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Commentary: ND in dire need of dominant showing

Matt Gamber | Friday, October 30, 2009

When it comes to the 2009 Irish, it’s the journey, not the destination.

I hate clichés, so it pains me to start a column with one as much as it pains you to read it, but bear with me. Hey, at least I didn’t use one like “Defense wins championships.” That thought should cause more Notre Dame fans to cringe, considering the Irish don’t rank in the nation’s top half in pass defense (117th), total defense (97th) or scoring defense (64th).

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

But anyway, the Irish will enter the Alamodome Saturday 5-2, right where many prognosticators predicted at the season’s beginning. But would you say this season has gone as expected?

My point is that to evaluate Notre Dame solely on where it is — with five wins and the No. 23 spot in the BCS standings — would miss the boat on what’s more important, which is how Charlie Weis and Co. have gotten there.

If you’ve been halfway cognizant over the last two months, you know Notre Dame’s last six games have all gone down to the wire, for better or for worse. Watching the Irish has been as exhilarating as it’s been maddening and as climactic as it’s been unpredictable.

But isn’t that why we watch in the first place? If these games were a sure thing, college football fans across the country wouldn’t spend a dozen autumn Saturdays with their eyes glued to the television.

I’m still puzzled at how a team with such a dominant passing attack can be so consistently inconsistent when the offense is given the chance to bury a reeling opponent in the second half. I still can’t understand how a secondary with as many touted, experienced players as Notre Dame’s can make freshmen quarterbacks look like calm, cool and collected seniors as they shred soft coverage. And I can’t even fathom why it takes until the fourth quarter’s final minutes for the Irish to play their best football, week in and week out.

Seven games into the season, it appears this is the Notre Dame team we’ll see all year. But if we’ve learned anything about this Irish team, it’s to expect the unexpected.
In most respects, this is nowhere near the biggest game on Notre Dame’s schedule. The Irish have no traditional rivalry with the Cougars and are nearly 30-point favorites over the Pac-10’s worst team, and on a weekend full of major college football match-ups, this one isn’t getting much national attention.

But in a way, those facts make this game even more important. Other than the obvious need to beat Washington State, Notre Dame also needs to dominate to build momentum for its final four games, all against bowl-bound teams with winning records.

“Obviously we’ve shown some resiliency at the end of the game,” Weis said Tuesday. “[But] we haven’t played a full 60-minute game across the board, either. And this gives us an opportunity to try to do that. We’d like to get on top of them early and go hard for the whole game and see if we can’t put a game together — a full game together on offense, defense and special teams — where you can walk out of the game with everyone gaining confidence.”

But back to that cliché: it’s the journey, not the destination. There’s still a lot of football to be played, and the Irish have plenty ahead of them, including an outside shot at a BCS game if they take advantage of both where they have been and where they can still go from here. Nothing would fast-track Notre Dame’s journey more than a dominating performance over a Washington State team that is, by far, the worst on the Irish schedule.

And considering what the Irish have done over the last two months, that would be anything but cliché.

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

Contact Matt Gamber at mgamber@nd.edu