Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2015

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

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Page 39 of 115

BY ANDREW OWENS I f Notre Dame's 2014 season were a book, it would be split into two equal yet contrasting halves. Fair or not, the season forever changed at 11:46 p.m. on Oct. 18 when a go-ahead (and likely game-winning) touchdown over No. 2 Florida State was nullified by a flag. Momentary tri- umph instead turned into an eternity of controversy and questions, such as "What if?" This is not to say that Notre Dame would not have suffered a similar No- vember slide had it won in Tallahassee on that mid-October evening. But the possibilities of the unknown will tor- ment Irish fans for decades. Unlike a book or movie, there is no definitive alternate ending. After losing four consecutive games to end the regular season with a 7-5 mark, Notre Dame faithful are left de- siring an alternate ending. Injuries, poor defense and questionable coach- ing decisions contributed to the late- season slide, and inevitable questions surrounding a coach and a program fester as the offseason awaits. These four moments best epitomize Notre Dame's up-and-down cam- paign: ONE INJURY AFTER ANOTHER Notre Dame fought through the losses of the five players embroiled in the academic investigation that con- sumed much of the regular season, but once the defense began losing players to injuries, the unit collapsed. The Irish featured eight different starting lineups during the regular season, including five in the five No- vember games, and only three defend- ers — sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith, sophomore defensive end Isaac Rochell and sophomore cornerback Cole Luke — started all 12 games. No injury, however, better encap- sulates the defense's fall from grace than the loss of senior linebacker Joe Schmidt. Despite head coach Brian Kelly claiming last spring that Notre Dame could not afford to remove Schmidt from the field for even one ADDING INSULT TO INJURIES A once-promising season fell apart when the Irish suffered a slew of late-season setbacks

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