FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame’s schedule offers such little room to breathe that coach Brian Kelly went out of his way this week to make sure the surest win isn’t taken for granted.
Enough about offseason arrests, two-a-days and suspected cheating on class work – the Irish finally get back to football today.
Wherever this season takes them, and whether DaVaris Daniels and KeiVarae Russell ever play a down, Kelly knows nothing good will happen if Rice waltzes out of Notre Dame Stadium with a victory. So, he talked up the Owls as much as possible.
It is certainly a football team that we have a great deal of respect for, Kelly said. (Coach) David Bailiff over the last couple of years has done some things at Rice that nobody has done in years.
Last year, Conference USA champs, took ’em to a bowl game. This team knows how to win. They have some very good football players.
It’s a matter of record that Rice went 10-4 last season and played in the Liberty Bowl. And, yes, the Owls enter this season figuring on another postseason berth.
But the programs couldn’t be more of a mismatch historically speaking.
Notre Dame has won 874 games, Rice 441.
The Irish have played in 33 bowls, the Owls 11.
Notre Dame has 12 undefeated seasons; Rice has achieved 10 wins or more in only three seasons.
As opposed to Rice’s 18 All-Americans, the Irish have placed 188 players alone on the All-American first team.
You get the idea. The Owls may very well be a program on the rise, as they appear to be, but to say Notre Dame is supposed to win this game would be an understatement.
Daniels and Russell will not play, neither will Ishaq Williams, Kendall Moore and Eilar Hardy as the team awaits a resolution on their respective academic statuses.
But Irish fans will finally see Everett Golson play in a real game for the first time since the 2012 national championship loss.
We need to be cognizant of that fact, Kelly said. We need to early on get him into the flow of the game. I think we need to get him off to a good start.
Golson wore a red jersey throughout training camp, meaning defenders were not allowed to make contact with Kelly’s quarterback.
Rice’s defense, led by star junior tackle Christian Covington, will want to deliver frequent hits on Golson in the first quarter.
We’re preparing for him like we did for Johnny Manziel, Covington told the Houston Chronicle. He’s that type of player.
The Irish understand the importance of winning in the first month. They can’t afford a home loss right off the bat.
Our first quarter (of the season) is manageable, Kelly said. The only way you can move this group ahead is if you make sure they don’t lose their confidence.
They’re going to get better. We just need to have some early success.