Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 2, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 NOV. 2, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED B rian Kelly will start a chase at some pro- g r a m h i s t o r y t h i s weekend, and there is abso- lutely no chance the 10-year Notre Dame coach has any idea what it is, or the tiny fraternity he will join if he pulls it off. In the 138-year proud his- tory of Notre Dame football, who's the only Irish coach ever to go 5-0 in November? It's Knute Rockne — who actually did it four times — the last coming during the 1930 national championship season. Granted, having the cal- endar fall a way that allows for five football Saturdays in any month is rare — this year is only the ninth time it has happened in November since Rockne won all five 90 years ago. And no Irish coach has won 'em all since. This will be Kelly's sec- ond try. He went 1-4 in five November games in 2014. Legendary Irish head coach Lou Holtz came close in 1996, winning his first four be- fore losing in overtime to USC in the regular-season finale Nov. 30. Holtz had another chance in 1986 during his first season at Notre Dame, but managed 3-2 versus an arduous slate. Frank Leahy came as close as any- one to tying Rockne's feat. Leahy won four November games in 1946 and coached to a 0-0 tie against Army in an epic battle at Yankee Stadium that helped secure the Hall of Fame Irish coach his second of four na- tional titles. Terry Brennan missed twice. Char- lie Weis and Gerry Faust each came up short once, and remarkably, Ara Parseghian — one of the best No- vember coaches in Irish history — never had five games in the month during his 11 seasons here. So what's the point of this history lesson? The theme is that winning down the stretch is never easy for any coach, a challenge that Kelly and his two predecessors are well aware of. Kelly is 22-13 in November and has won seven of his last eight games in the month. But he's also only 10-10 in November during his last five sea- sons. Weis went 10-11 in his 21 No- vember games and his predecessor Tyrone Willingham was only 6-5 in his 11 tries. About a month or so ago, this sea- son's five Irish November games looked like guaranteed wins and an early Christmas present for Notre Dame. Virginia Tech was 2-2, but now comes to Notre Dame Saturday win- ners of three straight games. Duke started 2-1. Navy also started 2-1 be- fore winning three straight. Boston College was reeling and left for dead after losing 48-24 to Kansas at home. It was the first road victory for the Jayhawks since winning at UTEP in 2009. Stanford atypically started the season 1-3. A month later, the Cardinal was the only one of these five November Irish opponents that entered play last weekend with a losing re- cord, and Notre Dame plays it Thanksgiving weekend at Stanford Stadium, a venue where Kelly is 0-4 and the Irish have lost five straight. One of the first lessons my senior editor at Blue & Gold Illustrated, Lou Somo- gyi, taught me when I was hired in 2005 is to realize that seldom does every- thing go as expected and to never evaluate a sched- ule's worth before a season starts or to do so even a few games into it. Obviously, Notre Dame will be favored to win all five of its November games, but navigating these will not be easy because of im- proving competition and the fact that all but Stan- ford play the Irish off a bye week, a great equalizer the later a season goes. South Carolina was only 2-3 and irrelevant when it went into Athens, Ga., off a bye week, and handed No. 3 Georgia its lone loss of the season and the Bulldogs' first defeat at home since 2016. Upsets happen — see 30-point un- derdog Illinois beating Wisconsin Oct. 19 — especially in November when the stakes are high and post- season tickets are punched. Notre Dame has suffered more than its share of miserable November upsets — Navy in 2016 and consecu- tive home losses in 2014 to North- western and Louisville quickly come to mind. But if Notre Dame wants to show that this "Holtzesque" run of success since the 4-8 nightmare of 2016 is con- sistent and sustainable, Kelly needs to win all five November games and put his name next to Rockne's as the only Irish coaches ever to do so, be- cause the next chance won't come again until 2024. ✦ Coaching Lore Awaits Brian Kelly This Month UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Kelly could become just the second Fighting Irish head coach ever to post a 5‑0 record in the month of November, joining Knute Rockne (who achieved the feat four times). PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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