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Adams: The defining moments of Notre Dame’s 2019 football season

| Friday, September 11, 2020

A football season is made up of moments — moments which stick in the minds of fans and linger with them until they are, usually, consigned to history and replaced by moments of the next year. Some moments get overlooked but are still important for their context within a game, a season or a program as a whole.

With that in mind, and with the 2020 season right around the corner, here’s a look back at what I consider to be the 13 most significant moments, one per game, of Notre Dame’s 2019 season.


Ian Book’s first snap of the season at Louisville

To give an idea of what I’m going for here, let me break it down. We could certainly have done senior running back Tony Jones Jr. gaining all positive yardage for the Irish on their second scoring drive to tie it up, or even junior linebacker Drew White recording the first sack of the season for the Irish. However, I’m going with this play, and not just because it was a huge gain. Sure, it was a great 37-yard run, but looking at it with some distance, it so encapsulates the Notre Dame offense in the 2020 season.

Senior quarterback Ian Book had senior Chase Claypool, junior Jafar Armstrong and graduate student Chris Finke lined up at receiver. Pass protection wasn’t great, but Book had enough time for his receivers to run their routes and could have hit Claypool on a cross or Finke on a fly route, the latter of which could have been an even bigger gain and likely would’ve (and should’ve) worked against a vulnerable Cardinals secondary.

Up until Book started picking apart even weaker defensive backfields in November, this was his offensive approach, and it goes to his tendency of playing conservatively which is why it’s the moment of this game.


Brendon Clark’s (lucky) 22-yard TD to Braden Lenzy vs. New Mexico

Pretty easy here. Sure, Book threw five touchdown passes and ran for another, but this was David vs. Goliath and David didn’t have his A-game. Even Clark got action as a true freshman, and, on his first series, nearly overthrew sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy out of bounds. Lenzy reeled it in and wove through the defense on what seemed like the only screen pass to work for the Irish in the last three years. It was just too easy.


Claypool recovers a muffed punt in the red zone at Georgia

I could’ve gone with the offensive line playing great in pass protection (despite several false starts) up until the very last snap and dooming any hope of Notre Dame keeping its final drive alive. Cole Kmet had an outstanding debut after recovering from a broken collarbone, but the only way they were able to take the lead on the Bulldogs was because the anemic offense didn’t have far to go thanks to this play by Claypool. Combined with the next game on the schedule, it goes to show how the defense and special teams had to help drag the offense to the finish line too often for the Irish.

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Former Irish wide receiver Chase Claypool looks to escape the defense during Notre Dame’s 33-9 win over Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28.

Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s fumble rumble vs. Virginia

Defensive end Ade Ogundeji had a fumble recovery touchdown, but this play was more important for the momentum it gave the Irish. After falling behind 17-14 at halftime and losing an onside kick to Virginia to open the second half, the defense forced a punt and then MTA (or “Tua’s cousin,” as he is also referred to) rumbled 48 yards downfield to help the Irish take the lead for good. The play also included a sack from defensive end Jamir Jones, who stepped up in huge fashion when fellow end Daelin Hayes went down for the year with a shoulder injury.


Julian Okwara’s shutout saver vs. Bowling Green

Book threw another five touchdowns, but a blocked field goal by senior defensive end Okwara to save a shutout against the Falcons and former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is an easy choice in another game where David came up short against Goliath.


Michael Young almost breaks the game open vs. USC

We could go with one of Tony Jones’ huge rushes or maybe the touchdowns by Lenzy or junior tight end Cole Kmet, the former of which showed Lenzy’s Oregon state 400-meter dash championship speed. Another option is the halftime scuffle between teams that saw the referee call unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the entirety of Notre Dame and “UCLA.”

However, with the Irish up 20-6 and their defense looking good against the Trojans’ vaunted pass attack, junior receiver Michael Young took the second half kickoff and broke through, only to have the ball slip out of his hands. It wasn’t a turnover, but it could have been a huge special teams score to put the game away instead of having to scrape out a three-point win and just summed up the missed opportunities of this team, especially the one two weeks later.


Book dives for the ground at Michigan

This seems pretty vague, right? Well I remember the play that made my dad walk out of the room in disgust. The Wolverines just went up 17-0 on the Irish in the second period, and on the ensuing drive on 3rd and 6, Book didn’t even choose to throw the ball away, but rather to show his inner ostrich and stick his head in the sand by diving to the ground for no gain.

Sure, I could’ve gone with Bo Bauer’s blocked punt or the ensuing botched recovery by the Irish or the Phil Jurkovec touchdown that helped fuel the post-game quarterback debate. But I’m choosing the moment that summed up this game for the Irish and was further evidence of just how much the offense held this team back against premier competition.


Book shushes the crowd (and critics) vs. Virginia Tech

This was hard to choose between the actual game-winning drive and this moment. There wasn’t much to like about the first three quarters of this game, and this could’ve easily been the 98-yard fumble return for a touchdown by the Hokies that broke a years-long streak of no fumbles by Irish running backs. But it ended up not mattering because Book atoned for his poor performance over the last seven quarters.

Two huge fourth down conversions and a 7-yard run (plus a clutch extra point snap) later, and he had his swagger back. In doing so, he relatively quelled a quarterback controversy and helped lead sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec to transfer at the season’s end.


Book’s unnecessarily hard TD to George Takacs at Duke

The only competition for the moment of this game was the ACC Network announcer saying the stadium was packed when in reality the seats were just blue. That about summed up the comical nature of this matchup as the Blue Devils were never really in the game.

With the game out of reach the Irish were on the goal line and had two tight ends to the left. Senior Brock Wright was wide open, but Book elected to toss it to the sophomore Takacs, who was covered. It worked out, and I don’t know if he just wanted to let Takacs get a score in limited action, but it shows how Book can zone in on a guy and fail to take full advantage of all the weapons at his disposal.


Paul Moala’s “Scoop n’ Score” vs. Navy

There were just too many Claypool touchdowns (four to be exact) in this game to choose one. I could’ve also gone with Kyle Hamilton catching Malcolm Perry before he could get to the edge (an impressive feat). And I was very tempted to go with Book’s 70-yard touchdown pass to Braden Lenzy (for just how irritating it was to see Book complete a deep pass so effortlessly, yet they seem to never try it).

Instead I’m going with a play from junior linebacker Paul Moala that just went to show how dominant the Notre Dame defense was. It was just too impressive. I’ve never seen a guy break past the line of scrimmage so fast that he was able to “intercept” a pitch (which technically counts as a fumble recovery). This embodied the dominance Notre Dame exhibits on teams it is better than and just what they are capable of when firing on all cylinders. Now if they could just do it against premier competition.


Jurkovec shows his stuff vs. Boston College

It’s a 40-7 Notre Dame lead with just under seven minutes left in the game. Jurkovec is under center for mop-up duty, and on a 2nd & 10 he displays the athleticism that made him such a highly touted quarterback recruit. He gracefully weaves through the defense and dives as far as he can before getting forced out of bounds three yards short of a touchdown.

That. That is what Jurkovec could bring to the table for the Irish offense. Which leads one to wonder why the coaching staff would take away arguably his greatest offensive asset in the 2019 Blue-Gold Game, which led to him playing horribly. It also leaves us scratching our heads wondering why Kelly would just tell the Irish to run it into the BC defense without really trying to put up another score. C’mon man, this kid deserved a chance to show what he could really do, and he never got it. Ugh.


Khalid Kareem caps the regular season in style @ Stanford

After a sluggish start in wet conditions the Irish shake off the rust and dominate the Cardinal and finally end a five-game losing streak in Palo Alto. Could’ve chosen sophomore defensive end Isaiah Foskey’s blocked punt, but it harkens me back to another blocked punt against Michigan that Notre Dame royally botched. Instead I’ll give credit to senior defensive end Khalid Kareem.

Although Kelly seemingly has a problem with letting his offense actually get reps in garbage time, he’ll apparently let arguably his most consistent defensive end rush the QB — who’s literally backed into his own endzone — with 48 seconds left and a 14-point lead. It worked out at least and graduate student defensive end Ade Ogundeji knocked the ball loose for Kareem to recover and get his first career score in his final regular season game.


Tony Jones Jr. caps his career with the slowest 84-yard touchdown ever vs. Iowa State

In the Camping World Bowl (now the Cheez-It Bowl) vs. Iowa State, Notre Dame — a team that finished 10-2 yet still wound up ranked only No. 15 nationally and missed out on the New Years’ 6 (and even the Citrus Bowl played in the same stadium just a week later) — took on a comically outmatched Iowa State team. I could’ve gone with safety Alohi Gilman’s strip and Claypool’s fumble recovery after the Irish punted on their first drive, but we’ve been over what the defense and special teams do for this offense.

I also could’ve gone with senior kicker Jonathan Doerer somehow knuckle balling a 51-yard field goal, or the numerous times Book looked like he was playing backyard football by just slinging it to Claypool with almost reckless abandon. But I’ll give Jones the credit he deserves (but also disparage him a bit) for what he did for a shorthanded Irish running game. But seriously, how do you let Tony Jones Jr. break off an 84-yard rushing touchdown? He literally ran out of gas and his stiff arm did less to get the defender away than have him push Jones the last 20 yards into the endzone. Big 12 defenses, man…


With the 2020 season about to start, I really hope the defining moment of every game is not COVID-19 related. I’m also praying this season brings along a change in the narrative of Notre Dame football. I want the moments that define each game this season to be more like those against New Mexico, Bowling Green, Virginia and Navy — and maybe the Virginia Tech moment gets revived against Clemson.

Regardless though, I’m just grateful that we have football. So in the words of Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on. And in the process, let’s let sports do what they’re best at and make a few memories.

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

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

Contact Hayden