Northwestern beat Notre Dame 43-40 in a game that was as repulsive in its unfolding as the result. It was a bad loss to a bad football team, which may be weaker than Tulsa 2010 or USF 2011. The Fighting Irish played hard, but with shattered confidence. Irish fear and doubt may have been Northwestern’s most valuable assets.
While the symptom is never the disease, the conversion/placekicking mess was illustrative. Notre Dame scored six touchdowns. On the six ensuing conversion attempts, Notre Dame scored 4 points, Northwestern 2 points.
Northwestern scored four touchdowns. On the four ensuing conversion attempts, Northwestern scored 5 points, the Irish none. Subtotal so far, Northwestern 7 conversion points, Notre Dame 4.
Northwestern converted 4 field goals, Notre Dame none. That yielded 12 points for the Wildcats, none for the Irish.
- Northwestern 19
- Notre Dame 4
A DEFENSE IN DISARRAY
Every one of the four levels of the defense has current issues.
Every level of the defense is playing less effectively than in September.
Defensive Line – The decision to redshirt Peter Mokwuah and Jonathan Bonner was the kind of decision that championship programs make. That decision will yield eventual rewards, but in football’s efficient frontier of risk and reward, it did not come without risk. Four
Defensive tackles is a risky number in the days of high tempo, pass-happy offenses. It’s probably two too few, but at least one too few. Jones and Day are showing wear and tear, and the early season ferocious pass rush is much tamer. Cage’s injury forced Matuska, either one more year away or a career squadman, to play some and Jones and Day to play too much. Did Cage’s injury beget Day’s?
A high motor player like Day can not play every down. It is an issue of physiology not will or heart.
Linebackers – Joe Schmidt’s injury forced Nyles Morgan into the starting lineup. Northwestern had two long first quarter runs, one by Justin Jackson for 44 yards and one by Treyvon Green for 45 yards. Nyles Morgan was exploited on both. Chickens, simply, came home to roost. Those two plays advanced the Wildcats field position but were booster shots to the “Yes We can!” theme of the previously fragile Purple psyche. Now, Nyles Morgan did not slow Jarret Grace’s rehab and Nyles Morgan did not injure Joe Schmidt.
He will make us smile gleefully in games and years to come, and actually, albeit with a couple of missteps, played better in the final three quarters. He is forceful, aggressive and physical. But his next test will come on November 29th, when Sarkisian will unleash the wickedness and snares of the Trojan offense against #5. Luv ya, Nyles. I got your back!
Cornerbacks – Riggs is still hurt and below par. In Spring, it seemed that Luke and Butler would be an outstanding pair of backups to Russell and Riggs. But Luke and Butler are now starters and will be required to man up against Agholor and Juju on the 29th.
Safety – Soooo, Max Redfield is not good enough to play?
This position has more sublplots than reality TV. Is our priority here athleticism or experience, none of the above or all of the above?
The second rule of football is to not beat yourself. The Irish have been violating that for weeks. But the first rule of football is to believe in yourself, and the Irish are now suffering a huge deficit in confidence. It seemed yesterday that the players were waiting for the next freakish thing to go wrong, and they didn’t have to wait long. But this is why the adults in the room get paid lots of money. Player leadership is nice but this level of doubt can only be remedied by the coaching staff. Kelly, Van Gorder, Elliott, Hiestand, Alford, Elston, Cooks have lived through these crises before and it is on them to show the team the way to climb out of it. They have the scar tissue, vital at times like this, and the brain tissue. Though Saturday was fraught with tactical and execution errors, it is the belief, confidence and will that must come first. There is much at stake for the rest of the year. And the coaches must change the mood and confidence levels.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT NOW FOR THE IRISH?
There are three games left and they will establish the foundation for what could be an intriguing year in 2015.
The next four games are against Louisville, USC, a bowl opponent and Texas. That’s good, solid stuff, not a gimmee in the bunch, and the squad has a chance to show that they can start fast and learn to finish games. There are no doovers, but the Irish can charge into bowl season and the offseason by focused effort and competence.
ISAAC ROCHELL – “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” The author meant you, Isaac. You were a rock.
CAPTAIN AUSTIN COLLINSWORTH – though born with a silver spoon, Mom’s looks and Daddy’s radio/tv voice, you have overcome plenty of adversity with position switches and multiple injuries. You have approached your five years here with the determination of a foundry worker from Johnstown.
You deserved your touchdown on Saturday. Thanks for the memories, Austin.
WHAT WILL WE SEE AGAINST LOUISVILLE?
- A Charley Strong-built defense with plenty of imported Florida Speed. The Cardinal staff will have watched and absorbed the ASU blitzfest. Good! Let’s see how the Irish have progressed, on all fronts, against a blitz heavy defense.
- Bobby Petrino, who, along with Mike Gundy, Art Briles and Mike Leach is one of college football’s finest quarterback developers. Certainly, this year he toils without Bridgewater and with an out-for-the-year Gardner. But Petrino will have quarterbacks in the future, and we will see him again in Pizza stadium, and will observe his forces combatting our ACC foes.
- Two emotional advantages for the Cardinals. They enjoyed a Saturday off while the Irish played Northwestern. Also, the 22d is Senior Day, when emotional farewells are often more memorable than the home squad’s performance. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish are 4-0 on Senior Day in Kelly’s regime.
- A farewell to arms: Brindza, McDaniel, Koyack, Riggs, Lombard, Collinsworth, Utopu and probably many, MANY more good players who will not be invited to return for a fifth year and may finish their career elsewhere. These Seniors committed while the Irish were still in the doldrums, and helped bring the program up several rungs.
Next is Thanksgiving break, and then a trip to the Coliseum, never uneventful.