Jeremy, to his credit, can't stomach a rewatch (or a first watch) of this debacle, so I'm bringing you a first-hand account of the Cardinal carnage.
Things didn't seem right from the get-go with a subdued crowd (for Notre Dame standards), raising the needle just above "art museum gallery opening buzz" on the intimidating noise scale. It seemed fans had little confidence in the team's ability to compete with Stanford (writing that sentence made me dry heave for two minutes). What a shame that the intangible element of a crowd lifting a team up to another inspired level never had a chance. Or as much of a chance as Crist avoiding a sack when Stanford used a cheat code when an LB greeted him in the backfield as he received the snap. (Still haven't seen a replay of that dumbfounding play. Either we witnessed the greatest snap count timing guess of all time, or that LB deserved laundry and Pac-10 officials choked on applesauce).
The closest thing to something "Good" that came from the game was the exceptional individual performance of Manti Te'o. 21 tackles, including several bone-rattling hits, should be cause for celebration, but half of them were made 6-8 yards down field. And where was everyone else??
The defense held their ground while allowing 5 field goals, and intercepted Luck twice (his first blemishes on the season), but the unit continually let momentum escape by allowing Stanford convert 11 of 16 3rd downs (and punt only once!) - a deflating feeling every time the chains moved. Oh yeah...and zero sacks.
On the other side of the ball, Crist was at his inaccurate best, spraying balls everywhere and forcing throws to the double (and sometimes triple) covered man. I understand Stanford dropped more guys into coverage than they had shown all year, but don't you practice/plan for situations like this? Did Harbaugh's "chess move" completely flabbergast Brian Kelly and his offensive savvy? The offense looked inept, plain and simple, and the running game was manhandled at the line of scrimmage.
The clock mismanagement at the end of the 1st half made absolutely no sense, and I hold Kelly accountable for that. Down 13-6 with 1:21, on the heels of a momentum-turning interception (with a drive-hurting clipping call pushing the drive back to the Irish 14). Does Kelly try to move the ball quickly, his trademark, to possibly tie things up before half, or at least cut into the lead?
An Allen rush up the gut for no gain certainly quelled any quick strike thoughts. OK, we'll take a one score lead into half. Don't like it, but acceptable.
Hurry up offense snaps the ball without letting much time burn off...incomplete. Wait, huh? What is Kelly trying to accomplish here? 3rd and 10 with just under a minute to go...Allen run for three yards. Stanford astutely calls timeout with :45 seconds left, knowing they were just gifted another possession. Talk about brain farting on a crucial series. Making matters worse, Turk embraces his mediocrity and pushes Stanford all the way back to midfield. Bing, bang, boom - 32 yards laters, Stanford kicks a FG to send the teams to the tunnel. And the game is now a two score margin that feels much wider. A terrible sequence of plays that should not have happened in the first place. It was infuriating at the time and doubly so now. Good teams don't make those mistakes! (Not that I'm calling ND a good team...but that's still the goal, right?)
If that were the sole ugly sequence, the title of this entry would not have been changed. But, alas, we found the Irish grasping at momentum again near the end of the 3rd quarter. Stanford's punter shakes off the cobwebs and makes good on his only punt, pinning the Irish at the 2 yard line. A couple passes to Floyd and a 9 yard run by Allen brings a 3rd and 1 at midfield. We're now in the 4th quarter with ND trailing 19-6. It's now or never time. You would think Kelly would find a way to get a new set of downs in Stanford territory and keep marching. A failed pass attempt to Rudolph (who wasn't open) leads to an Irish timeout to figure out how best to attack on 4th down. You could say the game was riding on this call. Kelly decides to roll the dice with his 3rd string RB who had already been stuffed for no gain earlier in the drive. Result? Turkey stuffing again. Turnover on downs. Stanford converts two third downs on their way to a head-for-the-exits touchdown. The stadium is officially a morgue.
The last straw occurs on the next play from scrimmage - Crist's ill-advised (to put it mildly) pick six, making Owen Marecic a household name for a week. Everyone watching could see what a terrible decision Crist's pass was. What very few people saw was what happened directly before the play while NBC was at timeout. This curious sequence sticks in my craw as
After Stanford's back-breaking TD (27-6), there was a customary tv timeout. Following the kickoff, NBC apparently felt worried about getting in all of their breaks, so they cut to timeout again. Brian Kelly took exception to this perceived assault on ND's offensive rhythm (not that there had been any to that point, but there's always next possession). Kelly walked all the way from the far end zone to strike up a conversation with the NBC official on the field. I'm sure he was frustrated as all get out at this point, so the fact that NBC would do this rankled him enough to vent a little.
Only problem is, Kelly has a young quarterback playing the worst game of his career and a small window of time to adjust game plans and bitching to a brick wall (NBC field official following network orders) isn't exactly the best practical use of a timeout? Could #10 have benefited from some help deciphering his progressions, or a pep talk at the very least? Quite distressing. We found this perplexing as it unfolded before our eyes. And the first play coming out of this ill-fated timeout? Crist's pick six. Would Kelly have done this if the game were closer or tied? I pray not.
Things have to get better from this point...right?
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