NOTRE DAME, Ind. - There are always players crying after Senior Day, but one look at senior Pat Kuntz embracing head coach Charlie Weis after Notre Dame's game against Syracuse and it was clear that these were not the right kind of tears.
An explanation could be found just yards away where lame duck Syracuse coach Greg Robinson was seen dancing with his players and saying, "When you get a win like this boys, it's OK to dance."
The Orange earned their third win of the season in come-from-behind style over the Irish 24-23 and although fans will once again be calling for his head, Weis said that his only concern is his players.
"I truly separate myself from feeling bad for me or worrying about my psyche because I only worry about them," Weis said. "I worry about those kids and their families. I worry about my coaches and their families. I worry about my wife and kid, but I don't worry about my psyche and I don't worry about my mentality because I don't think there's enough time.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, whichever way you look at it, that's just my makeup."
The Notre Dame defense put the Irish in position to win the game, but when the offense was unable to do that, the burden fell one too many times on Corwin Brown's unit.
The Orange trailed 23-10 at the end of the third quarter, but Antwon Bailey's 29-yard touchdown run brought them to within a touchdown and quarterback Cameron Dantley's 11-yard scoring pass to Donte Davis put them ahead with less than a minute to go.
"I think when you get to a score where it's 23-10, it's the team's responsibility to close out the game. I include the coaches with the team," Weis said. "What's got to happen for them to win the game? First of all, we've got to score no more points, which we did. Second of all, the special teams have to make no plays, which they didn't. And third of all, the defense has to give up two touchdowns the length of the field, which they did."
Notre Dame had a final chance to steal a win, but Brandon Walker's 53-yard field goal as time expired fell short.
Jimmy Clausen finished the game 22 of 39 for 291 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Golden Tate caught both of Clausen's TD passes and had seven grabs on the day for 146 yards. But Notre Dame rushed for just 41 yards on 28 carries. Conversely, Dantley was just 13 of 25 for 122 yards and the score, but the Orange rushed for 170 yards on 36 attempts.
The defense and special teams were solid enough through three quarters that the game should not have even been a question, but the offense's lackluster play made it so.
To describe Notre Dame's play in the first half as lackluster would be kind. The Irish were fortunate to take a 13-10 lead into the locker room. Notre Dame's offense did not generate anything until Clausen connected on four straight passes to score a touchdown just seconds before the half.
Special teams star Mike Anello made the first big play of the game, stripping Syracuse punt returner Ryan Howard after an Irish three-and-out to start the game. John Ryan recovered the fumble for Notre Dame and Walker converted a 34-yard field goal attempt to give Notre Dame a 3-0 lead less than four minutes in.
After a missed field goal by Syracuse, the Irish drove into Syracuse territory again, but the drive stalled when James Aldridge was stopped for a loss on a 4th-and-2 play at the Syracuse 35.
The Orange opened up their second drive with some trickery as Bailey connected with Dan Sheeran for a 25-yard completion. Syracuse kicker Patrick Shadle drilled a 48-yard field goal attempt to tie the game 3-3 on the final play of the first quarter.
The Irish went three-and-out on their first drive of the second quarter before the Orange drove 80 yards for a 1-yard touchdown run by Curtis Brinkley, giving Syracuse a 10-3 lead with 6:48 remaining in the half.
Notre Dame pushed the ball across midfield on its next drive, but the Irish had to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Walker to make the score 10-6 with 2:19 left in the half.
The Notre Dame defense forced Syracuse to punt and the Irish got the ball back with 40 seconds left. After completing a 14-yarder to Duval Kamara, Clausen hooked up with Tate for completions of eight and 19 yards before hitting him in stride for a 35-yard scoring pass with two ticks left on the clock.
Clausen finished the first half 13 of 18 for 137 yards and the TD pass to Tate. Tate finished the half with five receptions for 70 yards. Notre Dame rushed 14 times for just 28 yards in the first half.
Dantley was seven of 12 for 83 yards in the first two quarters, while Brinkley was held to 27 yards on 12 carries.
The Notre Dame defense looked like it was ready to put the game away at the start of the third quarter. The Irish forced a three-and-out on Syracuse's opening possession of the second half and Anello got a piece of the punt to set the offense up with great field position at the Orange 28-yard line. But two holding penalties and a sack had the Irish facing 2nd-and-47 and 3rd-and-40. They did not convert.
The defense and special teams again set the offense up again with another three-and-out and a blocked punt by Sergio Brown. This time the Irish did not get into the end zone and Walker's 26-yard try was no good after holder Eric Maust failed to get the ball down cleanly.
The Irish offense finally got things rolling on its third drive of the half with a 68-yard scoring drive capped with a 36-yard scoring pass from Clausen to Tate to give Notre Dame a 20-10 lead with 2:39 left in the third.
Scott Smith forced a fumble by Brinkley on the next Syracuse possession. Toryan Smith picked up the fumble and lateraled it to Gary Gray, who took it down to the Syracuse 5-yard line. But again the offense failed to take advantage and had to settle for another Walker field goal that put Notre Dame up 23-10 with 1:34 left in the quarter.
That is when the freshman running back, Bailey, went to work, rushing for 60 yards on the Orange's first drive of the fourth, capped with the 26-yard score to put Syracuse back in the game at 23-17 with 12:30 left.
The teams traded possessions before Walker had a 49-yard field goal attempt that would have made it a two-score game fall short with just under five minutes remaining. The Orange responded with an eight-play, 68-yard drive with Bailey rushing for the first 43 yards and Dantley doing the rest. Dantley's scoring pass to Davis came with 42 seconds left and Shadle's extra point put Syracuse up 24-23.
With no timeouts, the Irish got the ball to Syracuse's 34-yard line after a 40-yard pass from Clausen to Tate on fourth down. Clausen spiked the ball to stop the clock with 5 seconds left. After toying with the idea of throwing a quick out pattern to gain some more yards, Weis sent out Walker for a 53-yard attempt that was short as time expired.