Notre Dame football: Irish still seeking their 2013 identity


South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - So much for the green-out. Kinda backfired.

Notre Dame Stadium looked more like a Christmas card — with Sooner red interspersed everywhere in the green — than a show of Irish solidarity.

Even the high-rollers took the cash and bailed. The big-money seats directly behind the Oklahoma bench were peppered with red. Not quite like the Nebraska game way back when, but bad enough.

It really may have been one big Christmas card, and it was the Notre Dame football team that came bearing gifts. Three of them, in fact.

Notre Dame's 35-21 loss to Oklahoma Saturday further complicated an already difficult season. Five games in, and the Irish identity is still a mystery.

Who are these guys?

Too easy to put too much blame on Tommy Turnover. Irish quarterback Tommy Rees' two interceptions in the first three minutes, and three in the first half, will be the everlasting definition of this assortment of missed opportunities.

Few will remember the assignment collapse by the left side of the offensive line on the first pick. Hardly anyone noticed that, according to Irish receiver TJ Jones, he was a yard too shallow and fellow receiver DaVaris Daniels was a few yards too deep on the route on the third pick.

"We always go back to the quarterback around here," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said.

Yep, that's what Irish fans do. Right now, there are probably at least four variations of domain names registered on

Two losses and it's still September. A fan base that was awoken last fall won't cotton to being headed to bowl oblivion before raking leaves even once.

Last year's success has created even more of a monster than ND Nation was when Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham or Charlie Weis were in charge.

If there can be any hope of salvation in the offing, it will likely come from the Notre Dame passing game, right? Rees did throw for over 300 yards in each of the first three games, you know. Uh... Well... He ran up 142 last week against Michigan State and 104 against Oklahoma.

Never mind.

Well then, it can come from the ground game that piled up 220 yards Saturday. Oh yeah, 96 against Michigan; 91 against Purdue; 82 against the Spartans.


Ah hah, the defense. That's the ticket out of the doldrums. Oops — 450 yards yielded to Oklahoma; 400 to Purdue; 460 to Michigan. Don't count the Spartans, they're awful.

What's that leave? One bbbbiiiiiiggggg question mark.

Again: Who are these guys? And how are they going to make it better?

Kelly is facing a new challenge, one he hasn't had to tackle in a while: Try to keep from losing the team.

Oklahoma starts its Big 12 season with TCU next week. For all practical purposes, the championship part of Notre Dame's season went caput. One more loss, and that one could be lurking around a corner somewhere, would probably put to rest any prayer of an appearance in the final version of the BCS.

Stop by The Grotto and blow out those candles.

The loss just down-graded Rees to the rank of lame duck. A team that will be focused on building for the future, will have to wrestle with the decision to either continue freshman quarterback Malik Zaire's redshirt (he would have blended in well at the Stadium Saturday) or try to give Everett Golson's future backup every opportunity for on-the-job training.

That's a dilemma to which nobody inside the walls of the football facility will admit. There's a fine line between giving a team its best chance to win, and preparing it for future success when the stakes will be higher.

Tough call.

Identity and consistency can be similar terms. If a team knows who it is, what it consistently does best — week after week — that's an identity.

As the halfway point of the season draws near, inconsistency is the only constant. There's nothing on which to depend. This far into it, a good team's personality would have emerged.

Who are these guys?

Notre Dame linebacker Ben Councell (30) lays a hit on Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay (24) during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Notre Dame. Councell was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER