In the city that is the home of the Magical Kingdom, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish ended up having a magical day. Notre Dame's 21-17 win over the LSU Tigers in the Citrus Bowl to get their 10th win of the season, not only capped off an incredible turnaround for a program that went 4-8 last season, but sets the table for 2018.
Earlier in the week, Brian Kelly downplayed the importance of this game as it pertained to the 2018 campaign, but it's hard to deny that the program is now on an upswing, which can always help a team moving forward.
NOTRE DAME WON ITS WAY
Fans of the Irish are well-versed in the roster details heading into this game. Notre Dame was down 7 players due to injury or suspension. The suspensions included:
- TE Alize Mack
- WR Kevin Stepherson
- RB C.J. Holmes
- RB Deon McIntosh
There was also a bit of a thing today when linebacker Nyles Morgan was stripped of his captaincy and did not start.
While many want to rip into Brian Kelly for having so many issues with his players, I give him credit for doing it the Notre Dame way. These players broke rules and suffered the consequences. Despite their absence, Notre Dame still won a HUGE football game.
This kind of thing happened under Lou Holtz too - if you have a hard time getting passed your BK hate to remember. To be a disciplined team moving forward, a coach has to administer discipline.
A HUGE MONKEY OFF ITS BACK
There may be a few people that won't give this enough credit, or refuse to accept it as real, but Notre Dame finally won a New Year's Day bowl game. I don't want to hear any nonsense about the Rose, Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar, or Peach bowls. The Citrus Bowl is still a big bowl game and this was against a really good SEC opponent.
What is more fitting for a Brian Kelly team than a quarterback controversy (also called a quarterback competition) heading into next season. Brandon Wimbush has had his struggles all season long, and we were gearing up for this kind of talk anyways - but now we're on a whole new level.
Ian Book was a respectable 14-19 for 164 yards 2 touchdowns and 1 interception in the Citrus Bowl and a really big part of why Notre Dame won the game. Would they of even had the 9 wins if Book was the starter all season? It's a hard question to answer.
We've seen this before. Most years in the Brian Kelly era have come with a "quarterback battle." No reason to think much will be different as far as the process is involved. 8 months of waiting....
NEXT MEN IN FOR 2018
With all of those suspensions, as well as needing a boost in certain areas, Notre Dame relied on some younger players to help win the game today. The box score was telling. Wide receiver was really the position hit the hardest with Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson out.
Who stepped up?
- FR. Michael Young: 2 receptions for 8 yards and 1 TD.
- JR. Miles Boykin: 3 receptions for 102 yards and 1 TD
Obviously those two were vital to the final score, and now they could be vital to next season as well.
Another young player that stepped up was safety Jordan Genmark Heath. Genmark Heath had 5 tackles from the defensive backfield and looked pretty good back there after playing mostly special teams in his freshman season.
OKAY... BUT WHAT ABOUT NEXT SEASON?
There was so much "good" on the defensive side of the football, and a lot of it is still able to come back in 2018. Te'von Coney had 17 tackles and we wait on his decision to stay or leave early for the NFL. Jerry Tillery is another that has a decision to make, and he had a strong game today.
If everyone that can come back on defense next season actually comes back - this defense could be really, really good. Notre Dame is still looking for answers at safety, but Jordan Genmark Heath could be one of them (or an incoming freshman)
This Citrus Bowl win gave us a glimpse at what could be, and it also provides the motivation and hope we all need. What does it mean? Well, maybe it means a lot more than this season.
8 MONTHS TO GO!