It's All Relative for Improved Irish

An undefeated September has changed expectations for Notre Dame's program and its fans.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This is the price of success.

Two weeks after youthful exuberance cascaded through the Notre Dame locker room immediately following a win over state-rival Purdue, head coach Brian Kelly's Irish instead concluded their stay at MetLife Stadium with a subdued gathering in the wake of a 31-15 conquest of Syracuse.

Both victories were hard-fought, albeit not wildly impressive. Both included 16-point margins that kept Kelly's Irish undefeated, 4-0 through the opening month.

The reactions by players and the head coach were nonetheless disparate.

"You could tell in the locker room, there was not the normal chatter, excitement," said Brian Kelly. "They knew they did not play the kind of football necessary to win each and every week. This (type of) game will get you beat week in and week out.

"We made enough big plays to overcome it."

Big plays were the order of September for Kelly's offense. Quarterback Everett Golson dialed up a handful each week and Saturday night, Golson included a passing performance for the ages -- and almost the record books.

25 consecutive Golson throws landed safely into the hands of a waiting Irishman.

But therein lies the rub, as during the course of the evening, two others found only Orange, one ending with a trot into the wrong end zone. To exacerbate those errors, the player that Kelly critiqued for his ball security issues as recently as Thursday fumbled three possessions onto the MetLife turf, losing two to the 'Cuse.

Teams that commit five turnovers (sophomore RB Greg Bryant fumbled as well) and allow the opposing defense to score on them won't win many games, a reality not lost the team's post-game spokesmen.

"You don't want to ever give up a touchdown," said senior linebacker Joe Schmidt of a fourth quarter run by Orange quarterback Terrel Hunt. "I wish we could have that play back. You know, they get paid too. Hats off to Syracuse on that one, it was a good play."

Schmidt's unit limited one of the nation's most productive rushing offenses to date this fall to 93 yards on 29 carries. Hunt's score was the first against the Irish by an opposing runner in 2014. Forgive Schmidt if he failed to look at the bright side.

"At the end of the day I still think they did a good job against us," he said. "They had some good plays on stretch, I missed some tackles on that. We really need to get better for next week, but enjoy this win.

"You have to be happy, I guess. I'm hard on myself. I missed a couple tackles and I can't stand that."

Happy, but not satisfied.

Most didn't expect Notre Dame to rank as high as No. 8 in college football's (admittedly inconsequential) polls at September's end. They're a better team than projected by the majority, but it's likewise true that the four opponents they've faced to date have proven to be relatively easy outs.

In short: a win's a win, and four-out-of-four puts Notre Dame in the national conversation. It also offers Kelly an ideal teaching situation.

"I'm a much better teacher after a win," Kelly offered. "Certainly tonight our quarterback can learn from really having a great performance, too."

Golson's 25 consecutive strikes eclipsed the Notre Dame record by a whopping 11 completions. It ultimately fell one short of the FBS record in one game.

It was a performance less marred by his drive-killing turnovers than it was made notable by them. That is, how can a player responsible for five turnovers be far and away the contest's best performer, statistical and otherwise?

"I guess it was me kind of reverting back a little bit," said Golson. "Kind of to my younger days. I expect more out of myself."

He expects to be the best, and Golson could end the season not from from that lofty goal. Considering what he and the Irish have accomplished to date, it's clear expectations have changed in South Bend.

They're on the cusp of becoming contenders, and as such, expect to perform as such.

It's the welcomed price of success with one-third of the 2014 season gone by.


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