Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2018

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

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8 JANUARY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI I t seems fitting that Notre Dame's 2017 football season will end with the Citrus Bowl. Citrus provides juice, which is what the Fighting Irish appeared to have run out of by the end of the regular season, per head coach Brian Kelly. After a promising 8-1 start that elevated the Fighting Irish to their loftiest perch (No. 3) in four seasons of the College Football Playoff rank- ings, they sputtered to a 1-2 finish, ended up ranked No. 14 and received a bid to play No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl Jan. 1. Seismic changes were made with the strength and conditioning staff last winter, headed by director Matt Balis, and Kelly said that department fulfilled its duties in year one. "We were really good," Kelly said of the strength and condition- ing operation. "We'll continue to make strides physically. There were no questions about where we were physically as a football team … I don't think we were worn down physically. I think we were worn down emotionally and mentally." Notre Dame entered November with control of its own destiny. Victo- ries against two more ranked teams on the road — Miami (Nov. 11) and Stan- ford (Nov. 25), with Navy in between — would have secured a CFP bid. Unfortunately, the Irish were con- spicuously fazed by the moment at Miami in a 41-8 rout and were for- tunate to escape with a 24-17 victory versus the Midshipmen. There was still a Big Six bowl bid and 10-win regular season on the line at Stanford Nov. 25, plus ending a four-game losing streak in Palo Alto. Kelly addressed all these factors but … "It looked like they were in biology class," Kelly said of what would be an eventual 38-20 loss in which the Cardinal outscored the Irish 21-0 in the fourth quarter. "They were staring at me like, 'Re- ally?' There was no juice. There was no excitement. … They were tired mentally. "It's a long year, and I've got to do a better job of pacing that out for them." FINISHING IN CALIFORNIA Kelly is not the first Notre Dame coach who would come under fire for pointing to mental fatigue as a problem. Even the best of them have. Lou Holtz (1986-96) said one of the top lessons he learned his first season at Notre Dame was how his players walked around like "zombies" dur- ing mid-term exam week. After a 33-16 loss to Stanford in 1992 — the lone defeat that season — Holtz was ridiculed for stating afterward that "we're a tired football team" following the exam period. After the 55-24 loss at USC in 1974 in which the Irish were outscored 49-0 in the second half, the late Ara Parseghian (1964-74) was mocked about his theory that a "thickening of the blood" while adjusting to the warm climate in California led to re- peated second-half downfalls by his Irish in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Kelly dropped a veiled hint that he is not enamored with ending each season in California against USC UNDER THE DOME FINDING JUICE IN THE CITRUS Head coach Brian Kelly said his players were worn out mentally in November The Irish entered November in control of their own destiny in the race for a College Football Playoff berth, but suffered a 41-8 defeat at Miami before falling 38-20 at Stanford in a game that saw them get outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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