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Close calls

Matthew DeFranks | Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In Saturday’s 17-13 win over Michigan State, No. 22 Notre Dame squeaked out its 10th win in the last 11 games in contests decided by less than a touchdown.

In the first seven such games during Irish coach Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame, the Irish were 2-5.
Kelly said winning close games came in due time.

“When we first got here I don’t believe that we were able to win some of those games, and I think it’s just a matter of time,” he said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “We’re four years into our program. Our kids believe that if they prepare the right way and they take care of the things that they’re supposed to do that they have a belief [they can win].”

Already this season, the Irish (3-1) have two victories of seven or fewer points (against Purdue and Michigan State). Last season, they notched five victories of seven or fewer points, including two in overtime.

Kelly said the Irish still need to execute, despite the mindset they carry into the game.

“They believe that they can win no matter what the circumstances are,” he said. “But again, I would caution you to say that it’s still about you’ve got to make plays. We made a couple more plays at the end, and we’ll have to make a couple more this weekend.”

The Irish will likely encounter another close game this Saturday against No. 14 Oklahoma, who are 3.5-point road favorites over Notre Dame.

Kelly said the Irish need to play exceptionally well against the Sooners (3-0).

“It’s just a well coached, deep and talented football team,” he said. “We’re going to have to play extremely well. We’re going to have to be in great position, extremely disciplined across the board and play our best game of the season.”

A year ago in Norman, Okla., the Irish exploded for 20 points in the fourth quarter – including the final 17 – to beat the Sooners, 30-13.

“I think you’re going to have to see a similar kind of effort,” Kelly said. “It’s going to have to be our best game of the year in all phases, including special teams.  And we certainly know that because we’ve played Oklahoma before, and we know what to expect.”

Depth chart changes
For the first time this season, the five running backs who have seen game action (juniors George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel and freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston) are all on an even playing field, at least on paper.

All five backs are listed as co-starters in this week’s depth chart, which was released Tuesday, even though Kelly called the rotation a four-man one Sunday. Kelly clarified his comments, saying the Irish just got to four running backs Saturday and want to get to five.

Junior inside linebacker Jarrett Grace was listed as the co-starter at the Mike linebacker position along with graduate student Dan Fox.

Kelly said Grace’s progress has allowed the inside linebacker positions to be fluid with Grace, Fox and graduate student Carlo Calabrese.

Sophomore safety Elijah Shumate has slipped into the starting safety role opposite senior Austin Collinsworth and junior Matthias Farley, who are listed as co-starters.

Freshman Max Redfield is listed as Shumate’s backup.

Day update
Kelly said he expected sophomore defensive lineman Sheldon Day to practice Tuesday. Day missed the Michigan State game Saturday with a sprained ankle.

Senior defensive lineman Kona Schwenke started in Day’s place against the Spartans.

No green jerseys
Despite a joint effort from the Leprechaun Legion and the Kelly Cares Foundation to green-out Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, Kelly said the Irish will not be wearing green jerseys against Oklahoma.

According to Kelly, there will be more than 40,000 green pom-poms handed out to fans entering the game Saturday.

 

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu