Yesterday in Part 1, we looked at the first half of Notre Dame’s season and the turning points in each game that led them to an undefeated record and the national championship game. Today, we’ll look at the second half of the season and see just how the Irish got to where they are.
BYU – Irish running game
If there was ever a trap game, this was it. A week after an emotional, physical win over Stanford and a week before a huge road trip to Oklahoma, here came BYU. The Irish actually took a 7-0 lead early, but found themselves down 14-7 at halftime and 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter. That’s when the ND rushing game took over. A dominating performance in the second half, the Irish ran over, around, and through the Cougar defense. In fact, in Notre Dame’s game-winning drive the Irish only passed the ball twice and completed just one. George Atkinson’s two-yard score on 3rd-and-goal gave the Irish the lead for good. After the defense held BYU, ND took over with 6:10 remaining and ran it nine straight times taking all but 22 seconds off the clock virtually sealing the game. It was really the first time the Irish running game dominated a game, and it would be a sign of what was to come in the following weeks.
Oklahoma – Golson to Brown
Probably the most important win of the season for Notre Dame. This game proved to the country that the Irish belonged and weren’t just a fluke. Several big plays helped ND win, Cierre Wood’s 62-yard touchdown run in the first quarter chief among them, but the one that really was the turning point in this game was the Golson-to-Brown 50-yard completion. The game was tight through this point. Oklahoma had just scored to tie the game at 13-13 with less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and momentum has seemingly swung toward the Sooners. However, on the Irish’s second play of their very next drive, Golson executed a perfect play fake and connected with Brown for the 50-yard gain moving the Irish down to the Sooner 15. Five plays later Golson snuck it in from a yard out and Notre Dame had the 20-13 lead. From there the defense took over and the offense added 10 more points to turn a tie game into a 30-13 Irish blowout.
Pittsburgh – Another goal line stand
If there was ever a “luck of the Irish”, this game was it. Several different points in this game should have cost Notre Dame the win. At least five or six different plays happened that would have sunk almost any other team, but not the Irish. The turning point in this game really happened late in the third quarter. With Pitt leading 17-6, the Panthers used a big play to get a 1st-and-goal from the Irish two. A touchdown here and it’s 24-6 and the game is basically over. Instead, the Irish defense stuffed the Panthers not allowing the touchdown and forcing a field goal. It was now 20-6, but it was still just a two possession game leaving the door ever so slightly open. The fourth quarter would belong to the Irish. First, Golson hit TJ Jones for a touchdown to make it 20-12 after the missed extra point. The defense forced two Panther punts and then Golson took over scrambling around three straight plays to get the Irish into position to score, hitting Theo Riddick for the touchdown, and then running in the two point conversion to tie the game and force overtime. Of course the OT had its own drama, the biggest being a relatively chip-shot, game-winning field goal sailing wide right for Pittsburgh. The Irish would score on their next drive and the game would be over in miraculous fashion.
Boston College – Golson-to-Goodman ends it
This game was a perfect example of the score not indicating how dominant one team was over the other. A 21-6 final looks much tighter than it actually played out. Notre Dame was never threatened and the game was never really in doubt. Still, it was just a 14-3 game at halftime and any big play could have put Boston College right back into it. Any hopes of that were ended early in the third quarter when Golson tossed an 18-yard touchdown to John Goodman to make it 21-3. BC did add a field goal, but that would be it as the Irish moved to 10-0.
Wake Forest – Option and fumble
Two plays really tell the story of this game and both occurred in the first quarter. The first happened on the fourth play of the game when Golson optioned to the right, pitched it to Cierre Wood who rumbled 68 yards for the score. Then on Wake Forest’s first drive, Tanner Price hit Josh Harris for a 13 yard gain, but Harris was nailed by Carlo Calabrese causing a fumble that Zeke Motta recovered. That basically ended the game right there. Golson would throw a score to Tyler Eifert after that and the rout was on in the 38-0 victory.
USC – Goal line stand(s) for the ages
In the biggest game for Notre Dame in nearly 20 years, the Irish knew a win means a national championship shot. And they had to do it against their biggest rival on the road no less. The first big stand happened early in the fourth quarter. With Notre Dame leading 19-10, USC earned a 1st-and-goal from the Irish four. But two runs and an imcomplete pass kept the Trojans at bay and they had to settle for a field goal. After an Irish field goal, USC got the ball back and once again got it to a 1st-and-goal at the two. Yet, the Irish defense was up to the challenge. The Trojans had seven shots at a score, but could never penetrate the goal line finally running out of chances when Max Wittek could not connect with Soma Vainuku on fourth-and-goal. Two drives, 10 plays, 3 points, and 1 national championship berth.