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How have the Irish bounced back from agony before?

| Monday, September 25, 2023

Mary Votava | The Observer
The Notre Dame football team sings the Alma Mater after losing 17-14 to Ohio State at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 23.

There’s no sugarcoating the heartbreak of Notre Dame’s last-second, season if not program-shaking loss to Ohio State Saturday. To many, this Notre Dame felt different as they entered to the pulsating green bracelet lights at Notre Dame Stadium. A few hours later, the team emerged under a big, black sky with all-too-familiar emotions.

It’s hardly the first time the Irish have agonized in a big game, amplifying the angst and frustration among the Irish faithful. But for everything Notre Dame lost Saturday, they still have a chance to gain it back — and more.

“And at the end of the day, [we’ve] still got to do our job. We can’t get too high or get too low,” said graduate student safety Thomas Harper. “So, like I said — like I keep saying, I just think we can learn from this. We can still accomplish all the things that we hope to.”

Doing so will take impressive resilience, especially with another top-20 matchup coming this weekend at Duke. Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans, the Irish have suffered their fair share of heartbreaking defeats in recent years meaning they have a track record for this. With over half a season to go, it’s worth revisiting some of the most crushing Notre Dame losses of the 21st century to see how likely the Irish are of achieving that bounce back.


The Loss: Stop if you’ve heard this before, but the Irish dropped the second half of a two-season home-and-home with a high-powered blueblood in brutal, one-score style. On this occasion, it was a 23-17 defeat at No. 3 Georgia, with the Irish squandering a halftime lead due to penalty trouble and two Ian Book interceptions.

The Week After: Once again, the Irish had to turn around and face an upstart ACC foe in No. 18 Virginia. It wasn’t pretty, with the Cavaliers taking a 17-14 lead into the locker room at half. But eight Irish sacks, including a scoop-and-score by Ade Ogundeji, led the team to a fairly comfortable 35-20 win.

The Rest of the Year: Don’t read ahead if you have high hopes for the USC game. The Irish got throttled 45-14 at No. 19 Michigan a month later. But that was the team’s only other blemish, as the Irish finished 11-2 with a Camping World Bowl win over Iowa State. The Irish are hoping for more this season, of course, but a repeat of this would be a pretty good outcome all things considered.


The Loss: Yeah, the first half of those marquee home-and-homes don’t seem to go much better, do they? The Irish lost a back-and-forth, one-point affair with No. 15 Georgia that featured some weird missed opportunities (remember that near kick-return touchdown?) after Brandon Wimbush fumbled on a potential game-winning drive.

The Week After: A road clash with a Boston College team that would finish a respectable 7-6. After a low-scoring first half, the Irish run game carried them, as Notre Dame scored seven rushing touchdowns on the day. Five came after halftime, including a 65-yard dash by Wimbush that gave Notre Dame a double-digit lead that would never significantly shrink.

The Rest of the Year: Really don’t read ahead if you have high hopes for the USC game. The one-loss Irish rose all the way to No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings before No. 7 Miami beat the brakes off of them in one of the ugliest losses in program history. Like 2019, the Irish were good the rest of the season, highlighted by a much more encouraging 49-14 beatdown of the No. 11 Trojans.


The Loss: Texas is back, baby. The Longhorns won this season-opener, which stumbled through every twist and turn like a student coming back from a night out. Two quarterbacks? Blocked extra point safety return? An actual flip by Equanimeous St. Brown? A 50-43 final in double overtime? Yes to all of the above; no to an Irish victory.

The Week After: Notre Dame returned home for a “choose your score” 39-10 victory over an overmatched Nevada team. That was the beginning of a three-game homestand that would continue with a meeting against No. 12 Michigan State and Duke that would define Notre Dame’s season.

The Rest of the Year: Oh, it defined it alright. The Irish were sloppy as could be in a game the Spartans won by eight not because they deserved to but simply because someone had to. A 38-35 defeat the next week to a Duke team which would go 4-8 proved the Irish defense was broken, as the group sputtered to its worst season since 2007.


The Loss: The last-minute game-winning, top-five-team-beating touchdown that wasn’t. The Irish went pound-for-pound with the reigning champion, Jameis Winston-led Seminoles. Down four, Corey Robinson’s score with 13 seconds left was wiped off the board due to offensive pass interference, setting up an unsuccessful fourth-down heave.

The Week After: Notre Dame took advantage of a mismatched Navy team the next week, but showed some concerning signs. The Irish defense, stellar through the first five weeks, allowed 30-plus points for the third straight contest.

The Rest of the Year: First-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s unit fell apart down the stretch. The week after that Navy game, Notre Dame lost a bonkers 55-31 shootout to No. 9 Arizona State, with a late comeback effort falling short (but closer than you’d guess based on the score) to end the Irish’s CFP hopes. The team never recovered as a whole, yielding 43, 31 and 49 points to three unranked foes, all of which beat the Irish before Notre Dame offered a glimmer of hope with a walk-off field goal to beat LSU in the Music City Bowl.


The Loss: Basically a higher-stakes version of Saturday. The defending, defending national champion Trojans also stood at the edge of the Notre Dame end zone with seven seconds left. Like Ohio State, they found a way to break through — barely — with a then-illegal push from star running back Reggie Bush propelling quarterback Matt Leinart over the goal line to hand Notre Dame its second loss of the season.

The Week After: Against a mediocre BYU squad (albeit one that would rattle off four straight double-digit win seasons starting the year after), the Irish used a big second quarter and 357 receiving yards between Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija to outrun the Cougars 49-23.

The Rest of the Year: The Irish only played 11 games in that regular season and other than this USC game and a Week 3 overtime loss to Michigan State, Notre Dame won them all. The same can’t be said of a Fiesta Bowl showdown with the Buckeyes, who beat Notre Dame 34-20.

What We Learned

If recent history is any indicator, expect a slow-starting Irish victory next weekend against Duke (the 2016 Duke game would be more comparable to Notre Dame’s 2023 matchup with Louisville). But it’s hard to flip the switch against elite competition if it isn’t in place the first time around, even when the team enters that game still in Playoff contention.

The past says this USC game will be the next 2019 Michigan, 2017 Georgia or 2014 Arizona State. It’s up to the Irish to do whatever it takes to bring the fuzzy feelings that were buried underneath the gleeful red that graced Notre Dame Stadium back to the surface.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a senior in Siegfried Hall and Sports Editor of The Observer. He is from Haddonfield, New Jersey, and loves all of his Philly sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Reach out below or on Twitter (@_AndrewMcG) to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Stranger Things, Survivor, Abbott Elementary or/and Severance.

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