Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Notre Dame Fighting Irish season recap
No wonder Notre Dame turned down the option of going to a bowl with its 6-6 record. The Fighting Irish had already experienced enough drama to fill multiple seasons.
It was a year unlike any other in South Bend. There were 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, most of them coming down to the final minute and two of them going into overtime. The Irish won three of the first four of those nail-biters, but then the luck turned against them.
Jimmy Clausen finally lived up to his promise as the former No. 1 national recruit by having one of the finest seasons ever by a Notre Dame quarterback. Golden Tate broke every major single-season receiving record, and Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph had star-turning moments in between injuries. The offensive line turned a corner and became a credible unit.
But the offense stalled too often in the red zone, and it could never score enough points to mask the defensive deficiencies. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta installed his patented blitz-heavy scheme, but the Irish couldn't tackle, get consistent pressure on the quarterback or cover receivers with any skill.
That's why they lost their last four games, and it's why Charlie Weis was fired after a third straight regular season without a postseason. It's time for a new drama to unfold under the Golden Dome.
Offensive MVP(s): Tate and Clausen. It's impossible to separate the two, who each had perhaps the best season in school history at his respective position. Clausen threw 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions, while Tate had more than 1,650 yards from scrimmage and 19 total scores. Each made the other look good, too.
Defensive MVP: Kyle McCarthy. The senior safety was one of the few players who had a good year on the defensive side of the ball. He was the heart and soul of the defense and made several key plays, including a game-saving interception against Michigan State, one of his five picks on the year. That a safety led the team in tackles probably says a lot about the defense, however.
Turning point: The Navy loss. Notre Dame was 6-2 and still had hopes of a BCS bid when it inexplicably got beat at home by Navy for the second time in three years. That pretty much sealed Weis's fate, and the team never won another game.
What's next: A new coach -- probably Cincinnati's Brian Kelly -- will try to come in and wake up the echoes that have mostly been quiet since the Lou Holtz days. Losing Clausen and Tate is a big blow, but there are still enough playmakers to cobble together a decent offense. The key will be somehow strengthening that porous defense, or else it's likely going to be another struggle in 2010.