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Gastelum: ND simply couldn’t make a play when needed (Dec. 3)

Andrew Gastelum | Monday, December 2, 2013


PALO ALTO, Calif. – She had been knocking at the doors of the Golden Dome all throughout 2013. Yet five specific times stand out, the times when there was no answer. 

In January on South Beach. In September in Ann Arbor. In September in front of Touchdown Jesus. In November amid the three rivers. And Saturday in the Bay Area. 

Her name was Opportunity and she just wanted to be embraced. She was the girl the Domer had been trying to woo all along but always convinced himself that she was out of his league. 

Each time, the Domer left with some sort of lingering regret at not giving it his best shot. When Opportunity knocked, the Domer hid behind the door, sometimes cowering and sometimes with a grasp on the handle. But never in those five chances did he open the door. And Saturday was the latest and quite possibly the last chance to make it count in 2013. 

There were a few times when he got pretty close to turning the handle Saturday. Back-to-back scoring drives to start the second half and make a game of it. A Troy Niklas catch here, a DaVaris Daniels catch there. An Austin Collinsworth look-what-I-found interception, a Bennett Jackson top-10-worthy snag. 

But, ultimately, Opportunity thought no one was home and went next door to ask the Cardinal for a date to the dance – and possibly one around New Year’s – as the Domer sat dazed.

But on Saturday, the two weren’t all that different. 

Notre Dame converted on all four of its red-zone appearances. Stanford scored on all five. The only difference was the three Stanford touchdowns to two for Notre Dame, as evidenced by the seven-point margin of victory. Both of Notre Dame’s field goals came on drives that lasted more plays than its drives ending in touchdowns. But Notre Dame had to settle for three instead of seven, just as it has all season long. 

A knock at the door left unanswered.

Both quarterbacks threw two interceptions. Rees’ came under pressure on the last two drives of the game when all they meant was Stanford had more chances to run out the clock. Hogan’s, meanwhile, came during those moments when you could look back and say, “That, right there, is where the momentum shifted in this game. That is where everything changed.” Yet the Irish couldn’t turn the turnovers into points when they had their opponents backtracking. 

Another knock at the door left unanswered. 

You don’t have to look too hard for those moments in the five losses of 2013. Sure, maybe Alabama would be the toughest, but they are there. The cause, however, was even more evident. 

Over Thanksgiving dinner, my uncle asked me the difference between the undefeated Irish of 2012 and the on/off Irish of 2013. Besides Manti Te’o and Everett Golson, there weren’t any outstanding differences. I didn’t have a valid response, but on Saturday it appeared clearer than the beautiful day it was in Palo Alto. It was oh so much more than the No. 5’s on each side of the ball.

There was a lack of urgency. There was no killer instinct. 

The Irish of 2012 had their close calls, but they opened the door at every knock, they capitalized when they had to. The Irish of 2013 have barely converted half of their red-zone appearances into touchdowns. The Irish of Saturday had two chances to go 79 yards to tie the game in the fourth quarter and didn’t seem to play with a sense of urgency, with that killer instinct that came natural in 2012. 

But don’t take my word for it. Brian Kelly had the right answer. 

“We just couldn’t make a play when we needed to,” the Irish coach said. 

Zach Martin had the right answer. 

“We just couldn’t make a play when we needed to,” the captain said.

Dan Fox had the right answer.

“We just couldn’t make a play when we needed to,” the graduate student linebacker said.

They were talking about Saturday, but it applies to all of 2013. Here in Palo Alto, the Domer finally realized what went wrong in 2013. In 2013, he easily could have been on the other sideline. But there goes the Cardinal, walking off into the sunset, with the win and the girl. 

Her name? Opportunity.

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.