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Kelly puts 2012 in perspective

Jan 30, 2013, 10:47 AM EDT

Kelly tunnel AP

There’s no way to get around the fact that in Notre Dame’s date with destiny, they were beaten soundly by Alabama. You can talk about missed tackles, shaky referees, and an offense that was just slightly off, but the reality of the Crimson Tide’s 28-point victory points to a significant gap between the nation’s best team and the Irish.

Still, that doesn’t take away the incredible accomplishment. In a season that will go down as one of the most magical and enjoyable rides of most (young) Irish fans’ lifetimes, Brian Kelly’s squad defied the odds — running the table on a regular season schedule that looked beyond daunting, and doing it with an offense breaking in a new quarterback and a defense that came out of nowhere to become dominant.

While the focus has shifted away from what’s been done to what’s to come, Brian Kelly took some time to reflect on the season that was, and you could tell there’s some genuine — and well deserved — pride for the work done last season.

“I wanted to take the opportunity to put together the final thoughts on the 2012 season,” Kelly said, opening his comments to yesterday’s conference call. “Certainly extremely proud of our entire football team for the accomplishments. Undefeated regular season. Coming into the season, the schedule looked daunting at the least. Our guys and our staff tackled it week-in and week-out. Great leadership from our senior class and it showed itself.”

That leadership was shown not just by captains Manti Te’o, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zack Martin and Tyler Eifert, but by a strong core surrounding them. Guys like Braxston Cave, a team leader in the locker room, and a local player whose family has had a presence each week by having the entire offensive line to their house for meals. (It’s no small task feeding almost a dozen 300-pound college guys.)

Zeke Motta was another senior leader that had a tremendous senior season, and his contributions kept the Irish defense solidified when it appeared that the secondary would be the team’s weak link. Motta coached up two cornerbacks starting their first games and a safety position that lost Jamoris Slaughter early and forced Matthias Farley, a redshirt freshman who was another converted wideout, into the fray.

With contributions from veterans like Theo Riddick, the senior class, a group that had drastically underachieved in the three seasons since they came to South Bend, left the program on a 20-year high. To look at what this group overcame is staggering. This group suffered humiliating defeats to Navy and UConn in 2009. Lost again to the Midshipmen and then Tulsa in back-to-back weeks in 2010. And after starting the 2011 season with a knockout one-two punch of USF and Michigan, it’s a credit to this group for simply getting up off the canvas.  That they were able to bury three years of losing, and block out the countless distractions and noise that existed this offseason says so much about this group.

While they ultimately fell short in the season’s final game, Kelly talked about the journey his team has taken in his tenure at Notre Dame.

“In three short years, when I stood before our team my first year we did not have one player on our roster that had beaten a Top 25 team,” Kelly said. “Three years later we’re playing in the national championship game with 15 plus starters coming back.”

And that’s the message for this offseason. While we’ll focus on the loss of stars like Te’o and Eifert, and wonder who will pick up the slack with both Riddick and Cierre Wood gone from the backfield, the bar has only been raised.

“We know what it looks like now relative to the national championship game and our workouts now will be in the off-season focused on getting back to that game,” Kelly said. “We have some work to do, there’s no question, but we know where we want to go. We know we’re capable of getting back to the national championship game and we started that journey two weeks ago.”

  1. barneysbullet - Jan 30, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    Guess the o-line will have to come over to my house for steak and fries once a week now… 😉

    12-0 LET’S GO!!

  2. glorygreyhound1 - Jan 30, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    So glad to be past Alabama and Te’o. 2013 here we come.

  3. gtizzo - Jan 30, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Having offensive linemen over for meals…I think that is the new definition of courage. I really enjoyed this season overall. When the I woke my baby daughter (cheering and screaming) when ND made that goal line stand against Stanford (wife wasn’t happy). The big win over Oklahoma and USC. The great catch in end zone by John Goodman during the Michigan State game. Team player with a lot of heart and pride this season.

  4. ndnapa - Jan 30, 2013 at 4:00 PM

    Kelly is a great coach and a tremendous recruiter. ND is lucky to have him, and many ND fans (at other sites) can’t even see it. Sad.

    • c4evr - Jan 31, 2013 at 1:06 PM

      Welcome. You’re in the right place… nothing but a Kelly lovefest over here.

      • mayo1010 - Feb 1, 2013 at 8:54 AM

        Ya and c4evr for 2 years said ND would never ever be relevant with BK as the head coach–of course he was wrong (not man enough to admit it though! Then win after win he says that BK is ok and rode the euphoric undefeated season as if he knew it all along. Then he swings back to his unsubstantiated bashing when he takes a meaningless interview for the NFL Eagles as if to say I told ya so.
        Dude you have more mood swings than a nagging woman!

  5. irishdrg1 - Jan 31, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    Congrats to all ND players, coaches and fans. What a great year, best to luck to each player leaving for what ever reason, thanks so much for the wonderful year. Looking forward to seeing the MOB and watching them contribute early. GO IRISH can’t wait for another great season.

  6. Jennifer - Jan 31, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    Great article Keith. Thanks for your stellar reports all season. In the normal course of life, come hardships. This team – this year- was soothing balm for the soul, and the most exciting football season I’ve even known, the likes that come around once in a generation. I hope I live long enough to share the “Return to Glory” season with grandchildren. I’ve already conjured up my opening line: ” I wish you could have been there to experience the miracle of the 2012 team. I know, because I lived it ….. I’ll begin with the Blue and Gold Game…..

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