The win likely erased some doubts about Weis and the direction of the Notre Dame program—at least among some key recruits and current players. There was one point I've been trying to drive home for awhile on display during the game, and that is this team is essentially an executing offensive line away from being a very good team.
When the offensive line gives Jimmy Clausen time to throw the football, suddenly Clausen looks like a Heisman candidate. Out of the blue the Irish running game starts to break off chunks of yardage, opening up the play-action passing game, and then sophomore Golden Tate can do his thing.
The game ball goes to the Irish offensive line. They played outstanding and were very much a big part of Notre Dame's win.
Correct, this game was against 7-6 (at the time) Hawaii, but I don't believe the opponent had much impact on this game. I think this game had more to do with Notre Dame playing up to their talent and playing with confidence more so than Hawaii being the weaker team.
And that has been the problem for awhile. The Irish need to start playing up to their potential. When they do they can play with many of the better teams in the country because they do have talent…..they just don't show it each and every week.
I believe one of the main problems with this team is confidence. If you re-watch the games, or replay them in your mind, think about the games where Notre Dame struggled. Against San Diego State, Michigan State, Boston College and Syracuse the Irish offense got off to a very slow start. That slow start left a depth-deprived Irish defense on the field too long and bad things happened.
In each of those games the Irish kept making frustrating mental mistakes that stopped drives or never allowed drives to get going early in those games. This, in my mind, is the most important thing Weis and the Irish need to work on moving forward. If Weis can get his team executing at a high level early in the game, their chances of winning will be much greater next season.
The great teams do play well early because they're confident and their well coached. They normally get up early on teams and then their talent takes over. If you can make a team one dimensional, as the Irish did to Hawaii on Wednesday, your superior talent then has the opportunity to shine on defense and the result can be eight sacks in a game. If you can stay in the game long enough to get your game plan going, as the Irish did on Wednesday, then you can keep the opposition guessing, which the Irish did against Hawaii. The key is to play well early. If Notre Dame can get off to a fast start they should be able to play with anyone. This should be the "theme" for 2009. If the Irish can get off to a fast start in all their games, they're going to win a lot of them next year.
The good news for this Irish team is that this win should be a real positive heading into the off season. The bad of 2008 is gone, and now this team can focus on the good—their last game—maybe their best performance all season. That should give this team a lot of confidence heading into the off season and spring practice, and it should make for some healthy competition this spring and fall. Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team, and the last thing this team will remember about 2008 is their impressive win over Hawaii when many, including myself, doubted them.
The Hawaii victory also will mean a great deal to Notre Dame in recruiting. Those currently committed to Notre Dame had to feel as good as Notre Dame fans did watching the Irish put on such an impressive display. It was a fun game to watch if you were an Irish fan, on both sides of the ball, so it had to be even more exciting if you're a future member of the team.
We finally saw the firepower of the Irish offense on display again, and more importantly, we saw the future of the Irish defense. Players like freshmen R.J. Blanton, Ethan Johnson and Darius Fleming were making outstanding plays. Sophomores Harrison Smith, Brian Smith and Kerry Neal also had good games for Notre Dame—these six players, among others, will be the future building blocks of what should be a dominating Irish defense. The most impressive display was the true speed the Irish are finally showing on defense. This unit is going to be very athletic and very fun to watch in the future, and there is still a lot of young talent that has yet to hit the field.
On offense we saw much of the same thing. Freshmen Michael Floyd continues to shine, as does freshmen tight end Kyle Rudolph. Sophomores Robert Hughes, Armando Allen Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate also are key members to the future of this team. The preview of freshman Jonas Gray had to get Irish fans excited. This unit has the potential to be truly outstanding next season if they can get the offensive line problems figured out.
The future of the entire Notre Dame football program looks very bright if they can fix their few problems, and I'm certain a few key 2009 recruits left on board were watching and took notice, but just as important were the 2010 prospects also watching and taking notice.
Weis and his staff have set up 2010 recruiting to be one of the best years in recruiting in many years, and this win will give the Irish staff something very positive to sell out on the recruiting trail this winter and spring. I can promise this win will have a big impact on 2010. Anyone watching the Irish play on Wednesday had to be impressed, and I'm quite sure many 2010 prospects were both watching the game and taking notice.
Weis is ¾ of the way there to turning this Irish program back into a top 10 team. The question remains: Can he take them the rest of the way? Wednesday's performance sure gave a lot of people confidence he can.