It took about a year-and-a-half, but now that the Irish have the system down, all the close ones seem to be going Notre Dame’s way.
Brian Kelly’s football teams are built upon a strength-and-conditioning program - led by Paul Longo - that puts them in a position to win games a) in the fourth quarter and b) that are tight.
In nine seasons as a FBS coach, Kelly has coached 46 games that have been decided by one score (eight points or less). Kelly’s teams have won 31 of those one-score games (.673), and that was after an 11-10 start.
In the last five seasons - his last two at Cincinnati and three at Notre Dame - Kelly’s squads have won 20 of 25 games (.800) decided by one score.
In the last five seasons - his last two at Cincinnati and three at Notre Dame - Kelly's squads have won 20 of 25 games (.800) decided by one score.
“Coming out flat? That’s a media-created thing,” said Longo during Notre Dame’s coaching clinic this past spring while referencing Kelly’s 20-2 mark in November since 2007.
In other words, they control their own destiny, not the opposition and not some unsubstantiated stereotype about built-in letdowns.
The mark of a truly great team/program is the one that finds ways to win when they’re not playing their best football and/or the opposition is putting forth a top-level effort.
During Kelly’s first season with the Irish - following 10 straight one-score victories upon his departure from Cincinnati - the Irish were a mere 2-3 in close games, losing by four to Michigan and three in overtime to Michigan State in his second and third games as head coach of the Irish.
Since then, Kelly is 10-3 in one-score games, including eight in a row heading into the 2013 season.
Sept. 24, 2011 @ Pittsburgh (W 23-17)
Nov. 5, 2011 @ Wake Forest (W 24-17)
Nov. 19, 2011 Boston College (W 16-14)
Sept. 8, 2012 Purdue (W 20-17)
Sept. 22, 2012 Michigan (W 13-6)
Oct. 13, 2012 Stanford (W 20-13 OT)
Oct. 20, 2012 BYU (W 17-14)
Nov. 3, 2012 Pittsburgh (29-26 3 OT)
Some will argue that some close games shouldn’t have been so close, and thus, too much credit is given to Kelly for winning games that should have been one-sided. But college football is as competitive across the board as it has ever been. Unless you’re an Alabama or a Boise State playing against competition generally inferior to them, you’re going to have to squeak out some victories along the way, which is even more difficult on the road.
If a strength-and-conditioning differential is going to show up in a football game, it’s going to be in the fourth quarter and at the end of the season when every team in the country is feeling the effects of a long, physical season.
Under Kelly, the Irish are 10-1 in November - 3-0 in 2010 after a 4-5 start, 3-1 in 2011 after a 5-3 start and 4-0 in 2012.
Ask Longo what his secrets to success are in the fourth quarter and November, and the flow of information comes to a halt. He isn’t one to talk about the nuances of his/Kelly’s success as it relates to strength and conditioning.
But suffice it to say that when the game is on the line and the teams have been tested physically over the course of an arduous football season, Kelly’s teams have an advantage, an edge that should continue in 2013 with a veteran defense and an experienced quarterback at the controls.