Irish come together, whip Navy
This was what a Notre Dame-Navy game used to look like. The healing power of a blowout victory over a long-standing foe that had won three of four in what was once a lopsided rivalry was even enough to quell Notre Dame's inner-turmoil after the most tumultuous week of the season.
The Irish (5-3) routed the Midshipmen 56-14 on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, temporarily muting the electronic grousings of players upset by comments made by coach Brian Kelly in the wake of last week's disappointing loss to USC. Kelly told reporters he was "re-training" older players recruited under former coach Charlie Weis and that they were "coming along," which prompted a handful of players using their Twitter accounts to express their disappointment in their coach's words.
Kelly apologized during a team meeting Friday, and whatever anger lingered players took out on an outclassed Navy (2-6) team.
"As a family, we all have good days and bad days," Kelly said. "You work through that as a family. We had to work through some things this week."
Manti Te'o was coming off his worst game of the season against the Trojans and was among those most offended by Kelly's remarks. The junior linebacker tweeted, "Playin for my bros and that's it!!!!" early Friday morning before players, according to a source, were told to refrain from using Twitter and other social media.
Te'o responded with an epic performance that alleviated any fears about Notre Dame's inexperienced defensive line going against an offense that racked up 367 yards against the Irish last year. The unquestioned team leader finished with 13 tackles, including two for losses, and 1/2 a sack.
"We could not block Manti," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We have been doing this for a long time. We tried a lot of different schemes and tried a lot of things to block him but the kid played phenomenal."
Te'o's performance was symbolic of the team's, which came together and dominated in every phase after a week that could have torn it apart.
"We has some things to hash out," said senior running back Jonas Gray, who scored three touchdowns. "We talked to coach Kelly and he did a great job of hearing us out. We went from there."
While Kelly refused to get into specifics about what was said behind close doors, junior left tackle Zack Martin confirmed that Kelly apologized.
"The main point was we've worked too hard to let something so small tear us apart," Martin said.
Senior safety Harrison Smith said miscommunication about what was said and its context contributed to the turmoil.
"Players, coaches, everybody on the team just wanted to know what was in everybody's hearts," Smith said. "We already knew we had each other's backs. We just wanted to re-confirm that."
Kelly, who has been looking for something to galvanize his team, said Saturday's effort was the best example yet of his team playing together, which he hopes continues.
"If we do have times where we need to take a step back, we are able to do that, but move forward, and what you saw was just our football team coming together," he said.
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