SOUTH BEND – What played a part in his arrival might have been the endings of his predecessor. Especially the ones in his backyard.
In the final two seasons under Charlie Weis, Notre Dame had a tendency to send off it’s seniors not only sadly but painfully. In 2008 the Irish allowed 14 points to lowly Syracuse in a one-point loss that included snowballs getting thrown at players during the contest after a big snow the day before.
A year later, it was an overtime loss to Connecticut that ended the home slate and Notre Dame Stadium and was the final nail in Weis’ career as the school’s head coach.
Brian Kelly vowed consistency would be the key to restoring the 11-time national championship program to glory-and so far he has certainly delivered in one area his predecessor couldn’t.
On Saturday Notre Dame completed its fourth consecutive victory in the final home game of the season-AKA Senior Day-with a 23-13 over BYU on a snowy, blustery day more representative of the dead of winter. While it might have been the coldest game since 1991 and featured the most frozen precipitation since the famous “Snow Bowl” win over Penn State in 1992, warm feelings were about as the season ended with a positive.
“Certainly getting a win for them is important,” said Kelly after his team improved to 8-3 on the season. “We told them you’ll get a chance to kiss your mom again, but you’ll remember winning the game. That’s the most important thing.”
Thirty-three players who ran out of the tunnel for the final time will have that good memory thanks to a strong push in the first half that netted the Irish a ten-point lead they wouldn’t relinquish in their second win over the Cougars in as many years.
“It’s awesome, the young guys really did a great job,” said quarterback Tommy Rees, who completed his college home career by completing 15-of-28 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown along with an interception. “Words can’t describe how good it feels to win your last game here. That’s four years in a row for us, which is awesome.
“Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s a pretty special feeling.”
While Rees got the momentum started with a 61-yard touchdown pass to DaVaris Daniels, it was actually the Irish’s run game that took hold in ever worsening field and air conditions. The Irish collected 235 yards on the ground on 47 carries for a solid 5-yard per carry average all afternoon.
Cam McDaniel led the way with 117 yards while Tarean Folston added 78 more and a first quarter touchdown that made it 14-3.
“We were worried about playing for our seniors tonight, but at the same time we knew it was something we needed to do,” said McDaniel of turning out a rushing performance that was nearly 100 yards more than their season average. “We weren’t think about the conditions, we were focused on playing smart, tough football.”
As winds and snow picked up in the second half and the temperatures dropped, it was the defense that took turns turning each other away. Kyle Brindza completed a 52-yard Notre Dame drive that stalled inside the BYU ten-yard line with a field goal which was answered by BYU, who had to settle for a Justin Sorenson field goal after their 80-yard drive stalled inside the Irish’ 10.
A 58-yard drive by the Cougars was stalled inside the five on their next series leading to another Sorenson field goal that got the lead to seven. Brindza one-upped him in the fourth quarter, kicking through steady wind gusts and snow to put through a 51-yard field goal to push the lead to ten.
Notre Dame’s defense finally broke BYU after another long Cougar drive stalled at the Irish four-yard line. But Jarron Jones got a hand on Sorenson’s kick to turn away BYU for good, giving the Irish their 11th victory in their last 12 home games.
“That’s something that’s so important in developing a consistency in your program is winning at home,” said Kelly of the team’s play at home. “Our seniors are so much apart of that in building that consistency at winning at home and so I thank them for that.”
Most likely, they would return the compliment.