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Laying the foundation for an upset and other notes

Notre Dame's 28-3 upset of No. 15 Utah on Saturday started on Thursday during the bye week, according to coach Brian Kelly.

On a day when players usually want to get practice done with as soon as possible, a 3-on-3 drill renewed the team's spirit.

The drill matched offensive players against defensive with the goal of getting 10 yards, and it led to plenty of physical play.

"It was competition at its best," Kelly said. "We had seniors in there. We had guys that were injured that we had to pull out of there that wanted to go. "(Safety) Harrison Smith and (receiver) Mike Floyd were banged up and injured, I had to pull them out of the drill twice. That's why they were captains (Saturday).

"Just that toughness, that physical and mental toughness that you need to be a champion, and that was on display."

Smith said the drill brought the players back to the physical, fun days of football.

"The whole team was into it, and we just made a game of it," Smith said. "I think from that point on everybody was like this is football. So what if we are 4-5, let's go out and dominate on Saturday."

Power play

Notre Dame had 127 rushing yards to Utah's 71 Saturday.

And while the play of the Irish's front seven and the defensive line's ability to control the line of scrimmage had a lot to do with the rushing edge, so did Kelly's play calling.

Of the Irish's 49 offensive plays, 29 were rushing, and 18 of those running plays were seldom used in the first nine games of the season.

"We ran power, I think 18 times," Kelly said. "I don't think we ran it 18 times, I think we ran it five times the entire year."

Cierre Wood got the majority of the work in the rushing game running for 71 yards on 19 carries.

And even though Jonas Gray had the big run of the game, a 36-yarder in the second quarter, Kelly said he never thought about taking the ball out of Wood's hands.

"Cierre is coming along," Kelly said. "He misses some things out there, but he runs hard.

"We've changed the pace a little bit with Jonas, and it was obviously late in the game (when senior Robert Hughes took over at running back). But no, (Wood's) our No. 1 back. He's going to get better, he's not there yet, but he's going to be better each week."

Coming along

Tommy Rees' first start as quarterback didn't begin well for Notre Dame.

In the first quarter, the freshman completed 1 of 4 passes for three yards. He got slightly better in the second quarter, completing 7 of 9 passes for 40 yards.

Then in the third quarter, Rees turned it on. He completed his first four passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

"Tommy is a young man that really understands the game of football," Kelly said. "Whether you're in the spread and five wides, or you're running tackle pull or power … he can handle the adjustments that are made."

Big day

The first win on Senior Day at Notre Dame since 2007 was sealed by a senior.

Receiver Duval Kamara grabbed a pair of third-quarter touchdowns for the game's final points.

Kamara has been a bystander for most of the season. He only had one start (against Navy on Oct. 23), and he came into Saturday's game with only seven receptions.

But against Utah, Kamara's two catches were for touchdowns of 26 and 12 yards.

"We were going to get lot of cover one, a lot of man-to-man, and we told Duval for the last 10 days, this is your game," Kelly said. "You're going to get matched up. You're 6-foot-4, you've got to help us. You've got to be there for us.

"And he was there huge."

The Journal Gazette's Assistant Sports Editor Tony Krausz covers The University of Notre Dame. Krausz, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a native of St. Louis, has been assistant sports editor since October 2005. Prior to joining the JG, he worked at two papers in Mississippi covering high school and college athletics.