In the end, it took every bit of the luck of the Irish AND some extra help from the heavens to bring Notre Dame its 9th win Saturday night. Though the entire stadium had multiple heart attacks throughout the fourth quarter and the following THREE overtimes, the Irish did eventually take home the win. We did not, however, take home any extra style points that could have helped in our quest for a National Championship spot.
With Notre Dame now ranked No. 4 in this week’s BCS standings after being leap-frogged by Oregon, the need to regroup has never been stronger. The admittedly off-game on both sides of the ball put simultaneous snags in Notre Dame’s Championship hopes and also dulled Manti Te’o’s Heisman hype.
The sports mantra that I grew up on—“any team can win on any given day”—definitely held true this weekend, in many ways.
I can say honestly that in hindsight, very foolishly, I was not nervous to play Pitt. After ND’s stellar win versus Oklahoma, in which Everett Golson’s ability to run the offense, Brian Kelly’s play-calling, and the Irish’s wall of a defense all finally came together to make us look like a true National Championship contender, I was not worried about an unranked Pitt team that had lost to Youngstown State by two touchdowns earlier this season. And with Pitt’s top RB (Graham), top wide-receiver (Street), and kick-returner (Pitts) all charged with assault preceding the game, I really thought that this LITERAL Catholics vs. Convicts game would be a piece of cake compared to last week.
And there came the first flaw: I let my guard down. Any given team really can win on any given day, as proved by Saturday’s matchup. Thank gosh that the given team—Pitt—did not fully prove the mantra, though. This was, in my humble opinion, a result of Paul Chryst’s atrocious play-calling for Pitt in the second overtime which, in all seriousness, lost them the game.
Why on 3rd and 2 he did not choose to move the ball towards the center of the field for kicker Kevin Harper, I will never understand. Harper’s very doable 33-yarder that sailed literally INCHES outside the goal post—causing the entire student section a split-second of panic—almost certainly would have been a done deal from the center of the field. The extra ONE yard that RB Ray Graham gained on 3rd down was, yes, very close to moving the chains. But ANY points would have won the game for Pitt, given Cierre Wood’s fumble in the end zone that yielded no points for the Irish. Trying for a first down and not setting up the easiest possible field goal for Harper was a ballsy attempt at style points from Chryst that ended up in neither style nor points for the Panthers. (Although I’m certainly not complaining… )
On a different note, the other team this mantra applied to this week—surprisingly—was Alabama, the current kings of college football. Though the Tide pulled out a win versus LSU, it was proved for the first time all season that Alabama is not unbeatable. LSU gave the Tide its biggest test all season, providing a true clash of SEC powerhouses that has become legendary in the past years. Though LSU could not pull through with the upset—a result of Les Miles’ strange defensive game-plan shift with two minutes left in the game, and A.J. McCarron’s late rally—Alabama no longer seems like it is 50 steps ahead of all other teams.
Though I never in my life would have expected it, I found myself rooting for the Tigers to roll over the Tide this weekend—a fact that I am sure holds true for every Irish, Duck and Wildcat fan in the nation. In the end though, neither Kansas State nor Alabama were handed a first loss by their opponents this weekend. And on top of that, Oregon gained the style points that ND lacked in its win versus USC—propelled by Kenjon Barner’s historic 321-yard rushing game, moving the Ducks into the No. 3 spot in the nation.
Still, perspective is everything.
Notre Dame was literally inches away from being forgotten in the BCS. Though this W will count the same in our undefeated column as the W from our thrashing of Oklahoma, I think I speak for the entire Notre Dame community when I PRAY—literally—that the Irish will play a better game on both sides of the ball this weekend at Boston College.
Seriously. Our hearts need some time to recover after what we were put through Saturday night.