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It’s Tommy Time

Michael Galano | Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This Saturday was our first game of the 2011 football season, and the end result was pretty frustrating to say the least. A 23-20 loss to the Bulls of USF, and maybe even worse, of the Big East. Why did we lose to a team that Brian Kelly has beaten before? Are we cursed? This is crap! Off with his head!

(Let’s all please take a deep, cleansing breath and put the pitchforks away for just a few minutes, OK? Just for the next 700 words that I need you to read…)

First of all, we knew USF had a good, solid offense. Although they weren’t ranked, this USF team has a lot of potential and some top college football minds have them winning the Big East and playing in a BCS game come winter. If anyone watched or read a preview of this game, he knew that BJ could run and that USF has speed. Their offense is good, and it only put up 16 points (one TD). That, and we held them to 2-of-14 on third downs. The takeaway? Our D is solid.

Now, the offense. Not so pretty a-picture. Was Dayne the wrong choice? Should we have stuck with Tommy’s 4-0 run at the end of 2010? Is Brian Kelly not the savior we all thought he was? Questions, questions, questions!!

First, I would like to assure all of my friends who were abroad last fall that we are not the same team that we were under Charlie back in the fall of 2009. I promise. If you were here last fall, you would have experienced the magical transition of our football team that went from looking like a sloppy mess of talent to a cohesive, bonded unit that took down Utah, Army, USC and Miami with force.

So, for those of you who weren’t here, and maybe for those who have forgotten, there was a specific moment to which I can pinpoint last year’s transformation. The opponent was Tulsa. Yes, I can already hear the groans about Kelly’s play calling, but please, bear with me here. I’m sure that your feelings about that game are very similar to those about the USF game this past Saturday. That’s the point.

If you remember, after going 0-for-2 in his first two pass attempts, Dayne was forced out of the game with a season-ending knee injury. “Darn, we thought the season could have been salvaged, but this is the dagger,” right? Well, let’s see how this freshman Tommy Rees does…

Boom. 33/54 for 334 yards, four touchdowns, and yes, three interceptions. We lost the game 28-27, but it was already 7-0 when Tommy was brought in. In other words, Tommy: 27, Tulsa: 21.

Yes, what stuck in the minds of the Notre Dame faithful was Brian Kelly’s choice to force the freshman to throw a Hail Mary interception to lose the game. “Terrible Call! Fire Him! Argggg!”

But for me, it was different. I had watched about 15 or 16 games at Notre Dame Stadium, and none felt quite like that one. We were a real team. Yes, our dominant win over Nevada the year before felt pretty good, but it was a showcase of talented football players, not a force to be reckoned with. That’s what we became late last season. Utah didn’t have a chance. Army didn’t have a chance. USC didn’t have a chance. Miami didn’t have a chance.

Now back to USF. Dayne went 7/15 for 95 yards and one interception in the first half. The offense looked sloppy, and heads were scratched. When he lost his job as the starter last year, it was because of his knee. This year, he was benched because of his performance and the collective performance of the offense under his direction.

For those of us who made it back into the Stadium, we got to see Tommy go 24/34 in the second half for 296 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Similar to the Tulsa game last year, Tommy had us right there in the end, and I was down in those golden seats jumping up with a legitimate chance for a win with two minutes left in the game. That feeling, the feeling I hadn’t felt since turning off the TV on New Years Day, was back. Also similar to the Tulsa game, Tommy ran train. And it was magical to watch him do it.

Yes, we can talk about dropped passes, fumbles and dumb penalties in the first half. They happened. But Tommy was out there playing with the same guys, and he looked a little different. For those of us who made it back into the Stadium after the evacuation, the game felt different. We were in it. After the demoralizing first half, Tommy brought us right back into it. We were an onside kick away (really, a fraction of an inch away) from a last minute field goal that could have forced us into an overtime that would have been unwinnable for the Bulls and possibly one of the most drawn out, epic tales of a comeback that Notre Dame football has ever seen.

Now, I don’t know Dayne personally. From what I’ve heard, he is a great guy. Unlike some QBs in recent memory, his reputation as a Notre Dame man couldn’t be better. I do not know what the problem is with him and our offense, but for some reason, it just hasn’t worked. I’m not questioning his talent, his character, his determination or his dedication to Irish football. But, for some reason, it just isn’t working. I know how great the story would have been and how we all wanted “C(h)rist” to be our savior, but he isn’t. Maybe it is something as deep as the fact that he spent two years under the reign of Charlie, or maybe it is a simple timing issue with the offense, but whatever it is, it’s hurting Notre Dame’s chance of winning football games. We love you, Dayne, we really do. But you aren’t Kelly’s guy.

Takeaway? It’s Tommy Time.

Finally, special teams and another interesting note concerning the Tulsa/USF games:

We lost to Tulsa by 1. In the 1st quarter, we missed an extra point.

We lost to USF by 3. In the 3rd quarter, we missed a field goal.

Takeaway? My theory is right. These games are perfect parallels, and you should agree with me.

Now, I’m not sure if the QB decision will be made before this makes it to The Observer, but I hope it does. I hope it does because I hate quarterback controversies. If anything can kill a team for an entire season, it’s a quarterback controversy. Brian Kelly is supposed to announce the starter for the Michigan game sometime soon, and if it is Tommy Rees, I will be very excited, and so should you.

Michael Galano is a senior majoring in business. He can be reached at [email protected]

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