Schedule not getting any easier for the Irish
Matt Lozar | Friday, October 10, 2003
Through four games, the combined record of Notre Dame’s opponents is 18-5.
And that was supposed to be the easy part of the first eight games.
In the upcoming four weeks, the Irish face three top-15 teams – Pittsburgh, USC and Florida State – and one of their bitter rivals in Boston College. But according to Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham, it’s not a problem at Notre Dame, but at each school.
“The truth of the matter is today that game doesn’t exist. We’re seeing an unprecedented level of competitiveness on every team that you play,” Willingham said. “So I don’t think in today’s football that that exists. You’re probably better off having the schedule that we have, provided you can be successful.”
One of the problems that does exist at a school like Notre Dame is getting your opponent’s best game every week. Each and every team wants to beat the Irish.
This year, with the Irish appearing vulnerable at 1-3, there is extra motivation for teams to jump on the Irish when they are down.
“I don’t think there’s any question as to whether or not every team on our schedule gets up for Notre Dame,” Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. “It’s probably one game that everybody looks forward to. Regarding the schedule from our standpoint, the most important game is the next one, and that’s Pittsburgh. You’ve got to play them one game at a time.”
Freshmen making the jump to college have a number of adjustments to make on and off the field. Instead of seeing a Division I doormat in their collegiate game, this year the freshmen played Rose Bowl participant Washington State the first week.
The next week they traveled to the Big House and played Michigan. That’s not an easy start to their college careers, but Diedrick feels it might help down the road.
“It’s probably difficult. I think that’s really getting wet the hard way. But I think in the long run it truly helps. Every week you’re seeing the best, competing about the best nationally,” Diedrick said. “Sooner or later, when you arrive and meet your potential … it’s going to allow you to develop a lot quicker than probably you normally would.”
The past bye week gave the Irish a chance to do a number of things. Diedrick was able to work with Brady Quinn and get him more familiar with the offense in preparation for his second collegiate start in his fifth collegiate game. Nagging injuries had time to heal. The coaches had two weeks to prepare for the best offense the Irish have seen.
But one thing that was hanging over the team was its 1-3 start. Students, fans and critics have been quick to jump on this team and that’s where Willingham has to jump in.
“It always falls, I think, on the head coach first. So then, of course, that falls on the coaches, then to our players, our leaders, our seniors, etc.,” Willingham said. “You can’t accomplish anything, I don’t believe, in a negative state of mind. So you’ve got to stay positive, you’ve got to be motivated to be positive.”
As the schedule doesn’t get any easier and the pressure to get back into the win column builds, the Irish have a lot on their shoulders. The 1-3 start seems to have banished the Irish for a horrible season.
But Willingham isn’t ready to write off the year just yet.
“I like our football team. I like a lot of the things that I’m seeing from our football team,” Willingham said. “But what we have to continue to do is continue to improve, believe in [our]self, the individual and team, and I think we can get some things done.
“Our focus cannot be all that we have in front of us, but simply Pittsburgh this week.”