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Notre Dame not giddy after gutty victory over BYU

Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood during first half an NCAA college football game against BYU South Bend Ind. Saturday

Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood during the first half of an NCAA college football game against the BYU in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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Updated: November 22, 2012 6:55AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Seven days earlier, Notre Dame’s players giddily sloshed around in a driving rain with mud-caked teammates and classmates before noisily racing into the locker room, high-fiving fans lining the tunnel along the way.

But this time, the Irish quietly filed into the locker room, some with their heads down, nary a giddy soul to be found.

Notre Dame rallied from a halftime deficit to beat BYU 17-14, preserving its perfect record heading into next week’s top-10 showdown at Oklahoma. But the Irish weren’t exactly thrilled about the way they did it.

“Usually guys are in there hootin’ and hollerin’,” center Braxston Cave said. “But it was just a little more mellow. You could tell guys were not happy with the way they executed.”

About the only ones who were happy were the offensive line and running backs — who gashed the nation’s third-ranked rushing defense for 270 yards on the ground, making up for Everett Golson’s absence at quarterback and the defense allowing its first two touchdowns since Week 2. Theo Riddick sparked the second-half rally with a 55-yard run in the third quarter and had a career-high 143 yards on 15 carries. Cierre Wood added 114 yards on 18 carries, helping to salt away another win in the fourth quarter.

But even the linemen were miffed for not closing out the game-icing drive, coming up short on third down and giving BYU the ball back with 22 seconds left.

So a week after the Irish celebrated an overtime victory over Stanford deep into the night, coach Brian Kelly actually had to buck his team up after it improved to 7-0.

“Listen, you can’t [always] win games by 28, 30 points,” Kelly said. “You need to find ways to win. That’s who we are. There are a lot of teams around the country that have made their programs on winning 7-6 and 13-7. It’s just who we are.”

Kelly had bristled at the idea of his offense having a specific identity, but even he had to admit after the win that the Irish are a ground-and-pound, rushing-based attack. It was one thing to run wild on Navy and Miami, but to erase a 14-7 halftime deficit and beat the vaunted BYU defense while only throwing three passes in the second half? The secret’s out.

“We’ve been able to run the ball in the second half, and we proved it again today,” Riddick said. “We have some talent back there, so why not give us the ball?”

ND trailed 14-7 midway through the third quarter when Riddick awoke the crowd — and his teammates — with the 55-yard run after nearly being tackled for a short gain. That set up a 24-yard field goal by Kyle Brindza, who had missed two first-half kicks — the kind of sloppy play, along with a couple of foolish penalties and a tipped interception of a Tommy Rees pass — that put the Irish in the hole in the first place.

Now trailing 14-10, the Irish defense got a three-and-out. Rees then hit T.J. Jones for a 31-yard gain — Rees’ only completion of the half — and Riddick drove ahead for a 19-yard gain that set up George Atkinson III’s go-ahead touchdown for a 17-14 lead.

The defense then stopped a BYU drive at the Irish 34-yard line, and Wood and Riddick ran most of the last six minutes off the clock, setting the stage for next week’s monster matchup against the Sooners.

It wasn’t pretty. And it wasn’t celebrated much by the Irish. But it was a win.

“To remain undefeated is huge,” Cave said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, so that’s what matters.”

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