(WSCR) – Notre Dame has had a rough season and with a new quarterback taking Dayne Crist’s place, Brian Kelly is hoping for things to get better. The Fighting Irish face Utah for the first time Saturday and it won’t be easy for Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees’ first start.
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) — After their undefeated season came to an end with a one-sided loss to one of the nation’s top teams, the Utes remain confident and will try to finish up their non-conference schedule on a high note.
Utah (8-1) will try to rebound as it travels to take on Notre Dame for the first time Saturday afternoon.
The 15th-ranked Utes had their 21-game home winning streak snapped with a 47-7 loss at the hands of then-No. 4 TCU, ending their national championship hopes.
Despite the loss, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is upbeat ahead of facing the Fighting Irish.
“We move on to Notre Dame. This is the first time that Utah has played Notre Dame and it should be a great experience,” he said. “They did have a bye last week and are fighting for a bowl game, and we are fighting to get this thing turned around.
“We need to bounce back and put the loss behind us and resume our schedule. We still have a chance to have an excellent season.”
Jordan Wynn completed a career-worst 45.7 percent of his passes for 148 yards and two interceptions last Saturday, but connected on a 19-yard touchdown to Matt Asiata in the fourth quarter as Utah avoided its first shutout since losing 27-0 to UNLV on Sept. 22, 2007.
The Utes haven’t lost consecutive games since an 0-2 start in 2007, but Whittingham knows his team can’t overlook the struggling Fighting Irish.
“They are 4-5 and have lost a couple in a row,” he said. “They have a tremendous receiver in Michael Floyd. He has caught over 50 balls. They have good size up front and good size on defense. It’s just what you expect out of Notre Dame.”
The Fighting Irish (4-5) enter Saturday’s game with a new quarterback under center and are hoping that a week off will jump start a push to become bowl eligible.
Quarterback Dayne Crist suffered a season-ending knee injury during Notre Dame’s 28-27 loss to Tulsa on Oct. 30, and freshman Tommy Rees is expected to start.
Rees, who replaced Crist in the first quarter, threw for 334 yards and four touchdowns against the Golden Hurricanes. Rees impressed coach Brian Kelly, but his lack of experience was also evident with three interceptions.
“You can see the strengths that Tommy has in picking up a game plan, where it comes natural to him. It’s you go into a practice and he understands what you’re trying to accomplish,” said Kelly, who is in his first year at Notre Dame. “Obviously now we have pressed him into position that he has to do a lot for us.”
With Rees in the game, Michael Floyd caught a career-high 11 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns, giving him five in his previous two contests.
Rees and Floyd could have a tough time hooking up, though, as Utah is 25th in the FBS in passing defense at 189.0 yards per game.
Since defeating then-No. 19 Penn State 41-17 on Sept. 9, 2006, Notre Dame has lost 11 consecutive games to ranked opponents.
“Certainly (Utah) is a team that’s won a lot of football games,” he said. “They are playing for a lot. You know, they are a team that’s got a lot of confidence because they have won a lot of football games.”
The Fighting Irish are 55-11-1 against opponents making their first trip to Notre Dame Stadium and have won 28 of 35 after an off-week since 1984.
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