If Notre Dame is going to play with its fans emotions, they much prefer it in the fashion of the last two weeks. By beating Utah and Army by a collective score of 55-6, the Irish have finally given some structural shape to what was previously only a hazy illusion of improvement.
Is it enough to qualify the Irish as having turned a corner, leaving behind the ways of losing to the likes of Navy and Tulsa?
The knee-jerk reaction wants so much to say yes, is dying to say yes. Back-to-back convincing, fundamentally sound wins make a compelling case, but, as was noted in a previous article, two occurrences don't yet go beyond the classification of coincidence.
But in that coincidence, there is room to believe that seedling of hope might actually survive. Notre Dame is playing its best football late in the season, and not just in the sense of "least worst" football. They are actually playing well.
The defense, after being embarrassed by Navy's option attack, redeemed themselves in a big way against the Black Knights. After Army's first drive resulted in a field goal, the Irish defense held them to under 100 total yards and no points for the remainder of the game. For the most part the defense was disciplined, and reacted quickly and decisively (see Darrin Walls' interception return for a touchdown).
The offense was not flawless, but was still very effective, with only one three-and-out possession for the entire game. Tommy Rees' interception was a poor decision, but he threw two excellent deep balls to tight end Tyler Eifert, and managed his first night game as well as can be expected of a true freshman.
The re-emergence of the running game was also a pleasant surprise. Cierre Wood ran with purpose, and the offensive line looked like they actually wanted to hit and block someone.
To be able to say all of this in November, of late a time during which Notre Dame has been mediocre at best, is something, especially considering that the Irish still have several starters on the bench with injuries. It suggests that the team is no longer making excuses for poor play, and instead is ready to step up and do what it takes to win.
The true test will come next week in Los Angeles, when Notre Dame tries to rid itself of an eight-year hex against the arch-rival Trojans of Southern Cal. It will be Rees' first true road game as a starter, and USC still has the aura of invincibility over the Irish even after Pete Carroll skipped town.
For at least the next day or so, Notre Dame fans can revel in their turn of fortune, the possibility of a win in South Central now much more of a reality, something that was virtually unthinkable just 14 short days ago.