Notre Dame has won four games on the road (away from Notre Dame Stadium) by an average of 28.0 points.
At Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish have won five games by an average of 4.6 points. Furthermore, 10 of Notre Dame’s 11 turnovers this year have occurred at home.
So what gives?
In his typical Sunday press conference, Brian Kelly was asked about the home troubles. Here’s what he had to say:
We’re really trying to figure that out. It might just be it is what it is. I don’t know. We’ve looked at schedule. We’ve looked at trying to limit distractions. I wish I had a really good answer. I don’t have one. I know this: We’ll battle you at home. We’ll protect our turf. We’ll find a way to win. But it seems as though for some reason we don’t get the points on the board at the opportune time or convert when we need to offensively. It’s just been one of those things where we’ve had to grind everything out. But we know when we’re at home, we’ll battle you even if we’re down 20 6 in the fourth quarter.
I don’t think there is any question that there’s a lot going on here at Notre Dame. We really think we’ve streamlined our schedule to eliminate a lot of those distractions. But ultimately it comes down to the players, and whether it’s ticket requests or family and friends want a tour of the football building or they want to go to the Basilica. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam with our team about how important it is to really focus the last 48 hours in on the football game.
My guess is that it actually has nothing to do with being home or away. There’s enough senior and veteran leadership on this team to help guide the younger players on how to handle themselves on home football weekends and steer them away from the common distractions. And Brian Kelly himself has streamlined the Disney-fied football Saturday schedule more than any other coach has before, so those excuses should be kept to a minimum.
But there’s something that no player on this current Irish team has been prepared to handle from past experience: prosperity.
What’s interesting about the 2012 Irish football schedule is that every single Notre Dame home game has followed a big win.
The Purdue game was preceded by a 50-10 romp over Navy that gave the team its initial confidence.
The Michigan game was preceded by a 20-3 road win over 10th-ranked Michigan State (at the time, huge).
The Stanford game was preceded by a 41-3 blowout of Miami in Chicago.
The BYU game was preceded by the validation of the Irish’s toughness vs #17 Stanford.
The Pitt game was preceded by a 30-13 win over #8 Oklahoma that validated Notre Dame as title contenders.
Coincidence? I think not.
Every single time that Notre Dame has rolled a team, they have gone into their next game unfocused and overconfident. Two of the biggest signs of being unfocused (or not paying “attention to detail” as our coach likes to say) are turnovers and penalties, both which occur for the Irish far more at home. Even the player interviews after the game all hinted that the team might have taken this game too lightly going into it.
Nobody likes to admit it, but it makes sense. It is easy for team leaders to keep guys motivated when there are obvious things to correct. So when Notre Dame wins these one score games at home, there are lots of critiques and suggestions for improvement available that players have to focus on and improve for the next week. But when you trash an opponent on the road and return home feeling superior to any opponent, it is natural to let down your guard and lose intensity. No Notre Dame player has achieved even moderate success before in college football — not even the great Manti Te’o, and thus are learning this lesson on the fly.
Hopefully the Pitt game served as a clear warning that you absolutely must bring your A game each and every week — as tough as this team is, we truly were lucky to pull out a win (-3 turnover margin, a missed FG, and a missed XP is too much to expect yourself to overcome). But win we did, and Notre Dame’s leaders now have lessons to both teach and learn for themselves. Hopefully, once we roll Boston College this weekend, we will be better equipped to handle prosperity the next time around.