SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Third-ranked Notre Dame hasn't been dominating at home this season. The Fighting Irish have been unbeatable, though, and that's not something they have been able to say since 1998.
The Irish have needed overtime to win two of those games and have won their other three games at Notre Dame Stadium by a combined 13 points. Yet they are a victory over Wake Forest (5-5) away from going undefeated at home for the first time in 14 years.
"One of our goals, a tangible goal for us, was to protect our home field. We felt, I felt, I think everybody in the program felt, that if you want to take that next step in terms of success, you got to win at home," Kelly said Tuesday.
Since going 6-0 under Davie in 1998, the Irish had a 52-31 record at home in 13 seasons heading this year, averaging a mediocre four wins a season and 2.4 losses. There were some embarrassing losses during that streak, including two of the three most lopsided losses in the history of Notre Dame Stadium: a 38-0 loss to No. 13 Southern Cal under Charlie Weis in 2007 and a 37-0 loss to No. 5 Florida State under Tyrone Willingham in 2003.
The only worse home loss was a 40-0 defeat to No. 2 Oklahoma in 1956.
The also lost 45-14 to Southern Cal in 2003, 33-3 to unranked Georgia Tech in 2007 and 24-23 in 2008 to a Syracuse team that had won just two games previously and had told coach Greg Robinson he was fired effective at the end of the season. Kelly had a few bad home losses of his own, losing 28-27 to Tulsa in 2010 and 23-20 to South Florida in last year's season-opener.
But the Irish haven't been beaten at home since a 31-17 loss to Southern California on Oct. 22, 2011. They've won seven straight games, the longest home winning streak since winning 10 straight from 1997-99 under Bob Davie. But the last six have been by a touchdown or less, a concern Kelly is still trying to find an answer for.
Still, Kelly dreams of the day the Irish can put up the kind of home record Oklahoma has. The Sooners are 80-5 in 14 seasons under Bob Stoops.
"We want to have that kind of legacy. We want to build that kind of dominance at home. The first step is winning all your games at home, which hasn't happened in a long time," Kelly said. "So we actually talked about that yesterday, how important it is for us to finish the season undefeated at home. Our guys know that as a real goal."
Asked if he could picture having that type of record at Notre Dame Stadium, Kelly replied: "Yeah, if I stay employed here long enough. That's the toughest part. If you can stay in one place long enough you've got to a chance to do that. I think we've won 18 out of our last 20 regular-season games. We're moving toward that direction. Now just need to keep doing that."
Kelly also said Tuesday that cornerback KeiVarae Russell has been cleared to play after sustaining a head injury against Boston College. Kelly also said nose guard Louis Nix III was not subject to any further penalty after being ejected from the BC game for unsportsmanlike conduct.
He also said the Irish would be counting on receivers John Goodman, Daniel Smith, Chris Brown and others to make up for the loss of DaVaris Daniels, who sustained a broken left clavicle against Boston College. Daniels is expected to miss the final two games, but is expected to be ready to play in a bowl game.