The conceit of this blog, this stupid little website, is that we want Notre Dame to win football games, and that we want to talk about it online with like-minded folk. I assume that’s the same relationship you, reader, have with the Fighting Football Irish. I commend you for it. It’s fun to root for the ostensibly good guys. It really is the best thing in the world when they’re good.
This season has been fun as hell, and an unqualified success. If you have an objection to that statement, you don’t really need to keep reading. The Irish faced twelve regular season matchups against FBS teams and won ’em all. All said and done, they beat everyone except the far and away best team they faced (by the way, Dabo noted that the Irish were the best team Clemson has faced all year). I suggest we all take that at face value and spend some time appreciating it. Odds are it won’t happen next season. Or the next one. Et cetera. Teams just…don’t go 12-0. It isn’t a regular accomplishment. And if your team does it, no matter what your protestations are, you’re a lucky fan.
It’s understandable, after yet another major bowl loss, that people would be emotional and upset and tweetin’. We got in on the action and were accused of “shilling” and “making excuses” and pushing “positive spin.” Okay! Take our dumb tweets trying to make sense of that game as you will, that’s fine. We’re a pretty positive gang in general. This was obviously not a fun game. No one here thinks it was.
At this point, we could address a lot of folks. We could address the crowd that is jumping on ND not being “worthy” of the playoff after going undefeated against a schedule full of big name opponents (the Venn diagram of people who crow about needing to find the best four teams no matter what and those who scoff at advanced analytics that aim to do just that is a circle, btw). We could address the subset of our own fanbase that will call for Brian Kelly’s head after a thorough beating at the hands of Dabo Swinney. And on and on we could go. But why take the time? Let’s talk straight about what this season was and how to honestly make sense of it.
Notre Dame will go down with twelve wins and one loss in the 2018 NCAA football season. Like I said, cards on the table, if you’ve got a complaint, I don’t care. And it’s fine. You truly do not have to align with the worldview presented here. Live your own precious life.
But here we are, all adults, and…THAT SHIT SUCKED. Yesterday the Irish endured a ton of weird close calls and injuries to key players and, well, didn’t come out the other side for the better. They took the punches and eventually folded. These aren’t excuses but rather a factual account of what happened yesterday evening. Ian Book was not very good. The defense gave the team a spark to start but could only deal with so much. At a certain point, in this context, this team was going to break — as others have noted, Julian Love gave up a single touchdown all season, and his replacement Donte Vaughn gave up two last night. Julian’s replacement got burned on one deep ball and was extremely unlucky on the other, the victim of a one-handed catch after near-perfect coverage and an unfortunate tip up towards the receiver’s waiting hands.
There’s plenty of room for criticism of the coaching staff. Several third down offensive play calls were straight up mystifying. Despite a truly weird first half, the Irish were genuinely in it until that backbreaker right before intermission. It’s not like Vaughn had to be the next corner in, despite his physical attributes. The vaunted halftime adjustments…did not happen. Sure. Everyone’s sick of ND not winning this type of game, and it’s the genuine existential concern facing this program.
But if we can’t step back and enjoy a season with twelve wins and a single loss…what are we doing this for, exactly? This game is gonna hurt for a while. These words won’t change that. But after the acute pain subsides, and after the national media stops talking about it, and after we have our fun with certain members of our own fanbase, there’s no denying this season brought a lot of joy. And there’s not a goddamn reason we can’t enjoy what it was, right now.
Actually, we’re obligated to enjoy it. We’re obligated to enjoy Dexter Williams’ comeback story. We’re obligated to enjoy who Ian Book turned out to be, and how Brandon Wimbush handled himself in a decidedly awkward situation. And how disruptive this defensive line was. And Julian Love’s place as arguably the best defensive back this university has ever seen. And Te’von Coney and Drue Tranquil and the frankly absurd amount of tackles they made. And the safeties’ emergence after a year of irrelevance. And a receiver group who exceeded our most reasonable expectations. And a couple special teams seniors who kicked and punted their way to a lasting impact on this football program. And how this offensive line protected its quarterback despite a new coach and huge losses and repeated tinkering.
Really, what else is there to do. The coaching staff recruits. Some players graduate and move on, and some come back for a few more battles next year. But we all exert our energy, in some way, all for this university, all for the boys that put on the jersey and represent it. The night was not ours. The team chased it all year long, got a taste of the top, and were rebuked. No matter how much it stings, no matter how sour the final chapter was, they’ll be back.