Five HUGE mistakes, each self-inflicted, compounded to help Notre Dame lose to a game, gritty Pitt Panther squad 28-21. The Irish offense is not yet eploxsive enough to overcome multiple errors, and, in Heinz Field, for the third time this season, the “chickens came home to roost.” The 2012 Irish did not beat themselves, but this team has. The loss ended the Life Suport for Notre Dames barely palpitating BCS dreams.
THE FIVE SELF-INFLICTED STAB WOUNDS.
(We will not discuss here Tom Savage’s “entrapment” of Stephon Tuitt’s alleged ”targeting” penalty and disqualification. That was Zebra-inflicted, not self-inflicted. Zebras happen. For the data-hungry, the Panthers had rushed for 17 yards before the zebras Sacco and Vanzetti’d Tuitt.)
Senior Captain T. J. Jones, with the score tied at 7 and the Irish at the Pitt 40 slanted in and caught a pass from Tommy Rees, then broke to the middle and the end zone. He was indecisive regarding which hand he would use to secure the ball, and when hit, by Pitt, he fumbled on the 6. It was a freshman mistake. It is not in the job description of a senior captain. Pitt was on the ropes at the time.
With the Irish leading 21-14 in the third quarter, the Panthers had the ball on their 37. Savage dropped back and hit a crossing Devin Street on what ought have been a 20 yard gain. Matthias Farley slid off Street rather than tackling him and a 20 yard play became a 63 yard, tying touchdown. More about Farley below.
FOURTH QUARTER SELF-INFLICTED STAB WOUNDS.
Senior quarterback Tommy Rees, with the game tied at 21, on the tenth play of a drive which started at the Irish 46, faced a Second and Goal at the Pitt 4. 7 seemed likely, 3, a sure thing. Rees threw into the end zone but the receiver was not open and, worse, a Pitt safety whom Rees did not see swooped in and intercepted the ball ending the drive. It was a freshman mistake, not in the job description of a senior quarterback.
On Pitt’s ensuing possession, they had moved to near midfield, and when Savage dropped to pass, Prince Shembo went FrankStamsian on Savage, stripping the ball and causing a fumble. The Irish, led by Sheldon Day, did NOT play to the echo of the whistle, and ignored the gift horse of the football lying on the ground. They merely looked in its mouth and rather than scooping it up and advancing it some from the Pitt 45 or even scoring allowed the Panthers to recover the ball and punt it out of harm’s way. Maddening!
On the ensuing Notre Dame drive, the Irish faced a 2nd and ten at their own 24, with the score still tied. Rees threw an even worse ball than the red zone interception, it was returned to the ND 5 and Pitt pushed in the go-ahead touchdown that made the final 28-21.
The first three possessions of the fourth quarter. A triad of disaster.
THIS IRISH TEAM CAN NOT WIN WHEN THEY MAKE MULTIPLE ERRORS.
A gentle reminder about Matthias Farley. After showing such promise and great tackling ability as a frosh, he has been a part of three awful plays in 2013. Not to rub salt, but against Michigan, the Irish trailed 3-0 and the Wolverines had the ball on their own 39 yard line. Gardner threw to Gallon for a 15 yard gain, but it turned into a 61 yard touchdown which stretched the lead to 10-0. Farley overran the play.
Against OU, the Irish had fought, and I mean FOUGHT, back from 14-0 and 21-7 deficits and were trailing by 27-21. OU had the ball on their 46 yard line and had a 3rd and 3. Bell threw a short pass to Shepard, who eluded Jarrett Grace, but Farley was out of position and when he tried to recover, Shepard blew past him and when OU converted the 2 point play, the Irish were done at 35-21. The word Safety means you keep the defense “safe.”
Now, the lesson of kaizen is to fix the problem, not the blame. You change your preexisting structures to get ahead of the problem. We have some talent at safety, including Shumate, Hardy and MAX REDFIELD. But the defensive “system” requires the safeties to make a lot of adjustments and experienced players do it better. Well, which is the tail and which is the dog? The troika of Diaco, Elliott and Cooks ought consider a redesign, and reassignment. It is not that we are devoid of athletes at safety; rather it is that the best athletes are not manning our last line of defense. Agains, fix the PROBLEM, not the BLAME.
Okay, enough looking back. Let’s look forward. We are three games away from having Golson back, and the quarterbacks who will back him up, then fight to succeed him, will have mobility and escapability, which adds 30% to your offensive repertoire. We’re very close to weaponizing our whole offense. The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends are there. The Running Backs are closer than you think. Kelly and Alford are giving up on none of the four.
Atkinson has come back after many buried him. And they’re going to give Carlisle the opportunity that his potential and Spring and pre-Fall showed. And Bryant will be a factor. Our offensive line is on the verge of true greatness, a year or two away. It could happen, even with youth, in 2014. When Elmer and Stanley line up together, they are the prototypes. We should be explosive next year. That will compensate for some errors.
And the team must return to the smarter, minimal-error football of 2012
The team will welcome the Saturday off, both to heal, and to wash out the foul taste of the loss to Pitt. Kelly will have to raise them back up, but he’s been here before.
Newcomers of the Match:
Will Fuller – seems to have passed Corey Robinson and perhaps Chris Brown. A playmaker. Bright future.
James Onwualu – first career catch, but he’s been a willing blocker and an eager special teams player.
What will we see on Senior Day?
This Senior class is special. They were recruited by a losing team, not a winning team. But they listened, they worked, they competed, they lifted, and they played with true grit. Notre Dame was a soft football team under the previouos regime. But this group led the way back to a Notre Dame team that now plays tough all the time, showing the first glimpse against USC in 2010. In 2012 these seniors led a team that was less artful than intense and tough, in gritty wins over Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, Pitt and BYU. In 2013, there was more of the same against Michigan State, Arizona State and USC.
The class of 2014 (proforma’ing the redshirts) has 35 wins going into their Senior Day. In the last two years they have lost to National Champ Bama in Miami, to Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a top Ten OU team in South Bend, and then Saturday’s hot mess against Pitt. The classes following will have more wins in their four years, but to a non-trivial extent they will be standing on the shoulders of the class of 2014. The future here is bright, but that Golden light would be more distant except for the work of these stalwarts. Each one, and I mean EACH ONE deserves a chapter, but we will highlight just a few:
Zach Martin – arguably the first block in the foundation, inserted as a freshman starter at the crucial left tackle position, and he never looked back-or beaten. Stayed around to play on the same line with lil’ brother Nick. Zach held on until the offensive line pipeline could be filled.
T.J.Jones – forced into action as a freshman, survived the early death of his dad Andre Jones, and developed into a smooth polished receiver by his senior year. An eager worker, who accepted the bit to serve as punt returner. He made Tommy Rees a better quarterback. A case study in player development.
Danny Spond-an underrated prospect stolen from under the nose of Gary Patterson at TCU, who showed what the prototype of a cat linebacker looked like. Marvelous pass coverage skills, who stayed on the field in passing downs in 2012 when the secondary was, well, not penniless, but nickless and dimeless. His health was of more value than his senior year, but morphed into a coach, the one-on-one mentor of Jaylon Smith. If you question Spond’s coaching ability, just ask Jaylon.
Tommy Rees – “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Tommy Rees arrived as Rivals’ 31s best quarterback of 2010 and the 13th best player in Illinois. He was expected to just be a warmup act while Dayne Crist recovered. He is not Joe Montana, he is not Tom Clements, he is not Everett Golson, he is not Brady Quinn. But he sure as heck is a nice Tommy Rees. He became the surprise starter as a frosh when Crist went out against Tulsa. He became the starter in 2011 when Crist, who had one final chance to convince the coaching staff that he was up to the starting role, parafinned against USF. He lost the starting job to Everett Golson in Spring 2012, went out and had a few pops, got arrested and suspended, yet returned and was a Mariano Rivera-esque reliever in 2012. Golson paraffined academically, and Rees became the starter.
“From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.” Was he Kelly’s first choice? Was he the fans first choice? Well, and you can look this up, Lou Holtz used to say that his wife Beth often reminded Lou that he wasn’t her first choice either! Tommy Rees gave his all: what more can we ask? Before we leave this controversial personality, ask yourself two questions:
(1) What would Notre Dame’s 2013 record be if Golson were the quarterback?
(2) If, after losing the QB job in the Spring of 2012 to Golson, Rees had left to, say, set passing records at Augustana or some D-III school, what would Notre Dame’s record have been in 2012 and in 2013?
Louis Nix – not to the manor born in Jacksonville, he hung in during the coaching change and would not be swayed. More corpulent than conditioned as a frosh, he redshirted, then split snaps with an underrated, but easily, and unfortunately forgotten Sean Cwynar as a soph. His ebullience, his joie-de-vivre could not be supressed, and he adopted his “Irish Chocolate” persona. In football with its seriousness and military metaphors, humor is the sine qua non of emotional and mental balance and Louis provided it. Got his touchdown in the Spring.. ”What though the odds be great or small.” It’s not just a football thing it’s a story of human achievement emphasizing what can happen when the yin of a motivated individual meets the yang of the Notre Dame millieu, given context with a wondrous support system. When Louis ambles out to embrace Mama Nix at midfield in the pre-game introductions, feel good about Louis, feel good about Mama Nix and feel good about God, Country and Notre Dame.
What will we see from BYU?
(1) A team that rebounded from losses to Utah and Virginia in the first three games, and has garnered impressive wins over Texas, Georgia Tech, Utah State and Boise.
(2) Tayson Hill has improved, but he is no Johnny Manziel. More big than quick, more fast than slippery, he has not seen anything like what our defense will bring. A year away from being a dangerous passer, he needs the Cougar rushing attack to flourish before he has enough room to pass.
(3) Last year, playing the Cougars the week after the emotional overtime win against Stanford, we still outgained them 389 yards to 243 yards, with our rushing attack getting 270 yards to the Cougars 66 yards. This year we play them AFTER a week off. Know this, we are a lot more physical than they are.
(4) An Irish team that will benefit from not playing on 11/16. They guys like Nix, Day, and Watt, who played hurt against Pitt will be a little more healthy. Schwenke and Williams back would be nice.
(5) A nice test to see if the coaches and team can suck it up and play with vigor. They should. It’s the Notre Dame way.