After critical loss, Notre Dame searching for discipline

After critical loss, Notre Dame searching for discipline
September 8, 2013, 1:00 am
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Notre Dame survived its self-proclaimed wakeup call last year, eking out a 29-26 triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh.

The Irish weren't as lucky on Saturday night at Michigan Stadium.

Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon trampled over a hapless Irish defense, while its offense failed to execute on a few chances that coach Brian Kelly believed would've made a difference in a 41-30 loss.

After the loss, Kelly preached a need for a more disciplined approach around the clock, a belief captain T.J. Jones echoed.

"There were glimpses where there were mistakes being made, multiple mistakes being made in practice, where it's kind of just lack of focus," he said. "And coach Kelly said in our first week of practice there wasn't like an oomph to our practice, there wasn't really energy out there. And I think this is a nice wake-up call for us."

[MORE: Kelly puts Notre Dame's loss to Michigan on the offense]

But a team with aspirations to reach the BCS Championship Game couldn't afford to lose. The Irish went undefeated in the regular season last fall, opening the door for them to challenge for the program's first title since 1988.

A one-loss Irish team isn't likely to beat out a one-loss SEC team for a spot in the 2014 BCS Championship Game. While it's still early, the struggles of Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC (which embarrassingly lost, 10-7, to Washington State late Saturday night) could weaken the Irish schedule to the point where the perception might be that they won't be tested until Nov. 30 against Stanford in Palo Alto.

Galvanized by a smart, disciplined leader last fall in Manti Te'o, the issue Kelly harped on after the game served as an added reminder that the 2013 Irish are hardly the same team they were a year ago. Giving up 41 points — just one fewer than Notre Dame allowed to Alabama — obviously added to that, too.

"Overall, we want to be smarter and more disciplined," Kelly said, reiterating the point throughout his postgame press conference. "I'm not going to get into specifics, but I want my football teams to play smarter and more disciplined. That's what we need to get to."

[WATCH: Tony Rice breaks down Notre Dame loss at Michigan]

It was a message received by the team's leaders, who put it on themselves to force it into action.

"We need to be disciplined at all times, whether it be at practice, off the field, in the classroom, we just gotta come together as a team," tackle Zack Martin said. "He really put it up to us. We know we have to come in as a team, the coaches can't do much more — they put us in great situations and great opportunities, and this team's gotta come together and make the best of those."

Jones pointed to something else: For quite a few Notre Dame players, the 2012 season is a distant memory. The 12-0 regular-season number is what's remembered, not how Notre Dame got there.

And that's where the wake-up call comes into play, as Jones said he and his teammates needed a reminder of how difficult it was to go undefeated last fall.

"I think a lot of people found that last year, we went 12-1 and I felt some people may think we did that easily, that they didn't have to pay attention to the details when a lot of those games were battles to the last second," Jones said. "Locking in 24/7 is just really everyone honing in seven days a week and abiding by the team rules, whether it's Monday, Saturday, Sunday during the week."

[MORE: ND-Michigan important, but not imperative for success]

A lot was made in August about Notre Dame putting Jan. 6, 2014's BCS Championship Game on its schedule in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. A similarly big deal will be made about whether the game is still on that schedule come Tuesday.

If it's not, that'll be an even greater wake-up call than the one Notre Dame received on Saturday.