5 Thoughts - The Irish Screwups
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly
Posted Sep 12, 2011

What's with all the Notre Dame mistakes? That might be Notre Dame.

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5 Thoughts, Sept. 12

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Week 2 Thoughts  2010 5 Thoughts | Week 1

- Fiutak: The business on the field matters more than ever
- Cirminiello: The Big Ten's disaster 
- Zemek: Coaching evaluation after two weeks
- Sallee: South Carolina is legit
- Zemek: What's with all the Irish mistakes?   

By Matt Zemek

This was said after Saturday night's Notre Dame-Michigan game, but it bears a little bit of repetition and amplification: When a team produces 500-yard games and moves the ball like a freight train, only to lose because it can't fix a chronic turnover problem, it has to be asked how it happened.

Plenty of football games have been played in which one team moved the ball, racked up a gazillion yards, displayed schematic superiority, and lost… because of Old Demon Turnovers.

Notre Dame might be really, really good. It just has to stop screwing up really, really bad.

"We were dominant, except for just a few turnovers" is the kind of post-defeat whine that's always understandable, but that's part of the deal. Finishing the drive, making the putt, is what you're supposed to do.

Georgia gave up 28 defensive or special-teams points to South Carolina (technically only 21, but the Gamecocks' offense scored after starting on the UGA 7-yard line; that might as well be viewed as a defensive touchdown, even though the official record will indicate otherwise). There are several ways to mess up, and Notre Dame is finding them. For now, turnovers are Notre Dame football, and if the team keeps committing them, then that's the team. That's what Notre Dame is.

How can one reliably separate truth from wishful projectionism here? How can one know when his (or her) team really WAS dominant, except for a few turnovers, or when his team squandered competitive advantages in a display of sloppiness that undid physical superiority at the line of scrimmage?

The key is to look at the team, coach and program involved.

When proven teams, proven coaches, and proven programs – those who have already established a track record of excellence – succumb to the rarity of a 500-yard, five-turnover head-scratcher of a loss, it's a lot more reasonable to claim dominance even in the midst of defeat.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Cam Newton and Nick Fairley still played on Auburn, and that the Tigers lost to Arkansas with 550 yards of offense but five turnovers, all while the Hogs gained just 283 yards and scored only two offensive touchdowns. Given Auburn's proven ability to perform under pressure – established in 2010 – it would be quite acceptable to say that the Tigers dominated except for a few of those pesky giveaways. However, if the 2011 California Golden Bears or another similarly unproven entity (Illinois, perhaps, or maybe Arizona State) took Auburn's place, the weight of argument would shift toward "No, you weren't dominant – you were California/Illinois/Arizona State, that's what you were."

Notre Dame has to stop making mistakes. It has to stop screwing up. Otherwise, the turnovers are a part of the deal. That's part of the game, and that's Notre Dame football right now.