Notre Dame ended its last full practice of a business-like week Thursday afternoon with a celebration. The team brought snacks and sang to head coach Brian Kelly, who had a rare chance to enjoy his 51st birthday.
“They sang to Happy Birthday to me,” Kelly said. “I don’t get a chance to celebrate it much in my business because it moves so quickly, but it was nice to share a light moment with the team.”
Their gift to him was four focused days on the field that left the coach feeling cautiously optimistic heading into the biggest test of his career at Notre Dame thus far on the road against No. 8 Oklahoma. Kelly said he didn’t address the magnitude of the team’s impending trip to Norman, and his team spent the practice week more focused inward than an on the 5-1 Sooners team that is waiting for them Saturday night.
“When your team is focused on themselves moreso than who you’re playing that’s the kind of focus you want,” he said. “We know who Oklahoma is. We have a great deal of respect for them. Our guys were clearly excited about it when we talked on Monday, but it’s been a big week because they’ve been focused on themselves and what they need to do to win this game.”
Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson made it all the way through the week of practice for the first time in October. Hampered by a shoulder problem, turf toe and a concussion, the first-year starter spent the early part of the previous three weeks nursing injuries instead of working on the kinks in his game.
Kelly said Golson appeared to be fully recharged after watching last Saturday’s 17-14 win over BYU from the sideline. The coach said he continues to be happy with the progress Golson is making.
“He’s starting to put together multiple practices in a row where I leave practice and go, ‘Boy when this thing comes together it’s going to be pretty exciting,’” Kelly said.
Until then, Notre Dame will need to stick to its ground game and good defense to keep games close before outlasting opponents in the fourth quarter. That formula worked for Bill Snyder’s Kansas State team in September, when they scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to give Oklahoma its only loss of the season.
Watching the Wildcats defense on film in that game was like looking in a mirror for some of the Irish defenders this week. The attitude more than the scheme showed the same confidence that Notre Dame has had all year in its own ability win close games.
“We believe that’s one of the strengths they have exhibited as this team,” Kelly said. “This is the 2012 team, and what they’re made up of and what this group believes. All they need to do is give us a shot. Give us a shot and we’ll find a way to win the football game.”