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Hefferon: Rout proves Irish are now taking care of business (Oct. 29)

Jack Hefferon | Monday, October 28, 2013

 

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – With three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the scoreboard in Falcon Stadium thanked the fans in attendance for coming and put up the graphic asking them to “PLEASE DRIVE SAFELY.”

The game officially ended a few drives later, as Notre Dame’s second- and third-stringers protected a five-touchdown lead and the Irish victory in front of a mostly emptied crowd.

In that regard, Notre Dame’s 45-10 rout of Air Force on Saturday night was nothing special. The Falcons have yet to beat an FBS team, and the one win on their 1-7 record came against the Fighting Toothbrushes of Colgate. The final result, and even the lofty margin of victory, could have been expected well ahead of the game.

But on the other hand, that’s what makes Saturday’s blowout – and other games like it – so exceptional. For two years now, Notre Dame has taken care of business in the games it’s expected to win, sidestepping every trap game on its schedule.

This is something of a recent development.

Charlie Weis got chased from South Bend for failing to get a consistent showing from his team. Blowouts at the hands of USC and Michigan hurt, but worse were losing two out of three to Navy – ending a streak of 43 consecutive wins in that series – and back-to-back Senior Day upsets at the hands of Syracuse and Connecticut.

The same issues plagued Brian Kelly in his first season, as things went from bad to worse with midseason losses to Tulsa and the Midshipmen once again. The Irish turned that 2010 season around with the unlikely emergence of then-freshman quarterback Tommy Rees, but they were hamstrung in the 2011 season opener by a rain-soaked loss to South Florida, ruining a No. 16 ranking.

In the two-and-a-half seasons since then, though, Kelly and the Irish have tightened up the screws. 

Since the loss to USF, the Irish are 4-0 against service academies with a total score of 210-67, after losing four of their previous six. Their only losses have come at the hands of the perennial powers of Michigan, USC, Stanford, Florida State, Oklahoma and some team from Alabama. Under Kelly, the Irish have showed up to play every week, a fact that allowed Notre Dame to compete for a national championship in January.

It also has the Irish in a position to make a run at the BCS this season. This 2013 squad would be hard-pressed to come up with a “statement win” to hang its hat on, and early losses to Oklahoma and Michigan derailed any hopes of revenge in the national championship. Even their wins have lacked style points, as their only victory before Saturday won by more than a touchdown was the opener against Temple – another 1-7 squad.

It hasn’t been pretty, but Notre Dame’s ability to win as a favorite has brought it to this point: At 6-2, the Irish are three wins away from a Thanksgiving trip to Stanford with a BCS berth on the line. The opponents between them and Palo Alto – Navy, Pittsburgh and BYU – are not powerhouses and are exactly the opponents that Notre Dame is expected to beat.

In past years, that was no guarantee, and facing lesser opponents was even a curse at times. But if Kelly can keep his team locked in for another three weeks, they’ll control their own destiny to head back to the BCS.

It all comes down to taking care of business. 

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.