FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame didn’t become bowl eligible with the prettiest performance, but coach Brian Kelly saw the Irish (6-3) take another step in becoming the team he wants them to be in Saturday night’s 24-17 win at Wake Forest
The Irish overcame a 17-10 halftime deficit by shutting out the Demon Deacons in the second half with two defensive players gutting out ankle injuries and with a backup center snapping the ball for three quarters.
Once in a while you got to gut one out, Kelly said during a teleconference Sunday. You really just got to dig down deep. That’s what I saw. This team really, really dug down, and they clearly stayed together no matter what to get the job done.
Linebacker Manti Te’o and defensive end Aaron Lynch may have dug down the most to get the job done.
Te’o re-injured his ankle against the Demon Deacons in the third quarter and was practically playing on one leg in the second half, Kelly said.
Te’o will likely be limited in practice this week as Notre Dame prepares to play Maryland (2-7) in an off-site home game at FedEx Field in Washington D.C. at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The same ankle but turned it again, Kelly said of Te’o. So obviously he’s back to where he was two to three weeks ago.
Lynch’s ankle injury will likely not hinder the freshman, who along with fellow freshman Stephon Tuitt is being counted on more and more with senior Ethan Johnson out with a high-ankle sprain and senior Kapron Lewis-Moore lost for the season with a knee injury.
Lynch has got a lateral sprain, so not a high ankle sprain, Kelly said. He’ll be back.
Center Braxston Cave may not bounce back as fast as the two defensive players. The senior suffered a mild foot sprain in the second quarter, Kelly said.
Cave was replaced by backup Mike Golic Jr. for the rest of the game against Wake Forest
We’re still waiting for some more information, Kelly said of Cave. But it was a lot better today than it looked sometimes last night.
Johnson’s return remains unclear, but he is looking better every day, according to Kelly. The senior suffered a high-ankle sprain against Purdue on Oct. 1 and hasn’t played in the last four games.
When he feels like he’s ready to go, he’s going to step on the field, Kelly said. I know he felt a whole lot better. I know he’s anxious to get back out there.
Kelly is eager for his team to continue to take the next step in its evolution, which in his mind is making winning habitual.
We want to get to that level where we expect to win each and every week, Kelly said. That’s something that we’re not there yet, but we’re on that journey. That’s about playing consistently, as well, not having any games that you don’t play your best. So I would say, as we continue to check off a lot of the boxes, the next one is to make winning a habit.