History will not be their guide

Irish head coach Brian Kelly knows well the program's past failures after landmark victories. They're simply not among his list of concerns.

By now you've been reminded. Reminded of the last time the Notre Dame program reached its present status in the college football world: No. 3 in the BCS, 8-0, and just days removed from the season's biggest, and for many, most surprising road win.

All of the above happened in 2002 when Notre Dame defeated Florida State in Tallahassee. They lost the next week in a South Bend slop-fest, falling victim to the Siren's Song of green jerseys, myriad turnovers, and a sub par Boston College team, 14-7.

Ten years later, literally and figuratively, they're back.

Head coach Brian Kelly is aware of the past, and certain it has no bearing on the present or immediate future.

"First, history will have no affect on how this team plays. What will is how this team prepares during the week and that's what I can control, and that's what our players can control," said Kelly. "If we don't prepare well and we don't have a good week, then that's going to spill into how we play on Saturday. I think second, you can prepare well, but if you're not going to play a tough brand of football, both physically and mentally, then you can lose every week that you play."

With four more days of preparation remaining for familiar foe Pittsburgh, Kelly has no plans to intermix any of Georges Santayana's teachings to his pupils.

"I focus strictly on the guys in the room and how we prepare them. I do not use history lessons as much as want them to realize what it takes to win week in and week out."

Home Sick

Among Notre Dame's eight wins this season are four outside of South Bend -- aggregate score of 141 to 29 -- and a quartet inside the House that Rockne built with final margins of 3, 7, 7 (in overtime), and 3 points.

Notre Dame has scored just 67 points in 17 home quarters. The natural result of those offensive struggles have been four games decided with under five minutes remaining.

"There's a lot of layers, I don't want to make more out of it," said Kelly when questioned about relative home struggles. "I think teams that come into Notre Dame Stadium play their very, very best. We have to match that intensity. We have to do it each and every weekend because it is a battle, there's no question."

Notre Dame is 4-0 at home for the first time since 2008. They lost their fifth game in South Bend that season to, of course, Pittsburgh, 36-33 in quadruple overtime. The Irish haven't emerged 5-0 since 1998, a 6-0 home slate concluded that season, the last without a blemish in South Bend.

Finishing the Drill

Kelly's Irish have been a dominant third quarter team for nearly two full seasons, allowing a combined 23 points in the third over their last 20 games.

The fourth quarter, conversely, killed Kelly's 2011 Irish (minus 47 points after a minus 25 effort in 2010). In 2012, Kelly's undefeated bruisers have rung up a 73-26 edge in the final quarter (including overtime).

What have been the key factors in such a stark turnaround?

"There's a number of them," Kelly began. "I think its clearly our strength and conditioning, our nutrition, and the way we take care of ourselves. Our (daily) schedule has really taken shape and form over the last couple of years where guys feel fresh. We're hitting peaks in the weight room right now; we're peaking out in November, so we're stronger as a football team right now. I think that goes to it.

"Not turning the football over is a huge element in that," he continued. "We know what our defense has done, but they were consistent last year as well. I think running the football (in 2012) has allowed us to exert our will later in games."

Part of that will has manifested in a stat Kelly had little use for upon his arrival in the off-season and spring of 2010: time of possession.

After finishing last among 120 FBS teams in time of possession in 2009 as head coach of a 12-0 Cincinnati team, Kelly's 2012 Irish rank 14th this fall.

"We've paid attention to it," Kelly admitted, "having said that, the time of possession vs. the amount of plays run, our numbers that we look at, we want our time of possession to equal a certain amount of plays, and we're falling a little bit behind that matrix if you will.

"We really need to continue to possess the football, but we have to run some more plays. That means we have to operate a little bit quicker and be able to get the plays that we want. We're hovering somewhere in the 60s (total plays per game is 66.8), we need to increase that a little bit. We looked at that last week and we're looking at it more closely this week.

According to Kelly, the path to that end is three-fold:

"Time on the play clock: it's down a little bit too far for us," he explained. "We have to accelerate play call, personnel groupings. We're running a lot more personnel groupings into the games where last year we were set, pretty much, in our rotations.

"Some of its coaching. The other part of it is we have to run some plays that you don't check. That you 'call 'em and haul 'em. There's some of that element. And we have to get our quarterback not walking around out there," he added. "He has to get up there and move around a little quicker. So all those elements coming together."

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories