Noie: Notre Dame captains confident of smoother football sailing following Georgia loss
When Notre Dame loses football games, and the Irish have lost a lot of those lately, what transpires in the hours and days that follow has pretty much become standard operating procedure.
Alarms sound. Red lights flash. Panic buttons are pulled closer. Wondering and worrying commences. This and this and that and that have to be fixed. Now. What needs to be better for the Irish to come out on the right side of the scoreboard? Whatever it is, it must be done and done fast.
Some of those same sentiments once permeated the Irish locker room from the guys in charge of making sure everything remains headed in the right direction when it looks otherwise.
But not this year, not from this group of seven team captains following a 20-19 home loss to No. 13 Georgia that bounced Notre Dame from the national rankings following a short week’s stay. For this leadership core, moving forward, starting with Saturday’s trip to Chestnut Hill, Mass., and a date with Boston College, means less is more. All around.
That wasn’t the case last year when Notre Dame staggered to a 4-8 showing. There was too much hand-wringing. Too much talking. Too much analysis.
Too much everything.
“I think that’s where we screwed up last year in the fact that we tried to do too much,” said fifth-year left tackle/captain Mike McGlinchey, as brutally honest as he is big, and he’s really big (6-foot-8, 315 pounds). “When you mess up a game as a team, it’s normally just a couple small things here and there that you’ve got to alter.
“Where we’re going to be a lot different is that we’re not going to go into panic mode.”
More like poise mode. The Irish know they left plays on the FieldTurf of Notre Dame Stadium that could have made a difference. Better protection for quarterback Brandon Wimbush here. Better quarterback decisions made there. Better tackling on this first down or coverage on that third down. The captains’ job this week was simple – make sure everyone goes back to work and gets better. Don't analyze. Act.
“We’re not going to go into anything too drastic because we know we are a good football team,” McGlinchey said. “I’m going to fix myself first, and then wherever I can help, I’ll help.”
Sometimes that doesn’t mean using many words. Captains are the strongest, most consistent voices in the locker rooms and the meeting rooms, but they also have to back it up on the practice field. With their actions.
“These guys on the team really don’t need many people telling them what to do,” said linebacker/captain Greer Martini. “Everyone is really focused on the next goal and that’s beating BC.”
Sulking is not an option, not even for McGlinchey, who kicked himself — and kicked himself hard — in the post-Georgia hours for allowing outside linebacker Davin Bellamy to blow by him, then sack and strip Wimbush on what might have been a game-winning drive. Stepping back into a "Here we go again" mode and reliving the 2016 nightmare — close, but not good enough – also is not an option.
Comparing this year to last was a talking point to avoid at all cost through a spring and a summer and a preseason camp that everyone insisted was different. Each time they were asked to compare this aspect or that aspect to a year ago, the players all insisted last year was a memory. A distant one.
So when that first loss arrived, nobody was ready to link it with how it all fell apart last fall. That book's closed.
“Our captains’ job is to bring guys back into the present moment, make them trust their training and make them realize what we’ve done to get to this point,” said senior rover back/captain Drue Tranquill, enjoying the best start to his career with nine tackles, two and a half for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery in two games. “Really just continue building the traits and trusting the process; the things that we’ve talked about and that you guys have heard over and over again.”
New year, new resolve
Speaking of traits, Brian Kelly saw a few of those new ones the other night. When the game was young. And old. When the Irish were ahead. Were tied. Were trailing. Even when it looked like it wasn’t going to end Notre Dame’s way.
The feeling along the home sideline wasn’t woe is us. It was more of, "Man, we’re so close. Let’s finish. And if we don’t, we’re still good, even at 1-1.''
“I just loved our sideline,” Kelly said. “Being able to walk up and down the sideline and sense their fight, how they felt about the game. Just a different feeling for me.
“What I hear and what I see, it’s just a different team.”
Linebacker/captain Nyles Morgan felt a similar vibe Tuesday in practice. As is the case of celebrating a win, the Irish get 24 hours to let a loss linger. That was pretty much Sunday. Maybe into some of Monday. But with Tuesday came a new week for new opportunity. New resolve.
“Guys were really into practice,” Morgan said. “Guys were really dialed in.”
Those first three days after Georgia — Sunday, Monday and Tuesday — allowed Tranquill to learn something different about this year’s group. These Irish embrace the chance to answer adversity. And will do so as one. That wasn’t always the case last season.
“Offensively, I think all our guys would say we didn’t play the best that we could have played (but) there wasn’t a single defensive guy pointing fingers,” Tranquill said. “There wasn’t a single offensive guy (pointing a finger at the defense). There was no one pointing fingers at anyone.
“It was a total responsibility taken on the part of our team.”
Disappointment was aplenty Saturday. Even Sunday. But at some point, determination shoved aside that disappointment. Time to go and be better. In all phases. Sooner than later.
The captains understand the stakes. They’re really high. They aren’t going to run from them. Can’t.
“Losing is losing and it’s unacceptable around here,” Tranquill said. “We could make any excuse in the book. None of them are valid.”
And nobody wants to hear them.
The Irish captains can huddle among themselves or with their position groups and talk even just a little about what they want to do better, what they need to be better, what they have to do to be better, but none of the words really matter. Getting back on the practice field and running through reps would help, but also only to a certain point.
The only way for everything to be better is to do something when it counts — like, starting at half past 3 on Saturday afternoon on the outskirts of Boston.
“You can’t really get fully back into it until there’s a game plan in front of you and there’s a next opponent,” McGlinchey said while winning Wednesday’s captains’ press conference at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. “Just go back to work. Everybody’s kind of angry, kind of pissed off and ready to get back out and see another team again.”
And with that, someone standing in the doorway of the Isban Auditorium off to McGlinchey’s right clapped. Loudly.
It was Kelly.
The head coach liked what he had just heard. Now it’s time to say the same for what he sees on the scoreboard after four quarters.