Back to Reality

Wins over Top 10 teams have been rare for Notre Dame in recent seasons. So too has been success thereafter.

For fans traveling to South Bend this weekend, the unveiling of the Stephon Tuitt statue is at 4 p.m. local time. Head coach Brian Kelly's acceptance speech will follow shortly thereafter, and both Manti Te'o and Everett Golson will hold press conferences to talk about the 3-0 Irish and their realization of perfection.

None of the above is true, of course, save for the 3-0 start. But when the autumnal equinox commences Saturday morning, the Notre Dame football team will be undefeated. That's rare around these parts of late, so forgive the program's fans for being a touch enthusiastic following an upset win over previous #10 Michigan State.

"It only means one win," said Kelly of what he deemed "a signature victory" post-game Saturday. "We're 3-0. We didn't give out any rings yesterday to anybody. We got a long way to go."

Kelly's task this week is a first during his tenure at the school: managing success and the inherent spoils that follow for a group of players who've experienced nearly as many losing streaks (four) as instances of consecutive wins (five) with the current staff.

"We have a sign that is pretty visible for our guys to see when they walk in and walk out of the building, and it starts with, 'Don't Believe or Fuel the Hype,'" said Kelly. "That's No.1. No. 2, 'Manage Expectations.' No. 3, 'Avoid the Noise.' And 4, 'Speak for Yourself.' And they see that every single day.

"I put that up last year; expecting that that was going to be something that we were going to have to deal with," said Kelly in a reference to an unexpected 0-2 start last fall. "And we're dealing with it right now, and they have seen that now for over a year and a half. They know what that sign means. And they know if they want to continue to be successful, they need to continue to do the things they are doing."

Though no Irish player has won more than four consecutive games during his college career, Kelly has tasted success, and at a BCS level, managing win streaks of , managing winning streaks of three, six (twice) and 12 games, the latter spanning his final season at Cincinnati.

While the Bearcats don't have the pedigree of the Irish or the program that houses them, the situations aren't dissimilar.

"They are exactly similar in that neither one of the guys (had) been to those places before.  Nobody in this room knows what it looks like (to taste continued success).

"So I'm handling it exactly the same way.  And I don't know of any other way to do it.  Work on getting better, and we'll work on that this week."

Extending Through Saturday

The Irish will need to be better offensively if they're streak is to continue, if not past Saturday, in the two months that follow. Kelly's offense has been limited to two touchdowns or fewer in five of its last six contests dating back to last year's Senior Day finale against Boston College.

"We're lagging a little bit offensively, but we're making progress there," said Kelly in comparison to the team's stout defense. "I think there's different plans in how you're successful. And I knew when I took the job at Notre Dame, the blueprint for success here was different than other stops that I had along the way. And so I just think that every opportunity presents different challenges. This one was to get our defense right."

The defense has allowed three touchdowns in three games, ranking eighth nationally at 10 points per game allowed while the offense's greatest attribute to date is ball security: the Irish have coughed it up just twice while the defense has forced seven turnovers to date.

When posed with a question that included his team's 1 for 14 offensive effort on third down in Saturday's victory vs. the Spartans, Kelly didn't indicate the 17-point margin was a surprise end result.

"We didn't turn the ball over," he said. "Third down conversions are great, you want third down conversions, but we were managing the game in a manner that we had a great kicking performance. If we can kick that way, third down conversions is not going to impact the football game. The turnovers; it's short fields; and it's the big, chunk plays.

"I know you've heard this ad nauseam, but the fact of the matter is, the completion percentage will continue to get better. The third downs will continue to get better. We just need to take care of the football and keep our defense on the long field."

Due in part to focus, talent-level, and the of averages for a program mired in recent mediocrity, four of the last six times Notre Dame has defeated a Top 10 team, it lost its ensuing contest. While Kelly wants his players to enjoy the moment, he knows you're only as good as your last game.

"My first comments were, 'How did it feel getting patted on the back all day? Wasn't that nice, a nice change to go to class and not hear how bad you are, or what you should have done or what you didn't do?'

"That's a good place to be, but here is what you want to do if you want to be there next week. Because let me tell you what, if you don't do that next week, you'll be back where you were a few weeks ago. So let's understand this. It feels good to be there, but how we got there, we need to continue to do these things.

"I agree, you can't just say, 'Don't listen to those things.' You want those things. You work for those. But you have to be able to keep it in balance and perspective."


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