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Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame’s ‘survival’ of turnovers an annual occurrence

Toledo v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Quinyon Mitchell #27 of the Toledo Rockets makes a fumble recovery during the first half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, 2021 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

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If No. 12 Notre Dame (2-0) improves upon “the basic premise of football” this week, it should win its 26th consecutive home game, its 35th straight against an unranked opponent and Brian Kelly’s 105th as the Irish head coach, tying Knute Rockne for most in program history, against Purdue (2-0) on Saturday (2:30 ET; NBC).

Those numbers are mentioned both as persistent reminders — particularly when it comes to Kelly’s arrival at Rockne’s threshold — and as evidence of the stability Notre Dame has found during this resurgence beginning in 2017. Kelly may feel his team needs to reevaluate most of its basics, but it has continued to do the things that lay the foundation for a winning program.

“Can’t even begin with the work that we have to do,” Kelly said after Saturday’s 32-29 win against Toledo. “Obviously, it starts with just the basic premises of football. Three turnovers, one of them was a touchdown.

“You don’t usually survive those games and win when you do that.”

Not to well, actually Kelly’s postgame generalization, but surviving those games has been a hallmark of those Irish streaks, winning one per season each of the last three — now four — years.

2021: Three turnovers lost, one forced in 32-29 victory against Toledo. Notre Dame outgained the Rockets by 96 yards.2020: Three turnovers lost, two forced in 45-31 victory against Boston College. Notre Dame outgained the Eagles by 200 yards.2019: Three turnovers lost, five forced in 35-20 victory against Virginia. The Cavaliers outgained Notre Dame by 16 yards.2018: Three turnovers lost, two forced in 24-16 win against Ball State. Notre Dame outgained the Cardinals by 65 yards.

The theme there is obvious: Those trios of turnovers forced the Irish into somewhat competitive or outright worrisome games that otherwise never would have been so close.

The last time Notre Dame lost a game in which it committed three turnovers?2017: Four turnovers lost, none forced in 41-8 loss at Miami. The Hurricanes outgained Notre Dame by 113 yards.2017: Three turnovers lost, none forced in 38-20 loss at Stanford. Notre Dame outgained the Cardinal by 87 yards.

Bad memories for the Irish, obviously, but the biggest difference between those losses and the four wins is that Notre Dame failed to counter with its own defensive havoc.

The Irish two-point conversion play call in the closing minutes Saturday seemed bold, but Kelly said they have practiced that play — commonly known as the “Philly Special” — for years. It just does not usually break down such that fifth-year receiver Avery Davis, a former quarterback, has to make multiple reads.

Davis usually looks for the quarterback at the goal line, and if the defense has stayed disciplined and covered the quarterback, then Davis will try to run around the edge. Neither option was available against Toledo with Notre Dame looking to go up by a field goal. So instead, Davis looked back toward junior running back Kyren Williams and sophomore tight end Michael Mayer, designed options on the play but mostly intended to simply remove defenders from the front side of the play.

“He made a great play, stopped, redirected,” Kelly said. “We’ve never seen that in the play.”

Maybe this should not be made into a big deal until it is seen again, but it will be seen again, many times this season.

Notre Dame Stadium was 16,000 fans short of a sellout against the Rockets, the lowest attendance (60,009) since the stadium expansion following the 1996 season. There have been plenty of opponents with less name recognition than Toledo in that timespan. Ticket prices did not jump this season; this game was in fact cheaper than most in the last decade. And while attendance has been gradually falling universally in recent years, this is a stark drop at Notre Dame.

The most likely reason for the empty seats is the understandable uneasiness with the state of the pandemic.

“Would I like 76,000 or whatever capacity is?” Kelly asked rhetorically on Monday. “Yes, but we’re living in a time where there’s electronic tickets, there’s COVID.”

If only something could have been done to encourage safety and smart decisions by the fans in attendance, thus encouraging the cautious among us to attend ...

USC fired Clay Helton, thus bettering the chances the Trojans rejoin college football’s elite in the near future. Notre Dame football is more enjoyable when USC is succeeding.

Thanks to Buchner and Coan, No. 8 Notre Dame holds off Toledo in dramatic home openerHighlights: No. 8 Notre Dame 32, Toledo 29 — Featuring Jack Coan & Tyler BuchnerThings We Learned, Part I: Notre Dame has a choice to make and it’s not Coan or BuchnerThings We Learned, Part II: Notre Dame’s defensive lapses will continue, but with accompanying rewards

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