Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2023

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 5 of 47

6 DECEMBER 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME BY TYLER HORKA F ootball is a game of plays. Good ones. Bad ones. The more that go for ex- tensive yardage on offense, the better. The more that are stopped near the line of scrimmage on defense, the better. And what do they say about statistics? They don't lie. Well, then, what the heck hap- pened with Notre Dame in 2023? The Fighting Irish have the fifth- best yards-per-play average on defense (4.39). They have the 10th-best yards- per-play average (6.83) on offense. For reference, Georgia ranked 15th defen- sively and fifth offensively in the same metrics last season. This year's Notre Dame team is right in line with a 15-0 Bulldogs team that won the 2022 na- tional championship game by 58 points. So, let's ask the question again; what the heck happened with Notre Dame in 2023? How in the world do the Irish have three losses, like Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson asked himself after his Demon Deacons were demolished 45-7 in South Bend Nov. 18? H e re 's h ow. L e t 's say it again; football is a game of plays. Good ones. Bad ones. There were a handful of the latter that cost No t re Da m e a s u p e r special season. Graduate student safety DJ Brown dropped an interception on Ohio State's game-winning drive in the final minute of that colossal clash Sept. 23. The Buckeyes converted on third-and-19 later in the drive and then ultimately scored the winning touch- down from 1 yard out with only 10 Notre Dame defenders on the field. Those were incredibly consequential plays. Take back two of graduate student quarterback Sam Hartman's 3 intercep- tions against Louisville, and perhaps that game goes differently. Take back his interception returned for a touchdown against Clemson and there wouldn't have been an eight-point margin in favor of the Tigers when the clock hit triple zeroes at the end of that game. Plays, plays, plays. "There are plays in every single one of those games you wish you could take back," Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said. "If you execute it, it's a different record." Plays go both ways, though. How about Hartman's fourth-and-16 conversion to keep Notre Dame's hopes alive against Duke? And then junior running back Au- dric Estimé's 30-yard touchdown that essentially served as a walk-off winner? That 21-14 victory even featured a sack- fumble recovered by the Irish on the Blue Devils' ensuing last-ditch chance for its own late-game magic. Now that's a play. Freeman said that's been the difference between 8-3 and 10-1 or 11-0 for Notre Dame this year. The truly elite teams in college football — Georgia, Ohio State, Alabama, etc. — make good on more of the fourth-and-16 conversions. They al- ways seem to score the walk-off winners. Or, they don't throw costly interceptions or stumble through 57 minutes of games to even get to a point in which they must miraculously put points on the board in the final seconds to come out on top. "Those great programs find a way to win those games," Freeman said. "That's what we're all striving to be. We're all striving to be that program that is on the mountaintop. "If we continue to learn from those tough losses — you're going to learn from wins, but the tough losses, we can con- tinue to learn from those and hopefully not repeat those mistakes but also get to a place where if you have a mistake or two, which will happen in games, it doesn't re- ally determine the outcome of the game." That's it right there. It's not just the negative plays that led to three Notre Dame losses. There were not enough positive ones strewn in either. Ohio State had 10 points on the board until there was one sec- ond left in the game. Notre Dame could have — should have — closed the door on the Buckeyes much sooner, especially at home. It didn't happen. And when you throw a pick six against a 4-4 Clemson team whose redshirt fresh- man quarterback is clearly not the caliber player as your own sixth-year graduate student signal-caller, you should be able to survive the free seven points handed to the opposition. It didn't happen. It'll go down as an ultimate "what if" kind of season for Notre Dame. The metrics say the Irish should be one of the best teams in the country. But they're not, and they've got to live with that, learn from it and be more opportu- nistic in future seasons. They've got to make more plays. And avoid more of the costly ones. ✦ UNDER THE DOME JUST SHORT Notre Dame's 2023 season could have been extremely special if the Irish capitalized in a few more moments Notre Dame could have had a much better cam- paign in head coach Marcus Freeman's second season if the Irish made a few more critical plays in big games such as the 17-14 loss to Ohio State Sept 23. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - December 2023