Yes. For most if the game, we were winning. It was 23-14 at halftime, and 30-21 in the third quarter.
After South Carolina finally took the lead our last 3 possessions started at the 25, 9, and 3 yard lines. Particularly with the last two drives, that field position is reminiscent of what happened in the Notre Dame game when Klubnik was substituted.
Up until that point, you're winning the game, and you scored 30 points (albeit 9 by the defense). It's perfectly understandable why the change wasn't made.
I think what has been so difficult for fans to accept is how differently Dabo handled DJ, and the media questions about it this year, as compared to similar situations in the past. We've heard a steady stream of "Best is the standard" and "Next man up" mentality for well over a decade. And so when fans, media - possibly even teammates look at the post-game stats - it just seems so strange to see a line that is clearly not the best - or even near it. Obviously, the 8-29 line vs. Carolina forced Dabo's hand.
And the questions from fans and the media are totally reasonable.
My assumption, my best guess - is that DJ is an incredible kid. A legitimately great servant leader. Someone with the kind of character that Dabo and any of us would be honored to be associated with. Read his teammates' reactions to his transfer news and they seem to confirm that.
I also think whatever dysfunction or chaos or difficulty DJ has experienced by way of his parents' split - and the very likely scenario that Dabo, the team, and the staff showed significant care - created an even closer relationship between them all. Mutual respect born out of adversity.
As a player, you want your coach to have your back - not to pull you the second you make a mistake. That only exacerbates any self-doubt you may be struggling with and sometimes even derails the entire trajectory of your career.
It seemed clear to me in 2021 that DJ had lost his confidence. But because of his character, work ethic, selflessness and dedication - Dabo and the staff decided that the right thing to do was to stick with him. We also had a very thin bench. They knew the risks, and they would take them again. It may not result in the most wins, but when Dabo hangs up his whistle - he wants to rest confidently in the knowledge that he treated his players fairly and let love guide his decisions. More often than not - his approach naturally results in wins too.
But this is why they don't regret it. And if you pressed them, why they'd probably admit (in secret) that caring for DJ well, was more important than 2 wins. And in that light - if it was my son - or me in DJs shoes, I agree 1000%.
My only wish would be for some additional transparency. I think when Dabo says things like "fans don't have a frickin' clue" he's not entirely talking about what the play call was supposed to be or who missed an assignment. He's talking about the effort, determination, and dedication that these kids give. And to that point - he's totally right.
But I also think he conflated criticism of the stats with an assessment of the person. I didn't hear anyone I know criticizing DJ the person - only DJ the QB. I think he became protective of a person he loved - and chose to protect him as much as he could in the hopes that all of his work would eventually result in more consistent, better performances. That's what exceptional leaders do. They provide air cover. Its what every single one of us wishes our boss would do once in a while.
So its complicated. Its complicated because we're dealing with a group of exceptionally high-character people doing the very best they can - but not winning every game.
We aren't a national championship team this year. But we will be again. We should give the grace we expect from others, and cheer these kids on as they put their bodies on the line every day. Dabo knows that we didn't meet our potential this year on that stat sheet, but those guys got a front-row seat to leading with character and facing the music every single week.
DJs transfer shows that winning still matters. And players and coaches alike see themselves in that situation and because they love him, they are asking - "what was my role in this?" and "what will my future hold if I don't perform." That entire operation fully understands that there are consequences related to winning - that don't care about your character. But I'd bet my money on this group every single time - and it will pay off in the long run.