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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, October 29, 2017 3:20 am

Notebook: Irish thrive on mindset to dominate

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame played a near perfect game last week against Southern California, a team that humiliated the Irish last season, 45-27. With Notre Dame's 49-14 rout of USC this year, it was a 53-point turnaround.

That began to convince the country that Notre Dame is for real in 2017, but some shrugged and said, "Let's see them do it again."

Well, they did. By a surprising score of 35-14, the ninth-ranked Irish dispatched No. 14 North Carolina State on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. It was fairly easy.

"We approach each and every week preparing to dominate our next opponent, whoever that may be," star running back Josh Adams said. "They're going to bring the house, so we have to prepare likewise. I think each and every guy on the team did a great job of bringing that mindset on Monday and carrying it throughout (the week). We just tried to play all four quarters and bring that mindset to dominate."

It may sound awkward, but Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly actually played down the idea of winning.

"We don't talk about winning," Kelly said. "Winning is not even part of our vocabulary. We didn't talk about winning any games this year. It's about the mindset that we've created to dominate our opponent, so winning is not even part of the equation with this group."

The Irish are averaging 40.5 points a game and giving up 16.1 points a game. Their average weekly scoring margin of plus-24.4 is one of the 10 best in the nation.

No one should bet on a letdown next weekend when Wake Forest visits Notre Dame Stadium.

Coney gets game ball: Kelly awarded Te'von Coney a game ball. Although Greer Martini returned from a one-game injury absence, Coney started at outside linebacker and finished with a team-high nine tackles and one quarterback hurry.

"Back-to-back games where he's just ascending," Kelly said. "Playing really, really good football."

Stepherson starts: For the first time this season, sophomore Kevin Stepherson started at wide receiver. He's been healthy all year and has a world of talent, but Kelly indicated there were off-field concerns that needed to be addressed.

Stepherson made his presence felt with two catches for 24 yards and a touchdown. He adds a deep threat to the offense.

"There are guys all across the board that can take a top off the defense," Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush said.

No flinch: When a blocked punt allowed North Carolina State to go up 7-0, Kelly was concerned, but his players' response pleased him.

"I'm not surprised that we didn't flinch," Kelly said. "I think that was most impressive for me. Coaching for as long as I have, when you get a punt block, it has a tendency to really affect your football team. Our guys never flinched. It was as if nothing ever occurred."