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Football: Room for hope, despite Irish woes

Ken Fowler | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Charlie Weis isn’t a fan of style points.

He places no high value on blowout victories, running up the score and embarrassing opponents.

Good thing. Because he didn’t even have to think about any of those Saturday as Notre Dame won a game in which a team with much less talent – and a backup quarterback – played better than the Irish.

“Good teams win games like that,” Weis said. “Good teams at the end of the game somehow, good teams make a play at the end of the game to win.”

In those two sentences, Weis described precisely what’s wrong with Notre Dame right now. It’s a good team, not a great one. The offense is sputtering, the defense is as vulnerable as ever to big plays and the team cannot – or at least has not – soundly defeated teams it should.

And for a squad that came into the year ranked in the top-3 in most polls and top-5 in all others, being a good team and barely beating lesser opponents should not be enough.

“Let me tell you something,” Weis said. “I’m not going to feel miserable about this win, I promise you. You want to be miserable, fine. I’m going to be happy.”

Weis can be happy about the win, but Notre Dame’s performances this year should give him pause.

But there’s a lot of room for hope and happiness.

The way the team is playing now might be enough to win out until the Irish face a questionable USC team Nov. 25. It might be enough to get the Irish into a BCS bowl. It might even be enough for Notre Dame to beat the Trojans.

Notre Dame played a bad game offensively for more than three and a half quarters, yet in the final 62 seconds showed why so many people are afraid of its offense. The Irish demonstrated a resiliency and belief in their ability to come back in the toughest of situations. Most of all, they sent a message to the world: Don’t count us out just yet.

Notre Dame has put itself in a position where, with a tremendous amount of help, it may be able to sneak its way to the BCS title game. Some pundits are quick to say such luck would be tantamount to finding fool’s gold – the Irish surely would get crushed against the best team in the nation.

Not so fast my friend, as the inimitable Lee Corso would say. Weis and Co. have their own opinions.

There’s a reason so many people – on campus and on air – are upset with Notre Dame’s performance so far. They should be better than this! That’s why Notre Dame keeps bouncing around in the polls.

With a rare talent at quarterback, an offensive line with four seniors (though it didn’t show Saturday), another four on the defensive line and two more in the secondary, how much more experience could a team have?

Ordinarily, a 6-1 record and top-10 ranking should merit a content fan base and student body. Ordinarily, a team doesn’t have five possible first-round picks.

Notre Dame has the personnel to be a dominating team, yet has failed to dominate all but one opponent. The Irish dismantled now-unranked Penn State at home but then suffered one of the worst home losses – to the nemesis Wolverines – since the end of the Holtz years. Notre Dame couldn’t find enough motivation to hang with a regional rival, and then the Irish struggled to get off the ground against Michigan State, Purdue, Stanford and, now, UCLA.

But with four powder (blue) puffs in the firing line before the battle in the Coliseum, don’t yet discount the possibility of seeing four wins by four touchdowns or more between now and Thanksgiving.

And with dramatic comebacks against the mediocre Spartans and Bruins in the background, Weis focused on the bright side.

“Sign me up,” he said. “You want to give me a couple more of those, I’ll take them.”

Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija gave Charlie Weis that win this time. And those two, despite their imposing numbers already this year, still have some room above their heads before they hit their performance ceilings.

With his eye black dripping from his face after the win, Quinn put his head down on Irish quarterback coach Pete Vaas’ shoulder.

“Heck of a game,” Vaas said.

Hopefully that will be the last one that nerve-racking for a while.

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

Contact Ken Fowler at [email protected]