Losing in overtime at home to Air Force and Navy is like enjoying a hot fudge sundae compared to falling on a fake field goal attempt on a fourth-and-14 play.
Notre Dame, star crossed since 1993, indeed discovered another, even more painful, way to lose this evening when Michigan State 's Aaron Bates completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Gantt for the winning points in a 34-31 overtime triumph at delirious Spartan Stadium.
"The play is called ‘Little Giants'," said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio. "We got an inexperienced kicker, and it was a long kick. It was the right time to try it."
The question is, why weren't the Irish expecting it? The play was barely contested, with Gantt roaming freely behind the befuddled Irish defenders. (Lou Holtz on ESPN went into Irish apologist mode, noting that everyone was matched up at the line of scrimmage and Gantt broke open due to the defenders becoming "tangled up.")
And, as a result, the Kelly era begins with a 1-2 start. And the Sunday Morning Quarterbacks have a playbook full of second guesses for the new Irish coach.
"It was a difficult loss obviously. It came down to one play," said Kelly. "Michigan State executed the play. We did not. We came up short."
Notre Dame is a familiar position: in survival mode before the leaves have turned.
The Irish were brilliant on three consecutive drives spanning the third and fourth quarters, scoring touchdowns on each while piling up 203 yards offense in 22 sharp plays. The production gave Notre Dame a 28-21 lead.
But, for the second week in a row against Big Ten opposition, the Irish could not close. Their final 18 plays of the game and in overtime netted just 18 yards and 57 total yards.
Still, when David Ruffer booted a 33-yard field goal on the first possession of the OT, Notre Dame led 31-28 and had a chance.
Or something a little more hard to swallow for Irish fans.
The first-half – which finished in a 7-7 deadlock – would define you as a glass half-full or half-empty type of fan. Crist looked brilliant on Notre Dame's scoring drive, completing four first-down before connecting with Michael Floyd on a seven-yard fade for the score with 5:28 left in the first. It was the first score of the game and the Irish looked sharper and better than the hosts.
The momentum increased when Zeke Motta picked off a terrible third-and-goal pass from Cousins early in the second quarter. And when Notre Dame began to march after the pick, it looked like the Irish might gain some separation.
Two red zone turnovers (a sloppy Floyd fumble at the 11 and a Crist first-down pick at the 6) put an end to those hopes. Off the latter turnover, Michigan State drove 94 yards in just seven plays, knotting the game with 2:22 left in the half when Keshawn Martin grabbed a six-yard touchdown pass from Cousins.
Michigan State had a slight edge in first-half total yardage, 214-205, and both squads had brain farts that prevented further scoring (ND blew a shot in scoring range when Crist's indecision led to a delay-of-game; Michigan State's last drive of the half was stalled by back-to-back procedure penalties).
In other words, the first half did little to foretell what would happen in the final 30 minutes and overtime.
(Alan Tieuli is Editor-in-Chief for IrishEyes Magazine)