Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda — ND gives it away

Dadgumitt … ya know that ND fans, players, coaches, etc are gonna look back at this 29-24 loss to North Carolina and point to it as THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY … The very “winnable loss” that mucked up what coulda-shoulda-woulda been a fantastic season. So instead of being possibly 10-2 or 9-3 on Dec 1 and considered for a New Years Day Bowl (you know … one of those played real early in the day), the Irish are probably now bound for 8-4 or 7-5 and the Who Knows What Bowl. More on this later.

Unlike the Michigan State loss, this game was ours … we had it in our grasp … things were going well … and then we essentially snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a span of game time that was only about 5-7 minutes out of the 60. These were the key snafus in chronological order:

1) After scoring a late 1st half TD to lead 17-6 with about 50 seconds left, the ND defense let up, stopped playing and allowed UNC to march down the field at ease for a late FG to close it to 17-9. Boy, would we have liked to have these 3 points back … coulda possibly kicked a FG to win it late in the 4th but instead needed a TD. (ND’s defense is like a light switch … somebody turns it off, it’s dark and by the time anyone can locate it to flip it back on, it’s too late. These guys are momentum killers).
2) The worst play of the day was obviously Clausen’s INT returned for a TD to start the second half. Just a huge gift of 7 points to the offensively challenged Tar Heels and it gave everyone in their program hope that they could win the game. Score is now 17-16 Irish. To Clausen and ND’s credit, they marched right back down the field and scored at the 10:43 mark of the 3rd quarter. This was really good to see, BUT remember … someone turned off ND’s defense.
3) The “next worst play of the day” was yet another fumble by the Irish midway through the 3rd qtr which set up UNC nicely at about mid-field. They of course marched through our “butter defense” like we were standing still and tacked on another TD. So, two disappointing things here: the lost fumble and a defense that just can’t seem to stop anyone when it’s a critical juncture in the game. Still, ND is up 24-22. We can still win!!!

NOT! The Irish just made too many costly mistakes that handed at least 10 points to UNC. ND lost 3 fumbles and 2 INTs, one of which was returned for a TD. Meanwhile, ND did not force any UNC turnovers … Zero … nada … NONE. You’re not gonna win many games with a minus 5 turnover margin, especially on the road against a quality opponent. But that brings us to the next point: When are we gonna see consistent HIGH INTENSITY and results from ND’s defense and special teams????? The Irish special teams are anything but special … we shall refer to them as the “ordinary teams” from here on out. They just don’t make anything happen … whether returning kicks or covering kicks. Now, on to the defense. The Irish will not be a legit Top 20 team until the defense starts pulling its weight. On most good teams, when the offense scores to go ahead, it spurs the defense on and they start smelling blood … they really turn it on and seal the deal. Not our guys. Our guys are momentum killers. Instead of turning it up, our D dials it down. What … ARE YOU TIRED?!?! Too exhausted from watching your own offense pile up 27 first downs and almost 500 yards?!?!?!?! The ND defense played soft enough to let a very mediocre QB for North Carolina look good. One sack all day. One lousy sack. ND’s defense just quit playing late in the first half after the Irish went up 17-6 and that’s a huge reason why ND is now 4-2 instead of 5-1 and not feeling all that great.

This brings us to next week. No game! The Irish have a week to rest and take mid-terms exams. I hope they also look at game film and understand how ridiculously winnable this game vs Carolina was. They will also see how terribly soft we are when it comes to blocking and tackling.
OK … let’s rise above this for a minute. Given last year’s train wreck of a 3-9 season, how do we all feel about 4-2 at the midway point? I’ll take it. Could it easily be 5-1? Sure. But when looking at the schedule before the season started, I thought ND could be/should be 4-2. 5-1 was a possible upside scenario in my opinion. To put things in perspective, WE COULD BE MICHIGAN. (Boy, did it feel good to say that!!! )

Here are the remaining 6 games for ND: At Washington, Pitt, At Boston College, at Navy, Syracuse, at Southern Cal. To me, it looks like 4-2. I mean, given what we now know after the first six games, the Irish SHOULD beat Washington (1), either Pitt or BC (2), Navy (3) and Syracuse (4). I said “should”. And I’ll also say that anything worse than 8-4 for this regular season will be very disappointing. Still, it beats the heck out of 3-9. ND is improving which is great … but there’s still quite a ways to go! We’ve lost to 2 ranked teams on the road, and we gave away the UNC game.
There’s hope 🙂

Other college football notes:
1) Nice win by Texas and happy to see it. (Just not crazy about that Stoops guy).
2) Very surprised that LSU got pummeled by Florida
3) Did I mention how delighted I was to see Michigan get beat at home by Toledo? Hah! 🙂
4) What a surprising Big 10 this year. Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State are clearly the front-runners. What happened to Illinois and Wisconsin??? At 5-1, Northwestern makes me proud in a humble sort of way.
5) Boise State is undefeated and I’m going there next week for Parents Weekend. I’m pumped to get my first glance at the smurf turf. They play Hawaii.
6) Going to Seattle in 2 weeks to see ND play Washington. The big Q is: Will Ty Losingham still be employed by the Huskies by then???
7) Watch out for USC … they are down, but not out of it. Wouldn’t it be nice if ND could spoil their BCS hopes in late November??? We can always dream!

I’m signing off until after the Washington game. Have a great couple of weeks!

Wally

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