In the bitter cold of a vintage November Saturday in South Bend, Indiana, The Notre Dame Fighting Irish warmed up the 80,000 in attendance with the dumpster fire that was the second half against Virginia Tech. For the third straight time at home this season, the Irish blitzed out to an early lead, before suffering a total collapse.
Against Stanford, the Cardinal fell behind 10-0 at halftime, but then went on to score 17 unanswered and beat the Irish by seven. After a bye week to recuperate and fix their mistakes, the Irish assumed that a 20 point lead would be safe against Miami. 27 unanswered points for the Hurricanes debunked that theory, but the Irish were fortunate to scrape their way back and win that one.
Now, this week, Notre Dame took a quick 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Hokies, led by dual-threat quarterback Jerod Evans, scored 34 points in the next three quarters. They went on to win 34-31, capped off by 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
The “what-ifs” surrounding this game are brutal to consider. What if the Irish had punched it in when they had 1st and goal from the 1, instead of settling for a field goal? What if DeShone Kizer’s head hadn’t been slammed into the turf when he scrambled for a first down (The incident is at 2:13:45 in the video)? What if he hadn’t been knocked out again on the penultimate play of the game? What if Cole Luke hadn’t been wrongfully called for pass interference (2:47:30 in the video) in the fourth quarter? What if?
Unfortunately, all of those things did happen. Now, the reality is that Notre Dame has now lost seven games by a combined total of 32 points. In each loss, the Irish have had the ball in crunch time with a chance to win or tie the game. 5 times this season, the Irish have had the ball and failed to score with under 2 minutes left in the game. The absence of a consistent, clutch playmaker has hurt the Irish time and time again. DeShone Kizer, after throwing for 199 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, went 3-of-15 for 36 yards as the Hokies stormed back to take the lead.
There were some positives to be gleaned from this game, however, the most significant of which being that Josh Adams ran for 100 yards, and Notre Dame as a whole ran for 200. Kizer hit 8 different receivers for passes of over 10 yards, despite being under pressure for almost the whole game. James Onwualu got a sack on Senior Day, and Jarron Jones recovered a fumble.
There’s not a lot to celebrate right now as a Notre Dame Football fan, but a big rivalry game against a talented USC team and the optimism that comes with a new season are enough to keep the hope alive. A lot of talent returns next year, and I’m calling it now, 11-1 next season for the Irish. Come back next week to read why I’m right about that prediction. But for now, Happy Thanksgiving and beat Trojans.