Halfway through the countdown and revisiting some these games is starting to take its toll.
2000: #1 Nebraska 27, #23 Notre Dame 24 (OT)
This game is often remembered for the sea of red that invaded Notre Dame Stadium, but it is also the first of only two times the Irish have hosted the No. 1 team this century (the second instance is near the top of this list).
Despite the abundance of Nebraska fans and the fact that the Irish were outgained nearly 2:1, ND hung tough with the Cornhuskers and used special teams to keep the game close.
Freshman Julius Jones returned a kickoff 100 yards, while Joey Getherall (all-time favorite ND player) returned a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 21 and have Irish fans smelling upset.
Quarterback Arnez Battle threw for only 40 yards, but did most of his damage on the ground as the junior accounted for 120 yards rushing.
The Irish defense was stout throughout the game as ND held the high-powered Nebraska rushing attack relatively in-check and limited the big plays of future Heisman winner Eric Crouch.
The Irish were able to force overtime, but could not muster any offense without Battle and settled for a field goal on their first possession.
Nebraska then only needed five plays to score as Crouch ran in the game-winning touchdown to allow the Cornhuskers to escape South Bend with a victory and maintain their No. 1 ranking.
2007: Georgia Tech 33, Notre Dame 3
The games on this list evoke a wide range of negative emotions, but this game haunts me until this very day. Never have I felt lower or more hopeless as a Notre Dame fan then after Tashard Choice and Georgia Tech embarrassed the Irish in the first game of the 2007 season.
2007 brought a significant changing of the guard on the Irish roster. Gone were leaders like Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija and in were a new crop of young talent that topped many recruiting services coming out of high school.
Instead of freshman Jimmy Clausen or senior Evan Sharpley, Charlie Weis decided to go with Demetrius Jones – this decision ushered in the decline of the program under Weis.
Jones was a disaster from the start and eventually finished his career as a linebacker at Northern Illinois – some schematic advantage with that choice. Not all of it was Jones’ fault as Weis was trying to implement a type of spread offense that had no cohesion.
The offense simply could not move the ball with Jones behind center and Weis decided to go to Sharpley in the hopes that the veteran would offer a spark, but there would be no spark on this day or for the rest of the Weis tenure for that matter.
Despite the offenses inefficiencies, the defense managed to keep the score respectable through most of the first half as they held the Yellow Jackets to field goals early.
As the game wore on, Georgia Tech and Tashard Choice began to wear down the Irish defense and the game slowly got out of hand.
Clausen would eventually see some time at QB, but this game was over midway through the third quarter and the Yellow Jackets nearly tripled the ND offensive yardage and would go onto win 33-3 – the worst home-opening loss in ND history.
After the highs from the 05 and 06 seasons, this was an abrupt and painful fall from grace and a foreshadowing for things to come.
For as bad as last season was, 2007 is in its own class of ineptitude. I don’t need to remind Irish fans of its misery, but a story that sums up the 2007 season comes from my watching of this game.
I watched this game at the Windrift in Avalon, NJ and as I am watching the destruction on the television in front of me, I must have looked like I was going to be sick because I was comforted and encouraged by a Rutgers fan – – – a fuckin’ Rutgers fan was offering sympathy to me. A fall from grace indeed.
2010: Tulsa 28, Notre Dame 27
Some people would have this higher on the list. Hell, some Irish fans might have it as No. 1, but if you replace “Tulsa” with a power five opponent, I’m not sure it would make the list.
Should Notre Dame ever lose to Tulsa? No, but the fact is the Irish lost their starting quarterback in the first quarter, had a litany of other injuries throughout the game, including an injury to leading rusher Armando Allen.
The game also had an odd atmosphere as the it took place three days after the death of Declan Sullivan.
The Golden Hurricanes were also not a bad squad. Tulsa had a proven coach in Todd Graham and finished the 2010 season at 10-3. In fact, they actually could have won 11 games if not for East Carolina converting a Hail Mary against Tulsa in the first game of the season.
The injury to Dayne Crist thrusted freshman Tommy Rees into action. Rees’ previous appearance came against Michigan earlier in the season. The stage looked too big for him vs. the Wolverines, but Rees held his own under center.
The freshman finished with a respectable stat line, 33/54, 334 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTS, but his last interception was a dagger for the Irish.
Notre Dame’s defense had few answers for the Golden Hurricanes attack, but the Irish had the ball and were driving in the final minute with the hopes of escaping with a win.
With :43 remaining and the ball well within field goal range at the 19-yard line, Rees in explicably went to the endzone and Tulsa intercepted his under-thrown pass intended for Michael Floyd.
It was a freshman mistake at the most inopportune time. To this day, I haven’t seen an explanation as to why Rees felt like he had to go for the touchdown and I still haven’t forgiven the Tulsa band for playing during the Notre Dame Alma Mater.
Sidenote, historians will look back at the Notre Dame 2010 schedule with some perplexing looks. Western Michigan, Tulsa, and Utah? These were the results of some scheduling musical chairs, but those schools have to be the most random triumvirate on any modern Notre Dame schedule.
2002: Boston College 14, #4 Notre Dame 7
Just as in 1993, Notre Dame followed up a huge win over Florida State only to fall to Boston College the next week and knock themselves out of the National Championship picture.
In 2002, the Irish were coming off back-to-back road victories over No. 18 Air Force and No. 11 Florida State. The game vs. Boston College was ripe for a letdown.
The dangers of the letdown was prevalent throughout the conversation leading up to the game. Tyrone Willingham wanted to prove how zeroed in and focused his team was so he elected to break out the green jerseys – the first time the Irish had worn the green jerseys at home since 1985.
The Irish dominated the Eagles, but five turnovers were their demise. The Irish had a total seven fumbles (I still think there was something wrong with the fabric of the jerseys) and lost three of them. ND only had 12 turnovers during the season leading into the BC game.
Notre Dame had more first downs (22-9), more time with the ball (33:58 to 26:02), more offensive plays (84-53) and more sacks (4-2), but fewer points.
BC scored on a short drive following a Notre Dame first quarter fumble and the Eagles stretched their lead to 14-0 on a 71-yard pick-six off of Pat Dillingham in the second quarter.
Mistakes continued to plague the Irish and ND was only able to get on the scoreboard with under three minutes left. The Irish cut the lead to 14-7, but they were unable to mount a comeback as the Eagles again thwarted ND’s National Championship hopes.
Just as the 2007 Georgia Tech game spelled the beginning of the end for Weis, the Willingham era was never quite the same after this game. The Irish escaped a close call against Navy the following week, but were blown out by USC in the regular season finale and NC State in the Gator Bowl.
2010: Michigan State 34, Notre Dame 31 (OT)
The “Little Giants” game needs no reintroduction for Irish fans. As heartbreaking as the loss was, I had begrudged respect for the balls it took for Mark Dantonio to call that fake field goal.
Despite some questionable decision-making, Dayne Crist showed some form of the five-star talent Irish fans were promised. Crist went 32-55, 369 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT.
Notre Dame dominated the Spartans for much of the first half. ND led 7-0 before Crist threw a costly INT as the Irish were driving in Spartan territory. The turnover gave Michigan State new life.
The Spartans used that momentum to build a 21-14 second half lead. The Irish bounced back to score two straight touchdowns to take the lead before the Spartans answered with a game-tying touchdown with 7:43 remaining in the fourth quarter.
That touchdown came right in front of where I was sitting and B.J. Cunningham must have gone at least five yards out of bounds before coming back in to catch the touchdown – illegal touching has limited enforcement at the collegiate level.
Neither team was able to score before the end of regulation and the Irish got the ball first in overtime. ND went three-and-out as Kyle Rudolph cut off his route one yard too short on the third down play.
After the Irish converted the field goal, Notre Dame’s defense held firm and sacked Spartan QB Kirk Cousins on third down to force a lengthy field goal attempt. Everyone knows what happened next, but there was no chance MSU kicker Dan Conroy was making that field goal.
The loss marked the second consecutive heartbreaking loss for the Irish. The previous week, Denard Robinson drove Michigan down the field in the final minutes to beat ND and the Michigan State game topped him.
It is a testament to Brian Kelly that he was able to keep the team focused during the early stages of his first year and Kelly was eventually able to engineer the Irish to a strong finish in 2010.
The top five most painful moments will be revealed later this week and then we can get to the fun stuff next week.