No defense for this one

The Notre Dame defense held UConn in check for much of regulation, but couldn't get a stop when it was most needed — in the two overtimes — as the Huskies prevailed 33-30.

Looking at the numbers, Notre Dame's defense failed in giving up 33 points at home to UConn in Saturday's loss in two overtimes. But looking a little closer paints a different defensive picture — positive and negative.

The Fighting Irish defense gave up only 13 points in regulation. The Huskies' other 7 points in the first four quarters came from a kickoff return for a touchdown.

But when it needed to step up most, the Notre Dame defense failed to do so. In the first overtime, the Irish forced a third and 7 from the 11. But Zach Frazer found Kashif Moore in the right front corner of the end zone for the touchdown. Give Moore credit for a great leaping catch.

After Notre Dame tied it up with a 4-yard touchdown catch in the same spot by Michael Floyd, the Irish stalled and kicked a field goal to open the second overtime.

An incomplete pass on first down by UConn provided some hope, which was soon dashed. Jordan Todman ran for 9 on second down, Andre Dixon managed the first down on third and 1, and then Dixon carried for 11 and a 4-yard touchdown to end the game, and perhaps Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis' career in South Bend.

Todman (26 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown) and Dixon (20 for 114 and a score) were a lethal one-two ground punch for the Huskies.

"What they really made hay on in this game was both the power and the counter series where we had penetration inside," Weis said. "They'd bounce it to the outside, and on those plays we didn't have the edge set, and there were a lot of easy yards for them."

The close ones

Other than blowout victories over Nevada and Washington State, it's been nothing but close ones for 6-5 Notre Dame this season.

A bitter 38-34 loss at Michigan was followed by wins over Michigan State and Purdue, both by 3, and a 7-point overtime victory over Washington. Throw in a 7-point home loss and a 20-16 win over Boston College, and heading into the final four games of the season, Notre Dame was 6-2, with six of those games decided by seven points or fewer.

That's when the high-wire act came crashing down, with three straight losses to Navy (24-21), Pittsburgh (27-22), and UConn 33-30 in two overtimes on Saturday.

So how does it feel to play so many tight ones, and now to consider a 4-5 record in games decided by less than a touchdown?

"It wears on you," junior middle linebacker Brian Smith said. "You've just got to work to not let it wear on you, and just to win the game period, outright,"

Smith's end zone interception was the only takeaway of the game for the Irish. It was also the only turnover that Notre Dame has forced in the last three games.

A key sequence

Notre Dame was rolling, ahead 14-0 with five minutes to go in the first half. It was a beautiful Midwestern afternoon, with temperatures unseasonably warm in the mid-50s.

And then things took a turn.

Frazer, who began his career at Notre Dame before transferring, looked very shaky early. He heaved a pass on third and 4 intended for receiver Michael Smith along the right sideline, but the ball sailed way high and out of bounds.

But Notre Dame senior Sergio Brown hit the receiver late, and obviously unnecessarily, and was flagged for a personal foul.

Four plays later, Todman took a handoff and ran for a 43-yard touchdown. It was 14-7 and a new ballgame.

"It was third and long. They're punting. The guy's out of bounds. The play is over with. It just wasn't a very smart play," Weis said.

It appears even worse when taking a closer look at the sequence. Taking the three plays for six yards gained and the two plays following the penalty, an incompletion and a 1-yard loss on a run, and that gives UConn a grand total of seven yard gained on five consecutive plays — but one crucial first down by penalty.


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