SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Third-ranked Notre Dame hasn’t been dominating at home this season. The Fighting Irish have been unbeatable, though, and that’s not something they have been able to say since 1998.
The Irish have needed overtime to win two of those games and have won their other three games at Notre Dame Stadium by a combined 13 points. Yet they are a victory Saturday over Wake Forest away from going undefeated at home for the first time in 14 years.
“One of our goals, a tangible goal for us, was to protect our home field. We felt, I felt, I think everybody in the program felt, that if you want to take that next step in terms of success, you got to win at home,” coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday.
Since going 6-0 under Bob Davie in 1998, the Irish had a 52-31 record at home in 13 seasons heading into this year, averaging a mediocre four wins a season and 2.4 losses. There were some embarrassing defeats during that stretch, including two of the three most lopsided losses in the history of Notre Dame Stadium: a 38-0 loss to No. 13 Southern California under Charlie Weis in 2007 and a 37-0 loss to No. 5 Florida State under Tyrone Willingham in 2003.
They also lost 45-14 to USC in 2003, 33-3 to unranked Georgia Tech in 2007 and 24-23 in 2008 to a Syracuse team that had won just two games previously and had told coach Greg Robinson he was fired effective at the end of the season. Kelly had a few bad home losses of his own, losing 28-27 to Tulsa in 2010 and 23-20 to South Florida in last year’s season opener.
But the Irish (10-0) haven’t been beaten at home since a 31-17 loss to USC on Oct. 22, 2011. They’ve won seven straight games, their longest home winning streak since winning 10 straight from 1997-99. The last six have been by a touchdown or less, a concern Kelly is still trying to find an answer for.
Still, Kelly dreams of the day the Irish can put up the kind of home record Oklahoma has. The Sooners are 80-5 in 14 seasons under Bob Stoops.
“We want to have that kind of legacy. We want to build that kind of dominance at home. The first step is winning all your games at home, which hasn’t happened in a long time,” Kelly said. “So we actually talked about that yesterday, how important it is for us to finish the season undefeated at home. Our guys know that as a real goal.”
The bigger goal is for Notre Dame to get to the BCS title game. Even after Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M, it looks as though the Irish will need more help in addition to beating Wake Forest (5-5) and finishing the regular season with a victory at USC on Nov. 24, with Kansas State and Oregon firmly ahead in the BCS rankings.
Kelly began lobbying for his team following last Saturday’s 21-6 win at Boston College, which featured two touchdown passes by Everett Golson and 104 rushing yards from Theo Riddick. Notre Dame held an opponent without an offensive touchdown for the fifth time this year.
“Each team has their own distinctions. The distinction of this football team is it’s the No. 1 scoring defense in the country,” Kelly said.
“It’s proven that against very, very good teams all year. … If you look at national championship-caliber football, you’ve got to look at a defense, and so that’s why we feel strongly that our football team has put themselves in the discussion. We’ll let others decide, but I think we’ve played our way into the discussion.”
A convincing win over Wake Forest could only help. The Demon Deacons, who need one more victory to become bowl eligible, arrive in South Bend having lost four of six, including a 37-6 drubbing at North Carolina State last weekend. Junior receiver Michael Campanaro had only five catches for 14 yards after hauling in 16 receptions for 123 yards and three touchdowns the previous week against BC.
This is Wake Forest’s first trip to Notre Dame Stadium.
“We certainly hope our guys don’t go there for sightseeing,” coach Jim Grobe said. “That’s going to be a key. I think we just have to go play. I’m going to try not to make too big of a deal out of it.”
The schools met for the first time last season, with Notre Dame overcoming a halftime deficit to win 24-17 in Winston-Salem.
Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell has been cleared to play in this one after sustaining a head injury against BC. Kelly also said nose guard Louis Nix III was not subject to any further penalty after being ejected from the BC game for unsportsmanlike conduct.