Hartnett: Sloppy Mistakes Finally Cost the Irish (Nov. 9)
Brian Hartnett | Monday, November 10, 2014
TEMPE, Ariz. — Notre Dame’s 55-31 loss to Arizona State on Saturday was an ugly mess in many aspects.
It was as Irish head coach Brian Kelly said, “sloppy football.”
But most of all and perhaps worst of all, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
Now, I don’t mean to say most people expected Notre Dame to lose by 24 and surrender more points than it had given up in a single game since 1985. Many people, including myself, felt the Irish would win or at least keep it very close against a fellow top-10 opponent.
Rather, I mean to say that the mistakes Notre Dame has repeatedly made all year finally came back to hurt them in a big way — in this case, it hurt them enough to knock them out of the College Football Playoffs conversation.
It’s only natural for football fans to assume that mistakes refer to turnovers, and that is correct in this case.
Simply put, Notre Dame and Everett Golson in particular, have excelled at turning the ball over since late September.
There were the five turnovers against Syracuse. The three turnovers against Stanford and against North Carolina. The one interception which helped swing momentum in Navy’s favor.
And now the five turnovers that led to the team’s downfall Saturday afternoon.
When Notre Dame plays largely turnover-free football, it can compete with any team in the country, as seen in the team’s close loss to Florida State. And most of the time, the Irish can overcome their mistakes — they’re a strong enough team to get past their own errors when facing weaker opponents like Syracuse and North Carolina.
But against tougher competition like Arizona State, turnovers are liable to get the Irish burnt, as Golson admitted after the game.
Turnovers got the Irish burnt under the warm Arizona sun Saturday, as five Notre Dame turnovers helped produce 28 Arizona State points.
The turnovers came in all varieties — tipped passes caught by defenders, bobbled passes that fell into cornerback’s hands, fumbles from defensive pressure.
At their core, they reflect the bigger issues with the Irish offense.
Golson has had trouble securing the ball, losing six fumbles on the season. Notre Dame’s receiver corps, while generally a bright spot for the team, has had costly drops. And Golson has repeatedly had defenders right in his face, due to struggles with running backs pass blocking and general struggles from an offensive line that had to be revamped one quarter of the way through the season.
Taken individually, these issues might not tank Notre Dame’s still-potent offensive attack. But add them all together, and they form a recipe for disaster, especially against a team like Arizona State that can effectively capitalize off those mistakes.
Arizona State might be the team on Notre Dame’s schedule most capable of doing that. But that doesn’t mean the remaining schedule is devoid of such teams — Louisville leads the nation with 22 passes intercepted and USC has the eighth-best turnover margin in the country. Either of those teams is good enough to challenge a turnover-free Irish team, and both of them are certainly good enough to defeat a turnover-plagued Irish team.
Protecting the ball won’t be the magic formula that guarantees victories in Notre Dame’s remaining games. The Irish defense has recently been prone to giving up plenty of points and it might be without two key starters for the rest of the season. And an entire column could be devoted to Notre Dame’s regression in special teams over the last few weeks — particularly in the areas of punt returns and field goals.
But by cleaning up the sloppiness on offense , Notre Dame will ensure its offensive playmakers get a good chance to play to their potential. And better yet for Irish fans, it will ensure the ugliness that ensued at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday will be a thing of the past.