Playing in front of a national TV audience likely rattled UM a bit. ‘I think if we’re all honest with each other the stage got some guys. That’s the truth,’ Canes coach Al Golden said.
After being held to 4 yards on three plays, the Notre Dame offense appeared to be headed for a three-and-out to start last Saturday’s game against the University of Miami.
But then UM freshman Gabriel Terry made a mess of things. Storming in to try to block the punt, Terry caught punter Ben Turk’s foot and drew a flag.
It was a 15-yard penalty, but more importantly the Fighting Irish got to keep the ball.
Seven plays and 79 yards later Notre Dame had taken a 7-0 lead. The Irish eventually rolled to a 41-3 victory at Chicago’s historic Soldier Field in a game on national TV.
Terry’s penalty was hardly the only self-inflicted wound for the Hurricanes, who were called for eight more penalties that night — which tied for the most since their 2011 opener.
In the aftermath, neither coach Al Golden nor his players have shied away from taking responsibility for the mistakes.
“Penalties are a reflection of the head coach, no matter what,” Golden said. “I think if we’re all honest with each other the stage got some guys. That’s the truth. The only way to get through that is to get through the fire itself to experience it.”
An even more costly play than Terry’s came on the next drive, when quarterback Stephen Morris ran 13 yards into the end zone, only for it to be called back after guard Jon Feliciano was flagged for holding.
Pushed back to the 23-yard line, UM had to settle for a field goal.
“You can’t beat a good team like Notre Dame like that and you can’t beat any team in the ACC or any other college opponent like that,” Morris said.
Added Feliciano: “I guess some of the hype got to us a little bit.”
Golden argued that this year’s team is better about limiting penalties than the Hurricanes were last season.
Golden pointed to the team’s 20 penalty yards — its lowest total since Oct. 2011 — against North Carolina State as evidence of the Hurricanes’ improved discipline.
“We made great strides in our penalties as a team,” Golden said. “Right now we’re going backwards as a team. We did a great job against N.C. State and how else can you say it other than [they are] losing their poise.”
Cornerback Brandon McGee said he thinks the team has learned its lesson and will commit fewer penalties against North Carolina.
“We’re a much more disciplined team, compared to last year,” said McGee, who was called for a personal foul late in the game. “I think that’s something we’ll continue to improve on. Coaches stress the importance of … not making foolish penalties.”
Despite McGee’s and Golden’s claims that the 2012 Hurricanes are better at avoiding penalties than the 2011 team was, statistically that does not seem to be the case. Last year, the Hurricanes averaged 5.75 penalties per game for an average of 42.3 yards. This season, they are averaging 7.2 penalties per game for an average of 56.7 yards.
Still, both years under Golden have seen a vast improvement from the 107 penalties that UM committed in 2010 under then-coach Randy Shannon.
“I think it was just foolishness,” safety A.J. Highsmith said of Saturday’s penalties. “It happened, it’s behind us, and we’re going to get better and learn from it.”