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Monardo: As undefeated stretch concludes, reality sets in (Sept. 9)

Joseph Monardo | Sunday, September 8, 2013

“Close, but not good enough.”
Brian Kelly summed up Saturday’s losing performance quite succinctly. In their 41-30 loss in Michigan Stadium, the Irish came up somewhere between mediocre and good. One could continue to wade through descriptors to try to quantify what Notre Dame’s performance amounted to, but the blemish on the team’s record does so more effectively than any parsing of words could.
In the penultimate scheduled meeting between the two rivals, Notre Dame simply did not make the plays Michigan forced it to make to win the game. The defense not only bent, it broke. The offense not only sputtered, it failed to execute when it mattered most.
For the predecessor to what was last year deemed the “team of destiny,” Notre Dame showed few signs of the gleam and confidence that came hand-in-hand with winning last season. It is no coincidence the Irish suffered their first regular-season loss since they fell to Stanford in 2011; this is no team of destiny.
Last year’s team struggled to move the ball at times. It was atrocious in the red zone. The pass defense was not considered elite. But for all its flaws, Notre Dame always made the plays that had to be made. Unlike against Michigan, last year the Irish were always “good enough,” often barely exceeding that threshold. Part of that was luck, of course (see: triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh, controversial goal-line stand against Stanford). But it is undeniable that the Irish made winning plays throughout the 2012 season. The Irish refused to lose, striving with their backs against the wall and the games on the line. Nothing came easily, but everyone came to expect it would come eventually.
In Saturday’s defeat, for the first time since the Irish fell to Stanford in 2011, the victory never came. This may be the next annual installment in program history, but this team has a distinctly different feel from the last.
Several major contributors to this year’s squad had never played in a losing effort outside of the title-game defeat. Even for those veterans who remember the ups and downs of 2010 and 2011, the 20-month span of 13 continuous regular-season wins surely dulled the memories of losing.
“I think this is kind of a wake-up call for us,” Irish senior receiver TJ Jones said. “I think a lot of people forgot what it was to not lose. They forgot how to fight through to not ending up like this.”
No team had been more accustomed to winning in the regular season than Notre Dame was over that stretch. Now, hoping to make the loss to the Wolverines a blip on the radar rather than the advent of a new streak, the Irish are forced to regroup on the fly for the first time in what seems like ages.
“It comes down to character,” junior running back Amir Carlisle said. “Everyone can be high and mighty when you are on top, when you are winning. It’s just a character test for our team as a whole, to bounce back. You know, we had to deal with a little adversity, now we are 1-1. And our response? I think we are a high-character team and we are going to respond to this and get back to work Tuesday at practice.”
This team does not have destiny on its side, nor would it be smart to rely upon miracles to secure victories moving forward. The Irish have nothing to rely on but themselves.
Although they were not good enough Saturday, they were close.
And that’s a good place to start.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu

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