POPE: Irish must move on from ’12 to continue rise
By LaMond Pope 713-2691 or firstname.lastname@example.org August 24, 2013 6:14PM
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly talks to his team during NCAA college football practice Thursday Aug. 22, 2013, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Updated: September 26, 2013 6:51AM
The 2012 season was one Notre Dame players, coaches and fans won’t soon forget.
A 12-1 record. An appearance in the BCS national title game. And linebacker Manti Te’o finishing second in the Heisman Trophy race.
The Irish have prepared for the 2013 campaign by putting all those accomplishments on a shelf and looking at the new task ahead.
“It’s been the topic of conversation from Day 1,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Everything we’ve talked about has been focused strictly on you don’t just begin this climb at the top of the mountain. We have to start all over again. That has been the consistent theme since January.
“In talking about how we get back up there. If we go back and we start relying on what we did in the past. If we do it like we did it last year, we’re going to be an 8-5 team.”
The message stuck with the players.
“It was a pretty big moment to start camp and talk about that,” quarterback Tommy Rees said. “Right off the bat, everyone was excited to get out there and prove how hard we wanted to work and what team we wanted to be. We’ve developed a great attitude and team chemistry throughout camp.”
There’s enough talent on this team for another double-digit win season.
The schedule is challenging, with road games against Michigan and Stanford and home contests against Oklahoma and Southern California among the highlights. Then again, a tough schedule is always part of the equation for Notre Dame.
Rees is one of the key players for this year. He’s back as a starter after Everett Golson was suspended for the fall term for “poor academic judgment.”
Rees has plenty of experience, including two starts last season and 12 starts in 2011. He also helped the team last year in key moments against Purdue, Michigan and Stanford. Rees had 20 touchdowns but 14 interceptions in 2011. He’ll have to lower that second figure this season.
Notre Dame has depth at running back and wide receiver.
George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and Will Mahone will be part of that running back rotation. Atkinson has the top numbers for the returning players. He rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.
TJ Jones leads the wide receivers. He caught 50 passes for 649 yards and four touchdowns last season. Jones finished tied for first on the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns.
And the Irish have a stacked defense filled with experience, led by nose guard Louis Nix III and defense end Stephon Tuitt. Defense was the strength of the team last year, and figures to be again in 2013. The Irish finished second in scoring defense, allowing just 12.8 points per game last season.
But the team won’t continue to grow, according to Kelly, if it is still living off of last year.
“Everybody has taken their motivation off of what we did last year and has worked harder,” Kelly said. “We supplied motivation for the entire college football world that if ‘Notre Dame can do it, we can do it.’ So everybody has worked exponentially that much more in their offseason because of us.
“So if you do it like you did last year, you’re an 8-5 football team. So that’s been the message since January, in terms of what we needed to do. We’ll find out. That’s how they’ve worked. There’s nothing that I’ve seen that has show that we have not answered that challenge each and every day.”