Matt Cashore /

Irish Notes: Disbelief

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Losers in three of its first four this season and five of six overall, Notre Dame remains in search of answers after a 38-35 loss to Duke in South Bend.


Duke entered Saturday’s contest as underdogs of 20.5 points to the likewise 1-2 Irish. The Blue Devils win as three touchdown underdogs ranks third among the six greatest disparities between Vegas’ projections vs. game day realities (in each the Irish were more than a two touchdown favorite) in South Bend.

  • 1995 Home Opener: Northwestern 17 Notre Dame 15 (Irish favored by 28.5)
  • 1996 BYU 20 Notre Dame 17 (Irish favored by 21.5)
  • 2015 Duke 38 Notre Dame 35 (Irish favored by 20.5)
  • 2008 Syracuse 24 Notre Dame 23 (Irish favored by 19.5)
  • 2014 Northwestern 43 Notre Dame 40 OT (Irish favored by 17)
  • 1994 Air Force 21 Notre Dame 14 (Irish favored by 15)

Of note, Notre Dame’s only such victory over the last 30 seasons was a 20-6 win at UCLA as 21-point underdogs in October, 2007 – their first win after an 0-5 start.


Notre Dame’s defense showed signs of life after intermission, holding the Blue Devils scoreless for the second stanza’s first 23 minutes before a 64-yard catch-and-run (following a game of QB/WR/DB cat-and-mouse) reopened the flood gates.

It’s the third time this season that Brian VanGorder’s unit has produced such a stretch in defeat, holding Texas without a point for more than 21 game minutes (turning a 31-14 deficit into a 35-31 lead in the process) and keeping Michigan State off the board for the first 20:30 and final 18:45 of the contest.

However, an aggregate 100 minutes of otherwise remarkable defensive inefficiency has proven too difficult to overcome.


Nearly 30 percent of Notre Dame’s 37 rushing attempts ended in loss or gains of 0, 1, or 2 yards. Another trio gained just three yards on 1st-and-10. That’s an aggregate of 14 inefficient runs or more than 37 percent of the backfield’s carries (including two sacks).

Sophomore starter Josh Adams was perplexed post-game.

“It’s something that (Coach Kelly) preached about all week in practice: paying attention to little details, details that you tend to forget sometimes, details that make the difference between a long play and a short play and no play,” he said.

“I think that’s mainly what it was that caused us to get out of rhythm and a lot of that is on us as running backs. We have to do a better job of leading and running hard.”

Notre Dame’s purported strength entering the 2016 season lied in its offensive backfield and the five linemen aligned in front of them. The last two losses have rendered that belief inaccurate.


One unit among the featured quintet of special teams under coordinator Scott Booker’s charge had avoided major error through three contests. 

Saturday night, Booker’s kickoff coverage crew joined that ignominious fatal flaw club, surrendering a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown to reserve Blue Devils return man, Shaun Wilson. (Duke All-America kick returner DeVon Edwards injured his knee on the Blue Devils first return attempt and appears lost for the season.)

Adding to the specialty units repeated mistakes was sophomore kicker Justin Yoon who missed his only attempt from 42 yards out.

Notre Dame’s field goal, punt, punt return, kickoff, and kickoff return crews have each contributed crucial errors in the season’s opening month:

-- Punt Team: A 24-yard shank by Tyler Newsome leads to a fourth-quarter go-ahead score for Texas (37-35).
-- Punt Return: A recovered “fumble” by Michigan State off the leg of Miles Boykin leads to the go-ahead touchdown (and a lead they’d never relinquish) by the Spartans.
-- Kickoff Return: A hold by freshman Jalen Elliott negates a 100-yard kickoff return to begin last week’s loss to Michigan State.
-- Field Goal: Misses by Yoon in a three-point loss to Duke and an overtime loss to Texas, the latter blocked by the Longhorns from 36 yards out.
-- Kickoff: A 96-yard score Saturday by Duke

Saturday, Notre Dame’s penultimate possession began at its own 15-yard line despite C.J. Sanders fielding a Blue Devils kickoff at his goal line. One sack and three snaps later, Kizer was forced to throw on 3rd-and-20 from his own end zone.

The result was an interception at the Irish 45-yard line and minutes later, the game winning field goal. Top Stories