Irish hope to learn from title-game defeat

The Irish are using game film and spring practice to learn from their disappointing loss to Alabama. Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Bob Diaco has not seen the old Nike commercial in which Michael Jordan explains that all of his successes are direct results from his failures. But the Notre Dame defensive coordinator expressed a similar message to his players in wake of a blowout loss to Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship.

"I haven't seen the ad," Diaco said Friday morning when asked, "but what you're saying right now is exactly what I'm talking about."

After a defense that gave up less than 11 points per game in the regular season surrendered 42 to the Crimson Tide on Jan. 7, and after a unit that had allowed less than 287 yards per game was gashed for 529, the Irish defense sought lessons through film watching and exercises that pre-dated the 2012 season, as they hope to turn the page from their biggest (and only) defeat and work toward a greater triumph.

"We communicated about it in detail," Diaco said. "We watched the game probably a half-dozen times. We went back and we made notes on every single play. You walk out of the game and you were absolutely defeated, demoralized, dejected, just like I'm sure everyone in the world that's a Notre Dame person felt. We all felt the same 100 times. But after you have a chance to inspect it, then the reality of it was, it wasn't just an absolute push around. We had a misfit here or there, a miscommunication here or there, a missing lineman here or there. Then, we were faced defensively with a challenge that we really hadn't been faced with — that's a bang-bang-bang score.

"So now there's a feeling of, you're exasperated, and you want to make the play. And it's all out of great intentions, but all of a sudden, your eyes are wandering, your feet are happy, you're misaligned and it just starts to snowball from there, and it's hard to get it back on track. It's good to watch and be able to show the players and the staff on each particular play, 'Hey, if this changes, this is what'll be the result.'"

Diaco said he had the defense study the personalities of Dan Gable, Nelson Mandela, Father Theodore Hesburgh and Carl Brashear before the season, with the story of Gable providing a narrative he hopes can take shape throughout 2013.

Gable, the Iowa wrestling coach when Diaco was a linebacker at the school, suffered his only collegiate loss in his finale at Iowa State before bouncing back to win the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics without surrounding a single point.

"The lessons learned in that propelled him to go on and win Olympic gold," Diaco said. "The unit needs to understand those lessons. We've got to make sure that that moment right there is really our greatest moment. We have to turn it into our greatest strength. An understanding of what we need to do, an opportunity for everyone to sharpen the blade, so to speak, on their knife moving forward. It has to be viewed that way."

That starts with 15 practices this spring — two of which are in the books — while trying to channel thoughts of what-could-have-been into something to build on moving forward.

"The worst part from our standpoint is we never even got into our game plan," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said of the title game. "We were unfortunately a three-and-out, a six-and-out and OK, now we're in catch-up mode and a lot of the things we would've liked to try to do, I guess if we could've done them or not we'll never know, but a lot of these were kind of out the window."