Season's come and go, some more exciting (2009) than others (2007 and 2008). And like clockwork, at least since Lou Holtz left campus (and frankly, during his tenure at times as well), the Irish are a football team that generally gains momentum in October only to fade in the season's decisive month…and the resulting final home game is filled with tears of sadness from those that matter most.
The 2009 (and 2008) Notre Dame seniors spent their final moments on the hallowed grounds in disbelief and in anguish…on the field; on the sidelines, and in the post-game locker room. Unceremoniously sent on their way with a loss and a lost opportunity to take part in the now traditional (though on a two-year hiatus) "victory lap" they richly deserve after four, sometimes five seasons of service to the program.
Notre Dame played its final home game of the 2009 season yesterday. It resembled home games No. 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6…only there was no hope attached in edition No. 7's final minutes. No feeling that ND would find a way and then march toward its collective potential by season's end.
The Irish should have lost in regulation, but a curious clock management decision and subsequently missed 37-yard field goal by the visitors kept hope alive on the sidelines if not in the stands.
They lost in overtime for the fourth time in five occasions under head coach Charlie Weis, who walked out of the pre-game tunnel, arm-in-arm and in tears with his captains for their final game in South Bend.
It was the players' idea, not his. A touching show of solidarity for their embattled coach who thankfully refrained from the familiar and expected, "I'm just thinking about Stanford" verbiage post-game.
If a coach and team's goal is to improve as a season progresses, the last two seasons under Weis serve as an indictment. Notre Dame holds a 1-7 win-loss mark in the last two Novembers. Dating back to 2007, the Irish are a shocking 1-6 at home (3-9 overall) in the month warm-weather bowl officials travel north to woo the cash cow from South Bend.
A look at Notre Dame's November record over the last 45 years:
- Charlie Weis: 10-10 (one remaining)
- Tyrone Willingham: 6-6 (including a regular season December loss)
- Bob Davie: 12-7 (including a December 1 makeup game in 2001)
- Lou Holtz finished 27-11-1
- Gerry Faust: 7-11
- Dan Devine: 17-7-1(including one regular season December victory)
- Ara Parseghian: 35-6-3 (including two regular December games in which he was 1-1)
From the list above, only Bob Davie won his final regular season game as Irish head coach, a 24-19 win over Purdue in West Lafayette on December 1. He was officially "informed he would not be retained" on December 2.
Irish Defense in November: the Broken-Record
Opponents' rushing yards vs. the Irish in November games over the last three seasons:
2007: Navy 257; Air Force 255; Duke 95; Stanford 175. (2-2 record)
2008: Pittsburgh 178; BC 167; Navy 178; Syracuse 170; USC 175 (1-4 record)
2009: Navy 383; Pittsburgh 193; UConn 231 (0-3 record)
Three wins, nine losses…sometimes numbers don't lie.
Golden Tate: the Record-Breaker
Though he was slowed after an incredible first quarter in which he totaled six receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown, it was nonetheless another banner statistical day for junior wide receiver Golden Tate (9 receptions, 123 yards, TD overall), who set single-season program records for receptions (83) and receiving yards (1,295) entering next Saturday's final contest at Stanford.
Tate topped the 100-yard mark for the eighth game this season, tying the school record set by Tom Gatewood in 1970 and the junior from Hendersonville, Tennessee now has 14 career 100-yard games, a new program record (Gatewood posted 13 from 1969-1971).
Tate has scored a touchdown in every game this season with the exception of the season-opening win over Nevada.
All the Pretty Horses
Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph…with the exception of Floyd, who missed five games with a broken clavicle, each is a semi-finalist for an individual national award at his position. They're exciting; they're game-breakers; they're game-changers; and they're eminently beatable at the hands of any team that commits to blocking and tackling and smashing Notre Dame in the mouth.
Jimmy Clausen has passed for 1,064 yards over the last three games. The Irish defense has allowed 742 on the ground in that same span. Navy, Pittsburgh and Connecticut have sent the Irish season into a downward spiral the old fashioned …they've earned it.
Since the beginning of the 2007 season, Notre Dame is 8-14 when it throws for more yards than its opponent. Since the first occurrence in November 2008, Notre Dame is 0-5 in games when Michael Floyd and Golden Tate both top the 100-yard receiving mark (including an 0-3 mark over the last 15 days).
Meanwhile, Notre Dame remains (famously) 20-0 under Weis when it out-rushes its opponent.
At a Moment's Notice
Three weeks ago, Irish walk-on kick-off specialist David Ruffer was the last player I thought I'd interview first in the home finale post-game press conference. But the Irish junior flirted with 15 minutes of fame and a lifetime of goodwill from Irish fans, drilling three field goals, including the potential game-winner in double-overtime in relief of freshman place-kicker Nicholas Tausch who unexpectedly told Weis he "couldn't go" as the Irish headed into the locker room after pre-game warm-ups.
The former inter-hall kicker was placed in an unfortunate position prior to the biggest kick of his life yesterday as an injured Husky afforded an unintentional pre-kick pause and thus a natural "icing of the kicker" prior to Ruffer's extra-point with the Irish trailing by one in the first overtime. A miss would have ended the contest.
"I was fine, I didn't really think about it" answered Ruffer when asked about his game-tying PAT. "Just sit there and pick your spot and go after it."
Ruffer, who had previously hit field goals from 20 and 23 yards, then drilled a clutch 36-yard kick to give the Irish a lead in the second overtime, but Andre Dixon's 4-yard touchdown run ended the contest and Ruffer's unlikely bid for a spot in Irish lore.
Incidentally, the junior from Siegfried Hall predicts an inter-hall championship victory for his former teammates over St. Edward's on Sunday.
Only They Didn't Say LOU
The band's rendition of the 1812 Overture that precedes the 4th Quarter at Notre Dame Stadium has been used as a tribute to the team's reigning head coach over the last 23 seasons. The original version featured fans' thumbs and index fingers forming an "L" with the chant "LOU" accompanying every other beat and downward arm movement.
For regulars that stick around post-game, the band plays an encore performance after most onlookers have scurried to their cars. While I (and the rest of the media) waited for the last heartbroken Irish players to file into the north tunnel (the site of the post-game press conference) an organized and resounding "LOUUUUUUU" was heard from the Notre Dame student body as the band embarked on its final 1812 of the season.
Or maybe the word just rhymed with Lou…