Survive and Advance

Notre Dame bent but didn't break, grinding out a win in the manner to which its become accustomed Saturday in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND, IND. -- It might not have been pretty, but it had teeth.

Notre Dame Stadium didn't rock. The Irish defense didn't keep its fifth straight foe out of the end zone. There was no dramatic, highlight-driven finish.

The only thing similar today to last Saturday's thriller in South Bend was the end result -- Notre Dame is 7-0, its defense and running game the chief reasons for the program's best start since 2002.

"There wasn't a panic. We stuck with what we were doing. It was pretty clear we were going to be able to control both sides of the ball on the offensive line and defensive line," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of his team's 17-14 victory. "We came in here wanting to run the football; I thought we controlled that quite well.

"Controlling the football for us and playing great defense in the second half has been our formula for winning, and we're not going to go away from that."

The Irish ground game amassed 270 yards on 43 carries, needing just three pass attempts in the second half; one in the final quarter.

"If we had to play the whole game without throwing a pass we would still win. That's what I think, that's what we all think as a unit," said running back Cierre Wood, one of two Irish seniors to top the 100-yard mark on the afternoon. "Run the ball. Simple as that. We be screamin' at coach Kelly sometimes, 'Yo run the ball. I know we like to pass, but run the ball down the field.' We can dominate any team by running the rock."

Wood gained 57 yards in both halves with roommate Theo Riddick taking game honors: 143 yards on 15 carries, included therein a 55-yard burst among a handful of bruising interior rushes.

"Toughness. I mean, he has run really hard and physical for us," said Kelly of the team's leading rusher. "Now I'm not comparing him to (2011 senior) Jonas Gray, because he's not; he's half his size. But running up between the tackles -- It gives an energy to the entire team when you see 'backs running that physical."

Including a sack, Notre Dame passed on eight of its first 14 snaps, the 14th a skinny post to tight end Tyler Eifert at the goal line that staked the hosts to a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. Quarterback Tommy Rees completed six of his first seven to that point (2:34 in the first) then didn't hit on another pass until 1:26 remained in the third, missing

"We just felt that we matched up well; that (BYU) plays a lot of different coverages -- if they're going to play a lot of two-deep zone, we always philosophically like to go in thinking about running the football first.

"And then, it's who we are. We're becoming that kind of football team on offense. You talk about finding an identity…Even when we were down, we kept running the football," he continued. "It's our identity and what we do. There were some opportunities we probably could have thrown the ball and didn't need to take advantage of it at this point."

Answering the Call

After 263 minutes without allowing a foe to cross its end zone, Notre Dame's defense finally cracked: a six-yard wrap pattern from Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson to star receiver Cody Hoffman the culprit, the touchdown toss tying the game at 7 with 8:25 remaining in the second.

Notre Dame's next scoreless streak lasted just 2:18, the result of poor tackling, a pass interference penalty, and a play-action pass that pulled Irish linebacker Carlo Calabrese too far inside on a 2-yard throw from Nelson to Kaneakua Friel.

The Cougars 14-7 lead came shortly after a Rees interruption at the Notre Dame 30, one that bounced off the hands of redshirt-freshman wide receiver DaVaris Daniels.

"We let the ball outside our defense for the first time in a long time and we had some untimely penalties," said Kelly of the deficit, adding, "We let a ball go through our hands. If you really look at it, those plays have nothing to do with being sluggish, have nothing to do with not being properly prepared. We didn't make some plays that we are accustomed to making and then we found a way to pull out of that hole."

In addition to five penalties and the aforementioned interception, Irish kicker Kyle Brindza missed two field goals, one from 40, the other from just 27 yards out. The Irish though stormed back in the second half, with Brindza connecting on a kick from 24 late in the third, and sophomore running back George Atkinson scoring from two yards out on an end around the offense had faked several times previously.

Regardless of the miscues and an overwhelming Stadium feel that this might not be Notre Dame's day, the Irish possess a defense that won't let them down far as the offense finds its sea legs each week and begins to wear down its foe.

"Just being us, and focusing on us and focusing on doing what we've been coached to do," said senior captain Manti Te'o of a defensive unit that has allowed third quarter points in just three of its last 20 contests. "A lot of time, its as an individual trying to do too much. When we settle down and focus on just being us and doing our job, that's when things start to happen."

Asked if BYU's variety of mis-directions and quick hitters had a hand in the two touchdowns scored vs. his crew, Te'o offered, "Oh my gosh, yeah, it was frustrating at first, but we settled down and everybody did their job."

Te'o, who finished with a game-high 10 tackles and his fifth interception of the season, is part of an Irish defense that's held each of its seven foes in 2012 to two touchdowns or fewer. The offense has hit pay dirt just once or twice in five of seven to date as well.

"It goes back to the saying, 'Defense wins championships.' I think our defense will do whatever it takes to win and those 14 points upset us, a lot," Te'o said. "We are going to continue to do whatever it takes to dominate and whatever situation occurs, we know how to handle it now."

Trying situations are sure to present themselves next week vs. current No. 10 Oklahoma in Norman. Te'o's defense, Notre Dame's late-game ground attack, and a team full of confidence looks to be ready for the season's toughest test. Top Stories