and capitalizing on it with a touchdown. That to me is momentum within the game now."

The circumstances surrounding this year's bye week present a different set of challenges from last year's. Many of Notre Dame's players had mid-terms entering this past Saturday's game against Air Force, and next week -- the week leading up to its prime-time showdown with USC -- the school is on fall break.

Last year's bye came on Nov. 6, nine games into the season. At 4-5, Notre Dame was coming off consecutive losses to Navy and Tulsa, the latter coming in the aftermath of the Declan Sullivan tragedy.

Recharged coming off the bye week, the Irish ran over No. 14 Utah, 28-3, the first of four straight wins to close out the season.

Kelly said Sunday that Notre Dame was scheduled to lift weights Monday and run 11-on-11 action Tuesday and Wednesday to keep the players moving for their next game.

USC, which had a bye this past weekend, plays Cal on Thursday before its Oct. 22 trip to South Bend.

Kelly won't install the game plan for the Trojans just yet, instead just running some of their basic plays and defensive schemes.

"For example, if they run some two-by-two combination routes, I'm sure I've got a couple of those in my offense that we'll run against our defense without going into a scout team situation and a demo squad," Kelly said. "We are going to stay away from doing that and really go 11-on-11 so we get some good speed work. That's what I'm referring to more so than going scout team this week."

Different year, different situation, different feeling. But in a fast-paced environment, a midseason pause in the action for Kelly and his players is never a bad thing.

"I think we need it; we need a break," Kelly said. "Our kids, they have got a lot on their plate. As I said, we had a very stressful week this week. You know, they will have the bye week and then mid-winter break and that's going to be, you know, key for our guys to just relax a little bit."