Good Irish teams struggle against bad rivals…and Navy.
Fighting Irish TV will add one past NBC game to its Vault collection each week, starting this month. The Vault already contains 92 regular season games between 1992 and this past season, which means there’s 104 games left to release to fans who have downloaded the free app (Google Play, Amazon, AppleTV).
In this third article, I’ll rank games 52-27 — moving from least desired to most desired.
Now to Part 3:
52. No. 9 Notre Dame 31, Stanford 7 (2002)
The first of three Ty Bowls, and the only one Willingham prevails in. Pat Dillingham, a walk-on, starts at quarterback for the injured Carlyle Holiday. is a middling 14-for-27 for 129 yards. The Irish trail the Cardinal at half, 7-3, before the defense preserves the undefeated season with two pick-sixes and a third to set up another touchdown. Nick Setta missed three field goals and Dillingham’s first seven passes went for a total of seven yards. A Vontez Duff punt return is negated by a personal foul penalty.
Stanford successfully executes a “fumblerooski” in the first half, but only manages 78 total yards in the second half. The Cardinal finish 2-9 under first-year coach Buddy Teevens.
51. No. 24 Notre Dame 16, Boston College 14 (2011)
There’s not much to this game. The Irish take a 13-7 halftime lead, give up a touchdown late (under two minutes) and recover an onside kick. There are 17 punts between the two teams. Eagles quarterback Chase Rettig throws 10 consecutive incompletions at one point. David Ruffer kicks three field goals and Jonas Gray has the day’s longest run — 26 yards — which finishes in the end zone. The Eagles complete their season at 4-8.
50. No. 6 Notre Dame 28, Wake Forest 7 (2015)
Perhaps the most enjoyable segment is Jaylon Smith stuffing Deacs running back Tyler Bell on fourth-and-goal, then Josh Adams soon after ripping off a 98-yard run to make the game 21-0 (instead of 14-7).
The team, in its bid for a Top 4 playoff spot, didn’t do itself any favors this week or the week following in Fenway. The Demon Deacons earn more first downs, control time of possession and even outgain the Irish (340 to 282).
Andrew Trumbetti notched a pick-six.
49. No. 5 Notre Dame 19, Boston College 16 (2015)
The Eagles save their best for the Irish, even if their team is struggling. So it was in 2015, when Boston College forced five Notre Dame turnovers — styming three perfect Irish scoring chances. The Eagles never let up despite a 19-3 deficit in the fourth, forcing the Irish to smother an onside kick with less than a minute left to seal the closer-than-expected victory.
Josh Adams loses two fumbles — and then Irish rushers don’t give the ball away for another four years.
The Irish win their seventh “Shamrock Series” game in seven games — or five-for-five, if you’re not into revisionist history. I like these “green monster” jerseys.
48. No. 22 Notre Dame 20, Purdue 17 (2012)
Here is one of life’s unanswerable questions: Why did Notre Dame fans boo Tommy Rees when he entered the game in the fourth quarter?
Sure, Rees was an unspectacular 3-for-8 in this game. But two of those completions were on third down — one to John Goodman and the second to Robby Toma. Toma’s 21 yard catch set up Kyle Brindza’s winning field goal. Brindza was thrust into the spotlight because Nick Tausch was out with a groin strain.
The Irish managed just 52 yards rushing, with Purdue daring starter Everett Golson to beat them with his arm. With Cierre Wood still serving his suspension, it nearly worked. Golson was 21-for-31 for 289 yards and a single touchdown, but he also had a costly fumble near the end of the game that allowed Purdue to tie the score.
Random fact: Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn were at this game.
47. Notre Dame 23, Pittsburgh 17 (2010)
It’s a ugly win, but against a fairly good Panthers team. The Irish stake out to a 20-3 lead and then survive. David Ruffer hits a 50-yard field goal. Dayne Crist completes 12 consecutive passes and has no turnovers. The Panthers outrush the Irish (110 to 87), have more yards through the air (272 to 242) and possess the ball for slightly longer, but can’t steal a road victory.
46. No. 9 Notre Dame 35, Purdue 0 (1996)
Allen Rossum returns the opening kickoff 99 yards…and that’s just the first of 28 points in the first half. The Irish defense harassed Boilers quarterback Billy Dicken, sacking him six times, and shut down Purdue’s running game (just 44 yards on 26 attempts). It’s Notre Dame’s 11th consecutive win against Purdue. Holtz apparently predicted Rossum’s touchdown return in a team “relaxation period” Friday night.
45. No. 14 Notre Dame 60, Pittsburgh 6 (1996)
The media is certain that Lou Holtz will announce his pending resignation, but the Irish coach plays possum with the beat writers. The will-he-or-won’t-he as well as the open speculation about Northwestern coach Gary Barnett succeeding Holtz is more interesting than this blowout of this 4-7 Panthers squad.
Allen Rossum returned two punts for touchdowns — 55 yards and 83 yards, the Irish’s longest return since 1987. The Panthers gave up 40 points — that’s not a typo — in the second quarter.
44. No. 15 Georgia 20, No. 24 Notre Dame 19 (2017)
There are so many reasons why this game shouldn’t be the 45th most re-watchable among the remaining Vault offerings. There’s the fact that the Irish — featuring one-time Heisman hopeful Josh Adams — rushed for only 55 yards. Or that Brandon Wimbush was 20-for-40 for 210 yards and zero passing touchdowns. Or that it’s a loss!
But this game was so epic. There was Quenton Nelson stealing souls while looking for work, Terry Godwin’s insane catch, Automatic Yoon, a controversial late hit flag, the sea of red, Drue Tranquill saying post-game he was “scared for other teams because we’re coming to punish.” For me, this would be a more interesting viewing than a Holtz era team blowing out some SEC also-ran.
43. No. 11 Notre Dame 49, Michigan State 10 (1991)
“There isn’t much to say,” Michigan State Coach George Perles said. “The scoreboard says it all.” The Irish rolled up 651 yards of offense, with Rick Mirer throwing for three touchdowns (and running for a fourth). Notre Dame had 433 yards of rushing (93 for Jerome Bettis, 76 for Tony Brooks, 57 for Lee Becton).
How good were things going for the Irish? The Spartans decided to take a clipping penalty instead of allowing the Irish to kick a field goal. On 3rd-and-27 Mirer found Tony Smith for the touchdown.
Perhaps the event people remember most from this game is Lou Holtz slapping freshman Huntley Bakich and dragging him to the sideline by his face mask.
42. No. 8 Notre Dame 35, Navy 17 (1995)
Navy was thankfully self-destructive in 1995. The Midshipmen were leading, 17-14, at the break — and that wasn’t even the worst thing that happened to the Irish all day. They lost Ron Powlus for the remainder of the season when linebacker Fernando Harris drove Powlus’ shoulder into the ground, snapping his humerus bone.
Enter Tom Krug.
The largely anonymous backup completed 5-of-8 passes, two of those going to Derrick Mayes in the end zone. The Irish defense — led by Lyron Cobbins’ 10 tackles, interception and fumble recovery — handled the rest. They held the Midshipmen to 14 yards in the second half, after surrendering 188 yards in the first two quarters.
Navy outgained the Irish on the ground (202 to 165, although Autry Denson had 116 yards), in the air (231 to 154) and in time of possession (32:32 to 27:28). But the stat that told the story was the Midshipmen’s five turnovers (3 fumbles and 2 interceptions) in the second half.
41. No. 5 Notre Dame 24, USC 20 (1991)
The Trojans may have won the stat sheet, but the Irish came away with the only win that matters. It was not without controversy. A last-minute onside kick led to a scrum. USC cornerback Marvin Pollard emerged from the pile with the ball in his possession. The referees saw it differently, awarding the ball to Irv Smith and the Irish.
This was far from the only controversy. In a scene reminiscent of the 1982 Coliseum clash — but with the roles reversed — referees said Tony Brooks crossed the goal line before fumbling to make the score 14-0. Replay suggested otherwise.
Jerome Bettis ran for 178 yards and two scores. The Trojans finished the season 3-8.
40. No. 3 Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 0 (2012)
The Irish make their case for the No. 1 ranking by completing a sweep of home games, their first such accomplishment since 1998. Notre Dame rolls up 584 yards of total offense to Wake Forest’s paltry 209 and gets scores from Cierre Wood (68-yard run), Tyler Eifert, John Goodman (50 yards from Everett Golson), T.J. Jones (34 yards from Golson) and George Atkinson III.
This game gets ranked higher than perhaps what it deserves because of what occurs that night: No. 1 Kansas State gets thumped by Baylor and No. 2 Oregon gets upset at home by Stanford. It’s time to light up Grace Hall!
39. No. 12 Notre Dame 20, Boston College 10 (1995)
Fullback Marc Edwards had a big, big day, carrying the rock 28 times for 167 yards and accounting for both of Notre Dame’s touchdowns. The Irish held onto the ball for more than 32 minutes, including an 18-play, 83-yard drive that ate almost 10 minutes of fourth-quarter clock. Edward had 12 of those plays — all rushes, including seven in a row.
LaRon Moore and Lyron Cobbins both had interceptions, leading a defense that yielded 303 total yards. Ron Powlus attempted just 10 passes, completing six. The Eagles finish the season 4-8.
38. No. 6 Notre Dame 62, UMass 27 (2015)
The tuneup game for a big matchup with Clemson is decidedly weird, with the Minutemen trailing 21-20 with 6:44 remaining before half. UMass tries 16 different personnel groupings to confuse the Irish, which works for longer than comfortable. The grumblings about Brian VanGorder’s defense — and too-often references to lacking “eye discipline” — grow louder when Minutemen freshman Marquis Young scampers for 83 yards.
In the end, however, the Irish rack up a Kelly era high in total yards (681) and rushing yards (457). C.J. Sanders has a punt return for a touchdown. Both C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams eclipse 100 yards; this was Prosise’s third consecutive 100+ yard effort. Brandon Wimbush makes his first appearance and scores on a 58-yard dash.
37. Notre Dame 20, Boston College 16 (2009)
Comeback! The Irish do to the Eagles what Boston College typically does to their Catholic rival — force turnovers. Brian Smith’s interception with 98 seconds left is the last of five takeaways by the Irish defense, sealing the victory. The turnovers help mitigate the 10 porous pass plays of 20 yards or more the Jon Tenuta-led defense surrenders.
Jimmy Clausen found Golden Tate, who dashed and dodged his way to a 36-yard score with 8:12 left. (Tate has 128 yards receiving on the day.)
36. No. 9 Notre Dame 41, Miami 3 (2012)
The Hurricanes and Irish meet in the regular season for the first time in 22 seasons — since the triptych of classic clashes — and this time, it’s at Soldier Field as part of the “Shamrock Series.” The Irish roll, thanks to the Hurricanes’ self-immolation. Miami has three touchdowns in the first quarter either called back by penalty or dropped by wide open receivers.
George Atkinson III and Cierre Wood both eclipse 100 yards, the first time a duo of Irish running backs have surpassed the century mark in the same game in a decade. Notre Dame gain 587 yards — their best effort in seven seasons. Everett Golson, suspended for a whopping three plays, completes 17 of 22 for 186 yards. The Irish hold onto the ball for more than 39 minutes.
35. No. 16 Notre Dame 48, Rice 17 (2014)
Do you remember the excitement coursing through your veins when Everett Golson bombed it deep to a streaking Will Fuller for 75 yards on the new FieldTurf?
Golson had 250 yards passing by halftime, as the Irish built a 28-10 lead over a decent Conference USA team. (He’d finish with two passing touchdowns and three rushing scores.) The second half brought us Malik Zaire, who scampered 56 yards in his first snap under center.
The first regular season appearances for freshmen Justin Brent, Daniel Cage, Grant Dickerson, Corey Holmes, Tyler Luatua, Nyles Morgan, Drue Tranquill, Andrew Trumbetti and Nick Watkins.
34. Notre Dame 35, Nevada 0 (2009)
Jimmy Clausen picks up right where he left off, adding to his impressive Hawai’i Bowl performance with a 15-for-18 effort against the Wolf Pack. He throws touchdown passes of 19, 24, 70 and 88 yards en route to a 315 yard, zero interception passing performance.
In doing so, he outdueled Nevada junior quarterback Colin Kaepernick who finished 12-for-23 for 149 yards and two interceptions. The Pack had three opportunities to score, but missed a field goal, coughed up a fumble and were turned over on downs.
It was Notre Dame’s first season-opening shoutout at home since 1973.
In the second quarter of that game, an Irish rookie recorded his first career tackle on a Kaepernick scamper. His name? Manti Te’o.
— Jude (@ndjrs) September 7, 2016
33. Notre Dame 49, Temple 16 (2017)
Notre Dame shows off its newly reconfigured stadium — more luxury boxes, bigger scoreboards — and its potent offense. Brandon Wimbush, making his first collegiate start, throws for 184 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushes for 106 yards and a score. The Irish rack up 606 yards of total offense, of which Josh Adams has 161 of those. Dexter Williams adds 124 of his own. This may have the first time since 1954 that Notre Dame has had three rushers have 100 yards or more.
32. Notre Dame 23, BYU 13 (2013)
The Irish survive a frigid, blustery day with a hot defense. BYU racks up 415 yards of total offense, but is stymied three times inside the Irish 12-yard line in the second half. Taysom Hill is 21-for-36 for 168 yards and adds 24 rushes for 101 yards in the loss. Cam McDaniel runs for 117 yards, the first time he’s eclipsed 100 in his collegiate career. Kyle Brindza had three field goals, including a 51-yarder that sealed the victory.
31. Notre Dame 30, Miami 27 (2016)
It will always amuse me to think that a Top 25 Miami Hurricanes team lost four straight in the middle of the season, the last of which came to a 2-5 team that had already fired their defensive coordinator. The Hurricanes managed just 18 — yes, 18 — yards rushing on the day and fell behind 20-7 at halftime before making a mad scramble to tie the game at 27.
This may have been Jarron Jones’ finest hour, as he finished with seven tackles (six for loss!), a sack and a pass break up. The Irish defense as a whole had 12 tackles for loss — its most in 11 seasons — and five sacks.
Special teams wise, this was a typical 2016 hellscape. There was a botched punt, an uncovered onside kick, a blocked punt and a fumbled punt return that was easily converted into a Hurricanes touchdown.
30. No. 8 Notre Dame 30, No. 14 Georgia Tech 22 (2015)
DeShone Kizer, thrust into the starting role with the injury to Malik Zaire, is 21-for-30 for 242 yards and a long touchdown to Will Fuller. (Fuller finishes with six grabs for 131 yards.)
C.J. Prosise has a career day, rushing 22 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns, including a 91-yarder to make the game 30-7. Joe Schmidt has 10 tackles, including two for losses.
Things I remember about this game: Georgia Tech scores twice in like 30 game seconds to make the final score closer than it appears. Drue Tranquill is lost for the season when he tears his ACL celebrating a pass breakup.
Fun fact: Fullback Patrick Skov was on the 2012 and 2014 Stanford teams before transferring to Georgia Tech for his graduate season. How many players do you think lost three times in their careers at Notre Dame Stadium?
29. Notre Dame 35, Michigan 17 (2008)
This was the game that we figured, at the time, extinguished the ghosts of the 2007 season.
In a game that begged for a “Yakety Sax” overdub, the Irish recovered four Michigan fumbles. The first two Wolverines miscues eventually resulted in Irish touchdowns and Rich Rodriquez’s squad never recovered. It’s always good to beat Michigan, even in down years and especially after the creaming they delivered the year prior.
Golden Tate has four catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. David Bruton adds 15 tackles. And who could forget John Ryan’s sideline takeout of Charlie Weis, during which the coach tore both his ACL and MCL?
28. No. 8 Notre Dame 24, Navy 17 (2017)
A soggy Senior Day wearing the Rockne heritage uniforms, during which Notre Dame wins its first one-score game in ten tries. This may be Kevin “K.J.” Stepherson’s high water mark in South Bend, catching five passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns (game-tying and game-winning). To absolutely no one’s surprise, Greer Martini led all tacklers with 15 stops; Julian Love added another 14. The Midshipmen played their typical keep-away, possessing the ball for almost 43 minutes. But it didn’t work two years in a row.
Brandon Wimbush was 9-for-18, but he moved the Irish 78 yards when they needed it most. His 30-yard dart to Stepherson tied the game at 17.
27. No. 11 Notre Dame 13, No. 18 Michigan 6 (2012)
If you remember this game, it may be for one of three reasons:
- Leis were distributed to fans to show solidarity with Manti Te’o, who reportedly lost his grandmother and girlfriend on successive days. (It turns out one of those two people were actually dead.)
- The Wolverines commit six turnovers (five interceptions and a fumble). Denard Robinson — on his 22nd birthday! — throws four of those interceptions in the first half. (Two go to Te’o.) The other is a head-scratching choice by Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who opted for a halfback pass on first and goal from the 10. (Award yourself five life points if you remember which Irish DB snagged that errant throw.)
- Tommy Rees scores his first (and only) rushing touchdown of his career, a 2-yard sneak.
Also, did we ever solve the mystery of who stole Prince Shembo’s bike seat?