At the halfway point of the season, Notre Dame is 4-2 and enters its bye week on a positive note.
The Irish improved to 5-0 in the Shamrock Series with a 37-34 win over No. 22 Arizona State on Saturday night.
As the team takes a breath before an October 19th night game against USC, Brian Kelly recognizes the impact of a big win -- the team's first victory over a program ranked in the AP Top 25.
"They clearly knew the difference between 4-2 and 3-3 going into a bye week," Kelly said. "They're feeling pretty good. They now look at it as a six game schedule and they've got to be perfect for six weeks."
According to Kelly, the bye week will be a mix of rest and reps for his players. Veterans will use the time to get healthy while young or inexperienced players will see extra reps.
Kelly said even starters like wide receiver DaVaris Daniels and center Nick Martin will get more work, along with freshmen like running back Tarean Folston, receiver William Fuller, offensive lineman Steve Elmer and safety Max Redfield.
One freshman who continues to improve and impress is Jaylon Smith. The drop linebacker had his best game of the year against the Sun Devils, recording a career-high nine tackles and forcing his first-ever fumble.
"People are actually trying to account for him because he's a difficult guy to block," Kelly said of his five-star recruit from Fort Wayne. "He's got great speed. He's a very important player now within our defense. He's getting better each and every week. His recognition of what is going on is where we're seeing big progress with him."
Smith was part of a strong showing from the Irish defense against Arizona State. The unit posted six sacks and forced three turnovers, holding the explosive Sun Devils well below their season scoring average.
On offense, Tommy Rees threw for 279 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. 135 of those yards and one score went to fellow-senior TJ Jones.
"TJ is our big play guy. Tommy and TJ have come through this program together," Kelly said of the duo's chemistry. "Whereas sometimes we misfire with some of the other younger receivers, him and TJ are right on the same page. When he's in trouble he's looking for TJ Jones."
In fact more than thirty percent of Rees' completions (33 of 105), yards (481 of 1,494) and touchdowns (4 of 13) have gone to Jones in 2013.
"They came in together as freshman, they've played together as freshman," said Kelly. "They've grown through this program together. And when he needs a throw, he's looking for TJ Jones."
The Irish did suffer their first two serious injuries of the season in Texas. Junior linebacker Jarrett Grace broke his tibia in the first half. Grace had surgery in Dallas Sunday morning and will return to South Bend sometime this week.
Kendall Moore will be the backup for Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox at the inside linebacker position, with former walk-on Joe Schmidt and freshman Michael Deeb also in the mix.
Wide receiver Daniel Smith, who went to high school at South Bend Clay, broke his ankle earlier in the game. He will have surgery later this week, ending the senior's Notre Dame career.
"There was a lot of emotion in the lockerroom," said Kelly of the mood at halftime after Smith's injury. "I usually don't use a 'Win One for the Gipper' talk. And I don't want to equate it in those terms but they love Danny Smith and what he's done for our program as a dedicated player for Notre Dame. He loves Notre Dame."
Smith, an all-state player for the Colonials, was a physical blocker for most of his time at Notre Dame. He has eight catches in his career for 56 yards.
"We've seen him grow as a person and as a player and he's going to be sorely missed," Kelly said. "He's left an impact on our younger receivers as to how to work every single day and how to handle himself both on and off the field."