Notre Dame LB Joe Schmidt guarantees improvement

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

CLEMSON, S.C. — Joe Schmidt stood in a tunnel underneath the west bleachers in Death Valley on Saturday night, his anger as tangible as the constant, pounding rain.

Minutes earlier, his Irish had fallen to Clemson in devastating fashion, as quarterback DeShone Kizer was stuffed on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game. As a unit, his defense faltered early, surrendering two Tiger touchdowns in the first seven minutes of the game. And personally, the graduate student linebacker had been uncharacteristically ineffective, credited with one measly tackle in the 24-22 defeat.

He stood there, amongst the puddles, and simmered — freshly motivated by overwhelming frustration. It’s a feeling, he hopes, that Notre Dame can use.

“There are so many areas we need to be better in — I need to be better in, personally,” Schmidt said. “I know that on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday and for the rest of this next week, there’s nobody that’s going to work harder than I will.

“This team cares so much about each other and cares so much about this program. We’re going to respond well.”

Schmidt’s responses in the early hours of Sunday morning were certainly telling, as the most vocal of Notre Dame’s five captains refused to deflect blame or alter the mission.

How much of a factor was the rain and noise tonight?

“I won’t make any excuses about the elements or the noise.”

How determined are you to make that the last loss of the year?

“There’s no other option.”

Notre Dame’s defense seemed to right the ship following its early struggles on Saturday, as the Irish allowed just 10 points and 45 passing yards in the final 53 minutes and 43 seconds of the game.

But consolation prizes proved no consolation for Schmidt or anyone else.

“We just started to execute. We started playing defense like we know we can play.

“Even after those first two drives, we could have been so much better,” Schmidt marveled. “I could have been so much better. And we will be. We’re going to work hard this next week and the rest of the season. We won’t let that happen again.”

The best way not to let it happen, Schmidt knows, is to move on — not to let Clemson beat them two weekends in a row. Brian VanGorder and his defense must swiftly refocus, setting its sight on undefeated and option-reliant Navy.

But the next win, however satisfying, can’t right Saturday’s wrongs.

“We have to look forward. We have to move on to the next game,” Schmidt said. “Obviously we have to look back at this game and learn from it. But there isn’t a guy in there with a smile on his face, and we’re not going to smile in the next week.”

Schmidt certainly wasn’t smiling on Saturday. Not when Artavis Scott plunged into the end zone to extend Clemson’s lead. Not when the Death Valley masses roared following the Tiger defense’s final stop.

And not in the rainy, noisy tunnel, as Notre Dame’s defensive leader discussed what might have been.

“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” Schmidt said, his voice tinged with intensity. “I’ll never forget this moment.”

A visibly upset Joe Schmidt: "I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life. I'll never forget this moment."

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) October 4, 2015

Notre Dame’s Joe Schmidt (38) comes off the field after a big stop during the Notre Dame-Clemson NCAA football game on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, Memorial Stadium at Clemson University in Clemson, SC. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN