Stempak: Despite bad month, Notre Dame has chance to go all the way
R.J. Stempak | Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Notre Dame ended its regular season Friday with a draw against No. 3 North Carolina, a positive note relative to the disastrous month preceding it.
The Irish opened October ranked No. 1 in the nation and in peak form. They manhandled Indiana 4-0, which was unbeaten and ranked No. 6 at the time. In 10 games, the Irish allowed only five goals and won nine. They looked ready to follow in the footsteps of the 2013 National Championship team.
The Irish tied their next game against Wake Forest, then won at Michigan. The season hasn’t looked the same since. Starting at Virginia on Oct. 14, the Irish dropped four games in a row, scoring two goals in those games and losing two in overtime.
The team went from top in the nation to not even earning a bye in the ACC tournament.
Notre Dame hadn’t lost even three games in a row since joining the ACC in 2013. This cold streak is uncharacteristic of this program.
Either this is the unluckiest streak in recent program history, or this is just what the team is now. I am inclined to side with the former.
Even with the losing streak, Notre Dame is still top 25 in goals-against average, scoring offense, total points and just outside the top 25 in save percentage. The Irish are a top-tier team on both offense and defense.
So what happened?
As Irish head coach Bobby Clark told me before the Michigan State game, sometimes soccer just stands on its head. Two of the four losses came in overtime. Sometimes the ball just is not going in the net.
And sometimes you run into incredible goalkeepers. In two of Notre Dame’s losses, against Virginia and Duke, the opposing goalkeeper tallied seven saves. The top goalie in the nation averages 6.67 saves per game, and neither Duke’s nor Virginia’s goalkeepers are top 50 in the nation in saves.
The regular season is over, and the Irish cannot make excuses. It is win or go home. This loss streak is definitely concerning, but to count Notre Dame out of title contention would be a mistake. This team is well-coached, experienced and talented at all positions.
All that is clear for now is that the Irish will have to regain midseason form immediately if they hope to stand a chance against top teams in the NCAA tournament.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.