Notre Dame football: Kelly doesn’t want to forget the past

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Brian Kelly’s perpetual effervescence Thursday night over his beloved Boston Red Sox clinching the World Series title subsided for just a moment as his meeting with the media took a dark turn.

As the questioner took the Notre Dame head football coach down the road of arguably the most haunting of his 13 losses at ND, Kelly interrupted for a moment.

“No we did not forget 2010,” he said somberly.

Nor do Kelly and the rest of the Irish coaches want to.

The opponent that day was Navy, the same team that will try to close the door Saturday on the remaining scenarios that could land the Irish (6-2) back in the BCS bowl lineup. Kickoff Saturday is 3:30 p.m. EDT, and NBC has the telecast.

This version comes in as a 16-point underdog and with 4-3 record, fresh off a 24-21 victory over ND’s Nov. 9 opponent, Pittsburgh.

The 2010 incarnation created first a crisis, then a turning point for Kelly and his staff in a 35-17 domination of the Irish on Oct. 23, 2010 at what was then called New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Fullback Alexander Teich, a 6-foot, 217-pound fill-in for injured starter Vince Murray and who went on to become a Navy SEAL, gashed the Irish for 210 yards, with Navy amassing 367 yards on the ground as a team that day. That’s the most ever recorded against the Irish in the 86-game history of the series and the most given up by a Brian Kelly-coached team at ND.

Only six teams have cracked the 200-yard rushing mark in the 39 games that followed — one fewer than the number of teams that couldn’t break 60 rushing yards on the Irish in that span.

“I just think that we felt like there’s only been a couple of times since we’ve been here where we felt like we let the players down,” Kelly said of his first coaching encounter with Navy three seasons ago. “As coaches, you never want to feel that way.

“I take full responsibility for that. You want your team prepared. And that’s why we’re in this profession, to prepare our kids. And we weren’t prepared properly. So we’ve redoubled our efforts, based upon that game, to make sure that that never happens again.”

The key Saturday will be in-game adjustments.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo is an X-and-O master at solving what one opponent was successful with against the Mids and ambushing another team that tries to employ a similar strategy.

Kelly used the example of Western Kentucky, which shut down the fullbacks and the Navy offense in a 19-7 Mids loss earlier this season.

Three weeks later, Toledo lined up the same way, and Niumatalolo’s countermove produced 44 points in a double-overtime loss decided by a missed PAT. In that game, Navy’s top two fullbacks carried the ball 41 times. The next week, against Pitt, they combined for nine carries.

Their offense is a strategic moving target.

“They have answers,” Kelly said. “They’ve been running the triple option way longer than people have been defending it. So we have to be prepared, because nobody runs the triple, and the details of it, better than Navy.”

Personnel matters

•Kelly said senior nose guard Louis Nix will not suit up or play for the Irish on Saturday, the preseason All-American’s second straight game out of action because of knee tendinitis and soreness.

“He moved around a little bit (in practice),” Kelly said, “much more than last week. He’s getting closer but didn’t get enough work for us to play him against an option team.”

•Starting offensive guard Chris Watt (knee) and starting defensive end Sheldon Day (ankle) both practiced with the first team Thursday, Kelly said, and he expects both to play.

•Starting safety Elijah Shumate, out the past two games with a hamstring injury, worked with the second team Thursday and is expected to play against Navy.

“There’s some thinking there, that you don’t want to slow down a guy like Elijah sometimes.,” Kelly said. “You want to let him go. We like his athletic ability. He’s probably not at 100 percent yet, but he’s definitely in a position where he can get on the field and help us this weekend.”


•Kelly said that suspended quarterback Everett Golson, if reinstated to Notre Dame by December, would be allowed to and likely would practice with the team in its pre-bowl sessions. He would not, however, be cleared to compete in the bowl game.

Golson, suspended for academic misconduct by the university in May, is expected to re-enroll in January for the spring semester.

•Kelly on senior QB Tommy Rees’ legacy at ND: “He just keeps coming. He just shows up every day and keeps working, and sometimes it doesn't look the greatest. But he keeps playing and keeps persevering. And when it's all said and done, he represents all the things that we like. He's a great teammate.

“You really like your relationship with him. You love his competitiveness. Cares about the right things. He's just Fighting Irish.”

•Navy has yet to yield a touchdown in the first quarter this season, and has outscored the opposition, 38-9, in the opening frame. Offensively, the Mids have scored a touchdown on their first drive in four of their seven games.

•With Keenan Reynolds as the starting quarterback, Navy is 4-0 when throwing the ball 10 times or fewer in a game and 6-5 when throwing it 11 or more times.

•Navy has five sets of brothers on its 2013 roster, tied with Wisconsin and Army for the most on one team in the FBS this season.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, right, shakes hands with Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun after a 45-10 win in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. Kelly doesn't want to forget 2010 debacle with Navy. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER