Lost in this week of coaching speculation and doomsday ravings is the fact that there’s a football game this Saturday. Not just any game, but the final home game of the season and senior day at Notre Dame stadium.
Last season’s senior day provided the low water mark of the Charlie Weis era: a loss to woeful Syracuse. This season, the Irish come into their first matchup with UConn leaking serious oil, and it’ll be up to the veteran leadership on the football team to put together a complete football game and beat a very able opponent.
As a Notre Dame fan, UConn would scare me silly. They’ve lost five games by fifteen points: they had an early two-point loss to North Carolina, they blew a 15-point lead against Pitt to fall on a last second field goal, took a 24-21 lead against West Virginia with 3:50 remaining in the game only to lose 28-24, gave up an improbable 81-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining to lose to Rutgers, and then came within two points of a come from behind victory against BCS darling Cincinnati. Combine that with the tragic loss of cornerback Jasper Howard to an on campus murder, and this team is bound for some good luck.
In many ways, this feels like a chemistry experiment, or at the very least one of those tricky algebra problems that start with, “If team A is sinking at 30 miles-an-hour and team B is sinking at 45-miles and hour.” The key for an Irish victory is finding a way to stop the UConn offense, no easy task for an Irish unit that hasn’t been able to stop anyone save the opener and Washington State. But probably more important than any on-field element is battling the psychological war that these players have had to put up with these last few weeks.
Since the loss to Navy, you can almost feel the negativity suffocating the team. This isn’t an excuse for the inconsistency, merely an observation that the Irish are a team that’s clearly pressing. You think Darius Fleming roughs a punter who’s pooch kicking if he isn’t trying to do too much? You think Eric Maust can’t kick 30 yard punts in his sleep?
Even with all the heart break this season, the rallying cry for UConn this Saturday is a much easier sell than the one the Irish are facing. Even if you’re to believe that 18- to 22-year-olds don’t watch ESPN or read the internet, the team is well aware that the fate of their coach may have already been decided. Already saddled with the emotions of a final home game, a team with close to zero confidence will be playing an opponent that has played every team on their schedule to within four points. Combine that with the Irish’s flair for the dramatic, and we’ve got another must-see Saturday coming.