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Football Commentary: Irish need to rebound from loss

Matt Gamber | Monday, September 14, 2009

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The question is obvious. The answer, not so much.

“Where do we go from here?” Irish coach Charlie Weis asked his team following Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss that several players said was the toughest to take of any over the past few seasons.

If they knew that answer, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If I knew, I wouldn’t be writing for The Observer.

In past years, I might have said the team is headed right into the tank. But this is a different group that is capable of bouncing back – or so I think, hope and pray.

There’s too much talent in the Irish locker room to write this season off as lost, and there’s still a whole lot of football to be played. There’s a world of difference between 2-0 and 1-1, but either way, we’re only two games into the schedule – a schedule that looks to have several winnable games ahead.

The offense is among the most talented in the nation, and Jimmy Clausen has looked as good as any quarterback in the country over the past two weeks. The defense is full of highly recruited athletes who shut down Michigan in the first half and is led by a coordinator who has enjoyed success in the past.

What I’m trying to say is that this is what we’ve got – there’s no help on the way. This isn’t 2007, when the talent wasn’t there. And it isn’t 2008, when the experience wasn’t there.

The players and coaches who are supposed to make the Irish one of the top teams in the country are in place. There’s no “wait ’til next year” mentality on the offense or one recruit coming in that will fix the defense.

Of course there are holes on this team. Even good football teams have holes. Even good football teams lose games. But good football teams bounce back, and where Notre Dame goes from here will show what kind of team the Irish have.

I truly believe there’s enough there for Notre Dame to be a top-15, maybe a top-10 type of team, and the Irish can be even with the loss to Michigan. It won’t be an easy road back, both in terms of climbing the polls and, more importantly, righting the ship as a team.

But throwing in the towel and mailing it in certainly won’t make that happen, and the Irish know that. The only way to get the job done is to regroup and not let it happen again, and the players will surely do what they can to ensure that it doesn’t.

Notre Dame isn’t one of the elite squads in the country right now, but the players and coaches who are supposed to make the Irish one are in place. The expectations and potential are high, but so are the stakes. Whether this group becomes a top team will dictate the future of the program.

For what it’s worth, I think they can do it.

Of course the loss hurts. It stings to fall to a hated rival, especially in a winnable game with so many crucial moments that could have turned the tide. The pain of the team, the band and the student section was tangible, and the sickness was heightened by the euphoria of the Michigan contingent. There are no more national championship pipe dreams and no chance for an unbeaten showdown with Southern Cal next month.

Sure, a lot was lost Saturday, and it hurts. But the loss doesn’t have to keep hurting. Nothing would ease the pain more than a ruthless beat-down of Michigan State next Saturday.

Where the Irish go from here will determine the course of the season (obviously), but also the course of the program. And where they go from here will also dictate whether Saturday’s loss to Michigan is ultimately viewed as a frustrating but minor speed bump in an otherwise successful season, or just another crushing defeat indicative of the state of Notre Dame football.

The Irish have the power to write that history beginning Saturday. For what it’s worth, I think they come out hungry, angry and aggressive and tear the Spartans to shreds.

That’s the only way to answer Weis’ question and make sure he doesn’t have to ask again.

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

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