Who’s Still Mad about Tulsa?

The late October days back in 2010 that witnessed a blowout loss to Navy, the tragic death of Declan Sullivan, and culminating in the loss to Tulsa were truly dark times for Irish football. Hope with a new coach took an absolute beating for 3 weeks or longer. I went back and re-read my game review for the Tulsa game and it’s depressingly gloomy in parts. I was there in person in the south end zone and it was a sad and weird feeling leaving the stadium that day.

Times are different now. So, I’d like to walk back through a few things from the Tulsa game with several years of hindsight.

1) Tulsa Weirdness

A lot of the history of this game continues to be wrapped up in terms as if Tulsa was a hapless opponent. Actually, the Golden Hurricane were in the middle of perhaps their best run in school history aided by Todd Graham as head coach and Chad Morris (his lone year with Tulsa before taking the same job at Clemson) as offensive coordinator. They’d finish 2010 as the 6th highest scoring offense at 41.4 points per game and won 10 games. Some Irish fans don’t care about this–if you’re not playing a Power 5 opponent you might as well be playing William & Mary and it should be a blowout win either way.

The funny thing is Notre Dame is currently a larger underdog to Clemson in the semi-finals than Tulsa was visiting South Bend in 2010.

This loss hurt in the aftermath of Declan’s death but also because of the ending (we’ll get there!) and that it was one of the weirdest games in all of college football during this season. A brief summary:

Tulsa’s vaunted offense scored 1 touchdown in the entire game, just over 5 minutes into the 1st quarter on their first drive.

Irish quarterback Dayne Crist was lost for the year on the second series due to a patella injury, thrusting true freshman Tommy Rees into his first extended action.

Notre Dame’s PAT after their first touchdown was blocked and return for 2 points to push Tulsa’s early lead to 9-6.

TJ Jones and Cierre Wood executed a beautiful hook and ladder touchdown to give Notre Dame a 13-12 lead.

John “Fair Catch” Goodman did not fair catch and lost a fumble on a punt return.

Tulsa missed a field goal from 32 yards.

The Irish executed a fake punt in which Bennett Jackson picked up 20 yards and a first down, leading to a touchdown and 20-12 lead.

Tulsa gave Notre Dame a free first down after a roughing the punter call. The Irish later punted again anyway.

With 1:07 remaining in the first half, Rees found Toma for 26 yards, then a roughing the passer penalty brought the ball to the Tulsa 30 yard-line. Rees threw a pick six on the very next play. Attempting to tie the game, Tulsa failed to convert the 2-point attempt.

Rees threw another pick on the first throw of the very next series, luckily deep enough that Tulsa didn’t have time to score before halftime.

Tulsa scored on a 59-punt return to close the Irish lead to 27-25.

In the 4th quarter, on a day where they’d throw 56 passes, the Irish ran the ball on 3rd & 7 for 2 yards to the Tulsa 38-yard line. They inexplicably punted.

Tulsa converted a 3rd & 26 on what would turn out to be a game-winning field goal drive.

Nothing could top the bizarre circumstances surrounding the South Florida game to open the following season but this Tulsa game was right up there as the strangest of this century.

2) The Interception

I was pissed about the final interception. But, people change and for years I’ve revised my opinion on the matter so much so that I forgot I was originally pissed about the decision that ended this game.

At the time, everyone was just thinking get out of here with the win and I understand that completely. However, many people seem to forget that it was only 2nd down with 42 seconds remaining in the game.

Tulsa had taken their second timeout 4 plays prior before a 3rd down conversion by Notre Dame. The Irish had a pair of timeouts and could’ve bled the clock down to a few seconds remaining and attempted the game-winning field goal. This is the conservative approach that nearly everyone favored.

Even still, the run game largely sucked in this game (Wood & Hughes combined for 70 yards on 20 carries woof) and Cierre Wood gained 2 yards on first down to move the ball to the Tulsa 19-yard line before the infamous interception. From there it’s a 36-yard field goal attempt, what many have (unfairly) called a “chip-shot” field goal. Does the run game lose yards in an obvious run situation and now we’re looking at close to a 40-yard field goal?

They tried to take a shot to an All-American receiver to win the game against one of the country’s worst pass defenses. The worst outcome happened but had it been an incompletion the offense is still set up for a field goal try either on 3rd or 4th down. Plus, we have to at least admit the conservative route of attempting a mid-range field goal wasn’t a sure thing either on a day with swirling winds and tons of wacky happenings. Further, I think a field goal from mid-30 yards would miss more often than this throw to Floyd would be picked off, but fate wasn’t in Notre Dame’s hands this day.

One of the really interesting things to me on this play (the only clean version I could find on the whole internet was from Todd Graham’s TV show later that week) is how long Rees keeps his eyes to the left after the defensive back blitzes. I bet most remember this as a clean throw to Floyd but Rees seems to be looking at something to the other side of the field before panic running to his right and throwing over to Floyd who had been in single coverage. Had Rees gone straight to Floyd with his feet set we may be talking about a different outcome.

3) Get Used to It

A comment that lives on in infamy!

The post-game after Tulsa is important because it shed some light on the decision-making–and like many Kelly soundbites that got blown out of proportion–wasn’t treated with proper nuance. Here’s the full quote:

QUESTION: Can you take us through the last play with the interception in the end zone, what you were hoping to see there.

COACH KELLY: Yeah, we knew we had a one-on-one matchup with Mike Floyd. We certainly wanted to give that an opportunity for success and score a touchdown there. Took a timeout there to talk about it. I think we all know what happened there.

But keep in mind, you better get used to it, because that’s the way we’re playing. If we can get a one-on-one matchup, and we think we can get that accomplished, we’re going to call that play again and again. We’ll make that play. We didn’t make it today. But in time we’ll make that play.

Be honest, had you ever read the full quote? What’s interesting to me is you can read that as a defense eventually Rees will make that throw and Kelly is sticking up for his guys. His detractors would say Kelly isn’t taking the blame and it was a perfect call if only the players could execute. The quote actually makes a lot of sense to me. Get used to us playing aggressive and trying to exploit matchups with our best offensive player. What a mad man, that Kelly.

Since some Irish fans have a conniption about throwing the ball and that is largely where the anger from “get used to it” came from then and today. That kind of morphed into that snippet of the quote taking on a life of its own with anything Kelly screwed up.

Interestingly, this was 1 of only 5 games during Kelly’s tenure where quarterbacks threw the ball at least 50 times and the program has currently gone 56 straight games without throwing that much in a single game. I guess we really didn’t have to get used to it that much. Over eight years later with the program in a far better place maybe it’s time to stop being so mad about one interception and a parsed quote.

By |2018-12-11T08:42:25+00:00December 11th, 2018|Football|31 Comments

31
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
11 Comment threads
20 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
15 Comment authors
dannan14Andy RobertsIrishTexanClearwallnd09hls12 Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
alstein

And you all think special teams is bad now!

Notre Dame’s PAT after their first touchdown was blocked and return for 2 points to push Tulsa’s early lead to 9-6.

John “Fair Catch” Goodman did not fair catch and lost a fumble on a punt return.

Tulsa scored on a 59-punt return to close the Irish lead to 27-25.

Brendan R

That reads like a 1909 game write-up. You know, when games were 18-12 because nobody could hit an extra point.

farquad2012
farquad2012

I was a junior manager that season. Declan was a friend. A week before that we were throwing footballs around South Quad to pass the time during fall break, and the loss to Tulsa capped off one of the shittiest weeks of my life. After the game, I got black out drunk in my dorm room and cried.

I’ve never taken an objective look at the game. From my vantage point on the sideline on the other end of the field, it looked like an overly aggressive decision from a head coach putting his freshman QB who was only in the game because of an injury to the starting QB in a terrible position. It seemed obstinate on Kelly’s part, which the “get used to it” sound byte reinforced. But looking at it now, maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed at the moment, and the universe wasn’t conspiring against us, and it was just a match up and a play call that didn’t work.

Thank you for this Eric.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Tulsa doesn’t really bother me too much all these years later.

Let’s not talk about USF from ’11 though.

GoldenIsThyFame
GoldenIsThyFame

Am I at least allowed to say that USF in 2011 was a much worse loss than Tulsa and one of the most miserable experiences of my life as an ND fan?

juicebox
juicebox

I liked it more when I thought he only said “Get used to it.”

IrishTexan
IrishTexan

Now, for another NDN greatest hit, what is the context behind “nothing. zero. none at all” ?

Michael Bryan

Read this and thought “what are the chances that streak of not passing 50+ times goes down in the semifinal?”

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

IMO, it would be negligent not to pass that much for this game. Styles make fights and I like the idea of the short passing game backing an aggressive defense up rather than trying to run into the teeth of their strength vs. the ND weakness (mediocre yards per carry).

Usually I’m a RTDB standard bearer but Book’s accuracy and efficiency and Long’s scheme and concepts make the short pass probably a better weapon than hoping Dex can hit a home run and getting stuffed a lot when it doesn’t develop.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Totally unrelatedly: when did “styles make fights” become a thing? It seems like Pete Sampson has started saying it *all the time* out of nowhere.

Clearwall
Clearwall

comment image?itemid=8280342

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

I understood that reference!

juicebox
juicebox

Is that Harry Styles?

Clearwall
Clearwall

Yep. He’s the “Pretty Ok One”. He is the decent Harry Styles.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Actually, he is phenomenal.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

It’s a boxing saying. I feel like I’ve heard Teddy Atlas say it forever.

The latest buzz phrase I don’t like is saying “scale up” as in a developing young player. That seems to be catching on in hockey, sounds like a phrase Kelly would use.

Publius2010
Publius2010

It me. I’m still mad about it.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

You can’t make me not mad about Northwestern 2014.

IrishTexan
IrishTexan

Great article, Eric. For me, looking back, the thing I mostly remember about that game was the trend of bad luck. I was genuinely surprised that Kelly was not fired in the wake of Declan Sullivan’s death. I’m not making any statements about who was to fault. I just remember at the time, as a person not educated in law, that it seemed like the type of tragedy that someone would lose a job over.

That combined with the blowout loss to Navy (something that has never happened before or since, by the way) and then this loss to Tulsa just really seemed like we were cursed. As a program, institution, whatever. That karma was playing out in a bad way. This season then turned around with the surprising win against Utah, and it felt like maybe it would be ok.

This loss ultimately lumps in with similarly fluky losses against teams that “ND has no business losing to” – USF 2011, Pitt 2013, NW 2014, Duke 2016 – in that it has retrospectively and in combination left a bad taste in people’s mouths. Each one is explainable in and of itself – Tulsa was a 10 win team, etc – but when combined it does add up to a puzzling inability to face scrappy underdogs.

I’m hoping that that legacy is truly left behind and that Coach Brian Kelly 2.0 won’t suffer similar losses going forward. The next bugaboo to overcome is falling short when the lights are brightest. We’ll see what happens there in 18 days. I’ve got a feeling….

Andy Roberts

I went to the Tulsa game. Found 50-yard line seats on Ebay for $50 each, and my now-wife made that the first annual game we went to as my birthday present (also her first game ever). Unequivocally the best seats I will ever have for a sporting event.

The atmosphere was weird all day, and you correctly point out that the game was really freaking weird. I was so angry after the game that I trashed an autographed Kelly picture I had on my fridge (I think it was screen printed, not signed, but still). 07 was worse football, 16 probably made me angrier in aggregate, but that day was the low point of ND football for me as a fan. Not because Tulsa was bad, I knew they weren’t, but because of the whole week.

Thank goodness we’re not there anymore. (For the record, we haven’t lost one of my “birthday games” since.)

dannan14
dannan14

My first game in ND stadium i got to spend the 1st half on the 50yd line. Having one friend with a dad who was Dean of the Law School and another friend whose dad was an alum and whose grandfather was a professor who is buried on campus had a few perks!

Also, that game was against SMU so a major blowout with two punt runbacks (one called back for clipping) and mercy to prevent running up the score too bad was the best way for one’s first ND game to unfold.