Everett: Time for a gut-check, five-game season
Joe Everett | Friday, October 26, 2018
Talking with his team in the locker room after Notre Dame’s closer-than-expected 19-14 win over Pittsburgh two Saturdays ago, Irish head coach Brian Kelly (from only the parts I saw in the ICON video Notre Dame releases after every game) touched on three main points that the Irish should take away from their hard-fought victory over the Panthers.
1) Good football teams find ways to win close football games.
2) The team shouldn’t want to be in the position to have to win close football games.
3) The Irish are 7-0, but from here on out, it’s a five-game season.
All three of these points are important, and the Irish will have to heed all of them if they want to qualify for the College Football Playoff.
Notre Dame is No. 3 in the current AP poll, which means it has an even-larger-than-normal target on its back. For most teams, playing Notre Dame is playing the Super Bowl, and that intensity and energy will only ramp up now that the Irish find themselves in the national conversation and general spotlight. For a team like Navy, who is currently suffering through a 2-5 season, springing a major upset by knocking off Notre Dame this weekend would instantly redeem the season, especially for the Midshipmen seniors. Why wouldn’t a team give its absolute all for the chance to do something that huge? Every opponent Notre Dame has from now on — Navy, Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse and USC — will be extremely hungry to knock the Irish off their throne and potentially spoil their bid for the Playoff.
There’s absolutely no way Notre Dame doesn’t play another close game the rest of the season. I’ve watched too much Notre Dame Football in my lifetime to know the Irish won’t steamroll their remaining five opponents. In fact, it’s more likely that all five remaining opponents play the Irish close, and therefore Brian Kelly’s squad will likely have to deal with adversity and continue to win close games like they did against Pittsburgh.
However, Notre Dame shouldn’t expect to have to win close games. It SHOULD expect to dominate every single one of them. The Irish need to shake off their late-season demons of old and face every team with an elite, dominant mentality. We’ve seen plenty of Notre Dame teams dominate their opponents in September and October. Not so in November. And in terms of qualifying for the College Football Playoff, it certainly doesn’t hurt to pass the eye test and impress the committee with some beat-downs.
Brian Kelly’s last point can help the Irish accomplish the first two: After Fall Break, it’s a whole new season. Forget the 7-0 start. Forget being ranked No. 3 in the country. Forget all the success and all the failure that have accompanied the last games.
From here on out, the Irish are 0-0.
Every game from now on will require a razor-like focus and attention to detail. The Irish have a simple path: win five games, and they’re in — no questions asked. The Irish have five weeks to prove if they have enough toughness and grit to make it through the final portion of the schedule.
This Saturday, the Irish will look to move to 1-0 against Navy. It’s go time, Notre Dame football.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.