The line between a 4-2 record and a .500 mark is thin, and Notre Dame can exhale a bit knowing it will not face two weeks of questions following its 37-34 Saturday win over Arizona State. But the Irish are not ready to mount a BCS-bowl campaign just yet.
"I've got to tell you, I don't know that we even really have that in our mind-set as much as the guys want to win football games on Saturday," coach Brian Kelly said. "And we just don't get too far ahead of ourselves, because we are staying in the present. And if we think about anything else but the next day of practice, we just -- we just would be putting ourselves in peril. So they have done a great job since I've been here of just really trying to stay focused day to day, and if they get ahead of themselves and start thinking about anything else, we'll find ourselves looking at it on the other end. Again, I think if they just focus on -- they are going to get some time this week to focus on their studies and academics, and get ready for USC."
Saturday might have been Notre Dame's most complete performance to date, as the Irish made big plays in the passing and return game, in addition to notching five sacks and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Still, momentary lapses provided the staff much to work with, particularly when the Sun Devils went 75 yards in just 57 seconds to cut the Irish lead to three and make the game essentially come down to an onside kick, which TJ Jones recovered.
"Well, you know, I wasn't doing jumping jacks," Kelly said. "I guess all I was saying was that I felt our defense was playing well enough for us to win, and I still feel that way. There are things that we have to continue to improve on. Nobody was happy with the last drive. [Defensive coordinator Bob] Diaco was not happy. Our players were not happy. But we think there are things that we can take from it. You know, it's the first time we saw a team that actually wanted to get back there and try to throw a comprehensive passing game and we were able to get some pressure.
"We were opportunistic in turnovers and I thought we did a very good job in -- again, obviously they couldn't run the football against us. So those are all basic, important tenets of playing good defense. So I think those continue to show themselves week in and week out and if you do that, you've got a chance to win each game that you play. I'm not saying that, you know, we've got a spectacular defense, but we have a solid defense that is getting better."
One that answered the bell when it mattered most, staunching the bleeding from a two-loss September and giving the Irish much to play for over the second half of the season.
"They know how difficult it is to win, and when you're on a stretch of games that they were on, and they knew a bye week was coming up, it was a very important game for them, and they understood the significance of winning, and they clearly knew the difference between 4-2 and 3-3 going into a bye week," Kelly said. "They are feeling pretty good. You know, again, I think the most important thing for them is they now look at it as a six-game schedule and they have got to be perfect for six weeks."