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Irish Insights

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Early wakeup call ... other notes

Notre Dame will play its earliest game of the season Saturday when the Irish (1-2) kick off at noon at Pittsburgh (2-1).

Just like when Notre Dame played the first night game at Michigan Stadium in Week 2, coach Brian Kelly isn't sweating the game time.

The Irish will just set their clocks a little earlier to get ready for the Panthers.

"I think we have a 7:30 wakeup call," Kelly told reporters after practice Wednesday. "We stay with the same routine relative to leading up to the game. They're in a pretty good routine because they have weight training (in the morning), so they'll be up early. We've got seven, eight and nine (a.m.) for weight training, so they'll be on the same routine."

Kelly also didn't drift from his normal practice routine this week.

Last week in preparation for Michigan State, the Irish had a live session during their Wednesday practice. While this week's practice was intense, Notre Dame didn't go live.

"A little bit more demanding today for our players and what we want from them," Kelly said. "So no, we didn't go live today. We banged, it was live, but we didn't take the back down."

Tough situations

Two players for Notre Dame have had to deal with difficult family situations this year.

Linebacker Prince Shembo missed the win over Michigan State because of a family emergency, and receiver TJ Jones' father died this summer. Andre Jones, a member of Notre Dame's 1988 national championship team, died at 42 on June 22 after suffering a brain aneurysm.

Shembo's situation has turned out well, according to Kelly, and the sophomore is back working the team.

"Back in school, really happy with the way a very difficult situation could have been worse," Kelly said.

Jones has also dealt with his family's tragedy well, and Kelly talked to reporters about how a coach and team helps a player in that situation.

"Well, the first thing you do is you're there when he needs you," Kelly said. "We all try to help out in times like that, whatever those reasons are, whether it's a death in the family, somebody is ill, or you're just having a bad day. We all try to help out, every coach, every player. Everybody was aware of TJ's family situation, so everybody was there for him. He pushed on because I think he needed to push on. He's got a young family. His mom needed his help. He needed to be really a rock for the family, so he moved on. We were there every day. Coach (Paul) Longo got a chance to spend a lot of time with him in the summer, but our players were there for him too."

Special teams

Kelly said former Bishop Dwenger standout John Goodman along with slot receivers Theo Riddick and Roby Toma are competing for the punt return job this week.

Riddick started the season as the returner, but Goodman took over the last two games. Goodman muffed a punt late against Michigan State, which opened the competition again.

"Those are our three best at this point," Kelly said, "and we may use (safety) Harrison Smith a little bit as well."

Punt return is only one part of Notre Dame's special teams that hasn't been performing smoothly this season.

The Irish got a boost in its kickoff return against the Spartans by putting freshman George Atkinson III in as the returner. He scored on an 89 yard return and finished with 142 return yards.

Ben Turk has been up and down as a punter, averaging 36.2 yards per punt, but he also had a good game against Michigan State, averaging 41.5 yards with a long of 50 yards.

"Well, we really thought that we would have Theo back there, and not having him back there right now is a bit of a step back," Kelly said. "I guess we took a step forward with the kickoff return (against Michigan State). We're really pretty good in terms of kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return. We just don't have that dynamic player. We think David Ruffer is back to his form. Now if we can get Ben (Turk) to pick up where he left off on Saturday, I think we can probably talk about being more consistent.

"But there's no question the first few weeks, we were not as consistent as I thought we would be."

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