Alohi Gilman knows this feeling.
It may have been a little too familiar to admit. The only thing the senior Notre Dame safety could compare the 45-14 lopsided loss at Michigan last Saturday to was last season’s defeat in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
The feeling after Notre Dame’s season was ended by a 30-3 loss to Clemson felt a little bit worse, Gilman said. But both losses cut bone-deep.
“In this game, you put a lot of work in from January on,” Gilman said. “You do your best to put your team first and help your teammates out the most that you can. To fall short like that is disappointing and it’s something that doesn’t sit well with you.
“Initially after, you feel all those things. But you can’t dwell on it. At the same time, you have to remember those things as well to remind your teammates that we have to be better and grow from this experience.”
The loss to the Tigers, which went on to beat Alabama 44-16 in the national championship game, lingered with Gilman. He could use it as motivation in offseason workouts. The Irish didn’t have another game scheduled for eight months.
But Gilman couldn’t waste time getting past the Wolverine blowout. By Tuesday, when Gilman spoke with reporters, he had already turned the page.
“Clemson, it took me a lot of time to process that. And I had that time,” Gilman said. “Right now, the turnaround is quick. But right away, I knew that I had to be an example to my teammates and let people know that what happened is what happened. If we want to change it, we have to do some things differently.
“Initially that’s my thought process. If I’m sulking and still thinking about it now on a Tuesday, what is (freshman safety) Kyle (Hamilton) doing? What are the other guys doing? I try to do my best to lead this team in the right direction and be a positive force in that.”
Mike McGlinchey knows the pain. The parallels between last Saturday night’s loss and Miami’s 41-8 destruction of Notre Dame in 2017 were already being drawn before the fourth quarter ended.
“When we lost to Miami in ‘17, it kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” said McGlinchey, the starting left tackle and a captain for the 2017 Irish. “It crushed our national championship dream a little bit. That is kind of a similar situation. It might have come a little bit earlier than in 2017. Both were extremely unexpected games and unexpected things to have happen.”
Both games gave Notre Dame its second loss in each season following earlier close losses to Georgia. Both erased chances for the Irish to reach the College Football Playoff. This year, No. 16 Notre Dame (5-2) still has five games left in the regular season starting Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC) against Virginia Tech (5-2). In 2017, Notre Dame only had two games remaining in the regular season following its colossal loss.
That’s why McGlinchey knows what’s required for the Irish to bounce back on Saturday.
“As simple and as cheesy as it is, you just keep playing football,” McGlinchey said. “You can’t really take away stings and scars from this game. You just have to keep building on them.
“That’s something I’ve learned in the last two or three years now. You have to keep playing. You’re playing for yourself, you’re playing for your pride and you’re playing for your teammates and your school or in my case my organization. It’s one of those things that the only thing that can make the feeling of that go away is by winning again.”
McGlinchey’s experiencing plenty of winning now. The San Francisco 49ers, which drafted him with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, are one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the NFL this season. A 28-25 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night moved the 49ers to 8-0.
But McGlinchey missed the last four games with a knee injury. He’s on the mend hoping to return for San Francisco’s next game on Nov. 11. While watching the Irish from afar, he can only wonder what went wrong against Michigan. But he knows sometimes there’s no good answer.
“You never really know what the hell happened,” McGlinchey said. “Some days you show up and the team just has a better plan and a better way to do it than you do. That happens. Unfortunately in college football, when that happens once, it burns your whole season.”
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly questioned if the team failed to properly prepare for the Michigan game immediately following the loss in his postgame press conference.
“We have to look at all the things that went on tonight as what kind of preparation did I put them in?” Kelly said last Saturday night. “Did I put them in the right place? Did we coach them to be in the right fits offensively, defensively? Players have to look at their performance. This is an all-in situation with players and coaches any time you have a defeat like this.”
A lack of preparation seemed preposterous following a bye week. Even in the week leading up to the Michigan game, the Irish players didn’t have classes to attend with the university on fall break.
But preparation seems to typically be the target for blame or credit depending on the outcome.
“Everybody goes in prepared,” McGlinchey said. “You never feel underprepared unless you just don’t care. It’s really hard to care more. Sometimes things happen in the middle of the game that you weren’t ready for and you have to be able to make adjustments on the fly within the game.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily preparing harder. It’s just being able to adjust on the fly and making sure everybody is even-keeled enough to handle it. That’s what preparation does. It allows you to trust what you’re doing. Being able to trust yourself to get back to your basics and doing what you do well and making those in-game adjustments to make sure that things don’t get out of hand.”
McGlinchey does believe a team can over-prepare. That can lead to coaches or players out-thinking themselves. That’s why one of the clichés of athletics is the philosophy of preparing the same way every day regardless of the circumstance or opponent.
“It’s being the same guy and being the same unit every single day and making sure that you can weather all storms: schedule changes, late nights, late travel, whatever it is,” McGlinchey said. “As players and coaches alike, you have to do that together.”
Striking the right balance this week probably wasn’t easy. In 2017, the Irish beat Navy 24-17 a week after losing at Miami. The regular season ended with a 38-20 loss at Stanford.
McGlinchey doesn’t believe those results were impacted in any way by the loss at Miami. But he does believe Notre Dame’s captains will play a big role in determining how the Irish respond this Saturday and how they’ve prepared this week.
“They set the example, and they set the tone for how the business of winning again gets done,” McGlinchey said. “The guys are going to look to the seven of them for where do we go from here?”
Gilman embraced that responsibility. He started the week trying to get a sense of where his leadership was needed.
“You try to feel out the team and how things are going, how people are feeling,” Gilman said. “You still try to be yourself. Obviously as a captain, I have to do better in controlling the group, controlling the heartbeat of the group, taking it by the horns and letting people know that it’s time to go.”
A week after ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit called Notre Dame’s performance a “complete no-show” and “embarrassing” during ABC’s broadcast of the Michigan game, the Irish need to show some fire. The only thing left on the line is pride.
“I’m looking at how well we respond to each other,” Gilman said. “If I look across and see one of my guys and I look him in the eye, I know that they’re going to be ready to go. They’re going to be there to sacrifice for me. That’s the same thing to them.
“That’s what we’re doing this week just to hold each other accountable. Doing those little things to make sure that I’m ready to fight for my brothers.”