Vorel: Notre Dame fulfills a promise, delivers elusive statement win

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Hear that?

Notre Dame’s knocking. Louder. Louder.

Twenty-two months ago, in the aftermath of a 44-28 Fiesta Bowl loss to No. 7 Ohio State, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was asked to address the future of his program.

“We're going to keep banging at the door,” Kelly said, moments after the Buckeyes dropped 285 rushing yards and four scores on the obviously overmatched Irish. “Keep playing Ohio State, keep playing Florida State, keep playing Alabama, keep playing these teams in these kinds of venues, in these kinds of games.

“We don't want to be playing directional teams with no profile to them. Big names, great traditions, New Year's Six games. Keep playing them. Get in them.

“Keep building your program, keep recruiting, keep doing it the way you're doing it, and we're going to win these games.”

For five years — right up until kickoff of No. 13 Notre Dame’s 49-14 victory over No. 11 USC (6-2) — the Irish couldn’t win these games. After thumping No. 8 Oklahoma 30-13 on the road in 2012, Kelly’s team went 2-10 against top-15 programs.

Alabama 2012-13: loss. Oklahoma 2013: loss. Stanford 2013: loss. Florida State 2014: loss. Clemson 2015: loss. Stanford 2015: loss, again. Ohio State 2015-16: loss. Michigan State 2016: loss. USC 2016: loss.

Georgia 2017: barely a loss, but a loss all the same.

Oh, and the two teams the Irish beat? Stanford’s 2014 squad, which entered the ND game ranked No. 14, ended the regular season 7-5. And the 2015 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, also ranked 14th upon their meeting, nosedived to a 3-9 finish.

Forget banging on the door. The Irish couldn’t even find the house.

Then came Georgia. Same result, and a familiar refrain.

“We will win these types of games … because of what you’ve decided to give,” a steadfast Kelly promised his players in the locker room after a 20-19 loss.

On Saturday, Kelly fulfilled both promises. Finally. Emphatically.

In the first half alone, Notre Dame (6-1) out-rushed its most hated rival 190 to minus-4. The Irish collected three turnovers — improving their season total to 17, after managing just 14 in 2016. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s group shut out an opponent in a half for the first time this season.

The Irish didn’t merely bang on the door. They shot a hole through it, doused the room in gasoline and burned that sucker to the ground.

Want to know what that looks like? It looks like junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush throwing a 26-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, then skipping downfield as he pumps his fist seven times, simultaneously expelling five years of pent-up frustration.

It looks like Wimbush lowering his shoulder, depositing USC cornerback Isaiah Langley into the turf, then not-so-subtly staring him down on the sideline.

A photo sequence of Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush (7) running the ball and hitting Southern California’s Isaiah Langley (24) during the University of Southern California at Notre Dame NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA

It looks like junior running back Josh Adams piercing the heart of the USC defense for an untouched 84-yard touchdown run, his second of three scores. He should probably keep running to New York City for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony in December.

It looks like 377 rushing yards and eight yards per carry, which is nothing new for the nation’s No. 6 rushing offense.

It looks like Kelly turning to his third-string quarterback, Montgomery VanGorder, for the final drive, because sophomore backup Ian Book had already gotten plenty of work.

It looks and sounds like a standing ovation, which is what nearly 80,000 fans gave the victorious Irish when the clock hit zero.

It looks and sounds like embattled sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, who Kelly joked spent much of this season “in Siberia,” smiling, with tears in his eyes, as he sings the alma mater.

It looks like Notre Dame's first win over a ranked USC team since 1995.

It looks like domination, pure and simple. It smells like gas and smoke.

It looks like a different Sea of Red. Bloody. Not Suitable For Work. Wave after wave after unrelenting wave.

It looks like a card, and another Kelly promise.

“I wrote on a card tonight in the locker room, and I said if we didn't win really big, I would be disappointed,” Kelly said late on Saturday night. “And I did that because (if we lost) I would then reevaluate some of the things that maybe we did relative to our preparation.

“I thought we would do well tonight. Our kids performed extremely well and to the level that I thought that we would play at.”

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (33) is hoisted up by teammate following a touchdown during the Notre Dame-Southern California NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN