The case for patience


There are some very ugly facts surrounding Notre Dame football, the most distressing being that the Irish have now lost seven of their last eight football games dating back to last season.

And while there are certainly more than a few sane and logical arguments to be made in support of ditching your blue-and-gold and taking up another pastime during the fall months, two of the senior voices covering Notre Dame football made some excellent points in the aftermath of the ugly Stanford loss.

The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen had this to say when deconstructing the Irish after four football games:

The only commodities ND first-year head football coach Brian Kelly is in danger of losing at this juncture are bandwagon-jumpers.

best thing the Cardinal did Saturday on Kelly’s behalf was show him
that his 1-3 football team isn’t just a mistake or two, a blown coverage
or three, a missed block or four away from being “return to glory”

There’s some retooling, maybe reinvention, required to change the trajectory of this season.

The foundation is in order. The things that made Kelly the right fit for the program haven’t changed — 19 years of prior head coaching experience at the college level,
knowledge of both sides of the ball, ability to move players to new
positions and develop them there, and the ability to think on his feet.

It may come as a surprise to some Notre Dame fans (or perhaps not after actually watching him coach), but Kelly has had slow starts and losing streaks.

There haven’t been many of those rough spots — not as a head coach
anyway. Kelly has experienced two four-game losing streaks in his
career, both at Grand Valley State, preceding his two Division II
national titles there. One started at the tail end of 1998 and extended
through the first three games of 1999. The other started at the end of
1999 and finished up in 2000.

He’s never lost five in a row, for those thinking ahead to the Oct. 9 home game against Pittsburgh.

has been 1-3 three times before, though. and nothing close to
apocalyptic happened. In 2005, his Central Michigan team followed that
start with a four-game winning streak. In 1999, his 1-3 Grand Valley
team won four of its next five to finish 5-4. And in 2000, his 1-3 team
actually started 0-3. From there, Kelly won 20 games in a row and 40 of
his next 41.

Those are reassuring trends for Irish fans, though nothing would make people feel better than a step in the actual right direction.

Meanwhile, veteran scribe Lou Somogyi of reached into the mailbag to help quell reader anger.

From Somogyi:

After dropping to 1-3 under a new head coach that
was and is still considered the man who will turn it around for Notre
Dame football, we received the following mail from subscribers.

A doctor in Kansas City wrote: “It’s not that we’re not used to losing
(how couldn’t we be). It’s about the weekly exercise in losing ugly.
Notre Dame football equates with buffoonery. I’ll check back in five or
ten years.”

From Columbus, Ohio: One reader who is constantly
mocked by Ohio State Buckeyes fans asked, “Is this the new leader we
were looking forward to? I doubt it.”

From Pennsylvania, our top state for subscribers: “The strength of the
team is the wide receivers. Why didn’t the ball get to any of them?
Notre Dame looked very disorganized.”

From Brooklyn: “Let’s end the hypocrisy right now. If [Charlie Weis] was still coaching the Irish, the record would be the same… the Irish would still be committing uncorrected errors. The press would be rightfully all over [Weis].
Why the double standard? Why has the press fawned all over [Brian Kelly]?

By the way … those letters are from 1986. I just
took a little liberty with the last one by inserting Charlie Weis’ name
instead of Gerry Faust in the brackets, and Brian Kelly instead of Lou Holtz. The fourth game blowout came at Alabama, 28-10, a game where three Irish quarterbacks (Steve Beuerlein, Terry Andrysiak and Steve Belles) each threw an interception. That hadn’t happened again until … well, this season with Kelly versus Michigan (Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees and Nate Montana).

Nobody is saying Kelly will turn it around like
Holtz. Nobody is saying he can’t. All we’re trying to show is that
whether you’re a future Hall of Fame head coach or one who is aspiring
to attain such a stature (and statue), the road toward prosperity seldom
comes smoothly paved. And instant results by some segments of the
fandom are expected now just as they were then.

The travails continued for Holtz that year when he and the Irish lost
10-9 at home to a mediocre Pitt team that would finish 5-5-1. That
dropped Notre Dame to 1-7 overall in its last eight games — just like

As Somogyi points out — Lou Holtz wasn’t Lou Holtz when he got the Notre Dame job. And after starting 1-3, he was just another guy that may have won before coming to South Bend, but wasn’t up to the task of waking up the echoes.

The point is, we’ll find out if Brian Kelly will win at Notre Dame soon enough. For some fans, it’s already taking too long. For those with some patience, find strength that there’s logic in your beliefs.


Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. Navy

Keenan Reynolds, Justin Utopo, Cole Luke
1 Comment

Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame and Navy will do battle for the 89th straight season. But if you’re not in South Bend, or can’t park in front of a computer, we’ve got you covered.

NBC’s coverage of the Irish and Midshipmen features a pregame show on NBCSN and a postgame recap to follow. You can always watch on the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

Here’s how to watch Navy vs. Notre Dame:

3:00 p.m. — Pregame Show (NBCSN)
3:30 p.m.  — Navy vs. Notre Dame (NBC)
7:00 p.m.  — Postgame Show (NBCSN)


With an HD feed, DVR capabilities and a bonus camera, logging in and watching from your tablet or mobile phone makes it easier than ever to catch Notre Dame on NBC.

Pregame Six Pack: Anchors await


Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Jazz Singer ended the silent film era. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. And Notre Dame played Navy in football for the first time.

The Irish won that contest 19-6, and the two teams have played every year since then. So much has changed since that first game, yet the longest running intersectional rivalry is still rolling on, stronger now than maybe ever.

While the Irish’s four game winning streak has extended their already lopsided series lead (Notre Dame holds a 74-12-1 edge), the ledger is hardly what makes the game special. An annual David & Goliath matchup, both schools remain committed the game, part of the unique bond that exists between the two institutions.

So much of this week has been made about the mutual respect between the two programs. A 30-minute documentary aired earlier this week. Both teams will share part of their uniform—as will the coaches on the sidelines—a tip of their cap to the shared history (and nifty corporate synergy) between respected opponents once again doing battle.

But make no mistake: All the respect talk this week doesn’t make this a friendly Saturday.

There is no love lost between the Irish and the Midshipmen on the field.  So while both teams may honor the other by standing during their respective alma mater, this is a game that each team desperately wants to win.

After a rain-soaked weekend in South Carolina, it looks like a dry Saturday in South Bend. So let’s put away the rain panchos and get to the Pregame Six Pack.


After watching the Georgia Tech game from the sideline, Max Redfield steps back into the starting lineup. 

Drue Tranquill begins his recovery from ACL surgery today, as fearless as ever. And while Matthias Farley has shown some playmaking ability against option attacks, Brian Kelly confirmed that Max Redfield would stay in the starting lineup against Navy.

Redfield is coming off his most productive game as a college football player, making 14 tackles—including 11 solo stops—against Clemson. Now Redfield will step into the one-high safety role, while Elijah Shumate will take over for Tranquill in the box.

“He plays the role that Shu played. Shu played the role that Tranquill played,” Kelly said.

That means it’ll be Shumate running the alley and handling the pitch man. And Redfield will be asked to serve both as the last line of defense and also make a difference in the option game as well.

Just about everybody who watched Redfield last week saw a different player than the one who was largely ineffective against Virginia as he tried to play through a broken thumb. And Kelly talked Thursday evening a little bit about the journey Redfield has taken to get there.

“Each kid is a little bit different in the way that football strikes them,” Kelly said. “He’s somebody that I think is looking at football through a different lens and understands that there are so many details to it… He wants to play at the highest level, he wants to play on Sundays. He wants to get his degree from Notre Dame. I think he’s just maturing and developing at a pace that’s comfortable to him.”


DeShone Kizer did more than just survive at Clemson. Can his silver-lining performance trigger a more explosive offense?

With the game on the line and Hurricane Joaquin creating a relentless rain storm, nobody would’ve thought putting the game on the shoulders of DeShone Kizer would be Notre Dame’s best chance to win. Yet that’s what Brian Kelly did, and Kizer very nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

Navy doesn’t play defense like Clemson. While the Midshipmen’s defense is vastly improved (they rank just one spot behind Notre Dame in total defense heading into Saturday’s contest), they’ll be in a physical mismatch for most of the day, relying on turnovers and stops to limit the Irish offense.

But after serving as the unexpected engine of Notre Dame’s comeback last Saturday, Kizer looks capable of doing more than just game managing, especially for an offense that’s averaged seven touchdowns a game against Navy the past four years.

“I just think when you get opportunities to play on the road, leading your team back in the fourth quarter, you gain more of an understanding of a quarterback who’s got to make plays,” Kelly said. “I think we knew he was the guy that could handle the moment, he certainly was able to do that… I think it just added on to the fact that we’ve got a quarterback that can help us win a championship.”


For as challenging as slowing down Navy’s option is every year, Notre Dame fans sometimes forget that Navy’s got to find a way to stop the Irish, too. 

As mentioned just before, Notre Dame is scoring 48.25 points against Navy during their four-game winning steak. And one of the biggest challenges that Navy faces is Brian Kelly the playcaller.

Earlier this week, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo talked about what makes Kelly’s offense so good and why Notre Dame’s head coach is so difficult to stop.

“Coach Kelly, I’ve always admired the way he calls plays. Some play-callers bury their face in their call sheet, but he’s watching the game,” Niumatalolo said. “But if he sees something, he’s going to exploit it. He’s got a great feel for the game. We’ve got to be able to adjust. We’ve got some ideas of what we can do, but he’s going to adjust very quickly to us and we’ve got to be able to adjust.”

Expect Kelly to try and get the ground game back rolling again after a difficult weekend at Clemson. And with veteran safety Kwazel Betrand likely lost for the year with after suffering a broken ankle against Air Force, the back end will be tested as well.

It’s a challenge at every level for Navy. And with Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford keeping the offense moving, it’ll stress the Midshipmen like no other game on their schedule.


Even with one loss, Kelly still thinks Notre Dame controls their own destiny. 

Earlier this week, Brian Kelly hopped on SiriusXM radio with Stephen A. Smith. And while on Tuesday Kelly said he wasn’t sure if a one-loss team could get into the College Football Playoff, he sounded more confident that the Irish still controlled their own destiny when he was talking to Smith.

“After you lose, you’re going to take that bump. That’s really part of it,” Kelly said, sounding unworried about the slide to No. 15. “I think we have a really good football team. We did not play up to the level we’re capable of and you should fall considerably because of it.”

But Kelly thinks the Irish have a schedule in front of them that can allow them to step back into the race. And while it’s still way, way, way too soon to be wondering if the Irish have the schedule needed to qualify without a conference title game, Kelly seemed to think winning out would solve all of those problems. (Even with USC’s Thursday night loss to Washington.)

“The great part of it is that we’ve got a schedule in front of us that’ll allow us to control our own destiny,” Kelly said. “If we continue to play better football and we’re a better football team in November than we are right now, we’ve got a chance to be where we need to be at the end of the year.”



For Notre Dame to win, they need to slow down Navy’s option specialist, record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds

Justin Thomas may have gotten all the preseason attention from Irish fans. But Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the more dangerous of the option trigger-men. The senior quarterback and leader of the Midshipmen will finish his college career as one of the most prolific players in college football history.

Reynolds has already scored nine touchdowns this season and his 73 career rushing touchdowns tied for second most in college football history, only four behind Montee Ball‘s record. At 25-11, his 25 wins as a starter are the most in Navy history, third most among active NCAA players.

Reynolds saw his first action as a freshman in 2012, thrown into action in Dublin after starting quarterback Trey Miller went down. Looking for his first victory against the Irish, Reynolds cherishes the opportunity to come to South Bend and fight for one.

“I’m excited. Playing at Notre Dame Stadium. I wouldn’t want to go out any other way,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a very, very good team. It’s the best team we’re going to see, they’re a Top 10 team in the country, even with a loss.”


This is Ken Niumatalolo’s best Navy team. And he knows it needs to play perfect to beat Notre Dame. 

During this week’s Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect documentary, we saw the large photo that hangs on the office wall of Ken Niumatalolo—the chaos and happiness of Midshipmen celebrating after they shocked Notre Dame in 2007, ending a 43-year losing streak.

While Niumatalolo was just the offensive line coach at the time, he acknowledged just how important that victory was to his program.

“For us it was a great accomplishment. I have [the picture] up there because they’re hard to beat and it doesn’t come too often, so we had to relish that one time we beat them in 2007,” Niumatalolo said in the documentary. “A big part of that picture just shows the jubilation of years trying to get over the hump.”

If there was ever a Navy team that’s well positioned to make a shocking statement at Notre Dame Stadium again, it might be this team. Outside of sophomore right tackle Robert Lindsey and sophomore linebacker D.J. Palmore, every starter on Navy is an upperclassman.

The offensive line doesn’t have a man smaller than 275 pounds, a much larger unit than you’re used to from Navy’s standards. The entire backfield is seniors, led by Reynolds but tag-teamed with fullback Chris Swain and slotbacks Desmond Brown and DeBrandon Sanders.

Even with Reynolds and a veteran group of talent, this group knows it can’t afford to make any mistakes, especially in the turnover column.

“It’s priority each and every week. But especially this week,” Reynolds said. “We can’t give them any [turnovers]. They’re very very good on offense, we can’t put our defense in a bind by giving them a short field. We understand the importance of ball security this week and having zero turnovers.”

Defensively, Dale Pehrson has taken over for Buddy Green as defensive coordinator while Green recovers from offseason surgery. With a veteran front seven and some talent on the back end, this isn’t a hapless defense just hoping to capitalize on an Irish mistake, but rather a defense that Kelly said is befitting of a Top 25 team.

Still, it’ll take more than just Niumatalolo’s best team to beat Notre Dame—they’ll need the Irish to falter. But in the midst of a four-game losing streak against the Irish, expect Navy to empty their arsenal to do anything to get a win.

“We’ve had a hard time making the plays,” Niumatalolo said about the last four years. But this is our best defense that we’ve had. We’ll go in there and take a shot at them. They’re really good. Always have been.”