The name “Night Warriors” has been thrown around a lot lately when describing this upcoming Notre Dame football season. With at least 5 night games happening this fall, the Irish will look to be on many peoples TV’s come Saturday nights. With the Wake Forrest and the Pittsburgh kickoff times left to be announced, the Irish may truly earn the Night Warrior nickname. This got The Subway Domer and I thinking and when that happens, spreadsheets get involved. We wanted to see, how the Irish have fared in night games over the past 10 years. Lets take a look at some data…
The first order of business was to decipher what a night game was. I essentially thought it was any game played under the lights. As a kid I loved the ND night games the most. ND helmets shinning under the lights is pretty electric, but if you say any game played under the lights then home games finish in the dark. We all know that the Irish haven’t played a home night game in 21 years so that means the game has to start at night. I decided to look at any game with a 7pm EST kickoff or 4pm PST kickoff. (Note, the Hawaii bowl kicked off at 3pm Hawaii time, 9PM EST, but it definitely was not played under the lights). With that definition in mind, the Irish have played 29 night games since the 2001 season including bowl games.
The Bob Davie Era. Bob Davie wasn’t the biggest fan of night games his last season in 2001. That year Davie suffered night terrors to Nebraska to open the year, BC and Stanford at the end of his tenure as head coach. Davies worst “Night”mare that year was the Stanford game in which the Irish lost the the #13 ranked Cardinal 17-13, but the Irish quarterbacks of Matt LoVecchio and Carlyle Holiday were horrid that game. Holiday was 1-16 for 47 yards and no scores and LoVecchio was 0-3 with one INT. Luckily Arnaz Battle was able to complete a pass from the WR position to bring the grand total of completed passes up to 2. Davie and the Irish struggled at night in his last season, but that was the least of his worries that year.
The Tyrone Willingham Era. The Ty era had a little better success in night games as Ty was able to sting a record of 4-3 together at night. Ty’s first game as the head of the Irish was an opening victory of the Terps of Maryland at night. The Irish won that game 22-0 as Nick Setta kicked 5 field goals. This was also the beginning of KGG’s live ND night game watching life. Willingham was able to piece together that incredible run of 8 in a row which also saw a night win at Air Force against a ranked Falcons opponent, 21-14. It was a game that I was able to attend, so I’m 2-0 so far for those keeping score at home. Unfortunately for Willingham, the Irish ran into the BC Eagles and the season became derailed and finished with a night loss at the 6th ranked “Trogans” 44-13. In that game the Irish only managed 109 yards to the Trojans 610 yards.
2003 only saw the Irish play one night game at Stanford and the team was left decimated by Willingham’s departure 2 years before. the Irish won the game 57-7 in which the Irish racked 334 rushing yards. 2004 started with a night game with the Irish moving up their tilt with BYU to prep for their second game against Michigan. BYU kindly obliged and essentially whooped the Irish in Provo 20-17. Unfortunately my streak of an entire 2 wins in a row was broken, as I saw my first Irish loss at night in person. The Irish 2nd night game that year was a 31-24 win at Michigan state in which the ND defense forced 3 INT and received 3 fumbles. Later the year, the Irish traveled to USC to take on the top ranked Trojans and gave up 400 yards passing and 5 TD’s to Matt Leinart and lost 41-10. That was it for the Ty Willingham era at ND. Ty finished his career surprisingly well at night going 4-3 over the course of his tenure.
The Kent Baer Era. Good old Mr. Baer was asked to be the interim coach when Ty Willingham was fired serving only for one game, the Insight Bowl. Luckily for Mr. Baer and for this post, the game was at night. The Irish played uninspired football that night and were beaten by the Beavers of Oregon State, 38-21. Derek Anderson lead the way for those Beavers throwing for 345 yards and 4 TD’s. Thus endeth the Baer era at Notre Dame.
The Charlie Weis Era. Charlie got things off to a bang the right way in his tenure at Notre Dame. A night win on the road at #23 Pittsburgh against the Stache. The Irish, who’s started with 3 TE’s on offense in Carlson, Freeman and Fasano (Could the Irish start with 3 TE’s against South Florida if Floyd is suspended?), won the game 42-21 and put up 502 total yards. Charlie then took his 6th ranked Irish into Palo Alto and defeated the Cardinal 38-21 to wrap of the night games for the 2005 season.
The Irish again started the year on the road at Georgia Tech. The 2nd ranked Irish won the game 14-10. The next game for the Irish was one of the most amazing night games of all time, the “Applesauce” game. The #12 ranked Irish defeated the Spartans 40-37 in a great comeback under the lights and raindrops. John L. Smith lost his shit and the Spartans lost the game. Charlie has run his night game record to 4-0, but then had to play his next two night games against #3 USC and #4 LSU. The 6th ranked Irish lost to the 3rd ranked Trojans 44-24. Unfortunately I also witnessed this night game pushing my night record to 2-2. The Irish finished the year with a 41-14 loss in the Sugar Bowl to LSU.
The 2007 season will only be given one line. Charlie was able to turn the season in the right direction with a night road win against UCLA 20-6, snapping a 7 game losing streak.
2008 saw the Irish play 3 road games. First the Irish played Ty Willingham’s Huskies in which the Irish won 33-7. ND outgunned Washington 459-124. The next night game was against BC in which the Eagles won 17-0. Last but not least in 2008, the Irish lost to the 5th ranked Trojans 38-3. The Irish were out gained 449-91.
2009 saw the Irish first night game at Purdue. Clausen to Rudolph on 4th down with 24.87 left on the clock, saw the Irish squeak out a victory, 24-21. Next at night was a Halloween victory over Washing State in the Alamodome in which the nightmare began for Dayne Crist. The Irish won the game 40-14 but lost their backup QB for the season. The Irish then completed their night games that season with a 27-22 road loss to #8 Pittsburgh and the debacle that was the “calling off the defense so that Gerhart can score” against Stanford, 45-38. That was the last game for Charlie Weis, Jimmy Clausen, and Golden Tate for Notre Dame. It also ran my live night game watching record to 2-3.
The Brian Kelly Era. The Irish played 4 night games in 2010 and actually did really well. The Irish were 3-1 in those games and save the “heart attack” fake field goal game at Michigan State, would have been outright dominate at night. BK had night wins at BC, against Army in Yankee stadium and at USC, snapping the Irish 8 game losing streak versus the Trojans. With BK starting 3-1 at night, lets hope he can keep that consistency up and run through the 2011 night games.
So what does it all mean? Since 2001 the Irish are a combined 69-54. That’s not end of the world, but at Notre Dame that means your on your 7th head coach since then. After taking a look at the 29 night games, the Irish are mediocre at night. If you win one more than you lose, that’s just a run of the mill football team. With that being said, are the Irish trending in the right direction? Brian Kelly certainly had his team ready to play in his 4 night games this past year and with the possibility of 6 or 7 night games on this schedule, the Irish will need to play at their best. The Irish went 4-8 versus ranked teams during this time and with trips to what could be ranked USC and Stanford teams, the Irish will need to improve on that record.
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