POPE: Notre Dame season filled with naughty, nice moments
December 24, 2013 6:36PM
Updated: January 26, 2014 6:34AM
It certainly has been an up and down 2013 season for Notre Dame. That’s been reflected off the field, first with Everett Golson’s suspension to the recent news of his return. And on the field, with victories against Michigan State and Arizona Sate and a tough loss at Pittsburgh.
The 8-4 Irish close out the season Saturday against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
With the season coming close to an end, I figured there’s no better time to look at some of the naughty and nice moments of the year.
After all, a certain someone in a red suit isn’t the only person with a list.
Temple is the one common opponent for Notre Dame and Rutgers. The Irish opened the regular season against the Owls, and started fast out of the gate with two touchdowns in the first quarter. Quarterback Tommy Rees finished with three touchdown passes in the 28-6 victory.
“Obviously, a lot of the questions coming in could we push the ball down the field,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said after the game. “I think we answered a lot of those questions right away with his ability to push the ball down the field.”
Rutgers, by the way, beat Temple 23-20 on Nov. 2.
Two of the major themes in Notre Dame losses have been turnovers and surrendering big plays.
Both were on display in the 41-30 loss at Michigan on Sept. 7.
Rees threw two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions. The Wolverines had 460 yards of total offense, including a 61-yard touchdown pass from Devin Gardner to Jeremy Gallon. Gardner had four passing touchdowns and rushed for one more.
“We hold ourselves to a higher standard than what we went out there and played with today,” linebacker Dan Fox said following the loss.
Notre Dame bounced back from the loss with consecutive wins against Big Ten foes. First, the Irish displayed their knack for pulling out close games by rallying to defeat Purdue 31-24. Then, in the signature win of the year, Notre Dame defeated Michigan State 17-13 in a defensive slugfest.
Of course, Michigan State fans would put a few of the officials’ calls on the naughty list. Notre Dame took advantage of some pass interference calls, and gained momentum after Matthias Farley intercepted a pass on a trick play. Cam McDaniel scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“We knew it was going to be this kind of football game,” Kelly said. “Somebody was going to have to score a touchdown in the fourth quarter. We were able to get the touchdown and hold them from scoring one.”
Notre Dame’s hopes of returning to a BCS bowl took a major hit with the 35-21 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 28. The Sooners picked off two passes in the first quarter — and collected three interceptions in the game.
“I’m disappointed with how I played individually,” Rees said. “You’ve got to be better. You can’t turn the ball over and expect to win games against good teams like Oklahoma.”
The Irish began their best stretch of the season with a 37-34 victory against Arizona State on Oct. 5 in Arlington, Texas. The defense made big plays late and carried the performance over in the next contest, a 14-10 victory against USC.
The offense took over in wins against Air Force (45-10) and Navy (38-34).
“We found a pretty good rhythm, offensively, over the last few weeks. We want to build on that,” Kelly said in the lead up to the Pittsburg game.
That contest against the Panthers sticks out. For all the wrong reasons. The Irish had played their way back into the conversation for a BCS bowl. But the team picked an awful time to play its worst game, falling 28-21.
“All losses are disappointing losses, but that was especially disappointing in the way that we played (and) coached,” Kelly said.
Notre Dame split its final two games of the regular season, beating BYU 23-13 and losing at Stanford 27-20. The one thing that stood out in both though was the fight the team displayed.
“This is the way we’ve got to play football,” Kelly said after the victory against the Cougars. “This is Notre Dame football.”
That effort continued in the loss to the Cardinal. But finishing the regular season with an 8-4 mark left a disappointing feeling.
“You don’t go (to Notre Dame) for 8-4,” Fox said. “It’s not what you shoot for. It’s disappointing, but I’m really looking forward to this bowl game and winning.”
We’ll see Saturday if there is a nice ending.