Wow. Another amazing, heart-attack inducing victory for the Irish. That's three white-knucklers in a row, after an equally gut-wrenching loss against Michigan in week 2. The post-Purdue post was entitled "Irish Learning How to Win." This post might as well be "Learning How to Win: The Sequel."
Watching the game I couldn't help but feel how unnecessary all the drama was. If the Irish offense had simply been it's normal efficient self in the Red Zone instead of uncharacteristically stalling out and settling for five field goals, the game wouldn't have been close.If Jimmy Clausen, in the middle of an otherwise terrific game, hadn't suffered a brain cramp and thrown an ill-advised backwards pass to Armando Allen that was a gift-wrapped Washington touchdown with about 4:39 remaining in the first half, the Irish probably go in at halftime with a lead instead of trailing by 1.
It was a pretty close game, statistically. Notre Dame out-gained UW 530 to 457 yards. But Washington had more first downs (25-23), was better converting on 3rd down (7 of 17, versus 2 of 10 for ND), and ran 19 more offensive plays than ND (79 to 60).
The difference (besides sheer intestinal fortitude) was the effectiveness of the Irish passing game. Jimmy Clausen threw for 422 yards, gaining 13.6 yards per attempt and 18.3 yards per completion. By contrast, Jake Locker had "just" 281 passing yards at 7 yards per attempt and 12.8 yards per completion.
The Notre Dame offense gained 8.8 yards per play, while UW was held to 5.8 yds per play.
In a game that close and that dramatic, it is perhaps not surprising that there were some controversial calls (or non-calls) by the officials. Some Washington players, and some on-air buffoons at ESPN, feel that the Huskies got hosed by the officiating crew, and they point to Robert Hughes' gutsy 2-point conversion run with 1:20 remaining in regulation that put the Irish up 30-27. Replays show that as Hughes moved the entire Husky defense toward the goal line on that run, his knee may have touched down just before the ball broke the plane. The cameras didn't have a clear shot of the play, but it didn't matter because the play was never reviewed, and no Washington player or coach disputed the call (Washington's coaches had a challenge they could have used, but didn't).
It has to be remembered that Hughes' run didn't give the Irish the lead. They already led 28-27. The 2-pt conversion just made it a 3-point lead instead of a 1 or 2 point lead. Thus, Notre Dame couldn't be beaten in regulation by a field goal.
Washington fans (and ESPN buffoons) forget about the ridiculous "roughing the snapper" call that would probably have cost Notre Dame the game had the Irish defense not bowed their necks and staged a goal line stand for the ages. With UW up by two (24-22) the Huskies got the ball at their own 25 with 12:23 to go and started a long drive that bled the clock and would likely have iced the game if it had ended in a touchdown. Eventually Washington found themselves with a 1st-and-goal at the Irish 1-yard line. Here's the sequence from that point:
- Rush for -1 yard.
- On 2-G from the 2, incomplete pass.
- On 3-G from the 2, Locker rushes for no gain.
- On 4-G from the 2, UW kicks a field goal to put them up by 5. A bogus "roughing the snapper" penalty instead gives UW another 1st-and Goal from the Irish 1 yard line.
- On 1-G from the 1, a run for no gain.
- On 2-G from the 1, a false start moves 'em back to the 6.
- On 2-G from the 6, pass completed down to the 1.
- On 3-G from the 1, Locker sneaks for no gain.
- On 4-G from the 1, delay of game penalty moves 'em back to the 6.
- On 4-G from the 6, UW kicks the field goal (again).
Without this amazing defensive stand keeping the Huskies out of the end zone despite a blown official's call, UW goes up by 9 points or more and ND simply would not have enough time to score twice to win the game. As it was, the Irish still trailed by 5 with just over 3 minutes to play and had to drive 63 yards in 5 plays to take the 3-point lead on Hughes' conversion with 1:20 to play in regulation.
The Huskies responded with an impressive drive of their own. They drove 70 yards in 9 plays to kick a game-tying field goal with just 6 seconds left on the clock.
Or did they? The biggest play on UW's last-minute drive was a 37-yard pass from Jake Locker to James Johnson on 3rd-and-10 that gave the Huskies a first down at the ND 26-yard line and really set them up in field goal range. Upon further review, it seems there is considerable doubt about whether Johnson caught the ball before it hit the ground.