Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly talked a lot about resiliency after his Irish suffered a disappointing 50-47 double overtime loss to Texas in the season opener.
Even after the losing effort against the Longhorns, Kelly praised his team for showing the moxie to rally from down 17 points on the road to take a brief 35-31 lead in the fourth quarter before Texas scored its own comeback and eventually the upset win.
"It takes character and it takes a group of kids that built a strong belief that they can win regardless of the circumstances," Kelly explained after the loss. "That's something that is a great thing to have as part of your football team."
More of that resiliency was on display Saturday in Notre Dame's home opener against Nevada when the Irish muddled in a slow start during a scoreless first quarter, didn't panic, scored 25 points in the second quarter, and eventually rolled to a workmanlike 39-10 win.
The 25 points were the most scored in any quarter for Notre Dame in 11 seasons.
Now, nobody is going to celebrate this win over Nevada as any kind of marquee victory for the program – Notre Dame entered the game as a four-touchdown favorite. But tough September losses like Texas can send a team in one of two directions and Kelly's group chose the right path to at least temporarily stabilize its regular season journey with a get-well victory.
"You don't accidentally win football games. It's hard to win," Kelly said. "Our winning was a residual of real good preparation. They prepared. They earned the win (Saturday). You get what you deserve in college football. They deserved to win."
Not that Notre Dame needed any kind of miracle comeback Saturday in the 29-point rout. "If we were supposed to beat Notre Dame," Nevada head coach Brian Polian said afterward, "we wouldn't be in the Mountain West Conference." But Kelly is right about his program developing the fortitude to fight through tough times both in a season and during a game.
The Irish demonstrated that last year, scoring three victories – Virginia, USC and Temple – after trailing in the fourth quarter. They would've recorded another fourth-quarter comeback in 2015 had the Irish defense held onto a 36-35 lead the offense built at Stanford with 30 seconds left in a game the Cardinal eventually won 38-36.
Notre Dame never trailed Saturday, so obviously Nevada didn't serve as any kind of a comeback test in the game, but it certainly served as a comeback test in terms of direction and momentum for the season.
Notre Dame's defense allowed 40 fewer points and 217 fewer yards against Nevada as it did to Texas six days earlier, a defensive bounce back not lost on the Irish players.
"After last week, we had to come together and we had to focus on what the goals are, and we had to get on each other to set those goals," said Irish defensive lineman Daniel Cage. "So that's what we were doing in the game and ended up doing pretty well."
A troubling loss to Texas followed by an impressive win against Nevada leaves Notre Dame's chances Saturday night against Michigan State guesswork at best. The only certainty in this rivalry renewal is that if the Irish want to keep any playoff hopes alive for January, they already face a must-win moment in September.
"Big game," Notre Dame receiver C.J. Sanders said of Saturday's home matchup in prime time with the Spartans. "This is when you have to buck up and ball. These are situations you live for."
As for Kelly, the Coach hopes the confidence and resiliency he saw from his team last weekend against Nevada will translate well to the production and performance he expects to see this weekend against Michigan State.
"We're a younger football team in certain areas, but we've got enough guys that have played enough football that they know what it's like to play Michigan State, too." Kelly said. "It's not like we've got a bunch of guys that don't know what it's like to go up against a physical, Big Ten opponent like Michigan State
"And here is what I do know, we're going to get better each and every week."
Todd Burlage is a freelance writer who covers Notre Dame sports.