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Unclaimed Glory: The 2014 Notre Dame Football Team Were the Champions of Being Wild As Hell

Pat Rick would like to review a team that was never championship-worthy, but damnit if they didn’t have the most interesting, roller-coaster-ride season

As part of our series with SB Nation the last couple weeks about the best teams not to win a championship — and in most cases here it’s about championships that are unclaimed — I wanted to make sure we took one final look back at just one more glorious team — the 2014 Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Now, that team will NEVER be included in any discussions about “best” teams in Notre Dame history — I am well aware of that and would have to be a raving lunatic to make such an argument.

But you don’t have to be a raving lunatic like myself to look back and appreciate the ridiculous nature of the 2014 ND football season, a roller coaster ride that included nearly everything you could ask for in a college football season, both good and bad. Brian Kelly’s 2014 Fighting Irish squad was rad as hell, and I think they deserve a little shout-out amidst all this talk of legendary, championship-caliber teams.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Music City Bowl - Notre Dame v LSU Photo by Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So, let’s reminisce on a season that perfectly epitomized what it means to be a Notre Dame football fan in the 21st century. Let’s revisit the promise, the scandal, the porn star girlfriends, the almost-achievement on a national stage, the November collapse of epic proportions, and the bowl game victory that was juuuuuust impressive and fun enough to give Irish fans that familiar false hope that “next season could be big.”

The Build-Up and Off-Season

First, I’d like to just quickly touch on what was going on heading into the 2014 Notre Dame football season.

In 2013, the Irish were without their starting QB from the 2012 squad that went 12-1, as Everett Golson got himself suspended at the end of the spring of 2012 for... academic impropriety.

Ya boy Touchdown Tommy Rees thus stepped back into his old starting role and managed the offense as best he could with some solid pass catchers at his disposal (T.J. Jones, Davaris Daniels, Troy Niklas), and the team otherwise rode on the backs of talented holdovers on defense from the prior year (Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Bennett Jackson, Prince Shembo) and an influx of some top-flight freshmen from Brian Kelly’s best recruiting class ever (Jaylon Smith and Tarean Folston were the key guys who contributed immediately).

They finished a very boring 9-4 season in December with an electric 29-16 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the Pinstripe Bowl, which has got to be one of the worst bowl/opponent pairings in the history of college football. Zack Martin, in a well-deserved but still quite shocking outcome, won MVP of that bowl game with this stat line:

  • a billion pancakes

With all that in mind, the 2013 season was certainly a continuation of the letdown that January 2013 brought to the Irish fan base after 2012 had done so much to pump everyone up. The very “bleh” season featured losses to Michigan, Oklahoma, Pitt, and Stanford, and the completion of the season engendered the attrition of some key guys graduating/heading to the NFL, including the likes of Martin, Rees, Jones, Niklas, Tuitt, Nix, Jackson, Shembo, Dan Fox, and Carlo Calabrese.

On top of all of that, Bob Diaco, the defensive coordinator just one season removed from winning the Broyles Award for his 2012 defense that finished 2nd in the country in points surrendered per game (12.8), accepted the head coaching job at UConn, meaning Brian Kelly would also need to replace the mastermind of the defense along with many of its best players.

Before I move on, let’s quickly admire Big Game Bob Diaco and his perfectly coiffed hair.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 12 Army at UConn Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So, with all that said, 2014 wasn’t necessarily a season anyone expected to be...spectacular.

However, there were a few off-season items to note that might have had Irish fans feeling a bit better about ‘14 (until that came crashing back to earth in mid-August...we’ll get to that in a second).

One piece of seemingly exciting news came early in the year, on January 14th, 2014, when Brian Kelly officially hired the Linebackers coach of the New York Jets, Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite Brian VanGorder, to succeed Diaco as defensive coordinator.

Check out this Glamor Shot by Deb:

New York Jets Portrait Session Photo by Al Pereira/New York Jets/Getty Images

VanGorder wasn’t necessarily considered a slam dunk hire at the time, but he was a known name with a known mustache/goatee combo and did come with a resume of impressive past roles, including serving as defensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs, Atlanta Falcons, and Auburn Tigers at different points from 2001 to 2012, with various position coach roles littered in between those stints.

Those position coach roles in between major DC jobs should probably have been a red flag to Kelly and co., but can you blame BK in wanting to bring over his DC from the Grand Valley State days? I mean, just check out his 2012 Auburn defense:

Enhance.

ENHANCE!!!!!

There we go, just a hair worse than some really great defenses at Navy, North Texas, Middle Tennessee, and Louisiana that year — that’s a top-70 defense, you guys!

With the defensive coordinator position set for years and possibly decades to come, the Irish got an even more important replacement for a key departing name in that same month, as Everett Golson officially returned to Notre Dame following his semester-long suspension.

Golson obviously wasn’t THE driving force behind the team’s success in 2012, considering an elite Diaco defense, a strong running game, and the reliable hands of Tyler Eifert did plenty of the work en route to that undefeated regular season.

But the return of such a young, exciting, dynamic QB — after a 2013 that featured Rees backed up by Andrew Hendrix — was energizing for the ND faithful for sure (especially after that 2013 USC game), and all the reports from Golson’s time off involved tales of him improving his game with famous QB “guru” George Whitfield, who pioneered the use of broomsticks, tennis rackets, and the ocean to make QBs learn how to get the ball to receivers in weirder ways.

Then, in February of 2014, the Irish coaching staff inked what looked like a good-not-great recruiting class (11th in the 247sports rankings), but it did include some highly-ranked prospects (Quenton Nelson, Alex Bars, Nyles Morgan, Justin Brent, Andrew Trumbetti, Nick Watkins) and obviously some guys we would come to appreciate as they outplayed their (lack of) recruiting hype (Sam Mustipher, Deshone Kizer, Drue Tranquill, Greer Martini, Jonathan Bonner, Tyler Newsome).

Most of those guys really didn’t see much action as freshmen...well, except for Justin Brent *air horns* — but we will get to that a little later. Still, it was a solid class with some guys to be excited about — which never hurts program morale.

On top of those freshmen, the Irish added what is an extremely rare thing — a very good graduate transfer CB by the name of Cody Riggs. Riggs was a former 4-star, Under Armour All-American recruit who originally signed with the Florida Gators out of high school because he had insider information that Urban Meyer would be leaving in a year and he’d be able to spend a few seasons with the great Will Muschamp as his head coach.

After redshirting a year and graduating from Florida, Riggs decided it was time to move on, and committed to the Irish in late February for one final season. He would arrive in South Bend as a plug-and-play starter at his position, which would prove very important come mid-August.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 06 Michigan at Notre Dame Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Okay, so before I do a poor, hasty job of describing the catastrophe that happened in mid-August, let’s briefly summarize what we just covered, so as to reset the stage and tee us all up for reliving that deflating disappointment from nearly 6 years ago:

  • ND went 12-1 during the 2012 season, had an elite defense, a young and dynamic QB, and a budding star at defensive coordinator
  • Said young and dynamic QB gets suspended for the next season
  • ND goes 9-4 and basically wins nothing significant
  • ND loses several key players/leaders on both sides of the ball
  • ND loses said budding star at defensive coordinator to a job he will be fired from 3 years later
  • ND gets their young, dynamic QB back
  • ND fills the DC role with a promising name
  • ND adds a solid recruiting class and a really good grad transfer

Guys, 2014 may just end up being a strong season after all, right???

Welp, in August, news breaks. A handful of players have been suspended for some sort of academic...fraud. These guys were turning in essays and homework assignments completed by someone who was not them, which is apparently not allowed???

North Carolina v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Irish simply couldn’t get out of their own way, and all of Irish nation began to dive back into panic mode.

But hey, on the bright side, what are the odds that that group of 5 suspended guys included any super key players? There’s no way it would include, say, a potential All-American cornerback (KeiVarae Russell) or the team’s clear #1 wide receiver (Davaris Daniels) or a key defensive end who will be needed due to the loss of starting pass rushers Tuitt and Shembo from the year prior (Ishaq Williams)...right???

Those three, along with reserves linebacker Kendall Moore and safety Eilar Hardy, were suspended and never returned that season, and of “The Frozen 5,” only Russell ended up playing another snap in a gold helmet, picking up his CB1 mantle in 2015.

The investigation into the cheating, which stemmed from ND self-reporting these violations, eventually led to the NCAA treating the Irish much more fairly than, say, a school that denied everything and didn’t cooperate and was running mass academic fraud with fake classes and fake grades to keep their players eligible. ND turned themselves in, and because of that they only had to vacate a couple years’ worth of wins, whereas that basketball program with the fake classes that will remain anonymous DEFINITELY got punished way worse, which was nice to see at least. Love the NCAA doling out justice!

Anyway, with that devastating blow to Notre Dame’s depth chart, the Irish stumbled into the 2014 season having already seemingly lived through a roller coaster of emotions in the year prior. Little did we all know that the fun was just getting started.

September

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 48, Rice Owls 17

With the fate of the Frozen Five still up in the air, the Irish began their season by hosting Rice at Notre Dame Stadium. It was Everett Golson’s welcome-home party, and he partied his ass off.

Golson subbed out of the blowout having thrown for 295 yards and 2 touchdowns on 14-for-22 passing, and then added another 3 TDs with his legs. It may have only been against Rice, but Irish fans had to feel MUCH better about having that rocket arm and speedy scrambling ability back at the helm.

Other notable things:

  • The blue-chip running back tandem of the 2013 class kicked off their sophomore season in style, with Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston combining for 142 yards and a TD (Bryant) on 7.1 yards per carry
  • Will Fuller and CJ Prosise put their big-play speed on display with long TD catches, and Fuller’s 4-catch, 85-yard performance foreshadowed the next two seasons he would spend absolutely torching any and every corner not named Mackensie Alexander
  • Malik Zaire got into the game in garbage time, rattling off a 56-yard run to announce that he was, in fact, decent at football
  • Rice’s QB’s first name in this game: Driphus...nothing more to say there, but it needed to be shouted out

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 37, Michigan Wolverines 0

I was there in 2013.

The Irish had what was their supposedly final game in The Big House, and the crowd set a stadium attendance record as The Irish lost 41-30 in what was supposedly the final game they would play in Ann Arbor, as the crowd that day was a stadium record of more than 115,000 people in attendance. That packed-in crowd witnessed the Wolverines win 41-30, and at the end of the game, Michigan played the Chicken Dance over the loudspeakers, calling the Irish “chicken” for canceling the series that Michigan would absolutely have canceled themselves if Jack Swarbrick hadn’t beaten UM’s then-AD Dave Brandon to the punch.

Notre Dame v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

I was with my friend Hux watching that game, having driven 3+ hours from St. Joseph, MI to see my Irish fail once again to defeat a mediocre Brady Hoke team. We had multitudes of grown men and women in maize and blue clucking in our faces as we tried to leave the too-crowded stadium, a couple 23-year-olds taunted mercilessly by people twice our age because we didn’t root for the “Champions of the West” who had won a whopping 0.5 championships in the more than 50 years since the mid-20th century.

The ND coaches and players certainly witnessed all of that, as well, and so it was with an undeniable determination that the 1-0 2014 Irish took the field against the Wolverines in Notre Dame Stadium for the “final” game between the two programs. And that determination led to one of the most enjoyable football games for Irish fans in YEARS.

The first quarter started slow, with both teams failing to score until Cam McDaniel finally punched one in just before the transition to the 2nd. But after that, the Irish completely and utterly dominated Michigan.

Brian VanGorder looked like a savior, his defense smothering Michigan and forcing turnovers left and right as UM QB Devin Gardner — one of the stars from the year prior — ran for his life against a relentless pass rush. Gardner finished the game 19-of-32 for 189 yards, 0 TD, and 3 INT — a QB Rating of 37.8. Michigan’s running game didn’t fare any better, gaining 100 yards on 2.9 yards per carry, as ND tacklers swarmed to the ball on just about every play.

Michigan v Notre Dame

Michigan fans may make their typical ridiculous argument that the Wolverines out-gained the Irish in total yards and owned time of possession, but it is, of course, the argument of cowards. Notre Dame had 9 fewer yards because their defense kept taking the ball away from UM, forcing 4 total turnovers and providing Everett Golson and co. the short fields they needed to be efficient and ruthless in stepping on Michigan’s throats.

And Golson and co. were, indeed, efficient as hell. Golson’s second game showed his first wasn’t just due to Rice not being a formidable program, as he threw for 226 yards and 3 TDs on 23-of-34 passing. Will Fuller had 9 catches for 89 yards and a beautiful leaping TD grab in the end zone, Amir Carlisle did his best 2011 Theo Riddick impression as a RB-turned-WR, catching 7 passes for 61 yards and 2 TDs, and ND led 31-0 with 12 minutes to play.

On defense, we saw Max Redfield and Cody Riggs come up with picks, Joe Schmidt force a Gardner fumble, and true freshman Kolin Hill pick up a sack that gave us, unequivocally, the best BVG moment in his time on the staff:

Of course, while all of the above transpired, anyone in attendance will tell you that it was the most ferocious ND fan showing they had seen in a LONG time. Sure, Notre Dame Stadium has probably been louder at times, like for instance during the 2005 USC and 2012 Stanford games.

But the absolute vitriol and hatred with which the Irish fans rooted for their conquering heroes was INFECTIOUS that evening, and as the team dominated more and more, the crowd fed off of it until the absolute crescendo that was Michigan’s final offensive play.

Devin Gardner dropped back to pass, his team trailing by 31, looking to maybe get Michigan in range of a score that would at least break the shutout that BVG, Jaylon, and the rest of that ND defense was pitching. Instead, Elijah Shumate made a tremendous break on the ball, stepping in front of the pass and exploding down the sideline for a touchdown as time expired.

I have NEVER heard a crowd get so loud about a score occurring in garbage time of a blowout win, although Top Kopko’s heroics in 2011 do come close:

A fan base who’d had to listen to Michigan fans trash their team and call them cowards got to see the Irish COMPLETELY dismantle and humiliate the Wolverines, getting the last laugh and bragging rights for the next 4 seasons. It was beautiful and spite-filled pandemonium, and I believe I hugged multiple strangers during the celebration, which is something I typically save for game-winning plays in close games, not fuck-you pick-sixes as time expires.

Of course, we all know the rest of the story here. Max Redfield de-cleated Gardner during Shumate’s return, and although Gardner was literally attempting to go tackle Shumate, Redfield’s destruction of Gardner’s life was flagged and the touchdown was called back.

Thus, we always “Remember the Six” points that were technically taken off the board but will always live on in our hearts, and more importantly, the student section got the opportunity to serenade Michigan’s team and fans with “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” as the Wolverines were forced to trudge back onto the field (they had left after Shumate’s game-ending play) just to watch the Irish take one knee to officially complete the rout.

Of course, we also all know that the 2014 Michigan team ended up showing throughout the duration of their season that they were worse than everyone thought in early September, explaining somewhat why the Irish were able to so thoroughly pummel them. They finished 5-7, Brady Hoke finally got fired, and Jim Harbaugh was hired before the end of the year to uphold the UM principles and traditions of never beating Ohio State, making the Big Ten Championship game, or sniffing the College Football Playoff.

Still, this will always be one of my favorite ND football memories in my 29 years on this earth, simply due to the complete evisceration and embarrassment of a program that was waaaaaaay too quick to call the Irish “chicken.”

One final note: this game would go on to inspire the greatest drinking accomplishment of the 21st century, so that needs to be noted and celebrated.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 30, Purdue Boilermakers 14

For as amazing and glorious as the Michigan game was in 2014, the Purdue game was fairly uneventful, with the Irish snoozing through a 30-14 win.

However, this one was particularly fun for me, an Indianapolis native, as it was the rare Shamrock Series game I wanted to actually attend, and so I went with my dad to watch the Irish beat a long-time in-state opponent in ugly uniforms that actually weren’t thaaaaaaaaaaat bad, in my opinion.

Purdue v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Golson went 25-for-40 with 259 yards and 2 touchdowns while also running for 56 yards and a TD, Corey Robinson and Will Fuller combined for 9 catches, 103 yards, and 2 TDs, Amir Carlisle had a 47-yard kick return, and Joe Schmidt and Devin Butler both made nice interceptions of Purdue QB Danny Etling, whose name you may just recognize as the starting QB for LSU when the Irish won in the final minutes against them in the 2017 Citrus Bowl.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 31, Syracuse Orange 15

Another “meh” opponent, another “meh” Irish victory...well, that is, except for Everett Golson being absolutely DIALED-IN and completing 25 passes in a row against a not-great Orange defense.

Unfortunately, the FBS record was 26, so Golson fell one short when he finally tossed an incompletion, but he set the Notre Dame record, which was pretty fun to watch. His final stat line was eye-popping, going 32-for-39 with 362 yards and 4 TD (and 2 INT). Will Fuller again showed his big-play ability with a 72-yard score, Corey Robinson and Chris Brown flashed the skills we’d see more of the rest of the year and in 2015, and Greg Bryant led the team in rushing with 55 yards on 5 yards per carry.

Oh, and someone got their first career touchdown catch — some guy by the name of Torii Hunter Jr.? Not sure if that name rings any bells, but he might end up being halfway decent.

October

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 17, Stanford Cardinal 14

Two years earlier — the last time the Irish hosted the Cardinal — Irish fans were treated to a rainy 20-13 overtime win with College Gameday on campus, an epic goal line stand, and the most goosebump-inducing replay review announcement I’ve ever seen/heard.

2014 had no way of living up to that, and would likely be something much more ordinary, right?

Sure, both teams were once again ranked in the top 15, and another rainy early October Saturday certainly made things feel more dramatic and unpredictable, but honestly — how cool could the result of this game possibly be?

As you can see above, Everett Golson managed to find tight end Ben Koyack in the back corner of the end zone on 4th-and-11 with just over a minute remaining to give the Irish a 17-14 victory over another hard-nosed Cardinal squad. That’s pretty sweet, you guys.

Both teams struggled offensively (Stanford much more so, only accumulating 205 total yards), with Golson and Stanford QB Kevin Hogan combining for 4 turnovers, but Chris Brown had a nice 4-catch, 60-yards, 1-touchdown game, and of course Koyack’s 2 catches included the game-winner.

Cole Luke, who had to step in and start at corner as a sophomore due to Russell’s suspension, was responsible for both of Hogan’s INTs, giving Irish fans hope for the cornerback position, considering Russell’s uncertain status and Riggs only having one year with ND.

With all that, the Irish once again left their home match-up vs. Stanford with an undefeated record, sitting at 5-0 as they prepared to face the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 50, North Carolina Tar Heels 43

The 2014 UNC game was a wild one that doesn’t get talked about enough.

This probably should have been one of the first red flags for the Brian VanGorder defensive system, as the Irish needed 50 points at home to BARELY escape a mediocre Tar Heels squad. Nevertheless, the game was an absolute thrill ride as the two teams combined for 93 points and 1,032 total yards and multiple scoring runs throughout.

UNC jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead on the backs of running back Elijah Hood (2 carries for 13 yards and a TD after a Golson fumble set up the short field) and a pick-six from UNC’s Jeff Schoettmer.

Quick note, you may recall that Hood was originally committed to play for Brian Kelly and the Irish as a big-time RB recruit, before he decommitted and instead stayed close to home with UNC. I only bring this up so I can rewatch the “Roll Toilet” video (a secondhand version, because Hood deleted the original) that he made as an ND commit to show the world how committed he was to ND and how he didn’t want to play for Nick Saban.

Anyway, Golson threw for 300 yards and 3 TDs in this one while picking up 68 more on the ground, Tarean Folston ran for nearly 100 yards and 2 TDs on just 18 carries while also snaring 5 passes for 71 yards and a go-ahead receiving TD in the 4th quarter, Fuller went off again to the tune of 7 receptions, 133 yards, and 2 TD, and Cole Luke had yet another INT.

UNC’s QB Marquise Williams had himself a great game as well, throwing for 300 yards and 2 TDs while rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown on 7.3 yards per carry.

Hood’s strong start, meanwhile, was fleeting — he finished the game with 33 yards and 1.9 yards per carry. Roll Tar Heels LOL.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 27, Florida State Seminoles 31

With the close, high-scoring win over the Tar Heels the week prior, the Irish moved to 6-0 and rose to #5 in the rankings heading into the most talked-about regular season game for the Irish since probably 2005 USC (you could make an argument for 2012 Oklahoma here, but this one seemed bigger, considering the opponent).

The Seminoles had won 22 games in a row dating back to the end of 2012, were fresh off a 2013 national title win, and still had a ton of talent from that team on the 2014 roster, including reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston at QB. FSU was #2 in the rankings* and the Irish had to go to Doak Campbell Stadium to play them.

*Fun Fact: the #1 team at that time? You guessed it — Dak Prescott’s Mississippi State Bulldogs!!!

Mississippi v Mississippi State Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Irish fans were reasonably confident after their strong start and with Golson’s arm and VanGorder’s defense seemingly good enough to give the Seminoles a game — but the rest of the country, and probably even a solid chunk of ND fans, thought the Seminoles would likely handle the Irish with ease and continue their impressive run with their young Heisman QB who’d never lost a game.

That makes the below highlights that much more fun to watch (until the end, obviously). The Irish went toe-to-toe with Jimbo Fisher’s squad, and actually led for much of the game, with the Seminoles only tying the game a few times throughout and only ever taking the lead over Notre Dame with 7:39 remaining in the 4th quarter.

Corey Robinson had his coming-out party, catching 8 passes for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns as the All-Americans and future NFL draft picks in the FSU secondary (Jalen Ramsey, P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby, etc.) struggled to match up with his size, length, and leaping ability.

Notre Dame v Florida State Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Fuller turned in another nice game, showing he could do more than just run deep, catching 7 passes for 89 yards and a gorgeous TD on a WR screen. C.J. Prosise and Chris Brown did their parts as well, combining for 97 yards on 11 catches.

Furthermore, despite FSU’s vaunted defensive front seven, the Notre Dame offensive line and running backs were able to move the ball pretty effectively on the ground, with Tarean Folston having himself an “introduce him to the rest of the country” kind of game on prime-time TV, running for 120 yards on 5.7 yards per carry.

Of course, the offense performing so well was also a product of Everett Golson’s playmaking ability, as he threw for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns on the evening. Brian Kelly’s game plan certainly asked a lot of him in this one, as Golson threw 52 times and threw two interceptions (one due to being hit as he threw, the other on the final offensive play for ND as Golson unsuccessfully tried to find the magic again after that damn “pick play” flag).

However, Golson’s heroics on that final offensive drive need to be praised and remembered fondly, as he drove the Irish 51 yards in less than 3 minutes against the defending champions and their elite defense. He managed to keep the drive alive with a 4th-and-18 conversion to Corey Robinson with just a minute remaining, and then perfectly executed what should have been the game-winning TD pass on 4th-and-goal to Corey Robinson with 13 seconds left.

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 18 Notre Dame at Florida State Photo by Tim Larson/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That play, of course, was called back as C.J. Prosise was flagged for running a perfectly legal route and being pulled into a defender by the defender himself. We’re not gonna talk any more about that, though. It hurts too much to think about.

Golson’s 4th-and-goal retry from the 18-yard-line was intercepted in the back of the end zone by Jacob Pugh, and the Seminoles then kneeled the ball for the win. Thus, as is tradition with Notre Dame in the past 25+ years, the Irish went into a huge game as underdogs and took the opponent down to the wire, ultimately falling juuuuust short.

We saw it in 2005 (USC), we saw it here in 2014, and we would see it again in 2015 (Clemson), 2017 (Georgia), and 2019 (Georgia). The cherry on top was having a bad referee decision that we can complain about for decades to come, which is something we ND fans (and obviously sports fans in general) absolutely love to do.

Such is life as Irish supporters.

Halftime — Justin Brent!!!

Technically we are 7 games into a 12-game regular season here, but I wanted to keep things chronological. So, let’s take a break from revisiting the actual ND football games of that tumultuous 2014 season and reminisce on the moment the 2014 season truly went off the rails and began to resemble a TV show.

Less than a week after the Irish’s disappointing but valiant loss at Florida State, the ND football team began a much-needed bye week. Typically, this allows the players to rest up a bit, maybe see some family if it coincides with fall break, and recharge as they prepare for the home stretch of the season.

Freshman wide receiver Justin Brent saw the bye week as...a different kind of opportunity.

NCAA FOOTBALL: APR 12 Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football Game Photo by Robin Alam/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On October 23rd, TMZ reported on a Justin Brent sighting in New York City at a New York Knicks game. Now, that alone isn’t that weird. Sure, Brent is from Speedway, IN, but the guy is allowed to visit the Big Apple on his bye week to take in some sights and relax, for sure.

However, it was his company at the Knicks game that evening that made it a must-report story for outlets like TMZ. Justin Brent was at Madison Square Garden with 42-year-old adult film star Lisa Ann, who at the time was best known for parodying 2008 Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a pornographic film titled “Who’s Nailin’ Paylin?”

Lisa Ann was apparently sitting on Brent’s lap throughout much of the game, and the two were...quite amorous throughout the night. A picture of the two in bed together was also leaked, sparking plenty of controversial takes as to whether Brent should/would face punishment from Notre Dame, which forbids premarital sex for all students.

5 days later, TMZ treated us to a fantastic follow-up to the story, getting the opinion of the one person we all wanted to weigh in on the 19-year-old Irish football player dating a porn star more than twice his age...

That’s right, they got a quote from Young Jeezy, the rapper who gave us some incredible songs like this one:

Jeezy chimed in that he thought what Brent was doing was fine, and even offered the sage advice that EVERYONE should try dating a porn star sometime in their lives. Heck yeah, Young Jeezy.

Anyway, once Brent got back to campus, BK apparently sat him down and they had a chat to discuss being smart about his public image/social media, and then Brent was able to go about his semester, according to another TMZ follow-up with an ND spokesperson.

Still, despite the anticlimactic ending, this 2014 Notre Dame team that’s 6-1 and just took the defending champs to the brink of a road upset had to deal with a promising freshman becoming famous overnight for dating a 42-year-old adult film actress. Can’t imagine many of us saw that coming, eh?

Oh, and before Brent ended up transferring to Nevada to finish up his collegiate career playing football AND basketball there, he managed to get his name in just one more TMZ article, this time about a new love interest.

That’s right, young Justin rebounded from breaking things off with Lisa Ann by dating “Elke the Stallion,” a famous “booty model” who is best known for her work in Major Lazer’s music video for their song “Bubble Butt.”

And that, my friends, is how I managed to get away with writing the terms “booty model” and “bubble butt” in an article about the 2014 Notre Dame football team.

Who says journalism is dead???

November

Alright, the team is 6-1, rested up, and exploring new relationships. What’s next?

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 49, Navy Midshipmen 39

Giving up 39 points to Navy is next!

This game was pretty fun, as the Irish hopped in front 28-7 before allowing Navy to go on a 24-0 run to take a 3-point lead heading into the 4th quarter.

Golson and crew outscored the Midshipmen 21-8 in that final period, though, as Golson ran for a couple touchdowns and Tarean Folston scampered for a 25-yarder of his own. The Irish improve to 7-1.

Notre Dame v Navy Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Overall, the two teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards, as Navy rushed for 336 yards against Brian VanGorder’s savvy schemes.

Golson had another big game, accounting for 6 touchdowns as he went 18-for-25 with 315 yards and 3 TD through the air while adding 3 more on the ground. Tarean Folston ran for 149 yards and a score, and numerous receivers turned in some big catches, with C.J. Prosise’s 78-yard TD standing out most.

Oh, and Justin Utupo managed to intercept a pass, so that’s fun as hell.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 31, Arizona State Sun Devils 55

At 7-1 and having nearly defeated the undefeated reigning champs on the road, the 10th-ranked Irish at this point in the 2014 season were still in decent position to make the inaugural College Football Playoff, especially if they could manage to pick up one or two more wins over ranked teams.

So, when the Irish traveled to Tempe to take on the #9 Arizona State Sun Devils, it was a big game that could launch the Irish ahead in the rankings and back into the CFP discussion.

However, things...did not start well. The Irish scored first with a Kyle Brindza field goal, but then the Sun Devils rattled off 34 consecutive points (including a TD from future ND receiver Cam Smith), all while the Irish offense put forth this little number in terms of their next seven 1st half drives:

  • Fumble
  • Interception
  • Interception Returned for a Touchdown
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt

In the final minute of the first half, Golson finally found Will Fuller for a touchdown, stopping the bleeding a bit to make it 34-10 at the intermission. Still, ND looked doomed to lose this one badly and see any CFP hopes they still had go up in smoke.

The beginning of the second half didn’t seem to offer any reason for optimism for Irish fans. Golson threw a pick on their first drive, and they had a 3-and-out where they lost 2 yards on their next possession.

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 08 Notre Dame at Arizona State Photo by Kevin French/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Meanwhile, the ND defense had put the clamps on ASU, and so, when the Irish finally got the offense moving — driving down the field and scoring on a 1-yard Cam McDaniel TD — they were able to cut the deficit to 17.

With the ND defense forcing another quick punt, ND appeared to be getting into a groove. Hell, maybe they could pull this off!

Golson drove the offense 63 yards in just over two minutes thanks to some nice Amir Carlisle and Ben Koyack receptions, and then...they stalled.

Golson threw one incompletion. Then another. And then another.

Down 17 and with a 4th-and-10 from the ASU 14, the Irish lined up for a field goal, but Hunter Smith, a walk-on holder who’d already struggled earlier in the year with getting the ball down and set for Kyle Brindza, bobbled the snap and the Irish ended up turning it over AGAIN.

Purdue v Notre Dame

With just under a quarter to go, it’s hard to believe there were still 35 combined points to be scored in this game. Sweet defense, y’all.

On ASU’s ensuing drive, Matthias Farley got a clutch interception to swing momentum back to the Irish (okay, actually sweet defense!). The Irish rode that wave and drove 50 yards in just a couple minutes for another McDaniel goal line score, cutting the ASU lead to 10 points.

Jaylon and the boys forced another punt on the subsequent Sun Devil series, and then Everett Golson and Amir Carlisle went and did this:

All of a sudden, the Irish had gone on a 28-0 run and looked like they’re about to steal this one on the road to keep their CFP dreams alive. Irish eyes were smiling, folks.

Until they weren’t.

Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly drove his squad 75 yards in 2 minutes with the help of dynamic teammates D.J. Foster and Demario Richard, ASU and took a 41-31 lead. Corey Robinson followed that up by managing to essentially catch a Golson pass and then flip it up in the air as he fell down, setting up Lloyd Carrington for a 58-yard pick-six — ASU’s second of the game.

Down 48-31 all of a sudden with less than 4 minutes left, ND rolled over and died, turning it over on downs in a beautiful 4-play, -22-yard drive. That was the Irish’s 5th turnover of the game.

ASU used the short field to score once more, embarrassing the Irish by nearly as much as they trailed by in that embarrassing first half, pre-comeback. 55-31 final — the Sun Devils move into the CFP picture, while the Irish fell to #18 in the following week’s rankings.

Everett Golson’s 446 yards and 2 touchdowns would have been incredibly impressive if it weren’t for his 4 interceptions and sub-50% completion percentage, ND rushed for a grand total of 41 yards due to the immense hole they dug for themselves, and the only decent games appeared to come from Will Fuller, Amir Carlisle, C.J. Prosise, and Corey Robinson before his muffed pass — those four combined for 14 receptions, 329 yards, and 2 TD.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 40, Northwestern Wildcats 43 (OT)

Well folks, you know how the season went from here — that is to say, everything flew off the rails.

The Irish followed up the disappointing showing in Tempe by hosting the 3-6 Northwestern Wildcats in South Bend.

ND led 20-9 at the end of the first quarter thanks to a Golson 61-yard TD run, an Austin Collinsworth fumble return touchdown (PAT blocked and returned for 2 points by NU, because of course it was), and a Folston score.

NU’s Kyle Prater and Justin Jackson got the Wildcats back in it in the 2nd, though, each chipping in a TD to give Northwestern a brief lead. A Will Fuller score put ND up 4 at the half.

Northwestern v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In the second half, the game continued to go back and forth. Fuller caught a couple more touchdowns (finished with 9 rec, 159 yds, 3 TD), Northwestern kicked a few field goals, and Trevor Siemian had himself a touchdown run.

However, with 4 minutes remaining and the Irish up 3 with the ball, all ND had to do was pick up a couple first downs and run the clock, escaping with a way-too-close win over a bad team at home.

And that’s exactly what they did! A Folston run, a Corey Robinson catch, a Northwestern pass interference, and suddenly ND had a 2nd-and-8 in Northwestern territory with a minute and a half to play.

So, they just handed the ball to the ever-reliable Cam McDaniel and let him run out the remainder of the clock.

Wait, what? What was that? You say that’s not what ended up happening?

*watches the highlights above*

Oh, shit.

Yep, McDaniel fumbled. Northwestern drove 44 yards in a minute. Jack Mitchell nailed a 45-yard field goal (his third of the half) with 19 seconds to play in regulation.

Overtime!!!! Against a bad team at home!!!!

Okay, with all that said, at least the Irish took care of business in extra time and sent Northwestern home with a near upset...

...except they didn’t. The ND offense failed to move the ball, Brindza missed a field goal, and then Mitchell hit his 4th field goal of the game to finish the Irish off, winning 43-40 and picking up their 4th win of the year.

Woof.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 28, Louisville Cardinals 31

This game stunk — it was senior day for the Irish, and ND trailed the #24 Cardinals for much of the contest.

There was a cool Greg Bryant punt return that made us all think brighter days were coming as he blossomed, and Folston (134 yds, 7.4 ypc, 1 TD) and Fuller (5 rec, 109 yds, 1 TD) continued to play super well and drive the offense forward.

Notre Dame actually took a small lead in the third quarter on a Corey Robinson touchdown, but Devante Parker and Brandon Radcliff had something to say about that, both scoring to give Lousiville a 31-20 lead that the Irish wouldn’t be able to completely make up.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 14, USC Trojans 49

Alright folks, if losing a nail-biter to a top team, giving up too many points to Navy, collapsing in a big ranked matchup in November, losing to a bad team at home, and then losing on Senior Day didn’t already scream “THAT’S HOW YOU END A NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL SEASON,” boy do I have something for you.

That’s right, our beloved Irish, losers of 4-of-5 down the stretch heading into the season finale at USC, managed to go ahead and one-up themselves again, getting absolutely TROUNCED by the Trojans.

USC QB Cody Kessler tossed 6 touchdowns, Golson got benched, and in garbage time backup QB Malik Zaire looked halfway decent, meaning it was once again time for an off-season QB controversy baybeeeeee!!!!

The below eyesore of a highlight video — which I definitely do not recommend watching — capped off a horrifying dumpster fire finish for Notre Dame, losing 5 of 6 after beginning the season 6-0.

Your 7-5 Irish, everybody!!!

December

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 31, LSU Tigers 28

Despite the atrocious finish, Notre Dame managed to get an invite to play in the Music City Bowl against an actually-decent opponent, the #23 LSU Tigers.

The Tigers back then were obviously pre-Joe Burrow and Coach O and thus their team’s strength was their elite defense, a strong running game led by phenom Leonard Fournette, and Les Miles’s ability to eat grass on the sideline.

After what we all saw against ASU, Northwestern, Louisville, and USC, just about everyone expected the Irish to get absolutely pummeled in a matchup with an SEC program that, although not at its peak that year, had been an elite program for much of the 21st century to-date.

The below highlights are ACTUALLY fun to watch, so I actually recommend you rewatch them. This game was fun as hell, considering we got:

  • Malik Zaire’s first start, where he was 12-for-15 for 96 passing yards and a TD while also running for 96 yards and a touchdown, winning MVP of the bowl game. Dude even threw a block to help Folston score at one point
  • Everett Golson ALSO playing some and playing well in his limited time, passing for 90 yards on 6-of-11 passing and playing an important role in the game-winning 14-play, 71-yard, 5+ minute drive, which featured both QBs getting snaps
  • Tarean Folston (73 yds, 1 TD) and Will Fuller (5 rec, 57 yds, 1 TD) chipping in their normal strong contributions
  • LSU trying a fake field goal that the ND defense stymied at the 1 yardline
  • Leonard Fournette doing Leonard Fournette things, running for 143 yards and 2 TDs, including an 89-yarder, and also returning a kickoff 100 yards for a score
  • C.J. Prosise answering Fournette’s 89-yard TD in the third quarter with a 50-yard touchdown run of his own, out-running all that SEC speed on the Tigers defense and foreshadowing how damn good he would be as the 2015 fill-in starting RB after Folston tore his ACL in the Texas season opener
  • Kyle Brindza finishing his ND career with a walk-off 32-yard field goal for the win

Thus, in what has suddenly become a Notre Dame tradition under Brian Kelly, the Irish followed up a disastrous November with a surprising win over a solid, big-name opponent in a mediocre bowl game, flashing just enough young promise and potential to give Irish fans that foolish optimism they needed to make their “ND is going to the playoff next year!” arguments throughout the following summer.

Conclusion

So, folks, I hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth look back at the 2014 Notre Dame football season as much as I have.

That team, and that roller coaster ride of a season they took us on, were absolutely wild as hell.

They had a guy return from academic suspension and 5 more guys get academically suspended.

They lost a funny character at defensive coordinator and gained a funny (and ultimately tragic) character in the same position.

They brought in a solid group of recruits, and one of them slept with a porn star twice his age.

They played one of the best teams in the country to a near standstill, but then also lost by 24 to Arizona State, by 35 to USC, and in overtime at home to a Northwestern team that finished below .500.

Will Fuller and Corey Robinson and C.J. Prosise emerged as dangerous weapons, and Joe Schmidt somehow solidified himself as starting middle linebacker.

And, finally, a new top QB rose up and seized control of the team in the bowl game, which of course would lead to Golson grad-transferring to FSU and Zaire setting himself up for one heckuva 1+ game run in 2015 before a broken ankle would force Deshone Kizer into a role that he was much better suited for than any of us would have bet on in 2014.

So, let’s raise a glass to that 2014 squad — sure, they hurt us just as much as they brought us joy, but damnit if they weren’t RAD AS HELL considering everything they did in the year of our lord 2014.

Poll

What was your favorite part of that wild 2014 season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Golson’s return vs. Rice
    (0 votes)
  • 73%
    37-0 destruction of Michigan
    (143 votes)
  • 10%
    How good the FSU game was, penalty or not
    (21 votes)
  • 4%
    Justin Brent <3 Lisa Ann
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    Brian VanGorder Turn Down For What
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    A lovely November collapse, right on schedule
    (4 votes)
  • 8%
    Music City Bowl win
    (17 votes)
  • 0%
    Other — please comment on the article with your favorite moment
    (0 votes)
195 votes total Vote Now
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