Kelly believes No. 8 Notre Dame has mettle to be contenders
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame is at the same place it was a year ago when it was 7-1 and ranked No. 8 with its only loss coming in the closing seconds to an undefeated team.
Last year's team, hobbled by injuries, lost its final four regular-season games. The Fighting Irish, who already have overcome a series of injuries, are hoping for a drastically different finish this year.
''This team is a different group, different personalities, a little bit different offensively in terms of what we're doing, as well,'' coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday.
Kelly is fond of saying ''October is for pretenders and November is for contenders.'' Kelly is 13-7 in November at Notre Dame, his worst monthly record. That's mainly because the Irish were 1-4 last year after going 2-2 the season before. His record was 10-1 in November through his first three seasons in South Bend.
The Irish have a favorable schedule, playing at Pittsburgh (6-2) on Saturday and then finishing with games against Wake Forest (3-6), Boston College (3-6) and No. 9 Stanford (7-1).
Kelly believes this year's team already has shown in the past four games they have what it takes to be contenders with a 24-22 loss to No. 3 Clemson, a win over rival USC and handing Navy and No. 23 Temple their only losses.
''Their mettle has been tested over the last four weeks,'' Kelly said. ''Let's use that to our advantage in the way we play.''
While the Irish have played solidly overall, there are concerns. Notre Dame ranks 98th in red zone offense - worst among Top 25 teams - scoring on only 78.8 percent of its chances and scoring touchdowns on only 58 percent of their red-zone possessions.
Quarterback DeShone Kizer threw a pair of interceptions inside the Temple 10-yard line last week and Torii Hunter Jr. fumbled the ball away at the 3-yard line against USC in the previous game as the Irish have been held to two TDs on five red-zone chances in each of its last two games.
''It's certainly a number that we're aware of, that we have to really clean up the turnovers and converting field goals into touchdowns,'' Kelly said.
Kelly said his staff will take some extra time this week to review its play-calling to see if they can put players in better position to score. He also said the coaches have discussed bringing in a more physical running back than C.J. Prosise or using the tight ends more and other changes.
''Then maybe feature some more guys in there that can help us be better down there,'' he said.
Kelly said he's not going to worry about where the College Football Playoff selection committee places Notre Dame, saying every game is a playoff for the Irish. Kelly said he told his players not to worry about style points and other things they can't control and to remember what they did in October to keep them in position to be contenders.
''That should bode well as we work through the month of November,'' he said.