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Irish Insider: Why Notre Dame needs a blowout

Kate Gales | Saturday, October 7, 2006

Now we know – Notre Dame can win games.

But can they win blowouts?

The Irish are used to being favorites by now. They know that anything can happen, that the Vegas line doesn’t mean anything at the end of the game except a few dollars have changed hands.

In five games, they have one win by a clean margin (Penn State), lost one game by much more than expected (Michigan), and had two one-score victories (Michigan State and Georgia Tech).

But the Irish should have blown Purdue out of the water, and they didn’t. They gave up too many plays on defense. They left too many offensive point opportunities on the board.

That can’t happen again.

This Irish team knows that carrying a two-score lead isn’t necessarily safe – just ask John L. Smith. They’ve shown that they’re vulnerable to big plays on defense and, more suprisingly, on offense.

This team is not invincible.

But to Stanford, it should be.

Stanford is 0-5 and has scored just six touchdowns in five games, while giving up 18. Its opponents have outscored the Cardinal by 124 points this season.

The Irish carry a slim point differential of 19 points in their favor, a very different story than last season.

It’s time for a blowout win.

The Irish need a lopsided victory. They need Brady Quinn to compile numbers rivaling the national debt. They need Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija to come up with circus catches. They need Darius Walker to run halfway home to Georgia.

Because no matter how much these players say that doesn’t matter, it does. Individual awards aside, the BCS system is now dependent on a spread-out nation of voters. Some of them will use any excuse to rank the Irish lower.

Last season, Oregon was livid that it was passed over for the BCS and the Irish were invited to the Fiesta Bowl. Being a BCS wallflower isn’t fun, especially after a tough regular season.

This season, the Ducks demolished Stanford 48-10 in the first game of the season. Granted, Notre Dame’s first opponent, Georgia Tech, is compiling a more respectable record than the Cardinal after doling out its own dominant win at Virginia Tech last week. But when Oregon and Notre Dame are up for at-large BCS spots, the way they performed against common opponents – Stanford, UCLA, USC – is going to matter.

Granted, it’s not the most important thing. A win is a win. But when something like the BCS is on the line with the Gator Bowl, every point is an argument in your favor.

A dominant win over Stanford will send the Irish into a bye week with good karma. Brady Quinn breaking a few more passing records – probably ones he already holds, but who’s counting? – would be a nice cap for this game.

Notre Dame is a game that Stanford can get up for. Last season, a Stanford team with a 5-5 record took Notre Dame to the wire with everything at stake. Walker’s $14 million two-point conversion saved the day, but it was more of the same for the Irish – giving up too many big plays on defense.

This game should not be a shootout. Trent Edwards isn’t bad, but with two top receivers out, he shouldn’t have anyone to throw to – let alone any time to throw. This is a game where the defense should come up big every time, holding Stanford to three-and-outs and preventing 88-yard pass debacles (see last week’s Purdue game).

The Irish have something to prove.

This isn’t to say that there’s no place for class in football. There is, and Irish coach Charlie Weis has shown it. Calling a play for a dying boy – that’s class. Congratulating opponents after a heartbreaking home loss last Oct. 15 – that’s class. Calling off the dogs with just a two-score lead – that’s just asking for trouble.

Breaking the 50-point barrier would be nice this weekend. So would keeping the Cardinal from reaching the end zone. A blowout win would help dull the leftover pain from the Michigan game and ease the stress that fans still feel after a close call at Michigan State.

The Irish didn’t play their best game against Purdue, but they played well enough to win. Well enough to win isn’t always enough, though. As long as humans are running the polls, a blowout or two is always going to be necessary.

Sorry, Stanford.

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

Contact Kate Gales at kgales@nd.edu