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Irish Insider: A blowout win? Wouldn’t bet on it

Matt Gamber | Friday, October 2, 2009

The fall break destination of choice this year seems to be Las Vegas – a place where anyone, but especially vacationing college students, is prone to bad decisions.

It is the Sin City, after all.

I’m not worried that any of our classmates will steal a police squad car. I don’t think any Notre Dame students will have a run-in with Mike Tyson. And I doubt anyone will wake up on the roof of Caesars Palace – where, as “The Hangover” taught us, Julius Caesar didn’t actually live.

No, I don’t expect to hear about any antics quite that outrageous. But that doesn’t eliminate my concern that some overzealous Irish fans will follow their hearts, not their heads, and place a bet on their favorite football team.

Don’t do it – you’ll get burned.

It’s not that Notre Dame isn’t a good team. It’s not even that Notre Dame isn’t as good a team as everyone – or at least the fans and oddsmakers – seem to think. It’s just that this group always seems to be in those nail-biters that, as the last three weeks have illustrated, can easily go either way.

To their credit, the Irish finally demonstrated at Purdue that they could survive one of those down-to-the-wire, don’t-change-the-channel games, and they did it with a hobbled quarterback and missing pieces at running back and wide receiver. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that it took several losses – North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Syracuse last season, and Michigan a few weeks ago – for Notre Dame to steal a win.

At this point, diagnosing exactly why the Irish always seem to find themselves in these types of games seems like a futile exercise. Even if you can attribute it to something – be it a soft pass defense, an inconsistent second-half offense or an overall lack of a killer instinct – how do you change it?

That’s not to say Notre Dame won’t try, and of course it should. But unless the Irish somehow figure out a way to stop the run without surrendering the short pass, find the key to start the offensive ignition coming out of halftime and discover a new attitude that motivates the team to thrash opponents mercilessly, there will be plenty more contests that will come down to one play late in the game.

If Notre Dame were to ever come out and throttle an opponent the public expects it to handle with relative ease, I guess it could be Saturday, when the Irish will be favored by two touchdowns.

The Huskies aren’t bad but aren’t quite there yet. Perhaps the logic sounds backward, but the fact that Washington is – or at least seems to be – a better team than either Michigan State or Purdue, I think Notre Dame has a better chance for a convincing win this weekend than in either of the past two.

Wait, wait. Stay with me for a second.

Washington’s shocking upset of USC two weeks ago erased any question that Notre Dame would overlook the Huskies, even with the vaunted Trojans looming on the schedule following the bye week. That hasn’t changed, even after Washington’s loss to Stanford last Saturday.

Everything the Irish coaches and players said this week indicated they knew how different this Huskies team was from the one Notre Dame crushed last season, as new head coach Steve Sarkisian and a fully healthy Jake Locker have made Washington much better, much quicker than most people expected.

And I’m suggesting this is the week the Irish show up and blow a team out of Notre Dame Stadium?

Like I said, it could happen. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

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