Notre Dame fans hoping to see the Irish pull off the upset as a two touchdown underdog last night were instead treated to the same old story of Notre Dame Football in 2013. Fall behind early. Rally back. Turn the ball over at the worst time and fall short.
In three of Notre Dame’s four losses this season, the Irish were down double digits before they could blink. Against Michigan, the Wolverines jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Notre Dame battled back valiantly that September night in Ann Arbor, but a Tommy Rees interception in the end-zone on 1st and goal put the final nail in Notre Dame’s coffin.
Against Oklahoma a few weeks later, the Sooners jumped out to a 14-0 lead just 1:10 into the game after a Tommy Rees interception was returned for a touchdown on the first drive only to be followed up by an interception on Notre Dame’s very next play. Again, Notre Dame battled back and was within 6 points in the 4th quarter. After an Oklahoma touchdown put the Sooners up 14 though, the Irish went three and out on three consecutive drives and lost by 14.
Last night the Irish yet again found themselves in an early hole. Stanford marched down the field and scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives to take a 14-3 lead in the first quarter. Notre Dame once again battled back only to have their comeback bid fall short though when Tommy Rees threw not one, but two back breaking interceptions in the final 6 minutes – both of which came with the Irish trailing by just 7 points.
Three games. Three early holes. Three unsuccessful comeback attempts. Three losses.
Notre Dame’s 4th loss didn’t follow the exact template, but did include another killer interception in the end-zone with the Irish poised to take the lead on Pitt in the 4th quarter before falling to the unranked and less talented Panthers.
And therein lies the difference between 2012 and 2013. A year ago Notre Dame avoided the killer turnovers for the most part and were able to navigate the regular season undefeated. This year, however, the back breaking turnover has become the norm, rather than the exception much like it was in 2011 when the Irish also stumbled to a 8-4 regular season mark.
This year will be labeled a disappointment by most and following a berth in the national championship game there really is no other way to slice it, but it didn’t have to be. In all four of Notre Dame’s losses the Irish had their chances but failed to make the plays necessary to overcome early deficits that were in large part self inflicted.
Much like in 2011 when Notre Dame was its own worst enemy in losses to South Florida, Michigan, and USC; the Irish once again couldn’t get out of their way more often than not. That’s why Notre Dame will be playing in the Pinstripes Bowl or some other lesser bowl this year instead of getting ready for another BCS bowl.
Yes, Notre Dame has faced a rash of injuries the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while – at least at critical positions – but at the same time, they were in a position to win every game this year. In every single loss this year, Notre Dame was either tied or trailed by just one possession at some point in the 4th quarter.
With just over 9 minutes remaining against Michigan, the Irish trailed just 34-30 before losing 41-30. In the loss to Oklahoma the Irish pulled within 27-21 with just over 14 minutes remaining before falling 35-21. Against Pitt the Irish were tied at 21 ready to take the lead before the interception in the end-zone and subsequently losing 28-21. Last night Notre Dame had the ball twice with less than 8 minutes remaining down 27-20 but could never get closer.
In those four losses, the Notre Dame offense scored a total of 10 points in the 4th quarter while the Irish defense contributed 7 points. That kind of offensive production in the 4th quarter is just not going to get it done and for Notre Dame to end the 2014 season on a much better note, Brian Kelly and his offensive staff are going to need to find a way to score points in the 4th quarter. If they don’t, well, then 2014 might be the same old story for Notre Dame as well.