Mission Accomplished

Oct. 13, 2012; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Cierre Wood (20) signals 6-0 after Notre Dame defeated the Stanford Cardinal 20-13 in overtime at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

It’s hard to imagine a season being labeled a success when it’s only halfway finished, but that’s exactly the label the 2012 Irish squad has earned. The halfway point offers a perfect opportunity to reflect upon just what has been accomplished in the first six games, and a great way to start is to refer back to my preseason prediction as to this team’s overall record for the year: 6-6.

Despite what many may think, my low expectations at the start of this season had nothing to do with my opinion of Notre Dame head coach, Brian Kelly. In fact, the opposite is true. As a Michigan native, I am very familiar with Kelly’s career from Grand Valley State all the way to Cincinnati, and I was elated when he was named the head coach of Notre Dame. Though there are no certainties in college football, I believed in Kelly and felt he would be the one to turn
around two decades of Irish woes. My skepticism involving this season was rooted in our brutal schedule and the youth and inexperience in several key areas.

There was a reason Notre Dame was tabbed as having the toughest schedule in the nation this year, with the Irish preparing to face five Top 25 teams, four of which were in the Top 15 and three that would be on the road. Notre Dame would face preseason #1 USC, #4 Oklahoma, #8 Michigan, #13 Michigan State and #21 Stanford, not to mention unranked but dangerous programs BYU and Miami. That murderer’s row would be difficult for any team to navigate, but Notre Dame was set to begin a transition season of sorts.

What kind of year could the Irish expect to have with a redshirt freshman QB with no experience – though tons of potential – against such a brutal lineup? How could the Irish stop so many prolific offenses when their best defensive lineman, Aaron Lynch, transferred to South Florida? How could ND possibly replace the one-man wrecking crew of Michael Floyd, a player who appeared to be responsible for seemingly all offensive production from the previous year? And perhaps most ominously, how could the Irish seriously expect to compete with a patchwork secondary that involved starting a converted running back and wide receiver at the cornerback positions? None of the answers to these questions were very positive.

My goal for this season was very simple: showcase the future. I wasn’t going to focus on Notre Dame’s record as much as what I saw on the field. I knew quarterback Everett Golson would struggle as a first-time starter. What I wanted to see were glimpses, such as a broken play that Golson morphed into a huge gain with his dual-threat capability. In essence, I expected Notre Dame to take its lumps this year but show enough flashes that no ESPN pundit could deny what a special season the Irish would have in store for 2013.

Skip forward to mid-October and many of the previous questions in my head seem rather silly, though they were perfectly reasonable when raised. Arguably the most impressive part of ND’s current success comes courtesy of the secondary. Bob Elliott, Notre Dame’s safeties coach, has my vote for coach of the year. The Irish secondary appeared to be a panicked assortment of offensive misfits moved to defense, sprinkled in with true and redshirt freshman as complements.  The Irish secondary should be a disaster but instead it has been a true source of strength. Notre Dame’s secondary is tied for 8th nationally in interceptions. They’re 14th in pass defense, only giving up 173 yards through the air per game. And, perhaps most impressively, ND’s defense is 5th nationally in pass efficiency.

Notre Dame’s success leading up to Stanford was cause for celebration. The Irish handled Navy with ease. They flexed moxie in their two-minute drill victory against Purdue. They went  on the road to a hostile East Lansing at night and pushed around a Spartan team known for its trench toughness. They finally slew the Denard Robinson dragon that had circled and haunted the program for years, and they ran circles around the Miami Hurricane defense. But Stanford would be different – Stanford was the true measuring stick.

Stanford’s program leaves little to the imagination – they line up and physically dominate. If Notre Dame was to be able to say they had truly turned the corner, beating Stanford would be key. The Fighting Irish not only fought back against its annual bully, they pushed the Cardinal back yards at a time. Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor came to South Bend averaging 4.6 yards per carry and at least one touchdown per game. In Stanford’s victory over-then #1 USC,
Taylor ran wherever he pleased, earning 153 yards and a stunning 5.7 yards per carry against the Trojans. Notre Dame proved its toughness by limiting Taylor to 3.6 yards per carry and no touchdowns, a full yard less than his season average and two yards less than what he gained against former #1 USC.

Notre Dame’s win over Stanford wasn’t a solitary flare launched above the college football landscape to signal the Irish’s return to prominence – it was a barrage that lit up the entire sky.  Though many Irish fans held signs during ESPN’s College GameDay bemoaning the lack of respect nationally, it’s hard to argue why many critics remained. ND has had several “return to glory” false starts this past decade, and many had fallen into “show me” mode before believing the Irish had seriously returned. Their hesitation was answered on Saturday. You don’t beat Stanford with luck or schematic advantages that mask your weaknesses. You beat Stanford by dominating them physically, something very few had done considering their 27-4 record in the previous two-and-a-half seasons. Notre Dame may not be ready for a national championship, but beating Stanford made it clear that the Irish will no longer be a program brushed off as a has-been not to be taken seriously.

With the likes of Oklahoma and USC still to be played, Notre Dame’s season could still take a number of different turns. But at the halfway point, the Irish have already obliterated the highest of expectations.

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24 Comments

  1. SHAZ- ROFL LMAO–

    I’m heading up to High Street now–ready and armed IF I’m verbally assaulted ( wearing an ND tie–subtle but definitely not red and gray) Thanks y’all for the facts
    IRISH FANS ROCK!
    KEEP THE FAITH FOLKS
    AND DONT SAY ANYTHING ALOUD ABOUT THIS BOWL OR THAT -JUST ONE GAME AT A TIME–GO NOTRE DAME FOREVER!!!!

  2. Same day my delusional Aunt said that they have hated ND for years because they “always” have the easiest schedule. ( Her brother went to ND and her husband is a staunch Ohio State fan. The same Ohio team which plays Akron and Toledo and UAB and struggled against Navy and will be playing Buffalo next year and should be thanking their lucky stars the Cal has a FG kicker which missed three field goals. Yep-that Ohio State.) Notre Dame -easy schedules for years? Really? IS THERE A COLLECTION OF SCHEUDLES I CAN GIVE TO THEM TO SHOW? I HAVE SOME–IS THERE A SITE ON THE WEB ANYONE? Meanwhile, osu plays Miami, Ohio and Kent State. LOL . THE HATE IS STRONG . THOSE WHO LIVE TO HATE ARE TO BE PITIED. Just thought you Irish folks should know what is being said in Rural Columbus and inside the outer belt in the greater Columbus area! Amazing and ignorant isnt’it? BEAT BYU! GO IRISH!!!

    1. OSU fans always seem to dish out more sh#t to ND fans than anyone else, in my experience. More than Michigan and more than USC.

      BTW, Indiana scored 49 points on the mighty Buckeyes on Saturday. IU. One of the worst programs of memory. They were a field goal away from getting upset by the Hoosiers.

    2. Irisheyes62,

      If you look back to the beginning when ND first started playing football, you will see that they played mostly big ten teams.
      Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan St, and many more.

      But what you won’t find is many games agianst Ohio state.

      There was a ND – OSU home & home series in 1935 & 1936.
      And another in 1995 & 1996.

      For two big time schools with big time football programs, and geographiclly, pretty close to each other, you would think that there would have been more games between the two.

      But there was a reason for this.

      It was Woody Hayes who refused to play the Irish from 1951 through 1978.(his tenure at OSU)

      Why?

      First, about the only sipulation that ND had with scheduling Ohio St (Like almost all the schools we play) was that it had to be a home and home series.
      That meant 2 games minimum. One at Ohio St. and one at Notre Dame Stadium.

      Hayes didn’t want to play at ND stadium. It was to be at Ohio St. or nothing.

      Second. He resented ND’s recruiting practices in the State of Ohio. If Woody Hayes couldn’t land a Ohio recruit, he would rather the player go to ND than to Michigan… and many of them did!
      He felt playing ND would only give the Irish even more leverage when it came to recruiting players out of the state of Ohio.

      And Third, unlike Michigan who plays ND almost every year, and therefore, the Wolverines have to play both ND and Ohio St in the same season. Hayes felt that playing both ND and Michigan in the same season was a bit too much for his team to handle.

      I personally always felt that Ohio St never sought to schedule ND, because they wanted no part of ND.

      Not sure if that was being smart or stupid on their part, but it was weak.

      Hope this helps -Shaz_

      1. you rock Shaz–can’t wait until the next get together with family and their so called friends. These facts checked out. YOU ROCK!

      2. irisheyes62,

        My pleasure!

        The next time one of these OSU grads gets in your face and you’re having trouble getting rid of him, hit him up with a few of these facts.

        or…. you could just pay him for the pizza!

    3. I notice the comments about our week schedule a lot from SEC fans as well. I remember someone mailing a question about ND’s “weak” schedule earlier this year to SI and they quickly put that to rest. The noted ND had one of the toughest, if not the toughest, schedule in the country this year. And where did the questioner come from, the southeast. I see the comments on SI and ESPN.com all the time from people in SEC country because ND plays Navy every-year. I’m sorry, but Navy can beat a lot of the cupcakes the SEC schedules out of conference too. And why all the hate on Navy. Most years they field a decent team. If you overlook Navy, they can bite you (look at OSU just a few years ago when they tried to overlook them thinking about their big USC game–Navy almost beat them).

      1. Something often overlooked by these SEC fans is that the reason why SEC schools aren’t playing ND. You notice that ND plays a school in almost every conference except the SEC. The reason is actually not ND’s choice.

        Much like what was said about Woody Hayes in the above comment, the same reason applies to SEC schools. They don’t want to do a home-and-home with ND, it’s either in their territory or not at all. So even when given a chance to add a quality non-conference team as opposed to Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, or Troy, they come up with lame excuses for not playing a game against ND at ND. This isn’t just Alabama or Florida, it’s all of them. The last SEC I remember playing was Tennessee, I guess coach Fillmore was the only one with ballz from that conference and that was like 10 years ago. Let SEC fans talk about their “brutal” SEC schedule based upon week-in-week-out biased-overhyped polling results.

  3. Gentlemen: ( and Ladies)

    I went to a bonfire this week wearing my blue, gold and green shirt with family and locals south of Columbus, Ohio. Of course, they were wearing the red ( scarlet) and gray. The moment they ( and I mean nearly 10 of them) saw my Irish shirt, I was bashed, booed, called names and then the topper comment: ” Notre Dame is what made me an Atheist! They aren’t even a Christian School. They are Catholic aren’t they? We have accountability here at Ohio State! I hate ND” —Yep —for real—from Columbus, Ohio. My reply? ” I feel sorry for you. What has ND done to you? OSU has won the last three against the Irish and that’s not good enough is it? Nice talking to you. BTW, Catholic is Christian. I guess that OSU Humanities doesn’t teach basic facts in your core courses. Can’t hide your class buckeye fans. Have a nice one.” ( All of this said in a calm tone while theirs was rude personified. The more they HATE US-THE MORE SUCCESSFUL WE SHOULD BE!) GO IRISH! * NO APOLOGIES * WE ARE INDEPENDENT, CATHOLIC, DIVERSE AND PROUD!

  4. This team has surpassed my expectations at the mid point of this season. I honestly thought with the graduation of certin players key transfers and de-commits plus the injuries in the secondary before and during the season as well as the toughest schedule in the country thought 7-5 at best 6-6 was a strong posibility but that has not been the case. This team has played with a toughness and edge I have not seen since Coach Lou was roaming that sideline. THis D!!! hasnt given up a TD in 4+ games and no rushing TDs this is college football truly a remarkable feat. Hopefully the D can keep it up a lot of tough games left on the schedule another tough team this weekend with BYU coming who has a very strong D as well. Keep it up boys been a pure pleasure to watch, a young team gettting better and learning on the run GO IRISH!!!!!!

  5. As I have argued clearly since Saturday, especially with some of my anti-ND nay saying friends, Taylor’s forward progress was stopped more than once and he was pushed backwards. Because of this, the line judges ran from the sideline towards the pile with their arms waving overhead, signaling the play was DEAD. They did this BEFORE Taylor (finally) put / dropped the ball over the goal line. His forward progress or lack thereof is reviewable and was reviewed. The National Coordinator for NCAA officials not only backed the call, but said the call was in fact “routine”. Not as controversial as the media would have us believe eh?

    http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/8513266/ncaa-official-says-replay-reviews-were-right-confirm-notre-dame-fighting-irish-goal-line-stand-stanford-cardinal

    1. JDH-As I stated before, we looked at that play with technology years ahead of the average viewers grasp about fifty times. Taylor was stopped and the play over. The cork screwing movement was inconsequential and moot. The nay sayers are equally inconsequential as well. The Irish physically hammered the Trees for most of the game.

      I do know Mark ‘The Oneonta Oaf’ May was falling ill as the play unfolded…

      As for this article, it’s nice to read but be fooled not. No mission is complete until the last opponent is vanquished and all the birds are home in safely the roost.

      So you JDH have it correct on all fronts.

      Go Irish! HOOOOOOOAH!

      1. Sad Warrior:

        I meant “mission accomplished” in two ways. One, my goal for the season was for Notre Dame to simply show signs that they would be great in 2013. ND has blown that goal away by being great a year early. And two, I meant “mission accomplished” toward Stanford. ND showed they can go toe-to-toe with a physically dominant team and win. And if you can do that, you can beat almost anyone.

        Hopefully that clears up what I meant by the title, and thank you for the comment.

      2. SJ-I stand corrected, I see what avenue you were following. I do believe that the Stanford game exposed ND’s true strengths as well. And yes, this team has the potential to beat anyone.

        By the way, nice article.

        Go Irish! Hooah!

      3. Sad Warrior:

        No worries at all, sir. I figured I’d just put it out there in case anyone was unsure of why I used a phrase like “mission accomplished”.

        Thanks again for the comment and compliment, and stay safe.

  6. Toulmin: I disagree. Regardless of what happens–this team is for real. The D. looks the best since the late 80’s and the latter part of 92 ( after Stanford, ironically and most of 93)

    ND fans kept waiting and the what if’s and we should have and all that. The team is answering that call and challenge week after week and is NOT afraid and tentative about upcoming matches with Oklahoma and usc. NOR are they over looking opponets prior to that. Every game is an opportunity to refine the D. Get the offense better with room for improvement. Return kick would be nice. Nothing is guaranteed. When this schedule was made the likes of Pitt and Wake were dark horses and still could be. Boston has been a thorn in the Irish side when things were good. They would love to spoil it all again. BYU is no pansy team. I’d much rather face these teams and learn from mistakes ( Please God only a few) and get better through these than the likes of Akron, Toledo, Arkansas Pine Bluff and Bethune Cook and Grambling which many play the likes of to bolster their schedule. No Toulmin-watch the tapes or you tube of ND in the previous years you mentioned and compare them to what has been accomplished this year. 2002 was smoke and mirrors. This team has people talking. TOO ALL GOOD IRISH FANS HERE: Don’t talk NC title to any team. Let it be played out. May the Irish win-let us not jinx it. Play like we have been with obvious room for improvement and I say to ANYBODY in the country–Bring it on! Don’t jinx anything for the Irish. Just play the game–just play the game. You win with great d. We ARE ND!

  7. Funniest thing that I have read today!

    “Saban and Alabama player(LaMichael Fanning) show class after body slam, with calls and letters of apology”

    Perhaps someone should tell Saban that class and sportsmenship are supposed to be displayed “during” a college football game, and not after when he is trying to cover his ass!

    It gets funnier…

    “The cheap shot was unfortunate for everyone involved, especially Fanning, (to hell with the kid that got dumped on his head!) but at least something good may come out of it, thanks to the Alabama coach’s leadership in the situation”. (what a guy!)

    Isn’t it refreshing to know we have such fine and upstanding people over there at Alabama repesenting the very best that college footabll has to offer and at the very highest level!

    For anyone who is missing NHL hockey so far this season, I suggest you take a look at the play. It will certaily supply you with that missing “GOON” play of the week!

    1. Haha- that IS funny. Poor Mr. Fanning and his pesky conscience that’s been giving him fits all week! Oh yeah and how’s old what’s-his-name who is in a body cast after getting piledriven into the turf? 🙂

      1. “old what’s his name”

        I think they call him “Tulip” because he was buried so deep that he isn’t expected to reemerge from the turf until next spring!

    2. Shaz: For all the athleticism in the SEC, the class ( and academic standards) are clearly on the opposite side of the chart. You are right once again Shaz. Take care of this during the game. Like my dad says ” You can’t fix stupid.” Wonder if Bear Bryant is rolling in his grave?

  8. I have noted a noticeable difference in the way the media looks at Notre Dame. Particularly on SI.com, but even ESPN. There seems to be a fundamental change in the team, something I did not even notice during the 8-0 run in 2002. The media seems to thing Kelly is the real deal this time (and frankly, he is the first coach since Bob Davie where ND got the man they wanted–remember Willingham and Weis were not first choices). Andy Staples noted about a week ago how impressed he was with how Kelly has handled the quarterback situation, not allowing it to become a controversy. Stewart Mandel has noted time and again that their record is impressive considering the toughness of their schedule. I’ve noticed some of the same things from ESPN, well except maybe Mark May. And they all feel this defense is the real deal. When’s the last time we had a defense? I mean, for the last 10 years, I had some vague idea about what defenses were supposed to do, looking at ND. This defense could play ball with the best SEC and Pac-12 teams. This defense makes USC and Oklahoma look beatable. Incredible job by the defensive staff.

    I see it myself. There is a different, more refreshing attitude with this team. They’re not afraid of anyone. They feel they can take anyone on in the country.

    1. I agree. With Willingham and Weis we had great offenses (Anthony Fasano/John Carlson/Kyle Rudolph along with The Shark/Golden Tate/ Rhema McKnight/Michael Floyd and Brady Quinn/Casey Clausen). What we were missing was the D, especially in the BCS bowl games where we got completely stomped. We thought we were “back” then and got exposed. I think its different this time around because we have a defense that can stop the blow outs. We may not have the offenses of the past, or such dynamic/record setting players, but what we do have are a group of guys who have been coached up and wont give up that annoying sack in the end zone against navy when we are on our last drive or fail to live up to expectations like many of our heralded linemen of the Weis era (Sam Young etc).

      1. None of those coaches could win in November.

        Kelly has already proven that he can.

        For those of you who can remember the “Glory Days”, big games like the one we won agianst Stanford become two-fold

        You have to Shake down the Thunder and beat the ranked team.
        Then you have to get up again and beat the unranked team the following week or risk the media lining up to steal that same thunder away.

    2. This season is “no-different” from 2002, 2000, 2006. N.D. must win em all or go home.
      ND was robbed by officials vs #1 Nebraska & Byrd High School QB Arnaz Battle did noble work that game in spite of being a heavy underdog. Coach Davies finest hour. (almost)…The Fiesta Bowl was a disaster and to this day I do not understand how ND lost it. …………………….2002 was simly a matter of a letdown too B.C………2005 was a U.S.C. PAC TEN robbery……2006 a good season minus the Sugar Bowl…all great teams which (with good Irish Luck) go to the BCSNC.

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