The Irish lost that season finale, 41-39 to Boston College. The program hasn't recovered until today, standing on the precipice of an undefeated football season.
"We saved our best for our last home game," said head coach Brian Kelly of a 38-0 victory. "The goal for all of us was to be undefeated this year at home and we were able to achieve that goal. We feel really good about the accomplishment."
Redshirt-freshman Everett Golson was 11 months old the last time Notre Dame faced a contest with national title implications at season's end. He'll be the focal point of his team's quest with momentum clearly on his side this week.
Sitting out Saturday's final 23 minutes, Golson nonetheless hit for a career-best 346 yards and three touchdowns, completing 20 of 30 passes with 17 of his 20 receptions earning first down yardage.
"He's certainly seeing the field better. He's getting the ball out own time, and he's an elusive player," Kelly offered of his first-year starter. "He can make plays out on the perimeter. He's a very dangerous player if you're trying to defend him."
Golson helped Notre Dame celebrate Senior Day with a trio of touchdowns scored by three seniors:
- Cierre Wood took an option pitch right and galloped 68 yards for The Opening score -- the run marking the longest by an Irish player this season and giving the Irish a 7-0 advantage early.
"Cierre continues to do the job we ask him to do," said Kelly. "He ran North-South which is the one thing that he's continued to work on as a football player. He's getting better. I mean, he's got a long way to go, but he had a great night tonight."
- All-America candidate Tyler Eifert caught his fourth score of the season for a 14-0 cushion -- the touchdown left him two short of Ken MacAfee's program record by a tight end. Eifert later broke Macafee's 35-year-old record for career receptions at the position; his new mark 129 with two games remaining in an Irish uniform.
"I was really happy to have it, but just happy that I don't have to think about it anymore," said Eifert of a record he was projected to break. "You can say what you want about not thinking about it; but you know right where you are. Coach Kelly said 'If you drop this, we're not throwing to you the rest of the game, so I made sure I caught it."
- 5th-year John Goodman struck next, running past solo coverage for a 50-yard go-route score. The catch was the longest for a touchdown by an Irish player this season and the first home touchdown reception for Goodman in his four seasons as a contributor.
"We showed our explosiveness and what we could do on the field," said Goodman of the offense. "We had a lot of spurts of that this season but I think tonight it showed throughout the whole game."
None BetterHead coach Brian Kelly used an early fourth-quarter timeout to pay homage to his three departing senior starters on the nation's best defense as as Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zeke Motta, and Manti Te'o left to rousing ovations.
"I wanted to make it a special moment for the senior on defense," Kelly said. "They have been, obviously, the rock. They've carried us while we were trying to find ourselves offensively. It just seemed to me to be a pretty good gesture to allow us to honor those seniors."
Senior linebacker and team rock Manti Te'o was moved by his coach's gesture.
"Just magic. LIke everything's come full circle; just very grateful," said Te'o. "For Coach to do that, he could have easily taken us out and not even put us on the field. But it was a TV timeout and he said, 'I'm going to send you guys out there, and then I'm going to call timeout, and one-by-one, I'm going to sub you guys out.
"That's the type of coach that Coach Kelly is. I'm just very lucky to play for him."
The win was Notre Dame's eighth straight at home dating back to October 29 last season (Navy). Its the longest home winning streak since Bob Davie's Irish won 10 straight from October 1997-September 1999.
Notre Dame won its 11th straight for the first time since 1993 when a 31-24 win over then No. 1 Florida State extended the program's winning streak to 17 games dating back to early October 1992. The aforementioned Boston College loss and 17 seasons of November finales spent out of national contention followed.
"I think we're playing really good football at this point offensively and defensively," Kelly said. "Our special teams have been okay, but I think offensively we're growing. We're very explosive. We had nine explosive plays in the first half. I think if you can match with what we've done defensively, we're playing pretty good football."
How the Mighty Have FallenFourteen points scored at Stanford. 62 points allowed to Oregon. 39 in a loss to Arizona. A 38-28 defeat at the hands of city rival UCLA -- these are not the USC Trojans that feasted on Notre Dame for nearly a decade.
As a result, 11-0 and third-ranked Notre Dame will experience a role reversal next Saturday in Los Angeles: road favorites in the nation's top intersectional rivalry with everything on the line against a host playing only spoiler.
"Our guys know what's at stake now. This is about an undefeated season," Kelly said of the task at hand. "I told them tonight I'm proud of them. I voted them number one in the country for a reason, because I think they're the best team in the country, and I think they played like that tonight."
2,100 miles west, USC played like a team beaten down by a season wrought with unfulfilled expectations and unrealized potential. But the Trojans remain dangerous, especially offensively with future pros populating the skill positions.
"With one game left, all of their energies are focused on one goal, and that is to beat USC," said Kelly about what has become a one-game season. "This isn't a group that plays with extra pressure. We'll make sure they are able to go out and play the game the way it's meant to be played.
"They've played to win, and we'll make sure we play to win on Saturday."
A win would give Notre Dame a mark of 12-0 for the first time since 1988 when it was crowned champions. No Irish team has finished 13-0.
It's a two-game season, and already one no Irish fan will forget.