“We say this all of the time, you can't start winning until you stop losing,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
Kelly was speaking following his team's 23-20 loss to 38th-ranked South Florida Saturday. Particularly galling to the Irish fans is the fact that the defeat came at Notre Dame Stadium. But a feeling of comfort playing amongst family and friends isn't something that the Notre Dame football program has embraced in recent seasons.
In his 11 seasons of leading Notre Dame, former coach Holtz lost 13 games in South Bend. In the past four seasons and one game, the Irish have won that many games at home. Kelly believes that discrepancy is based on the toughness of the Irish schedule.
“There are no cupcakes,” Kelly said Sunday. “You don't open up with cupcake teams. You play good teams right out of the gate.”
Kelly's assessment is correct in that South Florida is a “good team.” But his analysis doesn't really cover home defeats to the likes of Tulsa, Syracuse, Connecticut, Navy (twice) and Air Force.
When you have lost 15 of the past 28 home games, the post-game conferences begin to have a repetitive theme to them, and Saturday's was no different. Through the eras of former coaches Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, Charlie Weis and now Kelly, those associated with the program have grown accustomed to handling appalling (to the fans and media) losses.
“We played hard,” Kelly said. “We fought. We had great resolve. Our guys hung together.”
The current coach made those remarks, but in reality, it could've been Davie, Willingham, or Weis, because each coach has uttered the same cliches following losses.
The schedule – both home and away – doesn't look to get any easier throughout the remainder of this month. The Irish hit the road for a primetime (8 p.m.) match-up with Michigan on Saturday. The crew of ESPN GameDay will be on hand and that truly begs the question:
If the Irish finish this season ranked in the top 10 it will be for just the second time in the past 18 years. In the case of the Wolverines, they haven't won a Big Ten title since the members of its current freshman recruiting class were 12 years old (2004).
Following Saturday's game, Notre Dame hosts Michigan State, a program that the Irish struggle to beat (4-10 in past 14 seasons) regardless of location. Kelly's group then travels to Pittsburgh, a program in which Notre Dame has lost two of its past three games against. It is very conceivable to see a 0-4 start to this season, one that had such high hopes as of 3:39 p.m. last Saturday.
But none of that is of apparent concern to Kelly. Even in defeat, he saw things from his team that he felt positive about.
“We played a lot of true freshman,” Kelly said. “I think seven total. I really think our future is really bright.”
Just for good measure, Kelly also added “There's no quit in the group.”
That's nice, coach. But the Notre Dame following believes a victory would be better.Kelly said during his teleconference Sunday that he and his staff would watch the game film of Saturday's defeat and evaluate whether Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees should be the starting quarterback. Apparently, the evaluation process is still ongoing.
“We are evaluating that right now,” Kelly said Sunday. “Whatever decision we make we'll talk with the quarterbacks involved. We'll get rolling again (Monday) with whatever decision is made.”
The Irish released its weekly depth chart Monday and it listed Crist “or” Rees as the starter. That goes against what Kelly intimated Sunday when he spoke of the importance of having a clear front runner for preparation purposes.
“We have two quarterbacks that we know are prepared to run our system,” Kelly said. “We've got to figure out which one it is going to be. This isn't going to be to try and gain a tactical advantage, because Dayne and Tommy run a very similar system.”