Kelly tunnel

Kelly puts 2012 in perspective


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.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”


Kelly confident Robinson will rebound

Notre Dame v Florida State

Corey Robinson‘s season was already off to a slow start. And that was before a difficult night at Clemson. The junior receiver came into last weekend with only four catches, held out against UMass after a pregame tweak of his knee put a scare into the Irish.

Robinson’s knee checked out fine. But mentally, it appears that the sure-handed junior is struggling.

Just before halftime against the Tigers, Robinson failed to reel in a long catch that would’ve given the Irish a much-needed touchdown heading into half. Early in the fourth quarter, a high throw from DeShone Kizer on the Irish’s first failed two-point conversion play slid through Robinson’s hands. Made worse was a mental mistake by Robinson, the Irish needing to use one of their second half timeouts when the junior wasn’t on the field.

Coached hard on the sideline by Brian Kelly and coached up by his position coach Mike Denbrock (as we saw on both Showtime and Fighting Irish Media’s ICON), the staff is doing it’s best to get Robinson’s confidence back.

With some wondering if Robinson’s struggles should open the door for talented freshman Equanimeous St. Brown, Kelly talked about their belief that the junior will return to form.

“Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”

There’s no better place to showcase that belief than against Navy. The Midshipmen don’t have a defender physically capable of matching up with the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who will likely face his share of single coverage with Will Fuller likely demanding safety help.

Then it’s just a matter of Robinson showing the hands and confidence that made him one of last year’s most consistent performers.

“Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make,” Kelly said. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.”