Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Chicago Colleges [Print without images]

Monday, November 25, 2013
Irish look to little things to finish strong

By Matt Fortuna

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The taking-care-of-the-little-things approach that seemingly eluded Notre Dame earlier this month resurfaced here and there before Saturday's game against BYU. For Brian Kelly, that attention to detail was evident the moment the Irish left their hotel Saturday morning.

Players may usually be on their phones "Facebooking," as the coach said, or even fussing about the weather.

And Saturday's conditions should have given them plenty to talk about.

"Hey, the weather is what it is," quarterback Tommy Rees said. "I grew up a couple hours from here so I'm used to that type of weather."

That attitude permeated throughout the roster.

"We walked out of the hotel, and it was blustery and cold, and not a mention of the weather," Kelly added. "It was a singleminded focus, and I knew our guys were ready and locked in on playing the kind of football that we needed to play. I had a pretty good indication of the way we were going to play and the way we need to play."

Brian Kelly
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has a solid track record in November, whether his teams are in BCS contention or not.
In terms of physical and mental toughness, Kelly said, they might have played their best game of the season in the 23-13 victory. And down another man in Nick Martin, with nothing different to play for — against their best opponent yet, Stanford — the Irish will at the very least need a similar effort this Saturday on the road.

A bye week following a tough loss at Pitt gave the Irish two weeks to think about what they had just done.

The conclusion, or question, as Kyle Brindza phrased it: Who likes to lose?

"That's our biggest thing: We want to be able to go out there all four quarters, to be able to go out there and win," the kicker said after being rewarded with another game ball for his efforts. "And today [Kelly] definitely told us dominate each quarter, dominate each play. It's not winning your one-on-one battles, it's dominating that play. So that was definitely one of the things that we took in mind."

Kelly's late-season success has been well documented, as his teams are 30-8 in November and December regular-season games as an FBS coach. That record is 12-2 at Notre Dame. And much of that ground has been covered without the carrots of BCS berths and other postseason goodies his players could aim to achieve.

No matter, TJ Jones said. You still keep the locker room tidy. You still pay attention in study hall and in meetings.

"You're at Notre Dame, one of the best universities, if not the the best university, in the country," said Jones, who insists his locker is always clean. "You have a lot to play for. You have a lot of people that you play with that you want to play for in the Notre Dame community. There's just people and yourself that you don't want to let down just because you can't go BCS."

This past Saturday, the effort was for the seniors in their home finale. Do that again, and it will not go unnoticed.

Bowl selection for Notre Dame — for this last season, at least — is a complicated process. There is looking at the destinations that have openings, and there is determining which of those destinations the Notre Dame road show could benefit most from.

But for an outfit with three Top 25 wins, and for the program's winningest senior class in 18 years (36 victories), the future might take a back seat to the present.

"In this instance I'm not really concerned about it from a recruiting standpoint," Kelly said of a bowl destination. "I want this to be a reward for our seniors, and so the bowl opportunity for our team is going to be in large degree based upon the input that I've gotten from our seniors and where they'd like to go and where they'd like to play."