By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The 2012 Notre Dame football season has been a memorable ride so far as the Irish — unheralded in August entering head coach Brian Kelly’s third season in South Bend — have rolled through a tough schedule and emerged 12-0.
The ride ends tonight when the No. 1 Fighting Irish take on No. 2 Alabama in the BCS Championship Game in Miami.
Here is a brief look back at the 2012 regular season:
Sept. 1, 2012
Notre Dame 50, Navy 10
The Irish’s trip to Dublin for the Emerald Isle Classic is a smashing success, as Notre Dame (1-0) rolls over Navy in sophomore QB Everett Golson’s debut as the Irish signalcaller.
Notre Dame racks up 490 yards in total offense, including 197 on Golson’s arm.
The Irish also get a defensive TD from defensive lineman Stefon Tuitt, who scoops up a Trey Miller fumble and rumbles 77 yards to the end zone.
The Irish defense does an excellent job of bottling up Navy’s triple-option offense, limiting it to 149 yards on 40 carries.
Sept. 8, 2012
Notre Dame 20, Purdue 17
It was Tommy Rees to the rescue in the Irish’s home opener, as the junior backup QB came off the bench late — entering the game to a chorus of boos from the Notre Dame student section — to lead a game-winning drive in the final two minutes that led the Irish to victory.
Notre Dame (2-0) led 17-7 at halftime before the Boilermakers rallied to tie it in the fourth quarter, setting up Rees’ final-drive heroics.
Golson was 21-of-31 for 289 yards with a passing TD and another score on the ground, but was pulled in favor of Rees late because head coach Brian Kelly felt more comfortable with Rees running the Notre Dame two-minute offense.
“This is not going to be an excuse for Everett that he’s pulled because of an injury,” Kelly said. “We also made the decision with the flow of the game that Tommy could come in there and manage our two-minute offense, and he did a great job.”
Sept. 15, 2012
Notre Dame 20, Michigan State 3
It was no contest in East Lansing as No. 20 Notre Dame easily handled the No. 10 Spartans on the road.
Golson continued his development, completing 14-of-32 passes for 178 yards and a TD, a 36-yard scoring strike to John Goodman. He also ran for a 6-yard TD in the second quarter that put the Irish up 14-0.
The Irish defense limited the Spartans to 237 total yards and forced a fumble.
The win by the Irish snapped a 15-game home winning streak by the Spartans.
Notre Dame was able to shake off a sloppy start that included George Atkinson running into a teammate on a kickoff return; a false start; and a timeout called before the Irish’s first snap.
The victory propelled Notre Dame to its best start since 2002 and snapped a six-game losing streak against ranked opponents. It was the Irish’s first win over a top-10 team in seven years.
Sept. 22, 2012
Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6
The Irish, all the way up to No. 11 in the AP Top 25 and No. 15 in the coaches poll, got two interceptions from senior linebacker Manti Te’o and five picks overall, and also picked up another virtuoso relief performance from Rees.
But the story of the night was the Irish defense, which held a nationally ranked opponent without a TD for the second straight week.
After giving up 948 yards in total offense to Michigan QB Denard Robinson the past two seasons — both losses — the Irish defense harassed Robinson into five turnovers on the night: four interceptions and a fumble.
The Irish offense did not execute particularly well on offense, with just 239 total yards.
Oct. 6, 2012
Notre Dame 41, Miami 3
The No. 9 Irish completely dismantle Miami, giving up a first-quarter field goal and then shutting out the Hurricanes the rest of the way at Soldier Field.
Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III give Notre Dame its first 100-yard rushing duo in a decade, as the Irish improve to 5-0 for the first time in a decade. Wood has 118 yards rushing and two TDS, and Atkinson adds 123 yards and another TD.
“We felt like we found a way to run the football today,” Kelly said.
The Irish defense limits Miami to 285 yards after the Hurricanes had piled up 1,260 yards and 86 points in their previous two games.
Oct. 13, 2012
Notre Dame 20, Stanford 13
The defense again is the story as No. 7 Notre Dame goes to 6-0 with an overtime win at home over the Cardinal (4-2).
A wall of defenders stops Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor inches shy of the end zone to preserve the win after Rees — again coming off the bench in relief of Golson — connects with T.J. Jones on a 7-yard TD to put the Irish up 20-13 in the extra period.
For Kelly, the difference in the game comes down to the Irish’s ability to control the line of scrimmage and matching the Cardinal line’s physicality.
“When you’re talking to your team all week about a heavyweight match, you can’t keep taking body blows,” Kelly said. “You have to stand in there, and sooner or later, you’ve got to be the one to deliver them.”
Oct. 20, 2012
Notre Dame 17, BYU 14
Once again, the Irish find a running game, and this time it comes against the No. 3 rushing defense in the country.
Senior Theo Riddick — the Irish’s smallest running back at 5-11, 200 pounds — rushes for a career high 143 yards, part of a 270-yard rushing effort by Notre Dame that also includes 114 yards from Atkinson.
Riddick’s day includes runs of 55 and 27 yards — the longest of his career.
“Just run and run until you can’t no more,” Riddick said. “And I got a little gassed at the end.”
Rees gets the start in place of an injured Golson and completes 6-of-7 passes for 86 yards and a TD on the opening drive, but struggles the rest of the afternoon, finishing 8-of-17 for 119 yards and a pick.
Oct. 27, 2012
Notre Dame 30, Oklahoma 13
In another big win on the road over a marquee opponent, the No. 5 Irish travel to Norman, Oklahoma and returning with a convincing victory over the No. 8 Sooners.
The Irish, despite being ranked higher than the Sooners, feel like the underdogs in Norman.
“What we’d been hearing was a lot of people didn’t think we could win this game,” said Golson, who returned after sitting out the BYU win with a concussion. “That just kind of added that fuel to the fire that was already burning.”
Golson throws for 177 yards and runs for the decisive 1-yard score in the fourth quarter.
Nov. 3, 2012
Notre Dame 29, Pittsburgh 26 (3OT)
The No. 4 Irish battle true adversity for perhaps the first time all season as they move to 8-0 with a triple-overtime win over the Panthers at Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame rallies from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to stay undefeated.
Golson — back in the game after being benched in favor of Rees earlier — scores the winning TD in the third overtime.
The contest is the fifth Notre Dame home game of the season — all wins, and all decided by a TD or less.
Nov. 10, 2012
Notre Dame 21, Boston College 6
Golson runs for a TD and throws for two more to lead the No. 4 Irish over the Eagles and propel Notre Dame (10-0) to its best start since 1993.
Golson completes 16 of 24 passes for 200 yards and a pair of TDs — a 7-yard strike to Troy Niklas in the first half and an 18-yard pass to Goodman in the second.
An Alabama loss earlier in the day — coupled with the Notre Dame victory — helps the Irish move up to No. 3 in both the polls and the BCS rankings.
Nov. 17, 2012
Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 0
Notre Dame backs up Kelly’s No. 1 vote for his team and goes out and demolishes the ACC’s Demon Deacons to move to 11-0.
Golson completes 20-of-30 passes for 346 yards and a trio of TDs.
The Irish limit Wake Forest to just 209 total yards on 60 plays.
With a Kansas State loss later that night, the Irish are propelled into the top spot in both the polls and BCS rankings.
The victory sets up a pivotal showdown on the road at USC in the regular season finale the next week.
Nov. 24, 2012
Notre Dame 22, USC 13
The Irish (12-0) put an exclamation point on their 2012 regular season, again getting a workmanlike effort from their defense to deny the unranked Trojans an upset in Los Angeles.
Riddick rushes for 146 yards and a TD and Kyle Brindza boots five field goals to spark the Irish to victory. Golson is 15-of-26 for 217 yards with no interceptions.
It’s a grind-it-out win of the variety the Irish have been churning out all season, as they methodically dispatch one opponent after another after starting the season unranked and with their relevancy questioned by some college football observers.
After defeating USC, the Irish have to wait one more week to know who they will face in the BCS Championship game in Miami, as Alabama and Georgia are slated to meet in the SEC Championship game the following week.