SOUTH BEND – Give Brian Kelly credit for this much: He isn't a so-called system football coach, he is simply a football coach. The third-year Notre Dame coach has led a pair of college football teams recently to unbeaten seasons, and he's done so in entirely different manners.
In 2009, Kelly guided Cincinnati to a 12-0 regular-season mark, and he did it in a gun-slinging fashion. This year, the third-year Notre Dame coach has the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish still perfect after seven games, and he is doing so by bringing a set of boxing gloves, not pistols, to the battle each Saturday.
“There's a lot of teams around the country that have made their programs on winning games 7-6 and 13-7,” Kelly said after slugging out a 17-14 victory over BYU on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. “It's just who we are. Embrace who we are, I guess is what I am saying. We just keep fighting, keep playing and we'll find a way to win.”
Notre Dame will travel to eighth-ranked Oklahoma (5-1) on Saturday (8 p.m. on ABC).
The same coach who orchestrated an offense three seasons ago that scored 502 points and threw the ball 472 times is the same guy who called a pass play three times in the final 30 minutes against the Cougars.
“We always philosophically like to go in thinking about running the football first,” Kelly explained. “And then, that's who we are.”
But coach, your Bearcats quarterback duo (Tony Pike and Zach Collaros) threw the ball for more than 4,000 yards. Your latest two-headed quarterback (Everett Golson and Tommy Rees) would have to play until Valentine's Day to match that total (they have combined for just 1,358 yards through seven games).
“We are becoming that kind of football team on offense,” Kelly said. “You talk about finding an identity. Even when we were down (against BYU), we kept running the football. It's our identity and what we do.”
As long as the Irish have inconsistent and unspectacular play from both Rees and Golson, Kelly is likely to stick with the game plan of great defense plus a good run game equals a win. That is enough for the coach, the players and Notre Dame fans – no matter how boring.
“Say whatever you want,” Kelly said, “it goes to the toughness of our football team. They believe they are going to win. There's no question they believe they are going to win and if there's any questions out there, that's been eradicated over the last couple of weeks.”