Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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62 APRIL 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED P rior to Brian Kelly's first season at Notre Dame in 2010, current Yahoo Sports writer Pat Forde revealed that the new Fighting Irish football boss had been 42-1 (.977) in his last 43 games when his Cincinnati or Central Michigan teams had a lead entering the fourth quarter. That record of "finishing the job" understandably was a source of great pride to Kelly, and one he emphasized. Such achievement generally requires a combination of mental toughness, physical resolve and stamina. It serves as a testimonial to possessing the in- tangible aspect that makes champions. From 1970-80 under Ara Parseghian (1970-74) and Dan Devine (1975-80), the Fighting Irish were 85-0 when they entered the fourth quarter with a lead, 41-0 with Parseghian and 44-0 with Devine (although the Irish did lose games where it took a fourth-quarter lead, like 13-10 at Ole Miss in 1977 be- fore losing 20-13). Under Gerry Faust from 1981-85, they were 27-8-1 in such games for a .764 percentage — and you don't want to fall below .900 in this category, never mind .800. Unfortunately, in Kelly's second and third games at Notre Dame, the Irish lost back-to-back contests versus Mich- igan (28-24) and Michigan State (34-31 in overtime) despite moving ahead in the fourth quarter. Technically, those games did not count as "having a lead entering the fourth quarter." Heading into the fourth, Michigan was ahead 21-17, and the game at MSU was tied at 21. Yet, it has to count for a lot when you do go ahead in the fourth, especially late, and can't hold it. That year, Notre Dame also lost a third game in the fourth when it led Tulsa 27-25 after three quarters before falling 28-27. The next year (2011), Notre Dame entered the fourth quarter at Michigan with a 24-7 cushion, and still led 31-28 with 30 seconds left and the Wolver- ines 80 yards from pay dirt. The Irish lost 35-31. Then in the Champs Sports Bowl, Notre Dame was up 14-3 going into the fourth against Florida State — but lost 18-14 to finish 8-5 a second straight year. After those five defeats in two years, Kelly and Co. became much more pro- ficient in 2012 and 2013 at not squan- dering fourth-quarter leads, and in fact rallying several times for comeback wins. The main blemish was losing 28- 21 at Pitt in 2013 when the game was knotted at 21 going into the fourth. In 2014, the Irish had a 27-24 edge at No. 2 Florida State with 11:40 left in the game before falling, and they entered the fourth quarter versus Northwest- ern with a 34-26 advantage (and led 40-29 with 10:34 left) prior to losing in overtime. The 2015 season saw sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer and wide receiver Will Fuller lead fourth-quar- ter comeback wins at Virginia and Temple, plus USC at home. Unfortu- nately, it became a little overshadowed when the 10-1 Irish went ahead 36-35 at Stanford with 30 seconds left — but couldn't close. ("ABC — Always Be Closing!" roared Alec Baldwin's char- acter in the 1992 classic "Glengarry Glen Ross" movie on the cutthroat world of sales.) However, 2016 was the worst season in Notre Dame annals when it came to "closing time": • The Irish took a 35-31 lead in the opener at Texas with 10:57 left in the contest and had a chance to expand it, but the Longhorns rallied to victory in overtime. • Versus Duke three weeks later, Notre Dame moved ahead 35-28 with 7:46 left, but the Blue Devils tallied scores on their last two series, the latter with 1:24 remaining, to win 38-35. • Kelly's crew led 10-0 at halftime against a Stanford team coming off back-to-back blowout losses. The Irish still were ahead 10-9 after three quar- ters before falling 17-10. • Versus Navy, Notre Dame clung to a 24-21 edge going into the fourth quarter, but a nine-minute touchdown drive by the Midshipmen and only one more possession by the Irish offense resulted in a 28-27 Navy triumph. • In the home finale against Vir- ginia Tech, Notre Dame bolted to a 17-0 cushion, and still were ahead af- ter three quarters (31-21). The Hokies ended on a 13-0 run to win the game. This is not even including a 3-3 tie going into the fourth at North Carolina State, also a 10-3 Irish defeat. In such cases, everything from the strength and conditioning plus nutri- tion program to lack of a killer instinct and mental toughness is scrutinized. An overhaul has been made in the former, in addition to six new assis- tants for on-field duties. It can't get any worse in 2017. The issue is more about how much better it can become, especially at finishing games. ✦ 'Finishing' Is A Starting Point To Improvement THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at lsomogyi@blueandgold.com The Irish let a fourth-quarter lead in the 2016 season opener at Texas slip away, the first of five times they lost despite leading in the final 15 minutes during their 4-8 campaign. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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