Vorel: Time for Notre Dame to tune out the noise, focus on Navy

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

I hope you’re not reading this.

Because that would mean you care what I think.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe that’s one of many reasons why last weekend turned out the way it did. Maybe you — insert young, talented Notre Dame football player here — read too many columns anointing your overwhelming offense. Or, more likely, you might have scrolled through a few too many 140-(now 280-) character compliments on social media.

Maybe the soft glow of a College Football Playoff spotlight unknowingly got to your head. Maybe that spotlight got so bright it temporarily blinded you.

Maybe distractions — Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly calls them “the enemy,” while Alabama head coach Nick Saban deems them “poison” — got the better of you. Maybe they impeded your focus and eroded your preparation.

Or, maybe Miami was just the better team.

But not that much better. Like, 41-8 better? I’m not buying it, and chances are, neither are you.

“I think there's a lot of hype that goes around that game,” Notre Dame senior captain Greer Martini said on Wednesday. “All week we saw it all over ESPN. So that also goes into it.

“As a team we’ve got to learn that if we're going to be playing in the future in those high-stakes games, that we’ve got to channel all that out and just focus on what's important.”

You know what’s important? Beating Navy (6-3). Topping a team that bested you by a single point last season. Slowing an offense that rushes for 369.8 yards per game, more than any team in the nation. Showing that you’re not the team that has allowed 476 rushing yards and 5.8 yards per carry in your last two games.

Not Twitter. Not Instagram stories and Snapchat filters. Not “33 Trucking” or those $26 hats. Not the Rockne Heritage uniforms with their fake leather helmets and brown cleats. Not rankings. Not message boards. Not @AnonymousAngryIrishFan, who loved you a week ago but now swears they never did.

Not, which is actually a website for “Firebrick Consulting” in San Francisco.

Not what ESPN thinks. Not what I think.

Just Navy. That’s it.

“I think I was coach of the year two weeks ago, and then there's (now),” Kelly said this week.

“We don't live in that world. We coach our players on a day-to-day basis to the mission of our university and to the mission of our football program, and that is to graduate all of our players and play for a national championship. So every day we're working on the traits to develop our players.”

And, look: I get it. Kelly might not live in that world, but you do. You have to. Like it or not, you can’t stay in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex forever. At some point, you’re going to walk outside, and you’re going to use the Internet. You’re going to talk to your friends and family. You’re going to hear that you’re the best, or the worst, and it’s up to you whether you choose to believe it.

You’re going to venture outside of that insulated bubble, to a place where enemies — or distractions — lurk around every corner.

You’ll either let it affect you, or you won’t.

Take Brandon Wimbush, for example. A couple weeks ago, when asked how his quarterback absorbs public criticism, Kelly acknowledged that “he listens to that stuff. He listens to it probably a little bit too much.”

If Wimbush is listening this week, you know what he’s probably hearing? You blew it against Miami. You lost the game for your team. You weren’t good enough when it mattered. You can’t pass. You can’t play. You shouldn’t start. You’re not improving.

Yada, yada, yada.

For a kid that has excelled in every sport, on every level, public criticism is unfamiliar. How many 20-year-olds are built to withstand an avalanche of seething adversity? Put an average fan in his shoes, and chances are, they'd run away.

Wimbush’s challenge — a week after he completed 10 of 21 passes for 119 yards with a touchdown, two interceptions and a lost fumble in the massacre at Miami — is to put his head down and improve. It’s to help his team beat Navy. It's to remember that confidence is a choice.

And maybe, it’s to stop listening (or in this case, reading).

That's your challenge, too.

Because, trust me, the distractions aren’t going away. Not at Notre Dame. Not now. Not next season. Not ever. You will be loved and hated and doubted and despised and underrated and overrated and anointed and left-for-dead … sometimes, all in the same game. You will be idolized and criticized by people you’ve never met.

Inevitably, you will be dropped into a situation like last Saturday again.

Only this time, how will you handle it?


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s Michael Young (87), from left, Josh Adams (33) and Chase Claypool (83) sit on the bench in the final seconds of the fourth quarter during the Notre Dame at Miami NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA