SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Bob Diaco had his defense study Dan Gable, the famed wrestler who never lost at Iowa State until his final collegiate match -- he went 181-1. From there, Gable rebounded and won the Gold Medal in the 1972 Olympics, not surrendering a point along the way in Munich.
It's that model Diaco hopes Notre Dame's defense can follow as the team moves on from its 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS Championship.
"The greatest, most defining moment was also his worst moment," Diaco said of Gable. "… The lessons learned in that propelled him to go on and win Olympic gold. The unit needs to understand those lessons.
"We've gotta make sure that that moment right there is really our greatest moment. We have to turn it into our greatest strength."
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In the immediate aftermath of losing the BCS Championship, coach Brian Kelly talked about closing the gap between Notre Dame and Alabama, which certainly looked sizable on Jan. 7. Earlier this week, though, Kelly backed off those comments.
"I thought watching the game there were some things there that we weren't in a position yet to even come close to," Kelly explained, "but we're a lot closer than I thought."
Then how, exactly, is a team that was so thoroughly dominated on the scoreboard fairly close to the level of college football's latest dynasty? Diaco has watched the tape plenty of times too, and said "It wasn't just an absolute push around."
Instead, Diaco saw a few early miscues spiral into a vicious circle that resulted in the 28-point defeat.
"We had a misfit here or there, a miscommunication here or there, a missing lineman here or there. Then, we were faced defensively with a challenge that we really hadn't been faced with -- that's a bang bang bang score," Diaco explained. "So now there's a feeling of, you're exasperated, and you want to make the play. And it's all out of great intentions, but all of a sudden, your eyes are wandering, your feet are happy, your misaligned and it just starts to snowball from there, and it's hard to get it back on track."
Chuck Martin couldn't even get his offense on track, not with the trio of haymakers Alabama threw in the early going. The offensive coordinator joked his biggest lesson from the game was: "Don't get down 21-0 after three possessions."
While Martin admitted some of Notre Dame's later offensive success probably was the product of Alabama taking its foot off the gas, he added a few of his players still had decent games. Outside of Tyler Eifert, everyone Martin rattled off is back for 2013 -- Everett Golson, DaVaris Daniels, Chris Watt and Zack Martin.
Those players did well, though, while playing extreme catch-up. Everything Martin, Kelly and Notre Dame's coaches drew up offensively was useless by the end of the first quarter.
"We wanted to play a game like we had played all year -- close at best, grind it out, keep the other team's offense off the field," Martin said. "And obviously that all went out the window. I wish I would've went a different way to find out if our plan was good or not good."
That's the unknown side of the BCS Championship for Notre Dame. While Diaco, Kelly and defensive tackle Louis Nix are sure they weren't dominated, Martin doesn't know if Notre Dame's offense was dominated because it only ran two drives -- both unsuccessful -- using the designed game plan.
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At this point, though, there's not much use in dwelling on whether Notre Dame was dominated by Alabama or not. The Irish claim they weren't; most watching the game would claim they were. What's important is Notre Dame got an up-close look at college football's best.
And they're hoping that will pay off if the two teams ever meet again with a title on the line.
"(It's) an understanding of what we need to do, an opportunity for everyone to sharpen the blade, so to speak, on their knife moving forward," Diaco said of the Alabama game. "It has to be viewed that way."