For as impressive as Notre Dame has been overcoming the multiple injury challenges they’ve faced this season, one foe they have yet to prove their mettle against is the good, old-fashioned road trip.
For the longest time, Irish fans complained about a lack of home field advantage in Notre Dame Stadium. Brian Kelly’s team has seemed to have solved that problem. Now the Irish need to show that they can be the same explosive football team away from home.
The Irish’s record in away games hasn’t been the greatest these past few years. And Kelly was right to point out one of the largest factors from the get-go—the teams they were playing.
“I think that some of our road games the last couple years… the ACC took it easy on us and had us open up at Clemson and Florida State, those are pretty tough places to play,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I just think we’ve played some tough games. Our kids have been prepared and played hard.”
Playing hard is only one part of the equation. As the Irish prepare to play four of their final five games away from South Bend, Kelly also hit on the Achilles heel of the Irish when they’ve struggled away from home.
“When you go on the road, you have to take care of the football. That’s the most important thing,” Kelly said.
Trying to dig themselves out of a hole (and Hurricane Joaquin) against Clemson, the Irish turned the football over four times in the second half, a large reason they came up two-points short against the Tigers. In last year’s bludgeoning against USC, the Irish were -2 in the turnover battle.
The theme continues. Notre Dame’s five lost turnovers and -4 afternoon against Arizona State made it impossible to get out of the desert alive. The Irish didn’t win the turnover battle in their narrow defeat against Florida State in 2014, and in their season-defining 2013 disappointment at Pitt, Notre Dame went -3 in a shocking 28-21 loss.
Notre Dame does have some advantages these last five games. While the Temple faithful will be out in full force this weekend, Lincoln Financial Stadium is sold out thanks to Irish fans. Pitt has been a consistently difficult place for Notre Dame to play, but a noon start should take some of the heat from the Panthers crowd.
Fenway Park may be down the street from Boston College, but it’s a Notre Dame home game. Add to that a Thanksgiving weekend in Palo Alto that’ll have more than its share of Irish fans enjoying Northern California, and this isn’t exactly a murder’s row of venues.
Kelly’s belief that his team will be prepared for the challenges ahead could hold true. But it’ll likely come down to DeShone Kizer continuing to be responsible with the football, and doing it against some of the best defenses that the Irish will face this season.