Tag: Utah


Unbelief and the power of Rocket


The Notre Dame pep rally has died a slow death, losing the sheer electricity of the Lou Holtz days back when an over-capacity crowd turned the JACC’s Friday night pep rallies into one of the toughest tickets on campus. In it’s current iteration on the Irish Green, it’s really a glorified picnic, “a family friendly environment for fans to hang out, enjoy multiple food and drink vendors, and take in both live music and Notre Dame-oriented entertainment.”

(Not my description, that’s straight from Notre Dame’s official website.)

But last Friday night, Rocket Ismail was the guest at the pep rally. And when Rocket addresses the team and the crowd, you can’t help but feel the electricity in the air. Whether it was his stirring address before last year’s game against USC (“Don’t Flinch!”) or last Friday night, you wonder what it’d have been like if modern day Rocket got up and addressed Notre Dame Rocket and his teammates. I can only guess that it would’ve blown the roof off the JACC center, with thousands of students ready to runs through the walls of Notre Dame Stadium.

As usual, Rocket was excellent, whipping a crowd that was likely there for nothing more than a few  beers and some forced pageantry into a frenzy. More importantly, he hit on a key issue that’s plaguing the fans of “Irish Nation.” (Rocket’s word choice, not mine.)

Thanks to WNDU-TV in South Bend who shot the video, here’s Rocket’s speech in it’s entirety:

If you’ve been a Notre Dame fan for any length of time, it’s not hard to know what Rocket is talking about. That “not again” feeling, I’ve seen it typed thousands of times in live-blog comments or emails shot my way throughout a season. Ismail did even one better, identifying the problem that’s been plaguing Notre Dame football since the Davie era.

“There’s a thief in the house. And he’s been hanging out in our house for far too long,” Ismail said. “And we’ve identifed who this thief is. Listen… His name is Unbelief.

“I’ve run into him a couple of times. And when I run into him, he’ll be dressed just like he belongs in the Irish family. He’ll have the hat on, he’ll have a big ND on his shirt. Sometimes, he’ll even have a letterman’s jacket on. But this is how you identify him.

“He’s the person that very subtly and seductively will say something like, “Eh — maybe next year.” He’s say something like, he’ll stand and in one voice he’ll cheer and then when the road gets a little rocky, when the challenge seems to be able to surpass what his expectations are, he’ll say this. ‘Here we go again…’

“I have come to warn you, Unbelief. You don’t belong in our house. You do not belong in our house. And I have come to equipt you, the true Irish nation, I have come to empower you, the true Irish nation.

“Unbelief is going to be at the party, unbelief is going to be at the restaurant, unbelief might even try to sneak up in the hotel, unbelief might even try to sneak up in your dreams. You tell that son of a savage, get the hell out of my room. If Unbelief tries to show up at the meeting tomorrow, when you’re at the middle of the field, if Unbelief tries to show up in the huddle, you tell him, ‘To the back, Son.’ I ain’t got time for you. Don’t let him come in. Don’t let him come in. Do not let Him come in.”

Rocket’s willingness to point the finger at the very fans that wear the blue and gold is another example of an influential Irish member questioning the fanbase that supports Notre Dame. While it isn’t hard to understand why that “not again” feeling often comes to a quick boil, it seems as if that ‘sky is falling’ mentality has invaded the psyche of a football team that hasn’t been a part of 15 years of struggles, but merely a rocky window that included a coaching transition and a wholesale system change.

While introspection might eventually solve what’s ailing the Irish, Rocket’s speech on Friday night reminds everybody of two things:

1) The psyche of a college athlete is a fragile thing and 2) Rocket Ismail is a helluva public speaker.

The good, bad, and ugly: Utah


What a difference a week makes.

After two of the more disheartening weeks in recent memory for Notre Dame football, the Irish put together a complete performance, dominating Utah physically on both the offensive and defensive fronts on their way to a resounding victory.

“I don’t think we ever had control on the line of scrimmage,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham conceded after the game.

For head coach Brian Kelly, the victory was the affirmation needed after two weeks of preaching toughness to the football team.

“This was a game where it had to be won up front,” Kelly said about his offensive and defensive linemen. “They knew that they were going to be central to the success today. This game was won up front.”

For the Irish, a victory renews talks of a post-season bowl berth that just last week looked potentially out of reach. But the Irish now head to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium for a chance to get win number six and regain some lost momentum, especially with linebacker Carlo Calabrese and wide receiver Theo Riddick potentially returning from injury this week.

Before we get to that, let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly from Notre Dame’s 28-3 win against Utah.


Whatever skeptics may say about Tulsa and Utah, it’s difficult to say that the last two Irish opponents didn’t have prolific offenses. Yet embattled defensive coordinator Bob Diaco put together two rock-solid game plans, giving up just one defensive touchdown in the last two games.

What’s interesting about Diaco’s coordination of the defensive unit is just how different it is from former coordinator Jon Tenuta’s hyper-blitzing scheme. Diaco stresses simplicity, and great enthusiasm and effort, evident in the 48 assisted tackles recorded on Saturday.

“We couldn’t be the kind of defense we were against Utah unless everybody took that into their own, doing there job,” Kelly said. “One-eleventh of the defense in a sense, and they all were gap conscious they were all doing their job.”

Kelly pointed out the impressive games by Sean Cwynar, Ethan Johnson, and Kapron Lewis-Moore, who opened up the middle of the field for Brian Smith and Manti Te’o to play two excellent games. After the game, Kyle Whittingham acknowledged the difficulty the Utes had running the football.

“If you can’t establish balance in your offense and run efficiently, it makes everything difficult,” Whittingham said. “Credit Notre Dame’s front seven. They’ve got a big, physical front seven. Manti Te’o’s a heck of a ballplayer. Those four down guys, three down guys do a nice job. The kid next to Manti (Brian Smith) is a physical kid as well. And they’ve got a very stout front seven on defense.”

For Irish fans, Whittingham’s words had to sound like a foreign language after watching the front seven of the defense be the achilles heel for just about every Charlie Weis team, and really most Irish teams since the Lou Holtz era. But Whittingham made it clear that the Irish defense was succeeding not by schematic decisions, but merely sound fundamental football.

“They were just playing sound, getting off blocks. The backers were filling holes,” Whittingham said. “The front does a nice job with their technique and staying square. Same things we saw on tape. We just weren’t productive today. They did a nice job.”


It’s tough to find any bad in Saturday’s convincing 28-3 victory, but those who are in the mood to nitpick will certainly question Kelly’s decision to go for it on 4th and 3 at the Irish 49-yard line on the opening drive of the game. While it ultimately didn’t matter, giving Utah excellent field position — which resulted in their only points of the afternoon — was another failed gamble by a head coach that’s crapped out quite a few times this year.

That said, if you’re looking for evidence that Kelly’s maybe more of a players coach than one might suspect, look no further than the confidence Kelly showed in his offensive line on that opening drive. While the gamble didn’t work, Kelly spent the entire week preaching on how the game would be won up front with a physical effort at the line of scrimmage. Given his first chance to prove how much confidence he had in his beleaguered unit, he went right back to the ground game instead of punting the ball away, better proof that he believed in his team than any pep talk could’ve been.While the play didn’t go the Irish’s way, the decision obviously worked on the team’s psyche.


In the moments following the biggest victory of the season, defensive end Emeka Nwankwo took the time to tweet to his 756 followers “How u like them apples ND nation,” an obvious poke at the incredibly well-read website NDNation and its highly trafficked message board Rock’s House. Nwankwo’s tweet likely was a response to an incredibly vocal faction of posters that have already started to call for the head of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and head coach Brian Kelly.

Full disclosure: NDNation is a website that funnels a lot of traffic to the Inside the Irish blog, and it’d be terribly dangerous to group an entire membership — especially at a place with over 9,000 registered posters — as one collective voice. Yet the fact that in the celebratory hours that followed the Irish’s victory on Senior Day, a member of the graduating class thought to take a well-aimed swipe at a message board that purports to support his own Notre Dame team, well — that’s certainly saying something.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a groundswell of positive support for the Irish football team growing quietly among the widespread discontent. It’s been embodied by a website and Twitter feed that refers to itself as the “New ND Nation.” They’ve already caught the attention of several players, with Sean Cwynar, Ben Turk, Kyle Rudolph, Barry Gallup, Lo Wood, Tyler Stockton, Chris Stewart, Armando Allen, Duval Kamara, Brandon Newman, Carlo Calabrese, Ryan Kavanagh, Bennett Jackson, Tommy Rees, Kerry Neal, Braxston Cave, Jake Golic, Darrin Walls, Ian Williams, Trevor Robinson, Gary Gray, John Goodman, Mike Golic, Brian Smith, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Dayne Crist and following their Tweets, with former players like Jimmy Clausen, Sam Young and Golden Tate right there as well.

This isn’t an indictment on the website that boasts Notre Dame Magazine‘s endorsement as “the preferred social networking venue for Domers” or the Chicago Tribune‘s kudos calling NDNation the “most ardent, unflinching and at times uproariously overcaffeinated Irish fan website,” in all the land. But the acknowledgment that a senior football player feels the need to poke the proverbial bear, in this case, the most popular ND fan website on the internet, after pulling a shocking upset certainly points to an ugly truth and negative current that’s developed over the past 15 years of the Irish’s struggles.

(This is why they play the game.)

Notre Dame vs. Utah — The Highlights

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Thanks to our friends in the video department, we’ve got three-plus minutes of actual highlights from Notre Dame’s victory versus Utah.

I’m sure Irish fans could get used to watching games like this.