Steady as a rock
Brian Hartnett | Monday, October 6, 2014
After Notre Dame held Stanford to 205 total yards in a 17-14 win Saturday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised the efforts of his team’s defense in his weekly teleconference Sunday afternoon.“Stanford came in averaging only two third-and-seven or more situations [per game],” Kelly said. “We put them in 11 third down-and-seven or more [situations]. … So that defensive line and linebackers on first and second down have done a terrific job.”
Notre Dame held Stanford to 47 yards rushing on 32 attempts for an average of 1.5 yards per carry. The Irish defense has held opponents to an average of 2.9 yards per carry on the season.
Kelly said he has been impressed with the toughness of Notre Dame’s front seven, led by junior captain defensive lineman Sheldon Day.
“I think what I have been most pleased with is their ability to play very, very good run defense,” he said. “In particular, the front seven has been put together almost in its entirety this year new, other than Sheldon Day. So I think that’s probably been the most pleasing thing.”
Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke earned the game ball, according to Kelly. Luke intercepted two passes and forced a fumble against the Cardinal.
“I think what I was most pleased with, it was a bounce-back game, in a sense,” Kelly said. “[Luke] gave up a couple of big plays against Syracuse.
“[He] could have had a couple of other [interceptions] if balls were thrown with more accuracy. So I would say he’s really picked up his game.”
Offense bests top-ranked Stanford defense
Notre Dame gained 370 yards against Stanford’s defense, which ranked No. 1 nationally entering Saturday’s game and had only allowed 198 yards per game.
The Irish gained 129 of these yards on the ground, for an average of four yards per rush. Kelly said the running game was sorely needed in Saturday’s wet and cold conditions.
“We had some musts in this game, and one of the musts was to really try to control some field position,” he said. “We did not want — you know, obviously, with the weather conditions as they are, we had to find a way to keep our third-down situation — it had to be a manageable third down.”
Senior running back Cam McDaniel ran the ball 15 times, while sophomores Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston received six and three carries, respectively. McDaniel finished with 43 yards, while Bryant gained 16 yards and Folston had 14.
“[Bryant and Folston] have outstanding potential and promise, but what we were looking for in this kind of game was production, and we know what we’re going to get from Cam,” Kelly said. “… Cam has been a pretty steady performer, and we just — I have a tendency to kind of err toward going with the senior captain in these kinds of games.”
Irish move up in polls
Following a chaotic weekend in college football, Notre Dame moved up in both the AP and USA Today coaches’ polls. The Irish advanced from No. 9 to No. 6 in the AP poll and from No. 8 to No. 5 in the coaches’ poll.
Notre Dame’s ascension in the rankings came after losses by No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 8 UCLA over the past week.
Kelly said the losses by top-ranked teams illustrate the importance of focusing on one game at a time.
“It’s obviously great copy for me on Monday when I talk to the team again about winning and just how important it is to just stay in the moment, work on your preparation and enjoy every win as they come because they’re so difficult,” he said. “Great opportunity for me to continue on that message that we’ve been on all year about how difficult it is to win and how important it is for us to keep moving in the right direction.”
Kelly said although Notre Dame is just outside the top four, the Irish have not given much thought to a potential berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
“I think that it’s pretty typical around here that there’s noise regardless of playoffs or no playoffs,” Kelly said. “… I think it’s just Notre Dame football. The guys are pretty used to it. It’s always something just going on.
“They do a great job of just focusing in on it. We’ll continue to avoid the noise, but it’s a day in the life of Notre Dame football around here.”