Notre Dame faces an important test today with the Washington Huskies. Empirically, the Irish are the better team. They have a more explosive offense, a defense with less question marks (believe it or not), and the advantage of playing in front of 80,000 of their own fans. Yet there is a general sense of uneasiness among the Notre Dame faithful that is representative of the Irish’s efforts thus far this season, and really a carryover from the past two years of the Weis regime.
With a win today, the Irish would move to 4-1, and have a chance to beat the most fragile USC team in recent memory. Every goal that even the most optimistic Irish fan had before the season started would be reachable, and even the once mighty Trojans look beatable, suffering from the same growing pains that ail most teams breaking in a new quarterback. Yet a loss to Washington would be catastrophic to the psyche of the players and fans. A 3-2 record going into the USC game would feel like a guarantee to start .500 in the first six games, and would necessitate running the table for the Irish to even be considered for a New Year’s Day bowl game.
Yet that type of forward thinking is what has doomed many Irish fans this year. Instead of basking in the glory of a tight victory, they bemoan the circumstances that kept the games close. Instead of thinking that the Irish are one play and some very questionable officiating away from being undefeated, they think Notre Dame is two plays away from being 1-3. Stumbling to Michigan wasn’t just a loss, it was an indictment of Weis and his entire staff.
Today presents an opportunity for the Irish. It offers the chance to give a complete effort in all three facets of the game. On offense, the Irish can control the line of scrimmage with their running attack, and take shots deep in the passing game when the Huskies crowd the line of scrimmage. On defense, the Irish can tighten the clamps on their Cover 2, and use Jon Tenuta’s blitzing scheme to force an athletic, but inaccurate quarterback into making some bad decisions with the ball. On special teams, the Irish don’t need to break a return or block a kick to be successful, but stay fundamentally sound and make the routine plays.
Finally, today represents an opportunity for Coach Weis and his staff. It’s time to rally the team and get a complete effort. It’s not enough to wow us for a quarter at a time. It’s not enough to just squeak by a team that has inferior talent. It’s time for the Irish to compete for four quarters and put away a team that isn’t there equal.
If the Irish can do that today, they’ll have a week off to think about their biggest game yet.