Linebacker Manti Te’o #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a second quarter interception against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 22, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana.
(September 21, 2012 – Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)
Two weeks into the 2013 season, the issue with this team is obvious. The issue is a 6’1”, 240 pound gorilla in the room, sitting in a corner and nobody wants to admit or talk about it. The issue is wearing lightning bolts on his shoulders, instead of “ND” and defines the saying “you never know what you had until you’ve lost it”. The issue was the heart and soul of a team that defied the expectations of fans and experts across the country last year and gave hope to a fan base that started thinking that maybe the “Luck of the Irish” was lost.
Sadly, this tenacity, passion, heart, leadership, toughness and grit seem to have followed Manti Te’o out of South Bend.
The defense this season hasn’t lost that much overall talent. The defensive line has two first round draft picks. Other than Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter, the entire secondary is intact and arguably more talented. The linebackers are missing Te’o and Danny Spond, but still have seniors Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Prince Shembo, along with a freshman that may be playing with better instincts than any of his elders. Don’t forget about Jarret Grace, Ben Councell and Ishaq Williams…Talent is not the issue.
The issue is a lack of leadership. Football is an emotional game that’s played with an intriguing blend of fearlessness and heart that brings a team together to play for each other. There’s no emotional leadership in this year’s team. Not once during the Michigan game did I see an Irish player with the presence to bring his team together as one unit and refuse to let them lose that game. Gone is the bend but not break defense that carried the Irish and won the toughest games.
Instead, the defense looks like a group of eleven guys that are simply trying to pick up the pieces but don’t have the leadership to do it together.
The presence of Manti Te’o was forgotten after his disappointing performance in the National Title game and the “catfish” scandal and instead of being remembered as an Irish legend, he became the butt of too many jokes. The lack of his instincts, leadership and tenacity are the issue on this year’s defense and nobody has stepped up to fill his shoes. Realizing now, far too late, the impact that Te’o had on the Irish further legitimizes his runner-up finish for the Heisman.
The question now becomes; who is going to be the guy to step up? The road ahead for the Irish is one that cannot be navigated as group of extremely talented individuals; but rather one that can only be maneuvered as a unit, living and dying with each play for each other.
The 2012 team put the “Fight” back in the Fighting Irish and seemed to only fight harder when the going got tough…Does this year’s team have the fight?