Lose three in a row. Win three straight. Get blown out by Navy. Lay a beating on Utah.
The up and down ride that has been the Notre Dame season has now gotten interesting. A week ago, fans were talking gloom and doom and taking bets on how long it would take for Brian Kelly would get canned. One win against a wounded team and suddenly that all changed.
Notre Dame played possibly its best, most complete game of the season on Saturday against Utah, who was still licking its wounds after an embarrassing loss to TCU the week before.
It is admirable that the Irish were able to do what they did with so many key members of the team sidelined. Let’s quickly review.
The offense is without its starting quarterback Dayne Crist, starting running back Armando Allen, starting tight end Kyle Rudolph and second wide receiver Theo Riddick.
The answer to those obstacles? Tommy Rees overcame a rough start and completed 13 of 20 passes, including three touchdowns. Notre Dame rushers averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Lost-in-the-shuffle senior Duval Kamara caught two touchdown passes after catching just seven balls and no touchdowns all season.
Defensively, the Irish were without nose guard Ian Williams and linebacker Carlo Calabrese and had given up 837 yards over the last two games.
Their response? Notre Dame blocked a punt and recovered it for its first score of the game, held Utah’s runners to 2.4 yards per carry and forced a pair of turnovers, while holding the Utes scoreless for nearly 54 minutes after giving up a field goal in the first quarter.
Now the once glum Irish faithful have ideas like the Irish salvaging a 7-5 record out of this mess of a season dancing in their heads. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Remember that with the good, there was plenty of bad.
Notre Dame converted on just two of its 10 third down situations. The offense was actually out-gained by the hapless Utes and had just 256 yards on the day. Ben Turk averaged just 36 yards per punt.
The Irish played very conservative on the offensive side of the ball and limited the opportunities for Rees to make mistakes. That worked against a team that not only failed to execute, but also shot itself in the foot with 11 penalties. How will it go against a team that plays well?
Army, who is bowl-eligible for the first time since 1996, proved it can put up points, especially against teams with inconsistent defenses, by putting up 45 points against Kent State on Saturday. They’re not a powerhouse, but they do average 31 points per game offensively. And what about USC and sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, who are averaging 35 points per game? If the Irish find themselves in a shootout in either of those weeks, will Rees and the offense be up to the challenge?
Time will tell. But at this point, with the way the season has gone, nothing can be taken for granted and bowl eligibility is not a guarantee.
Don’t forget to submit your questions for next week’s Maza’s Monday Mailbag to firstname.lastname@example.org.