Navy 23, Notre Dame 21
Note: I am not nearly as rational and collected as this note makes me sound. If indeed it makes me sound like either of these things.
EXPLETIVE — EXPLETIVE — EXPLETIVE — irrational bout of self-loathing —
So, Irish fans, if you’re like me, you had yourself convinced that the spirit-crushing triple overtime debacle of 2007 was nothing more than a hideous byproduct of the tradition-shredding, nightmare-inducing 3-9 death spiral of horror, and that last year’s unnecessarily close game in Baltimore was proof that we would go right on beating Navy for another 43 years without a hiccup.
Guess what? We were wrong! Ha!
Apparently now this game is just like any other, and the biggest weapon we had going up against the Naval Academy—the solid and unwavering conviction that, no matter the odds, we were going to win and both squads knew it—is poof! Gone. Out of existence. No longer a factor. Navy knows it’s an even spread now.
But apparently the Irish didn’t.
FML. …..FML? FML.
Listed above are the three states of emotion I had from the end of the first quarter until the end of this game.
The first part of the first quarter was all roses and sunshine and feeling fluffy, bunny-shaped torrents of glee at the sight of Michael Floyd running around in full uniform catching the ball again. It was apparent even on the TV broadcast that all the Irish fans in the stadium were feeling giddy about this too, and were consequently way too distracted by endorphins to notice that the football game was going to shit until we reached halftime down 14-0.
Or perhaps until Nick Tausch missed that first field goal. That, too, was a pretty good indicator that whatever luck was hanging over the stadium on Saturday was not there to swing things our way.
I wasn’t miffed at Tausch for missing that first field goal. It was a long one, and at an angle.
The second one, though, was all in his head, and THAT was not okay.
It became even more not okay later when we were fighting for our lives in the fourth quarter, but then of course you can’t blame Nick Tausch for losing this game. Not...really.
For those of you NOT watching at home….
…allow me to give you a darling recap of the ENTIRE COMMENTARY OF THE GAME:
Announcer 1: Man, these Navy kids play so hard! Golly, they’re just so disciplined! They really just play harder than hard for this game! You’ve got to admire the way they play so hard!
Announcer 2: You know, I think it’s the way Navy plays hard that’s really impressive! I mean, just look at the size of these guys—they’re smaller than the Notre Dame guys! I mean, would you just look at this weight comparison chart? Gee whiz, I can’t get over how they weigh less than the Notre Dame guys! And yet they play so hard! They really make up for that weight difference by playing hard!!!
Announcer 1: Let’s look at some statistics from the first half. Man, you know what, I just don’t think these numbers reflect how hard those Navy guys have been playing!
Announcer 2: No kidding! I mean, just look at their coach—he really gets them to play hard! I mean, Notre Dame, they’ve got some good players. That Jimmy kid, he’s a tough guy. But look how hard those Navy guys have been playing!!!!!!!!
Announcer 1: I KNOW! I don’t think anyone understands HOW HARD those Navy guys play!!!!!!!
(During a commercial break….)
Announcer 2: Do you think anyone’s noticed that we ran out of things to say about this game after the first quarter?
Announcer 1: No way! We’ve been commentating Notre Dame football forever. All we have to do is keep mentioning the past so people know that we know what we’re talking about.
Announcer 2: Good point! When we get back from commercial, let’s mention that 2007 overtime loss again!
So, you know, if you were actually AT the game and you thought it was bad…oh trust me, it was worse watching it at home. I mean, occasionally the commentators would spew out player names and tell you what down it was, but for the most part they were completely useless. I kept the game on mute for pretty much the entirety of the fourth quarter.
So WTF happened out there?
You know, after a lot of deep soul-searching and original, innovative thought, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps we didn’t play hard enough.
Or, perhaps, that the Navy guys played harder.
But that’s just idle, unfounded musings…pay no attention to the lightness of my thoughts or the glimmering postulations of my being.
I think, perhaps, what really sunk us was our (team’s) conviction that we were going to win. We were playing Navy, for goodness’ sake, and we’ve spent almost this entire season winning (or losing) games in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. I don’t think the team ever got worried enough, because I don’t think they truly believed they would fail to pull it out.
But Navy did.
Navy (I think) had two weeks to prepare for this game. Navy has seen us win games in the fourth quarter all season long. Navy knew what to prepare for.
And Navy won the last time they came to Notre Dame Stadium.
I think our pride worked against us, in the same way it worked against us in the USC game. Only for the USC game—we had two weeks to prepare, we respected our opponent more, and we put in the kind of effort to try to beat them that Navy put in to beat us. (Though you might argue that Navy played even harder.)
That’s really what I think it is—I think we came back from San Antonio and our arrogance bit us in the butt. Michael Floyd came off the bench and we convinced ourselves we would be unstoppable. Jimmy came out at the end and readied himself to play Superman again—the savior of the fourth-quarter deficit. But Navy was ready for us. Navy was not tired, Navy did not quit, and Navy’s secondary--somehow--made two of the best receivers in all of college football miss.
Sometimes it was pressure on the quarterback. There were a lot of tipped passes toward the end of the game. But mostly it was just good coverage—damn good coverage. The kind of coverage that usually Golden Tate and Michael Floyd are able to wrap their hands around and beat. But apparently not against Navy—not against a team that wanted this game so bad the announcers could talk about nothing else.
Make no mistake: our offense didn’t choke this one up. The Navy defense beat us.
They beat our receivers. They beat our O-line. They beat up on our quarterback so hard he lost the ball and a scoring chance and convinced most everyone that Evan Sharpley was going to have to try to win this game.
Which, if you remembered the last time Evan Sharpley started against Navy, did not exactly bring warm fuzzy feelings to the cockles of your frazzled heart.
I was also concerned about the play of Michael Floyd. Especially in the fourth quarter, Jimmy gravitated toward his favorite target, and Floyd did not quite come through in the clutch. Was it the defenders? Was it fear of ripping the ball down too hard and injuring his collarbone again? Or was his head just not all the way in the game because he’s been out for seven weeks, and he is—dare I say it—a little rusty?
That interception was just bizarre. What was Floyd doing on that play? It looked almost like he was trying to block the defender, as though it was some sort of run play or something—and then he couldn’t turn around fast enough to even see the ball that was flying in his direction, and it bounced off his back and a Navy guy caught it—and now Jimmy’s 3-for-3 on interceptions that weren’t his fault.
Those Navy guys swarmed to the ball like we did against Boston College. It was a little terrifying. And unexpected—we’ve been so good at ball control this season.
But once again, I maintain that we partially beat ourselves in this game by having too much faith in our ability to win in the clutch. We HAVE to start playing in the first and second quarters like we do in the fourth. Which is easy to say but harder to do, considering how much more tired the defenses are in the fourth quarter.
The Navy game is proof, just like the USC game was—you cannot count upon your ability to make it happen in the fourth quarter. You cannot. You have to play 100% of the football game—play like it’s the fourth quarter all the time.
Navy did. We didn’t.
The Red Zone is Not Our Friend
I think if Charlie calls a pitch play on a first-and-goal one more time I’m going to have a seizure. “Oh, sure, we’re two yards away from the endzone, let’s toss the ball BACK five yards, the defense won’t have any time to adjust to THAT before our player gets close to the goal line!”
I don’t know what it is. I don’t know WHY our team can’t score from less than 20 yards out. It is not only pathetic but alarming.
Granted, in this game, especially toward the end, turnovers were our biggest obstacle to getting in the endzone.
But even so…it’s not as though it’s just this game, and just against this clawing, persistent Navy defense that we’ve failed to come through from scoring territory. It’s every game this season. It’s one thing to come away from a possession without scoring—it’s quite another to come away from the red zone five, six times a game with a field goal or less.
How consistent we are in this deficiency. Oh goody! Consistency!
Struggled against the triple option, more than they did last year. Came through in the fourth quarter once again when our offense needed some desperate chances to score. Disappointed at that huge pass they gave up—but when a team is running and running and running the ball all game, how much can you really prepare for that? I mean, I guess you can cuss at our secondary if you like, seeing as we’ve been giving up deep balls all season long—but really, when you’re holding a team like Navy to three TDs in a game, and almost equal time of possession through the first half…
There were plenty of things I would have liked to see the defense do a little better, but really, against this style of offense, you’re going to be on your heels most of the time trying to figure out where the ball’s going. And the Navy quarterback played his system very well. The one thing I might’ve asked for more is a turnover. That’s what our offense really needed our defense to do—and granted, our defense is a lot better at interceptions than forced fumbles, and it’s hard to pop the ball out of the hands of the disciplined players you’ll find at the Naval Academy….but it would’ve been nice.
Even so, I don’t think our defense lost this game. I think the Navy defense won this game. Even though our offense (and our special teams with those onside kicks) tried really hard at the end to make the Navy D's effort fall short.
So…Pittsburgh next week
Let’s hope this week was a wake-up call. We’re going to have to play a little tougher and a little harder in every quarter from here on out if we have any hope of being the kind of team we want to be next year.
I don’t know how the Irish nation / the team is feeling in general after that game, but I maintain that the players have their standards set high for next season. And at the moment they’re slipping away from the pinnacle they’re trying to achieve. And I anticipate that the pollsters will rightly punish them for it, and that even a win against Pitt—unless it is a solid throwdown of a win—frankly isn’t going to help us much.
So unless we’re throwing up 40 points this week and we demolish UConn and Stanford, we can pretty much say good-bye to any bowl game higher than the Gator.
Although you never know. Those bowl scouts—they’re a funny bunch of squirrels, and they think mostly in profit margins. So if they think ND fans will come out in droves to see us play, for example, in the Cotton Bowl, we could easily end up in a place we don’t belong.
We could also easily start playing like it’s a place we DO belong, but after last weekend I’m a little too heartsore to be feeling very optimistic about our chances of winning the kind of bowl game that has any weight to it at all.
Lou always says “it’s a different team every week”—and we can assume the man knows what he’s talking about. So I expect this week’s team to be a far cry (in the RIGHT direction) from the team that just lost to Navy. (It’s like a twilight zone, typing those words, but I have to do it to convince myself that it’s not just a hallucination, and to adjust myself to the new paradigm of thought that must exist in order for Irish fans to accept that we are, in fact, now living in a world in which our football team may occasionally lose to Navy.)
Anyway. Looking ahead….
We’re going to get more chances to score against Pitt, because Pitt isn’t running the triple option and (hopefully) our run defense will be as staunch as it was against USC so that they can’t chew exorbitant amounts of time off the clock. We’re also going to play better against Pitt as a whole, because we just got smacked in the face by Navy. (Or, conversely, we’re going to play like hell against Pitt, but I personally have full confidence in this squad—unlike previous squads—to bounce the f*** back when they’re down.)
But I haven’t actually looked to see how good Pitt is compared to their ranking (#9? They're probably quite good), soooo…let’s just wait it out til Saturday night and see how this shit goes down.
GO IRISH BEAT PANTHERS!