SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A touchdown would have put Notre Dame ahead.
A field goal would have likely meant overtime.
Neither of those things happened. That’s how it goes when a team is in a rut.
Notre Dame suffered its third consecutive loss, falling to Louisville 31-28 in front of 80,795 fans at Notre Dame Stadium.
“We battled,’’ Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. ‘‘We played with effort and great attitude, and we had a chance with the ball in our own hands with a minute to go and a chance to win and we’ve got to cash that in and score. That’s how I see it.”
The Irish reached the Cardinals’ 10-yard line with less than two minutes remaining.
Quarterback Everett Golson rushed for one yard and then lost six yards on a sack. He threw an incompletion on third down, leaving it up to kicker Kyle Brindza to attempt a game-tying field goal from 32 yards, but he missed wide right with 51 seconds remaining and Notre Dame’s (7-4) late-season fade continued.
“I don’t think it was executed at the level it needed to be,” Kelly said. “I didn’t see it. I’ll have to watch it on film, but in talking to Kyle, it did not appear to be handled cleanly.”
Notre Dame’s 6-0 start is a distant memory. It has been replaced by a complete freefall. The team has lost four out of five. Opponents have scored at least 31 points in each of Notre Dame’s last six games.
“It definitely hurts,” Golson said. “It hurts more so for the seniors, my classmates, guys who don’t have another year. That’s how they kind of leave. That’s their lasting impression at Notre Dame Stadium.”
Louisville (8-3) did a lot of its damage on the ground. Brandon Radcliff rushed for 136 yards.
“We just felt we should give Brandon a chance and see if his speed shows up,” Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. “Our offensive front was feeling good about running the ball and we made some really good runs to win the game.”
Radcliff scored on a 15-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to give Louisville a 31-20.
Notre Dame got within three points on a crazy play. Golson avoided a sack, scrambled and then fired a 28-yard pass to the end zone. The ball was batted and landed in the arms of receiver Will Fuller. A two-point conversion made it 31-28 with 11:17 remaining.
Louisville missed a 37-yard field goal in its ensuing possession, leaving the door open for some late-game heroics for the Irish. Instead, Notre Dame extended its slide.
“They know that they easily could win any of the games they’ve played in,” Kelly said. “A mistake here or there and not executing at the time necessary has been the difference between a win and loss with this team. Razor thin.”