Notre Dame may be zeroing in on what could be a play-in playoff game against Stanford in the season finale. But don’t expect anybody inside the Irish football program to be looking that far ahead. At least not if Brian Kelly has his say.
Notre Dame welcomes Wake Forest to South Bend on Saturday, an opponent familiar with the assignment after serving as the program’s piñata in a 38-point blowout in 2012 during a celebratory Senior Day. With the Demon Deacons sitting at 3-6 and nearly a four-touchdown underdog, a look-ahead opportunity stares the Irish in the face. But Kelly is doing everything he can to make sure his team isn’t stepping back to smell the roses, especially not with so much left to accomplish.
“We’re in the process, that’s what we talk about as coaches,” Kelly explained in his opening comments on Tuesday. “Right now in that process, it’s kind of like being on the treadmill where you just kind of just keep your eyes in front of you and you just keep moving forward. And moving forward to the next challenge in front of us, and that challenge is Wake Forest.”
Dave Clawson’s team is in Year Two of a rebuild that ripped the program down to the foundation and hopes to return bigger and stronger. And while the offense is still a bit of a mess, Clawson’s defense should challenge the Irish in both the run and passing game.
“Defensively, they’ve got some very good players. This is a very good defense, a top 40 defense in the country. I think they rank as high as in the 30s in a number of categories,” Kelly said, understandably pointing out the positives to one of the ACC’s youngest teams.
But more than anything that Wake Forest might do, this week feels like a battle with the team in the mirror. As the College Football Playoff looms and programs get into the meat of their schedule, the Irish face two teams that shouldn’t pose much of a problem to them. Yet winning those games in convincing fashion may be more important than ever. So after six years of coaching and program building, Kelly is confident that this team understands the type of effort and energy they need to bring all week, not just before kickoff on Saturday
“This group understands regardless of who the opponent is, it’s still going to come down to how they prepare this week,” Kelly said. “If they prepare the right way and take care of what they’ve done over the last nine weeks, then when whether they’re a two-point favorite or ten-point underdog, they stand a great chance at winning…
“The rest of that stuff, we haven’t focused on any of that during the year, so they don’t really know any of that.”