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Football

Monaco: Notre Dame must be better against tougher competition (Sept. 29)

| Sunday, September 28, 2014

FullerTDKevin Song | The Observer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt lumbered off the field and plopped down at their lockers, side by side, inside the New York Giants locker room at MetLife Stadium.

With a 31-15 win over Syracuse and a 4-0 record still raw, the two linebackers looked at each other.

“We gotta get better,” they agreed.

“That’s not gonna cut it in the future,” they confirmed.

Sure, Notre Dame faced and defeated arguably its toughest opponent of the season. There was a pervading sense, though, that such a performance won’t be enough against other lurking opponents. Simply summed, put forth a similar showing against Stanford next weekend, and the Irish are probably walking off the field shouldering their first loss.

Is it that straightforward?

“Yeah, as simple as that,” Smith said. “You talk about Stanford and North Carolina and Florida State, teams like that coming up, you can’t allow for those mental errors and sloppiness.”

Smith quickly noted the Irish will enjoy the victory for 24 hours, enacting Brian Kelly’s one-day rule to process the result, win or loss. The post-game mood, however, said a lot about Notre Dame’s expectations. Asked if the team was having a tough time enjoying the win, the perfection-seeking Schmidt said it all with his response.

“No. Uh. I mean. You gotta be happy. I guess,” he said, seemingly caught between what he really felt and what he thought he should feel.

Kelly said there wasn’t the usual chatter and excitement in the locker room after the victory. And why would there be?

“They knew they did not play the kind of football necessary to win each and every week,” Kelly said.

Notre Dame committed five turnovers and could have had more. Everett Golson coughed it up for the first time this season on the first Irish drive of the night, flailing the football around like a press-breaking point guard. On Notre Dame’s next possession, Golson was crushed by a pair of Orange players from his blindside, but Steve Elmer recovered the fumble. Two possessions later, Golson tossed his first interception of the season.

Four drives. Three major miscues.

On drive No. 5, Tarean Folston appeared to fumble running up the middle, but the play was blown dead beforehand due to a false start by Notre Dame.

Irish sophomore running back Tarean Folston attempts to break away from a trio of Syracuse defenders during Notre Dame’s 31-15 win Saturday night over the Orange.WEI LIN | The Observer

Irish sophomore running back Tarean Folston attempts to break away from a trio of Syracuse defenders during Notre Dame’s 31-15 win Saturday night over the Orange.

And then, of course, the doozy. With Notre Dame rolling toward a fourth score in as many games in the final seconds of the first half, Golson mishandled his spike attempt and gave it back to Syracuse, keeping points off the board for the Irish.

Then Greg Bryant fumbled, but Golson tightened things up in the second half — only to hand over a pick-six in the waning minutes.

“When I think of this game, I think of my play as being sloppy,” Golson said. “I know I just really have to clean that up.”

It is that simple. Notre Dame won’t beat the likes of Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State and USC playing that way.

Those teams won’t slip silent offensively like Syracuse did. The Orange ripped off a 38-yard gain on their first play from scrimmage but only gained 41 yards on their next four-plus drives.

Those teams won’t bail out Notre Dame with 10 penalties for 85 yards.

Those teams won’t go three-for-15 on third downs.

No, those teams won’t let Notre Dame off the hook. So while a win is a win — as Meadowlands mainstay Bill Parcells would say — the Irish know they can do better. They know they need to do better.

“We’re not even close to being as good as we needed to be,” Schmidt said.

“We got the win, but it wasn’t enough,” Sheldon Day added.

“We’re striving for dominance.”

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

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

Contact Mike