WOW. That was unexpected. If you (or, perhaps more appropriately, I) thought the season was over, think again. Two weeks after looking dead as a doornail, the Irish suddenly has life. Bowl eligibility, something that looked like a pipe dream after a crushing loss to Tulsa, is now (dare we say it) likely with Army next on the schedule.
The win was the kind Notre Dame fans and haters alike have been begging for for what seems like an eternity. How long exactly? Try September 10th, 2005 when the Irish walked into Ann Arbor and beat third ranked Michigan in Charlie Weis’ second game as head coach. Think about this for a second – The last time Notre Dame had a win this big people thought Charlie Weis was a great hire. That’s something special.
Unless they beat USC in two weeks (which would trump this win, I don’t care what the polls say), expect to hear about this game all off season as Brian Kelly’s first season is analyzed and reanalyzed. That’s a good thing, too. Prior to this afternoon, the Tulsa loss stuck out as the defining game of the season. It’s nice to see the Irish finally flip a script isn’t it?
Tons of stuff to like about this one, but the defense and special teams is by far the main talking point. Beating a team like Utah sometimes requires some wacky things to happen on special teams. Notre Dame got that.
The Irish blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. Looking back, although it was hard to talk yourself into it at the time, this play gave off the impression that it was going to be Notre Dame’s day. This was the turning point of the game.
The defense forced two Utah turnovers; something the unit hasn’t made a habit of this season. When Utah wasn’t turning the ball over, they were fairly meek. Notre Dame did a good job limiting the big play, holding the Utes to only 73 yards rushing and limiting the big gains in the passing game. Those two or three large gains that have become customary for Irish opponents never game.
What’s still strange about the whole thing is that this kind of defensive success came against one of the most explosive offenses’ on the schedule. Need we remind you that Utah averaged over forty points a game? And that’s with the TCU loss. It kind of makes you scratch your head and wonder why Navy and Tulsa moved the ball so well and Utah couldn’t. I know football is a strange game, but that’s really strange.
Remember when we wrote a few weeks ago that there was no quarterback controversy in South Bend? Not anymore.
How could there not be one entering spring practice? Tommy Rees has been great. The offense has been simplified, but it clearly works. Rees only threw the ball 19 times on Saturday, three of those throws going for touchdowns. He made good decisions and didn’t try to force things like he was earlier in the season.
Duval Kumara, who was called upon in this space to step up in the absence of Theo Ridick, finally came through. Two touchdowns later and it was one of Kumara’s best games since his freshman year – on senior day, no less. It would be fitting if Kumara had two (or three, counting a potential bowl) more good game in his final few weeks on the team.
Rees was able to be so successful because of the running game. Kelly, mainly because he had no other choice, allowed the run game to dictate the offense. As predicted here over many weeks, it worked. Cierre Wood had his defining “complete game” of the season. Even Jonas Grey and Robert Hughes produced well in small doses.
This is the formula for the remainder of the season. Heavy run. Situational pass. It’s a simple system for what has become, through injuries, a simple team.
A simple team that got anything but a simple win on Saturday.
Sidenote: It felt weird to write this. I feel like I’ve mastered the art of the “awful loss “column”
About the Author
Written by Jordan Lauterbach
Jordan Lauterbach began his career in sports media when he was just 15 years old at WKWZ - Syosset. He hosted a sports talk show for nearly four years before moving on to WCWP - Brookville in 2006. Lauterbach currently hosts a sports talk show every Wednesday night from 9pm - midnight (eastern) and a College Football talk show on Saturday mornings from 11am - 12:30 (eastern) (can be heard online at wcwpsports.com and on Long Island on 88.1fm). Follow me on twiiter: jlauterbach1