Payback won’t be part of this process.
Not for these players. Not for this program.
A central storyline for the next game up for No. 2 Notre Dame was dusted off and given a fresh spin mere minutes after the student body was done rushing the field (social distance, please) following last week’s win over top-ranked and undefeated Clemson. Remember what happened the following week the last time Notre Dame beat the nation’s No. 1 team at home? Who did Notre Dame play?
Up next after Clemson?
Oh, the storylines, right? Just stop. There’s no revenge in play. There’s no payback in mind. No, finally gonna get ‘em back bluster. Boston College pulled off the stunner of stunners in 1993 after Notre Dame jumped to the top of the college football world with its upset of Florida State. It’s since been over a quarter of a century, and it’s time for the Irish to return the favor. Nice and easy and efficient angle, right?
Sure, if any of the current Irish were even alive when 1993 happened. Nobody on this team knows about it. Nobody likely even cares. This isn’t about winning one for the lisper (Lou Holtz) or having Dr. Amber Selking, the team’s mental performance coach, help these guys visualize winning to help ease any burden still shouldered by former linebacker Pete Bercich, who had the game-sealing interception in his hands on the drive that ended with David Gordon’s winning field goal. This isn’t even about getting even with Gordon, now a hockey dad in New England.
David Gordon or Flash Gordon? These Irish don’t know the difference. This one is about this team and this time and this year. Go and ask the Irish about 1993. You’ll get a whole lot of blank stares and quizzical looks in return.
“I had no idea,” left tackle Liam Eichenberg said earlier this week when asked about that last-second field goal that squelched a possibly perfect Irish season.
Even Irish coach Brian Kelly, a New England native, refused to go down that 1993 road for this one. No use bringing up the past when there’s so much to play for in the present, and the future, for this team. Notre Dame sits in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 7-0, 6-0 in the league. The Irish are the No. 2 team in the country. Should the season end today, they’d have a spot in the College Football Playoff for the second time in three seasons. They’ve won 13 straight since their last loss over a calendar year and change ago. They’re too good to focus on any payback.
As good as they’ve been, they believe they can be better. Getting there requires working through their weekly process. The training room on Sunday. The film room on Monday. The practice field the next three days. Work hard. Work smart. Practice good habits. Then go through what’s become a road routine (this will be the third road game the last four weeks) of getting on a plane, getting some sleep and getting to work.
“You have a target on your back,” Kelly said. “That’s really much more relevant than the historical significance of this game. It’s more about where your mind is at and who you’re playing.”
The next one
Notre Dame knows who it’s playing, and who’s playing quarterback (a former Irish quarterback who almost gave up the position and the game before finding a rebirth in The Heights). As far as where the Irish minds are at? It will be interesting to see.
This week’s likely been anything but easy for Notre Dame. The Irish typically give themselves 24 hours to celebrate wins. You can bet they used every last second of that time this week after doing what many thought couldn’t be done — beating Clemson for the first time in a league game since 2017. That hangover probably pushed into Monday and even trickled into Tuesday.
A lot of questions asked of the Irish during the weekly Zoom media session centered on the final moments of the Clemson game and the maniacal aftermath. Playing Boston College? Outside of facing former teammate Phil Jurkovec, that was way down the question priority list.
To top it off, this week marked the end of the fall semester. A week of final exams (during the bye week) await. After that, the Irish won’t be students again until February. Some players have likely taken their last college class.
Oh, and there’s also a game to play. A big game. At Notre Dame, they’re all big. Eichenberg admitted Tuesday that he was tired of talking about Clemson. Tired of being asked about Clemson. Tired of taking texts about Clemson. Beating Clemson was cool, but it assured Notre Dame nothing this season. Nothing.
Clemson’s done. Boston College awaits. That had to be the focus.
“If I’m being honest, that game’s in the past,” said Eichenberg, who’s nothing if not honest, sometimes brutally, but in the best way. “We need to play B.C. It’s not going to be a walk in the park.”
Let alone one down Memory Lane. There are no shortage of challenges for the Irish in this one. Yet it’s not history or the opponent or the academic work that awaits their return to campus.
“The biggest challenge would be to be disciplined enough to focus on this week,” said middle linebacker Drew White. “The biggest hurdle would be for everyone on the team to be in the same boat and make sure everyone’s focused on Boston College.”
Judging by Tuesday’s practice, White said, everyone’s in one boat and rowing one direction. That day featured plenty of good energy, and very little Clemson clutter. It saw guys flying around on both sides of the ball. It seemed a group focused on what’s next instead of what’s already happened.
“We’re on to B.C. and we’re rolling,” White said. “We’re looking to dominate. Really no different.”
That mindset might separate this team from previous ones. They’ll work their process. They’ll focus when it’s time to focus. They won’t worry about the past 27 years or past 27 days. It’s been Boston College, 2020 all week. It will be Boston College 2020 on Saturday, albeit in an empty Alumni Stadium.
“We can’t go around our day and not focus on our task,” said defensive end Ade Ogundeji. “B.C.’s a good team. We gotta go out there and play hard just like we did against Clemson.
“We can’t (take) our foot off the pedal.”
Or look in the rearview mirror. Nobody cares what’s back there.