Sunday, October 19, 2014


Notre Dame sees mixed, frustrating results on final play


By on 6:36 PM

TALLAHASSEE — Afterward, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly noted how his team had hit nearly all of its pregame goals.

The Fighting Irish wanted to control the tempo offensively, something they achieved with a hustling style that had Florida State on its heels for the entirety of the first half. The offense was balanced between the run and the pass, per Kelly's expectations.

The defense did enough, Kelly said, holding Florida State's attack down "for as long as we could."

It's entirely painful, therefore, that a team that largely achieved what it had set out to do — with very few exceptions, Kelly said, such as the play of its defensive ends and outside linebackers — missed upsetting the defending national champion by a single play.
Doubling Notre Dame's pain is the nature of the play itself. In the first half, quarterback Everett Golson had found an open Corey Robinson for a red-zone touchdown with help from a wisely designed scheme:

Robinson would run toward a defender and then cut toward the outside; a teammate, wide receiver C.J. Prosise, would zig in while Robinson zagged out, essentially cutting off the defender tasked with Robinson from his intended target.

It worked the first time, giving Notre Dame a 14-7 lead three minutes into the second quarter. On the second try, however, with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Notre Dame on Florida State's doorstep, Prosise was flagged for an offensive pass interference penalty — with officials ruling that he had deliberately blocked an FSU defensive back from keeping pace with an open Robinson.

"We needed to make one more play," Kelly said.

To officials, it was an illegal play; to Kelly, still bristling at the call more than 30 minutes after the final whistle, it was anything but.

"(Prosise) did exactly what he's supposed to do," he said. "We execute that play every day. And we do it legally and that's the way we coach it. We don't coach illegal plays. I mean, it is what it is, right?"

Echoed Golson, "They called offensive pass interference. That's something you can't argue with. You just have to play through it."

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Notre Dame will accept the flag — begrudgingly, and with some semblance of outrage despite words to the contrary — but the team's disappointment is impossible to ignore.

The College Football Playoff will be far kinder to one-loss teams than the Football Bowl Subdivision's previous postseason format, the Bowl Championship Series, but only to a degree: The Southeastern Conference, for example, may very well land a pair of one-loss teams in the Playoff.

Yet for teams without the benefit of a strong conference affiliation, such as Notre Dame or Florida State, a loss could prove catastrophic. That's what made Saturday night such a must-win for both parties — because either team would have pointed to the matchup as its résumé-building win of the season.
Here's where it really stings: Notre Dame will enter the final weekend of October without a single win against a ranked team, thanks in some part to Stanford's tumble to three early losses. In Notre Dame's case, a win against Florida State would have likely placed the Irish among the four likely Playoff participants heading into the home stretch; instead, it could send the Irish tumbling.

"We're obviously very disappointed," Kelly said. "We're just disappointed it didn't come out the way we scripted it in our minds. We came down here expecting to win."

Yet a silver lining remains. If Notre Dame can rebound from a painful loss, it's possible to envision a scenario where Kelly and Irish regain some solid footing in the Playoff race — with some help, of course.

The Irish can help their own cause down the stretch. Notre Dame will face a pair of ranked teams from the Pac-12 Conference, Arizona State and USC, in November, and face both teams on the road. In conjunction with losses from the SEC's best — and Florida State, perhaps — these wins could remove the sting of a single play gone awry and return Notre Dame to top-four contention.

"We have a lot of football ahead of us," Kelly said. "We have a lot of really good teams left to play. We have a very good football team and we're just going to take it one week at a time and we're going to work on getting better and hopefully it doesn't have to come down to the end."

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