Irish look to extend home winning streak

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly's first eight games at Notre Dame Stadium netted just four wins. He was 8-5 at home through his first two years. Before last season, Jack Swarbrick memorably said that he was tired of hearing opposing athletic directors tell him how hospitable the place was.

What followed was the Irish's first perfect home season in 14 years. And a win Saturday against Michigan State would give the program its first 10-game home winning streak since Oct. 25, 1997-Aug. 28, 1999.

"Well, I think there's a lot of things," Kelly said. "There's a lot of levels. We've learned how to play the game. We play the game, for me, I've always wanted our teams to play hard for four quarters and just fight really hard and we'll figure out a way to win the games. We've managed to do that by and large in terms of the way we play.

"I'd like to play better football at times, mistake-free. I think we've learned how to play the game. We prepare very well. I think that's the second thing. And I think we've been able to manage game week at Notre Dame very well. That's a big, big part of that, as well. There's a lot that goes into game week at Notre Dame.

"So if I could highlight those three things, maybe in reverse order, right, handling all that goes into game week at Notre Dame; the preparation I think our guys really understand how to prepare, and then playing the game the right way, hard and physical for four quarters."

The narrative has changed considerably from last year, when the Irish's first five home games were decided by an average of 4.6 points, with four total overtime periods. (They then beat Wake Forest 38-0 on Senior Day.) They won their six regular-season games away from Notre Dame Stadium by an average of 22.6 points.

Theories for the lopsided play ranged from a busy weekend schedule on campus to the relative quietness of their home venue, as anecdotes of ushers reprimanding fans for being too loud were not all that uncommon. Still, the administration did its part last year to change that, launching its "Take a StaND" campaign to encourage a more active audience.

Two years earlier, in the building's first home night game in 21 years, modern music was piped-in before kickoff and at key moments of the game. That night's loss to USC marks the last time Notre Dame was beaten at home.

And then there were the game day schedule tweaks. In 2011, the team left the Basilica for the Guglielmino Athletics Complex before embarking on its walk from the Hesburgh Library quad to the stadium, rather than going straight from Mass to the stadium. This year, it moved pregame Mass to Friday.

"I just think the way we've spaced out the day, Friday and Saturday, has really helped our kids a lot," Kelly said. "It's given them the opportunity to regroup a little bit, focus in on the game and not all the other things that are going on around the campus."

Kelly has said that working with the administration to manage the 24 hours leading up to a home kickoff has been his most important gain for the program in his four years in charge.

Friday luncheons and pep rallies remain staples, but they have been joined on Saturdays by the once-foreign tunes of the Dropkick Murphys and Ozzy Osbourne.

"Those are all little things that have been worked through the team, and they enjoy it and they like it," Kelly said. "They like that extra energy of the music, and then we added a little bit more when we had the bagpipes and then they played music before. All those little things, the kids see that and they like that. Those are all little pieces where they feel like they are part of that, and part of the tradition is great, and then having a little bit of say in that, they really take some ownership in it."