Do Close Wins Show Notre Dame Knows How to Close Games or Are Irish Just Lucky?
It wasn't pretty, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish found a way to get the job done once again. The Irish advanced to 7-0 on the season by edging out the BYU Cougars 17-14 thanks to a strong second-half performance from the defense and Theo Riddick.
The scene was all too familiar for those who have watched the Irish this season—it was their fourth win by seven points or less this season.
Considering the resiliency and toughness that's been on display from this team all season, it's time to start taking them serious as a candidate to play in the national championship game.
That snickering you hear would be the detractors, muttering something about "Luck of the Irish" under their breath.
To steal a tired phrase from Lee Corso, "Not so fast my friend."
Yes, Notre Dame has had more close calls than just about anybody this season. Even against questionable competition the Irish have been able to find style points very often this season.
Most national title contenders wouldn't need a late-game field goal to pull ahead of Purdue.
Most national title contenders wouldn't need a key defensive stop in the fourth quarter to hold off Michigan's one-dimensional attack.
Most national title contenders wouldn't need to outscore BYU by 10 in the second half to come away with a three-point win at home.
However, not many teams in the country can say that they have been tested so many times and came away unscathed. What the Irish lack in a flashy offense, they more than make up for with guts and a defense that is physical enough to even gain a little bit of respect from an ardent SEC fan.
While most elite teams can rely on the consistent play of a great quarterback, the Irish have managed to outscore everybody while adhering to a two-quarterback system that's frustrating to even the most loyal Golden Domer.
Tommy Rees, the much-maligned signal-caller from 2011, has personified clutch for the Irish on more than one occasion while Everett Golson has struggled with injuries and inconsistency in his own right.
Against all odds, as ugly as it has been, the Irish are now 7-0. According to ESPN Stats & Info, this is the first 7-0 start for Notre Dame since 2002.
Notre Dame: 7-0 for 1st time since 2002. 3rd unbeaten team today (along w/ Ohio State, Rutgers) that came back to win after trailing at half— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 20, 2012
That 2002 team wound up with a 3-3 record to end the season, ultimately losing the Gator Bowl to NC State, 28-6.
However, the 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish are a little more reminiscent of another team from 2002—the Ohio State Buckeyes.
That year the Buckeyes were known for pulling out games late. With Craig Krenzel at quarterback and Maurice Clarett pounding the ball between the tackles, the Buckeyes were smashmouth on offense and relied on an elite defense to dominate games.
What's behind Notre Dame's success this season?
The Buckeyes pulled out six regular-season wins by seven points are less and were deemed "lucky" by plenty of critics.
The "lucky" Buckeyes ended up running the table all the way to the national championship game. Most expected them to finally get exposed by a Miami Hurricanes team that was deep with NFL-caliber talent.
Critics were in for a rude awakening as all of the experience the Buckeyes had in close games proved to be vital—the Buckeyes came through in double overtime to pull off an improbable win and claimed the title as the best team in the nation.
Ten years later, the Irish look a whole lot like that Buckeyes team.
With a punishing ground game, a smothering defense and a knack for closing out the close ones, Notre Dame has what it takes to record a historic season in 2012.
Will they follow their own legacy or steal a chapter from their neighbors in Ohio?
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