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Owens: Time for Irish to start winning by not losing (Sept. 9)

Andrew Owens | Thursday, September 8, 2011

“You can’t start winning until you stop losing …”

Thus Irish coach Brian Kelly summed up Notre Dame’s 23-20 loss to South Florida Saturday. It perfectly describes the situation in which the program currently finds itself.

For the first time since Lou Holtz was roaming the sidelines, the Irish have a proven winner leading the team.

The defense has shown it can be dominating and is even more talented than last year’s squad, which suffocated opposing offenses down the stretch en route to a 4-0 finish.

Saturday’s starting quarterback, sophomore Tommy Rees, has won games in Notre Dame Stadium, Yankee Stadium and the Los Angeles Coliseum during his short career. He has a treasure chest of playmakers to get the ball to and an offensive line experienced enough to let him do exactly that.

But the Irish are at a crossroads as they head to Michigan Stadium for the first-ever night game at the Big House.

They can’t start winning until they stop losing.

Everything is in place for this team to succeed, and now they simply need to win. It all starts with cutting the mistakes that haunted them in Saturday’s defeat.

Muffed punts can’t happen. 15-yard personal foul facemask penalties can’t happen — especially from a senior captain. Converting only two red zone opportunities in six attempts and turning the ball over three times inside the 5-yard line can’t happen.

Much of Saturday’s performance was encouraging, but those aspects have taken a back seat to the many errors. Junior running back Cierre Wood rushed for a career-high 104 yards on 21 carries, and

it would have been much more had the Irish not been forced to pass the entire second half due to the 16-0 halftime deficit.

Senior wide receiver Michael Floyd showed once again just how dominating he can be with his 12 reception, 154-yard day that included two scores.

Sophomore nose guard Louis Nix overpowered South Florida offensive linemen for much of the game and is in much better game shape than when he arrived on campus a little over a year ago. But the fact is, the Irish made too many mistakes.

People can make all the excuses they want. This week, it’s Kelly’s controversial sideline demeanor, the weather delays and the fans who decided not to return after the aforementioned delays that are turning the conversation away from the play on the field.

All of those issues will take care of themselves when the team starts winning and stops losing. Now is the time to trust Kelly’s leadership in turning the momentum of this season in a positive direction.

This weekend’s matchup between No. 1 (Michigan) and No. 2 (Notre Dame) in all-time winning percentage is unique. 2007 marked the first time the two programs met with neither team ranked in the top-25. Then it happened again in 2008, 2010 and, now, in 2011, as neither team will be ranked when they kick off Saturday night.

Rather than jockeying for position in the top-10 in pursuit of a national championship, as has been the case so many times during this rivalry’s history, both teams have more mundane goals in 2011.

For Michigan, Brady Hoke has replaced Rich Rodriguez after the most disastrous three-year stretch in program history. While implementing a completely new system and changing the culture of the program will take time, the Wolverines can expedite that process with a home win Saturday.

For Notre Dame, it is time to prove that they are a good enough team to travel into an intimidating environment and defeat a bitter rival who has won the last two matchups in the final minute.

When it is all said and done Saturday, Notre Dame can’t start winning until they stop losing.

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

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu