Notre Dame Football: Was Utah a 'Signature Win' for Brian Kelly, Fighting Irish?

Matt MooneyCorrespondent INovember 15, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 13: Ryan Sheehan #39 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is lifted by students while celebrating a win over the Utah Utes at Notre Dame Stadium on November 13, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Utah 28-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Apparently, there is a pulse after all.

Notre Dame's stunningly dominant 28-3 victory over No. 14 Utah on Saturday prevented its 2010 football season from completely flat-lining and resuscitated hopes for playing in a post-season bowl game.

It also ended a long streak of Irish futility against top ranked opponents, as the Utes are the highest ranked team Notre Dame has beaten since third-ranked Michigan in 2005.

Additionally, Notre Dame's struggles for any win during the month of November (no winning record in four years), much less against a highly ranked opponent, suggest that historical context may make this victory even more important.

Was it bigger than any win during the entire Charlie Weis era?

On the surface, the answer might appear to be yes. Unlike that 2005 Michigan team which ended the season unranked with a 7-5 record, Utah played consistently well for most of this season, winning eight straight games before losing to fourth-ranked TCU one week ago.

The Irish certainly earned a well-rounded win with sound defense, opportunistic offense and timely special teams play. They executed at a level not yet seen this season, converting on key red zone opportunities and having back-up players like Duval Kumara and Jonas Gray step up to fill the playmaker role.

Even the students celebrated like it was a huge win, leaving the bleachers as time expired to congratulate the players on the field. For a senior class that witnessed the disastrous 3-9 2007 season as freshmen, a taste of anything resembling good football was worth a celebration.

However, while Notre Dame did play well against the Utes, few people would argue that Utah looked anything like a top-15 team on Saturday. They came out flat, and it appears the loss to TCU has shaken the team's confidence. It would be unsurprising to see Utah drop one (or both) of its final two games to either San Diego or BYU and end the season unranked.

The ultimate importance of this win will come down to how the Irish finish their season. If the team falls on its face losing to Army or again getting crushed by USC, it will be tough to look at the win over Utah as anything more than a bye-week-aided anomaly (the Irish are 29-6 following a bye week since 1984) during an otherwise disappointing season.

But this victory has the potential to be exactly the catalyzing shot of confidence needed to jump start a young team. If it can inspire the team to upset USC on the road (a feat that was unthinkable just a few days ago), then perhaps history will view this game as a turning point in Brian Kelly's head coaching tenure at Notre Dame.

For now, this win should signal a temporary seal on the gusher of negative momentum and a return to the cautious optimism that started that 2010 season.

Celebrating a complete turnaround after one game is way too premature, but the coaches and players still deserve the credit for overcoming a number of injuries to earn a big November win on Senior Day.