(UHND.com) – Weather conditions for Saturday’s matchup with lowly Syracuse were frigid with plenty of snow left in the stands from Thursday’s snowstorm which dumped a foot of snow in South Bend. A stunning last minute 24-23 loss at the hands of none of the worst teams in Division 1 football were much more numbing for Irish fans than temperatures which spent more time below freezing than above it on Saturday.
There have been some bad losses for Notre Dame over the past two seasons, but Saturday’s latest defeat might top them all. Syracuse entered Saturday’s game with a lame duck coach and with one of the worst offenses and defenses in all of college football.
The Orange were a 21 point underdog to the Irish and came into Notre Dame Stadium with 8 losses on the season. They walked out of Notre Dame Stadium as the first eight loss to ever defeat the Fighting Irish. Tyrone Willingham never even lost to an eight loss team. Neither did Bob Davie or Gerry Faust. Those three coaches make up the trio of coaches who people think of most when discussing those who have failed in leading the Fighting Irish.
What makes all of this even more shocking is the scene walking out of Notre Dame Stadium. There wasn’t outrage after being outhustled and outcoached by a vastly inferior opponent. There wasn’t even a whole lot of depression on the faces of Notre Dame fans. Most fans walking out the stadium did not look as though they were surprised with the outcome.
Even more shocking was the fact that the Syracuse fans looked equally as unsurprised as Notre Dame fans. Here was a 2-8 football team which just fired their head coach earlier in the week and their fans weren’t even overly excited that they had just beaten the Fighting Irish inside the House that Rockne built.
Speaking of Rockne, Knute was honored before the game as a national championship coach has been honored at every home game this year. His great grandson, Knute Rockne III represented the legendary coach who was undoubtedly rolling over in his grave that the Irish squandered yet another double digit lead to unquestionably the worst team to defeat the Irish in many, many years.
What does it say about the state of the program though that fans weren’t shocked and weren’t up in arms over losing to such a lowly team? Has complacency set in among the Notre Dame fan base with Irish fans no longer surprised over losses but rather surprised over actual wins?
During last season’s nine loss debacle there were plenty of low moments such as two 38-0 shutouts at the hands of our two biggest rivals, but neither of those losses have brought on the same level of embarrassment that Saturday’s brings with it.
Notre Dame faced a team which has yielded well over 200 yards a game on the ground and could only muster 41 yards rushing for a paltry 1.5 yards per carry average. James Aldridge, who had been looking better and better as the season progresses, was held to 0 yards on 6 carries. Syracuse was also allowing over 33 points a game before the Irish put up just 23 against them.
What makes Saturday’s loss even more maddening is that this game should never have been close to start the 4th quarter. Notre Dame led 23-10 at the beginning of the last quarter, but the score could have easily been 40 something to 10. The Irish defense and special teams set up the offense inside the 25 yard line three times in the 3rd quarter only to see the Irish walk away with 3 points. Three trips inside the 25 and just three points against a team which ESPN had ranked inside its Bottom 10 most of the season.
This game should have been over right then and there in the third quarter. The Irish offense inexplicably put up just those three points, however, and kept the game within two scores for the Syracuse offense. The lone field goal the Irish kicked in that sequence of excellent position came on a drive that started at the Syracuse 5 yard line. Toryan Smith recovered a fumble and made a nice lateral to Gary Gray to set up the Irish offense at the ‘Cuse five. Three plays netted zero yards, however, and the Irish settled for a Brandon Walker field goal.
The other two opportunities ended up a missed field goal on botched snap and hold and a punt after a sack and a series of penalties put the Irish in a pesky little 2nd and 27 situation.
Three golden opportunities to put this game away early were wasted. Even a touchdown and a field goal in the other two red zone trips would have resulted in a 33-10 lead after three quarters. Instead, the game was just a two possession game for Syracuse and the Irish offense failed to score in the fourth quarter to put the game on ice when they had the chance.
There isn’t any way to really spin this loss. There were bad calls and missed plays, but this was a game in which the Irish should have never been in a position to be effected by a bad call or a badly thrown pass. This was a loss to a 21 point underdog on Senior Day. A loss to team which had previously lost to Akron,
Some of the Irish players have said in the aftermath that Syracuse wanted it more and that there wasn’t any emotion on the sidelines. How does that happen? This was a terrible Syracuse team with little to play for other than for a coach who led them to 9 wins in 4 years before Saturday. Notre Dame had a Gator Bowl bid on the line and desperately needed to exorcise some of the demons created during Navy’s furious fourth quarter comeback last week.
Instead of alleviating the concerns Navy’s fourth quarter rally drummed up, the Irish and Weis added to them. A third loss this season to a team it had a double digit lead on and loss to a 21 point underdog at home are not the signs of improvement anyone had hopped for.
The Irish will travel to sunny California this weekend to take on the heavily favored Trojans of USC. The conditions will be a heck of a lot warmer for the Irish this weekend, but will the reactions following the game be?