Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2015 Issue

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

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Page 58 of 92

IN THE TRENCHES ANDREW OWENS spair of another heartbreaker at Stanford. "I think it's both [success and disap- pointment]," said junior linebacker Jay- lon Smith, trying to put 2015 in proper perspective. "It still hurts, especially to end, to go out this way. "But it's definitely a learning les- son for all of us in our lives. In a lot of unique situations where things aren't going to go your way, it's all about how you respond. That's how I look at it." On one hand, the Irish provided the thrills of a school-record 14 touchdowns of 50-plus yards. However, frustrating red zone play plagued the Irish again. Three trips inside Stanford's 20-yard line resulted in just nine points while another drive that reached the 23-yard line ended with a turnover, perfectly encapsulating the disappointing nature of 2015. Notre Dame proved it can hang with any team in the country, but at the same time those elite squads finish drives more successfully. They don't finish the regular season with more turnovers committed than forced. They don't consistently allow subpar opponents like Wake Forest and Boston College hang around for four quarters, which might have sealed Notre Dame's playoff fate before the Stanford game even kicked off. "This team all year has made a point to let everyone know what our mission was," sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer said. "We truly thought that we were one of the best teams in the coun- try. "The goal was to make it to the play- offs. We know that that opportunity had kind of fallen away with this loss. We don't want to settle for anything less than the goals we set out for, and it's go- ing to be rough to reconstruct the season and how we want it to end." The first major bowl win since before many current players were alive would be a strong finish to an excellent season and a huge step forward for the pro- gram. The next would be to contend for the College Football Playoff again in 2016, and even make it there. Too many times seasons like 2000 (9- 3), 2002 (10-3) and 2005-06 (9-3 and 10- 3) were followed by clunkers like 2001 (5-6), 2003 (5-7) and 2007 (3-9). Even the 9-4 result in 2013 was a letdown after reaching the BCS National Champion- ship Game in 2012. Even with losses like senior left tackle Ronnie Stanley, senior defensive line- man Sheldon Day and possibly Smith to the NFL, the Irish return a boatload of talent in 2016 and should be in a similar position. First, several dominoes need to fall this offseason, including the quar- terback competition, changes on the de- fense (if not with the coaches, then with the approach) and the finishing touches on what could be another fine recruiting class. Everything can go right from January through August, but it's often the defin- ing moments like the two-point conver- sion at Clemson and the final Stanford drive that determine whether a season can be deemed sweet or sour. ✦ Andrew Owens has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since August 2013. He can be reached at

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