FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame is fighting for a potential spot in the national title game and its first undefeated season since the Irish’s last championship in 1988.
But before the No. 3 Irish (10-0) can get to those two goals, they must first finish undefeated at home for the first time since 1998.
Notre Dame, which hasn’t been undefeated this late in the season since 1993, will have a chance to finish perfect at home when Wake Forest (5-5) comes to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.
And unlike other parts of Irish lore, coach Brian Kelly said during his Tuesday news conference that becoming the school’s 26th team to be undefeated at home is something he has talked to his squad about this year.
One of our goals, a tangible goal for us, was to protect our home field, Kelly said. I think everybody in the program felt that if you want to take that next step in terms of success, you got to win at home.
We all talked about the statistics of Oklahoma, and the numbers were mind boggling in terms their home field advantage (77-4 since 1999) until we beat them. We want to have that kind of legacy. We want to build that kind of dominance at home. The first step is winning all your games at home, which hasn’t happened in a long time.
Though Notre Dame has won seven straight home games since last season, the Irish have been anything but dominant at home this year.
Notre Dame has gone to overtime twice at home and won its other home games by a combined 13 points. The Irish have won their five games away from home, two neutral-site games and three true road games, by a combined 127 points.
Kelly has talked about the numerous activities leading up to home games affecting the Irish’s play in Notre Dame Stadium and has streamlined the leadup to games to correct that. He also started holding practice in the stadium one day every week to get his team more comfortable playing in the stadium.
Kelly said the close calls at home do not overly concern him, because the Irish have proven they can win.
I think the only game I have a problem with is the first half defensively against Pittsburgh. Other than that, our guys have prepared and have played hard against some solid competition at home, Kelly said. We’re constructed that way. We’re going to play for four quarters and look up at the end and hope we got one more point than the other team.
Notes: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who suffered a head injury in last Saturday’s 21-6 win at Boston College, was cleared to return to practice Tuesday, Kelly said. Nose guard Louis Nix III will not miss any time against Wake Forest because of his ejection late in the win over BC. Kelly said Nix was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct; he does face further penalties from the NCAA.