Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2012 Issue

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

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Fighting Words Notre Dame Harnesses Hunger In Perfect Start By Wes Morgan After Notre Dame’s 13-6 victory over No. 18 Michigan, a number of Fighting Irish players referred to the intangible force behind their 4‑0 start to the 2012 season as “killer instinct.” But instinct is a product of DNA. For these young men, it didn’t come naturally. The trait was manufactured through experiences — at times unfulfilling and painful. Just look at its recent history against the Wolverines. Each of the last three years, the Irish could taste victory and then watched Michigan steal its lunch money. On Saturday, despite an impotent offense at times, Notre Dame got its just desserts. “Usually we go up and somehow, some way, a team gets back in the game from our own mistakes,” senior running back Theo Riddick said. “I just feel like this year, when it’s time to take the game over and control everything, we can do that. “It’s all just our mental capacity, mental toughness. It was something that we had to gain and implement this year, and we have that.” They also have questions that have yet to be answered through the first third of the season. That sophomore quarterback Everett Golson has started four games under center and finished each on the sideline, including the two tight ones, may be the biggest. Head coach Brian Kelly insists there’s no controversy there, even though junior Tommy Rees has been called upon to bail Golson out of some tight spots — a final game-winning drive against Purdue and a relief effort versus Michigan that began in the second quarter after Golson tossed two interceptions. All the players seem to care about is that they’re finding ways to win. “I think our players see how the game unfolds and know that it’s gut check time in close games and that they’ve got to rely on each other,” Kelly said. “It builds a closeness within your locker room, both on the offensive side and the defensive side.” There’s that word again: closeness. Other synonyms have been inserted over and over again in the last two months. Whether its chemistry, unity, trust or closeness, this team has contended since the start of fall camp that it’s tighter than the past two seasons. Maybe that’s a result of Kelly being more accessible and not making locker room-splitting comments about the difference between guys he recruited and the ones he inherited, however accurate that comparison may be. Perhaps it’s only natural that three years into his tenure, everyone is starting to believe in Kelly, themselves and one another. Changing the pattern always helps. “I think it’s the next step. When you limit Michigan and Michigan State to no touchdowns, the significance is it’s not just about one player,” Kelly explained. “It’s 11 players bought into a scheme. It’s more than 11 in terms of the depth of guys that we’re playing. They have a lot of confidence in each other. They have great confidence in their teammates and their coaches. We know that we can plug in the next man in and they’re going to get the job done.” Once again the Notre Dame defense was the star of the show, something that will undoubtedly remain a theme, while the offense sorts out a variety of issues, like getting senior tight end Tyler Eifert, who has just one reception in the last two games combined, more involved. Even though senior linebacker Manti Te’o, who gets most of the credit on a weekly basis, registered two interceptions and eight tackles against the Wolverines, less-touted players are making massive impacts. Three others also had picks, including freshmen Nicky Baratti and KeiVarae Russell. For a unit that was supposed to be a liability, the defensive secondary has been remarkably good thus far. “There is so much more that we have to look forward to at this point with the way that our team is and the leadership we have and the confidence we have,” senior safety Zeke Motta said. “The leadership, the passion and the feeling of brotherhood — we play for each other out there.” One of Te’o’s picks was the result of a tipped ball by Motta, whose unselfish attitude is a reflection of the team as a whole. “I didn’t really care if I got it,” Motta said. “Either way, it was a good play for the defense.” The seniors’ first victory over the Wolverines was good for silencing the groans in their bellies. “It’s just manifested through the players working and thriving on success, and staying humble about it at the same time,” Motta added. “Everybody was eating tonight. It was good. … Everybody’s mouth is watering to get after that ball.” After the bye week, there’s a lot left on Notre Dame’s plate. But their opponents must be able to hear the Irish pounding the table right about now. Assitant Editor Wes Morgan has been with Blue & Gold Illustrated since February 2011. He can be reached at

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