ANNAPOLIS, MD - OCTOBER 22:  Quarterback Will Worth #15 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes the ball against the Memphis Tigers in the fourth quarter at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

And in that corner… The Navy Midshipmen

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For the 90th straight season, Notre Dame and Navy unite on the football field, the longest-running intersectional rivalry in the country. And for what feels like almost as long, a white-knuckle football weekend is upon Irish fans.

Because with Ken Niumatalolo in charge of the Midshipmen, the Naval Academy has taken their football program to uncharted waters. And as a part of the American Athletic Conference, Navy has only enhanced their reputation—division co-champions last season, splitting their division with Houston and this year sitting atop the West Division even with an entirely rebuilt offense.

Gone is the service academy that the college football world viewed as a cupcake. This is a team you’d much rather avoid.

But the Irish won’t do that. Not with the historical significance of the rivalry, the mutual respect between the programs and the standing annual date on the calendar.

So to get us ready for this weekend’s action, the Washington Post’s Gene Wang joins me. Gene took some time out of his insanely busy schedule to get us ready for the Midshipmen.

 

Navy’s succession plans at quarterback after Keenan Reynolds lasted exactly one week, when Tago Smith went down with an ACL injury. But in short order, Will Worth has picked things up and kept the train rolling. What has Worth brought to the offense? Is there anything you’re seeing more of with Worth at the position than in year’s past?

After a slow start, Worth has really come into his own over the last three games. He set a school record with 428 total yards of offense in Saturday’s 52-45 loss to South Florida one week after rushing for 201 yards.

At 215 pounds, Worth is bigger than Reynolds, and he make the same deep throws in the passing games. Coaches love his toughness, which makes up for a lack of foot speed, at least comparatively to Reynolds.

 

Staying on the offense, is the job that Ivin Jasper is doing as impressive up close as it is from afar. The offensive line is rebuilt, so is essentially the two-deep at quarterback, fullback and slot back, yet scoring is down less than a field goal from last year. How are they doing it?

Jasper is doing another masterful job, as he has done year after year with new quarterbacks. He knows how to get the most out whoever is playing quarterback, regardless of how much in-game experience that player does or doesn’t have.

The fact that Navy basically hasn’t missed a beat with a new quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line is truly a testament to Jasper getting his players familiar and confident running the triple option.

 

Defensively, the Midshipmen struggled early against USF and seem to have some problems that come along with the territory. But Amos Mason has been difficult to contain up front and D.J. Palmore and Micah Thomas have filled the stat sheet. This defense doesn’t make a ton of negative plays, so what’s the key to slowing down the Irish offense?

The defense needs to apply pressure on DeShone Kizer. Navy generally has had issues getting to the quarterback, and the back end just doesn’t have the athletes to cover one-on-one for long stretches. If the Midshipmen can’t make Kizer at least somewhat uncomfortable, it’ll be a long day for the defense.

 

Notre Dame spent a ton of time last offseason working on slowing down the option, with both Georgia Tech and Navy on the schedule. That move paid off with two key wins. This year the Irish will play Navy and Army, though will do so with a ton of new personnel. What’s more important to slowing this offense down? Proper coaching scheme or experience playing against it?

Gap integrity is the most important component in slowing the triple option. And even then, Navy runs it so well that it may not even matter. Also, defenses that have been able to limit the triple option by in large make it a top priority to take away the fullback dive.

 

Ken Niumatalolo was candid about the BYU job last offseason and how it was different than the other openings that sometimes checked on his availability. Back for his ninth season at the Naval Academy, what makes him such a good fit in Annapolis?

He is a leader of men, and that is a quality, at least to me, you can’t teach. He has a way to get players to believe in his system 100 percent. Plus he recruits athletes who have a chip on their shoulder, often because Power 5 programs have overlooked them.

 

This game always seems to come down to a few key stats: Mostly turnovers and red zone success. Anything you see from your vantage point that’ll likely determine the winner or loser?

For Navy, it’s preventing the big play on defense and hitting some long pass plays on offense to keep the Notre Dame front seven honest. The Midshipmen gave up far too many explosive plays against South Florida and paid dearly for it. The offense, meantime, didn’t get cranked up until the second half, and by then Navy was trailing, 42-14.

No solution for Navy’s triple option

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 01: Quarterback Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen carries the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half at FedExField on November 1, 2014 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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You can’t solve the triple option. That’s Brian Kelly’s conclusion. And Notre Dame’s head coach should know.

After enlisting trusted assistant Bob Elliott to go on a deep dive, after playing Navy, Georgia Tech, and Army over his six-plus seasons, and as the Irish embark on their annual battle with the Midshipmen, Brian Kelly reached the conclusion that there’s no stopping the triple option, only the hope of containing it.

“You can’t have all the answers,” Kelly said Tuesday.

That doesn’t mean the Irish staff hasn’t tried. Elliott went hat in hand around college football, breaking bread with staffs that had success slowing down Ken Niumatalolo and Paul Johnson’s offense. He came back with some answers that certainly helped—the Irish won both their matchups against triple option opponents, key objectives to the 2015 season as Georgia Tech was coming off of an Orange Bowl win and Navy was expecting—and had—one of the school’s best teams.

So Kelly changed his approach after the offseason, restructuring his team’s practice schedule last season, incorporating option work each week with his “swag team.” That gave his defense a look at the option every week by a unit run by walk-on Rob Regan, a standout high school option quarterback recruited for this single purpose.

So with Notre Dame’s defense settled in after their midseason ejection of Brian VanGorder, the Irish now face their first changeup. After rebooting their scheme, simplifying their structure and juggling their depth chart, the young Irish defense now goes to work against a Navy offense that’s rebuilt at nearly every position, but hasn’t seemed to miss a beat.

So that means work. An extra grind. Because there’s no Sheldon Day to win up front. No Jaylon Smith to erase mistakes. No Joe Schmidt to coordinate the attack or Elijah Shumate to play every snap.

“There’s late nights, and they are watching extra film. There is extra preparation for a team like this. This is a difficult week in preparation,” Kelly explained. “But having said that, we have a system that is now in place that I think will help them as we teach it to them.”

That system will be put to the test. Especially with so many pieces of personnel seeing Navy for the first time. The young secondary will be tested every snap. Nyles Morgan will get his first look since he replaced Joe Schmidt when the team’s then MVP went down with a season-ending injury. Even veteran Jarron Jones, coming off his best game in an Irish uniform, will be seeing things for the first time in two season—a 2014 game where Jones struggled mightily in the trenches.

But many of the changes this defense incorporated will be carried forward to Saturday. And after a very shallow rotation last season, Kelly expects to keep bodies moving in and out—preparing his troops for two straight weeks of option offense with Army on deck in the Shamrock Series.

“From our standpoint, we’re just playing a lot of players,” Kelly said, when comparing this year’s approach to last season. “I think we were at a point there where we weren’t in a deep rotation of players. We were grinding out some of the front line guys, and they were getting all the reps.

“We’re going to go deep with a lot of players. I think that that will probably be the biggest thing that we do is play a lot of players up front.”

With Greer Martini in the concussion protocol and questionable to be back on Saturday, the Irish might be short one of their key option specialists. But Drue Traquill is playing excellent football and Kelly mentioned unsung defenders like Nicco Fertitta as having a big responsibility this weekend.

But after getting away from VanGorder’s philosophy of looking for a perfect counter to every scheme, Kelly sounds like a coach comfortable with the fact that sometimes—especially if the option is being executed properly—there is no answer, other than to win your battle and make a play.

“More than anything else, when it comes to defending Navy, they strike on such a broad front,” Kelly said. “In other words, you can’t take away a particular play. I think there was some thought, take away the fullback. Well, they don’t care if you take away the fullback. That’s okay. They’ll run, toss, sweep 47 times.

“So I think it was more about there’s not a specific thing that you take away as much as, at times, you’re going to have to fight through a block-on-block situation to make a play. It never becomes a math equation, where in a lot of the football that’s played, you can get an extra hat to a particular run play and outnumber them, you can’t do it against this offense. So don’t try.”

 

Jarron Jones named Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week

jarron-jones-miami
Nagurski Trophy via Twitter
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That big weekend Jarron Jones had? It was noticed. Because after racking up six tackles-for-loss among his seven solo stops, Jones was named the Football Writers Association of American’s Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week.

Here’s the wording from the official release:

Jones, a 6-5½, 315-pound senior from Rochester, N.Y., had six tackles for 24 yards in losses against Miami, one of which was a sack. The six tackles are the most tackles for loss by any player in the FBS this season. Jones is only the 23rd FBS player since 2000 to have at least six tackles for a loss in a game. Notre Dame held Miami to 18 yards rushing.

Jones, a graduate student, will be added to the Bronko Nagurski Watch List. The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce five finalists for the 2016 Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Thurs., Nov. 17.. The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce five finalists for the 2016 Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Thurs., Nov. 17. The winner will be chosen from those five finalists who are part of the 2016 FWAA All-America Team.

Jones’ six TFLs are the most from any college player in a single game this season.

The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Miami

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: Durham Smythe #80 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish leaps for a touchdown but would go on to fumble the ball during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Miami 30-27. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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The celebration was likely cathartic. The night of, less a time to dwell on the negative, but rather let loose after finally—finally—winning a tight game.

Of course, that doesn’t make Sunday morning’s tape session any easier. It doesn’t erase some of the frustrating mistakes that kept Miami in the game early as they were wobbling on the ropes, propped the Canes up with special teams blunders, and very nearly handed them the win until snapping back to reality.

In other words, the win was good. But there was plenty of bad and ugly mixed in there as well.

Let’s get to it.

 

THE GOOD

Jarron Jones. The afternoon Jones put together was nothing short of extraordinary. The fifth-year senior earned his first game ball, and had the most tackles-for-loss of any FBS player in a single game this season. And it wasn’t against a directional school, it was Miami.

Jones was too good to take off the field, playing a season-high 54 snaps, far and away the most he’s played this season. But he was asked to hold the point of attack and do so in a game where Daniel Cage left the field after just 22 plays and went into the team’s concussion protocol.

Jones gave the game ball to his mom. Which is always the right decision.

 

The Defense. Give it up to the rebuilt Irish defense, essentially winning the game for Notre Dame by playing an absolutely dominant first 20-plus minutes and closing the game off with a big-time sack of Brad Kaaya. The Irish dominated at the point of attack with 12 TFLs, the most the Irish have made since 2005. The secondary held up, playing plenty of man coverage and not giving up a single catch of 25 yards or more.

In short, if this is what an on-the-fly staff can do with this crew, there might be some hope that this could be a job that’ll attract a high-level national candidate. Because there’s young talent on this defense. And we’re watching it come together quite nicely.

Kelly applauded the defensive game plan postgame. And no play epitomized the job the rebuilt staff did more than the game’s final snap—when the Irish caught the Miami offensive line with a delayed Nyles Morgan blitz, a sack that ended the game.

 

The Resolve. Could you have blamed the Irish for giving up? Because looking at my Twitter mentions and the general well-being of fans watching this game go backwards in real-time, it was ugly out there. Very ugly, with most of you having given up.

So while we can nitpick about the way the Irish won (I’m not sure this resolve could’ve handled a Miami recovery on Durham Smythe‘s goal line fumble), the Irish were technically due a break, and credit should go to this young team for not packing it in after another week where crisis hit.

Quick Hits: 

Tackling. How much better did this team tackle? Watching Drue Tranquill come up and hit, Nyles Morgan make eight solo stops and the young secondary do their job limiting yards after catches, it was a nice piece of in-season progress for a group that looked woeful early in the season.

DeShone Kizer. He missed some throws—something Kelly almost made light of Saturday night. But he also kept the Irish on schedule, out of long down-and-distances, and did a much better job of converting on third down, 8 of 16 on the day.

After feeling like he was the lone contributor on the offense the past few weeks, the Irish seemed to almost purposely spread it around—10 different players making catches and Josh Adams supplying the game’s defining offensive play. More importantly, Kizer didn’t turn the ball over, a mistake that would’ve been too much to overcome the way the Irish were already giving it away on special teams.

Devin Studstill might not have had his name called once on the NBC broadcast. And you know what? That’s a good thing. The Irish safety play in the run game was critically important, and Studstill was a big part of that.

Julian Love & Donte Vaughn. Just a reminder, those are freshman cornerbacks—and a duo that really didn’t play much until a quarter of the way into the season. But Love and Vaughn held their own out there against a talented Miami receiving corps, with both Love and Vaughn making very nice plays on the football.

Kevin Stepherson & Equanimeous St. BrownTwo young receivers making big plays. St. Brown’s touchdown catch was critical and Stepherson showed why Brian Kelly likes him outside at the X receiver spot.

 

THE BAD

The 27-point run.  When this team goes cold, it goes ice cold. And while they managed to get out of the tailspin before they crashed and burned, these type of swings are just so, so damaging.

Want to know how you let a team back in the game? You take a hot start and you go like this after thre-straight scoring drives:

Punt, FG, Fumble, Punt, Halftime, Punt, Turnover on Downs, Punt, Fumble.

Thirteen possessions. Three to start the game with scores. Two to end the game with scores. And then the nine in the middle. Yuck.

 

Seniors Coming up Short. With the game at pivotal places, three veterans had a chance to do big things. Instead, they did the opposite.

With two receivers for one defensive back, captain Torii Hunter Jr. had to make a block to spring C.J. Sanders on 4th-and-1. Instead, he swung and missed and Sanders was drilled for a loss, a huge momentum swing that had Miami tie the game with a field goal heading into the 4th quarter.

Senior tight end Durham Smythe made the bone-headed decision to extend the ball for the goal line as he leapt for the end zone. Instead, he fumbled away what could’ve been the game until DeShone Kizer bailed him out.

(Smythe took to Twitter in appreciation, a move I respect immensely.)

Lastly, captain Mike McGlinchey made a head-scratching mistake, jumping offsides when the Irish had the ball at the Miami one-yard line with a chance to give the Irish some serious breathing room by punching in a touchdown. Instead, the veteran inexplicably jumped, pushing the Irish back outside the 5-yard line, forcing the Irish to make a special teams play—something they struggled to do most of the day.

All three of these mistakes are things that happen in football games. But they’re mistakes from a young team you expect out of your young players, not three veteran leaders.

Quick Hits: 

The offensive line is still really inconsistent. And a look at the postgame grades from PFF tell you why. McGlinchey had his worst game of the season. On the other side, Bars played his best game since Duke, a big afternoon for the first-year starter in a tough matchup. After Colin McGovern only lasted five plays before going into the concussion protocol, Hunter Bivin struggled badly at right guard—the second really tough game in a row he’s played.

Next to him, Sam Mustipher got his bad snaps out of his system. But he got dominated, according to PFF’s grading. Put it into context: Jarron Jones made Miami center Nick Linder look like a high schooler out there, grading out as a team-worst -4.7. On the other side of the ball, Mustipher had a -4.6.

Troy Pride, there will be days like this. The freshman struggled in coverage and got picked on by Miami’s receiving corps, targeted five times and giving up four catches. Throw in a pass interference call and the muffed punt that hit him and it was a tough day at the office from the freshman.

 

THE UGLY

The special teams. At this point, it’s difficult to ignore. Scott Booker’s special teams are horrendous, and it’s a really horrible mix of bad execution, shoddy fundamentals and back-breaking mistakes.

The Irish have plenty of young players on the field and it’s easy to say mistakes by underclassmen like Pride, Jalen Elliott and C.J. Sanders are part of the maturation process. But after losing the NC State game on a rugby punt call, the Irish almost lost this one because of four crucial mistakes—the muff, getting caught on an onside kick (something Mark Richt acknowledged that they saw on film from previous weeks), another blocked punt and Sanders’ inexplicable gift to the Canes for a go-ahead score.

Booker is a young coach. He’s a good recruiter. He’s got a harder job than usual with the tight end missing Alizé Jones and no other coach able to take over the special teams. Both Mike Elston and Mike Denbrock have experience coaching the unit, but Elston runs the Irish recruiting efforts and Denbrock is the team’s play caller and associate head coach.

Kelly has defended Booker publicly. Then again, he did the same thing before relieving Brian VanGorder of his duties.

Five things we learned: Notre Dame 30, Miami 27

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It’ll likely be relegated to the online supplement of the coffee table book memorializing the historic Notre Dame-Miami rivalry. But that doesn’t take away from the drama in the Irish’s 30-27 victory, a win that had all makings of a nightmarish year-in-review for Brian Kelly’s squad, until a young Irish roster rallied after giving up 27 unanswered points, sealing the win on the game’s final play.

But as Brad Kaaya laid pinned under a stack of bodies as the clock mercifully hit 0:00, the Irish finished off a much-needed victory—especially gratifying after spending the midsection of the game finding new ways to give it away.

These sixty minutes embodied the Irish season. There were moments of brilliance—a quick start and dominating first quarter that had Irish fans thinking back to the 2010 post-bye week jumping of a ranked Utah team.

But then—of course—there were the next 40 minutes, a toxic brew of stalled-out offense, self-inflicted mistakes and special teams implosions, with the Irish giving away a 20-point lead to find themselves trailing 27-20 with under seven minutes remaining after C.J. Sanders gift-wrapped Miami’s go-ahead touchdown, muffing a punt inside his own 5-yard-line, the cherry on top of the Irish special teams implosion.

But even with the collective stomach of the stadium queasy and remote controls tossed around ND Nation, Brian Kelly’s team found itself, scoring the game’s final 10 points to pull out the win.

“No one was surprised,” Kelly said of his team’s late-game resolve. “They were just happy as heck that it’s finally over, that they got through it in a close game, that they found a way to win.”

That the Irish did, earning their third victory of the season and keeping those bowl eligibility alive to fight another week.

Let’s find out what we learned.

 

Jarron Jones was unblockable today. 

Notre Dame’s fifth-year senior earned not just the game ball on Saturday, but probably a few job offers for next year. Because the 330-pounder absolutely dominated the trenches, looking like the Jarron Jones many of us thought would emerge after his coming out party against Florida State two seasons ago.

But Jones has traveled a long road since then, injuries turning him into a shell of his former self. But after the tweak in defensive scheme and a renewed commitment to being a senior leader, the Rochester, New York native supplied what could be used as his NFL Draft sizzle reel on Saturday alone, a one-man wrecking crew as he racked up seven solo tackles and an astounding six tackles-for-loss, dominating Miami center Nick Linder.

“I think that was as good of performance that we’ve had in a while here. Jarron was outstanding. He was awarded the game ball,” Kelly said postgame. “What stands out to me more than anything is that when your senior is playing his best ball, that says a lot about how he feels about coming to work every day, getting better, regardless of the record. I think that’s a real positive for our program and for him individually. He was a beast today.”

You saw that buy-in on Jones’s face postgame after the Stanford loss, an emotional veteran proudly defending his team. From the sideline after the victory, Jones talked about the goal of getting to the postseason, the win a huge first step for the team.

“It lifts us up. It lifts us up in a big way,” Jones told NBC’s Kathryn Tappen. “We’ve got to win out to go to a bowl game, so we’ve got to keep pushing, keep it moving.”

 

DeShone Kizer got a huge monkey off his back. 

Notre Dame’s junior quarterback hasn’t been having much fun lately. Stuck amidst the longest losing streak of his lifetime—at any level–Kizer didn’t hide his relief postgame.

“I feel like this whole stadium is off my shoulders,” Kizer said. “The last couple games in this stadium haven’t gone the way we wanted them to. But to come out and get this done the way we did today was awesome.”

Kizer’s play was a big part. He completed 25 of 38 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns. He threw no interceptions. He got the ball out in rhythm, making big plays both down the field and also on quick routes, spreading the ball to 10 different receivers on Saturday, with the offensive staff deciding that up-tempo would be the best way to slow down a Miami defense that came into the game as the top team in the country in tackles-for-loss.

“Really, really pleased with some of the play within the play,” Kelly said of Kizer’s game. “For me, my eye is focused on rhythm, timing, getting the ball out of your hand. And I thought it was the best since he’s been here, in getting the ball out of his hand.”

That was necessary, as the Irish offensive line still struggled at the point of attack against the Hurricanes. And while Kizer’s been victimized by his own success (and maybe the echo-chamber that has his name still climbing the rungs of mock draft ladders everywhere), Kelly tried his best to praise the game his quarterback played, while reminding everybody that he’s still a work in progress.

“He’s not flawless yet. So, sorry guys. He’s not flawless yet,” Kelly said. “He’s got some work that he’ll continue to work on, but he was really good today. He did a lot of really good things today.”

 

Notre Dame’s special teams nearly lost this game for the Irish. 

Notre Dame’s special teams continue to be horrendous.

(Pause for emphasis)

Scott Booker’s unit didn’t cover itself in glory on Saturday. Two critical mistakes on punt returns gave Miami the ball back and a go-ahead score. They got out-schemed on an onside kick with freshman Jalen Elliott looking like he forgot the rules of the game. And they got another Tyler Newsome’s punt blocked for good measure, enough mistakes to drive the Irish’s early-game momentum into a brick wall.

The special teams didn’t cost the Irish the football game. And to their credit, they actually executed when it was needed, as Chris Finke broke off a huge 23-yard punt return to start the Irish in Miami territory on the game-clinching drive that ended with Justin Yoon booting a game-winning chip shot with 3o seconds left.

But at this point, Irish fans likely yearn for the days of John “Fair Catch” Goodman back returning kicks, hoping that a no-joy approach will at least kill any chance of disaster. Because Sanders delivered a ton of that, making the worst decision of the evening that resulted in seven points for the other guys and also failing to keep Troy Pride away from a short punt that flipped possession and kept Miami alive.

Kelly tried to keep things positive postgame, understandable because the Irish broke their losing streak. And as Kathryn Tappen reported from observing Kelly’s conversation with Sanders after the punt-touchdown debacle, he didn’t undress the sophomore, but stressed being decisive, something Kelly echoed after the game.

“We have to be more confident. We’ve got really good players who care a lot and have a lot of pride in what they do every single day,” Kelly said. “I just need to reinforce with those guys to be more decisive. They’re coming on the other end of that.”

 

Notre Dame’s defense continues to make gigantic strides in life after Brian VanGorder. 

Brian Kelly has talked about some of the limitations that come with the main objectives of not giving up big plays and simply limiting the points. But at this point, Kelly should look at what the results have been—a completely transformed defense that looks nothing like the unit that was a four-alarm fire under Brian VanGorder.

Saturday, Notre Dame’s defense dominating the trenches. They held the Hurricanes to just 18 net rushing yards and had five sacks and 12 total TFLs on the evening, beating Brad Kaaya to a pulp and slowing down some skill players who looked like very tough matchups for Notre Dame’s three freshman cornerbacks.

After the game, Kelly took a moment to respond to the criticism of his team’s pass rush (“We do sack the quarterback here at Notre Dame”) while also crediting his restructured defensive staff for their game plan.

“We knew, more than anything else in this game, that we had to attack the line of scrimmage,” Kelly explained. “I thought it was an outstanding game plan that our defensive coaches put together, and that was we really needed to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage.”

To do that, the secondary had to hold up in coverage. And they did, with Cole Luke nearly taking an interception to the house and Dante Vaughn and Julian Love making some very big pass break-ups.

With Nyles Morgan cashing in nine tackles and two more sacks of his own, this defense is starting to play like we thought it could before the season started, a frustrating footnote considering the early-season futility we saw under VanGorder.

 

Some fans will write this off as a meaningless victory. But Brian Kelly views it as a building block for the future of his program. 

Don’t tell Kelly—or his team—that this win didn’t matter. So some will (somewhat understandably) scoff at this victory, Kelly views it as a first step towards getting this young roster on track to build the mindset of a champion.

After the game, Notre Dame’s seventh-year head coach talked about what a win does for this team, allowing them to avoid another week of toxicity that’s been difficult for his young team to ignore.

“It just meant that we’re not going to have to go through this again,” Kelly said. “We were all going to have to listen to, ‘Okay, the locker room is falling apart,’ a bunch of baloney, and we’d have to go through all this again.”

This staff believes in the process they’ve laid out. But they also understand that you need to see success if you’re going to keep preaching that the wins will take care of themselves if you just put in the work.

“We were still going to do the same thing. The attitude would have been great. Their preparation would have been great,” Kelly said. “But they were going to have to figure out how to win a football game late, and that meant they had to execute better, they had to play all phases better at the end, and they did.”

Scoring the game’s final 10 points helped. So did some luck—DeShone Kizer miraculously recovering Durham Smythe‘s goal line fumble—averting disaster that would’ve been the third critical mistake made by a senior on the afternoon (Torii Hunter’s olé block on 4th-and-1 joined by Mike McGlinchey’s inexplicable false start).

But a win is a win. And coming back from the brink is something that this young roster needed to badly pull off.

“Now they know how to do that,” Kelly said of the late-game win. “Now there’s a lot more confidence in that room that they believe that they can do it, and if they just pay attention to the little things and are more decisive, they’re going to win.”