Oct 29, 2012, 9:12 AM EDT
We are back … back to playing like a champion everyday. Last week I said Notre Dame was finally going to be on the pedestal that the Irish faithful have yearned for over the past decade. On Saturday that pedestal was prepared as the crowd in Norman was electric, the stadium was striped in crimson and cream and an Oklahoma Memorial Stadium attendance record was set (the stadium was actually roughly 4,000 people over capacity). The Irish not only survived in the spotlight, they thrived. Led by the #5 duo of Everett Golson and Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame offense and defense settled into the game atmosphere and then began to impose their presence on the Oklahoma Sooners. Brian Kelly orchestrated a perfect game plan and conducted the Irish onward to victory. It was the kind of performance I haven’t seen from a Notre Dame team since freshman year.
After the game, I flashed back to when Brian Kelly was hired and I remembered that the media used the phrase “changing the culture” after Kelly began his tenure at Notre Dame. I also recalled myself thinking that Kelly not only had to change the culture within the Notre Dame football program itself, but also the culture of the entire Notre Dame football fan base. Kelly had the unenviable task of transforming the mindset of Fighting Irish Nation back to one of confidence and belief. From his first day at Notre Dame, Kelly has stuck behind the core principles of his plan and now in his third year at the helm of the Irish program, he has done what many thought would never happen. The Irish faithful no longer doubt, they believe. They are no longer nervous about playing the best in nation, they welcome that challenge. Kelly has brought life and relevancy back to the University of Notre Dame. For that, Kelly should be applauded.
Back to the main point of the blog, here are three things I learned about the Notre Dame football team this week:
1) Everett Golson is going to be an elite quarterback: Everett Golson grew up not only in the eyes of Brian Kelly during the Oklahoma game, but in the eyes of all Irish fans. With each snap Golson looked more and more comfortable. While I am no football coach, it appeared to me that for the first time this season Golson was consistently reading the defense, making the correct checks at the line of scrimmage and executing the Irish offense to perfection. Golson would be the first to tell you that he still has a long way to go in his development, but the Irish fans have good reason to believe in long-term success with the prospect of seeing Golson lead the Irish offense for over three more seasons.
2) Bend-but-don’t-break defense works for the Irish: First, I have to admit that watching the Irish use a bend-but-don’t-break defense was rather nerve racking. Letting the Sooners pick up substantial amounts of yards in soft coverage can become irritating over time, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Bob Diaco had the perfect game plan for this contest. He used a soft pass coverage scheme while being extremely physical and aggressive against the run, which prevented any big plays from Oklahoma. The Irish are clearly an elite red-zone defense, which Diaco and the coaching staff relied on numerous times in the game. While I still am not a huge fan of that style of defense, I do admit that it has worked well for Diaco over the course of this year, particularly on last Saturday.
3) “Mental and physical toughness” has been achieved: If there is one phrase that I have heard repeated over and over in press conferences and post game speeches this season it is “mental and physical toughness.” While it may be due to pure brainwashing, it is evident the Irish have listen and responded. The players are both physically and mentally stronger than their opponents, especially at the end of games. Thanks to Paul Longo and a phenomenal conditioning program, the Irish are fast and fit. The defense was able to hang with the Sooner up-tempo attack and the offensive line was able to bulldoze the Oklahoma defensive front to seal the game. The Irish also never got rattled when the defense was on its heels during a couple of the early Sooner drives or when the offense stalled in the beginning of the game. They played clean, smart football and showed Oklahoma how to play like champions.
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