Padanilam: Notre Dame will define its season in next two games
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, November 17, 2017
41-8. Safe to say no one saw that one coming — at least not like that.
The result was surprising — as a team in the thick of the playoff picture potentially controlling its own destiny, Notre Dame was expected to do much better than a 33-point defeat to a team it was favored to beat on the road.
So yes, Saturday night’s performance was disappointing.
But what wasn’t surprising — but was equally disappointing — was the quick, negative reaction from fans across social media. Some were quick to crucify then-No. 3 Notre Dame, calling the season a failure with its College Football Playoff hopes essentially dead. Others called for head coach Brian Kelly to get fired or leave of his own accord.
Now those reactions were and still are, by definition, overreactions.
When the season started, the Irish (8-2) were coming off an extremely disappointing 4-8 season and expectations were relatively low. The team was unranked, not expected to even be in the Playoff picture and hoping to build a foundation for a brighter future.
Personally, I figured in the spring when our sports staff made its annual season predictions that this team would be 8-4 heading into its bowl game — with losses to Georgia, USC and Miami (FL) at this point.
Sitting at No. 8 in the latest edition of the Playoff rankings and a strong chance at a New Year’s Six bowl game, Notre Dame has exceeded those expectations thus far.
And, for the most part, the Irish have showed themselves capable of playing to the standard which has defined this season — embodying the buzz phrases such as “laser focus” and “attention to detail” written on the walls of the auditorium in the team’s practice facility.
So no, no one should outright dismiss this season as unsuccessful or call for the head of its head coach after Saturday’s loss.
But there is a flip side to that.
Underlying the bevy of social media overreactions is very real and very fair concern for what transpired in Miami Gardens, Florida, on Saturday. The conclusions being drawn might not be realistic, but that doesn’t mean the blowout defeat can be altogether dismissed.
Because it is fair to say expectations for this team changed. By entering the game 8-1 and ranked third in the country, Notre Dame was expected to come away from Hard Rock Stadium with a win, and there was nothing unreasonable about that.
A loss to an undefeated and talented Miami team shouldn’t have been altogether surprising; but a 33-point shellacking warrants criticism.
It can’t be ignored the Irish came in with a poor offensive game plan — they knew Miami’s defensive front was defined by its speed, but they countered with slow-developing run plays and read options. And when those inevitably stunted the run game against the fast front, the Irish were forced to ask junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush to carry them with his arm, a task he was altogether unready for.
On the defensive side, the Irish missed several tackles and looked soft up the middle. They allowed the Hurricanes — particularly redshirt-junior quarterback Malik Rosier and sophomore running back Travis Homer — to move the ball with ease, just as they allowed Wake Forest to do so in the fourth quarter of its last game.
It doesn’t matter so much that Notre Dame lost to Miami; rather, it matters much more how they lost.
Because that standard I just said the Irish have played to all season so far? It wasn’t played to Saturday.
And that’s why Notre Dame’s next two games are so important.
In it’s last five quarters of play, Notre Dame has failed to play to the standard it set in its previous 27 quarters. And that’s a significant problem when Kelly has said all season — including in the aftermath of Saturday’s defeat — Notre Dame’s “one mission” entering this season was to redefine the standard for football at Notre Dame and to play to that standard.
If that statement is true, then Notre Dame’s goals haven’t changed, even if its prospects of competing for a Playoff appearance have.
So this weekend’s game against Navy offers a new test for Notre Dame; because at least in Georgia, the Irish can say that attempted to play to their undeveloped standard and just narrowly missed out on a victory against an elite team.
The same can’t be said for their loss to Miami.
So, just as my colleague Marek Mazurek previously said, Notre Dame’s season is far from over —and in some ways, it’s most important games are still ahead of it.
Because they’ve lost sight of their standard as of late, and they have a chance to rediscover it starting with Saturday’s Senior Day game against Navy.
For although Notre Dame’s season outlook has changed, the standard it plays to in every game — its “one mission” for this season — shouldn’t.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.