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Starting at the top

Matt Lozar | Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Justin Tuck is ready to call a meeting with the seniors.

He wants to get them together to ensure the focus of the team’s leaders is on the same page with six games left on the Irish schedule.

“Anytime you lose a game of that magnitude especially in our house, the leadership has to step up,” the senior defensive end said. “We got to put that behind us. We’ve got to have three great days of practice.

“[But] it won’t be just for our seniors, but how we react to the younger people of our team and how we get them motivated to step up and put that behind us. … We have a great chance to finish this season on a great note.

“Our seniors know what our focus needs to be. We just have to filter that down through our football team.”

The Irish are maintaining the same attitude they’ve had throughout the entire season – if they execute and get the job done on their end, regardless of the opponent, they can compete with anyone. It’s something coach Tyrone Willingham must have talked over the weekend because at least two Irish players mentioned facts about two-loss teams making a Bowl Championship Series bowl game last year.

Whether that’s realistic or not, the first step toward meeting one of their preseason goals is getting back into Notre Dame Stadium Saturday and finding the form they had during that three-game winning streak.

“To come back from a game like that it takes a lot of leadership. Five of the teams that were playing in BCS games last year had at least two losses,” linebacker Mike Goolsby said. “To hear something like that is very encouraging to know that some of the goals you set at the start of the season are still attainable. You have to keep that in the back of your mind.”

The players felt a lack of execution was the problem Saturday. The Irish believe they have the ability to compete with anyone in the country and still feel that way despite the disappointment on Saturday.

“It’s not a matter of talent. It’s not a matter of potential,” fifth-year senior linebacker Derek Curry said. “It’s just a matter of getting the job done and executing the game plan properly. That’s the only thing that hurt us last week. We didn’t execute it well enough.”

If the Irish don’t maintain the correct focus, this season could spiral out of control very quickly. Based on the current records of the final six teams on their schedule, the Irish are facing the toughest schedule in the country.

A promising 3-1 start could be all erased, and the unthinkable could follow.

“More than anything is knowing what it feels like to go through a season like that,” fifth-year senior Kyle Budinscak said. “If we win the rest of our ball games, we can have a great season. If we go out there and continue to have letdowns, we know how terrible it can be.

“Last year is going to be a reminder as to what we don’t want to let happen.”