SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- For the first time since the games began this season, Brian Kelly could take the podium for his weekly news conference without being the head coach of a football team that has turned the ball over more than any other in the nation.
"I think that it could have been a two- or three-turnover game, that's how close it is," Kelly said of Notre Dame's performance at Purdue. "We fumbled the snap on a third-and-short on a missed assignment. We threw a ball that went in and out of a defender's hands. So even though we didn't turn the football over, we're as diligent and constant in talking about taking care of the football as we've ever been."
The potential gaffes -- a potential pick-six bobbled by Purdue's Josh Johnson in the second quarter, a Jonas Gray fumble two drives later that Tommy Rees dived on -- broke Notre Dame's way for once, but it's not like ball protection is something Kelly won't still try to shore up this week before the Fighting Irish face Air Force.
Notre Dame turned the ball over five times each in its first two games before cutting that total to three and two, respectively, in Weeks 3 and 4.
Throw in Gary Gray's pick on the first play from scrimmage, and the Irish improved their turnover margin to -1.8. East Carolina, Iowa State and Western Kentucky are all at -2.
Five teams have at least 15 turnovers, making Notre Dame 115th nationally in that category.
"Well, I've said this many times. There's one thing about this group: They've had a lot of confidence," Kelly said. "What they've had to exhibit is some poise. What they've had to exhibit to me is a consistency in their approach and believing that they were going to win every game they play. Those things are starting to come together, and that happens with winning."
"But there were other components that weren't there yet and are still in that work-in-progress mode. And that was controlling the line of scrimmage. I think that's obviously very, very important. And then eliminating costly mistakes, which as you know, has been the reason why we're 3-2 right now.
"So confidence has been there. Obviously it gets stronger when you win. But the one great thing about this group is their preparation has been really good, and their consistency to preparation. That's why we feel very confident that we don't want to change much relative to week-to-week. Certainly we have to game plan, and that's got to be important. But we want to stay consistent with who we are."