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Mazurek: Everyone just needs to relax

| Friday, September 9, 2016

Breathe in … and breathe out.

Feel better? Good. Because there are still 11 games left to go, and it isn’t going to be any less exciting from here on out.

What does decrease, though, for No. 18 Notre Dame is its margin of error. Because if the Irish plan to make the College Football Playoff, they have some work to do.

I can’t believe I’m saying that right now, but I am. I’ve watched 15-plus years of Notre Dame football, and rarely have they overperformed or turned around a losing season — see 2014.

Notre Dame junior linebacker Nyles Morgan makes a tackle during Sunday's 50-47 loss to Texas.Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer
Notre Dame junior linebacker Nyles Morgan makes a tackle during Sunday’s 50-47 loss to Texas.

expectation at Notre Dame. The players know it. The coaches know it. And most importantly, the fans know it. The only question, therefore, is how the 2016 team can get there after a heartbreaking loss in the first game of the season.

And although we only have seen one game, the roadmap for Notre Dame is clear: outscore the opponent. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer looked stellar in the season opener, and it’s clear to almost everyone that head coach Brian Kelly made the right call to give him the starting nod. The time for “giving both guys a chance” is over — it should never have started — and with one established quarterback, the Irish offense should thrive.

In almost any game, 47 points on the road equals a win, and the Irish reached that number in an incredibly hostile environment while switching quarterbacks. With Kelly giving his Heisman candidate a chance to play the full game — with continued improvement from sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and the running game — this offensive unit could become something special.

And make no mistake, this offense will need to score early and often, because the defense needs a lot of work. Look, everyone, they played horribly against Texas. They missed tackles, they didn’t know how to play Cover 3, they had trouble handling Texas’ up-tempo offense; the list goes on and on. But they will improve. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is not — and never will be — a top defensive coordinator in the college game, but he’s serviceable.

The defense lost a lot of pieces from last season, including Jaylon Smith, KeiVarae Russell and Sheldon Day. We all knew it was going to take some time to find an identity. And for how many young players the Irish threw out there at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, it’s almost surprising they didn’t give up any more points.

So give Nick Coleman, Devin Studstill and some of the younger players some time. Even some veterans —like Drue Tranquill and Avery Sebastian — are coming off of injuries. Give Nyles Morgan a few games as “the guy” in VanGorder’s scheme, and then we’ll evaluate the group. This defense will get better, either because it will genuinely improve or because it simply can’t be any worse.

I’m not saying Notre Dame will make the playoff. I personally don’t think they will, but if you want to keep believing that, you aren’t delusional yet. A nice home opener gives the team a chance to rebound and lick its wounds before another test against Michigan State. If the Irish beat the Spartans, they’re back on track. Even if you thought the Irish were going to make the playoff before the season, you would still probably have had them losing one game. A loss in the season opener on the road to an improved Texas team is likely to be viewed more leniently by the committee than a loss at home to Stanford or a trap-game loss to Army or Navy.

Any college football season is full of ups and downs, and to rush to conclusions after one game isn’t always the wisest thing to do. We certainly found out a lot about this 2016 Notre Dame team. It’s full of talent, but it needs a lot of work. As Lou Holtz famously said, “Notre Dame is always ranked too high at the start of the season and too low at the end.”

The season isn’t over, no matter what your family group text may say. Take a deep breath, and focus on the next game.

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

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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