Tone for BYU set on Monday
SOUTH BEND -- Contrary to popular belief, Notre Dame didn't beat BYU Saturday.
The 23-13 Irish victory actually happened Monday.
Saturday was just college football's version of an exclamation mark.
"I think you always get what you demand," said Irish coach Brian Kelly. "We were demanding it from our guys in everything they did from the way the locker room looked to every meeting we went to. We went back to saying, 'Look, you can't start winning until you stop losing.' So you can't (stop doing) the little things — you've got to do them the right way all the time.
"Not that there was a major breakdown, but it was more of a focus on making sure that our guys were doing the little things the right way. We had a great week of practice. Our Monday (practice), where we went ones versus ones and banged it around, I could just sense right there that we were going to play pretty good today."
Irish linebacker Dan Fox had an interesting perspective.
"We didn't want Pitt to beat us twice," said Fox, Notre Dame's leading tackler with nine stops and two tackles for loss.
Two weeks of dealing with the sour aftertaste of that season-altering upset didn't ruin the Irish. They ran the ball with a purpose. Took advantage of a BYU secondary depleted by injury and illness. And avoided the major meltdowns that caused Notre Dame problems at Pitt.
"It was an energetic practice (Monday)," said Irish receiver TJ Jones, who had five receptions for 95 yards. "Guys were happy to be out there after a week off. There weren't many mistakes. We were executing. We were running fast; flying all over the field on both sides of the ball. We showed the enthusiasm (Kelly) wanted."
The Irish embraced their one-point underdog status. Defending their turf was a primary mission.
They were able to harness the emotions of Senior Day and close this chapter on a positive note.
"We asked our guys to do something with this game: We asked (they have) a single-minded focus that they had not shown against Pittsburgh and an attention to detail," Kelly said. "We felt like we didn't have that against Pittsburgh, and I think all of our players, in particular our seniors, really rallied to those things."
"Monday, coach Kelly really harped on attention to detail, mental discipline and being all-in with everything," Fox said. "We constantly brought all three of those things to every practice. That's why we carried it into the game.
"Our team is so close. They knew how important this game was for the seniors. I'm so proud of the younger guys how they practiced through the week and how they forced that through the game."
The Arctic cold, gusty winds and bursts of Lake Michigan's frozen bounty did little to deter Notre Dame on either side of the ball.
How's this for balance? Rushing yards: 235. Passing yards: 235.
It took those brutal weather conditions to convince Kelly to turn the game over to his offensive line and run the ball. Cam McDaniel had 24 carries (of the 47 the Irish had) for 117 yards. What a novel idea: Make a guy the workhorse, and use other backs Tarean Folston (13 carries, 78 yards) and George Atkinson (6 for 42) for a change of pace.
The most important aspect the Irish offense did was establish dominance along the line. Quarterback Tommy Rees wasn't sacked and BYU caused just four negative-yardage plays.
Notre Dame's only defensive hiccup was allowing a 46-yard burst by running back Paul Lasike. For the second week in a row, safety Matthias Farley whiffed on an open-field tackle that would have cut the gain in half. His miss in the Pitt game allowed a critical touchdown.
The Irish managed to contain a mobile quarterback. BYU's Taysom Hill ran for 101 yards (on 24 carries) and threw for 168 (21 of 36), but he didn't run for more than 16 yards or complete a pass for more than 15.
"We gave up some things to hold up big plays," Kelly said. "We bled a little bit into the boundary, as you know. We gave up some swings and some quick gains into the short field, which I was tempted to get into some real coverage in the boundary, but it would have put us in a position where they could possibly get over the top. We weren't going to let them get over the top. We were double-zoning a lot to the field and trying to keep the ball in front of us."
That's the way they drew it up Monday. Turned out pretty well Saturday.
The exclamation mark was applied.