‘Focus, refocus’ approach applies to both Notre Dame’s defense and Kelly’s 100th game as Irish coach

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On the verge of his 100th game at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly’s description of his eighth season mirrors his plan to avoid another disappointing defensive showing as was displayed in the 48-37 Irish victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.

“It’s focus, refocus at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “I’m honored to have gotten the opportunity to coach 100 games. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever get a chance to coach one game at Notre Dame, so to think of 100, I can’t even wrap my arms around that.”

That “focus, refocus” approach played a role in Kelly rebooting the Irish this year, now standing at 8-1 less than a year removed from a dismal 4-8 season. Similarly, Miami finished a bland 9-4 last year but now has its eyes on the College Football Playoff with an 8-0 record to date. Were the changes between the two programs the same? Not specifically, but a few broad themes may apply to both.

“Fans could be more patient, I’m sure that’s not the answer you wanted,” Kelly said before offering a more sincere thought tying to player development and college football’s 85 scholarships restriction.

Such development begins during the week. Apparently that was the lacking piece for Notre Dame before hosting the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest set season highs for points against and yards allowed by the Irish.

“They didn’t find the key to unlock the secrets of the Elko defense,” Kelly said, referencing defensive coordinator Mike Elko. “There’s nothing like that.

“This is really about playing with the right intensity and the right mental approach to the game. We just didn’t prepare in the manner that we had prepared in the other weeks, and we’ll do that and we’ll need to do that moving forward.”

Kelly listed off a variety of distractions that played a part in the subpar preparation, including senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill having three engineering projects demanding late nights, immaturity not recognizing possible pitfalls, and perhaps too much comfort with a 41-16 lead on the scoreboard. He did not fault the No. 3 ranking in the initial College Football Playoff selection committee poll, but perhaps that was an underlying piece of the vague reference to immaturity.

Wake Forest not only scored 37 points against Notre Dame, but the Demon Deacons also gained 587 total yards.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

“The external distractions, we’ve got those covered pretty good for our guys,” Kelly said. “It’s the internal distractions where they start thinking about, oh, maybe I don’t have to play quite as hard this week, maybe I don’t have to get all the nutrition and sleep I need this week.

“… The enemy is the distractions. The enemy isn’t the College Football Playoffs.”

Such a performance resulting in a victory serves as something of a win-win for Kelly and his staff. The “refocus” part of the equation would be more difficult if Notre Dame had lost or if there was little to point toward necessitating its need.

“We use [it as] great learning and teaching opportunities for our guys,” Kelly said.

Speaking of the Playoff poll …
The committee will release an updated version tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The exact rankings may not play into Kelly’s view of weekly preparations, but the fact that they matter at all is a valid piece of November readiness. Such could certainly be said for the Hurricanes, as well.

“I know our guys are excited about this championship drive that they are on now,” Kelly said. “This part of the season, obviously in November, all of the teams that are in contention are focused on one game at a time, and it’s single elimination for most teams.”

It will be single elimination Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (ABC). After tonight, it could be a top-five matchup, though certainly top-10. If offering a prediction, this space would posit the Irish will remain No. 3 while Miami jumps four spots to No. 6. In many respects, that latter landing will not matter. If the Hurricanes win this weekend, they will find themselves in excellent playoff positioning pending an ACC title game victory.

Editor’s Note: The weekly “Notre Dame’s Opponents” piece moved to Wednesday this week to incorporate a CFP focus, but it should be noted Miami (OH) lost 45-28 a week ago at Ohio and will host Akron tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) as 6.5-point favorites with a combined point total over/under of 51, hinting at a 29-22 final.

Injury updates
Kelly had largely good news regarding Irish injuries. He has “no concerns” about the readiness or physical stature of junior running back Josh Adams (“not himself”) or junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush (left hand).

Junior tight end Alizé Mack (concussion) will return to practice today, ready to go for the weekend, and junior running back Dexter Williams (quad contusion, lingering sprained ankle) showed some signs of his trademark explosiveness in the weight room Monday.

Fifth-year receiver Cam Smith remains questionable after further imaging of his hamstring. He will test it in practice to see if he can reach full go.