The State of the Irish: Notre Dame Football—September Edition

Brendan CollinsCorrespondent ISeptember 25, 2009

Just as a single game can, a football season can be broken down into four quarters, with three games each quarter; and as all fans know, it's the second half that people remember. The Irish have finished one quarter with a 2-1 start and are a hair away from either 3-0 or 1-2.

Those who have watched this team play would agree their offense deserves to be 3-0 and their defense deserves to be 1-2, but regardless of the "could have" and "should have," the Irish are 2-1 and outside the top 25.

What should viewers expect from the Irish next quarter, with three tough games against Purdue, Washington, and arch-rival USC? What have they learned so far?

Before the predictions arise and everyone looks towards the polls to justify where their team stands, be reminded that there was much about Notre Dame's first quarter that should be remembered, commended, and carried along.

As a fan of this team since birth, I can honestly say that last week against Michigan State I was as proud of the Irish as I have been in a long time, since Quinn had the winning drive against UCLA or when the Irish came back to beat Michigan State in the fourth quarter in 2007.

I was shocked when I went onto all of the Notre Dame websites and the headlines were about the brutal defense, Michael Floyd's injury, the suspect officiating, and the "luck of the Irish."

Was anyone talking about the courageous effort from Jimmy Clausen, the resilience of Golden Tate to come back from important dropped passes to make the catch to win the game (as well as a crucial third down conversion), Kyle McCarthy's career at Notre Dame or Weis' class in victory saying it was not his win, but the team's?

It is rare today that articles are written that highlight the academic achievements, community service efforts or locker room leadership. Rather, the press is obsessed with scandal and skill, the suspensions, or the speed of a running back.

But as I watched Notre Dame come out of the tunnel after being down one point and having lost all momentum at the end of the first half, then go out and score on its opening drive, I knew this was now a special team.

A quarterback hobbling all over the field, their best receiver out of the game (and for the rest of the season), a defense that couldn't make a stop and yet they prevailed; they won in the same situation they had lost in the week before.

I have been skeptical of Jimmy Clausen since he was recruited, as Brady Quinn is my all-time favorite Notre Dame player because of his leadership, character, talent, and work ethic. Clausen came into the South Bend cocky, arrogant, disrespectful, and with a me-first attitude.

While everyone is talking about his physical attributes and improvement this season, the most impressive change he has made is in the locker room, off the field, and in the huddle. When I watched Jimmy out there hobbling around on one leg and still making the throws, still leading the offense, I was very proud.

Here is a kid who has done a 180 under the leadership of Coach Weis and has really matured into a leader and a great football player. What he did last week went way beyond completion percentage and QB rating, as his teammates watched their captain leading the offense despite pain, and they rallied behind him. It left an impression on everyone, including the fans.

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Golden Tate has been a mystery to many this season, making uncharacteristic drops and not making the plays when the team needs him the most. Tate made a key drop in the fourth quarter against Michigan that would have most likely resulted in a touchdown, leading the entire ND nation to scream and yell from the stadium and their homes.

Tate took it upon himself to shake it off and come back to win the ball game. He put the game on his shoulders and made a very difficult catch to win the game, as well as making a hard-faught six yards after the catch on a short out pattern to convert a key third down on that drive. He proved that he had moved on from Michigan and could be relied upon when the team needed him.

Charlie Weis has had more pressure on him this season than Barack Obama has had with his health plan. After every game, the Weis hot seat questions heat up, especially after the Michigan game.

Weis came back after that tough loss with the negative chants of ND nation on his back and masterfully dominated the Michigan State defense, having his third 30-plus point game for his offense and a touchdown on each opening drive of the half. He also showed a great deal of class when the game was finished, putting all the praise on the players and none upon himself.

While most of the hype this season has been on McCarthy's three interceptions and team-leading tackling statistics, it is important to realize that for his first three seasons at Notre Dame he was primarily on the bench. After a redshirt freshman year he saw little to no action until his senior season, when he showed that the extra time in the weight room and all the hours out on the practice field had paid off.

He is a model student-athlete and has showed that good things happen to those who wait; and although his wait was long before he touched the field, I'm sure he would tell you it was plenty worth it.

As the Irish head into the next quarter of the season, I hope they can show the type of class and character they did in the first quarter, with guys playing through injury, working hard to move up the depth chart, and learning from their mistakes.

This is a team that has that special will to win and we saw that last Saturday against Michigan State with the final drive of the game. So, Notre Dame, hold those gold helmets high to the skies, because we are proud of you.

It's not always winning or losing, but how you win and how you lose. After a disheartening loss to Michigan, to come out against Michigan State and be put in the same situation, yet walk away with a win shows they have the "it" factor it takes to be a winner both on and off the field.

Purdue is the best offense they will face after their defense was embarrassed in their last two games and Washington poses a serious dual quarterback threat that has been Notre Dame's undoing defensively. And then USC will be the best team they play all year.

With that being said, I like where the Irish are right now and I think they have a good chance of winning any and all of those games. If (big if) this team stands 5-1 four weeks from now, then look out, college football, as a new team has emerged through the shadows of its past to join the highest ranks in the land.


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