In what has been a remarkable season for Notre Dame so far, head coach Brian Kelly's focus is on ensuring there isn't a letdown game as the Fighting Irish are within reach of the BCS Championship Game.
In Kelly's Tuesday press conference, he talked about learning how to deal with success, per UND.com. He said that Notre Dame has handled it well so far and he feels good about where the team is mentally.
On the other hand, there are two things that can derail that success, he said. One, not preparing properly for the next game. Two, making sure you "play a tough brand of football mentally and physically" every game, no matter the opponent.
Well, it certainly helps to have a leader like inside linebacker Manti Te'o, in that regard. The senior notched 11 tackles in the 30-13 upset of then-No. 8 Oklahoma last week in Norman. That included one sack and two tackles for loss. He also added his fifth interception of the season, tied for second with all FBS players and first among linebackers.
Te'o and the Fighting Irish gave up a touchdown to Oklahoma to knot the score at 13 apiece with 9:10 remaining in the game. Then they got mad and scored 17 unanswered points to end the contest.
Te'o said after the game, via ESPN:
With this defense, when somebody scores, we get really frustrated. I think it showed our maturity by how we rallied after that touchdown. We just kept going.
Indeed, the defense has been outstanding all season long, allowing just 9.9 points per game (second only to No. 1 Alabama). That includes holding Oklahoma to 13 points and Michigan to six points.
It appears the Fighting Irish gained the respect of BCS officials, too. Even if Notre Dame doesn't make it to the BCS Championship Game, officials from the Fiesta, Rose, Orange and Sugar bowls all said they would consider Notre Dame at the end of the regular season, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.
While the defense is the focal point of Notre Dame this season, you can't deny what the running game has done. Against Oklahoma, the Fighting Irish rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns. That included 64 yards and a touchdown by dual-threat sophomore quarterback Everett Golson, who also passed for 177 yards without turning the ball over.
Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated pointed to the "coming-of-age of this offensive line" as a reason for Notre Dame's success running the pigskin, via Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He noted that the starters have grown more accustomed to the zone-blocking scheme this season, particularly evident against the strong run defenses of Stanford and BYU.
No. 3 Notre Dame (8-0) plays Pittsburgh, Boston College, Wake Forest and No. 17 USC to close out the regular season. Barring a collapse, the program should at least make it to a BCS bowl.
Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish are ultimately hoping they play in the BCS Championship Game.