FOOTBALL

Noie: Another tough game for No. 10 Notre Dame? That's college football

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The starting right guard ascended a long set of auditorium stairs in full pads earlier this week, stopping at the top to grab a seat at the table with a placard bearing his name.

For the next 10 minutes, Tommy Kraemer proceeded to answer questions from the assembled media. About Notre Dame’s loss the previous week to No. 3 Georgia. About the struggles of the offensive line. About moving forward. About the big picture that is the rest of the 2019 season. Kraemer answered, all the while soaked with sweat from a just-concluded practice. A hard practice.

His blue No. 78 jersey was drenched. So were his gold practice pants. Beads of sweat danced along his forehead and ran down his arms.

Minutes later, the starting strong safety arrived at his table, took a seat and started talking. Jalen Elliott’s practice pants carried a swipe of blood smeared across the right thigh. He talked of getting back to work, of wiping clean any disappointment from the previous week’s loss, about starting fresh, starting over, and carrying on this football season.

The previous day while dissecting the Georgia game, coach Brian Kelly talked of the grind that is college football. All the days and the weeks and the months of practices and games and film and rinse and repeat. He touched on concern that his team might be physically and emotionally drained from what it experienced at Sanford Stadium last Saturday. Nobody cares this week. This is this sport. It’s hard. It’s demanding.

Time to do it all again and handle the tough stuff. Even tougher stuff.

“Let’s get after it,” Kelly said.

This is what picking up the pieces looked and sounded like this week for No. 10 Notre Dame (2-1) after its ultimate goal — win a national championship — went sideways with that Georgia loss. Sure, the Irish still could get to their ultimate destination — back into the College Football Playoff a second straight season and on to the national championship game. The dates of both still are listed on a side wall of Isban Auditorium under the rest of the 2019 regular-season schedule.

Those goals will be a reach to reach. A lot has to happen, not only for Notre Dame, but to the rest of college football. Several seismic shifts. Clemson losing once. Maybe twice. Alabama losing once. Maybe twice. Same for LSU and Ohio State and Oklahoma. Notre Dame can keep hope alive by winning. That’s the only goal now.

Win.

That’s not going to be easy Saturday as No. 18 Virginia (4-0; 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) comes to town. It’s a worst-case scenario for Notre Dame given what happened against Georgia. It was a hard game. It was a physical game. It was a loss game. It would be nice to wipe all that clean with a Saturday afternoon glide, say against New Mexico or Bowling Green or anyone else. Instead, the Irish get a ranked opponent swaggering into town.

Not the best of scenarios, for sure, but the only one the Irish have right now. Gotta deal with it. Letdown? Can’t have one.

“There’s no thought of that or anything,” Kraemer said. “You have to attack this game as hard as you do any game. That’s what we’re going to do. That’s what we did (Tuesday).”

Back at it

On the heels of the Georgia loss, Notre Dame’s seven captains called a players-only meeting Monday afternoon ahead of the 3 p.m. meeting with Kelly. But don’t read much into that, Kraemer said. The Irish have players-only meetings all the time. To talk about the good. To talk about the bad. Just to talk. That they had the session after the 23-17 loss wasn’t really significant.

Just make sure everyone’s on the same page moving forward. Don’t slack off on the practice field. Get better. Be ready. Usual stuff. Team stuff. Football stuff. No big deal stuff.

Oh, and put the Georgia game behind you. It’s over. Twenty-four hour rules also hold for losses.

“Win or lose, we have to be ready to regroup from it and move on from that game and be ready for Virginia,” said Elliott, a team captain. “We have more games to play.”

Notre Dame enters a bit of foreign territory with this one. No team currently ranked in the Top 25 has done through the season’s first four weeks what Notre Dame will do — play a second straight ranked opponent. Only three teams — No. 7 Auburn, No. 21 USC and No. 23 Texas A&M — have matched Notre Dame in playing two ranked opponents in its first four games.

Back-to-back? Nobody’s done what Notre Dame will. How?

By thinking of Virginia as just another obstacle on the schedule. A good one? For sure.

“Everyone we play is a faceless opponent,” Kraemer said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re the No. 1 team or the last team. You’ve got to attack them. We don’t really care about rankings or that kind of thing.

“This game, anyone’s good enough to beat you.”

Virginia can beat Notre Dame. With its defense. With its offense. With its belief that it can be the better team on Saturday afternoon/evening. It’s a big opportunity for the Cavaliers in their first visit to South Bend. But it’s a big opportunity for the Irish. Kelly said as much early Sunday morning back in Athens.

That’s when he talked of this week being a defining week. For his football team. For this season. It wasn’t going to be at Georgia, no matter the final score. Getting up for that one and playing well in that one was easy. This one’s hard. This week, Kelly believes, will define this season. This team. It will define the quarterback. The offensive line. The offense. Define a defense that might have collectively played its best game.

Heck, it might even define the coaching staff after Kelly shouldered some Georgia blow-back blame for not properly preparing his team last weekend. So prepare them well this weekend, and go win a tough game.

How will this week define this team? This season?

“Continue to show the tenacity and that grit that this team is made of,” Elliott said. “Show that we’re not a team to be messed with.”

Want access to all of our Notre Dame football coverage? Click here to become an ND Insider Premium subscriber today for 30% off our annual rate. Purchase an entire year's subscription for just $69. Subscribe now before this special offer expires.  

As one of seven team captains, strong safety Jalen Elliott knows it’s time for No. 10 Notre Dame to respond coming off last week’s loss to No. 3 Georgia.
Notre Dame’s Tommy Kraemer signs an autograph for Mike Roberts of Detroit during the Football and the Force Charity Softball game June 11, 2018, at South Bend’s Four Winds Field.