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Offense fails to convert in red zone

Alex Barker | Monday, November 9, 2009

With the return of Michael Floyd to the lineup after sitting out the last five games because a broken collarbone, Notre Dame’s offense looked, at times, unstoppable. But once again, the Irish offense just couldn’t get it done when it mattered most.

Jimmy Clausen and company were a horrific 2-for-6 inside the red zone against Navy, including two turnovers and two missed field goals.

In his postgame press conference, Irish coach Charlie Weis acknowledged that his team’s poor performance down near the goal line was the difference between winning and losing.

“Getting the ball down into position to score was not the issue; it was scoring that was the issue,” he said.

With the offense sputtering and the defense unable to make stops for much of the game, it seemed as though things couldn’t possibly get worse the Irish. They did.

After hitting a Notre Dame record 14 consecutive field goals, kicker Nick Tausch missed his only two attempts against the Midshipmen, tries from 30 and 41 yards.

This would come back to haunt the Irish. After failing to convert on three plays from inside the five-yard line, Weis was faced with a tough choice on fourth-and-goal down 14-0 early in the second quarter. He elected to go for it and the Irish turned the ball over on downs after quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s pass fell incomplete in the end zone.

“We had missed a couple field goals in the game, and sometimes that taints you,” Weis said of the decision. “I thought that the possessions in the game, especially they were up two scores, but the two scores were touchdowns, I think the possessions in the game and the time of possession was going to warrant that we were going to need some points.”

What really cost the Irish down the stretch were uncharacteristic turnovers that cost them valuable scoring opportunities.

Down by two touchdowns late in the third quarter, the Irish were threatening to close the gap as they made their way down to Navy’s nine-yard line. But instead of sliding down or getting out of bounds to avoid contact as he has done all season, Clausen got impatient, taking on a Navy defender inside the two-yard line and fumbling the ball after taking a huge hit.

“I just got hit. A guy made a good play, and I fumbled the ball,” Clausen said of the play.
On the next possession, the Irish once again drove deep into Navy territory before turning the ball over. Clausen’s pass, intended for Floyd, who wasn’t expecting it, ricocheted off of Floyd’s back into the arms of Midshipmen linebacker Ram Vela.

“Yeah, we were trying to get a double cadence and we just miscommunicated,” Clausen said. “He was blocking the screen, and I was just trying to throw a slant, and it went off his back and a guy made a good play on it.”

As good as Notre Dame’s offense is outside of the red zone, it won’t matter if its woes in the red zone continue. Next week doesn’t figure to be any easier as the Irish travel to take on a Pittsburgh defense that is allowing just 17 points per game.