Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Avoiding the Double Dip

Notre Dame can’t afford to lose again if it wants to reach its post-season goal. It can’t lose back-to-back, at all, if the program and its fan base is to look back at the 2015 season as a success.

They call it a letdown for a reason.

The nature of Notre Dame’s 24-22 loss at Clemson suggests the now ongoing practice week that follows is replete with pitfalls for a squad suddenly on the outside looking in toward its collective goal.

Kelly commented on the subject at his weekly Tuesday press conference, noting, “We can’t let Clemson beat us twice.”

Ah yes, the hangover effect.

It afflicts the best of coaches and the sport’s best programs. Lou Holtz, for the sake of reference, lost back-to-back in four of his 11 seasons in South Bend (1986, 1987, 1991, and 1994).

Nick Saban dropped at least two in a row in three of his eight seasons (and counting) at Alabama and Urban Meyer did so just two years ago with Ohio State, and twice in his six-season reign at Florida.

November 2014 notwithstanding, Kelly has generally rallied his Irish to perform admirably in the wake of defeat, regardless of the ensuing game’s outcome. (Kelly is 12-8 after a loss with Notre Dame; five of those losses are part of a longer losing streak.)

Among Kelly’s 18 applicable losses (bowl defeats vs. Alabama and Florida State are disregarded as nine months passed prior to the next contests, both victories), *four ensuing defeats appear the result of a hangover from the previous week’s outcome.

(So too does one **win.)

2010: LEARNING FROM MISTAKES

Lost back-to-back-to-back in September and back-to-back in October, though under disparate circumstances as noted below.

-- 2010 Michigan: Lost to Michigan State the following week. A strong game against a peer team in a well played, overtime game
-- 2010 Michigan State: Lost to Stanford, a dominant team with which the Irish had little chance to compete.
-- 2010 Stanford: Bounced back with a resounding win at Boston College when it appeared Kelly’s Irish were ripe for the picking.

-- *2010 Navy: Difficult to gauge because of Declan Sullivan’s tragic death during the practice week that followed, but clearly Notre Dame was not fully locked in against Tulsa, a 28-27 defeat. Navy, in effect, beat the Irish twice.
-- 2010 Tulsa: A bye week helped, but Notre Dame’s response against #15 Utah one week later was no less impressive, dominating 28-3 and winning all three phases of the game. The Irish rocketed from 4-5 to 8-5 by season’s end, buoyed by this post-Tulsa effort.  

2011: BACK-TO-BACK, BUT DECEIVING

Back-to-back to both start and finish the season. Neither appears due to hangover from the previous week’s defeat. In fact, the Irish responded well to Curious Loss #2 (at Michigan) with one of their best outings of the season.

-- 2011 South Florida: The Irish came out smoking one week later at Michigan, racing to a 28-7 lead. They lost 35-31, but arguing that South Florida had lingering effects seems way off base.

-- 2011 Michigan: Mired at 0-2, Notre Dame jumped all over Michigan State one week later, winning 31-13 in South Bend after taking a 14-3 lead out of the gate.

-- 2011 Stanford: Lost more than a month later against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. The 18-14 decision was clearly unrelated to this Thanksgiving Saturday defeat in Palo Alto, and notable in that Notre Dame raced to a 14-0 lead against the Seminoles, to boot.

-- 2011 Florida State (NA/Bowl)

-- 2012 Alabama (NA/Bowl)

2013: HANGOVER MEDICINE

They weren’t much to look at and may forever rank as nondescript in Irish annals, but you have to hand it to the 2013 Tommy Rees-led Irish, they proved resilient in the end.

As an aside, without looking back at results, would you have guessed the 2013 Irish are the only team other than Kelly’s one-loss 2012 squad that avoided back-to-back defeats?

-- **2013 Michigan
: Michigan nearly beat Kelly’s Irish twice, as Notre Dame slept through the first three quarters against a truly awful Purdue team (1-11 on the season, beating no FBS teams), coming back to in the fourth, 31-24.

This contest more than most illustrates how a dispiriting loss one week prior can impact the following week of practice, and thus, the game on Saturday.

-- 2013 Oklahoma: Three cheers for the Irish effort following a 35-21 loss to the Sooners in South Bend, as Kelly’s crew marched into Cowboys Stadium as underdogs and left as victors, 37-34 against explosive Arizona State. (The Sun Devils scored 62 on USC two weeks prior.)

-- 2013 Pittsburgh: Battling crucial injuries up front, Kelly and the resilient 2013 Irish bounced back to beat BYU – a better team than the middling Panthers they’d lost to one week prior – 23-16 on Senior Day in South Bend.

-- 2013 Stanford: Beat Rutgers a month later, in something called “the Pinstripe Bowl.” Whatever…

2014: LETTING IT LINGER

Hangover Alert.
 
-- 2014 Florida State: A much-needed bye week provided the necessary tonic before a neutral site matchup with Navy, won 49-39 by the Irish, who once led 28-7 in the contest.

-- *2014 Arizona State: The Sun Devils clearly beat Notre Dame twice, as the homebound, mentally broken Irish fell to 17-point underdog Northwestern, 43-40 in overtime.

-- *2014 Northwestern:
It’s fair to posit the Wildcats beat the Irish twice, as Louisville marched into South Bend on Senior Day and took a 17-6 lead into the break. The short-handed Irish fought back but fell short, 31-28. (As an aside, I’ve felt since fans overvalued this defeat as a requiem on Kelly and the 2014 Irish, but with injuries mounting before and during the contest, this matchup likely favored Louisville in terms of available talent.)

-- *2014 Louisville: Lost to USC 49-14. Did Louisville beat Notre Dame twice? Not necessarily, because the debilitated Irish weren’t winning at USC anyway. November’s attrition (injury and in terms of the Irish spirit) certainly had a negative impact on Thanksgiving week preparations for the Trojans.

-- 2014 USC: A month off was necessary, but Notre Dame’s performance in its ensuing Music City Bowl matchup with LSU stands as the crown jewel of a program bouncing back from adversity and defeat.

2015: A CLEAR GOAL

Barring another rash of injuries to the defensive line, any instance of back-to-back losses this season should be deemed “unacceptable” for the 2015 Irish. 

A win Saturday over 4-0 Navy is far from guaranteed, but Kelly doesn’t believe his Irish will fail to properly prepare for Midshipmen team that’s given them fits each time its lined up with weapon at quarterback.

Keenan Reynolds remains at the trigger, now just five touchdowns shy of breaking the FBS mark for career rushing touchdowns. Reynold’s 73 rushing to date already ranks atop the list for quarterbacks.

“They've been in many, very difficult challenges with Navy, last year, the year before,” said Kelly. “They know what challenges are in front of us, playing the Naval Academy and how they compete for four quarters is like no other team that you play.

“After we meet on Monday and talk about the (previous) game and watch it and go through the film, we put it behind us. We have 24 hours to lament it and talk about what we could have done and the should haves and the could haves, and we have a pretty frank discussion about things we need to do better both as a staff and as players.

“And then we go back to work. Navy presents a very difficult challenge. We cannot let Clemson beat us twice.”

Clemson – or anyone else.


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