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Edmonds: Notre Dame’s win over Duke is telling of the state of the program

| Sunday, November 10, 2019

With the exception of a short period down the end of the second quarter in which Duke scored a touchdown and recorded an interception, this game was never in doubt as Notre Dame controlled all four quarters, never allowing the Blue Devils much of a chance to actually break through. While to some degree expected, it showed signs of promise for a program that seemed to be limping its way through the second half of the season, simply counting down the games until it was over.

In some ways, Saturday’s game was a bit of an anomaly for the Irish. A road game against a mid-tier program that’s showed promise at times but has struggled to close. For a team that’s used to either taking on juggernauts like Georgia and Michigan or programs like Bowling Green and New Mexico, the opportunity to travel to Durham, North Carolina, and establish their footing after a few shaky games proved essential for the Irish.

Twenty-one first downs, 469 total yards and an impressive 25.5 average yards on punt returns by Notre Dame set the tone for a dominant performance that addressed some of the biggest concerns that have faced this team. While that certainly didn’t — and rightfully so, shouldn’t — silence the critics, it seemed to point to Notre Dame taking a step in the right direction of establishing consistent play and not dropping to the level of its competition.

Notre Dame is a fanbase of extremes. Too often Notre Dame has either, one, extrapolated too much from blowout wins that really have no standing on the health of the program, or two, thrown in the towel at the first sign of trouble. Let’s just accept what we saw at Wallace Wade Stadium — a collected unit that demonstrated their ability to be an offensive threat both on the ground and in the air, as well as a stout defensive presence that held Duke to 3-16 on third-down attempts. But it’s still Duke.

Let me be clear: This team is far from fixed. Anyone who thinks that a one-point, down-to-the-wire win at home over a lackluster Virginia Tech team and a win over Duke means that we belong back in the College Football Playoff conversation is delirious. But this team still has something to play for.

The reality is Notre Dame football is no longer a perennial powerhouse. That’s not to say they aren’t capable of competing on almost any given year and can make a case to any number of top recruits, but they simply aren’t in the same league as Alabama, Oklahoma and Clemson (as of more recently). If you accept that being reserved to the next tier — at least for the time being — then Saturday’s win is comforting. If you hold Notre Dame to a higher standard then Saturday’s game, while positive, is not particularly groundbreaking. And if you simply disagree with me about the state of Notre Dame’s status on the national stage, then you probably need to consider how the Irish have fared against Top-10 teams in the last two decades.

I chose to find some sort of middle ground between the first and second option. On the one hand, I’m an optimist and don’t believe that complacency should ever be accepted. On the other hand, I’m a realist and understand the importance of trusting the process. The win over Duke was that process at work: Ian Book creating in space, Chris Finke finally showing up and the defense containing and preventing many big plays.

Notre Dame’s got a long ways to go, and this process could very likely be short-lived, as just last week it almost lost to Virginia Tech. However, if they can build on Saturday’s game and continue to string together four competitive quarters, this team might be able to move in the right direction. This is not a cure-all, nor will it result in them suddenly joining that club of powerhouse teams. But why should they feel the need to mold to them? Notre Dame is not the SEC. If they keep doing what Notre Dame does best, they just might see the process at work in the coming years.

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

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