Notre Dame football: Irish know who they are — a team that grinds out wins

By Al Lesar

South Bend Tribune

Published: Saturday, Oct. 20 2012 11:04 p.m. MDT

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Too easy to write off Notre Dame's 17-14 win over BYU as a "trap" game and move on.

According to Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, there's no such animal in college football. "Trap games" exist only in the muddled minds of the media.

What happened Saturday went way beyond the letdown after an emotional win and a peek ahead to a showdown. Warts were obvious. Survival shouldn't be good enough. There are bigger fish to fry.

Taking the victory at face value, it was a significant achievement. It was Notre Dame's unofficial BCS clincher. The Irish will not lose to Pitt, Boston College or Wake Forest. No trap is big enough for that to happen.

Ten wins. Given Notre Dame's schedule, it will be too hard to overlook. Road games against Oklahoma and Southern Cal will determine placement.

In other words, it's "go" time.

Saturday's win didn't bring any false sense of superiority. In fact, the postgame locker room atmosphere even caused coach Brian Kelly to worry a bit.

"The thing that was concerning for me the most is when our guys came in and I didn't sense a great feeling after winning a tough, tough football game," Kelly said. "(BYU's) a team that won 10 games last year. That's a bracket-buster team in basketball parlance; that's a darned good football team. Our kids hung in there and won the football game."

After 10 losses in two seasons, the current regime won't underestimate what it takes to win a game. Nor should it. Kelly's 24-hour rule will have to work in reverse this time. Stop feeling bad about the win, and focus on getting ready for Oklahoma.

"I want (our players) to know, that, listen, you can't win games by 28 and 30 points," Kelly said. "You need to find ways to win. That's who we are. There are a lot of teams around the country that have made their programs on winning 7-6 and 13-7. It's just who we are; embrace who we are, I guess is what I'm saying. We just keep fighting, keep playing, and we'll find a way to win."

There were times when it could be argued that the Irish won almost in spite of themselves.

Two missed field goals by Kyle Brindza, 40 and 28 yards. Two late-hit penalties (Troy Niklas and Matthias Farley). A key facemask call on Louis Nix. One interception (don't blame quarterback Tommy Rees for the drop by DaVaris Daniels).

And first-and-goal-from-the-5 play-calling that could have been borrowed from the playbook of Stanford coach David Shaw.

"We understood there's a lot of things we could do differently," said Irish linebacker Manti Te'o. "There's a lot of mistakes that we made, but a win is a win and we are very happy with what we have accomplished (Saturday). We are going to come back on Monday and really focus on what we did wrong."

Should be a busy day.

What the Irish did right can't be overlooked.

At least for the first half, tight end Tyler Eifert came out of exile and finally became a factor in the passing game. Whether it was the insertion of Rees or BYU's inability to match up with the big man, Eifert caught four passes for 73 yards and a four-yard touchdown. His acrobatic grab on a 29-yard pass, which started the drive toward his touchdown, was nothing short of amazing.

The Irish ground game, against the nation's No. 3 rush defense, took over the game in the final 30 minutes. Notre Dame rushed for 157 yards with the game on the line in the second half.

No way to downplay that significance.

"We are becoming that kind of football team on offense," Kelly said.

"You talk about finding an identity; that's why we talk with it. Even when we were down, we kept running the football.

"It's our identity and what we do. There were some opportunities we probably could have thrown the ball and didn't need to take advantage of it at this point. But again, that's how we are playing the game now."

Nothing wrong with that. An identity is an essential part of the evolution process for a team. A premise. A foundation.

The Irish defense, in the first half especially, didn't escape without blame.

"We let the ball outside (of the perimeter) for a first time in a long time," Kelly said. "We had some untimely penalties."

"We had some mental errors," Lewis-Moore said. "Nobody was yelling at each other. We made some mistakes and we fixed them."

While pitching a second-half shutout, the Irish allowed BYU just 115 total yards.

Amid the good and the bad, reality is the most encouraging by-product of Saturday's victory. The Irish haven't fooled themselves into a false sense of swagger heading to Oklahoma. Work will get its proper attention and focus.

Remember, it's "go" time.

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