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Football

Carson: Finding the words to describe Saturday’s ‘game’

| Monday, October 10, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. — I’m really not sure there’s a way to properly describe the asininity of Saturday’s game.

If you simply played the principal’s response to Billy Madison — you know, the “I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul” one — it would probably do a better job than this column will at describing the appropriate response to Notre Dame’s rain-soaked, 10-3 loss at North Carolina State on Saturday.

But before we address the issues with what 2-4 Notre Dame did Saturday — yes, that’s 2-4, formerly top-10 Notre Dame — let’s start with the most asinine part of that game: that it happened. The weather that presented itself Saturday wasn’t a surprise. When officials from Notre Dame, N.C. State and the ACC met for the first time Tuesday, the conditions we got were perhaps expected. While the forecast improved Thursday, when a final decision was made to play the game Saturday, it worsened overnight Friday into Saturday morning.

The result was, between midnight and the end of the game, a 16-hour window in which more than five inches of rain fell in Raleigh, North Carolina, with wind gusts in the area topping out at 51 miles per hour. As the game ended, the National Weather Service described the weather conditions as “life threatening,” going on to describe it as a situation “that should not be taken lightly.”

But hey, who doesn’t love a football game, right?

Irish freshman defensive lineman Julian Okwara, top, joins freshman cornerback Julian Love, middle with cleats up, and sophomore running back Dexter Williams in tackling the N.C. State kick returner Saturday in the Irish loss. This was a common sight throughout the day as players landed in puddles or slid for five yards after falling or diving.Chris Collins | The Observer

Irish freshman defensive lineman Julian Okwara, top, joins freshman cornerback Julian Love, middle with cleats up, and sophomore running back Dexter Williams in tackling the N.C. State kick returner Saturday in the Irish loss. This was a common sight throughout the day as players landed in puddles or slid for five yards after falling or diving.

Unlike Clemson last year, though — and ignoring any danger in the decision to play — the conditions were entirely relentless Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium. The rain didn’t let up, nor did the wind. Significant portions of the field were covered in puddles, not grass.

Simply put, that wasn’t a football game. At best it was an aberration of one. At best.

By playing Saturday’s game Saturday — rather than moving it forward to Friday night, like Old Dominion did, or pushing it back to Sunday, like South Carolina and Florida Atlantic — Notre Dame, N.C. State and the ACC did a hell of a lot more bad than good.

Now, for the other half. You know, the “football” part.

Notre Dame’s play calling was, to say the least, bizarre. While neither offense put more than three points on the board, N.C. State (4-1, 1-0 ACC) was at least able to move the ball from time to time. The Irish? Not really.

But instead of harping on the play calling as a whole, let’s pick out the key spot of the game. In what would be their final drive, the Irish took over on their own 20-yard line with 9:33 to play. By keeping the ball on the ground, Notre Dame methodically marched down the field, moving the ball in a way it hadn’t all game.

In 12 plays, the Irish had twice converted in fourth-and-2 situations, moving 51 yards downfield to get within striking range. Of those 12 plays, 10 were rushes. Only the opening play, a 9-yard completion, and a first-down sack deviated from that trend.

On first down from the N.C. State 29, the Irish threw incomplete. On second down, they completed an 11-yard pass to senior Torii Hunter Jr. for a first down.

With a new set of downs, Kizer threw incomplete, threw incomplete, scrambled for a 2-yard gain and saw the ball snapped over his head on fourth-and-8.

Why?

Irish junior quarterback DeShone Kizer is tackled by a North Carolina State defender in one of the puddles that formed at Carter-Finley Stadium as Hurricane Matthew soaked the Raleigh, North Carolina, area.Chris Collins | The Observer

Irish junior quarterback DeShone Kizer is tackled by a North Carolina State defender in one of the puddles that formed at Carter-Finley Stadium as Hurricane Matthew soaked the Raleigh, North Carolina, area.

You marched down the field, gaining 44 yards on 10 rushing plays. For the first time in the entire game, you were moving the ball. Yet when you got within striking distance of the goal line, you tried to get cute, abandoning the very thing that put you in position to actually score a touchdown.

It was nothing short of nonsensical.

And despite the fluky nature of Saturday’s game, it counts the same as the loss to a bad Texas team, the loss to a bad Michigan State team and the loss to a bad Duke team. Notre Dame, which has more talent than every team it’s played this year, has now lost four of six games. At this point, underperforming is a trend, not a coincidence.

Notre Dame’s shot at bowl eligibility is in one of those bins you use to carry your stuff in during move-in, quickly rolling down a hill faster than the Irish can run after it.

A couple weeks ago, Renee Griffin, a fellow Observer beat writer, pondered whether or not the Irish had yet hit rock bottom after their 38-35 loss to Duke.

Unless Notre Dame finds a way to upset No. 15 Stanford or No. 10 Miami — and seriously, what gives you the impression it has a chance in either game? — it will go into November 2-6. Navy, Army, No. 25 Virginia Tech and USC will follow.

Army should be winnable, but where the other five are concerned, Notre Dame has already lost to worse teams this year.

Remember the 2007 Irish, who went 3-9? They might have some company by season’s end.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.”At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer.A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa.When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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