Irish bringing high energy to Sun Bowl

According to Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, the Fighting Irish did what they were told in Tuesday’s final full practice before their trip to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Then they added some unexpected pop to a session that satisfied Kelly and his staff.

“Today was a good day,” Kelly said. “It was fast, there was high-paced action. It was supposed to be tag-off today and it ended up in tackling. That’s a good sign. I’ve been on teams that didn’t want to play the bowl game; they just wanted to get through it, get the season over with and get out of here. These guys want to play the game. … They got a lot of gas in the tank.”

Kelly feels his team is adequately prepared to take on Miami on New Year’s Eve, but his other concern is taking good vibrations into 2011.

“You want to win the game because [if you don’t,] you’re carrying with you in the offseason the loss,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 thing. It’s such a long time before you get a chance to eradicate that. More than anything else, there’s such a long layoff before you get a chance to play again. That’s very, very important to me and I know it is for our players. They don’t want (strength and conditioning) coach (Paul) Longo with a loss on the first day of winter conditioning. I think they’d rather have him with a win on his mind.”

Here are the other topics Kelly addressed in his last news conference before heading to El Paso:

On maintaining defensive chemistry now that nose guard Ian Williams is back: “Well, I think it was more about the other players playing at a higher level (while Williams was out). We got Darius Fleming playing really well late; Brian Smith playing really well late. So, it was really more about those other guys around him playing very, very well. And then Sean [Cwynar] and Hafis [Williams] did a really nice job when they were called upon as a package [at nose guard]. Now you got Ian back in there, and if we can keep the same level of play, because we can’t have those guys drop off, if they continue their same play, we can obviously feel good about our defense going into Miami.

“The scheme didn’t change much at all. I think if anything we probably focused more on making sure we protected our linebackers even more.”

On Miami’s voracious secondary: “They play man-on. Their hands are on you. There’s not a lot of space. This isn’t a team that’s going to play soft quarters and let you throw it and rally it. They’re going to have hands on you. So, it’s bump and run, it’s tight coverage. You better be very accurate with the football and be able to put it on your receivers. That’s why they’ve been so good. And they generate a really good pass rush with just four.”

On what he’s learned about his team since the victory over USC: “Like all other teams that I’ve coached, if you prepare them in the manner that I have prepared them, they will have a lot left in the tank, you know, later in the year. There’s a lot of energy with our group; they enjoy coming to play. All these things are important principles in developing consistency within your program. They really like playing the game. This is a group, I think, again, is, you know, the best word I can use is the morale is pretty high. And when the morale is high, these guys like to come in and play the game.”

On what happens once they arrive in Texas: “We want to make sure they enjoy the experience. To enjoy the experience you have to be well prepared before you get there, because if you’re not well prepared and organized with your schedule, then it becomes a bit of a distraction. … So we try to create a very solid schedule for them and do a lot of the preparation work before we get there, because we want them to enjoy the bowl experience.”

On his first Christmas in South Bend: “I’m ready to enjoy it. It’s not here yet, though my kids thought Christmas was like the last three days. I need to get out and shop in the greater South Bend, Michiana community and buy a lot of stuff. I haven’t done any shopping yet.

“I think just sitting down and having a meal. You never get an opportunity to sit down as a family and, you know, talk to your kids for more than sound bites. So, it will be nice to sit down and relax and not have to get what happened in your school day in about 20 seconds at 6:30 in the morning.”