SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The last time Notre Dame had to rebound from a turnover-filled game, the Irish hung 41 points on Navy and another 41 on USC in back-to-back weeks following that Oct. 3 two-point loss at Clemson.
Notre Dame responded from that sloppy, mistake-laced loss at Death Valley with two of its best wins of the season. After five turnovers in a three-point win over Boston College, it’ll need a similar response when it heads to No. 9 Stanford on Saturday, with all the numbers pointing to a high-scoring shootout in Palo Alto.
But to answer that challenge, Notre Dame doesn’t feel it has to change anything offensively. The foundation of this offense is in place — over half its turnovers came in those two games against Clemson and Boston College — and coaches and players believe all they have to do is execute the gameplan and make the kind of decisions that’ve led them to a 10-1 record and No. 6 ranking.
“I think we got to this point because this is a very, very good team,” coach Brian Kelly said. “This is a great team in a sense that, look, you get five or six turnovers, you start pointing fingers. The guys pull apart. This group never once, when they had adversity, pulled apart. We have a really, really good football team. Now they have to play well.”
We’ve seen Notre Dame’s identity evolve into one headlined by explosive plays on offense and a certain mental toughness, combining those quantitative and qualitative traits into a push for the College Football Playoff. Redshirt freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer hasn’t proven to be a turnover-prone guy — unlike Notre Dame’s last two full-season starting quarterbacks — instead showing an ability to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers around him.
Kizer said he missed receiver Will Fuller on a few routes against Boston College (Fuller didn’t have a good game himself, either) and with Boston College’s stingy run defense bottling up running back Josh Adams, the Toledo, Ohio native probably put too much on his shoulders at Fenway Park.
“I don’t have to go out there and have this spectacular game for myself,” Kizer said. “I just have to make sure that I can do whatever I can to put our team in position to get a W at the end of the game.
“As a quarterback, you can’t be the reason we lose a game, and that’s more my mentality. You have to make sure that you’re in the right play, whether that be run or pass and that you’re getting the ball to the veterans or playmakers or hot hand at the time.”
And it’s not like Notre Dame’s offense didn’t do anything right against Boston College. Kizer threw for 320 yards and the Irish averaged 6.2 yards per play against a defense that entered last week allowing an FBS-best average of 3.9 yards per play. Even if Boston College is given the two fumbles it forced, plus one of Kizer’s interceptions, Notre Dame probably scores an additional six to 14 points and manages a far more convincing win.
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With Oklahoma and Michigan State both picking up significant wins over the weekend, Notre Dame’s narrow win over Boston College helped drop it from No. 4 to No. 6. Whether it can recover in the selection committee’s eyes remains to be seen, but there’s plenty of confidence around the Guglielmino Athletics Complex that the Irish offense will get back to the level that propelled it into the College Football Playoff discussion.
“The individuals, the I in the team part, these individuals gotta play really, really well,” Kelly said. “If they do that, they're going to win. So it's a different kind of mentality going into this game, that our really good players have to step up and play really well, they can't drop the ball, fumble the ball. They know that. I don't have to preach it as much as they know going into this game that they have to take care of the ball and they have to play really well.
“I think when you get to this point, they clearly understand that when your team is right and the pieces are right and the leadership is right and the message is consistent, you don't have to hit them over the head with that. They know what to do.”