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Allen: ‘Next man in’ philosophy gives reason for hope (Sept. 10)

Chris Allen | Sunday, September 9, 2012

Well, here we are.

Two continents, two countries, two trans-Atlantic flights and even two quarterbacks have been featured in between, but here we are. The Irish are 2-0, and all most will say is Notre Dame won two games it should have won, and caused too many heart attacks in between. But if you think Notre Dame, Brian Kelly and Everett Golson didn’t prove anything in yesterday’s win, you’re wrong. The last-second win may have left some students and fans walking away from the stadium with a bad taste in their mouths, but this is a different Notre Dame.

Since the Irish last took the field in a BCS game after the 2006 season, the program has struggled through five years of losses that seemed so familiar it was as if they followed a script. It goes something like this.

The Irish run out of the tunnel, followed by an opponent most consider significantly inferior. Once the game gets underway, the Irish can’t pull away on the scoreboard. They turn the ball over. They miss tackles. They lose the battle for field position. They lose the game. The role of the opponent was played by Syracuse, Connecticut, Tulsa, South Florida and thrice by Navy.

The script nearly played out again at Notre Dame Stadium against the Boilermakers on Saturday. Even though Golson played well, the Irish couldn’t pull away on the scoreboard. They let Purdue hang around, and a late turnover by Golson let Purdue tie the score. But something different happened. The Irish buckled down, converted third-downs, made a big kick and won the game. Talk about flipping the script.

Make no mistake – this is a game Notre Dame would have l
ost during the 2007-2011 seasons. The script felt so familiar. That was the weird taste in your mouth as you walked away from the stadium – you’ve seen that game before. Take heart in the surprise ending to the script: Notre Dame is 2-0.

The new lines in the script owe to the mantra Kelly hangs his hat on – “Next Man In.” Few in the country can line up with the talent Notre Dame has at many positions. Yet, when it needed a big sack from a defensive end, captain Kapron Lewis-Moore was on the sidelines. The next men in stepped up and sophomore and burgeoning star Stephon Tuitt added two more sacks to his rising season total. When it needed a big reception to keep the chains moving late in the game, leading receivers Tyler Eifert and DaVaris Daniels were on the sidelines with injuries. The next men in, John Goodman, Robby Toma and Troy Niklas were the targets on the last drive. When Notre Dame needed a replacement for the most experienced member of an inexperienced secondary, Matthias Farley played exceptionally in the place of Jamoris Slaughter. These are just a few examples, as Elijah Shumate, Tony Springmann, Sheldon Day, Kyle Brindza and Daniel Smith – all guys who won’t see their names in the starting lineup – stepped in and contributed to the win.

Let me acknowledge the obvious: Saturday’s win wasn’t pretty. It was bizarre. It was dramatic. It was at times familiar.

But Kelly’s next men stepped up and won the Irish a game they had to win.

Contact Chris Allen at [email protected]

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