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Mazurek: Despite big win, tough road lies ahead for Notre Dame

| Sunday, October 22, 2017

“You enjoy the win for 24 hours, then it’s back to work.”

That line is said by a member of almost every winning football team each Saturday.

After Notre Dame’s 49-14 over USC on Saturday, it happened to be sophomore defensive lineman Daelin Hayes who said it, but the thought is drilled into players’ heads by coaches everywhere.

After the biggest win for Notre Dame (6-1) in at least two seasons, that cliche is more than just a cliche. It’s how Notre Dame has to respond moving forward if it wants a berth in the College Football Playoff.

Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush scampers into the endzone after a touchdown run during Notre Dame's 49-14 win over USC on Saturday.Monica Villagomez Mendez | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush scampers into the endzone after a touchdown run during Notre Dame’s 49-14 win over USC on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Make no mistake, Notre Dame played its best game this year — perhaps its best since the 2012 run at the championship.

The Irish jumped on the Trojans early, taking advantage of a USC fumble and going up 14-0 in the first quarter.

And they never looked back.

Last year’s team would have easily gotten complacent and let the Trojans back in. But this year’s team slammed the door, went for the jugular — whatever metaphor you want to use for utter domination.

And for as many times as head coach Brian Kelly has been criticized for coming up short in the biggest moments, he undoubtedly had his team ready to play with an edge that defines top-10 programs.

Junior running back Josh Adams continued to build up his dark-horse Heisman candidacy.

Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush did what he needed to do, and the defense held the potential first-overall pick in the NFL draft to just 14 points.

But for as well as Notre Dame played, and for as important of a win as it was, the most important games are still to come.

It’s the beautiful reality of college football that every week matters in the playoff hunt. But Notre Dame may find it more cruel than beautiful, because the next stretch of games for the Irish is brutal.

Next week, a sure-to-be top-15 North Carolina State team arrives in South Bend, fresh off its bye week. In two weeks, an above average Wake Forest team comes to town as well, in what could be a classic trap game.

If Notre Dame comes out of those two games unscathed, it sets up an extremely large showdown with current-No. 8 Miami, who could be in the top five by mid-November.

And then, an always competitive Navy team and a trip to current-No. 22 Stanford finish up Notre Dame’s season.

Saturday’s win over USC sets the stage for the playoff hunt that will now be the second half of Notre Dame’s season. It gives the Irish confidence, and it puts other teams on notice. It puts Notre Dame on the map.

But that map still has twists and turns that need to be navigated. We’ve seen highly-ranked Notre Dame teams falter in the middle of campaigns as the pressure mounted.

In 2014, a No. 5-ranked Irish squad played its heart out against then-No. 1 Florida State, but fell on a controversial pass-interference call. That team went on to lose four straight games and finished the regular season at 7-5 after starting 6-0.

Brian Kelly said it best in his postgame press conference, saying he wants his team to be unique.

“This is not the crown jewel for us, if you will,” Kelly said. “We want more. This was a great victory. We’re excited about the win, beating a very good USC team. But our guys want to be unique. So there’s more out there for them.”

It’s one thing to say that in the locker room after a big win, it’s another to play like it the next week. And the next week. And then the week after that, until the season’s over.

The Irish can and should celebrate their biggest win in a while. But there’s no rest for the weary, and the going only gets tougher the closer they get to the top.

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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