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Irish simply need a win, any win, now

Sam Werner | Thursday, September 30, 2010

If you’ve been around South Bend for the past five years, you’ve probably heard the term “signature win” thrown around a lot.

While the definition of what qualifies as a “signature win,” and the importance of earning such may be debatable, the underlying premise is not — to be a quality team, you have to beat quality teams.

No, a win against Boston College Saturday night would definitely not fall under that category, but that’s fine. Right now, the Irish — and, more importantly, Brian Kelly — don’t need a signature win. They just need any win.

While one win certainly wouldn’t turn the season around, there’s a world of difference between being 1-4 with a four-game losing streak and 2-3 coming off a big road win against an annual opponent. A win would quell, if not completely stop, the negative energy permeating the campus.

Despite those negative vibes, this game is eminently winnable for Notre Dame. Yes, the Stanford game was ugly. The Irish were beaten physically and mentally. Throughout the week, though, Irish players and coaches have shown a determined resolve to end their losing streak.

It’s usually not smart to buy into midweek talk, but Notre Dame fans have seen plenty of losing over the past few years, and this Irish squad is handling the tough times much differently than previous teams. All the clichés are still the same — the players are still promising to “keep fighting,” “work hard,” and “not give up.” The difference is that instead of hanging their heads and hoping things will turn around, Dayne Crist and company seem determined to actually make things turn around. At their press conference Wednesday, Harrison Smith and Manti Te’o seemed legitimately angry — not just upset — about their losing streak.

“What we’re dealing with now is different than it has been,” Smith said. “Where everybody’s excited and ready to come out to practice, because we have to win. We want to win. That is the only reason we’re here. It’s kind of like life or death when it comes to winning, and that’s just how it has to be.”

The difference between a win and loss Saturday night depends more on Notre Dame than Boston College. There’s no question the Irish have the talent to beat the Eagles, possibly by a wide margin. Boston College looked like a team in disarray in their 19-0 loss to Virginia Tech last week, and the Eagles will likely be led by true freshman quarterback Chase Rettig, who will be making his first career start in a high pressure, prime-time game. As porous as the Irish defense has been, there’s no reason to think they won’t be able to fluster Rettig at least a little bit.

If Notre Dame can win the turnover battle, maintain a balanced offense and not inexplicably ignore field position, the Irish will win. Of course, as anyone who’s watched Notre Dame’s first four games this season, none of those things are guaranteed.

There are plenty of reasons the Irish have struggled so far this season and, yes, Kelly has been one of them. I’m sure he’d even be the first person to admit it. The biggest problem for Crist — and several other Irish players — is inexperience, and there’s no solution for that except to just play. The Irish are a better team than they showed last week, and they should show that on Saturday night.

Boston College may not be a national title contender or even a top-25 team, but a win on the road against a quality team is always a tough task. This won’t be Kelly’s “signature win,” but this game can be a starting block. It’s winning games like this one that leads to bigger wins down the road.

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

Contact Sam Werner at        swerner@nd.edu