By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
After a three-week stretch playing teams from the Big Ten, the focus shifts this week for the No. 22 Notre Dame Fighting Irish as No. 14 Oklahoma comes to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.
Saturday’s 17-13 win over Michigan State at home was yet another win by less than a TD for the Irish, and Kelly said those kind of victories build confidence for a team searching for its identity.
The Irish are 10-1 in the last 11 gamnes decided by a TD or less.
“I just think it happens over a period of time,” Kelly said on Tuesday during his regular weekly press conference.
“You know, when we first got here I don’t believe that we were able to win some of those games, and I think it’s just a matter of time. We’re four years into our program. Our kids believe that if they prepare the right way and they take care of the things that they’re supposed to do that they have a belief.”
Still, Kelly said, the Irish cannot always depend on late-game heroics to pull out wins.
“The way we’re playing right now, if we play tentative, that’s not going to be enough for us to win football games,” Kelly said. “For me and the staff, it comes down to making sure we let our guys play, and not being too controlling … Nobody wants so much control that they don’t allow their team to play.”
Kelly said there are still some execution issues to clean up, especially in critical short-yardage situations.
Kelly specifically cited a fourth-and-1 play involving senior receiver T.J. Jones.
“We ran a rollover slot route to TJ,” Kelly said. “They fired the corner, didn’t cover him, and we missed the blitz and Tommy never saw him because the blitz was in his face. We missed a very easy blitz pickup situation there. It’s certainly something that we have to be better at and we have to be more efficient at.”
The Irish also have to run the ball better, Kelly said.
And the 3-3-5 defense run by the Sooners will present a challenge in that regard.
“We need to be more efficient on third-and-short, and we need to execute better,” Kelly said.
Last year, the Irish won a big game on the road in Norman, defeating the Sooners 30-13.
“We have to minimize the big chunk plays--we did it last year and we have to do it this year if we want to win the football game,” Kelly said.
Kelly set a high bar for his team in this season’s upcoming contest.
“We’re going to have to play our best game of the year,” Kelly said.
“We know what to expect when we play Oklahoma. We know what Oklahoma’s bringing to Notre Dame Stadium. We don’t have to do anything to get our guys’ attention.”
On the injury front, Kelly said DE Sheldon Day (ankle) should practice this week and will progress gradually as the week goes on. Day participated in conditioning on Monday and reports were good, Kelly added … A “green-out” will be in effect for the game on Saturday, Kelly said.
“We will not be wearing green jerseys, but the Leprechaun Legion and the Kelly Cares Foundation will be giving out upwards of 40,000 pompons,” Kelly said. ...
Junior running back George Atkinson III still has some work to do, Kelly said.
“The next step in his development for us is to continue to work on his ball skills. I thought he did a nice job on Saturday on a tough catch. He’s got to run through tackles.