Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Purdue


In the end, it was the Irish marching down the field, attempting to steal away a football game that had already slipped out of their grasp. With Jimmy Clausen clearly hobbled and nowhere near 100 percent, he gimped his way back onto the field, intent on settling some unfinished business.

With a 4th and goal, and the season on the line, Clausen found Kyle Rudolph on a special out in the left-side of the endzone with just 24 seconds left. The very same pattern and corner of the endzone that Tate Forcier found Greg Matthews to break the Irish’s hearts in Ann Arbor.

But the Irish escape with a win on a wild day of college football. On a day where highly ranked teams took missteps across the board, the Irish walked into a hostile environment with their best running back, wide receiver, and quarterback out or incredibly gimpy and found a way to win. Here’s what we learned today:

1) The Irish can find ways to win.

For the first time this season, Notre Dame willed its way to victory. Content to play against the clock as the second half started, head coach Charlie Weis made the decision to play to win the game. (Ask Herm Edwards if you don’t get my drift.) He went ultra-conservative on offense, content to run the ball and the clock either out of the Wildcat with Golden Tate, or hand the ball off with backup quarterback Dayne Crist. The plan worked, until defensive deficiencies saw Purdue force the Irish to respond. And the most promising part of the victory tonight was that the Irish did. Whether it was punter Eric Maust stepping up, Golden Tate running and catching the ball, or the improved coverage of the secondary, the Irish found a way to win the football game. It may not be the signature win people wanted, but it’s a victory that Charlie Weis and the team should savor.

2) Notre Dame finally has depth

With the Irish looking at 3rd down and 14 from the Purdue 36 and needing a touchdown, Clausen fired a laser to wide receiver Robby Parris, who converted with a 15-yard gain. A huge catch by Notre Dame’s fourth wide receiver. That’s the type of depth Weis is building, and that’s why he’s one of the best recruiters in the country. Eight different players caught passes, including former walk-on tight end Bobby Burger. The secondary rolled guys in, with great plays being made by Gary Gray, Darrin Walls, and Sergio Brown. And the running game barely lost a beat with Robert Hughes running hard, along with Jonas Gray, Theo Riddick, and quarterback Dayne Crist.

3) Jimmy Clausen is really good.

Many Irish fans are taking for granted #7. While he hasn’t delivered back-to-back national championships, or turned those high school championship rings into BCS appearances, Jimmy Clausen is the unquestioned leader of this offense, and one of the best quarterbacks in the country. His final drive should stand the test of time and be praised for what it was: a tremendously gutsy performance by one of the best quarterbacks to play for Notre Dame. While his 15 of 26 for 171 yards won’t have him moving up anyone’s Heisman ballots, the difference between Clausen, who couldn’t even take a snap under center, and Crist, who looks like a wild stallion still needed to be broken, is night and day.

4) Sam Young’s needs to get it together.

Too often we heard Sam Young’s name tonight. Procedure penalties, a holding call on a screen pass, and blown blocking assignments is befuddling. Notre Dame’s best offensive lineman needs to start playing like it. Most were hoping last week was an aberration, but Young did nothing to show that he understands what he means to this offensive front. The hulking tackle’s talent is clear to everybody, but the lack of recognition between the ear-pads is what’s troubling.

5) The defense still needs to get back to the basics.

Once again, the Irish make an average quarterback look very good. Joey Elliott threw for 289 easy yards and 3 TDs. Too often Elliott rolled out to find a wide-open receiver sitting at 8-to-10 yards. The Irish made Keith Smith look like a star, missing tackles on him and running back Ralph Bolden with regularity. And while most of us will only remember Clausen’s late game heroics, the defensive’s mental breakdown on Purdue’s last offensive play, where Jaycen Taylor ran 38 yards without anyone coming within five yards of him, is yet another communication breakdown for Jon Tenuta’s defense. While ND did a better job at stuffing the run, there is still plenty of work to be done.

Go for two or not? Both sides of the highly-debated topic

during their game at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina.

Notre Dame’s two failed two-point conversion tries against Clemson have been the source of much debate in the aftermath of the Irish’s 24-22 loss to the Tigers. Brian Kelly’s decision to go for two with just over 14 minutes left in the game forced the Irish into another two-point conversion attempt with just seconds left in regulation, with DeShone Kizer falling short as he attempted to push the game into overtime.

Was Kelly’s decision to go for two the right one at the beginning of the fourth quarter? That depends.

Take away the result—a pass that flew through the fingers of a wide open Corey Robinson. Had the Irish kicked their extra point, Justin Yoon would’ve trotted onto the field with a chance to send the game into overtime. (Then again, had Robinson caught the pass, Notre Dame would’ve been kicking for the win in the final seconds…)

This is the second time a two-point conversion decision has opened Kelly up to second guessing in the past eight games. Last last season, Kelly’s decision to go for two in the fourth-quarter with an 11-point lead against Northwestern, came back to bite the Irish and helped the Wildcats stun Notre Dame in overtime.

That choice was likely fueled by struggles in the kicking game, heightened by Kyle Brindza’s blocked extra-point attempt in the first half, a kick returned by Northwestern that turned a 14-7 game into a 13-9 lead. With a fourth-quarter, 11-point lead, the Irish failed to convert their two-point attempt that would’ve stretched their lead to 13 points. After Northwestern converted their own two-point play, they made a game-tying field goal after Cam McDaniel fumbled the ball as the Irish were running out the clock. Had the Irish gone for (and converted) a PAT, the Wildcats would’ve needed to score a touchdown.

Moving back to Saturday night, Kelly’s decision needs to be put into context. After being held to just three points for the first 45 minutes of the game, C.J. Prosise broke a long catch and run for a touchdown in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Clemson would be doing their best to kill the clock. Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game brought the score within 12 points when Kelly decided to try and push the score within 10—likely remembering the very way Northwestern forced overtime.

After the game, Kelly said it was the right decision, citing his two-point conversion card and the time left in the game. On his Sunday afternoon teleconference, he said the same, giving a bit more rationale for his decision.

“We were down and we got the chance to put that game into a two-score with a field goal. I don’t chase the points until the fourth quarter, and our mathematical chart, which I have on the sideline with me and we have a senior adviser who concurred with me, and we said go for two. It says on our chart to go for two.

“We usually don’t use the chart until the fourth quarter because, again, we don’t chase the points. We went for two to make it a 10-point game. So we felt we had the wind with us so we would have to score a touchdown and a field goal because we felt like we probably only had three more possessions.

“The way they were running the clock, we’d probably get three possessions maximum and we’re going to have to score in two out of the three. So it was the smart decision to make, it was the right one to make. Obviously, you know, if we catch the two-point conversion, which was wide open, then we just kick the extra point and we’ve got a different outcome.”

That logic and rationale is why I had no problem with the decision when it happened in real time. But not everybody agrees.

Perhaps the strongest rebuke of the decision came from Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister, who had this to say about the decision in his (somewhat appropriately-titled) weekly Point After column:

Hire another analyst or at least assign someone to the task of deciphering the Beautiful Mind-level math problem that seems to be vexing the Notre Dame brain-trust when a dweeb with half-inch thick glasses and a pocket protector full of pens could tell you that in the game of football, you can’t chase points before it is time… (moving ahead)

…The more astonishing thing is that no one in the ever-growing football organization that now adds analysts and advisors on a regular basis will offer the much-needed advice. Making such decisions in the heat of battle is not easy. What one thinks of in front of the TV or in a press box does not come as clearly when you’re the one pulling the trigger for millions to digest.

And yet with this ever-expanding entourage, Notre Dame still does not have anyone who can scream through the headphones to the head coach, “Coach, don’t go for two!”

If someone, anyone within the organization had the common sense and then the courage to do so, the Irish wouldn’t have lost every game in November of 2014 and would have had a chance to win in overtime against Clemson Saturday night.

My biggest gripe about the decision was the indecision that came along with the choice. Scoring on a big-play tends to stress your team as special teams players shuffle onto the field and the offense comes off. But Notre Dame’s use of a timeout was a painful one, and certainly should’ve been spared considering the replay review that gave Notre Dame’s coaching staff more time to make a decision.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s decision was probably similar to the one many head coaches would make. And it stems from the original two-point conversion chart that Dick Vermeil developed back in the 1970s.

The original chart didn’t account for success rate or time left in the game. As Kelly mentioned before, Notre Dame uses one once it’s the fourth quarter.

It’s a debate that won’t end any time soon. And certainly one that will have hindsight on the side of the “kick the football” argument.



Navy, Notre Dame will display mutual respect with uniforms

Keenan Reynolds, Isaac Rochell

The storied and important history of Notre Dame and Navy’s long-running rivalry will be on display this weekend, with the undefeated Midshipmen coming to South Bend this weekend.

On NBCSN, a half-hour documentary presentation will take a closer look, with “Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect” talking about everything from Notre Dame’s 43-year winning streak, to Navy’s revival, triggered by their victory in 2007. The episode will also talk about the rivalries ties to World War II, and how the Navy helped keep Notre Dame alive during wartime.

You can catch it on tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or online in the same viewing window.

On the field, perhaps an even more unique gesture of respect is planned. With Under Armour the apparel partner for both Notre Dame and Navy, both teams will take the field wearing the same cleats, gloves and baselayers. Each team’s coaching staff will also be outfitted in the same sideline gear.

More from Monday’s press release:

For the first time in college football, two opponents take the field with the exact same Under Armour baselayer, gloves and cleats to pay homage to the storied history and brotherhood between their two schools. The baselayer features both Universities’ alma maters on the sleeves and glove palms with the words “respect, honor, tradition” as a reminder of their connection to each other. Both sidelines and coaches also will wear the same sideline gear as a sign of mutual admiration.​

Navy and Notre Dame will meet for the 89th time on Saturday, a rivalry that dates back to 1927. After the Midshipmen won three of four games starting in 2007, Notre Dame hopes to extend their current winning streak to five games on Saturday.

Here’s an early look at some of the gear: