SOUTH BEND – Echoes of what the other guys had done earlier on Saturday night in a place few opponents can say the same about since October 2017 bounced around the quiet concrete of Notre Dame Stadium.
This was long after the No.9 Notre Dame football team had retreated to their locker rooms, but before the group had walked up the tunnel and out into the night. This was after the sound system blasted ABBA’s 1970s song “Dancing Queen” from the stadium speakers.
Thanks for that one.
When everything was relatively smooth, you could clearly hear the group, likely dressed in red and black and having a close connection to this Southeast Ohio city school.
“Uhhhhhhhh … uhhhhhhhh … uuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhh … UC! “ came the familiar joy of the University of Cincinnati.
This followed four hours of “Let’s Go Bearcats!” of a spirited group that weren’t intimidated by a sold-out crowd at Notre Dame Stadium.
The # 7 Bearcats either.
In the lobby, Irish supporters encouraged to wear green – jerseys, shirts, whatever wardrobe – left the venue with envy. Notre Dame saw his 26-game winning streak at home shattered by quarterback Desmond Ridder and a confident collection of Bearcats, who returned to Ohio with a 24-13 victory.
Afterward, the Bearcats got out of their locker room and headed to their waiting buses to find take out food from… Kentucky Fried Chicken. Nothing says a huge winning program like a Colonel’s three-piece.
► Rating:Cincinnati-Notre Dame Score Summary
► Statistics:Cincinnati-Notre Dame team / individual statistics
► Instant observations Did Notre Dame find a QB in the middle of the loss to No.7 Cincinnati?
This one was close, as all Irish games have generally been this year, but it really wasn’t. You never had the feeling that Notre Dame (4-1) would make enough plays on either side of the ball. Especially not after Notre Dame failed in what coach Brian Kelly later classified as the basics – taking care of football. Make the right decisions. Don’t turn it over. Don’t miss the tackles. Don’t miss the coins.
Kelly viewed this one as a heavyweight fight two days earlier, but the Irish were essentially stuck on the ropes and faltering after three turnovers in the first 18 minutes. At home. Ouch.
Notre Dame missed a lot of games when they were there to be played. Cincinnati, not so much, one of the reasons he got arguably his biggest win in program history. Certainly the biggest since this guy named Kelly was on the sidelines of Nippert Stadium in the Clifton section of Queen City.
Reached the post-match home podium after first loss in 1,484 days – that’s how long it had been since the Irishman’s last home loss – Kelly didn’t need much words to explain everything.
“We didn’t take care of the basics today,” he said. “We weren’t efficient with the basics. We did not train well. We didn’t play very well.
Did not win.
Now it’s back to those basics this week. It means going back to the most basic element of the game.
Who is the quarterback?
The previous Saturday, some 100 miles west and the sun still high in the sky, Kelly and the Irish boarded their charter buses for a trip back to campus after a convincing victory over what had been a ranked team from Wisconsin believing there was not one, not two, but three quarters that could help this program win. If it wasn’t Jack Coan at Florida State, or Tyler Buchner the following week teaming up with Coan against Toledo, it was Drew Pyne coming to the rescue of an injured Coan to open the Wisconsin game at Soldier Field.
Kelly was confident in this early evening in Chicago in the three. A week later, coming out of defeat, he may still be confident in all three, but it can no longer be an overall endeavor.
The first order of business this week for Saturday’s visit to Virginia Tech has to be Who’s # 1? Not 1 or 1A. Not 1 or 1B. Who is the guy who walks? Because if you’ve got three-quarters, well, you know the rest.
“Clearly we cannot continue on this path,” Kelly said of the revolving door at the most important position in the game. “We’re going to have to sit down and figure this out. ”
Could Kelly stay with Coan, her starter for the first five games? Should he go with Pyne, whose persistence has earned him a ton of respect from his teammates? Is he watching Buchner closely?
Chair analysis? Pump the brakes on Buchner a bit. He will get there. He is not there.
“It’s all on the table,” Kelly said. “We are trying to understand.”
Kelly is certainly not going to solicit the media’s opinion, but here are a few – it’s Pyne’s time. Give the child the keys to this car and see where he can take everyone. Take this season. Or at least take the next few weeks.
Coan is too one-dimensional (still) for an offensive line that really has no dimensions. If the Irish could get big chunks of the racing game that would be nice. Buchner is too green. He will have a good time. Ultimately.
Pyne learned on Saturday coming out of the locker room during intermission that he would get the first drive of the second half. He has all the records. Something about the Irish offense looks different, feels different, moves differently when No 10 is in the game. That’s not to say Coan’s Irish career is over after five games or that Buchner needs more seasoning (he just does). It just means that right now, for this team, moving forward for who knows how many weeks, it’s time for Pyne.
The last Irish player to step onto the podium on Saturday is expected to be the first name on next week’s quarterback depth chart.
He was the spark in the second half that the offense lacked in the first. He completed nine of 22 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown to Braden Lenzy on a nice ball in the corner of the end zone.
He moved differently from the other two quarters. He played differently. You must have seen this.
“Drew came along and gave us a spark we needed,” said tight end Michael Mayer, “He’s confident in his throws.”
Confident in everything, something he learned last year from Ian Book, who left as the most successful quarterback in school history. He did it because he stayed and worked through the tough things. While he was looking at Book, Pyne was studying him too. How is he preparing? How much extra time does he spend after training? How does he stay confident and sure of his place in the program?
Pyne admitted on Saturday night that he had spent a lot of time – in fact, every other night in the past two weeks – in the basilica. Session. Thought. Understand what life is like as a Notre Dame quarterback and stay positive about where this journey is leading.
“I always stayed ready,” Pyne said. “That’s just how I am.”
It is important. If that doesn’t work, he can go back to being the stand-in again and always be ready if and when his name is called in a game. Make him the starter and see how it goes. There is something about Pyne that makes you believe that nothing about him will change.
As a backup.
“No matter the circumstances, the rest of my life,” he said. “I will always be ready.
It’s time to zero out that Irish home winning streak and see where it goes now. It’s time to do the same with quarterback work.
Let’s see where it all goes.