Carlyle Holiday went looking for the Luck of the Irish in a feature on ESPN's College Football Game Day before Notre Dame's 25-23 victory over Michigan Saturday before a capacity crowd in South Bend, Ind.
If Holiday didn't exactly find that bit of luck, he did stumble on the next best thing in the frantic closing seconds of the first half, a stripe-shirted football official having a bad, bad day. Touchdown was the call after Holiday darted into the middle of the Michigan defense on a quarterback draw with 21 seconds left in the second quarter.
Television replays clearly showed it was the wrong call. Holiday never crossed the plane of the goal line. In fact, he fumbled. The ball was sitting at the bottom of a pile of players just inside the 1. The touchdown was reminiscent of USC's phantom touchdown against the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl many years ago.
Not only that, it was set up when Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, a call that best could be described as questionable. Jackson's feet tangled with those of an Irish receiver. Normally, that's ruled incidental contact. Clearly, this was not a normal situation.
Those two calls hurt Michigan, without a doubt. They did not account for Michigan's loss, not in its entirety. The burden of carrying that load falls on the Wolverine players and coaches. Michigan lost because it made two many mistakes. One blocked field goal. Three fumbles. Ten penalties. It was not pretty.
The decision to go for two on the conversion after John Navarre threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Bennie Joppru with 2:53 left was a no-brainer. The Wolverines needed those two points to pull into a tie. The decision to throw a quick out in the direction of Braylon Edwards was questionable for two reasons.
One, Navarre took such a short drop in the pocket he could not afford to waste any time and scan the field. His slot receiver appeared to be open on the play. Two, Edwards drew tight coverage and the out pattern did not allow him to make the best use of his talents. He had an edge in height on Notre Dame's corners. Why not throw the ball up high on a fade route where he could jump and catch it?
That said, you don't convert two-point plays automatically. Otherwise, that would be the norm. Teams would go for two after every touchdown. It's one play to make 3 yards. It's a crapshoot.
So, too, could be the description of Michigan's 2-minute drill. Navarre completed 19 of 42 for 230 yards. He completed a screen pass to B.J. Askew to start the Wolverines' final drive, this coming after the `M' defense forced a punt and the Wolverines took over with 1:25 remaining. Plenty of time to move downfield into field goal range.
Navarre's pass to Ronald Bellamy was too high. Navarre's pass to Tyrece Butler was a strike, slicing through Notre Dame's zone coverage in the secondary. The only problem: Butler failed to settle in the open area of that zone after running a curl route.
Navarre will be criticized for failing to get the job done and, yet, that ball was right on the money. If Butler runs his route properly, if he catches the ball, it's a first down. Michigan is near the Notre Dame 40 and one more pass completion away from attempting a game-winning field goal. Earlier, Navarre had several balls dropped by his receivers. Their youth and inexperienced showed.
As for Carr's decision to turn down a holding penalty before Nicholas Setta kicked a 46-yard field goal to put the Irish up by eight, I would say it's easy to second-guess that decision now. Notre Dame took over after Chris Perry fumbled in great field goal position. Michigan's defense rose up and stopped the Irish.
On third-and-five from the 26, Holiday was sacked for a 3-yard loss. The Irish were called for holding on the play, a 10-yard penalty marked from the spot of the infraction. Carr turned down the penalty, leaving Notre Dame a fourth-and-eight from the `M' 29. In came Setta. Up went the kick. Good. Three points.
The Irish are up 25-17.
If Carr accepted the penalty, Notre Dame would have been granted another chance on third down, albeit a third-and-long. The Wolverines might have stuffed the Irish again. They might have sacked Holiday again. Or, Notre Dame might have gained a first down or even scored a touchdown. I'm sure Carr wanted to stem the tide of emotion after Perry's fumble. I'm sure he knew 10 yards wasn't going to make much difference to Setta.
His 46-yarder hit high in the netting behind the goal posts. It would have been good from another 10 yards out. He's not only a weapon, but also very likely a future NFL kicker. Watch for him to win his share of games on Sundays.
The sting of the Michigan defeat will linger for several more days, if not several more months. The trick for the Wolverines now is for them to gather themselves, regroup and get ready for a darn good Utah team, then the start of the Big Ten race. The silver lining in the setback is that Michigan was winning the war up front, as was the case late in the game against Washington. The Wolverines looked like the more powerful team coming down the stretch.
Now all they need to look for is some of that Holiday magic. Or, is that called the Luck of the Irish?
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