Despite blowout loss, Notre Dame here to stay


Despite blowout loss, Notre Dame here to stay

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Braxston Cave had a simple declaration to make as Notre Dame players came to grips with a 42-14 drubbing at the hands of Alabama.

"Notre Dame's back," Cave said. "Not how we wanted to (play) tonight, but we're back."

Being back doesn't mean being on Alabama's level, though. Plenty of Irish coaches and players talked about the gap between themselves and Alabama, which won its third championship in four seasons Monday night.

Auburn was the only team to break Alabama's stranglehold on the Coaches' Trophy since 2009. But two years after coaching Auburn to a BCS Championship win over Oregon, Gene Chizik was fired. After a meteoric rise, his program came crashing back to earth without its transcendent quarterback in Cam Newton.

That's one way to build a program, one which succeeds on the back of a star player. That's not how Brian Kelly has built Notre Dame. This is a program built to last, to succeed well into the future.

"We would certainly like to think we're not going to take a step backwards," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "That doesn't mean we're going to play in the National Championship game every year, obviously that's very difficult. But the fact we can show up in the fall and that can be a realistic goal, we want to be in the BCS every year and hopefully get back to this game, and hopefully get back to this game where we play a lot better when we get here."

Manti Te'o is done at Notre Dame, as is the case for Cave, Tyler Eifert, Kapron Lewis-Moore and potentially Cierre Wood, who will decided whether to return for his senior season in a few days.

But Notre Dame has the nation's top-ranked recruiting class entering the program this year, a group stocked with the kind of "big skill" guys coach Brian Kelly and his coaching staff have targeted. Plus, Notre Dame will return plenty of talent, led by guys like offensive lineman Zack Martin, defensive end Stephon Tuitt and defensive tackle Louis Nix.

"We would certainly like to think we're not going to take a step backwards," Martin said. "That doesn't mean we're going to play in the National Championship game every year, obviously that's very difficult. But the fact we can show up in the fall and that can be a realistic goal, we want to be in the BCS every year and hopefully get back to this game, and hopefully get back to this game where we play a lot better when we get here. That's the goal, no doubt, at Notre Dame."

And, if you're looking for a positive from the BCS Championship, Everett Golson held serve, completing 21 of 36 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown against a defense that completely took away the threat of Notre Dame's running game.

"We got a lot of guys returning, a lot of guys who didn't play this year who can play," wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, who caught six passes for 115 yards against Alabama, said. "The future looks bright for us."

The clock is now ticking on the current BCS format, which will go away after next year's championship game. It'll be replaced by a four-team playoff, while Notre Dame has a tie-in with the Orange Bowl and a partnership with the ACC that'll assure the program won't be left behind. For all the consternation over Notre Dame's relevancy half a year ago, there's no questioning it now.

"When you start winning around here, you start to see what it does to the community, what it does to the fans and how it rejuvenates college football, and you realize that this program, this university means so much more," offensive lineman Chris Watt said. "And when Notre Dame's on top, college football's better."

For now, though, Notre Dame will go back to the drawing board. They now have a first-hand look at what the best college football program in the nation looks like -- and even before Monday's game, Kelly talked about getting Notre Dame to Alabama's level.

"Your program is defined in consistency, and Alabama is that model," Kelly said. "I concede to that. It's where we want to be."

No other team is there, though. Alabama is alone atop college football in terms of success as a program. Oregon is closer than anyone else, but Notre Dame is getting there.

Notre Dame couldn't make the giant leap to Alabama's level in South Florida. It'll take plenty of small steps, but this program is confident they'll get to that point.

"Obviously we didn't finish the way we wanted," Cave said, "but these guys coming back are going to be here to take the next step and finish the right way next year."

Brian Kelly ‘disappointed’ Jack Swarbrick had to offer public vote of confidence in his job status

Brian Kelly ‘disappointed’ Jack Swarbrick had to offer public vote of confidence in his job status

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told last week Brian Kelly would lead the Irish onto the field in 2017’s season opener, comments that amounted to a public vote of confidence in his seventh-year coach. 

While the Irish are 2-5 and in grave danger of missing a bowl game heading into this weekend’s matchup against Miami, Kelly said Tuesday he was “disappointed” Swarbrick had to make those comments. 

“Any time that your athletic director has to come out and say that, as a head coach you're disappointed that any kind of comments like that have to be made,” Kelly said. “I didn't ask him. That was his decision. But, you know, I clearly understand what he was doing. He was probably sick and tired of being sick and tired, too.

“But for me, it's disappointing, certainly, that you have to make those comments.”

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Calls for Kelly to be fired have been ratcheted up in certain segments of the Internet and Irish fan base over the last eight weeks, which have seen Notre Dame lose to bottom-feeding teams like Michigan State and Duke while Kelly’s coaching decisions came under fire in defeats to Texas, N.C. State and Stanford. 

Notre Dame’s current winning percentage of .286 is the fifth-worst of any season in program history, and if the Irish lose four of their final five games against Miami, Navy, Army, Virginia Tech and USC, 2016 would tie with 2007 as the fourth-worst year seen in South Bend. Notre Dame has only had 13 losing seasons in its 127-year history (the Irish went 0-1 in 1887 and 1-2 in 1888, then didn’t have a sub-.500 record until going 3-5-1 in Hunk Anderson’s final year in 1933). 

Kelly, though, said he hasn’t let any frustration creep into how he and his coaching staff are working to fix things with five games left in what’s been a sub-optimal 2016 season. 

“I don't know that I spend a lot of time on the word 'frustration' as much as looking for solutions to sometimes rather complex and difficult solutions,” Kelly said. “When I say 'complex', I don't mean things that can't be accomplished, but that take time. We don't have time. Nobody has time in our society. Nobody has time, if you're an annoyed fan, to wait for us. I get that. I'm not here to be in front of anybody to ask for time.

“But I don't think (I’m) frustrated. It's just you have to be, every single day, clear on your communication and what you want to accomplish. Sometimes you have to make sure, check yourself and your staff, that they avoid all the noise, because there's a lot of noise around this place.”

Schedule watch: The curse of beating Notre Dame grows in strength

Schedule watch: The curse of beating Notre Dame grows in strength

The five teams Notre Dame has lost to this season are a combined 10-19 when they don't play the Irish after yet another week in which Texas, Michigan State, N.C. State and Stanford lost in various levels of embarrassing fashion (Duke was spared on a bye week). Notre Dame can point to its narrow losses all it wants, but it hasn't played a difficult schedule at all to date. 

Before running down the action from Notre Dame’s bye week, your weekly Irish opponent power rankings:

1. Navy (5-1)
2. Virginia Tech (5-2)
3. USC (4-3)
4. N.C. State (4-3)
5. Miami (4-3)
6. Stanford (4-3)
7. Syracuse (4-4)
8. Texas (3-4)
9. Duke (3-4)
10. Army (4-3)
11. Nevada (3-5)
12. Michigan State (2-5)

On to the games:

Texas: Lost, 24-21, at Kansas State

The Longhorns are 3-4 and Charlie Strong’s job is very much in jeopardy. It wouldn’t be altogether surprising to see them hit the seven-loss mark by mid-November with games against Baylor, at Texas Tech and against West Virginia looming. 

Nevada: Lost, 42-34, to Wyoming

The Wolf Pack are 3-5 and need a major turnaround to reach a bowl game. 

Michigan State: Lost, 28-17, at Maryland

Michigan State’s only wins are over FCS side Furman and Notre Dame. Their losses are to Wisconsin (by 24), Indiana (by three), BYU (by 17), Northwestern (by 14) and Maryland (by 11). The Spartans have to two of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State and not lose to Illinois and Rutgers to make a bowl game. In short: It’s not happening. 

Duke: Bye week

The Blue Devils had the week off before a trip to Georgia Tech that’ll probably determine whether or not they reach  bowl game this year. 

Syracuse: Won, 28-20, at Boston College

Full credit to Dino Babers’ Orange for another win — getting to four this early in the season is a nice accomplishment in Year 1 heading things up at a difficult place to win. After a bye week, though, Syracuse gets Clemson, N.C. State, Florida State and Pitt, so getting to six wins is hardly a guarantee. 

N.C. State: Lost, 54-13, at Louisville

A week after nearly knocking off Clemson, N.C. State was carved up by Lamar Jackson (20/34, 355 yards, 3 TDs, 17 carries, 76 yards, 1 TD), but more surprising was how ineffective the Wolfpack offense was. Ryan Finley threw two picks while the team combined to rush 25 times for only 14 yards. 

Stanford: Lost, 10-5, vs. Colorado

Christian McCaffrey’s return (21 carries, 92 yards, 2 receptions, 26 yards) didn’t make a difference as Stanford reverted back to its baffling struggles a week after beating Notre Dame. After the game, David Shaw took responsibility for Stanford’s issues, saying “our personnel doesn’t reflect our production, and all the fingers point to me. That’s on me. That’s my responsibility to get the most out of the players we have.”

Miami: Lost, 37-16, at Virginia Tech

Notre Dame should heed these numbers:

Meanwhile, Miami has fallen hard since starting the season 4-0. A one-point loss to Florida State and a seven-point loss to North Carolina weren’t awful, but getting blown out by three touchdowns on the road at Virginia Tech effectively took the ‘Canes out of the ACC Coastal race. Miami’s losing streak is now longer than Notre Dame’s coming into Saturday, for what it’s worth. 

Navy: Won, 42-28, vs. Memphis

Navy rushed for 447 yards on 74 carries and quarterback Will Worth had 201 yards and three touchdowns as the MIds powered their way to another solid win. A tricky Friday trip to South Florida awaits before Navy faces Notre Dame in Jacksonville in early November. 

Army: Lost, 35-18, vs. North Texas

A home loss against North Texas might be the death knell for Army’s hopes of reaching its first bowl game since 2010. The Black Knights’ remaining games: At Wake Forest, vs. Air Force, vs. Notre Dame. vs. Morgan State and vs. Navy. At best, there are only two wins in there, one would think.

Virginia Tech: Won, 37-16, vs. Miami

This was a nice rebound game for the Hokies after losing last week to Syracuse. Jerod Evans completed 21 of 33 passes for 259 yards with two touchdowns and ran 19 times for 98 yards with a score, while Virginia Tech’s defense held Miami running backs Joseph Yearby and Mark Walton to 87 yards on 20 carries — with 41 of those yards coming on one Yearby carry. 

USC: Bye week

With a home game against Cal on Thursday coming up, USC got Saturday off to rest up for what should be a high-scoring evening in Los Angeles.