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Notre Dame/ Tulsa : The Call That Ended 2010

Posted By Jordan Lauterbach On Nov 1 2010 @ 2:08 am In Notre Dame | No Comments

Welcome back to rock bottom. Welcome back to playing out the stretch. Welcome back to thoughts like “I’ll be happy if it’s a game in the fourth quarter”. Oh, how I haven’t missed this lonely land where football seasons go to die. But hey, at least theirs only three more weeks on the schedule before the focus shifts to 2011 and beyond, if it hasn’t already.

Face it, year one of the Brian Kelly era is officially a dud. Sure, injuries are injuries and that’s a fine excuse. But with the offensive talent this team started out with, the lack of a bowl birth is unacceptable.

 In this space’s season preview in August, we predicted a 7 – 5 record, saying that 5 – 7 was the worst case scenario. Now, with three games to play, that 5 – 7 record looks like the most likely scenario. A sixth win would take, if not a miracle, a kind of win that’s been uncharacteristic of this program since the beginning of the Weis Era. It would take a win against a top 10 team in the country or a win against USC on the road. Pick your poison. It doesn’t matter.  Nothing that has transpired in the last nine weeks gives any hope of that happening.

Saturday’s game against Tulsa served as a perfect closing point for the 2010 Irish bowl hopes. For it hasn’t been the big guys that’s been the Irish downfall over the last few years, it’s been the teams that were put in the win column at the beginning of the season. If you care enough to read this column, you know who they are.

Notre Dame fell to a Conference – USA team (at home, by the way) for the first time for a lot of reasons. One reason, however, stands out above the rest – Brian Kelly’s offensive play – calling on the final drive of the game was atrocious. 

With the Irish down by one with under a minute to go, they ran a play from the 28 yard line. Standing on the sideline was David Ruffer, a kicker who’s been automatic. Standing over center was Tommy Rees, a freshman quarterback who, although playing well, had already thrown two interceptions. Instead of running the football, soaking up the clock, and kicking a long, but makeable, field goal to take a two point lead with under a minute to go, Kelly takes a shot for the end – zone. Reese is picked off. Notre Dame looses. That was, by far, the worst individual play call of the season. It cost the Irish the game and probably a bowl birth.

The call was so important that it made anything else that happened in the game seem rather inconsequential. And it all could have changed with a handoff to Cierre Wood, a two yard gain, a field goal, and a win. Instead, it’s just a loss. A season ending one at that.

Gone is the fact that Tommy Rees actually looked like a Division I quarterback. Remember the other Tommy Rees performances? He looked scared to even strap on a helmet. Besides the interceptions, Rees looked in control. He had a more fluid game then what we’ve seen from Crist this year. He threw four touchdowns, something Dayne only did once this season (@ Michigan State).

In fact, it begs the question – how well does Rees have to play in the next three games for the quarterback position to be an open competition in spring practice? Is there any possible way that Rees can win it for 2011 before Crist is allowed back on a football field? It’s unlikely, but an interesting sub plot entering the last three games. 

If not for one play at the end of the game, maybe this column is different. Maybe it’s about how a bowl game is now all but assured, instead of a long shot. Maybe it’s about Rees coming in and leading his team to victory. Instead it reads more like an obituary. After all, it’s hard to think these next three games mean anything.

It’s now about continuing to rebuild. It’s about underclassmen and who fits into the grand Brian Kelly play in 2011 and beyond. Generally, it’s hard to look at one call and say it determined the game, but in this case it’s valid. Brian Kelly lost that game, plain and simple.

As for the final three after the bye? At least the Yankee Stadium game will be cool to watch. I guess that’s something…..

 Think I’m being too negative? Leave a comment….

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