You are what you are. Win all of your games and you play for a national title. Fail to execute with the game on the line and they put that one in the right-hand column, not the left.
Brian Kelly’s 24-hour rule - win or lose - is in effect this week following Notre Dame’s 41-30 loss to Michigan in the Big House. It’s on to Purdue.
But when prodded to evaluate the difference between being defeated and losing the game themselves, the Irish couldn’t help but look at the 11-point setback at the hands of the Wolverines as a colossal missed opportunity.
“We feel that’s a game that we lost,” said Irish tri-captain TJ Jones. “There were a lot of plays late in the game where we had errors that cost us the game. We don’t feel as if we were defeated, and that’s why we come into this week ready to prepare and work on those things.”
“They were a great team, but I definitely felt like we didn’t execute the way that we pride ourselves on,” said tri-captain Bennett Jackson. “That’s something that we use as motivation.”
Brian Kelly pondered the age-old football question: Did we lose the game or did the opponent actually defeat us?
“There’s getting beat and then there’s losing,” said Kelly, leaning to the latter. “I’m okay going across the sideline and shaking somebody’s hand after losing to a team that took it from us. Michigan played well. I’m not going to take anything away from them.
“But we made a lot of mistakes and that’s on us. We’ve got to clean that up. We’ve got to coach better and we’ve got to play better.”
There’s always the tendency in this high-stakes game known as major college football to wax philosophical, particularly after a loss. Notre Dame appeared to control both sides of the football in the trenches.
Yet when it came down to making plays to win the game, the Irish turned the football over and didn’t make the plays defensively to stop the slide.
“We just lost a football game,” said nose guard Louis Nix III. “We went back and evaluated the film and looked at a lot of mistakes that happened in the game, and we’re moving forward to Purdue. We lost the game. As simple as that.
“Obviously, you don’t want to lose a game. It was Michigan and that game is exciting every year. You don’t want to lose to guys like that.”
They call it coach-speak when reasons are provided that go beyond motivation and playing with passion. “Execution” tends to be a fallback, all-encompassing word that mask missed opportunities. But the Irish, taking their cue from the coaching staff, say they’ve bought into the cure.
“We definitely left a lot of points on the field,” said junior running back Amir Carlisle. “There were many opportunities that we missed, and I attribute that to a lack of execution.
“It all comes down to attention to detail, discipline, and being smart football players. If we embrace those characteristics this week, hopefully it translates to success on the field.”
Wednesday night in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex auditorium, the Irish players wanted to avoid disparaging comments toward Michigan. The Wolverines executed their game plan and won. You hate for a loss to serve as a requirement for greater attention to detail. But sometimes it takes agony to appreciate the ecstasy.
“We probably needed a loss just to bounce back,” Nix said. “When we watched the film and evaluated it, we saw that we made a lot of mistakes and we didn’t play Notre Dame football.
“That will set us in the right direction. I know I don’t want to lose again. I don’t know the future, but we’ll just keep working and go get Purdue.”
“We all wish we could take that back, but that’s kind of what happened,” added tight end Troy Niklas. “All of us are working hard to make sure that never happens again.”
The loss prompted Kelly to be introspective as well.
“There are 115,000 people in the stands, you have 18-to-21-year olds and you’ve got to get your players to execute to the finest of details in those situations,” Kelly said. “That falls on me during the week to make sure that happens.
“That didn’t occur, so I’ve got to look at myself and our coaches have to look at how we prepare our football team so we get them to perform in those situations. That’s really what that’s about. At the end of the day, this comes down to execution when you need to.”
And claiming victory in games that could - if not should - have been won.