Coach Brian Kelly doing his best to keep Notre Dame grounded
Somewhere in the midst of Grand Valley State’s run to consecutive Division II national championships in 2002 and 2003 — sometime after the Lakers had won their 20th consecutive game — coach Brian Kelly had his hands full trying to keep his players levelheaded and
focused on the task at hand rather than on all the hype surrounding the program.
That hype? One of the Detroit newspapers actually was covering the team.
‘‘That was a lot of noise for us,’’ Kelly said.
Nearly a decade later, Kelly stood before a few dozen reporters and a bunch of cameras Tuesday, a week removed from having NFL Films embedded with his team for nine days and a few days before ESPN’s ‘‘College Gameday’’ set takes over a chunk of campus in front of Touchdown Jesus.
Notre Dame is ranked
No. 7 in both national polls, is projected to be a top-five team when the first BCS rankings are released Sunday and faces a punishing, physical Stanford team Saturday.
Now that’s a lot of noise.
But the principle remains the same.
‘‘It’s just on a larger scale,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘But it’s the same noise.’’
The perpetual hype that surrounds the Irish even in mediocre seasons has ratcheted up the intensity with
every passing week. And each week, Kelly has been in his players’ ears about tuning it all out.
Easier said than done.
‘‘It is possible to avoid; just don’t pay attention to it,’’ defensive end Stephon Tuitt said before the game Satur-
day against Miami at Soldier Field. ‘‘But that’s kind of hard because people are emailing me and sending me text messages. It’s exciting to be a part of that.’’
But the looming specter of No. 17 Stanford — which has won the last three meetings, the last two with relative ease — should keep Notre Dame grounded.
‘‘They haven’t beaten Stanford, and if there’s one team that has beaten us physically, it’s Stanford,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘And they know that.’’
The Cardinal (4-1) knocked off then-No. 2 USC three weeks ago before being upset by Washington. Against Arizona on Saturday, Stanford got into an uncharacteristic shootout before rallying from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to win in overtime. Arizona quarterback Matt Scott threw 69 passes, torching the normally stout Cardinal defense for 491 yards.
Kelly’s expecting to see the real Stanford defense, though — the one that’s
allowing only 77 yards per game on the ground, the one that’s a heck of a lot more like the vaunted Irish front seven than the porous Miami middle that let Notre Dame run wild for 376 yards.
‘‘They’re difficult to run the football on, and it’s hard to get the ball downfield
because the quarterbacks are under constant pressure,’’ Kelly said.
That means redshirt freshman Everett Golson won’t have so much time in the pocket. And it means the Irish certainly won’t be able to run 30 consecutive rushing plays, as they did to close out the game against Miami.
In other words, never mind the pressure from external forces. The Cardinal bring plenty of pressure of its own.
And that’s what Kelly wants — no, needs — his players to focus on this week. No matter what headgear Lee Corso puts on Saturday.
‘‘We will have to get better as a football team this week,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘We will have to improve on our performance against Miami if we want to beat Stanford.’’