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Notre Dame falls to 4th in BCS standings

Published: Monday, Nov. 5, 2012 9:56 a.m. CST

(MCT) — The package is called “Desperado,” and desperate times call for “Desperado” measures. And Pittsburgh lining up for a makeable, potentially season-eviscerating field goal in the second overtime Saturday qualified as a desperate time for Notre Dame.

So out went the Irish’s specialized “Desperado” kick-blocking unit. It included cornerback Bennett Jackson and receiver Chris Brown. Thus it included two players wearing the same number — a No. 2 emblazoned on both jerseys — and thus it was basically illegal, as players with the same number can’t be on the field for the same snap.

No flags flew on this illicit Jackson-Brown harmony. No kick was made, as Pittsburgh’s try went wide right. And no Notre Dame loss occurred, as the Irish would win in the next extra session.

Debate can rage as to whether it is better to be lucky than good, but the Irish can attest: It is nice to be both.

“I’ve never had a team that won because it was lucky,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “But I’ve had many teams that were fortunate because they were good football teams and they found a way to win, if that makes sense.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a lucky football team. I think I’ve had a team that’s gotten some breaks along the way.”

The point Kelly was after: His team is not 9-0 on providence alone. A non-call by officials helped tremendously on Saturday, and, well, them’s the breaks.

But as of Sunday night, time is running low for Notre Dame to make its own breaks and make any kind of statement in the current BCS beauty pageant.

The Irish slipped to No. 4 in the BCS standings, with Oregon’s strength-of-schedule bump from a win at USC enough to vault it over Notre Dame. Yes, if Alabama and Oregon remain unbeaten, it doesn’t matter what anyone else does. Yes, if the Irish win out and no one else does, style points are moot.

In the event they’re not, Notre Dame didn’t make it hard on anyone.

The gap between No. 3 Kansas State and No. 4 Notre Dame in the coaches’ poll grew from 59 to 81 points Sunday. Red zone inefficiency, in particular, cost the Irish dearly against Pittsburgh, cost them chances to roll to a dominant victory — as opposed to a win over a middling team that doesn’t inspire dispassionate observers.

“We have to finish,” tailback Theo Riddick said. “That’s something we have to improve on, and improve on quickly. You have to score. Point-blank, period, you can’t continue on getting field goals. We all realize that. “

Notre Dame is 89th nationally in red zone efficiency, scoring 35 of 46 times. It has the most red zone field goals (14) of any team in the country. Red zone ventures Saturday featured three touchdowns on eight chances, plus one interception and one fumble. When the Irish have had chances to open up games and open up eyes, they’ve mostly shut down.

“You have to be even simpler in terms of execution and repeating the same plays and making sure that you make progress during the week,” Kelly said. “We thought we did, and then the game starts and we don’t get production down there.”

Such inefficiency can’t be accepted against Boston College (2-7) and Wake Forest (5-4) the next two weekends. It’s not that either is a real threat; it’s that Notre Dame can’t afford to lose for winning in November of a title chase, as it did this weekend.

It certainly can’t count on officials who don’t notice their double-vision in Notre Dame personnel packages.

“Just bad coaching,” Kelly said of the Jackson-Brown mixup. “We have an easy way for us to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and they won’t be on the field (together) again. It’s on me now.”

A greater priority under the control of Kelly and Notre Dame: Scoring points with observers by, well, scoring more points.

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