REMEMBER THE ALAMO
21-0 at the end of the first quarter. 35-0 shortly thereafter. 49-14 at the final gun. And it could have been much, much worse.
"It's a red-letter day for our football players and coaches alike,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly following the carnage of last year’s ignominious defeat at the hands of the Trojans. “Two years ago we were playing for a national championship. Today we got our butts beat. And it wasn't as close as the score. I thought coach (Steve Sarkisian) was very generous today running the football to keep the score where it was."
Notre Dame has won six of seven since and Sarkisian has since been suspended and fired. 3-2 USC will attempt to rise back to national prominence under interim head coach and former offensive coordinator Clay Helton.
Kelly was asked of what he’s most proud since that public flogging more than 10 months ago in Los Angeles.
“Well, it was an embarrassment. I think it's fair to say that,” said Kelly at his weekly Tuesday press conference this afternoon. “But there were circumstances in that game that we were not at full strength in certain areas. But what stands out more than anything else and what I commented on earlier was the mental toughness that we didn't exhibit that we needed to exhibit in that game. This group, this football team has exhibited that every single day.
“So we don't go back into that, because this group has not shown anything that resembles the 2014 team that played on that day. So we put that kind of away. It's in that drawer. We know about it, but I think they're pretty clear in recognizing the way Notre Dame football needs to be played.”
It’s a game no Irish player has likely forgotten, and there’s a constant reminder of the ignominious defeat next to the head coach’s office – an empty space where the series traveling Shillelagh trophy should reside.
To the victor go the spoils.
“As you know, we don't have it,” Kelly offered half-jokingly. “But we display all of our trophies in front of my office. So we have all of our traveling trophies, and that one is conspicuous by its absence. So we'd like to get that Shillelagh back, and we have a nice spot for it up in the front of our office.”
LAY OFF THE MERCHANDISE
Senior running back C.J. Prosise has amassed 110 rushes over his first six contests this season. Throw in 13 receptions and the Irish running back is on pace for a 226-touch regular season, a number that would rank him alongside Cierre Wood (225 touches in 2011) and Theo Riddick (214 in 2012) as the highest of the six season Brian Kelly era.
It begs the question(s): How much more can he take? And does Prosise get hit often in practice as well?
“This year we've thudded our backs up. And we want to do it for the purposes of having good form for tackling (defensively) and for ball security,” said Kelly. “Having said that, C.J. takes a lot of hits during the season. So we've had to kind of find a happy medium there. And I think going into the 7th game, I've made the decision that C.J.'s not one of those backs that we're going to thud.
“We're going to thud Josh (Adams) and Dexter (Williams), but C.J.'s not a guy we're going to thud this week. We're going to take a week off, and then maybe we can add some more thud back into our work, but we have to be careful with it.”
Kelly noted that Prosise’s oft-referenced high (by comparison) pad level, is becoming less of an issue due to diligent work by the backfield neophyte.
“Where he started the year relative to his pad level and where he is (now) has changed dramatically. I'll point to, and if you get a chance to look it up on film, I'll point to his last touchdown run, where they actually had an unblocked hat in the box, and he was able to show patience and work his way,” said Kelly.
“That was a great illustration of him having lower pad level and being able to work his way through the hole. I don't think he makes that run early in the year, quite frankly. I think he gets tackled on that run.
“It's still a work in progress. I think he still has to work on getting down consistently. But we're seeing progress, and he works on it every single day.”
DON’T LET NAVY BEAT YOU ONCE
-- Air Force 41 Notre Dame 24
-- Syracuse 24 Notre Dame 23
-- Pittsburgh 27 Notre Dame 22
-- Tulsa 28 Notre Dame 27
-- Notre Dame 24 Wake Forest 17
-- Notre Dame 20 Purdue 17
-- Pittsburgh 28 Notre Dame 21
-- Arizona State 55 Notre Dame 31
Those are the results of the last eight contests played by the Irish following matchups against Navy’s triple option – two ugly wins against .500 squads and six losses.
Kelly was asked Tuesday about the reality of the so-called “Navy hangover.”
“People do not give Navy enough credit to the kind of game they play for four quarters. They bang the heck out of you for four quarters,” Kelly offered. “It's a physical game. There is no give up. I mean to the very last play, you are playing physical football. So you're just coming off a very physical game, that's all. We'll bounce back fine.
“We've got a week off next week, so our guys have a totally different mindset with the bye week. We've tried to construct it moving forward that we get that because we think this will be -- obviously, USC, a bye week, that changes the dynamics quite a bit.
“Not having them play at noon time in the 85° weather in Arizona is a big difference than playing here at home this weekend too,” he said in reference to last year’s Debacle in the Desert.
The bye week will allow his players nearly five days away from football thereafter.
“They’re going home; we’re going to give them a break,” Kelly said. “We’ve got midterms this week (and October break follows). Their eye is toward Saturday night and getting their work done. They’re in the training room. There will be no excuses.
“The Navy effect will have nothing to do with what happens on the field on Saturday.”
Kelly will release his squad following a Tuesday morning practice and the players won’t be asked to return until Saturday night.
Notre Dame is 5-1 under Kelly following a bye week, the lone loss to USC, mid-season 2011 in South Bend.