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Notre Dame: A Study in Mental Toughness

Posted By Jordan Lauterbach On Nov 28 2010 @ 2:37 am In Notre Dame | No Comments

It is truly remarkable to think about how the Notre Dame season ended. Yes, it’s only 7 -5 (exactly what this space predicted in late August, but the way), but it’s the best kind of 7 -5. It’s the pleasantly surprising kind.

We know the story, heard it a million times. But somehow, it doesn’t get old. At 4 -5 and coming off a brutal home loss to Tulsa, it looked like Notre Dame’s bowl hopes were toast.  Brian Kelly’s year would end at 5 – 7, a certifiable failure. Then things changed. Big time.

A win over an offensively potent Utah and the almost polar opposite looking Army had the Irish in a bowl game and playing with house money entering the bi – annual torching in Los Angeles.

 So what? We thought. A USC loss would hurt, sure, but a bowl game was still on the horizon. One more chance to see the Irish before the long trip towards 2011. But it didn’t happen that way. Suddenly, the Irish were struck with some luck. Luck that they haven’t been on the right side of in quite some time. Mitch Mustain, not star Matt Barkley, would be under center for the Trojans.

What followed was the best win of the season, an appropriate topper to a fine final act.

It wasn’t pretty, and perhaps that’s what made it so rewarding. The play calling, at points, was suspect. Tommy Rees looked more like the confused kid from earlier in the season then the quarterback that Notre Dame fans have come to love in the last few weeks. The secondary broke down at the games most crucial moment.

But in the end, none of this mattered. What made it so rewarding was the gritty nature in which it was executed. Was Notre Dame the better team Saturday night? Absolutely not. In fact, far from it. However, if the win proves anything, it’s that the number of turnovers don’t matter as much as the timing of those turnovers.

It was Notre Dame that fumbled the football near the goal line. It was Tommy Rees that threw three picks. But it was Mitch Mustain and the USC Trojans that got crossed up on the final drive, down by four, resulting in an interception that iced a game Notre Dame may not have deserved, but earned.

About time those kinds of plays went Notre Dame’s way, eh? Lately, they have.

This wasn’t all bad for the Irish. Once again, the defense was stout for most of the game, somehow holding a lead despite the offenses best efforts to give it away. They held both Marc Tyler and C.J Gable to under three yards a carry and forced field goals at some key moments. Late in the game, I thought they rattled Mustain with pressure not seen on weekly basis. While this didn’t result in sacks, it may have resulted in some rushed throws.

Offensively, Notre Dame ran the ball well, bringing up the question of why they didn’t put the ball on the ground more with a lead and a struggling freshman quarterback. Cierre Wood was his normal outstanding self (15 – 89), but it was Robert Hughes that shined. Although Hughes only got 11 carries, he clearly ran with a purpose. Late in the game, he dragged a tired USC defense up and down the field. The unsung hero carried the ball 11 times for 69 yards, an outstanding 6.3 yards per carry average.

Although Rees was awful, not all was lost out of the passing game. Michael Floyd had his most dominant game of the season, catching 11 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. It was a little surprising that, after last week, Tyler Eifert didn’t get more involved, but it’s hard to fill up a passing stat sheet with a quarterback that throws three interceptions.

The win was a perfect bow on a sometimes imperfect regular season. To find a way to win on the road, in the rain, against your biggest rival, turning the ball over like it’s going out of style, is quite an accomplishment. Any questions about the mental toughness of this squad need to go out the window.

Mental toughness was not something this team has been known for.

Really puts an entirely new spin on Brian Kelly: Year 1, doesn’t it?

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