SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Before Brian Kelly talked to his players about their 48-17 win over Rice on Saturday, he delivered an important message: "I'm proud of the way you've handled yourself."
For the last two weeks, the focus on Notre Dame shifted away from football and on to DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams -- the five players removed from practices, meetings and games after being implicated in Notre Dame's investigation into academic dishonesty.
Daniels, Moore, Russell and Williams were removed from team activities Aug. 15, after which Kelly said he didn't expect any more players to be implicated in the university's probe. But Hardy was yanked from the team on Thursday -- the same day fellow safety Austin Collinsworth went down with an MCL injury in practice.
Kelly said earlier this month that his players have been resilient through the adversity and on Saturday, it was no different.
"They have not been a distracted group and that says a lot about them," Kelly said. "I've got good leaders and I've got young guys that have really followed the lead here."
Nowhere was that focus more evident than in the box score on Saturday. Notre Dame didn't turn the ball over and only committed two penalties, a good showing just how clean a game the Irish played.
"I can't remember a game that I only had two penalties for ten yards," Kelly said.
Notre Dame likely will have a resolution on the statuses of the five players involved in the investigation sometime this coming week. When that decision comes down -- good or bad for the football team -- it'd have the potential to throw off a group of players preparing for a critical early test against a heated rival.
But given how players responded to the previous academic stuff, there's a good deal of confidence that the return or dismissal of those players won't be detrimental to the team's performance Sept. 6 against Michigan.
"There's always going to be distractions," senior linebacker Joe Schmidt said. "People are going to be saying we should look at this, we should look at that, this guy's not here, this guy got hurt and we're always going to be faced with that kind of adversity. I think that we did an awesome job that, hey, this is what we're focusing on, this is what we have: We have a really good Rice team coming in here, awesome offensively, they won a lot of games last season, they're going to win a lot of games this season. I think we did a good job just kind of focusing everyone and not letting that distract us."