SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly's play-calling from the sidelines could be expanded this season, starting with Notre Dame's season-opener against South Florida on Saturday.
It is not so much that he's added to his complex spread offense in his second season with the Irish. He just knows now what plays should work with the personnel he has, especially quarterback Dayne Crist.
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A year ago, Kelly didn't have that luxury when the Irish opened against Purdue, though they beat the Boilermakers, 23-12.
"I think it's knowledge of what you're capable of doing more so than having more plays available to you. Knowing that these are plays that Dayne has executed very well over the past year, we can go back and look at the successes that he's had in reading out a particular play or getting us in the right play," Kelly said Tuesday.
Crist started nine games a year ago before suffering a season-ending knee injury that required surgery for the second straight season. He won his job back by beating out Tommy Rees in a preseason competition for the starter's role and showed Kelly he had the "escapability" to scramble out of trouble if necessary.
Kelly couldn't put a number on how many more plays he might be able to use in the opener, compared to a year ago in his debut as Notre Dame's coach.
"I think I feel so much better about it because I know what we can do. I'm going to call the plays that I feel like we have a history of success with," he said. "It's still going to be based upon what I believe these guys can execute, where I didn't know (a year ago) what they were good at, really; we were throwing it out there and saying, 'All right, let's start here and go from there.
"That's how our offense kind of came together. We had to decide what we were good at, after Dayne went down. While Dayne was in there we were still kind of all over the map and figuring out what our strengths were, and now going into this game we have a good understanding of what our strengths are."
This Saturday's game has an added dimension because there's a Holtz coming back to Notre Dame Stadium. South Florida coach Skip Holtz, a Notre Dame grad, is the son of the last man to lead the Irish to a national title -- his dad, Lou, in 1988. Skip Holtz was a member of the 1986 Notre Dame team and later returned to South Bend to be an assistant coach under his dad from 1990-93.
South Florida is his third head coaching stop after UConn and East Carolina. He had the same record in his first season with the Bulls (8-5) as Kelly did with the Irish last year. Both won bowl games in their debut seasons with their new schools.
"It starts with Skip Holtz and, you know, what he's been able to do as a head coach, you know his football team is going to be ready to play, especially coming back to Notre Dame," Kelly said.
The Irish, whose four-game winning streak to end last season was predicated on a stout defense, will have to control Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels, who has made 22 career starts. He's thrown 25 career TD passes and amassed 4,787 yards of total offense. And he's got the ability to run with the ball.
Linebacker Sam Barrington, tackle Cory Grissom and corner Quenton Washington are veterans returning to the South Florida defense.
Daniels is no stranger to Kelly, who used to coach in the Big East with Cincinnati.
"We had to try to defend B.J. Daniels, and it's a challenge to say the least. He's extremely athletic, he can throw the football, and I think if you just look at the last game he played, he was the MVP of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, so he has confidence and momentum coming into the season," Kelly said.
Notes: With speedy slot receiver Theo Riddick slated to return both kickoffs and punts, Kelly said Riddick will get a breather, if needed, on offense where Robby Toma can fill in. ... Two freshmen, Nick Martin at left tackle and Conor Hanratty at right guard, are listed as backups on the depth chart. Nick Martin is the brother of starting LT Zack Martin and Hanratty is the son of former Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty. The first OL replacement, however, would be fifth-year senior Andrew Nuss, who lost a close battle with Chris Brock to be the starting left guard. Nuss can play most positions on the line, meaning his experience and versatility make him a valuable asset for the Irish. ... Highly-touted freshmen Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt are listed as the backups at defensive ends behind veterans Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore.