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Confidence creating victories

Mike Gilloon | Monday, November 7, 2005

The Irish were in trouble. A talented Tennessee squad had shot back from a 21-3 deficit and tied the game with 18 straight points.

It appeared the Volunteers’ decision to demote Randy Sanders from his role as offensive coordinator was the right one.

It appeared Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge had finally found his groove after hitting wide receiver Bret Smith for a two-point conversion to knot the contest at 21. It appeared the Volunteers were on the verge of a season-salvaging win.

It looked like this was the time for Notre Dame to collapse, to choke, to do its best imitation of Greg Norman in The Masters.

But this isn’t the old Notre Dame.

The old Irish team, or at least those of the past several years, would have been as useful in the climactic fourth quarter as a hot dog bun in the soaking rain that fell on Notre Dame Stadium Saturday.

The old Irish would have let it get out of hand.

They were the teams that could keep up with USC for a quarter or two, but then the floodgates would open and the customary 38-point beating would commence. They were the teams that would let Pittsburgh and Boston College hang around, only to hand the game away at the end. They were the teams that didn’t believe they were any good.

But these aren’t the old Irish.

Just ask Jeff Samardzija.

The Notre Dame receiver snatched up a short Brady Quinn pass on third-and-10 from the Irish 25-yard line, then raced down the sidelines for a 73-yard gain. A few plays later, Samardzija scored on another short strike from Quinn to set the Notre Dame single-season record with 12 touchdown receptions and remind everyone what has the Irish on the cusp of a BCS bowl.

It’s not just that Samardzija has rubber cement in his fingertips or that safety Tom Zbikowski has a highly-sensitive nose for the end zone.

It’s that these players and the rest of the Irish know they’re good.

Talent has not been the problem at Notre Dame for the past several seasons. The issue was that players didn’t understand what they were capable of.

Charlie Weis has brought a lot to Notre Dame – a more efficient offensive playbook, a fiery special teams coach in Brian Polian and even a fresh version of the green jersey.

But nothing Weis has brought to the Irish program has been as important as his confidence (or cockiness, depending on whether or not you’re from New Jersey).

It’s an attitude that has rubbed off on Notre Dame.

He has the squad believing it’s better than anyone else.

He has the Irish thinking there are no excuses for losing – especially in Notre Dame Stadium.

He has them thinking that they are supposed to make a play when the game is on the line. Confidence is not just encouraged by Weis and the rest of the coaching staff; it’s expected.

The Irish found themselves in a rut on Saturday. But they didn’t drop their heads and wait for the game to end and frustration to begin.

Instead, they looked to their coach, snapped up their chin straps, clenched down on their mouth guards and created a win.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of Mike Gilloon and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Mike Gilloon at [email protected]