1 – The 1991 Los Angeles Lakers won Game One of the NBA Finals on a last second shot. They lost Game Two to the Chicago Bulls by 20. In the wake of defeat No. 2, Hall of Famer Magic Johnson offered, “Whether you lose by one, or by 20, it’s still 1-1.”
But in the three-month beauty pageant that is a college football season, how you lose matters greatly, and the reality that Notre Dame didn’t commit a program face plant Saturday night when trailing 21-3 bodes well for the Selection Committee’s all-powerful final poll. A 24-22 defeat on a failed two-point conversion will be the talking point, not Notre Dame’s horrid start.
2 – That said, if I hear, “I’m proud of the Irish, they didn’t quit,” one more time, I’m going to scream. Why would they quit? They play 12 Saturdays per year!! Congratulations on doing the bare minimum. And you know what, they “quit” in the first half due to their failure to prepare (Kelly and staff), to execute (list is too long) and to play with the competitive grace befitting of a champion.
3 – If you’re of the belief that Brian Kelly’s decision to go for two points (to cut the lead to 10) rather than kick an extra point (cut it to 11) with 14:13 remaining was correct, we’ll have to agree to disagree. And you should know your mind is not among the sport’s enlightened, but I digress…
Kelly and those that support his choice overlook the reality that while Notre Dame was set to receive three (his projection), perhaps four more possessions (as it played out), so too was Clemson. Thus the goal of “making it a 10-point game” was and remains shortsighted thinking, as the Tigers were likely to change that margin at least over the final 14 minutes. They did (kicking a field goal) and predictably could have twice (they missed a field goal).
It’s akin to trailing by seven points in a basketball game with two minutes remaining. Sure, you chuck a 25-footer in search of three points, and maybe it will go in. But you can also drive to the bucket against a defense willing to allow two points for fear of fouling. Take the sure thing and extend the game. Put pressure on the team that didn’t expect any after a comfortable lead.
If the 25-footer goes in, it remains a bad shot. Kelly’s choice to go for two with a COMBINED (the key word) six to eight possessions remaining qualifies as poor late-game management.
4 – The August projection by ESPN’s Trevor Matich of C.J. Prosise as a Heisman Trophy sleeper candidate ranks as the most impressive player prediction of our lifetimes. Not as impressive but notable for Irish fans, our Tim Prister offered to me during August camp that Prosise would have a better season than would (a healthy) Tarean Folston.
A Prosise/Folston 1-2 punch would have helped Saturday night.
5 – My pre-film review analysis of DeShone Kizer against the Tigers:
-- Poise Under Pressure: A
-- Accuracy: Good enough for a win, but not ensure it
-- Competitiveness: A+
-- Decision-making: Work in progress
-- Leadership: A
-- Field vision: Major work in progress
-- Scrambling Ability: Intriguing
-- Short-Yardage running ability: Tentative
-- Pre-snap Management: Work in Progress
-- Post-game Perspective (interview): A+
6 – Word from the Clemson locker room posited that the Irish offensive front had a “tell,” and that the Tigers defensive front seven could discern from it whether the play would be a run or a pass. (It was also offered that Notre Dame made a change during the second half that removed said “tell.”)
Asked about a potential tell during his Sunday press conference, Kelly offered, “We study all of that stuff very diligently and there is really nothing that we can discern from what we do,” he said. “We change up our stance, we're in a two-point, we put our hand down when it's pass, we're in two-point when it's run, so we do a pretty good job of moving the ‘back. Maybe they had a lot of time (to prepare for the game). I know when they needed to get to our quarterback and they knew it was pass, they couldn't get to him.”
Among Notre Dame’s 34 rushing plays were a season-worst 17 gains of 0, 1, 2, or negative yards.
7– Here’s to wide receiver Chris Brown bouncing back after a dispiriting goal line fumble Saturday night. The Irish senior put forth the best outing of his career prior, with two 30-plus yard catch-and-runs in the fourth quarter alone. Brown was sullen post-game but my guess is Irish fans will see solid No. 2 receiver from here on out.
8 – Save for a concentration drop – an inexcusable one, at that – junior Torii Hunter was the team’s unsung offensive hero Saturday night, producing four first downs plus a touchdown catch that should have set up the game-tying extra point. The receiver troika of Brown, Hunter, and Amir Carlisle in support of Will Fuller looks good going forward.
9 – As Clemson will likely discover, it’s better to lose on Oct. 3 than at any point in November. Timing of defeat is one unwritten that final polls (still decided by human error and opinion, now just fewer of them in number) will always struggle to reconcile.
That said, save for a matchup against Wake Forest on Senior Day, Notre Dame could lose to any of its seven remaining foes. The silver lining is, as currently constructed, the Irish are likely a better overall football team than each of the seven they’ll face.
Onto Week Six and the 2015 season’s “Sandwich Game” against undefeated Navy…