<
>

Irish clear air, then rout Navy

10/29/2011

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Harrison Smith does not have a Twitter account, which at this point may put him in the minority among college football players.

But the fifth-year captain did not need to be a social media buff to catch wind of the chatter among Notre Dame players Thursday night following controversial remarks by coach Brian Kelly.

"It was kind of a full-range, I would say," Smith said of the team's temperature. "I don't remember like specifics, but there was definitely a full-range. Everybody's human at the end of the day, so you're gonna get that."

The team had a hashing-out session Friday, one that included an apology from Kelly. On Saturday, the Irish exorcised their demons against a Navy team that had its number in recent years, beating the Midshipmen 56-14.

It was no coincidence.

1"I honestly think it had a big impact on it," Smith said. "Not that it went into the gameplan or went into the scheme or anything. But I think it just kind of showed that we're all in this together, that we all play for each other and for Notre Dame. It's not about individuals."

Another of the defensive leaders, Manti Te'o, appeared to play with a bigger chip on his shoulder than usual, finishing with a game-high 13 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks.

Te'o, who was not available for postgame interviews, made seven of those tackles on Navy's first two offensive possessions, which ended with a missed field goal and a punt.

The Irish offense scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions, never leaving the Midshipmen a chance to play catch-up.

"Well, I can tell you that, you know, as a family, we all have good days and bad days," Kelly said. "And you work through that as a family. And we had to work through some things this week. But at the end, like all families, if there's a disagreement, if there's any kind of need to communicate, it needs to get done and we did that. We communicated with each other as a team and as a family, and you saw it today. You saw a team that played together.

"I told our team that's the best collection of plays relative to all 11 players playing together. It was part and parcel of all of those things; it was a family coming together. And like I said, those specifics I won't get into, those are family matters. But we're certainly pleased by the way our guys played together today."

Forty-eight hours earlier Kelly, in his second year at Notre Dame, made comments about the players he recruited that rubbed many of the upperclassmen the wrong way. Twitter became an outlet for players past and present to make their voices heard, and on Friday they made their opinions clear in person.

"There was nothing in particular," Jonas Gray said of what the players needed to hear from Kelly. "We just wanted to make sure that he was aware of how we were feeling and I think that he was. And that was pretty much it. He did a great job of handling it, our team did a great job of handling the whole situation. We're definitely unified from the top to the bottom."

"We had some things we needed to hash out," Gray added later. "We got that across to Coach Kelly and he did a great job of hearing us out and we just went from there."

Gray, making his first start of the season and second of his career, rushed for 69 yards on just 12 carries and scored three touchdowns, helping to resurrect a run game that was non-existent for much of last week's game against USC.

Cierre Wood added 66 yards on 11 carries and a pair of touchdowns himself. The Irish finished with seven rushing touchdowns, their most in one game in 19 years.

And then there's Chris Salvi, a walk-on special teams ace chosen as a game captain, who became emotional Friday night at the team's pep rally before joining season captain Smith on the pregame walk to the coin toss Saturday.

"That was just awesome, that's the only way I can describe that," Smith said. "Nobody deserves that more than Chris Salvi does. That guy brings it every day, everything he does. And his love for not only the game and for the team but for this university is something that's just awesome."

Salvi embodied that passion for the game Kelly so often talks about looking for in his players, who cleared up any confusion hours before the walk-on was named their leader Friday. They followed the next day by channeling their emotions to rout a team it lost to in three of the previous four years.

"I mean, I think any time you're in a business like we are, where you're around your guys all the time, that you need to be honest," Kelly said. "You need to be communicating, and that occurred. And like I said, those family matters, we've all been in them. The most important thing is what happens, and what happened today was our football team played together and played great football."