Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Three plays, all of them in the final minute, are the difference in Notre Dame's season right now. The Fighting Irish could easily be 1-3 had a couple of them gone differently.
Instead, they're sitting at 3-1 with Washington coming to South Bend this week. And though it's not the sturdiest 3-1 record ever produced, head coach Charlie Weis isn't making any apologies for it.
"It's not exactly utopia where you have to play like that," Weis said. "People can debate on the status of a team, but the bottom line is you're 3-and-1, and you're 3-and-1 for a reason.
"The critical factor more than anything is the fact that we've gotten back-to-back wins, one at home, one on the road, one by the defense, won one by the offense. And I think that bodes well for the future of this team."
A quick review of the recent past:
Notre Dame lost 38-34 to Michigan when Tate Forcier threw a touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in Ann Arbor. The Irish had a chance to run out the clock before the Wolverines' game-winning drive but failed to do so.
Safety Kyle McCarthy intercepted a pass at his own 4-yard line with 57 seconds to go as Notre Dame held off Michigan State 33-30. Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins had missed a wide open receiver in the end zone moments earlier.
Jimmy Clausen, returning to the game for the final drive on his injured toe, fired a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph with 24 seconds left to give the Irish a 24-21 win at Purdue on Saturday. Purdue coach Danny Hope curiously called a timeout with 16 seconds left, allowing Weis a chance to draw up two more plays instead of having to spike the ball and stop the clock.
So is Notre Dame lucky to have won two of those three toss-up games? Or is the team showing some late-game fortitude? Remember, after all, that last week's win came on the road without injured offensive stars Michael Floyd and Armando Allen and with Clausen nowhere near 100 percent.
Weis, not surprisingly, prefers the grittiness explanation. He said he thinks this team turned a corner when it pulled out the Michigan State game
"When Kyle (McCarthy) made that play, the team said, 'Oh, something good can happen at the end of the game,'" Weis said. "And I think the composure the team showed at the end of the game (at Purdue) was excellent, because normally on the sideline you could feel a deflated team, and you never felt that at all. With Jimmy out there, and him being so confident about running the team, you never felt that way."
Clausen's demeanor, Weis said, has totally changed this year to the point where he's the undisputed leader. During that timeout before the touchdown at Purdue, Clausen knew he was going to throw a touchdown pass, Weis said.
"He's always been a confident kid but not with the air of confidence he has now," Weis said. "It's not just his confidence, it's everyone's confidence in him."
The Irish won't get spooked if they end up in another down-to-the-wire game because of their experience and because of their quarterback. And the way things are going, there's a good chance they'll find themselves in that situation again this week.