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Week by week, the Notre Dame football team is inching its way back to relevance – that is, on the field relevance – nationally. Following the fourth consecutive win by the Fighting Irish on Saturday (a 13-6 victory over Michigan in South Bend), the Associated Press voters placed Brian Kelly's squad at 10th this week, which is one spot improved from a week ago.
Despite the adulation from voters, the media, the alumni, and the remainder of the Fighting Irish faithful, Kelly said on Sunday that nothing has really changed in the approach of himself, his coaches or players.
“We go back to work,” Kelly said of his team's plans for this week. “We'll watch the Michigan game (Monday), same routine that we've had each and every week. We'll practice (today) and Wednesday, weight train on Thursday, and they've got a lot to do in the classroom, a lot of exams coming up. We'll be really busy. We'll be focused on that and work right into Miami.”
The Associated Press pollsters certainly have confidence in Notre Dame. The ranking of 10th is the best those voters have felt about this program since they ranked the Irish sixth in late November of 2006. Likewise, Kelly believes that this team – if it maintains its focus and work ethic – is capable of accomplishing some great things.
“We can win in many different ways,” Kelly said. “But I think more importantly, they understand that with the kind of schedule that we've already played, I don't know if anybody has played four tougher opponents out of the gates as we're trying to develop at the same time with the young group in the back end and some receivers and quarterbacks.
The team is 4-0 and has beaten two top 20 teams (Michigan and Michigan State). That's enough for them to know that if they continue to work hard and do the right things, they can be a really, really good football team.”
Notre Dame is entering a bye week and won't play again until Oct. 6 against Miami (Fla.) at Soldier Field in Chicago (7:30 p.m., NBC). Though his team won't play a game this week, Kelly has a long list of things that can be accomplished on the practice field by his group.
“I think first and foremost, we want to be able to clean up some things on both sides of the ball,” Kelly said. “We'll do a practice (today), will be some things that have been areas that we want to address and clean up on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. Wednesday we'll do some Miami and get our first look at a game plan.
We'll issue scouting reports on Wednesday. Thursday will be a weight training day, so we're going to build some rest with some self scout, if you will, and an eye towards Miami, and we'll try to get that accomplished through Thursday.”
For the second consecutive week, Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te'o has been named the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week.
Te'o had two second-half interceptions and eight total tackles to help the Irish defeat Michigan, 13-6, to improve to 4-0. It marked the second time in two weeks that Notre Dame held a ranked opponent to six or fewer points since 1943.
Te'o, a Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist a year ago, was also the Player of the Week for his performance against Michigan State Sept. 15.
In recognition of Te'o's performance, the Pacific Club IMPACT Foundation, sponsors of the Lott IMPACT Trophy, will make a $1,000 donation to the general scholarship fund at Notre Dame.
“He's been the most powerful force on the field tonight,” NBC announcer Tom Hammond near the end of the telecaston Saturday.
“I'm taking being a leader on this team very seriously and it's very humbling,” Te'o said recently. “The sky's the limit for not only this defense, but this team.
“I tend to play the game with controlled rage. I'm not one to get out there, jumping around and hollering. That's not my thing. But when the coaches asked me to be more vocal, I thought that's what being vocal meant. That just wasn't me.”
For the season, Te'o has 38 tackles (two for losses), three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.