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Is the new Notre Dame ready for prime time?

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Who wins, USC or Notre Dame? (0:47)

USC and Notre Dame meet in what is essentially a playoff elimination game. Can Sam Darnold help the Trojans earn a signature win, or will the Irish rushing attack prove too physical? (0:47)

And in the seventh week, Brian Kelly and his Fighting Irish rested from all the work they had done. Kelly saw the progress they had made, and behold, it was pretty darn good.

No. 13 Notre Dame is 5-1 at the midpoint of a pivotal season for the Irish coach and the direction of the program. An offseason of promised reinvention has led to a team that ranks among the top five in the nation in rushing yards per game and the top 10 in turnover margin. Questions about the coaching staff's job security have yielded to questions about Notre Dame's odds at a trip to the College Football Playoff. But as readers of the Good Book know, that brief rest is just the very beginning of the story. It gets a lot more interesting from here.

The six teams remaining on the Irish's schedule have a combined seven losses. Four of the six are ranked opponents, starting this weekend with No. 11 USC in a rivalry game under the lights. So, should we trust that the new-look Notre Dame has in fact turned the corner? Kelly is a believer.

"Look, at the end of the day, we're all going to be judged by wins and losses, and I understand that, and I said that from day one," Kelly said. "But there's a standard of play that we have to live up to. Our players understand that, and that the most important thing is the standard of play that we're interested in."

The standard, according to Kelly's players, changed this offseason, or it at least came into a focus that this group hasn't seen during its time in South Bend. The Irish say they've held themselves accountable to meet that standard each week. So far it has translated into winning all but a one-point game against No. 3 Georgia. Is it good enough to run through the second-half gantlet that awaits? The formula they've used for success provides some reasons to be optimistic.

Behind a couple of All-American candidates on the offensive line, Notre Dame has committed to running the ball more than it did at any point in Kelly's seven previous seasons. The Irish are one of seven teams averaging more than 300 rushing yards per game and one of only three teams that is hitting that mark without using a triple-option offense.

Attribute part of that to quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who adds more to the ground game (402 yards, eight touchdowns to date) than his predecessors. A good deal of credit also should go to fringe Heisman candidate Josh Adams and his ability to break the long one. Only Stanford's Bryce Love has more runs this season of 30-plus yards.

But they both owe some of their success to a more steadfast commitment to the rushing attack. Offensive coordinator Chip Long is calling an average of 45 running plays per game -- almost 10 more attempts per game than at any other point since Kelly has arrived.

"It definitely feels different than previous years that I've been here," Adams said. "It gives us confidence. It definitely gives us confidence."

On defense, rebuilding confidence started with a single-minded focus on creating turnovers. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko's first message to the team when he arrived in the offseason was about the importance of taking the ball away. With eight fumble recoveries and six interceptions thus far, Notre Dame has already matched its takeaway total from each of the past two years.

Junior cornerback Shaun Crawford, who has two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in his first healthy half of a college football season, said the stated goal as a group is to come away with three turnovers each game. That starts with a daily turnover circuit in which Elko dreams up just about any situation imaginable where the defense could snag a loose ball and then has his players run through it ad nauseam.

"When you constantly hear about it, it becomes second nature," Crawford said. "We've been able to see what [Elko] was talking about back in January. It's really carried over into the season."

Crawford said the biggest carryover from the program's offseason upheaval, though, has been the constant preaching to finish. Seven of the team's eight losses a year ago came in one-possession games.

Will the running game hold up in close games against stiffer competition during the next six weeks? Will takeaways prove to be a difference-maker? Notre Dame and Kelly still have much to prove in the second half of the season. But he and his staff have built enough through six games to instill new belief in their players.

"It's like a new identity," Crawford said. "Coach Kelly did a great job of installing that new mentality in all of us and putting that finish mindset in all of us."

The finish begins Saturday night against USC.