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Carson: Performance will set tone for rest of season

| Friday, October 9, 2015

The situations are pretty similar.

A year ago, Notre Dame traveled to Tallahassee, Florida, had a chance at the goal line in the final minute to win the game against top ACC contender Florida State in primetime and came up just short. The first chance for the Irish to bounce back was against Navy.

On Saturday, Notre Dame traveled to Clemson, South Carolina, had a chance from three yards out to send the game to overtime against top ACC contender Clemson in primetime and came up just short.

And this week, the Irish once more have a chance to bounce back against the Midshipmen.

Granted, a lot about the two games went different — Notre Dame played its best game of the season last year at Florida State and didn’t this year at Clemson — but the spot the team finds itself in is much the same: Win out, and the Irish have a chance at being one of the four teams in the playoff. But lose, and it’s all done and dusted.

Like last year, Navy provides a perfect opportunity for the Irish to stake their claim to being in the race.

A year ago though, Notre Dame didn’t. After taking the bye week off, the Irish went to Landover, Maryland, and looked pretty lackluster in a 49-39 win over Navy that became more about “surviving” another week than anything else — especially when Joe Schmidt went down.

While the Irish got through that game against Navy with a win last year, the uninspiring performance set the tone for the rest of the season. A big matchup at No. 11 Arizona State followed, in which the Irish found themselves down 34-3 before halftime. Subsequent losses to Northwestern, Louisville and USC capped off a miserable end to what was once such a promising season.

This year, the story’s much of the same. After Navy’s visit this weekend, No. 17 USC is set to hit Notre Dame Stadium before the team’s bye week over fall break. Then a tricky trip to Temple waits, and four weeks later, a visit to No. 16 Stanford could be the deciding factor in a potential playoff push.

But that push has to start this weekend against the Midshipmen. Led by star senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, Navy is one of the better teams the Irish will face the rest of the way, and the game affords a grand opportunity for Notre Dame to make a statement on how the rest of its season will pan out.

And you’d have to think a veteran-led team like Notre Dame should have no issues learning from its mistakes down the stretch last year. Sure, injuries took a toll on last year’s team — and they already have this year — but the quintet of captains needs to ensure there’s not a let down from the squad this week.

In theory, with four captains on the defensive side of the ball (and a strong performance against Georgia Tech’s triple option scheme already in the books this season), the Irish defense shouldn’t have much of an issue with the Midshipmen.

But that’s theory, and we’ve seen two letdowns already from this squad: at Virginia following the dominant performance against Texas and early in the game against Massachusetts after the Georgia Tech win.

“Every single weekend, you’re playing elimination football,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday.

Elimination football. That’s the perfect way to describe how the Irish have to treat the rest of the season.

From now through the end of November, Notre Dame can’t slip up if it’s going to track down its goals.

And there’s no better way to set the tone than with a dominant performance over Navy this weekend. Bring it, snag a big win and carry tons of momentum into another pivotal game against the Trojans next week.

Struggle and sneak by with another tight win over Navy though, and the door’s wide open for another disaster the week after.

This is it. If Notre Dame is serious about winning a national championship, it has to start this weekend with a focused, strong, dominant performance.

Anything else? It means the Irish aspirations are nothing more than lip service.

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

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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