Notre Dame shot itself in the foot repeatedly before making enough plays at the end to thwart upset-minded Pittsburgh in triple overtime Saturday. But there was one play in particular, an oversight on the part of the Big East Conference officiating crew, that was the focus of head coach Brian Kelly’s Sunday teleconference.
Head coach Brian Kelly said the Irish will never run into a similar situation as Saturday, when two Irish players wearing the same jersey number were on the field at the same time at a critical juncture in overtime. Officials missed the penalty.
In the second overtime, and with a chance to kick a game-winning field goal after forcing and recovering a fumble at the goal line on Notre Dame’s possession, Pittsburgh’s Kevin Harper missed a 33-yarder wide to the right after a high snap. The Fighting Irish sent junior cornerback Bennett Jackson and freshman wide receiver Chris Brown — both of whom wear No. 2 — out on defense by mistake.
“No exception to [the rule],” Kelly said. “It was a coaching mistake. We had put our “desperado” team out there and Chris Brown is part of “desperado.” We’ve got to do a better job — an oversight that can’t happen.”
Kelly said he didn’t know that his team had committed an infraction until after the play, which should have resulted in a live-ball foul, and a five-yard penalty and a first down for the Panthers at the Irish 11-yard line.
“You have to inform [officials] procedurally of that,” Kelly said. “Just bad coaching. We have an easy way for us to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. They won’t be on the field again [simultaneously]; it’s on me now, so I’m going to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Though the Irish didn’t get caught on that critical play, they were flagged six times for 46 yards a week after committing only one penalty for five yards at Oklahoma. Those mental miscues, combined with a number of mistakes on special teams, three turnovers and poor execution in the red zone, nearly resulted in what would have been a needless and devastating first defeat of the season.
However, Kelly said it wasn’t a matter of the Irish taking the Panthers lightly.
“I think certainly they understand what it means to be ready to play each and every week,” he said. “I really didn’t have any problem with their preparation during the week. We didn’t play with the same focus and intensity that we need to each and every week against quality opposition.
“There can’t be any difference between Oklahoma and Pittsburgh because they’re going to play at the same level. We’re not good enough not to play our ‘A’ game. … You have to play your very, very best or all these games are going to come down to one or two plays. Hopefully they’ve learned from that.”
Another topic thoroughly discussed was where Notre Dame goes from here now that sophomore starting quarterback Everett Golson managed to shake off a rough start and being benched to lead the team’s rally. It was a departure from every other home game this year, when junior Tommy Rees was the permanent replacement for a struggling Golson.
Golson completed 9 of 15 pass attempts for 88 yards in a first half that yielded just two field goals and a 10-6 deficit. When his helmet was knocked off late in the second quarter, which, according to a new NCAA rule, requires a player to sit out at least one play, head coach Brian Kelly inserted Rees for the rest of the half. When Rees started the third quarter, it appeared Golson’s day was over.
But Rees’ interception midway through the third quarter was enough for Kelly to give Golson another shot. Despite what seemed like a damning interception in the end zone with just under four minutes to play, he emerged from the madness with 227 passing yards, 74 net rushing yards, three total TDs and the game ball.
“I don’t know that it was just the [Rees interception],” Kelly said of the substituting Golson back into the game. “I just felt like our offense was a little stale and we needed a way to kind of jump-start it. Everett can go in there and do some things, as you know, with his feet and kind of create some things.”
Kelly explained that he and other assistant coaches monitored Golson to see how the rookie was handling the latest benching, and that the result was much more positive than in similar situations earlier in the season.
“I got a feeling that he wanted to get back in there and compete,” Kelly said. “He certainly did that. … We talked to him in between every series to make sure he was still focused, and he was.”
Sophomore safety Matthias Farley underwent surgery on his right wrist Monday and was back practicing Tuesday.
“He had a good week of practice, but he didn’t play with the same speed in the first half,” Kelly said. “I don’t know why. In the second half he was flying around.”
Junior reserve offensive tackle Tate Nichols suffered a knee injury against Pitt and is scheduled for an MRI. Kelly didn’t sound particularly upbeat about the situation.
“We’re not certain until we get more results,” he said. “We’re still in the process of getting more information.”