SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 28: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish waits torun onto the field with his team before a game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Notre Dame Stadium on September 28, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Oklahoma defeated Notre Dame 35-21. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
And not because Notre Dame is playing a team from the Pac-12. The Irish are 12-0 under Brian Kelly when they do not commit a turnover in a game.
The Extra Point
Notre Dame lost an appeal for the targeting penalty called on linebacker Ben Councell. The penalty occurred in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma. He will sit out the first half against the Sun Devils.
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Arizona State enters Saturday’s game 92nd in rushing defense, while Notre Dame is coming off its best rushing performance of the season. But Brian Kelly warns that running the ball won’t be as easy as it might appear.
Updated: November 3, 2013 6:35AM
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly recently put together a 10-minute clip from last season.
The highlights included Pittsburgh hitting the upright on a field-goal attempt in overtime, the fourth-quarter rally against BYU and quarterback Tommy Rees converting a key pass to John Goodman during the Purdue game.
“My point being the margin last year was razor-thin,” Kelly said Tuesday, “and the margin this year is razor-thin.”
Notre Dame’s lack of execution of the “ordinary plays,” as Kelly put it, has the team at 3-2 heading into the Shamrock Series contest against Arizona State in Arlington, Texas.
“We have got to stay above the cut in cover 3. We’ve got to run routes better. We’ve got to pick up protections that are day one protections, we’ve got to pick those things up. We’ve got to complete easy balls. And those are the little things that we’ve got to do better,” Kelly said.
“So the margin I think is about as thin as it was last year, and the difference between 5-0 and 3-2 is about five or six plays, and that’s kind of where we are at this point.”
Defensively, the team has to do a better job of limiting big plays. Oklahoma essentially wrapped up Saturday’s 35-21 victory on a 56-yard pass play.
Notre Dame is 53rd nationally in scoring defense, allowing 23.8 points per game.
“I don’t think they’re spectacular, but I think it’s a solid defense that we can win with,” Kelly said. “We uncharacteristically gave up two big plays that we’re not accustomed to giving up. We’re solid as a defense. We’re not spectacular, but we’re solid.”
Offensively, Notre Dame still seeks the right mix of run and pass. In a reversal from most of the season, the Irish had success running the ball against Oklahoma (220 yards), but struggled through the air (104 yards).
“If we rewind here, we were talking about how well we were throwing the football and how poorly we were running it. Now we’re talking about how well we’re running the ball and how poorly we’re throwing the ball,” Kelly said. “We have to find our balance there offensively, and I think that for me is where we’re really pulling our hair out is trying to find that balance from an offensive standpoint.
“We’re going to play, I believe, well enough defensively to win the rest of our games. We’ve got to get ourselves where we have enough balance offensively to run the ball and throw the ball effectively. Our margin isn’t great. You can’t turn the ball over. You turn it over and give points up, we’re going to be fighting against it.”
Kelly is confident the group will keep fighting.
“You’re talking about a program that has won a lot of football games over the last couple years, they just want to go out and play better football. I mean, that’s really their goal,” Kelly said. “It’s interesting, and we talked a little bit about this: They’re not walking around campus flashing their 12-0 rings. They don’t have a 12-0 ring. They’re not wearing a conference championship ring. They have an immense amount of pride in what they accomplished by playing so well and winning games. What drives them is winning, and they want to win. They want to win football games, and they want to play good football week in and week out.
“So what drives them, what the glue is, is for them to go out, prepare and play good football week in and week out, not what the destination is for one game. Not whether they play in Florida or Texas. It’s taking that week of preparation and going out on a Saturday and playing really well and the satisfaction of doing that and having it all come together.”
Having it come together includes doing those little things that sometimes are the difference between a win and a loss.
“It’s so fine on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. You go across the board week in and week out, it’s a battle, except for maybe one team in the country who’s made it look easy, everybody has got a battle from week to week to win football games and to win them consistently,” Kelly said. “Everybody will have a battle to win a game or two or three, and that’s the nature of it.
“So understand that, that that’s what’s going to happen. You’ve got to find ways to win, and those little things, doing the ordinary things make a difference.”