It was a familiar question, one asked before, even if initially hard to place. “What is the worst-case scenario for Notre Dame this weekend? And what is its best realistic chance?” This time, it came from Tyler Cass on 92.1 The Ticket in Fayetteville, Ark., on a much-too-early phone interview Thursday morning.
As soon as beginning to answer, the familiarity was placed. The query originally came from Edgar as the car pulled into the parking lot at what was then known as Sun Life Stadium back on Jan. 7, 2013. At that moment, the Irish were 10-point underdogs, and Edgar was so convinced of their ability to compete that evening, he had invested in that figure. To memory, invested heavily.
As the afternoon passed, I heard of many who had done just as Edgar did. (In years since, I have also heard horror stories of bankroll-sized, alcohol-inspired and never-remembered wagers on the Notre Dame moneyline. Fortune did not favor those bold.)
“Touchdown-punt-touchdown,” I told Tyler, just as I once had Edgar. As anyone reading here certainly remembers, that is exactly what happened six years ago: Alabama received the opening kickoff and scored five plays later. After an Irish three-and-out, the Tide marched 61 yards in 10 plays to take a 14-0 lead that felt like so much more than that.
Avoiding that this time around may be Notre Dame’s best realistic chance. And it should be able to, if for no other reason than its defense is more complete than it was in 2012 and Clemson’s offense, while excellent, is not quite as dominant as Alabama’s was in 2012.
They both may be first-year starters, but the longer the Cotton Bowl stays close, one must think it will affect Tigers freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence more than it will Irish junior Ian Book. Preventing another touchdown-punt-touchdown sequence aids that cause.
Which leads to a reader question, from longtime reader and frequent (figurative) caller, glowplugv: If ND wins the coin flip, does Kelly defer or put the offense on the field? Rationale could be to defer and put the defense on the field first (team strength) and see if they can get a stop. ND gets the ball after the half with adjustments and maybe a quick score. Or get out there with the offense and give them your best shot and set the tone for the game?
Brian Kelly will not defer. It is as simple as that. It has been a staple of his coaching career, and one that makes sense in this instance. To those who argue, “Statistics show …,” that data illustrates a marginal difference and ignores many other variables inherent to the game. The coin flip decision does not alter outcomes wholesale.
But in Dallas, taking the chance to avoid an opening of Clemson touchdown-punt-touchdown, the inevitable flashbacks induced by it and the first two-touchdown deficit faced by Notre Dame this season would be a smart chance to take. Reducing the odds of the worst-case scenario is an obvious choice to make.
From there, the longer it stays close, perhaps within the current 12.5-point spread, the more Irish odds will rise. Book has led one dramatic bowl-winning drive before, and his cool toward the ends of the Northwestern and USC games this season made those final scores look more lopsided than those primetimes really were. Lawrence, meanwhile, has not needed to navigate the end of even a two-score game. (Not that such is a fault. <sarcasm> How misguided of Clemson to win so many games so handily.</sarcasm>)
Therein lies Notre Dame’s best realistic chance in JerryWorld. The current point total over/under of 56.5 hints at a 35-22 final score. The Irish are underdogs in this, no reasonable outlook can argue that. A slow start for all involved should help mitigate that, eventually reducing the Tigers’ margin of error to just one play.
On a personal note, if that Irish puncher’s chance comes to be reality, I should be able to hop off a bridal party trolley and sidle up next to Edgar during a cocktail hour just as the fourth quarter begins. If within one possession, there will be reason to watch. If not, well, that sounds like a time to find the open bar and a girl named Claire, leaving the blow-by-blow for Sunday and the wonders of DVR.