Published October 03, 2012
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame is posting some impressive numbers besides the zero at the end of its record and its No. 9 ranking.
The Fighting Irish defense hasn't given up a rushing touchdown, the 36 points it has allowed are the fewest in the opening four games for the school since 1975 and Notre Dame (4-0) is the only FBS team that has yet to trail in a game this season. Players say there is a sense of anticipation around campus.
"You can feel the energy," defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. "I talked to my mom about it, I talked to some of the team about it, it's a different energy around here. I haven't really felt that energy before. It's an exciting feeling. It's an exciting, about-time feeling."
Coach Brian Kelly wants the Irish to enjoy their best start in a decade, so long as they stay focused on what it's taken to get them there.
"You don't just put blinders on. But what you ask them to do is focus on the task at hand, so there is a balance there as well," he said Tuesday.
The Irish haven't been balanced so far, depending heavily on their defense for their strong start. The offense needs to start contributing more, especially as Notre Dame prepares to play Miami (4-1), which is averaging 473 yards and 35.6 points a game. Notre Dame is averaging 351 yards and 25.7 points a game, but hasn't scored more than 20 points in its past three games.
"We need to score more points, no question about that," Kelly said.
Still, a win over the Hurricanes would be the fifth straight for the Irish, their longest streak since 2006, and could move them higher in the poll.
Kelly called it "white noise" when Notre Dame jumped into the rankings after its season-opening victory over Navy. Back then, the Irish had three top-11 teams on its schedule, as well as two other ranked opponents to play. That noise is getting harder to ignore now that the Irish are ranked No. 9 and every team on their schedule has at least one loss, with none ranked higher than No. 13.
Kelly said he doesn't want the Irish ignoring the attention, just keeping it in perspective. He began talking about it with the players on Monday and before he could finish the first sentence he could see the seniors knew what he was talking about.
"The response that I got catching their eye was, 'Coach, we tune that out,'" Kelly said. "I'm pretty confident that our veteran players, in particular, they have been through this enough to know that the focus needs to be on the next practice."
To reinforce that message, Kelly said the Irish had a two-hour practice in full gear Monday with the first-string offense going against the first-string defense to get the Irish accustomed to the speed they'll be facing against Miami on Saturday night at Soldier Field in Chicago, reviving a game that was a big rivalry in the 1980s.
Kelly said the excitement during the bye week over the strong start is a much better feeling for a bye week than two years ago, when the Irish lost back to back games to Navy and Tulsa. In between those two games, a 20-year-old student videographer was killed while filming the team's practice when the lift he was on was blown over. That stretch was a low point in Kelly's three years as coach at Notre Dame.
"They remember that, and I remember that," he said.
Kelly said the Irish emerge from the bye week healthier, saying that a "clicking" quarterback Everett Golson was feeling in his right shoulder had had "cleared up nicely."