Notre Dame Escape Va Tech, Achieve Potentially Season Defining Win

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At his weekly press conference, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said today’s meeting with Virginia Tech was about a lot more than bowl games and playoff appearances. Kelly said this was about purpose and motivation, “what is your why” he said specifically.

The blowout at Michigan last week ended what was left of ND’s playoff chances, and it also put the Fighting Irish in a spot where a New Year’s Six bowl berth was highly unlikely. A third loss on the season, a potential scenario that was just seconds away from unfolding, (at home no less, which would have ended a 15 game Notre Dame Stadium win streak), would have put an end to the NY6 hopes. However, quarterback Ian Book and the rest of the Notre Dame football team found their “why,” and pulled it out 21-20.

After a very meh first half, in which the Fighting Irish found themselves knotted up at 14 despite dominating the yardage battle, the Irish fell behind very late in the second half, and needed a gut check two minute drill in order to pull out the victory. This really was the paradigm for finding out who you are and what you are made of.

In the final minute, Book (29 completions, 53 attempts, 341 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 13 rushes, 50 yards,1 TD) completed a 26 yard pass to Chase Claypool (8 catches, 118 yards) on 4th and 10 at the Virginia Tech 33; setting up the Irish with third and goal at the 7.

Book took it in, won the game and perhaps saved the season on a designed QB run on third and goal. The play capped a 18 play, 87 yard drive.

“It really was just the trust in each other, keep doing what we’re doing,” Book said after the thrilling come from behind victory.

“This week was about us, coach Kelly did a great job of explaining that message.”

Given what happened last weekend in Ann Arbor, today was all about response.

Do you want to work hard to try and finish 10-2? Or are you going to let things take a negative turn that could yield a final record of 8-4 or 7-5 or something like that? Today was not just about Notre Dame vs Virginia Tech. It was about 2019 Notre Dame football.

Asked if this could be a pivotal moment for the season, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly answered:

“No, but I think it’s a great start. I think we can build off it.”

Cornerback Troy Pride discussed “gritting it out” with his teammates this offseason and preseason, the variety of workouts, the military style training etc. in preparation for the season, and how it helped the Irish persevere to the end:  “When you’ve been in that fire, you know what’s coming out.”

A casualty of this win was OL and team captain Robert Hainsey, who left early on due to a fractured ankle. His season could be over. A major overall re-occurring theme in all the postgame press conferences tonight was “the noise” that surrounded the team after getting thumped at Michigan.

And of course, how the Irish responded to all that criticism.

“I don’t know if you guys noticed but they played tight today,” Kelly said. “They try not to hear the noise, but when the noise is so loud, it affects 18-21 year olds, but they fought through it.”

Kelly on all the harsh criticism Book had received this week: “If he played for the New York Giants it wouldn’t be as much- it was way overblown.”

Book opened up on his feelings about it as well.

“When you’re at Notre Dame, you’re in the spotlight and when you lose some things get said that are not nice and you hear that…You come to Notre Dame to play quarterback, and they’re going to love you when you win, hate you when you lose.

“It’s about blocking out the noise and playing for each other.”

He also added that moments and games like these are why you play college football and why you come to Notre Dame. As for Kelly and the noise, he says that it doesn’t bother him, but added: “I think it affects my family and my kids adversely, so I just try to manage it with them.”

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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