AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the formula against No. 13 Stanford is simple: the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish need their best players to play their best.
“If they do that, they’re going to win. So it’s a different kind of mentality going into this game, that our really good players have to step up and play really well,” Kelly said. “They can’t drop the ball, fumble the ball. They know that. I don’t have to preach it as much as they know going into this game that they have to take care of the ball and they have to play really well.”
Three fumbles and an interception cost the Irish (10-1) in a 24-22 loss at Clemson in early October and the Irish survived five turnovers against Boston College last week in a performance that led to escalating concerns by some about whether Notre Dame is playoff worthy.
Kelly believes the Irish should be in the playoffs if they beat the Cardinal (9-2) in their regular-season finale, saying he believes Notre Dame has accomplished enough to try to earn the school’s first national championship since 1988.
“I think if you look at the teams across the board that we’ve played, from the start in September, all the way through November, we’ve played a very good schedule. It hasn’t been front loaded. It hasn’t been back-loaded. We’ve had to play good football all year,” he said.
The knock on the Irish is their defense has played up and down all season. The Irish have forced opponents to go three-and-out on 29.7 percent of its possessions, ranking 11th-best nationally, but they’ve allowed 18 pays of 35 yards or more. They’ve also lost focus at times, allowing Georgia Tech to score two late touchdowns to make it close and allowing Boston College to score 13 points in the fourth quarter on Saturday to cut the lead to 19-16 to make it uncomfortably close.
“If we have a weakness, when we feel the game is in our hands, we let up a little bit,” Kelly said. “That’s unfortunate, but it’s a little bit of who we are.”
Kelly listed the players who needed to play great on Saturday, starting with receiver Will Fuller, who had three dropped passes against Boston College and has been held without a touchdown for two straight games, and added linebacker Jaylon Smith, defensive lineman Sheldon Day and offensive tackle Ronnie Smith. He didn’t mention running back C.J. Prosise, who still was listed as the starter on the depth chart Tuesday although Kelly described him as day-to-day with a high ankle sprain, saying he’s in a walking boot. Kelly on Sunday described Prosise as doubtful against Stanford.
If Prosise doesn’t play, the Irish will be without 12 players who either started at some point during the season or were expected to be significant contributors before they were injured. Kelly said what sets this team apart is they never complained about the injuries.
“They just keep going and they keep moving forward. That’s kind of the mentality of this group,” he said.
Kelly said all the Irish can do on Saturday is play their best and leave their fate in the hands of the selection committee.
“We knew that coming into the season. So we’ll take care of what we can take care of,” Kelly said.
Notes: Kelly described the surgery cornerback KeiVarae Russell underwent after breaking his right leg against Boston College as successful, saying he hopes he can be back in six weeks.