Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 18, 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 53 of 55

54 NOV. 18, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I t's a ritual you hear around this time of the year every season in football conversa‑ tions throughout the land. "We're only one, two, three, four … plays away from a) being unbeaten, b) in line for a high ranking, c) a winning season." For about 30 years now, it's something that has grated on me like the proverbial fingernails across the chalkboard. Maybe it's because it takes me back to my student days at Notre Dame under head coach Gerry Faust (1981‑85), when that line be‑ came standard issue. In each of those seasons, three or four plays were always de‑ fined as the difference between 5‑6 to 7‑5 finishes as opposed to 9‑2 or 10‑1. However, there was far more to the story. That's why for well over a decade, I taped only one quotation on my office door, NFL head coach/icon Bill Parcells' classic about, "You are what your record says you are." If there is a sound bite that had me most encouraged during Notre Dame's disappointing 4‑3 start this season, it was Brian Kelly's "You get what you deserve" line a few days after the 31‑17 loss to USC. It's not about one play, but rather a confluence of plays that lead to a final result. We point to the 23‑20 loss to South Florida in the opener, and the easy lam‑ entation is about Jonas Gray's fumble from the 1 on the opening series that re‑ sulted in a 96‑yard score the other way. There were two other goal‑to‑go plays prior to that. If you're good enough, you score on one of them, own a 7‑0 lead, thereby changing the complexion, mindset and momentum … and perhaps you're on your way to a 27‑10 victory. That way, you can instead be criti‑ cized for "playing a soft schedule." Likewise, the following week at Michi‑ gan, the easy concentration could be de‑ voted to a defensive collapse in the fourth quarter, notably the final 30 seconds in the 35‑31 defeat. Omitted is the fact that the Wolverines' collective head was on the chopping block in the first half after falling behind 14‑0 in the opening quar‑ ter. Notre Dame then bogged down three times in the red zone. A 24‑7 lead might have been 35‑7 — and a top‑10 caliber team would have made it happen. It didn't come down to just one play; it was a confluence of earlier situations that didn't need the game to come down to one play. Didn't you get weary about USC fol‑ lowers last year saying "we were one play from defeating Notre Dame" (a Ronald Johnson dropped pass in the closing minute)? Conveniently forgotten is the Trojans took residence on Notre Dame's side of the field because of 4 Irish turnovers earlier, but didn't maximize opportu‑ nities. If you are plus‑3 in turnovers at home against the underdog and still can't win, "you got what you deserved." It wasn't about one play. • Charlie Weis' 2005 Irish team was two plays from 11‑0 instead of 9‑2. We point out the "Bush Push," but we ignore not making the stop earlier on fourth‑and‑9. • If Tyrone Willingham's 2004 Irish could have stopped an 11th‑hour fourth‑ and‑long versus Boston College or not been victimized by some questionable officiating late in the end zone versus Pitt, it might have been 8‑3 instead of 6‑5 — and who knows how much longer he would have been the Irish coach given the returning talent Weis inherited for 2005‑06 that pro‑ duced 19 wins. • Bob Davie's 2000 Irish were two plays away from finishing 11‑0 instead of 9‑2 — but no one liked to say then it was also a couple of plays away from being 7‑4 instead. The USC loss was part psy‑ chological, in my humble opin‑ ion. The Trojans, as a rare un‑ derdog this season, could play loose and with a something‑to‑ prove mentality (think Notre Dame in the 1992 Sugar Bowl versus nine‑point favorite Flor‑ ida), whereas Notre Dame ap‑ peared tight — maybe uneasy — in its new role of becoming the hunted. Earlier this year in an interview with Blue & Gold Illustrated, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick out‑ lined what he believed were three cru‑ cial elements needed to build the cur‑ rent football program. The first was stability, specifically at the head coach‑ ing position, and the second was build‑ ing legitimate depth. "The third is success," Swarbrick said. "You have to know that you're going to prevail. [Former Indianapolis Colts head coach and Super Bowl champion] Tony Dungy always preached that virtually every game came down to less than five plays. And in those moments, success has to be part of your fiber. You have to believe you're going to make those plays." It's also not just about dealing with adversity, but also being able to handle success and its expectations. That means not having to moan about being "one play away." ✦ BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ NOV. 7, 2011 One Play Away Is The Loneliest Number EDITOR'S NOTE: The late, great Lou Somogyi possessed an unmatched knowledge of Notre Dame football, and it was his mission in life to share it with others. Those of us at Blue & Gold Illustrated would like to continue to provide his wis- dom and unique perspective from his more than 37 years covering the Fighting Irish for this publication. It was easy to lament about Irish running back Jonas Gray's fumble at the South Florida 1-yard line that resulted in a 96-yard score the other way in an eventual 23-20 loss in 2011. However, there were two other goal-to-go plays prior to that the Irish failed to capitalize on. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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