CLEMSON, S.C. – Pick your poison, Irish fans.
Was it the head coach’s hastiness early in the fourth or the defense’s missed alarm clock in the first?
Was it the six dropped passes by (ironically) the pass-catchers, or was it the quarterback overlooking open teammates for both first downs and scores?
Was it the inability to create room for running back C.J. Prosise? (Prosise didn’t exactly remind me of Jim Brown early, either.) Was it the offensive line’s hideous handling of noise and pre-snap pressures? Was it the staff’s play calling or the players execution? And lets not forget leaky kickoff coverage and a shanked punt.
And oh those four turnovers – a quartet shared among the team’s QB, RB, WR, and KR. (That about covers it!)
The stars, the supporting cast, the head coach. None of the above and not much in between was up to par Saturday in Death Valley, though the squad’s comeback efforts should prove crucial at season’s end.
Losing by two at Clemson won’t likely be a death knell.
Regardless, Notre Dame’s program and its fans woke Monday morning ranked somewhere around No. 11 and on the outside looking in rather than among the nation’s top four or five and in playoff poll position.
No matter, there are seven games remaining, two potentially marquee in nature for Kelly’s crew. Assuming 11-1 would suffice (and 4 out of every 5 seasons or so, it will), there’s but one key development that must present if the Irish are to qualify for the second annual college football playoffs.
ASSERTIONS TO BE PUT TO THE TEST
“I’m incredibly disappointed in myself,” said captain Joe Schmidt. “We avoid this in the future by working. There are so many areas we need to be better in. I need to be better in personally. There’s nobody that’s going to work harder than I will.”
Schmidt’s words came through gritted teeth. He wanted to hit something, not talk about the painful present or uncertain future. But like many of his teammates, Schmidt didn’t hit enough in the four hours that preceded his post-game interview to offer his usual jovial self.
He’s far from the only Irishman that will have to be much better than he was over a rain-soaked weekend. Missed tackles by the secondary resulted in touchdowns rather than first downs. Missed tackles up front turned three and four-yard gains into much more. And soft/and or blocks waylaid drives on the other side of scrimmage.
Notre Dame’s best players were beaten by Clemson’s top dogs.
Championship teams don’t turn it over more than once in a contest. Championship offenses convert on third down and at the goal line. Championship defenses don’t give up touchdowns on third down.
The Irish didn’t deserve to win Saturday night. They could have, but Clemson clearly owned the day. (Then nearly blew the game – try breathing through your nose, Dabo.)
Clemson isn’t clearly better than Notre Dame but no astute observer of sports believes that Clemson wasn’t better when it mattered Saturday night.
Ironically, Clemson cannot afford to lose between Oct. 10 and season’s end and still qualify for the playoffs. Notre Dame lost on Oct. 3 to the Tigers and can.
But to win out, the roster and the staff will be put to the ultimate test, and it’s not on the field. For the better part of eight months we’ve been inundated with assertions – from Brian Kelly on down – that this team possesses the best leadership corps of any during his tenure.
Since, Irish fans have asked our staff repeatedly if that supposition is true. Until now, we had no way of knowing, because every team appears happy and together when winning.
Leadership rises to the fore when there’s a reason for dissent or worse, disinterest.
“We’re a together team,” said two-time captain Nick Martin. “We’re going to bounce back. We’ll see how we do when we face adversity. That’s how teams are formed.”
Spot on, Nick. The 2015 season for Notre Dame has officially begun.