A Decade of Notre Dame Football: 2010-19By Joanne Norell
Something about the end of a decade — after a certain age — makes you take stock. It’s a chance to evaluate what, exactly, you’ve accomplished and what, exactly, you have to look forward to. Sometimes this is a sobering task. But other times, it makes you realize just how far you’ve come.
The last 10 years might not go down as one of the legendary decades in Notre Dame football lore — but maybe it should be. It has been one of the most stable stretches in program history, particularly in the last four seasons when the Irish have notched at least 10 wins on three occasions. The culmination came just last year, when they went 12-0 in the regular season and earned a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Beyond each individual season taken on its own, there has been no shortage of moments that will certainly live on in Notre Dame history. And because lists go so well with end-of-year — or decade — evaluations, we’re listing the top moments of the 2010s here, in chronological order:
Sept. 1, 2012 — Irish Open In Dublin
For the first time in 16 years, the Irish ventured outside the U.S. when they opened the 2012 season against Navy at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland. The Irish and Midshipmen had met in Dublin once before when they faced off at Croke Park on Nov. 2, 1996, which was the third NCAA-sanctioned football game to take place in Europe. The 2012 meeting marked the first advance sellout of the two-year-old Aviva Stadium and attracted approximately 35,000 Americans to Ireland for the game.
Oct. 13, 2012 — A Goal-Line Stand For the Ages
In a rain-soaked top-20 match-up between No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 17 Stanford, the Irish delivered one of the most memorable moments in program history when they stopped the Cardinal on four straight plays from inside the three-yard line in overtime. After the Irish tied the game in regulation on a late field-goal, Tommy Rees found T.J. Jones for a touchdown on the first OT possession to retake the lead at 20-13. Then, against one of college football’s best power offenses, succeeded in keeping Stepfan Taylor out of the end zone on consecutive carries on third and fourth down from inside the one-yard line, leading to one of the most iconic celebrations in Irish history.
Sept. 6, 2014 — Irish Shut Out Wolverines
In what would be the last game in the series that had been played yearly since 2002 before the teams struck a home-and-home deal for 2018 and 2019, the Irish dominated the Wolverines and snapped their streak of games without being shut out at 365. Quarterback Everett Golson threw for 226 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to Amir Carlisle. Jaylon Smith and Elijah Shumate each recorded 10 tackles and the Irish defense caused four Michigan turnovers, including three interceptions.
Sept. 12, 2015 — Kizer to Fuller Spawns Meme
Four seasons later, it’s still up for debate whether this play was more memorable on its merits or for the viral moment it produced. Either way, it qualifies as one of the top moments in this Irish decade. With the Irish trailing Virginia 27-26 with 12 seconds remaining at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, quarterback DeShone Kizer — who was making just his second appearance after starter Malik Zaire suffered a broken ankle earlier in the game — hit a streaking Will Fuller on a 39-yard strike for the game-winning touchdown. The play not only put Fuller’s prodigious speed and talent on display, but also spawned the “Sad Virginia Fan” meme when ESPN’s cameras found UVA engineering student Mike Bunting slumped over a wall at the bottom of the Cavalier student section. The meme continues to make the rounds on social media — but Irish fans also continue to cite that play when the conversation turns to Fuller.
Sept. 23, 2017 — “That’s a Megaphone”
It was a game that was fairly drama-free, but it was exactly what the Irish needed four games into the 2017 season at Michigan State. The unranked Irish dominated for four quarters and never allowed the Spartans a lead. They did so mostly with stifling defense, forcing three turnovers in the first half that turned into 21 points, including a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown by Julian Love and a forced fumble and recovery by Shaun Crawford. Where does the megaphone come in? It’s the trophy the Irish and Spartans have played for since 1949 and, with it safely back in Notre Dame possession, Dick Corbett Head Football Coach Brian Kelly celebrated with the team in the locker room after the game, hoisting it high and gleefully declaring, “That’s a megaphone!”
Oct. 21, 2017 — Notre Dame 49, Southern Cal 14
Some college football games are just cathartic, especially in rivalry games where everything just seems to go your way. That was the case when the Irish — who had jumped into the Top 25 after that victory in Michigan State and climbed to No. 13 by the time the 11th-ranked Trojans came to town — put on an offensive clinic against USC at Notre Dame Stadium. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush was unstoppable, throwing for a pair of touchdowns while rushing for two more. Running back Josh Adams added three rushing scores of his own, including an 84-yard run that went for his longest of the season. Add to that the three turnovers recovered by the Irish defense — a Te’von Coney forced fumble and recovery, a muffed punt recovery by Drue Tranquill and an interception gathered by Nick Watkins — and the Irish turned in one of the most dominant performances against the Trojans in recent memory.
Jan. 1, 2018 — The Catch
Notre Dame’s Citrus Bowl victory over LSU served to not only put an exclamation point on a bounce-back, 10-win 2017 season after the struggles of 2016, but it also provided a harbinger of things to come as the calendar turned to 2018. After both teams struggled offensively in the first half — the Irish led 3-0 at halftime — the lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter before an unlikely touchdown grab and run by Miles Boykin gave the Irish their second win over LSU in as many meetings. After trailing 14-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Irish tied the game when Ian Book hit Michael Young on a six-yard TD pass and Josh Adams pushed into the end zone for the two-point conversion. The Tigers then put together a 76-yard field goal drive to retake the lead with 2:03 remaining — giving the Irish just enough time for heroics. Just three plays after LSU pulled ahead, Boykin hauled in a one-handed catch from Ian Book, juked two defenders and raced in for a 55-yard go-ahead touchdown. The play earned Boykin Citrus Bowl MVP honors and helped set the stage for an undefeated 2018 the following season.
Sept. 1, 2018 — Irish Wear Green
On a steamy South Bend Saturday that brought ESPN’s College GameDay to town, the Irish renewed their rivalry — dormant since 2014 — with Michigan. To mark the occasion, the athletic department launched a month-long effort to turn Notre Dame Stadium green, to impressive results. Perhaps more impressive was the result on the field, a much more comfortable win for the Irish than the 24-17 final score indicated. Receiver-turned-running back Jafar Armstrong rushed for a pair of touchdowns and wide receiver Chris Finke Moss’d a Michigan defender for a 43-yard TD reception. Though the Wolverines threatened, a fumble recovery by Te’von Coney in the final minute iced the game for the Irish to start what would become an undefeated regular season.
Sept. 29, 2018 — “I’m Gonna Drink Outta That Cup”
Another moment involving a traveling trophy and Brian Kelly brandishing it in delight. Two days before taking on No. 7 Stanford in a top-10 match-up in 2018, the Irish head coach promised to drink from the Legends Trophy — a large crystal chalice — if the eighth-ranked Irish held onto it with a victory. He didn’t disappoint, downing Cardinal red Gatorade in the Irish locker room after a 38-17 win.
2018 — Undefeated
For the first time since 1988*, the Irish finished the regular season undefeated, ranking third in the College Football Playoff rankings to earn a spot in the national semifinal at the Cotton Bowl. In so doing, the Irish were the only FBS team to finish the season unblemished with games against only FBS opponents. It also marked the second time in four season Notre Dame finished undefeated at Notre Dame Stadium, having also gone 6-0 at home in 2015. Along the way, the Irish defeated rivals Michigan, Stanford and USC, as well as Virginia Tech in their first trip to Lane Stadium and a top-12 Syracuse team at Yankee Stadium.
*Notre Dame’s 12-0 record in 2012 was vacated by discretionary NCAA penalty.