Brian Kelly decided to show his Notre Dame players video clips of last year’s run to the BCS championship game.
The coach wants the Irish to remember the winning ways of the better days, now that they have two losses and at least temporarily will have to settle for more modest goals.
Kelly is not worried about his players living in the past heading into tonight’s game against No. 22 Arizona State (3-1) in the Shamrock Series at the $1.2 billion home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“They don’t have a 12-0 ring,” Kelly said. “They’re not wearing a conference championship ring. They have an immense amount of pride in what they accomplished by playing so well and winning games that what drives them is winning, and they want to win.”
The Irish (3-2) are playing for the pride of two storied programs this week. No team has ever beaten Southern California and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks, and the Sun Devils have a chance after last week’s 62-41 win over the Trojans that led to the firing of coach Lane Kiffin.
“Our guys will be very motivated to play in this game,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “It is a national game. It is a game that is very important. Is it more important than the Pac-12 games? No, it is not. That is how we emphasize it to our players. But it is very important to our fan base, very important to our football program.”
This is the fifth Shamrock Series game for the Irish after stops the past four years in San Antonio, New York, Landover, Md., and Chicago. No future games are set, but possible sites include Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta and Denver.
Notre Dame has eight players from Texas on its roster. The school’s most recent Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Brown, is from Dallas, about 15 miles from the Cowboys’ stadium in suburban Arlington.
“A bump (in recruiting) would probably be a good word,” Kelly said. “Is it going to seal the deal for us in a lot of these instances? Probably not, but it certainly helps to have the kind of exposure there.”
Five things to know going into Notre Dame’s first regular-season game in the Dallas area since 1958 against SMU at the Cotton Bowl:
GRAHAM COMING HOME: The Arizona State coach grew up in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite and was a high school coach in the area before turning to the college ranks for good in 2001 as an assistant at West Virginia. He had one of the biggest victories in Tulsa history when his Golden Hurricane beat the Irish in South Bend in Kelly’s first season in 2010.
SLOWING ASU’S KELLY: Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly is third nationally in passing at 342.5 yards per game, and the Sun Devils just recorded their most yards since 2000 with 612 against USC. The Irish are middle of the pack nationally in defending the pass, and their pass rush has gone from one of the best to one of the worst statistically in a year. “We’re not happy with ourselves,” said Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III.
BOUNCING BACK FROM OU LOSS: One of the biggest wins for Notre Dame on the way to the title game loss to Alabama last year came at Oklahoma. But this year, the Sooners handed the Irish their second loss 35-21 last week in South Bend. “What we haven’t done well, quite frankly, is the ordinary things,” Kelly said. “And last year we did the ordinary things much better.”
ALL EYES ON REES: Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees was 9 of 24 for a season-low 104 yards passing against the Sooners after throwing for more than 300 yards in three straight games. He did have two TDs but struggled for the second straight week. “You have to avoid the noise, when it’s good and when it’s bad,” Kelly said.
IT’S THE COTTON BOWL, SORT OF: The Irish have appeared in the Cotton Bowl seven times, the most of any postseason game for them. Now Notre Dame is playing for the first time in the new home of the Cotton Bowl. The last game in the Fair Park stadium bearing the name was in 2009. The Irish’s last Cotton Bowl appearance was a 24-21 victory over Texas A&M in 1994.