After using its most physical game this season to beat BYU, rebounding from its most disappointing loss, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says the Fighting Irish need to come up with an even grittier effort to try to come up with their biggest win of the season against eighth-ranked Stanford.
"You cannot play finesse football against Stanford," Kelly said Sunday. "Oregon showed that you can't go in there and try to finesse them and play fast-break football. You've got to play physical football against Stanford to have a chance against them. What we have to do is prove we can do it consistently."
The Irish (8-3) ran the ball a season-high 47 times against BYU after having just 24 rushing attempts in a 28-21 loss to Pittsburgh in the previous game. Kelly said the physical style the Irish used against BYU is the way they have to play to be successful.
"This is Notre Dame football. This is the way we need to play. This is what we're capable of playing," he said.
An example of that physical play was nose guard Jarron Jones stopped Jamaal Williams a yard shy of a first down on fourth-and-2 on the Notre Dame 30 yard-line. Jones, playing much of the game after Louis Nix III underwent season-ending knee surgery on Thursday and with Kona Schwenke slowed by an ankle, fought off a block by guard Solomone Kafu, slid to his left and tackled William head on.
Jones finished with seven tackles and also had a blocked field goal late in the game.
"Jarron we felt like was coming on and he played exceedingly well and really happy for him," Kelly said. "But we thought this was something that when we recruited him that he was capable of."
Notre Dame moved back into the Top 25 with the victory and could move up even further with a victory Saturday. The Irish already have wins over No. 11 Michigan State (10-1), No. 13 Arizona State (9-2) and No. 23. Southern California (9-3), giving each their most recent losses. The Irish also lost to No. 20 Oklahoma (9-2).
Kelly said the Irish recognize the opportunity before them.
"It does so much for you to finish strong, especially against a team like Stanford and a ranked opponent," Kelly said. "They know the wins they have and they're disappointed in the losses they have."
Notre Dame's most thrilling victory in going undefeated in the regular season last year came in a 20-13 victory over the Cardinal last season with a goal-line stand. The Irish stopped Stepfan Taylor inches from the end zone on fourth down to hold on for the victory after being pushed around by Stanford the previous three years.
Kelly said the Irish haven't always been as physical as they should have been this season, saying toughness needs to be part of the program.
"We want tough gentlemen. I want tough guys on the field, I want gentlemen off the field. There have been times we've played like gentlemen, and I don't want to play like gentlemen," he said.
Kelly also said center Nick Martin is out for the rest of the season, including the bowl game, after injuring his knee against BYU. Kelly said he didn't have specific details of the injury.