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Late-season winning streak best since 1988

| Wednesday, January 19, 2011

EL PASO, Texas — Notre Dame capped a truly historic late-season turnaround by making Brian Kelly the first Irish coach to win a bowl game in his first season, as the New Year’s Eve victory over Miami gave Notre Dame its fourth straight win after going a combined 2-8 in November and December 2008 and 2009.

Notre Dame’s 3-0 November was only the third undefeated November for the Irish in 15 seasons. The run also saw Notre Dame snap a pair of unsightly streaks. The Irish beat No. 15 Utah for their first win over a ranked team in 11 tries before topping USC to snap an eight-game losing streak against the Trojans.

“Clearly, we are gaining a lot of confidence,” Kelly said following the Sun Bowl win. “It’s going to taste a whole lot better in the offseason talking about a win.”

Defense leads the way

With freshman Tommy Rees quarterbacking the offense, it was the Irish defense that served as the catalyst for the streak, allowing only four touchdowns in four games. Notre Dame allowed 39 points in those four games, the lowest four-game total for an Irish defense since 1989. And this came against the prolific offenses of Utah (averaging 41 points per game entering the contest), Army (31), USC (32) and Miami (27).

More good news for Irish fans: Notre Dame returns seven defensive players who started in the Sun Bowl, in addition to key contributors like nose tackle Sean Cwynar, inside linebackers Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese and cornerback Robert Blanton.

Not quite freezing

The Sun Bowl kickoff temperature of 34 degrees was the fourth-coldest in the game’s history, and the coldest since the record-low of 24 degrees in 1983. Like that day, when Alabama beat SMU 28-7, the weather was clear and cold, with slight snow flurries coming near the end of the game.

The game-time temperature was actually 14 degrees colder than the weather in South Bend.

Senior captains

After naming two game day captains for each regular-season game, Notre Dame had four captains for the Sun Bowl, all of whom were playing their final game for the Irish. Running back Robert Hughes, guard Chris Stewart, linebacker Brian Smith and nose tackle Ian Williams represented the Irish at the opening coin toss.

Junior wide receiver Michael Floyd, who had served with Harrison Smith as captain for the previous three games, led the Irish in captain appearances with five.