Pardon Their Progress

Cheers echoed through Notre Dame's locker room late Saturday night, the team's celebration audible to the media horde awaiting Irish head coach Brian Kelly.

It was a sound welcomed by the quarter-century coaching veteran, who early in his Notre Dame tenure wondered aloud if his staid squad enjoyed the highs as much as it wallowed in the inevitable lows.

"As you can hear we're pretty excited about the win," said Kelly. "We have a lot of young guys in there that like to play and enjoy the victory as well. I want to also take my hat off to Purdue for the way they played. They played with great passion, they were physical. They always play us in that fashion…they should be commended for their play."

The particulars of this Shamrock Series Irish victory were as follows: the hammer, Notre Dame, subdued its nail, Purdue, in a manner not dissimilar to the last time the teams met. Purdue isn't good, but they played well against the Irish, at least as much as could be expected for a team that was hammered on its home field by Central Michigan last week -- themselves hammered on their home field Saturday by Syracuse, Notre Dame's next foe.

It was a victory only a coach, a youth-filled roster, and a smattering of Irish diehards could love. But no matter your take on a less-than-thrilling win over an in-state rival, it's inarguable that bright spots continue to present for Kelly's crew:

  • The defense has allowed seven second half points in three games, and that touchdown was a throwaway score vs. the defense's second unit.
  • Quarterback Everett Golson has yet to commit a turnover with 11 touchdowns produced.
  • The team has reached 3-0 without its best wide receiver, its best defensive back, and a starting defensive end. It's navigated to its first of two byes unscathed despite extensive national scrutiny prior to the season's opening kick.

And Saturday night, for the first time this season, it handled adversity and more than 45 minutes of game pressure.

"You know you're going to face it. At some time it's going to present itself to you," said Kelly when asked if this was an ideal night to undergo more trials than triumphs. "So it's a matter of how are your teammates going to respond and how are your players going to respond?

"I thought today they responded very well. You know you're going to deal with it. Now it's behind us. We know what the standard is."

Kelly's offense hasn't played up to its own standard over the last three halves of football. The running game is unexpectedly mired in mediocrity and the passing game endures a few too many hiccups to beat the better teams that await. The team's purported strength, its offensive line, isn't close to championship caliber with one-fourth of the season in the books.

For the first time this season, Notre Dame fans saw snippets of the team it envisioned in the off-season, not the world beaters that it embraced over two previous contests.

The Irish don't play for two weeks and that's probable a good thing. Kelly's young team can undergo in-season skill training usually reserved for fall camp. It can find respite for its M.A.S.H unit secondary, down two suspended, one ejected, and three injured combatants.

And it has seen first-hand that weekly ebb and flow is inevitable. Kelly & Co. preached throughout the week that they don't rise to the occasion, they sink to their level of preparation.

It's catchy. It's admirable. It's impossible to attain at this level.

The Notre Dame team that worked itself into a 60-minute frenzy against hated rival Michigan wasn't present versus stated rival Purdue Saturday night. Nor should we have expected they would be.

Eventually, talent won out, and an unforgivable defeat and/or fourth quarter nail-biter was averted. Selection Committee members tuned in elsewhere will be none-the-wiser thanks to a 30-14 final margin. A 16-point win away from South Bend won't be a black mark when judgement day comes in December should every Irish step and misstep be deemed worthy of examination.

Notre Dame cleared a hurdle Saturday in Indianapolis. A mental one.

Tougher tests will follow -- likely nine of them.

Kelly's squad isn't close to perfect. It isn't close to championship caliber yet either -- but it also isn't close to what it could be by season's end.


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