Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 SEPT. 19, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME Five Questions With … WOMEN'S SOCCER COACH THERESA ROMAGNOLO After taking the reins of the Notre Dame women's soccer program in March 2014, Theresa Romagnolo guided the Irish to a 28-11-3 record in her first two seasons. This year, the Irish got off to a 5-1-0 start during which they allowed only two goals. BGI: What's been the key to the defensive success (five shutouts) in the first six games? Romagnolo: "Everyone has been defending as a group and attacking as a group. I think it starts in the front with our forwards doing the work … and I think Kaela Little, our goalkeeper, has done a great job of organizing everything that is in front of her. "She's been doing an exceptional job back there and instilling a lot of confi- dence in some of the younger players around her." BGI: Where do you think the team stands right now as far as where you thought they would be heading into the season at this point? Romagnolo: "A month ago, I think we looked like a totally different team. We've been building off of that point. "Right now, my focus is on getting better at little each details each day that can add up to making us great at the end of the season." BGI: Through six games, what has been the biggest difference in this year's team compared to last year's team? Romagnolo: "Inexperience. I think last year's team was a well-oiled machine. They just ran. There weren't a ton of changes from the year before. A lot of those players played in big games and played big minutes. "This year, as a group, you see a lot of players where this is their first year starting and first year playing in some big games. There's a big learning curve with them. Early on, we went away to Michigan and we looked inexperienced when we were on the road." BGI: How would you compare this team to where it needs to be in or- der to win a championship? Romagnolo: "I don't think you can predict that right now. It's so early. From what I've seen so far this year in college soccer, there is a ton of parity out there. Everybody is beating everybody and everybody is losing to everybody. … "It's going to be about what team gets hot and stays healthy and is peaking at the right time. I would always put Notre Dame in that mix." BGI: Through six games, what would you say is the biggest strength of the team and biggest weakness? Romagnolo: "We've played so differently in so many games. I think that's been the most interesting thing this year — the lack of consistency early on. I would have to say on the whole we've defended well for the most part. "The area for us to improve on would be our offensive ideas. That just comes with playing together as a group and getting used to the type of movements of your teammates." — Corey Bodden The Play Was A Game-Changer By Matt Jones There was no question the controversial hit on senior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. changed the complexion of the Texas game. Without Hunter, the Irish lost their main receiving threat and a solid blocker, which contributed to the sluggish offense late in the game. Without Hunter in the game — meaning the fourth quarter and overtime — Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer was just 3-of-7 passing for 48 yards. Seventeen of those yards were on a wheel route touchdown to sophomore running back Josh Adams, a scoring play that gave the Irish a 35-31 lead. Another 25 yards came on a screen pass to sophomore slot receiver C.J. Sanders on Notre Dame's open- ing play of overtime. Sanders caught the ball one yard behind the line of scrimmage and evaded several defenders to score a touchdown. Yes, Kizer still had breakout sophomore wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown as an available option. But St. Brown's five-catch, 75-yard and two-touchdown performance did not include a single reception without Hunter Jr. in the game. While Notre Dame tallied 14 points through the air without Hunter Jr., it lacked a downfield threat and safety blanket for Kizer late in the game. The best example of that was on Kizer's decision to throw to freshman wideout Kevin Stepherson — who played 25 snaps in his first college game — on a critical third-down play in the second overtime. Kizer misfired badly, forcing the Irish to kick a field goal. Without one of its captains and the most reliable receiver, Notre Dame's passing attack took a hit without Hunter Jr. in the game, and it cost the Irish a win. Notre Dame Didn't Close The Deal … Again By Lou Somogyi If the final score at Texas had remained 31-28 in favor of the Longhorns at the end of regulation time, I too would lament the egregious non-call on the defenseless Torii Hunter Jr. in the third quarter a little bit. Yet after Notre Dame had its field goal attempt blocked, the defense forced a punt that C.J. Sanders returned 40 yards to set up the touchdown that gave the Irish a 35-31 lead with 10:57 remaining. Now you have what everyone desires: control of your own destiny. Upon head coach Brian Kelly's arrival at Notre Dame in 2010, a stat he pointed to with pride was of "finishing." In his last 43 games at Cincinnati and Central Michigan where his teams had a lead in the fourth quarter, they were 42-1. In his second and third games at Notre Dame, the Irish lost to Michigan and Michigan State after holding a fourth-quarter lead. The same happened six games later versus Tulsa. It occurred again at Michigan in 2011, Florida State and Northwestern in 2014, and Stanford last year. That is why Notre Dame remains a team and not a program — it is an "almost" team that keeps talking about being "one or two plays away." Yes, you didn't have Hunter, but the No. 1-ranked offensive line in college football by Pro Football Focus, a high-end quarterback and a good running game didn't finish in its last two possessions of regulation. The defense, like at Stanford last year, couldn't close the deal. You want to be among the Big Boys? Finish! Coffee is for closers, as actor Alec Baldwin noted about sales. Point ✦ Counterpoint: DID THE HIT ON TORII HUNTER JR. AND THE MISSED TARGETING CALL COST NOTRE DAME THE WIN AT TEXAS? Now in her third season at Notre Dame, Romagnolo has posted a record of 33-12-3 with the Irish as of Sept. 8. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS TORII HUNTER JR.

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