Notre Dame's 35-17 victory over Michigan on Saturday is something to get excited about. Yes, this wasn't one of the best Wolverine teams to march into Notre Dame Stadium intent on destroying the Irish, but it was a team that left everything they had on the field, and more importantly, they just weren't good enough on that day. It's been awhile since the Irish could say the Wolverines just weren't good enough.
I don't expect it will be long for Michigan to be back to being one of the best football teams in the country, but the good news is that the Irish could very well be on their way to getting there as well…..as it should be for both teams.
The right team showed up on Saturday. The one we all hoped we'd see. Even head coach Charlie Weis wasn't sure which team would show up, but the right team did. Now the trick is to make sure that "right" team continues to show up each and every week—something much easier said than done.
While Michigan did turn the ball over, they made the Irish earn this victory. They played with the same passion and intensity of Notre Dame, but they just didn't make the plays that Notre Dame did. Still, this was an earned victory for the Irish, despite how others will try to spin it.
Saturday's game was a critical game for Weis, and for the Irish. It was a statement win, even though the statement isn't as big as it likely will be in the near future. The Irish and the Wolverines are most likely headed on the same path, a path back to the top, but Saturday's victory is a statement that Notre Dame might be on their way there just a wee bit faster than Michigan.
The win also restores confidence. The Irish team will now play with more confidence. Irish fans will have more confidence in Weis and the job he's doing, and the important recruits will be keeping a very close eye on what's brewing in South Bend.
It was fitting that the '88 championship team was on the sidelines taking it all in. Their 19-17 victory over then No . 9 Michigan on Sept 10, 1988 was their first signature win. The win was a sign that that particular team had something special about them, but we just weren't quite sure what that special something was.
While I don't see this particular squad winning it all this season, I do see signs of this team being like the '88 squad. I think that we'll remember this team as they could likely be the team that finally earns back the respect for the Irish nation…and at this point, respect is all that Irish fans really need. They'll be patient on the championship part as long as they're respectable while they wait.
I also find it interesting that the next three opponents for the '88 squad look pretty familiar. It was Michigan State away (20-3), Purdue at home (52-7) and Stanford at home (42-14). While I don't expect the Irish to beat these three teams by that type of margin, for Saturday's win to truly be a statement win, they'll need a good showing in all three games. If Notre Dame wants to get back to the top, they're going to have to beat the good and not so good teams along the way.
The Heart of a Lion: In 2002, a former walk-on inspired a group of Irish players to reach new heights with his passionate play and never-say-die attitude on the field. Shane Walton became an instant leader on the team as Irish fans and ND teammates marveled at the will, desire, and play of the former ND walk-on. 2008's version of Walton is 5-foo-10, 170-pound defense back Mike Anello. Not only are ND fans taking notice, but I believe so are his teammates. I believe Anello's play has inspired this Irish team as much as anything else that has happened thus far. His effort has fueled a new spirit amongst this ND squad, and it's been a joy to watch this kid continue to play with such confidence and desire. I know the Irish already have team captains, but the true captain of this team might be Anello.
An apology: The Notre Dame offensive line has certainly had their ups and downs through their short career as starters for the Fighting Irish. The lows were low, but the recent highs just might be the beginning. This was a very good Michigan defense they faced on Saturday, and this unit won the game for Notre Dame. When Notre Dame had the opportunity to take advantage of some early turnovers this unit stepped up, did the job, and played very well. They gave the Irish a sizeable lead early, and they produced enough offense in the second half to win the game. I think I can speak for most ND fans in saying "we're sorry we doubted you."
An Injury a Good Thing?: For some reason I think the head coach taking one for the team is going to be a good thing. I'm not sure why, but it's almost as if Weis can now say, "I've bled on the field, I'm one of you now." I don't know why I think this will matter, but I do. It's almost as if everyone, including Weis, has now invested in "Dive Right in." Seeing Pat Kuntz & Co. dump the Gatorade over their hobbled leader as the seconds ticked off was a clue that this team is having fun again, and when a team is having fun, good things usually follow.
Saturday's victory was just one win. It will be meaningless unless this Irish squad can go duplicate that win many more times this season. But it was a good win. It can be a big statement win if the Irish follow up with another victory this coming Saturday. A victory on Saturday might also see the Irish climb back into the top 25, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
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