When Notre Dame kicks off the 2014 season on Saturday against Rice, the Irish will face the first of 11 teams on their 2014 schedule that they have played before. What’s interesting, and potentially alarming for Notre Dame fans, is that the Irish have lost the last meeting with six of them.
With that many foes on the 2014 schedule who have gotten the better of Notre Dame in the past two things are clear to me – 1) yes, Notre Dame is facing a very difficult schedule this year and 2) while the schedule is challenging, it also offers up the chance to Notre Dame to get a little pay back this year.
Here’s a rundown of the six 2014 opponents who have beaten Notre Dame the last time the two squared off and what Notre Dame needs to d for a more favorable outcome in 2014.
What happened last time: Loss 41-30, 2013 in Ann Arbor. Just last year Notre Dame made their last scheduled trip to Ann Arbor for a night game against the rival Wolverines. Michigan jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter but after settling in Notre Dame was able to battle back. A killer interception right before half-time however turned a 7 point Michigan lead into a 14 point lead. Notre Dame was able to battle back to within 4 points at 34-30 in the fourth quarter but never got closer. A second Tommy Rees interception in the end-zone with over four minutes remaining was the final nail in the coffin for Notre Dame.
While the Rees turnovers were both deadly, the defensive performance by Notre Dame had just as much to do with Notre Dame’s latest deflating loss in the Big House. Notre Dame had no answer for the Michigan offense allowing 460 total yards including 166 on the ground. Just as Notre Dame had done in 2010 and 2011 with Denard Robinson, the Irish defense made Devin Gardner look like a Heisman candidate that night. Gardner did not have another performance nearly as impressive all season.
What they’ll have to do to get revenge: On paper, Notre Dame has a more talented team this year, but talent levels rarely matter in this series. Both teams have found ways of playing their best game of the season against the other when one has been up and the other has been down. Unfortunately for Notre Dame it’s been Michigan playing the role of having their best performance of the season against the Irish lately. For Notre Dame to win this year and get revenge, the offense is going to have to score a lot of points. The final score could very well be just as high scoring as last year when the two combined for 71 points. Bet the over in two weeks and bet on this one not playing out as predicted. I still think Notre Dame gets Michigan this year, but it’s definitely a toss up at this point.
What happened last time: Loss 24-23, 2008 at Notre Dame. There may not be a game that exemplifies the Charloe Weis era at Notre Dame more than the 2008 loss to a dreadful Syracuse team. Just a couple days after a more than a foot of snow hit South Bend, Notre Dame lost to one of the worst teams (records wise) it has ever loss to despite looking at times throughout the game that the offense, or at least Golden Tate, couldn’t be stopped. Students hurled snowballs at the field throughout the game all while a 5-star linebacker recruit from Hawaii visited the Irish only to watch most of the second half inside the Irish locker room because of the cold.
Syracuse ended up scoring the go ahead touchdown with 42 seconds left for a one point victory. Notre Dame nearly pulled off a miraculous comeback when Jimmy Clausen connected with Tate for a 40 yard gain on 4th and 10 on the ensuing drive, but in the frigid weather a Brandon Walker desperation 53 yard field goal attempt fell short. The loss ranks as one of the worst in school history as the Irish were a 19.5 point favorite and surrendered a 13 point fourth quarter lead. Amazingly though, Notre Dame still landed Te’o and four years later Te’o collected nearly every major college award so not all was lost that day.
What they’ll have to do to get revenge: Notre Dame should not have to do a whole lot to get revenge for the 2008 loss. The Irish have a bye week in between the Purdue and Syracuse games and while the Orange have won bowl games in three of the last four seasons, it will be a long season if the Irish lose this one. This is one of the games in the 2014 schedule that should not be a problem for Notre Dame. Granted I’m sure I said the same thing about the 2008 game at the time.
What happened last time: Loss 27-20, 2013 in Palo Alto. Notre Dame traveled to Northern California last Thanksgiving weekend without too much on the line. A BCS Bowl bid flew out the window when they lost to Pitt. Notre Dame gave Stanford all they could handle but just never could seem to make a big play on offense when they really needed it. The Irish closed the gap to seven in the fourth quarter but despite having a couple of opportunities to tie the game after getting stops from the defense, they never got closer than seven points. The final nail in the coffin was another Tommy Rees interception. This time it came at the Stanford 30 yard line with just over two minutes remaining one play after Rees converted a 3rd and 4 situation.
What they’ll have to do to get revenge: Notre Dame is going to have to do exactly what they did in 2012 against Stanford to get some revenge on the Cardinal – play physical, smashmouth football. Brian Kelly has mentioned Ben Councell as a player who is going to play a lot against more physical teams and the Irish will need a big effort from him and the rest of the front seven if they are to pull off the upset. Offensively, Everett Golson had some success on the Stanford defense two years ago but had a couple crippling turnovers – that can’t happen this year for Notre Dame to have a chance in this one.
What happened last time: Loss 29-24, 2008 in Chapel Hill. Notre Dame came into Chapel Hill with a 4-1 records with BCS bowl dreams still in their minds, but the Irish couldn’t get out of their own way. Notre Dame turned the ball over five times against the Tar Heels and ended up losing despite controlling the ball much of the game. Notre Dame out-gained North Carolina by 150 yards and held the ball for six more minutes. Even with being -5 in turnover margin, the Irish had a chance to pull off the win at the end. Facing a 4th and 13 with 11 seconds left, Jimmy Clausen connected with Michael Floyd for a 24 yard gain to the North Carolina 9 yard line. Floyd fumbled the ball away, however, and Carolina recovered to seal the victory.
What they’ll have to do to get revenge: The Tar Heels started the 2013 season 1-5 before rebounding for a 7-6 finish including a win over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. On paper, this is a game that Notre Dame should win in 2014, but coming a week after what could be a slugfest against Stanford could be a wildcard here. Assuming Notre Dame makes it through their matchup with Stanford without too many bruises, the Irish should get revenge here. Carolina rebounded nicely last year, but their wins came against some suspect competition and the Tar Heels have depth and experience issues on defense – especially in the secondary. This is a game in which Golson and the Irish passing attack could shine.
What happened last time: Loss 18-14, in 2011 in the Champs Sports Bowl. It’s kinda of crazy to think about how different the paths have been for these two programs since the 2011 Champs Bowl. A year later Notre Dame played for the national title before being blown out by Alabama. Then last year Florida State made their way to the title game and looked like they were going to be blown out by a SEC foe as well before storming back and capturing the final championship of the BCS Era. In that Champs Bowl, the Seminoles used a similar script. Notre Dame jumped out to the early lead and looked poised to cruise to an easy victory before surrendering a 14-3 fourth quarter lead. Notre Dame almost regained their lead late in the fourth, but a Tommy Rees pass was intercepted at the goal line with just under three minutes left.
What they’ll have to do to get revenge: Of all of the games on this list, this will be the one that is by far the toughest for the Irish to get revenge. Florida State is the odds on favorite to repeat as national champions this year. For Notre Dame to go down to Tallahassee and pull off the upset and avenge that 2011 loss, a lot is going to have to go right for them. They will need a performance similar to what we saw against USC in 2005 where Notre Dame gets a special teams score and some timely turnovers. This one will be a game where the luck of the Irish will need to be on Notre Dame’s side.
What happened last time: Loss 17-15, in 1995 at Notre Dame. Every other opponent on this list has beaten Notre Dame within the last six years except Northwestern. The Irish haven’t faced the Wildcats since they upset Lou Holtz and the 1995 Fighting Irish in the season opener before going on a magical run that took them to the Rose Bowl out of nowhere. Notre Dame’s defense couldn’t stop Darnell Autry that day and the Pat Fitzgerald led defense held Notre Dame to just 15 points a year after Notre Dame put up 42 points on them thanks to four touchdown passes by Ron Powlus in his collegiate debut. Notre Dame was a 28 point favorite in 1995 prompting the Chicago Sun Times to called it the “Upset of the Century”.
What they’ll have to do to get revenge. It’s been so long since these two teams last played that there will be a good number of players on the field in November for both schools who weren’t even born when Northwestern went on their wild ride 19 years ago. One player from that exact game, however, will be on the field in the form of Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. This game actually worries me a little because of Fitzgerald’s connection to their last upset and the emotional factor that will be in Northwestern’s favor. This game also comes a week after Notre Dame has to travel to Tempe to take on Arizona State. Notre Dame should win this game, but the elements are there for it to be tougher than it ought to be.