Still A Lot To Play For

Think the last two games of the season don't matter. What's the difference between 3-9 and 1-11? The Notre Dame football team has already set a program record for the most losses in the program's 119-year history, what's a couple more defeats tacked onto that?

That's garbage, is what that is.

The final two games do matter. When the Irish wrap up the season at home against Duke this coming Saturday, and at Stanford over Thanksgiving weekend, they obviously won't be playing for a bowl bid or for a few extra weeks of practice. They won't be playing to differentiate themselves from a bad team and a good team. But they will be playing for guys like fifth-year seniors Trevor Laws, John Carlson, Tom Zbikowski and John Sullivan, players that were integral parts of two straight Bowl Championship Series runs. Guys that helped head coach Charlie Weis make Notre Dame relevant again, and bring in what's going to be arguably three-straight top-10 recruiting classes.

But even more important than that, the players returning to the program next season have to prove to themselves that they can win a game. They have two more opportunities to do so, or that will be another question mark heading into 2008. Can this young group, because the Irish will be referred to as that for another season (26 different players have made their first-career start this fall), show enough consistency over four quarters to win the game?

Weis certainly realizes that.

"You know, let's go back to just going to win the game, end up with your last game at home with a win, because who is to say, who is to say that September 6th next year against San Diego State, okay, the players are going to know that they are going to win that game or feel they are going to win that game when they haven't been winning games," the third-year head coach explained. "You could sit there and go into the off-season and say, hey, we've got it all fixed now, everything is fine now. Okay, but they need a little taste of it, they need a little taste of that.

"Second, the emotion that you really do play on, okay, which is a little bit different than the first part, is the fact that for the seniors, it's the last time they are ever going to play; and I think that that alone should have enough impetus for the players to be ready to play for the seniors for the last time out there, they should want to play. And for anyone who is not a senior, they had better be playing for them, because this the last time they are going to be able to walk out and play at this stadium."

I said last week that this season was one big brutal mulligan. But to take a mulligan, you have to at least shown you can hit a drive right down the middle of the fairway, and the Irish have yet to show they can play a complete game. The team has shown they can play well on certain plays and on a few series, but they never seem to steamroll momentum. They tie the game up against Air Force this past weekend, but then the Falcons roll up 21-straight points to virtually put the game away.

There are several situations like that this season.

While there is tons of young talent, and it has been flashed on game day, how much concentration is there on the players part? Weis is certainly to blame for some of the problems, but he has done a good job of putting players in positions to win before. The Irish players this year continue to make blatant mental errors that leave the media in the press box shaking their heads, and you likely at home.

Weis had seen enough, likely had going back to the opener against Georgia Tech, and let his guys have it after the game.

"Well, my tone wasn't very pleasant, okay," the four-time Super Bowl champion offensive coordinator, and director of two Irish BCS bowl bids stated. "My message is I think that I'm 51 years old; my greatest attribute professionally is as a teacher. That's my greatest attribute. I've always been able to teach at a very high level, and the subject happens to be football. It's just like a professor and a subject and my subject happens to be football.

"I've always been able to do a good job of getting my message across and regardless of the age of the student, I've been able to figure out in a classroom where there's different levels of football intelligence what they needed to do to understand what we are doing, okay, and being able to take it from the classroom to the practice field, and then see it applied on the game field.

"It's one thing when you see those things applied on the practice field, but then it doesn't correlate or you don't see the corresponding thing on game day," Weis continued. And I think that that's my biggest frustration where, you know we didn't all of a sudden put a package in and practice hit and come out to the game you don't have it right.

"So as I always do, I told them that as a teacher, I'll consider that as I'm not getting the job done. But as a student, especially a bunch of young, intelligent guys, you would like to think that there would be a direct correlation between the classroom and the practice field to the game."

And it's the old guys and young guys alike that are failing to translate what they're learning on the practice field consistently to the field on game day. Though it would be nice for the old guys to go out with a couple wins, and enjoy wearing a Notre Dame jersey two more times, it's more important for the young players like Jimmy Clausen, James Aldridge, Armando Allen, Duval Kamara, Ian Williams, Kerry Neal, Brian Smith, Darrin Walls and others to work on a game plan the week of practice, and see it translate in a consistent fashion for a win on game day.

That's what these final two games represent. Some evidence that this young talented team can win in 2008. Winning next season will be pure speculation throughout the spring and fall camp in the media's eyes, but at least victories over Duke and Stanford give the players something to build off of. So these two games indeed matter.

They matter a lot.

"It's very frustrating," sophomore guard Dan Wenger stated. "We come out every week, we work hard, we do whatever it takes. There have been multiple approaches that players and coaches have taken, and it's just something that hasn't caught on yet. But I speak for myself and many of the other guys in there that we're not going to give up. We're going to keep coming out and we're going to keep doing it until it's right." Top Stories