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Gastelum: Everything catches up to ND in crucial loss (Nov. 11)

Andrew Gastelum | Sunday, November 10, 2013


PITTSBURGH – It all finally caught up with them. The injuries, the BCS expectations, the biting off more than they could chew.

It has been brewing as long as I have watched Notre Dame football. It took a brief respite against Tulsa and once again for South Florida. And then 12-0 happened and the breaks were going their way. Now they’re stuck at 7-3 with no more honest shot at the BCS.

But it wasn’t entirely their fault. After all, that was the atmosphere created around the team by themselves, the fans and the media.

I’ll be forthright. As a journalist, you’re never rooting for teams. You’re rooting for scenarios, situations, stories. I caught myself hoping for a close game so I could write how even if the Irish beat Stanford to end the year, they wouldn’t belong in the BCS.

I had all the bowl scenarios laid out, with Alabama and Florida State in the title game, and I showed how Notre Dame wouldn’t be able to top a second SEC team, Oregon, Clemson/Miami and maybe even Fresno State for the four at-large spots, let alone whether the Irish would be in the top 14 required to be BCS-eligible.

Turns out, Notre Dame scooped me, “point-blank, period.” The team beat me to my own point with what some sad souls call a “primetime game” in Pittsburgh.

Even in the press box before the game, veteran reporters clamored about the BCS bowl Notre Dame would go to with a win against Stanford. Sugar or Orange, Orange or Sugar, but everything went sour a few hours later. I think everyone (who wasn’t completely deluded) knew this wasn’t a BCS-caliber team. On Saturday night, no doubt was left behind as to who didn’t belong in the BCS curtain call.

TJ Jones was the only bright spot for the Irish. In the process, it looks like he moved up the depth chart to become the go-to running back ahead of Amir Carlisle and Tarean Folston, who was given nothing near the carries he saw in a breakout game against Navy. Jones was the leading rusher after the first quarter and the only Irish back with a touchdown. Even more baffling is the six total rush attempts in the second half.

However, Jones can’t throw the ball to himself. Tommy Rees won’t be able to forget about these game-changing interceptions since the defense couldn’t bail him out like they did against Arizona State. At one point, Pittsburgh safety Ray Vinopal was third on the Irish in receptions, with two.

Which leads me to Brian Kelly. In the past, it has been easy for him. When a quarterback struggles, he has been able to pull the plug and erase mistakes with a viable No. 2 option at quarterback and a refreshing change in pace. No such option exists, and it is uncomfortable to watch (paging Mr. Kiel). Meanwhile, how many times this year has there been complete indecision on 3rd– or 4th-and-short before a timeout was unnecessarily burned?

And not to mention the forgotten fumble, which Sheldon Day bounced around in his hands while other defenders congratulated the sack, thinking it was an incomplete pass. And no, as Kelly said, Stephon Tuitt was not the reason Notre Dame lost. I don’t think he would have picked up the fumble either, and he certainly doesn’t convert touchdowns in the red zone.

Notre Dame lost because it didn’t respect the season. The team and everyone else were waiting for Stanford. That is where the season ended on the schedule and started in the minds of team, fans, etc., ever since the Oklahoma loss.

Meanwhile, to Pittsburgh, Notre Dame was its Stanford. But Pittsburgh could have been Navy last week, Arizona State, Purdue, USC last year, BYU last year, Purdue last year and on and on.

However, something was different with this one. In past losses, Kelly was still confident, borderline arrogant. Just look at the Tulsa “get used to it” press conference or the ordering of the players to the locker room instead of the alma mater after Oklahoma.

But then there was this Brian Kelly. Bloodshot eyes, at a loss for words, soft-spoken, not nearly the politician aura he usually carries. I wasn’t there for the national championship loss, but I have never seen Kelly like this. He accepted the blame. He said things needed to change.

Jones, Rees and Bennett Jackson all took part of the blame. I have never heard the word mistake so much as I did in that 15-minute player availability.

Something was different with this loss, as if it were Achilles at the moment of his demise. The realization of mortality and fallibility stung cold. 

For once, I’m convinced something will change, or this epic will be played as a tragedy for the ages.


Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.