SOUTH BEND – As the clock ticked down to :00 at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, the 80,795 Fighting Irish faithful began to chant “Beat SC!”
The Irish coaches and players didn’t need any reminding from their fans after spanking Wake Forest 38-0 and winning for the 11th time in as many games, as to what point this team has reached in its magical season. That is because they too, know what needs to be done – and why - next Saturday against USC in Memorial Coliseum (8 p.m. ABC).
“We have one game left on our schedule,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Our guys know what’s at stake now. This is about an undefeated season.”
Those around the Notre Dame football program have tried desperately to tune out what Kelly refers to as “the noise” all season. That involves ignoring talk of national championships, undefeated seasons, BCS standings, etc., as Kelly’s kids have simply tried to survive upset threats on a weekly basis (many of which nearly were accomplished). But now the hour is at hand.
“It’s easier now because we have one game left,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of his team focusing. “So for us the focus and all of those things, not looking ahead, we don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
With a win next Saturday, the third-ranked Irish will have closed a perfect regular season, but they still won’t know if it means a shot at a championship. If Kansas State and Oregon also remain unbeaten, Notre Dame may be left out of the national title game. However, Kelly isn’t stressing over that.
“(We) cannot do anything but beat USC,” Kelly said. “The rest is up to other people.”
If anything this season, Notre Dame has handled the increased expectations as the hype grew and grew. It has also handled pressure situations well, for example, a triple overtime win over Pittsburgh, an overtime victory over Stanford, three-point wins over BYU and Purdue and knocking off Oklahoma convincingly (30-13) in Norman.
Not much rattles these guys.
“This isn’t a group that plays with extra pressure,” Kelly said. “We’ll make sure that they are able to go out and play the game the way it’s meant to be played. We’ll make sure we play to win on Saturday.”
When sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels went down with an injury a week ago at Boston College, an opportunity presented itself for Irish fifth-year receiver John Goodman to earn his first start since the season-opening game against Navy in August.
The former Bishop Dwenger standout made his appearance count.
For the second straight week, Goodman hauled in a touchdown (a 50-yard catch from quarterback Everett Golson).
“It’s extremely special to me,” Goodman said of his strong play of late. “I’ll do whatever I can to help this team win. When a guy goes down, you want to go in and step up. That is what the philosophy on our team is.”
Goodman has only caught five passes this season, as he has missed multiple games with a back injury, however, three of those receptions have been for scores.
He now has four touchdowns in his career.
“It’s my responsibility to make plays when my name is called,” Goodman said.