One game at a time

Coming down the home stretch, Notre Dame is starting to get accustomed to winning.

It's been a season and three quarters of fits, starts, surges and retreats under second-year Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly.

Kelly related as much after Saturday's victory.

"It was just today," he said when asked afterward about the strong, balanced Irish performance, powered by the reliable backfield duo of Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood, and an offensive line that is getting better at run blocking by the game.

"Saturday, November the 12th, we played the way we needed to play in all three phases. We'll see what happens on the 19th of November. But they know – our players truly understand how to win football games now. It starts with their preparation during the week, and they know that they have to be able to bring all three phases."

A weak Boston College team coming to South Bend this weekend might not put Kelly's words to the test, but the regular-season-ending trip to Stanford will, even though the Cardinal's loss to Oregon on Saturday somewhat tarnishes an otherwise stellar season for that program.

Rankings, strength of schedule, etc.

Notre Dame, now 7-3 and winners of seven out of eight, has re-emerged in the national rankings. The Irish are 24th in the Associated Press poll and 25th according to USA Today.

Strength of schedule is always a work in progress, but you can take a look at it in three tiers.

First, the good. Four teams on its schedule are ranked: USC, Michigan State, Michigan, and Stanford. Those teams are a combined 33-7, 31-6 if you take out results vs. Notre Dame.

Second, the highly mediocre. Notre Dame has six teams on its schedule that are within a game of .500: South Florida (5-4), Pittsburgh (5-5), Purdue (5-5), Air Force (5-5), Navy (4-6), and Wake Forest (5-5). Those teams are a combined 29-30, 28-25 if you take away the results against the Irish.

Third, the not-good. Maryland and Boston College, Atlantic Coast Conference brethren, are 5-15 combined. Boston College, this week's opponent, beat last week's opponent, Maryland, 28-17 at BC on Oct. 29.

The specialists

Once again, Notre Dame did not have a punt return (while forcing Maryland to punt an impressive seven times). But other than that, the special teams were solid for the Irish once again. Kelly made positive reference to special teams play in his postgame remarks.

Kicker David Ruffer nailed a twisting 52-yard field goal for some important (at the time) early points late in the first quarter. That was a career best for the senior. Kyle Brindza had one touchback among eight kickoffs, and Notre Dame gave up a long return of only 27 yards.

Punter Ben Turk appears to have left his struggles behind. He drilled a 58-yard punt (which was returned for 14 yards), and put his two other punts inside the 20.

Notre Dame again used the pooch punt, and again Tommy Rees uncorked a nice wobbler that just bounced and trickled into the end zone for a touchback. Top Stories