Thursday, September 28, 2017 6:00 am
Irish giving their fans reason to believe
CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame is off to a 3-1 start, and it easily could be 4-0.
If you're a fan of the 22nd-ranked Irish, do you believe in this team? Or are you reluctant to buy in because of the late-season fades of the recent past and that ugly 4-8 campaign in 2016?
"In any sport, to stay at your peak performance is difficult, but we've trained to do that," said Drue Tranquill, a team captain. "We're going to continue to come with the mindset of dominating and punishing each and every one of our opponents."
This team is flawed and far from a juggernaut, but Notre Dame has erased two of its bugaboos from last season (an inability to come up with takeaways and too many killer mistakes on special teams) while showing more cohesion.
What the Irish are doing is really simple. It starts with a good plan from the coaches, and here's all the proof you need on that: They have been an exceptional first-quarter team, outscoring opponents 123-54. That means they're well-prepared and seldom playing from behind.
"We came out with intensity (to start games)," tailback Josh Adams said. "We trusted in our training."
Does coach Brian Kelly's team have staying power? The answer is an absolute yes. Barring a spate of injuries or a significant regression on defense, the Irish aren't going away.
There will be skeptics, of course. Isn't skepticism toward the Irish part of their fans' DNA after years of not living up to so many grandiose expectations? Sure, but there are reasons to think this season will end differently than others that held promise.
Kelly is a winner. With a career mark of 232-89, he wasn't going to be down two years in a row.
"Each week you've kind of got to take a deep breath after each Saturday," linebacker Greer Martini said. "Coach Kelly stood up in front of us and said, 'Hey, take a deep breath.' This was on Monday."
A favorable upcoming schedule means the Irish should be 5-1 going into their bye week. After facing a 2-2 Miami (Ohio) team on Saturday, Notre Dame plays at North Carolina (1-3) on Oct. 7. Then that open week sets up nicely because it gives Kelly an extra seven days of preparation before the Oct. 21 showdown with No. 5 Southern California.
By the way, if both teams continue to take care of business, that will be the biggest USC-Notre Dame showdown in five seasons.
If quarterback Brandon Wimbush continues to grow up, Notre Dame has the ability to get better on offense, assuming the wide receivers behind Equanimeous St. Brown get more comfortable.
And, finally, while many teams are struggling with health, the Irish have a short injury list. Their only concern is rotational defensive tackle Elijah Taylor, who has been out all year with a foot injury. Shaun Crawford's surgically repaired foot is fine. Third-string tailback Tony Jones Jr. (ankle) should be able to return this week. The only player not coming back is wideout Freddy Canteen, and he was an unproven commodity, anyway.
Notre Dame's players aren't at all surprised to be 3-1.
"We're going to do our darndest," left tackle Mike McGlinchey said, "to keep it moving."
Go ahead. It's OK to believe.