NOTRE DAME, Ind. – What a difference a week makes.
Notre Dame left Charlottesville last Saturday 12 seconds away from ignominious defeat and thus left for dead in its quest for the all-or-nothing destination known as the College Football Playoffs.
The team’s fans, its daily media, and a portion of national pundits forgot one crucial truth in their collective vision of “playoffs-or-bust.”
The journey is the thing.
The Irish looked invincible against Texas, unimpressive at Virginia, and now, as we wake up Sunday morning, on top of the world after stifling the supposedly unstoppable triple-option of Georgia Tech.
Three weeks, three wins, disparate means to those ends. Wholly different impressions made.
Identical outcomes. Three down, nine to go.
“The plan and developing the plan, and then the execution of the plan is really the fun part of it for us,” said head coach Brian Kelly post-game. “I don’t think it’s fun when you don’t see the execution part work as well. But seeing it come to fruition and seeing it come together, seeing your kids really play with confidence – that’s what we asked them to do, to play with some confidence today. I think that was the fun part today.”
It was fun because the same defense that surrendered four 75-yard touchdown drives last week in Charlottesville forced Georgia Tech into its first SIX three-and-out possessions of the 2015 season.
It was fun for the Irish faithful because no amateur football player can cover Will Fuller, and it appears precious few can cleanly tackle a hard-charging C.J. Prosise, either. And it was especially fun because normal bit players such as Greer Martini, Drue Tranquill, Matthias Farley, and Jerry Tillery starred in supporting roles.
“Just the preparation, being in there, getting my chance,” said Martini of his fun afternoon. “I just have a natural knack for the triple-option. Coming down hill and making some plays. It just allows me to play fast. I don’t really have to think much. Most of the time I go hit the fullback or scrape outside.
“It’s not too tough.”
Not to tough to run and hit, to block and run, and to throw and catch. Fun on an autumn Saturday afternoon – the weight of expectations nowhere to be found.
Why can’t they all be like that?
“I wasn’t worried about where we were going to be, win or lose,” said Kelly. “I mean, I want to win and these kids want to win. What I like about it is it’s a program win because it says that you can overcome injuries, you can overcome adversity.”
The Irish received more of the former Saturday with the loss of Tranquill to a knee injury in the second quarter. Three games played, six starters down, but Notre Dame marches on.
LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT
Already this season an Irish player has authored, A.) the latest game-winning touchdown pass in program history, and B.) the longest rush in Notre Dame Stadium history.
Player B worked at a different position in 2014 while Player A didn’t play at all – and wasn’t supposed to Saturday. Yet the college football world thinks it understands the sport’s ever-changing landscape with a season still in its infancy.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and Kelly was spot on when he once noted that a football schedule often plays out as “12 separate seasons.” For most teams, even contenders, each Saturday is unique unto itself, yet we talk in absolutes that in reality, don’t exist.
The loss of junior triggerman Malik Zaire last Saturday resulted in a week-long malaise among Notre Dame’s fan base. Fortunately, the program’s combatants between the lines and on the headsets didn’t follow suit.
Single-minded in their task and focus, the Irish avoided all irrelevant noise.
“All the experts picked Georgia Tech to win this game,” said Kelly. “Didn’t faze our team at all.”
Neither did an end zone interception thrown by Kizer nor a blitzkrieg drive of four plays and 80 yards from Tech that tied the score at seven early in the second quarter.
Notre Dame owned the rest of the day thereafter. And on Sunday, September 20, they’re one of three, perhaps four teams along with Ole Miss, LSU, and Stanford, that for the next 48-72 hours, will own the sport’s
(Future foe Stanford looked a little different in Week Three than Week One, eh?)
Another team will rise next week as Notre Dame simultaneously wins its innocuous matchup with overmatched Massachusetts. Then it’s back to the main stage for the Irish. Back to the grind and an October gauntlet of foes that will look alternately unbeatable and underwhelming along the way.
So will Kelly’s Irish. Again.
It’s modern college football, and Notre Dame’s 2015 edition, Team #127, has as good a chance as any.
Better for those of us outside the lines to sit back and enjoy the view.