"If you look at option teams, especially Navy, I'm ecstatic about getting out of here with a win in terms of the way they played today," Kelly stated. "I mean, they were flawless in terms of their execution. When they're on and they're playing well…(we're) just really excited. We slipped and fell on a pass where we could have put ourselves in a twoscore situation.
"We had a holding penalty, which really could have changed things early on. So there's some circumstances there that played in. And we haven't made any excuses about guys being out of the lineup. We just went out and battled the best we could.
"There are no asterisks next to this one. This is a ‘W‘, and we're excited about it. We're going to have our 24-hour rule. We're going to take all 24 hours on this one."
As the season has progressed, the theme has been injuries which continue to mount and have decimated Notre Dame's front seven in particular. Danny Spond was lost before the season even started. LB Jarrett Grace versus Arizona State. Defensive lineman Louis Nix out the last two games. Kona Schwenke, among others, seeking medical help in what Kelly referred to as "the triage" after the game.
But Kelly's "next-man-in" philosophy has allowed several other players to step in and step up. Guys like linebackers Dan Fox, the veteran who has provided stability, and Jaylon Smith, the freshman man-child who played just his second game against an option team (the first being Air Force last week) and passed the test. Kelly knows they have pushed the limit in terms of depth, but he believes his squad has responded.
"You know, I'm reminded of that scene in…I think it was Apollo (13)," Kelly related. "There's a scene in the movie where they're having troubles in the capsule because there's CO2, and they have to figure out a way to bring that level of CO2 down. They throw all this stuff on the table to all of these guys in mission control and they say, ‘You guys have got to figure out, with all this stuff here, how to get this done.' That's what we did this week. We threw it all on the table, and we figured out how to get it done.
"We didn't complain about it. It's part of the game. Injuries happen. We've got a lot of moving parts here with guys playing different locales. We had Ben Councell with his hand on the ground. And Romeo Okwara playing a five-back deep for the first time. So we were figuring it out as we went. You've just got to find a way to get it done, and they did. That's why I'm proud of the guys."
It also was a breakout game of sorts for rookie running back Tarean Folston, who led the Irish with 140 yards on 18 carries and his first career touchdown. Prior to the Navy outing, Folston had rushed for a combined 116 yards on 22 carries. Now, along with George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel, he gives Notre Dame another option - and a different look - in the backfield.
"I think he's conditioned better," noted Kelly when asked about Folston's toughness. "I don't know that he would have made that many carries early in the year. He wasn't conditioned well enough to be in there, so I think it's more physical. He always had the mental makeup. We felt that from the very beginning, that he had that. I think this is more about his physical conditioning and really just having a hot hand (today)."
The Irish are 11-1 in November in four seasons under Kelly, and will carry their momentum into Heniz Field next weekend to face Pittsburgh. And, after a little celebrating, it will be back to business as usual for Notre Dame.
"I think we've got to continue with what we're doing, not look at the big picture and stay focused," quarterback Tommy Rees commented. "The weekly preparations have been key for us…just keep executing throughout the week and find a way to win games."