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Lorton: Irish face tough schedule ahead

Isaac Lorton | Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Early Tuesday morning, the Irish were named the No. 1 team in the country. 
Later that afternoon, they proved why, with a 2-0 victory over No. 18 Michigan State.
Notre Dame (10-1-5) tallied its sixth shutout and ninth multiple-goal game of the season.
The Spartans (9-4-3) are no easy team to beat on the road, as they currently sit at No. 11 in the RPI standings. Prior to Tuesday’s matchup, the Spartans held a 14-5 advantage in goals over their opponents while at home.
Now as the No. 1 team in the country, it would be expected that the Irish beat the No. 18 team, but it is not that simple. It is Notre Dame’s second away game in three days against ranked opponents. The Irish beat then-No. 12 Wake Forest 3-1 Saturday, returned home, had one practice and then beat Michigan State on Tuesday. That’s 1,640 miles, two top-20 teams and two wins in the span of a little under 72 hours. Notre Dame is undefeated on the road with a 6-0-1 record.
And let’s not forget that on top of the grueling schedule the Irish face, they are in a completely new conference – one of the best conferences in the nation. Every ACC team they play is unknown territory. Yet, their conference record? 6-1-3.
It is quite impressive what the Irish have done so far this season, and they deserve the No. 1 spot, but Irish coach Bobby Clark said the ranking has no effect on his team.
And it shouldn’t.  
“We never discuss it,” Clark said. “[Rankings] have never been mentioned in our locker room. And they won’t be. Rankings are for the media and the fans. To the players, it means absolutely nothing. We won’t talk about it internally until the end of the season.”
The Irish still have conference opponent Pittsburgh at home Friday to worry about before they enter into the ACC tournament and then the NCAA playoffs. The Irish mentality is that every game is a playoff game, and their performance reflects that.
Notre Dame is firing on all cylinders. Its defense boasts a 0.68 goals-against average, while the offense looks to be finishing opportunities as of late.
But a No. 1 ranking can only carry a team so far. When it comes down to double overtime in single elimination, anything can happen. So, the Irish need to take advantage of the chances they get on offense.
The Irish can’t become complacent with their powerful defense. If they sit back and can’t connect on opportunities, nights like the 2-0 loss to Virginia on Oct. 16 will happen again. It is Notre Dame’s only loss on the year, but from it comes a valuable lesson: be aggressive. In the past two games, the goals that have been scored by the Irish were within five minutes of each other. In the Wake Forest game, the first two Irish goals were just four minutes and 17 minutes apart, while in the Michigan State game, the goals were scored 37 seconds apart. After a goal, the Irish cannot sit back and hope its defense will hold onto the lead. In these playoff matches, overtime golden goals can go either way.
At the end of the season, the Irish want to say they were the No. 1 team in the country – and have the hardware to prove it.

Contact Isaac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.