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Closing Games, Opening Doors

Posted By Jordan Lauterbach On Oct 17 2010 @ 12:13 am In Notre Dame | No Comments

   Closing is the hardest thing to do in any individual sport. Not only does a team have to take a lead and hold it, they have to make sure that all possible opposite momentum is eliminated. It’s ending the game before the clock does. It’s, to a degree, controlling the uncontrollable.  Some teams do it well; some can’t do it at all. Notre Dame showed on Saturday that they can close games, something they haven’t been able to do at all in the recent past.

            This one had major disaster potential at the half. Notre Dame had dominated. After all, the first offensive snap of the game was a 80 yard touchdown to Michael Floyd. 7 – 0 Irish, and it wasn’t even 2:45pm yet. But, by halftime, Notre Dame held only a ten point lead. The scary thing was, it didn’t feel like a ten point lead. It felt like a forty point lead.

            Irish fan’s had seen this too many times. Let a big dog stay in the game at home and it’s bound to bite you in the backside. Penalties and bone headed, two thirds of the how – to – let – a – bad – team – stick – around formula, were in full effect. If you knew this team you knew the turnovers were next.

            The second half was different. Those turnovers never came. Notre Dame controlled the pace of play, forced Western Michigan to turn the ball over, and made running the football an impossibility. It was completely different from what this team had done in years passed. As Jimmy Clausen watched his former team from the sidelines, he saw nothing of the patterns that dominated his career.

            For the second consecutive week, the Irish showed that they are a maturing team. The progress that wasn’t being made in September has begun to take shape. Putting inferior teams away before the fourth quarter isn’t the mark of a good team (beating other good teams is), but it’s certainly a start. Brian Kelly preached all week that Notre Dame wasn’t that good and shouldn’t take anybody lightly. He was right and his teams responded.

            Dayne Crist has quietly become more consistent. The lulls that were their in September aren’t as evident anymore. A few reasons for this exist. First, the opponents haven’t been nearly as good. Second, he understands the offense better. Remember when Brian Kelly would scream at Crist on the sideline and he’d look at his coach with a “what are you talking about” expression on his face? That isn’t happening anymore, or at least it isn’t happening as much.

            The third, and perhaps biggest reason, why Crist has played better lately is the development of a running game. Although Armando Allen (sore hip) was nowhere to be found on Saturday, Robert Hughes and blog favorite Cierre Wood both averaged over seven and a half yards a carry. It was Wood’s most impressive showing since week one and Hughes most impressive showing of the season. Nice to see that the Irish have two other solid options at the running back position.      

            As we predicted (well, sort of) in the preview column this week, the loss of Kyle Rudolph wasn’t really felt. Michael Floyd and Dayne Crist continue to develop chemistry. Floyd had three touchdown catches. Tyler Eifert fit in nicely with four catches.

            Defensively, Notre Dame stopped the run expertly. Slowly but surely this team has become somewhat difficult to run on and that showed on Saturday. Western Michigan, who has had success running the football at points this season, racked up a robust 37 yards. Again, not a good team, but progress is clearly being made.

            That’s what this season has been about and that’s what this game moved along further – progress. The program has sunk to such a level that even a win against a MAC team (and a really bad one at that) can be looked at as something to hang a hat on. The biggest message of the last three games has been this – it’s working. Whatever Brian Kelly is trying to do to get the Irish back to a BCS bowl is working.

            The building of a program starts with wins like this. All programs need to walk before they run and yesterday, Notre Dame walked all over Western Michigan.

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