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Football: Confidence factor huge in Irish win

Mike Gilloon | Monday, October 9, 2006

Charlie Weis brought one thing with him two years ago. One thing that’s more important than his Super Bowl rings, his big playbook or his talented coaching staff. It’s the one thing that ensured Notre Dame of a win over Stanford and assured those in the stands that they didn’t have to suffer from frayed nerves or chewed fingernails as they filed out of Notre Dame Stadium Saturday evening.

That one thing is confidence – the belief that Notre Dame doesn’t have to worry about losing to Stanford anymore.

The Cardinal was less talented, less motivated and not as prepared as the Irish. In between dropping passes and playing asphalt to Victor Abiamiri’s steamroller, Stanford managed to get run over by a Notre Dame team with no time for 0-5 football teams.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in 2004, Notre Dame was fresh off a huge upset of Michigan, a road win over Michigan State and a blowout of Washington. Former coach Tyrone Willingham and the Irish looked like they were on their way toward a successful season as they awaited that week’s game with Purdue.

Forty-one points and four Kyle Orton touchdowns later, Notre Dame had suffered its first home loss to Purdue in 30 years and saw its season take a nose dive. It had caved in front of 80,000 home fans to a team with less talent but a better coaching staff. It had failed to execute and forgot how to tackle. It did everything this year’s Notre Dame team doesn’t do.

Against the Cardinal, the Irish played smart. They didn’t throw interceptions. They didn’t make many mental errors. And, except for one fluky double pass, they didn’t give up a big play.

Weis deserves credit for keeping the team focused in the face of a winless PAC-10 opponent and a tempting fall break. He and Quinn are the biggest reasons for Notre Dame’s success – that’s obvious.

But there’s another guy that shouldn’t be forgotten. The guy who does nothing spectacular and nothing wrong – Darius Walker.

Notre Dame’s tough, spunky running back squirted, scratched and strained for every inch of his 198 total yards of offense against the Cardinal. That’s with no runs over 32 yards and none of his six receptions going for more than 14.

Everything Walker gets he earns.

It didn’t matter Saturday if Jeff Samardzija or Rhema McKnight were covered – Walker was usually open a few yards away from Quinn for nice little five-yard pickup.

It didn’t matter if the offensive line opened a hole – Walker churned out at least a little room.

It didn’t even matter if a Cardinal defender laid a big hit on No. 3 – Walker wasn’t going to fumble.

Without Walker, maybe Stanford would have pulled the upset. It’s unlikely, but if Cardinal receivers would have come up with a few more grabs and if Notre Dame made a few miscues, the outcome could have been different.

Of course, give credit to Weis. The Irish came out focused and made sure the more talented team won the game – a completely different performance than the one two long years ago against Purdue.

Just don’t forget about Walker.

Because, in calmly grinding out 153 unspectacular yards on an early October afternoon, he moved the Irish one step closer toward a pretty spectacular game in early January.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Mike Gilloon at mgilloon@nd.edu