Nov. 19, 1999
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Tom O'Brien hasn't forgotten last year's loss to
Notre Dame. He doesn't want to.
Down five points at home with 1:07 left, Boston College had four shots to
win the game from inside the 4-yard line. All four came up empty.
"The one thing that we focused on this year, coming into the season, was
mental toughness, the ability to play 60 minutes and be mentally tough,"
O'Brien said. "That loss has played a major role in making us the team we are
Three years ago, O'Brien was just trying to find a way to survive. Consecutive 4-7
seasons didn't do much to raise the spirits around Chestnut Hill, either.
But now the Golden Eagles are ranked No. 25 in the latest Associated Press
poll and are trying to position themselves for a decent bowl game, which would
receive a huge boost with a win at Notre Dame (5-5) on Saturday.
"We're starting to reap the dividends," O'Brien said.
It's a completely different story for the Irish.
After preseason talk of competing for a national championship, Notre Dame is
struggling to finish with a winning record.
Twenty-one scholarship players on the roster to start the year won't play
Saturday because of injury, suspension of transfer. The offense has been
inconsistent, and a defense that prides itself on a bend-but-don't-break
philosophy has been breaking lately.
Perhaps the lowest moment of the season came last week when the Irish lost
37-27 to Pittsburgh in the final game at Pitt Stadium.
"I think this football team is a little bit drained emotionally," coach
Bob Davie said. "Their pride is hurt right now. They are a little bit
embarrassed right now. And I think we will respond favorably to it."
The Irish have good reason to be ashamed.
They have only 14 sacks, and opposing teams are converting 46 percent of
their third-down opportunities.
The pride of any Notre Dame offense, the running game, has been hit and
miss. The Irish averaged 263 yards rushing in their five wins and just 104 in
their five losses.
And while the offense is putting up more than 421 yards and 28 points a
game, they also have 25 turnovers and have allowed 29 sacks.
"It's real tough, but there's still some light at the end of the tunnel,"
said Tony Fisher, one of only two healthy Irish tailbacks. "There's a big
sense of urgency. Like coach Davie said, we're pretty much backed in a corner.
We've just got to go out and fight. It's just like boxing. You get in the
corner and you've got to hurry up and fight your way out of it."
The Irish have no choice but to fight now. They need to win Saturday and
next week at Stanford just to finish above .500. If they don't, it'll be the
first time in 13 seasons that the Irish haven't been bowl ineligible.