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Irish locked in

Notre Dame enters the final month of the season looking to repeat the same kind of run it had to finish last year.

The Irish (5-3), who travel to play Wake Forest (5-3) on Saturday, went 3-0 last November, and coach Brian Kelly said he liked the way his team practiced this week leading into the beginning of the stretch run.

"We practiced more this week than we did last week in terms of the amount of time on the field," Kelly told reports after Thursday's practice. "I think your players in November understand the stakes and how we are in the stretch run here. There is not much time left, and we have to be on top of our game. I sensed that this week. The guys have been locked in, and we've had a good week."

This week also mark the anniversary of Tommy Rees taking over as Notre Dame's starting quarterback.

Rees took over for Dayne Crist on Oct. 30 against Tulsa when Crist went down with a knee injury, and the sophomore completed the rest of his first season as the starter when Crist couldn't return for the 2010 season.

Kelly said the biggest difference for Rees now than when he was a freshman is a comfort level in games.

"I don't think there is any substitute for game experience," Kelly said. "Cleary the No. 1 thing he has is when he plays on Saturday, he has a confidence in his ability to go out and lead our team. That development has been game experience, and then through that all the nuances in game experience. There is only so much you can do in practice. You have to experience it in games. I'm very confident that moving forward a lot of the things that have not gone his way are things that he has learned and he's going to get better."

Helping hands

While most freshmen who haven't played this season likely will not get into games unless there is an injury that thrust them in, Kelly said there are plenty of guys helping the team prepare each week.

Kelly said quarterback Everett Golson was named the offensive scout team player of the week because of the freshman's work playing the role of Demon Deacons quarterback Tanner Price.

Kelly also gave receiver Davaris Daniels props for his work playing the role of Wake Forest's leading receiver Chris Givens, and the coach praised the work of offensive lineman Matt Hegarty on the scout team.

Kelly's scout team praise didn't stop at freshman as he said sophomore Justin Utupo did a good job of assuming the role of Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock.

"Our guys are all on board and helping out any way they can," Kelly said.

Coming along

Kelly said freshman defensive back Eilar Hardy is make progress as he returns from two knee surgeries after sustaining an injury in the first week of training camp in August. Kelly said Hardy is expected to be back at full strength for spring practice, but the coach wasn't sure if Hardy would fully participate in practice again during this season.