Debacle in the Desert

Notre Dame rendered pretenders in Tempe, losing 55-31 to surging Arizona State.

Tempe, AZ: -- There was some Alabama, viscerally at least, remnants of a Crimson Tide beating past was there.

And there was some South Florida, 2011, too be sure. Calamity.

And as important, there was a healthy dose of head coach Todd Graham and Arizona State, the former now 2-2 against Brian Kelly over Kelly's five seasons in South Bend.

Notre Dame suffered 10 tackles for loss, five turnovers, two defensive touchdowns, and an abrupt end to any heretofore meaningless conversation regarding their purported place among college football's inaugural Final Four.

Four of the sport's 13 realistic remaining competitors lost Saturday. Notre Dame was one of them. November, as previously noted, finds a way to eat its own.

Saturday afternoon took the Irish from the short list of final four sleeper squads to the vast, overpopulated annoyances of two-loss teams -- dregs in college football's new society. Afterthoughts.

Make no mistake: if you're not in, you're out. And that's the Irish, at least until this current group of underclassmen enters the mythical pre-season polls among the nation's top five next summer and gets a second chance to prove itself.

“Five turnovers and a mishandled (field goal) is the story,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “We can’t expect to win football games against good teams and turn the ball over five times, two of them "pick sixes" and two of them in short-field drives.”

Kelly was spot on in his assessment, but that doesn't change the ensuing query:

Why?

Why is a senior quarterback blessed with unique gifts such as an NFL arm plus nifty feet turning it over at an alarming rate?

(And in case you're not scoring at home, 17 turnovers in six games is a historical, fatal flaw in Everett Golson's game.)

“Basically, it’s all on me,” said Golson post-game. “When you play with fire as much as I did today, you’re going to get burnt eventually.”

It wasn't all on him, but Golson lit a funeral pyre to the Irish playoff dreams. Arizona State ran away with what was a toss-up game as a result.

Down 34-3 late in the second quarter. Thirty-four to three?! Notre Dame cut the margin to 34-10 just before intermission. It was 34-17, 34-24, 34-31, still with four minutes remaining.

And then all for naught. A 55-31 finale. A 24-point loss after trailing by 24 at the break. Good try, but big deal. They play two halves and 60 minutes for a reason -- the Irish were sound to spectacular for a solid 27 of them.

Incompetent for the rest.

“We battled back with great resolve, great character,” Kelly said. “These kids are as good a group of kids as I’ve coached. But if you’re sloppy…

“This isn’t rec ball. It isn’t CYO," he continued. "There are no pats on the back for being great competitors. We’re doing this to win and we didn’t win the game. We didn’t win it because of the obvious circumstances, and that’s five turnovers.”

Kelly added that the lion's share of blame for the ignominious defeat was on his offense, not the defense.

“This game was not set up for us to rely on our defense to come up with a big stop,” Kelly said. “This game was set up for our offense to win the game. We put our defense in such a bad situation today.”

It was a situation I thought they were past, and frankly should be. Just three weeks after looking for all-the-world to be the best team in the nation in Tallahassee, Notre Dame somehow played younger than its age Saturday in the desert.

Infantile. And now out of it.

Three wins and a 10-2 finish to the regular season would be better than most expected entering August, and it's a goal still attainable. The ultimate goal, for yet another year, remains out of reach.

Unlike that now less than relevant night in Seminoles' country, Notre Dame is wholly responsible for its reality.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories