Rice v Notre Dame

Live chat — Notre Dame vs. Louisville


It’s Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium. And it’s our final home game of the season, with the Irish still looking for their eighth victory.

For those looking for an online stream of the game — Watch the broadcast here. After the game, you can check out the Postgame Show here.

As usual, we’re here to chat.


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Mailbag: Still steaming mad about last week

New Mailbox

With the questions (understandably) a little bit more filled with frustration than usual, it seems more than a few of you are searching for answers to last week’s loss still.

I’m not sure I can provide those, but I’ll do my best to eat a little crow, answer a few questions, and get everybody ready for the final home game of the season.

First, on to this nonsense:


irishdodger: Since we fans keep seeing reports (via tweets & radio interviews w/ Chris Mortensen, etc) regarding Brian Kelly being of interest to both NFL teams & Florida, why hasn’t anyone that covers ND addressed him directly about the subject?

yaketyyacc: Do you think all this talk about Kelly moving on is founded by the hopes of Notre Dame fans?

scoli: Do you believe it is possible that the melt down over the last 4 or five games is related to CBK spending too much attention on possible new job and not enough on preparing himself and his team for the upcoming games?

mediocrebob: Could you remind these people that there is no better option and that they’ll feel really stupid when they realize Kelly was a blessing when the Irish are stuck with some unproven no-name coach and losing consistently?

You guys will probably never guess where I come out on all of this. But it’s closer to Bob, especially when you look at the coaching candidates that currently exist.

Brian Kelly was asked about the Florida job on Thursday, especially after his name was mentioned a few times this week in connection with the high-profile job opening. He laughed at the question, and I think that’s his honest opinion

A lot of people have speculated about the “agent connection,” with CAA’s Trace Armstrong repping a lot of the usual suspects in all of this reporting, but I don’t know why anybody would go to Gainsville and try to rebuild that mess when they have a team that should be very, very good in 2015 in front of them.

(As someone pointed out, SI’s Pete Thamel, probably the most plugged in college football writer working, essentially said the same thing earlier this week.)

Getting back to the candidates, who do you want to take this job if Kelly leaves? Butch Jones? Dan Mullen? Ask Oklahoma fans how frustrated they are with Bob Stoops. And clamoring for guys like Urban or Gruden or anybody from that old list is frankly a waste of time. Winning at Notre Dame is a lot tougher than just about every other place in the country.

The issue I run into with a lot of these arguments is that every fanbase has things they hate about a coach. From playcalling right down to what they wear to press conferences. So while Kelly’s red zone run game might be the thing that makes you want him out, wait until you see Coach X or Coach Y in the same situation. He won’t be perfect, either.


don74: Assuming Kelly stays will there be a shakeup with the assistants at the end of the season?

I don’t know the answer to that, but it’ll certainly be something to watch once recruiting shakes out and the Irish transition from the season into spring football.

I think you can rule out any changes with Brian VanGorder or Matt LaFleur. They are just finishing up their first year in the program. But Kelly’s been very loyal to his staff and the same could be said in return. I tend to think only a new job opportunity (a low-level head coaching position) feels like a chance for things to change.


idratherbeinsouthbend: Given that we are fully engrossed in the CFB playoff system now, how long will it be before (A) the playoff expands and (B) the mid majors have their own championship?

Again, this is a big issue that we’ll be discussing just about every year until it actually expands. But the TV contract is supposed to dictate that this will stay a four-team playoff, though there are a lot of influential people thinking it needs expansion. (Brian Kelly is on the record thinking eight teams is better.)

ACC commissioner John Swofford talked about this earlier this week, with ESPN reporting this quote:

“The question is asked a lot, ‘Why not eight?’ or ‘Will it become eight in a few years?’ I can tell you why not eight, right now: The presidents made the decision as to how far we can go with the playoff, and the bookends are exams in December, and the presidents don’t want football to become a two-semester sport. Those concerns are education-based. So I think they’re appropriate.”


danirish: Which of the three MUST the Irish fix immediately: Turnovers, allowing a ton of points, or special teams.

Turnovers. And it’s not even close.

Turnovers are pretty much the root of all evil in football. And it’s pretty clear that when the Irish started turning the football over left and right, winning got a lot harder to do.

This defense — especially a defense without Sheldon Day, Joe Schmidt, a half-strength Cody Riggs and Jarron Jones — and the rest of the guys mostly kids, needs all the help it can get. And turning the ball over and putting the pressure on them isn’t the way to win the next two football games.

How you fix that immediately? I’m not exactly sure.


blackirish23: Can the argument also be made that the defense has essentially held up to it’s end of the bargain due to what BK expected at the beginning of the season, and that it’s our Offense that has been the let down, especially when the defense does it’s job (once in a great while) and gets the ball back either via turn over or on downs?

I think you’re on to something. And that’s essentially what Kelly has said after the team’s three losses. In the eyes of this coaching staff, the offense needs to beat opponents with the defense doing it’s best to get stops and create turnovers.

But nobody saw this rash of turnovers coming — especially last week in the inexplicable manner that they happened.

So Kelly acknowledged that this week, and I think we’re going to see the Irish offense, but run in a more conservative manner, trying to take the risk out of things.


billtetley53: How long do you think it is going to take this fanbase to realize that it will take a perfect storm for ND to make the playoff ?

I think you can say that for every team in college football. Look at Mississippi State. They are a veteran football team on both sides of the football and have a quarterback that caught lightning in a bottle.

Oregon has a quarterback that could be a Heisman Trophy winner. That’s never happened. Florida State’s bent every ethical line possible, and has a special quarterback (on the field), which has happened only two other times in the program’s history.

And all of these teams — minus the Seminoles — have lost a game.

Outside of Alabama, who is still playing in a different league than just about everybody else from a program-building perspective, it’s always going to take a special year.

But I’ll go on the record: I think Notre Dame will be in next year’s playoff.


onward2victory: Last week’s mailbag I pointed out that Brian Kelly team’s have struggled in 3 areas:
1. Special teams
2. Turnovers
3. Not matching energy of the opponent.

(Editing…) So after watching the Northwestern game, where ND was terrible in all 3 of these areas AGAIN, I was wondering if you wanted to change your answer at all?

Not sure what would suffice, Onward. An apology? Your question was certainly well-timed. And obviously the field goal game is a mess. As are turnovers this season.

But I’m not sure I’m ready indict a head coach for continual issues, especially since it’s not completely true. Notre Dame was one of the best turnover teams in the country in 2012. They were also a Top 25 team in turnovers lost in 2013 as well. (Even with punching bag Tommy Rees.) They’ve been terrible in 2011 and 2014, but not the other three seasons.

And I’ll still say that “matching energy” is a ridiculous thing to try and measure. Notre Dame started fast against Northwestern — Golson running for a big touchdown on a perfect offensive drive. They had a nice opening drive against ASU. But playing tight games with teams that don’t look even on paper is a thing that’s existed at Notre Dame ever since it was a national showcase program. It’s the game circled on every opponent’s schedule — just check out how many Louisville fans will be there today.

Ultimately, the Irish have found painful — but ultimately universal — ways to lose games. So, I’m agreeing with you on special teams. Partially with you on turnovers. And not buying what you’re selling on “energy.”


Former Irish greats talk about their favorite Notre Dame memories

Washington v Notre Dame

With Senior Day a perfect time to look back, some former Notre Dame football greats are looking back at their time with the Irish. And they’re doing it in a pretty cool way.

Want to know Tim Brown’s favorite moment as a Notre Dame football player? (Hint: Next weekend’s opponent played a role.) Or how about Golden Tate’s? (It won’t be much of a leap.)

With the help of Greenfly, we’ll hear from some Irish legends as they look back on their time under the Golden Dome. You can see all the videos here.


Pregame Six Pack: Battling Louisville in Senior sendoff

Notre Dame v Arizona State

And just like that, Notre Dame’s season is nearly over.

While losing three of four games has dampened the spirits of fans and detoured the team’s postseason hopes, the Irish will play their final game at home on Saturday, a senior sendoff in Notre Dame Stadium for a large group with a still-to-be-determined future.

A 7-3 Louisville team comes to town, the first ever matchup in football between schools that reunite in the ACC. With Bobby Petrino’s defense still ahead of an offense that’s playing a true freshman, a winning blueprint is available for Brian Kelly if his team can execute it.

“We have to eliminate big plays defensively. We can’t give them big play runs and passes,” Kelly said Thursday, searching for solutions as his defense is in the middle of its worst five-game stretch in school history.  “And then offensively we have to run the offense that we’ve run without the mistakes that we’ve made in terms of turning the football over.”

Both challenges seem steep, especially after watching the Irish struggle against Arizona State and Northwestern. But Kelly has rallied his troops before, as dark moments haven’t seemed to hang around too long these past five seasons.

Before an important Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium, let’s get to the Pregame Six Pack.


The redshirt is coming off Jay Hayes. 

Without Sheldon Day and Daniel Cage at defensive tackle, Brian Kelly made the difficult decision to remove the redshirt from freshman Jay Hayes. After not playing in the first 10 games of the season, Hayes will see his first action of the season on Saturday.

“Jay Hayes has been ready every week, but we were hoping not to play him,” Kelly said. “It was a difficult decision. I’ve had to weigh a lot of factors.”

The most important factor seems to be opportunity. While fifth-year senior Justin Utupo will get the start, Hayes is going to get approximately 30 snaps, according to Kelly. That number will ramp up against USC and in the bowl game, with hopes of getting him to 100 snaps this season.

“If we can get him up to 100 reps and a couple weeks of practice, we’ll feel as though we did by him the right thing to get him enough reps and enough work to make it worthwhile.”

After seeing Hayes compete all season, both on the scout team and this week with the No. 1 defense, Kelly expects Hayes to hold his own. Not to mention have a career on Sundays.

That could’ve been one of the bigger factors in taking the redshirt off. The Irish haven’t been able to utilize that fifth-season with their best defensive linemen, anyway.

“We think Jay Hayes can play at the next level. We think he’s that good of a player,” Kelly said, before bringing up the early departures of Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. “We haven’t had a lot of NFL defensive linemen hang around here for five years.”



As we look at this senior class, it’s hard not to notice the defense that never was. 

Saturday will be about honoring the senior class. (We’ll get to that in a few minutes.) While Kelly would prefer that group to just include the three fifth-year players in their final collegiate action, the goodbye on Saturday will be to a group that came in together in 2011 with high expectations and leaves not necessarily fulfilling them.

In February of 2011, most Irish fans looked to the future, and this particular football season as the one that’d feature a ferocious defense featuring a bludgeoning front seven. That’s clearly not been the case.

But let’s take a look at the hard-luck that’s hit this group, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Aaron Lynch lasted just a season in South Bend, before quitting the team and fleeing to South Florida. While his career seems to be back on track in San Francisco, Lynch’s collegiate career at two different stops never ascended past his promising freshman season.

Stephon Tuitt played just four snaps last week for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the second-round draft pick still learning how to be a professional he transitions to life in the NFL. After a breakout sophomore season where Tuitt made a run at Justin Tuck’s single-season sack record, Tuitt’s junior season was plagued by injuries and inconsistency, and we only saw one great season from the blue-chip recruit.

Injuries also crushed this group. Senior linebacker Jarrett Grace is still recovering from a harrowing leg injury suffered last season. Ben Councell has just crossed the 12-month mark on his torn ACL. Eilar Hardy opened his Irish career with a major knee surgery that set him back nearly two seasons.

Things have been even less kind to Chase Hounshell, who three shoulder surgeries later will likely leave Notre Dame playing his most significant minutes as a true freshman. And Tony Springmann’s promising career was cut short after never fully recovering from knee injury that cost him the entire 2013 season. Brad Carrico, the class’s first commitment, had a foot injury end his career two years ago.

Matthias Farley has been a great success story, his rebound 2014 season a breakthrough. And former walk-on Joe Schmidt has been the most productive (un)recruit of the group, leading the Irish in tackles this season before breaking his ankle.

While the final chapter won’t be written on this class until we know what players will return for a fifth year, it’s a sad reminder that even the best recruiting classes don’t turn out as you’d hope.


Interested in Florida? Only for the weather, Brian Kelly jokes. 

With Will Muschamp already fired, many have speculated that Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley was trying to get a jump-start on the hiring process. And that means that Brian Kelly’s name will once again be included in a high-profile coaching search.

Some Irish fans will offer to pack Kelly’s bags for him after last week. But Kelly sounded more like a coach knowing he has to do a better job with his current gig than a coach looking to make a move elsewhere.

“I’m going to Florida… iIn about two weeks to get some sun,” Kelly cracked. “I’m getting out of here with this weather, are you kidding me? So you can write that down. I’m going to Florida. Write it down now, get it out there get it on the news waves.

“What else am I up for? Anything else? Can I be up for the Notre Dame job because we are 7-3 right now. I’m hoping to hold onto this job.”

With a 2015 team that could return 19 starters — as well as KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams — Kelly doesn’t look like a guy that would want to go rebuild a decimated Florida program. And while the NFL still likely looms large this time of year after Kelly’s flirtation after the 2012 season, it’s hard to think that the allure of Gainsville would be enough to tempt Kelly.



For the Irish defense to succeed, they’ve got to focus on stopping the run. 

While Irish fans should look out for Louisville receiver DeVante Parker, the Cardinals will likely try to beat Notre Dame with the run game. And they’ve got some star power there as well, with former Auburn national champion Michael Dyer playing out his star-crossed career under head coach Bobby Petrino, a guy who knows quite a bit about career rehabilitation.

But if you’re wondering why Kelly would take a redshirt off of Jay Hayes with just two regular season games to go, it’s because the Irish absolutely need to find a way to play good run defense. As Kelly and Brian VanGorder search for something to hang their hat on, stopping the run seems like the first step in rebuilding the base of the defense.

Through the season’s first five games, they were able to do that, playing stout against the run. Against Florida State, they managed to turn the Seminoles one-dimensional as well. But the struggles against the run of late have opened the flood gates. And while the Irish will still  be susceptible against the pass — especially if Cardinals receiver James Quick has his suspension resolved before Saturday — the young and inexperienced secondary can get by if the Irish are able to hold their own against the run.

“I think first and foremost, we have to be more effective against the run.,” Kelly said. “We’ve lost a very good player inside with Sheldon Day. We have to be committed to stopping the run.”

It doesn’t look like the Irish will be able to do that with a three-man front. That’s just too much pressure on linebackers Nyles Morgan and Jaylon Smith, two guys that lack the heft to play on the inside.

So while that make for some high-wire work on the back-end of the defense, it’s clear that Kelly would rather put the challenge on the shoulders of his pass defenders — especially against a freshman quarterback — than his young front seven.


After another safety shuffle, Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate have some ground to make up. 

Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate seemed like the optimal players for the Irish defense. Both heralded recruits, Redfield’s athleticism is well-discussed, and his five-star pedigree had Irish fans ready to welcome their first ball-hawking safety since Harrison Smith.

Elijah Shumate looked like the sledgehammer Irish fans coveted as an aggressive, in the box safety. After an impressive season playing in the slot as a true freshman, and an up-and-down sophomore season dragged down by nagging injuries, Shumate’s improving early-season play showed a lot of promise.

But both seem to be in the doghouse right now, turning the safeties many thought were the future of the position into guys that’ll have to find their way back into the present.

Kelly said Thursday that his starting duo will be Austin Collinsworth and Drue Tranquill Saturday, two cerebral players who won’t get confused for the best athletes on the field. That much was apparently last week, as the Irish pass defense struggled to defend in space against a Northwestern offense that had previously been one of the least explosive offenses in college football.

Eilar Hardy will also have a chance to move into the mix, with the senior safety finally up to speed after his suspension. But for Shumate and Redfield to work back into the mix, they’ll need to match their mental game to the strengths of their physical skill-sets.


Another senior class, another great collection of stories. 

There’s no better time to tip the cap to the sensational work of the Observer, the student-run newspaper that pays tribute to every member of the senior class. In a gauntlet of a feature that’s taken place for a few years now, the Observer writes profiles features on every senior on the roster, a great collection of reads that give you a great look inside program.

Hear from Joe Schmidt, who (not surprisingly) hasn’t lost any optimism as he recovers from injury. Listen to Jarrett Grace talk about the four weeks he spent in the hospital after breaking four bones in his leg, celebrating his 21st birthday from the hospital.

Walk-on Eric Lee is on his way to med school. “Grandpa” Justin Utupo is enjoying his fifth year, playing a lot more football than ever before. Tony Springmann is going to transition from an unlikely student-coaching experience to the ACE teaching program.

You can read all 27 stories on the senior class here. Nice work, Observer Sports team. Now get some sleep.


After unexplainable loss, can Irish rally again?

BYU v Notre Dame

Few memories are shorter collectively than football fans. Every mistake is magnified in the prism of “now,” with the devastation of a difficult to understand loss like last weekend’s to Northwestern consistently taking dead aim at the foundation of a football program, regardless of its stability.

In the span of four, mistake-filled hours, (for some) opinions on the future of Brian Kelly turned drastically. That’s to be expected in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of major sports. And when you’re cashing seven-figure pay checks, people don’t tend to care if you’re playing freshman and sophomores, if your best players are suspended, or if injuries have gutted the heart of your roster.

Losing isn’t good. Especially in the spectacularly painful manner the Irish managed to last weekend, where a toxic blend of mistakes both on the field and on the sidelines merged gasoline with blowtorch, the flames killing any momentum this season could’ve salvaged with a defeat at the hands of one of the Big Ten’s most unimpressive teams.

So you can understand the bellowing for pink slips and the demands for house-cleaning. And that junk-draw dig for that list of usual suspects, if only to feel better by kicking the tires on the Grudens and the Shanahans, or hoping that this won’t ever happen again if Stoops or Meyer leave their pressure cooker for another.

But at this point, it’s worth looking past the disaster. Because now Brian Kelly’s job isn’t to explain why Northwestern managed to beat Notre Dame. It’s to not let the Wildcats beat them twice. So while most Irish fans already have the turkey cooked a week before Thanksgiving, Notre Dame’s still a 3.5-point favorite, so at least the town that’s built on picking a winner hasn’t completely given up on the Domers yet.

On Tuesday, Kelly acknowledged the stench that’s still coming off of this loss. But he rightfully put into context where this loss falls in his five-year run in South Bend, pushing away from the comparisons to the soul-stomping loss to Tulsa in 2010.

“Understand that these are some tough times,” Kelly said. “But relatively speaking I remind them of some tough times, that we were here just a few years ago, when we were 4 and 5. Those are tough times. Those are difficult times. This pales in comparisons. You’re now in a winning environment. And you’ve won a lot of football games.

“Our seniors win on Saturday, that would be 18‑2 in the last 20 games at home. So keep it in perspective.”

Perspective doesn’t get passed around these circles too often, especially not after bungled two-point conversions and goal line fumbles. But after watching mistakes compound last Saturday by the unusual suspects – the school’s record-setting kicker, its team captain running back, and a head coach that’s usually one of the better strategists in the game — Kelly quickly ended any talk about the self-fulfilling prophecies of doom and gloom that too often haunted these parts in years past.

“We’re not going to get into that. I think you get in the game and [the mistakes] definitely affect you,” Kelly acknowledged, when asked about having worries that these mistakes might spread. “Look, it affected me. I went for two when I should have kicked the extra point, right?

“It affects everybody. I can’t fall into that. I’m not getting paid to make stupid decisions like that. But you fall into that, right? And so I can’t let our players fall into that.”

So it’s back to the basics. And even if Kelly himself wasn’t going to bring up the darkest days of his tenure in South Bend, a look at those moments should give you a good feel about how his team has responded to adversity.

For clues as to how the Irish will respond to crisis, let’s go back to those big moments:


Tulsa 28, Notre Dame 27
October 30, 2010
Gut-Punch Level: Infinity

Overview: A week after being humiliated by Navy 35-17, the Irish took the field just three days after the tragic death of Declan Sullivan.

The Irish lost Dayne Crist early in the game with another major, season-ending knee injury. The Irish gave up two points on a blocked extra point. (Sound familiar?) And after taking a 27-18 lead over the Golden Hurricane in the third quarter, the Irish gave up 10 unanswered points before driving inside the Tulsa 20 yard line with under a minute left.

But after taking a timeout on 2nd-and-8 to discuss things, Tommy Rees underthrew Michael Floyd in the end zone and was intercepted, leaving kicker David Ruffer on the sideline without ever getting to attempt a game-winning 37-yard field goal.

The Aftermath: Kelly’s opening postgame comments were his first about the Sullivan tragedy. After answering those difficult questions, they shifted to his decision to throw the football with a true freshman quarterback with a makeable field goal in range. Here was Kelly’s response.

“We knew we had a one-on-one matchup with Mike Floyd. We certainly wanted to give that an opportunity for success and score a touchdown there. Took a timeout there to talk about it. I think we all know what happened there,” Kelly said. “But keep in mind, you better get used to it, because that’s the way we’re playing. If we can get a one-on-one matchup, and we think we can get that accomplished, we’re going to call that play again and again. We’ll make that play. We didn’t make it today. But in time we’ll make that play.”

The loss pushed the Irish into a very real scenario where a postseason bowl berth looked doubtful. Notre Dame’s two toughest opponents — a ranked Utah team and USC — still remained. As did another option offense, with an already bowl-eligible Army team awaiting for the Irish in Yankee Stadium. Notre Dame needed to win two of three just to get to .500.

The Response: Entering as nearly touchdown home underdogs, the Irish hadn’t beaten a ranked team since 2006, an 11-game run. But facing an offense that had averaged 41 points a game, the Irish won the turnover battle 2-0, got a huge blocked punt by Robert Blanton for a touchdown and Austin Collinsworth forced a fumble on the second half’s opening kickoff.

Tommy Rees completed 13 of 20 passes for just 129 yards. But three of those went for touchdowns with Floyd catching one and Duval Kamara catching two as students stormed the field after a cathartic 28-3 victory.

“Today for our football team was a moment that you really can’t explain unless you’re with us all the time, and that moment is shared between players and coaches. We were able to do that in the locker room after the game,” Kelly said after the victory. “Our seniors were playing in their last game. Through the last three weeks we certainly have had a great deal of adversity that we’ve had to overcome together as a group. In those times to steal a quote from Coach Parseghian, adversity elicits traits sometimes that we didn’t think we ever had.”


Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31
September 10, 2011
Gut-Punch Level: Infinity

Overview:: Few losses hurt more than this one. Notre Dame’s defense gave up 28 second-half points and the Irish offense’s 513 yards were all but negated by five turnovers as a broken coverage late in the game allowed Denard Robinson and company to walk out of an electric evening in Michigan Stadium with a win for the ages, capped off by a 16-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left.

After losing in painful ways the previous two seasons, the Irish looked like they had pulled out a clutch victory when Tommy Rees hit Theo Riddick on a 29-yard touchdown with 30 seconds to go. But Jeremy Gallon was left wide open in the secondary, setting up the game-winning touchdown.

The Aftermath: A week after self-destructing against USF, the Irish did so on an ever larger stage, an unlikely 0-2 football team that left the equivalent of 55 points on the board because of turnovers in just two weeks.

With a visit from Michigan State just days away (who had beat the Irish on their famed Little Giants fake field goal attempt a year prior), Kelly sounded resolute that he and his team could get things turned around.

“I really believe that you haven’t won a game yet, but you haven’t been beaten,” Kelly told his team. “We’ve really had a hand in beating ourselves. If we do not beat ourselves, we’ve got a chance to be the kind of football team that we believe we can be.”

The laundry list of improvements seemed quite daunting. In addition to an offense that was self-destructing, the secondary did the same. The Irish short-yardage units were abysmal. And the Irish had now lost seven of eight games that were within four points.

The Response: Notre Dame 31, Michigan State 13.

Few remember that the Irish offense only gained 275 yards. Or that the Spartans won the turnover battle 3-2. Notre Dame’s defense came to play, picking off Kirk Cousins in the shadow of their end zone and stopping a Mark Dantonio fake field goal attempt for good measure as well.

On special teams, George Atkinson provided the big play, an 89-yard kickoff return pushing the Irish up 14-3. On defense, freshman Aaron Lynch was relentless as a pass rusher.

The Irish essentially iced victory when Michael Floyd scored on a 22-yard touchdown to push the lead to 28-10 in the third quarter. While Cierre Wood’s 14 carries led the team, Jonas Gray made his early mark on the team, gaining 5.4 yards a carry on his 12 touches.

“We just had to find a way to win. And that was the theme this week. By any means, just find a way to win the football game,” Kelly said afterwards.


Pitt 28, Notre Dame 21
November 9, 2013
Gut-Punch Level: Painful

Overview: Things seemed to go wrong from the drop, with defensive end Stephon Tuitt ejected in the first quarter for targeting, gutting an already injury-depleted Irish team. But the Irish pulled ahead late in the third quarter when Rees and TJ Jones connected on an 80-yard touchdown pass.

But the lead wouldn’t hold, as Devin Street matched Jones’ big play with a 63-yard score to tie the game and James Connor pushed Pitt ahead early in the fourth quarter as two late interceptions by Rees allowed the score to hold up.

“Our mantra is you can’t start winning until you stop losing and we did things tonight that caused losing,” Kelly said.

Critics wondered about playcalling, with the Irish running for 5.8 a carry, but giving freshman Tarean Folston just four carries among the team’s 24 attempts. And Jones’ individual effort, 149 yards on six catches, wasn’t enough to overcome three turnovers, including one by the Irish receiver in scoring position.

The Aftermath: The loss killed the Irish’s BCS dreams and was also a rare November nightmare for a team that had played historically well down the stretch. With the defensive front gutted, the Irish were forced to play unproven reserves like Tyler Stockton, Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, and it showed as the Pitt offense wore down the Irish defense. But Kelly didn’t use that as an excuse.

“Stephon Tuitt not playing in the game, that’s not why we lost this football game,” Kelly said. “That is not why we lost this football game. It had nothing to do with this loss tonight.”

After living on the edge with a close victory over USC and then two weeks later Navy, the Irish regression was a disappointing development for a team that had hopefully left turnover problems behind in their loss to Oklahoma.

“This really was about our football team going on the road and executing poorly on offense and not being good enough when they needed to be on defense,” Kelly said. “Coaches are responsible for getting their players to execute. That’s why we’re hired. That’s what we do. We didn’t get that from our players tonight. I’m responsible for that. That didn’t happen tonight.”

The Response: On Senior Day, a bludgeoned Irish defense was carried by a surprising offensive attack, with Notre Dame’s ground game leading the way to victory. Played in intermittent snow, Rees hit DaVaris Daniels for a big 61-yard touchdown pass on the game’s first series, but won it on the ground, with the Irish running for 235 yards against a BYU defense that was statistically among the best in the country.

With the wind howling and the weather nasty, the Irish seized the opportunity to win the game with their offensive line, limiting mistakes (and the opportunity to make them) in a 23-13 victory that saw Notre Dame control the time of possession.

“Well, as I told our team, first and foremost, getting a win at home is always extremely satisfying in that we always want to defend our home stadium,” Kelly said, noting the Irish run of winning 12 of 13 in Notre Dame Stadium, before turning the attention to his graduating seniors. “Certainly getting a win for them is important. We told them that, you’ll get a chance to kiss your mom again. But you’ll remember winning the game. That’s the most important thing.”