Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 2, 2015 Issue

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 56 of 111

IN THE TRENCHES ANDREW OWENS The challenge shifts now for the Irish, with a navigable schedule lead- ing up to the Nov. 28 finale at Stan- ford, one that looks increasingly like it might be a playoff elimination game Thanksgiving weekend. The team's primary challenge prior to that contest is the scheduling odd- ity, with four of five games down the stretch coming away from the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium. "We have to take that [mental toughness] and be road warriors," head coach Brian Kelly said. "That's the next question. We had to beat Vir- ginia late on the road, and we lost to Clemson. That's yet to be determined about how we're playing on the road. "That's the next challenge for this football team. And you've got to be mentally tough to handle the crowd. You've got to be mentally tough to be disciplined to go on the road and beat somebody. "And that's the next thing that we need to continue to cultivate and de- velop with this group." Notre Dame has a week off to re- charge its batteries and prepare for the stretch run, but several issues remain. While the secondary produced a pair of late interceptions to help seal the win, its play continues to be a mixed bag, with the most glaring weakness being the rotation of junior Max Redfield and fifth-year senior Matthias Farley at one of the safety positions. It was puzzling to see Red- field on the bench for the first half against an offense that mirrored Clem- son — his best game in an Irish uni- form — much more than Navy's triple option, a look he struggles against. Notre Dame also seems to be plagued at inopportune times by the turnover bug that quickly sent the 2014 season south. Four second-half giveaways in the 24-22 loss at Clem- son helped derail a comeback bid, and it looked like junior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr.'s fumble might have similarly destructive consequences. But the Irish are 6-1 and have no excuses to be anything but 10-1 when they head west to Stanford next month. They're doing it with a third- string quarterback and a slot receiver turned running back that each week looks more and more like the latter as a viable Heisman Trophy contender. To survive the hits the team has taken to this point, mental toughness was required. It was delivered in the 10-point win over USC and will be needed the rest of the way. "I'm not going to say it's anything new," junior defensive end Isaac Ro- chell said. "I think our team has al- ways done a really good job of playing well at the end of the game, especially when we were down we did a good job of coming back. I don't think it's new, though. I think it's just a testa- ment to how hard we've worked." Notre Dame must clean up its play in certain areas for that hard work to pay off, but those weak points can be addressed on a unit that can always fall back on mental toughness. ✦ Andrew Owens has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since August 2013. He can be reached at

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