The losses and injuries are mounting in what is turning into a miserable and emotional first season at Notre Dame for coach Brian Kelly.
His decision making is also being questioned after a home field loss to Tulsa puts the Irish’s chances for a bowl game in jeopardy.
After a bye this week, Notre Dame (4-5) will play its final three games without quarterback Dayne Crist, who underwent surgery Sunday morning to reattach a torn patellar tendon in his left knee after being hurt Saturday in the 28-27 loss to the Golden Hurricane.
And leading rusher Armando Allen, who has torn cartilage in his hip, could also have surgery. His career at Notre Dame is over.
Notre Dame was moving into position for a field goal Saturday in the closing seconds but instead of centering the ball for place-kicker David Ruffer, who is perfect in 18 attempts in his career, freshman quarterback Tommy Rees threw to the end zone for Michael Floyd. Tulsa’s John Flanders intercepted with 36 seconds to go, sealing the Golden Hurricane’s victory.
”When you’re the head coach and the play caller it’s all in one. Over my career I have not second guessed my play calling. You always look at the execution and whether the player was in a position to execute it,” Kelly said Sunday.
”Did we do enough to make sure that play could get executed?”
Rees had already thrown four TD passes in relief of Crist, who was forced out of the game in the first quarter after he was hit following a 29-yard run.
With the Irish at the Tulsa 19, Rees said he underthrew the ball but was hoping the 6-foot-3 Floyd, who made 11 catches with two TDs, would be able to pull it down. Instead the 5-foot-10 Flanders did, giving Tulsa one of the biggest wins in school history.
Now the Irish must win two of the final three games to make sure they don’t have a losing season. They play No. 6 Utah at home, Army at Yankee Stadium and Southern California on the road.
”Really the target here is to get bowl eligible for us. We have no margin, but it’s still the same goal and that is to get this team to a bowl game,” Kelly said. The Irish need two wins to be bowl eligible. A 6-6 finish would match last year’s record that cost Charlie Weis his job.
The Tulsa defeat came three days after Notre Dame student videographer Declan Sullivan was killed when the tower from which he was filming practice fell during a windy day.
Kelly said after the game Saturday that it was his decision to hold practice outdoors that day. He called the aftermath of the tragedy the most difficult time of his life. He’d met with Sullivan’s parents before a Thursday Mass on campus.
Still reeling emotionally from the incident, the Irish now get a needed week off.
Crist had played well at times and inconsistently at others this season in his first year as a starter. It was on-the-job training in Kelly’s spread offense.
His surgery came one year after he tore a ligament in his right knee last season against Washington State as a backup to Jimmy Clausen, an injury that also required surgery.
”I told him essentially sometimes we look for answers and sometimes there are no answers,” Kelly said of Crist’s misfortune two straight years. His rehab is expected to take six months.
”As difficult as it is right now, you’ve been through this and you’ve got the strength to get through it again,” Kelly said he told Crist.
Allen, the Irish’s leading rusher three straight seasons, has had problems with both hips. Kelly said linebacker Prince Shembo got a concussion Saturday.
Crist and Allen join tight end Kyle Rudolph (hamstring surgery) and likely nose guard Ian Williams (knee sprain) as top players whose seasons have been ended prematurely by injuries.