SAN FRANCISCO — After a 23-13 win over BYU last Saturday, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly exalted his team's efforts in playing, as he put it, "Notre Dame football."
That somewhat vague, open-to-interpretation characterization, though, is the brand of football Notre Dame needs to play to have a chance Saturday against Stanford in Palo Alto.
What Kelly was getting at was Notre Dame matching, if not surpassing, BYU's physicality — something his team had to do against a team strong up front on offense and defense. Stanford is a few notches above BYU in terms of both physicality and talent, meaning Notre Dame will have to in turn raise its game this Saturday.
But the BYU game was, at least, a good step in the right direction after Nov. 9's disappointing loss at Pitt.
"Stanford forces that (toughness) out of you, because it gets your attention," Kelly said. "Their consistency nationally has been as good as anybody in the country, so that certainly gets (our) attention."
The phrase Kelly's pushed recently has been "tough gentlemen." Kelly wants his players to represent Notre Dame well off the field — he pointed to musical and theatrical Renaissance men Corey Robinson and KeiVarae Russell, specifically — but bring a certain edge and toughness to practice and games.
It's a kind of player Stanford has cultivated well under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw — nobody's confusing Stanford with being a finesse team at a football-only school — and it's the kind of mentality Kelly is still trying to shape in South Bend.
"That's the challenge at Notre Dame because we have guys that want to be involved in so many things, and that's a great distinction that we have," Kelly said. "I'd rather have that distinction here at Notre Dame than have guys that are just football players."
Offensive lineman and fifth-year captain Zack Martin talked about having to "flip the switch" for practice and games but said doing so isn't an innate ability within every player.
"It's something you can learn to do, and I think coaches do a great job with us with the things they emphasize here," Martin explained. "It's something you can learn, but it's not something everyone has when they first arrive."
While Kelly referred to the Pitt loss as an "anomaly," it wasn't a particularly great show of toughness from Notre Dame. The BYU game was a different story, the genesis of which was Notre Dame players buying into Kelly's "tough gentleman" sales pitch.
"Now that I'm able to really show them, they are looking at it and going: 'We get it, coach,' " Kelly said. "That's a positive thing that they were able to take from the BYU game."