I remember listening to comments made by Coach Willingham right after he was hired. He stated his one and only goal was to win. I also remember talking to an "insider" close to the program and listening to him tell me how difficult that was going to be. Coach Willingham inherited a Notre Dame that had nil for confidence and a truckload of doubt. His first goal was to change the thinking of this Notre Dame team because he knows that the difference between winning and losing is often as simple as confidence in oneself. If you want to see a perfect example of this, replay the Notre Dame/Navy game.
The reason you need to replay the game is because you can see two examples of that. The first example would be watching Navy play against Notre Dame. Statistically, Navy does not have a very good defense. They allow a lot of yards on the ground and through the air. They held Notre Dame to 68 total rushing yards and flew to the ball all day. Navy believed they could win this game and certainly played that way.
Notre Dame came out napping and only woke up when they needed to. Even with all the momentum and good things that happened for Navy, when Notre Dame finally woke up, it didn't matter what Navy was doing. Navy lost the game to better athletes. Navy played the way they did because Notre Dame didn't take them seriously. Once Notre Dame gained their confidence; it was all over for the Midshipmen.
Notre Dame fans need to understand something. This team is 9-1 right now. Nobody thought Notre Dame would be 9-1 right now. Even in their loss to Boston College, the Irish didn't stop believing in themselves. Tyrone Willingham has given this team everything they need to win on any given Saturday. He has changed the "here we go again" mentality into "we can beat this team." That is almost always the hardest job for any coach who takes over a struggling team.
What does that mean for this Irish team? The Irish can win some games against better football teams and they can overcome early mistakes against inferior teams. It also means they might have an advantage against teams with similar talent. If you were looking for examples, Florida State, Navy and Michigan would be the perfect three. Florida State is more talented, they overcame mistakes against Navy and they wanted it more that Michigan.
It's not all roses for this Irish football team however. Notre Dame's starting offensive line needs to look in the mirror after this game. In both the Boston College game and the Navy game, this unit has let the team down. Notre Dame should never struggle to gain a yard against Navy. Notre Dame should have converted at least half of their 3rd or 4th and short situations against Boston College. If Notre Dame converts on even one of those situations, Notre Dame is 10-0 right now. There is no logical explanation for Notre Dame pushing around Florida State in the trenches and failing to gain a yard against Navy. This is clearly a lack of focus and execution. Until those problems are solved, Notre Dame will struggle on offense.
The offensive line isn't the only problem with the Irish offense. The Irish backs continue to miss their blitz assignments and they don't hold onto to the football. The wide receivers don't block particularly well either. Holiday misses some open receivers and holds onto the ball too long looking for open receivers. This offense is clearly a work in progress. What is clear to me however is progress is being made.
Now for the good news, Carlyle Holiday is one heck of a leader. I don't know Bill Diedrick or Tyrone Willingham but I would bet if you asked them, they wouldn't want anyone else to build this offense around. Yes, Holiday misses some throws and he holds onto the ball too long at times. He is indecisive on occasion and doesn't always throw off the right foot. What Carlyle does do is make plays and he makes them at the most critical times. Carlyle Holiday is a winner and he has always stepped up and made plays when this offense has needed him to. Carlyle Holiday is a very big reason Notre Dame is 9-1 right now and he is going to win a lot of football game for Notre Dame in the future.
I want to give Navy all the credit in the world. This team played with the same passion that I have seen Notre Dame play with in many games this year. Notre Dame forgot to bring that same passion with them to Baltimore for the first 3 1/2 quarters and the main reason we witnessed a game like this. Still, Navy needs to be congratulated because they gave it everything they had. I love the academies for this reason alone and I certainly hope Notre Dame continues to play Navy every year.
Notre Dame is still 9-1 and they have the one thing that matters most in college football. This team has confidence they can win any game and can find a way to win any game. They have a clear leader in Carlyle Holiday and they have built a foundation for the future of Notre Dame football. They have a week off to heal, build on that confidence and to finish the season strong. They also have a chance to play in a BCS game. I have no idea what there is to complain about. My only complaint is that Brandon Hoyte is not playing every down. Somehow they need to get him on the field for every play.