Down six points at home to an unranked team is never a place Notre Dame football wants to be in. But there they were yesterday against Virginia Tech – an 18-point underdog. With the ball at their own 20 yard-line with 2:39 left in the game, the Fighting Irish had a 7.6% of winning the game according to ESPN’s win probability score. You know the rest of the story from there.
Never a doubt. pic.twitter.com/Nd1Z0XQCeO
— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) November 2, 2019
Notre Dame ended up getting a first down on the next play with a five-yard pass from Ian Book to Jafar Armstrong. Even that conversion didn’t increase Notre Dame’s chances of victory that much, though. The conversion bumped their win probability from 7.6% to just 12.7%.
By the time Notre Dame marched down the field facing a 4th and 10, their win probability was just 10.2%. Then Virginia Tech decided it was a good idea to play soft coverage on Chase Claypool. Narrator voice: it was indeed a bad idea. The conversion improved Notre Dame’s chances to 60.2%.
The point of all of this is to highlight just how low the likelihood was for Notre Dame to pull out that win. We can argue all day long about why Notre Dame was in that situation in the first place and why it’s a bad sign for the rest of the year (and we will don’t worry), but at the end of the day, that is the kind of drive that Notre Dame hasn’t made in the past few years.
Think back to the monstrosity of the 2016 season. How many times that year did Notre Dame have the ball at the end of a game with a chance to either pull out a win or at least tie a game? Texas, Michigan, Duke, Virginia Tech, and Stanford. You could even include Navy there since Notre Dame needed a touchdown drive and settled for a field goal that still saw them trailing before the Midshipmen ran out the clock.
Ian Book struggled throughout the game yesterday, and Notre Dame squandered an opportunity for a feel-good, comfortable victory with turnovers, penalties, and mental errors; but it could have been worse. A lot worse. Notre Dame could have lost that game. Ian Book could have missed Jafar Armstrong on 4th and 3. Virginia Tech could have played press coverage on Claypool on 4th and 10. Ian Book could have been tackled in bounds on 3rd and goal. Imagine that one for a second. What do you think a 4th and goal play with the clock running and no timeouts would have looked like for Notre Dame? It wouldn’t have been good.
Maybe, just maybe Book and Notre Dame can look at the fact that there was a 92.4% chance of them losing that game yesterday and use that one drive as a springboard to at least developing some offensive consistency. Wishful thinking? Yeah, probably, but it’s better than sitting here and talking about losing back to back games. That was the alternative.