Something old; nothing new

Irish head coach Brian Kelly noticed a common theme between his team's late-season finish and the nation's championship contest.

This just in…

Apparently, winning does indeed cure all.

Or if not a panacea, Notre Dame's four-game winning streak that included victories over high-profile programs (and athletes) such as USC and Miami certainly served as a band-aid to a 4-5 start that had begun to effect the program's 2011 recruiting battles.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly has since noticed a difference when engaged in the living rooms of our nation's future athletes, academics, and work force.

"Absolutely. It's not the only thing but it's like anything else, you want to go to where you can see success," he noted of the 4-0 finish and its early influence on prospective recruits. "They don't have to just listen to your plan, they can see it happening and when they can see it, it's an easier connection in the recruiting process."

That process continues to evolve for Kelly at his most prestigious and purportedly final coaching stop.

The occasional bump in the road suffered by he and his staff was offered as one of the chief teaching points for future seasons. Kelly noted that even a 20-year coaching veteran can learn something when tasked with a new challenge.

"I've learned a lot about recruiting," Kelly said when asked what he takes away from his first season at the helm. "When you're recruiting nationally, you're going into everybody's home base and you're taking their kid. And that's difficult. The recruiting when you have to go into SEC country or Pac-10 or Big 10, you're taking their kid. That's the way they look at it.

"It requires a tenacity; it requires an attention to detail; and it requires a great deal of resources on Notre Dame's part to fight that fight."

That fight has thus far produced the nation's No. 4 overall class of pending verbal commitments according to Two other potential additions are in play (to various degrees) with at least one decision pending late this week.

Watch and learn

Kelly's repeated, spot-on offering that "no one begins the season hoping to play in the Sun Bowl" was a necessary tonic for those who believe an 8-5 season shouldn't be celebrated.

Its 4-0 conclusion, likewise, shouldn't be minimized. And though pundits wax poetic of better camaraderie, the moxie of Tommy Rees, or senior leadership shining through the Golden Dome as the streak's storylines, in truth, there was but one singular constant.

Notre Dame played great defense.

"I think we all know that the first thing I was charged with in the hiring process is that we had to begin to play great defense," Kelly said. "It was clear for everybody in this room when you saw how we played later in the season defensively, and (also) the national championship game.

"When you have time to prepare – it doesn't matter what kind of offense – whether it's the best player in the country or the fastest offense…if defenses have an opportunity to prepare (they succeed). You better be able to play championship defense."

Kelly's reference was to the Auburn/Oregon BCS Title game, one in which the Vegas odds makers forecasted upwards of 74 total points in a game that instead proved the old adage: defense wins championships.

"I try to look at everything," Kelly said when asked how he viewed the nation's two best teams on January 10, a game won by the Tigers by the surprisingly low score, 22-19.

"You look at what (Oregon head coach) Chip Kelly does and what I did when we were three years into a program (at Cincinnati) and we run similar offenses, when they're clicking. What Auburn is doing is unique because they have a unique player at (quarterback). It's similar to what Vince Young was at Texas (2005): a one-man wrecking crew.

"You're still looking at who won that football game and why?" he continued. "They're pretty evenly matched, I don't know that anyone dominated.

"But if you want to win a national championship, you can't do it like we did at Cincinnati or Central Michigan. You can't just try out-score people, because they're going to get you."

Notre Dame's defense yielded at least four touchdowns in three of its five losses: (Michigan 4; Michigan State 4; Navy 5). In two other defeats (Stanford and Tulsa), the defense limited the opponent to just two (Stanford) and one (Tulsa) offensive touchdown, but surrendered far too many yards on the afternoon (404 and 399 respectively), thus failing to secure control of the contest.

In their seven victories, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's unit allowed just nine total touchdowns. One of those scoring drives covered just two yards; four others after the Irish held leads of 20-5, 21-0, 30-3/30-10 – games in which the outcome had been secured.

Key to that defensive effort were seniors Ian Williams, Brian Smith, Kerry Neal and Darrin Walls – but the remaining 13 major defensive contributors to the 2010 effort return next fall. Eight of those are currently slated to play for the Irish in 2012 as well and that doesn't include late-season defensive end insertion Kona Schwenke or fellow sophomores-to-be and likely 2011 competitors Lo Wood, Louis Nix, and Kendall Moore (the 2010 defensive Scout Team player of the Year).

Just six players (Robert Blanton, Steve Filer, Darius Fleming, Gary Gray, Ethan Johnson, Harrison Smith) will exhaust their eligibility from the projected 2011, two-deep defense following the season.

Assuming the rebirth of November and December 2010 doesn't represent fool's gold, Notre Dame's defense could well shine in a BCS effort next January and beyond. Top Stories