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Notre Dame football: No time for nostalgia

Notre Dame football: No time for nostalgia

November 17, 2010|By ERIC HANSEN, Tribune Staff Writer
  • Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco during practice at Labar Practice Fields on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010.
Tribune Photo/MARCUS MARTER

SOUTH BEND — Yes, Brian Kelly has been to Yankee Stadium, old Yankee Stadium, but the Notre Dame football coach’s most vivid memories of sports in the Big Apple come from New York’s less-famous demolished stadium, Shea.

Red Sox-Mets. World Series, 1986. Game Six. Mookie Wilson slow roller. Through Bill Buckner’s legs into right field. Yes, that game.

"We all watched that ground ball go down the first-base line, the agony of not making that last play," said Kelly, a Massachusetts native who happened to be sitting in the low-rent seats in the upper deck.

He’ll try to orchestrate a more pleasant story line for himself Saturday night at new Yankee Stadium when Notre Dame (5-5) dons its green jerseys to play Army (6-4) in the facility’s first football game.

It will be the 50th meeting between the Irish and the Cadets, with 22 of the previous meetings coming at the old Yankee Stadium. The Irish were 15-6-3 in the old place — 14-5-3 against Army, with the most recent meeting in that building in 1969.

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Notre Dame’s other two games in old Yankee Stadium were a 42-6 rout of North Carolina in 1949 and a 14-7 loss to Syracuse in 1963.

None of which put Kelly in a nostalgic mood Tuesday.

"Ronald Reagan being George Gipp, watching that movie, knowing they played Army, that’s probably about it for me," he deadpanned.

Irish fans would probably prefer Kelly sharpen his knowledge of recent, rather than ancient, history anyway. Specifically how not to have a replay of Navy’s stunning 35-17 domination of the Irish defense, on the other side of the Hudson River three and a half weeks ago.

Army’s triple-option offense isn’t identical to Navy’s, but it’s close enough and potent enough that ND’s eight-point favorite status by the Vegas oddsmakers may look like a typo.

Perhaps the most condemning aspect of ND’s defensive meltdown against Navy came in the days after the game, when Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco essentially said that it wasn’t practical for the Irish defense to be able to adjust on the fly in the Navy game and that if Plan A didn’t work, there was going to be a problem.

"That comment will not even be something that we could even consider," Kelly said with clenched teeth. "We’ll have answers. That will not be anything we can use as (an excuse that) we can’t make that adjustment."

Diaco, incidentally, has been muted to the media ever since. And the Irish defense has made significant strides against non-option teams in the interim. In fact, the Irish haven’t allowed a defensive touchdown since the opening drive of the Tulsa game on Oct. 30.

"We’ve done a very good job at the basics and the fundamentals," Kelly said of the nation’s No. 66 defense, up from 86 last season. "We’re getting much better separation at the line of scrimmage. We’re doing a much better job of keeping linemen from climbing up to that next level and letting our backers run, and we’re tackling better. Those principles will carry over.

"Now we have to do it in a little bit more of a concerted effort, because you’re going against a different offense."

What Notre Dame is doing differently on defense this week is largely clandestine, but Kelly did offer that the staff has looked at tape of teams that have defended Army’s option attack well. He mentioned Air Force, a 42-22 winner over the Cadets in their only blowout loss of the season, as one of the templates the Irish studied.

But it’s more than that. It’s about consistency in performance. That’s the mantra that drives the big picture.

"Playing with the same mental and physical toughness that’s necessary to win football games on a consistent basis, not once in a while, not just playing well one day," Kelly said.

Kelly said it’s been a struggle to change that culture, because of the inconsistency in the message the ND players have heard over the course of their careers.

"Let’s see, different coaches, different coordinators. Just a different voice every day," he said. "Not every day, but just a change. A lot of different offensive line coaches. There just needs to be a consistency in the approach on a day-to-day basis. We’re 10 weeks into it. If we listen to everybody else, there would be a change again.

"It’s consistency in what they hear and how we go to work every single day. It’s just, ‘Let us do our job. Let us work with our kids and get them better each and every week.’ That’s what we talk to our players about. ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’

"It’s good to get some wins along the way, because it helps in that. Regardless, it’s the message being consistent every single day."

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