Notre Dame football flashed back to 2009 Saturday night in Ann Arbor, the era prior to a program built on sound defensive principles and decision making.
The Irish are 1-1 as a result, out of the realistic national championship race, and more important, again licking their wounds after a humbling at the hands of the team from up north.
Their peers, their measuring stick, their natural rivals.
Michigan appears headed for championship contention in 2013. Notre Dame? Back to school. And Brian Kelly the task-master has returned for the rest of the fall semester.
"We want to be smarter and more disciplined. I'm not going to get into specifics. I want my football teams to play smarter and more disciplined. That's what we need to get to," said the fourth year Irish head man who pinned the lion's share of the evening's disappointment on an offense that failed to cash in.
The need for discipline was a team-wide theme driven-home by Kelly -- through gritted teeth, to boot -- as questions continued to pile up regarding his once-proud defense.
"We have to be smarter, more disciplined," he reiterated on multiple occasions. "I told our football team…we're not going to get into all the specifics right now. Losing is losing. But, we're going to go back to work on Tuesday with the emphasis in practice on a more-disciplined approach to everything. We've got to tighten up everything. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day. They understand what I mean."
Subtext is of course included therein, but suffice it to say Kelly is displeased with how his mix of veteran and rookie contenders have comported themselves on the field in a two-week chase for a championship that's been relegated to "win or else" status if the Irish post back-to-back BCS bowl berths.
Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco -- no stranger to Sunday morning hangovers after prime time parties in the Big House -- continuously preach that their players are to, "win the day."
They're to look no further than the next practice, the next film session, the next practice rep. So while Irish fans look toward games vs. Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Arizona State in an effort to get back into BCS Bowl position, Kelly and the Irish are about to look inward.
Next Saturday's foe Purdue might not be mentioned outside of film study in the days to come. Focus, execution, and continuous improvement are the tasks at hand.
Michigan State? How about finishing a drill on Tuesday afternoon and therefore being better prepared to conclude a Saturday drive with six points rather than three?
Oklahoma? The Irish can't beat Oklahoma if they continue to tackle the football rather than the man. Arizona State? They can score, too, bad news for a defensive backfield that's already more than halfway to its aerial touchdown total allowed from regular season 2012.
No for Notre Dame to meet its end season goals, they'll have to first pass Kelly's test at today's meetings. Monday won't include practice field time, but the entire gathering of student-athletes will be under scrutiny, regardless.
Purdue week promises to be the most mentally taxing of their lives, a by-product of not meeting Notre Dame's renewed standards set last season.
And as for the scorched earth unit previously known as Notre Dame's defensive backfield? May the football gods help them if they commit a penalty on a pass near the end zone in preparations this week.
"We want to coach guys to be smarter and more disciplined on a day-to-day basis," Kelly said when asked about a pass interference penalty that gave Michigan late life. "That falls on me. I don't want my football team to be in a position where games have to be decided in that regard. We have to be smarter and more disciplined as a football team."
Kelly likely thought they were past that point as a program, especially after a 2012 campaign revered for its collective leadership, mental toughness, and focused play in crunch time.
Notre Dame took a step backward last night. It's next step is far more important.