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Success is not simply one win

Douglas Farmer | Monday, September 6, 2010

Well done, Brian Kelly.

Well done, student section. Well done, Notre Dame fans.

Well done, Armando Allen. Well done, Cierre Wood.

Well done, Jack Swarbrick?

Well, not quite yet on that one.

Coach Kelly led the Irish to a well-rounded 23-12 victory Saturday over Purdue, and the student section’s “BRI-AN KEL-LY” chant after the game served notice the first-year coach has the full support of the greenest corner of the Stadium.

Running backs Armando Allen and Cierre Wood gashed the Boilermakers defense for 151 yards on only 25 carries.

And the Irish fans, for the first time in recent memory, stuck around en masse after the game to give their team its due credit. In fact, by the time the band had concluded the Alma Mater, only seven sections in Notre Dame Stadium had emptied — the sections formerly filled with Purdue fans in the upper echelons of the south endzone.

Now what about director of athletics Swarbrick, the man in charge of hiring Kelly? The man who, after the game, made a point to shake the hand of every member of the Irish coaching staff? The man who, ultimately, is as responsible for Kelly’s legacy as Kelly is?

Swarbrick’s decision to hire Kelly can’t be lauded just yet, after only one game. That’s not to say that Kelly should be doubted, but the victory over Purdue is just that: a victory over Purdue, not exactly a traditional powerhouse by any means.

There were many positive signs both on and off the field. As previously mentioned, the running game clicked throughout the game. By no means did the Irish offense depend solely on wide receiver Michael Floyd, as so often happened last year when the team relied too heavily on Golden Tate.

The Notre Dame defense actually tackled in the open field, a fundamental accomplishment that for the majority of last year went unseen, and the Irish managed four sacks throughout the game, compared to a total of 19 in 12 games last season. The sacks factor is even more surprising when one realizes the Notre Dame defense did not rely on blitz after blitz after blitz to produce pressure on the quarterback.

Beyond those tangible changes involved in the game, less noticeable changes fuel even more optimism among Irish faithful.

Kelly and his coaching staff looked decently professional as they sported dress pants and gold fleece pullovers on the sideline, especially when compared to the previous norm of bulky hooded sweatshirts. Furthermore, the Irish played as a team, supporting one another and celebrating in unison. There were no individual accomplishments or failures on the field Saturday. Allen only scampered 22 yards for a touchdown because Floyd managed to hold his block upfield through the end of the play. Similarly, Allen was stuffed for a safety in the fourth quarter not because of his failure, but because the offensive line whiffed on three blocks.

These are all encouraging signs, but that is all they are: encouraging.

Notre Dame fans need to remember Saturday was only one day. ESPN is already gearing up to pronounce Notre Dame “back.” It was not by accident that ESPN placed the Irish on the front page of its website on the same day that No. 4 Florida tried to hand a game to Miami (OH) and No. 18 North Carolina staged a furious, albeit not furious enough, last-minute rally against No. 21 LSU.

ESPN, and the rest of the media — The Observer included — want Notre Dame to be “back,” if for no other reason than it helps ratings and subscriptions.

But Irish fans need to caution their excitement for at least a few more weeks. If Michigan gains an early lead Saturday, who knows if Floyd will hold that block, or if the defense will opt for the risky play rather than the sure-tackle. If the Irish need to come from behind, there is no proof as of now that junior quarterback Dayne Crist can lead that rally.

So I’m sorry, Mr. Swarbrick, but it will be at least a few more weeks before I can congratulate you on a job well done.

Although, I look forward to having that opportunity.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.

Contact Douglas Farmer at dfarmer1@nd.edu