Cotton Bowl Review: 2018 Ends with a Whimper

Notre Dame was heavy underdogs in the Cotton Bowl and was supposed to feel disrespected. The game was supposed to be a tight contest turning on a couple breaks for the victors. Nothing of the sort happened as Clemson proved itself thoroughly superior as Notre Dame fell flat on its face again in a big bowl game.

Now, the Irish face an off-season of having to pick themselves up off the ground and prepare for what is lining up to be a very challenging 2019 schedule. Here’s our review of the Cotton Bowl Classic.

Stats Package

STAT IRISH TIGERS
Score 3 30
Yards 248 538
Passing 160 327
Rushing 88 211
1st Downs 17 26
3rd/4th Conversions 6/19 10/19
Yards Per Play 3.59 6.89
Turnovers 2 1

PASSING OFFENSE

In my preview, I mentioned Ian Book needed a 400 yard total offense type of effort in this game for Notre Dame to win. That did not happen, nor was Book anywhere close to performing that well. In fact, as he faced the top defense in the country it was perhaps Book’s worst game with the blue and gold.

Absolutely nothing could be established down field. That seemed equal parts by design (not sure why, other than Book’s struggles going deep), Book being too skittish to set his feet even in clean pockets, Clemson playing great coverage, and Notre Dame not having the horses to get open.

It seemed as if Long & Co. were betting on Book being able to move the ball in the short-passing game and that didn’t work. The Irish QB actually started 7 of 9 with completion streaks of 3 and then 4 only to finish the game with back-to-back completions just twice and no streaks of 3 straight completions among Book’s last 24 attempts.

Notre Dame’s offense simply cannot operate efficiently against a great defense when this happens. A quote made the rounds this past week from a former Notre Dame assistant that Clemson DC Brent Venables would eat Chip Long’s lunch, and yup confirmed! Three points and 3.59 YPP (lowest since the Georgia game last year) was as disheartening as it was pathetic.

The pass blocking was probably good enough to keep the Irish in a closer game but was far from good, as well. I’ll have more on Book below but unless he improves on his second and third reads from the pocket while under mild pressure this offense isn’t going to get markedly better next year.

RUSHING OFFENSE

It will get lost in the tide of a blowout loss but the Irish did enough on the ground to make things respectable against Clemson’s defense. This type of performance just couldn’t be paired with a disappearing passing game. Clemson also did a good job making sure Notre Dame didn’t break any long runs, too. Both Dexter and Book had long runs of 11 yards and that was it for explosiveness.

Irish Running Success

Williams – 10 of 16 (62.5%)
Book – 4 of 9 (44.4%)
Armstrong – 0 of 1 (0.0%)
TOTAL – 14 of 26 (53.8%)

At times, it felt like Book wasn’t doing much with his feet. With sacks removed he did finish with 56 yards on 9 attempts which is fine. It’s those 6 sacks given up that kills the offense. Also, it’s pretty telling that this game came down to Dexter and Book carrying the ball only. Not great for any offense to be so reliant on two players.

PASSING DEFENSE

If you’re willing to be lenient toward Notre Dame this game really could be summed up by Clemson having a far better quarterback and wide receiver combination. In today’s game, that can and did go a long way especially when Notre Dame lost the services of Julian Love for the majority of the first half.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence turned in a near-dominant performance finishing with 327 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, and an important 15 first downs through the air. Unlike his opponent in Book, the Tigers’ Lawrence strung together completion streaks of 6, 4, 7, and 5 throughout the game to keep their offense humming.

Perhaps most of all, Clemson was able to unlock Notre Dame’s penchant for not allowing big plays through the air. With help from his athletic receivers, Lawrence had 4 completions of at least 30 yards with a pair of touchdowns in that mix.

Notre Dame had a perilously thin cornerback depth chart which never really bit them in the ass until today. Watkins transferred (could’ve used you, bro), Crawford was lost for the season, Bracy played a lot as a freshman but couldn’t be trusted, Coleman was limited to nickel only, and that left an extremely cold and untested Donte Vaughn to get abused several times.

RUSHING DEFENSE

If you had told me Travis Etienne would’ve started this game with just 1 successful run on his first 9 carries I would’ve believed the Irish were winning in the second half. Alas, the Irish really bottled up the Clemson run game well into the 3rd quarter but with the passing of Lawrence it didn’t matter.

Tigers Running Success

Etienne – 5 of 14 (35.7%)
Brice – 2 of 2 (100.0%)
Choice – 2 of 2 (100.0%)
Feaster – 2 of 4 (50.0%)
Dixon – 2 of 6 (33.3%)
Law – 2 of 4 (50.0%)
Overton – 0 of 1 (0.0%)
Rencher – 0 of 1 (0.0%)
TOTAL – 15 of 34 (44.1%)

Clemson had a pair of 23-yard gains on the ground in garbage time in the 4th quarter while the 62-yard touchdown run by Etienne was obviously a huge blow. Otherwise, the Tigers weren’t making much hay on the ground (11 yard gain by Lawrence was the 4th longest run) it’s just the Irish couldn’t exploit this enough on defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Irish won the special teams battle but again it didn’t matter. Clemson missed a field goal from 49 yards, Newsome won the punting battle, and Notre Dame forced a fumble that the Tigers were super lucky was ruled out of bounds in a moment that could’ve completely changed the outlook of the game early on.

TURNING POINT

The injury to corner Julian Love is an obvious turning point.

A series of plays and possessions in the second quarter definitely turned the tide away from Notre Dame. With the game tied 3-3 the Irish drove the ball down to the Clemson 34-yard line* and proceeded to throw a pair of incompletions on third and fourth down. Three plays later, Lawrence connects on a 52-yard touchdown.

Three plays later, Book missed Boykin on a 3rd & 2 crucial drive to try and answer. Clemson drives but misses their field goal only to see an odd run call on 3rd & 10 from the Clemson 45-yard line in which Dexter loses 7 yards on the next Irish drive. Clemson then connected on a 42-yard touchdown and took complete control of the game with a 16-3 lead.

*Not being able to rely on Yoon for anything over 45 yards was a sneaky big disadvantage for this offense.

3 STARS

1 Alohi Gilman – Got torched for a touchdown but played hard with 9 solo tackles (19 total), a forced fumble, and 2 break-ups.

2 Jonathan Bonner – Broke up a couple passes early and played one of his best games of his career.

3 Dexter Williams – A really tough 83 total yards in his last game with the Irish.

FINAL NOTES

We’ve had many examples through the years but let’s enter this as the number 838th one that a team dominating a supposed weak schedule usually means that team is dominant. Everything pointed to Clemson being a great team and Notre Dame found that out on Saturday.

Who’s fault is it that Notre Dame isn’t good enough or not on Clemson’s level? The answer to that question is where you should direct your rage.

I’ve always been it’s the “jimmy’s and joe’s before the x’s and o’s” type of commentator. In that light, the Irish need to do better. Most importantly at the offensive skill positions. There’s been nothing about the recruiting on offense for the past several years that suggests Notre Dame is going to be taking the next step with 2 or 3 young “can’t miss” players. Clemson has 3 or 4 of those guys and the Irish have zero. It makes a big difference in a year when Notre Dame’s defense was veteran-laden and good enough to trade hay makers with the nation’s top defense.

As such, I think people have to be far, far, far more skeptical and critical of Notre Dame’s recruiting. Defensively, the program appears to have hit its stride with talent and numbers, for the most part. On offense, there are only 2 quarterback/running back/wide receiver recruits for the 2017-19 classes (Jurkovec & Austin) inside the Top 200 nationally. The best for the incoming class at those positions is No. 379 nationally! Next year, maybe half of the schedule will have equal or better skill position talent. Think about that. This is less than ideal in a college football world where you absolutely have to be able to walk in to any game and score 30 points if necessary. You cannot manufacture offense on this biggest stage, you need game-wrecking recruits.

It’s been quite the wild season for Ian Book who goes from backup to pushing for some Heisman votes to playing pretty poorly down the stretch and having an off-season to think about this terrible performance. The thing about Book is that–as things stand right now–it looks as though the offense hit its ceiling with him pretty quickly once he became the starter and he’s probably not going to get a whole lot better next year. The semi-final winning quarterbacks just finished their games going a combined 51 of 66 for 645 yards and 7 touchdowns with no interceptions. In this day and age the quarterback has to be able to play at that high of a level and no one should quibble with the belief that Book can’t get the Irish there. We’re not likely to see any Tee Higgins or Jerry Jeudy playmakers to make Book’s job easier, either. After this performance, I’d say it became 30% more likely Ian Book doesn’t finish 2019 as the starting quarterback due to production-based decisions.

I predicted Clemson would score 30 points and that was spot on. The Irish offense scored 20 fewer points that I thought, though. Indictment on the coaching? Probably a little bit as the offense didn’t seem to adjust very well. Still, the offense especially was killed by mental errors and bad breaks. Of course, you can pin that on coaching too! The Irish did cross into Clemson territory on 5 occasions although only in to the red zone once. In a replay the offense probably scores 9 to 13 points with a couple breaks and having a stronger kicker. Not much better and still pretty underwhelming.

Bottom line, Notre Dame has largely coached up a bunch of players and gone through 2017-18 living up to their potential with the recruiting…and it’s still not good enough to be an elite team. On the one hand good job by Kelly & Co. re-setting things and taking the program to another level. However, the ceiling still seems concrete reinforced when it comes to these big bowl/playoff games and it would be completely normal to be very frustrated with that reality and nothing on the horizon looking like it’s going to even attempt to crack that roof above the program.

By |2018-12-30T00:47:42+00:00December 30th, 2018|Football|135 Comments

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More Noise
More Noise

Thanks, Eric. Also thanks to Andy for a very good Instant Reaction and to everyone who posted, all of which I just read through. There are some debatable points and views on different sides, but overall in the depths of our mutual deep frustration (and if I may venture a guess sadness) the level of Instant dialogue is a credit to the site.
As for your take on Book — I concur on his poor level of play, I am just wondering if he had some lingering effects from the rib, aggravated by a couple of early hits, that contributed to his skittishness in the pocket? I would hate to think that you are right and that this is his ceiling.

kiwifan
kiwifan

I think we’re being hard on Book. The line was clearly outclassed, thus the sacks and hurries and lack of a running game. Sorry Eric, 88 yards rushing will never beat a team of Clemson’s caliber. Book seems to lack deep ball arm strength and accuracy, but the loss isn’t on him. Tua would have been affected by the Clemson front 7 performance. Murray probably not so much. Lamar Jackson not so much. Lawrence would have been affected if our guys had been able to get after him like they got after Book.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

The over-excitement about the last couple recruiting classes has been bizarre to me. By objective metrics, the classes are good to very good (basically, a 7 out of 10. A solid B, maybe a B+ if we’re being generous), and people are treating them like it will get us to a new level. I tend to agree with your assessments, Eric. There seems to be too much of a focus on “program fits,” which is a talking point that at least the Irish Illustrated guys have bought hook, line, and sinker. After yesterday, it seems pretty clear that, to the extent that winning a national championship is actually the goal of the football program, the focus should be on going crazy trying to get any top-100 recruit that can get past admissions.

More Noise
More Noise

Looks to me like the problem that drives BK towards the “program fit” is that the school is even more disposed to give the football coach and staff a really hard time if admitted players wind up NOT to be a good fit, and cheat, and do misdemeanors, etc. It’s to me like commanding in the military — if you have a chain of command that makes you jump through a bunch of hoops every time a soldier screws up, you are less willing (even unconsciously) to tolerate the gifted ones with a propensity to screw up. This tension has always been the case at ND, since the Rock – certainly under Leahy and Ara and Lou — and with the rise of ND in the rankings of universities, the pressure to have wonderful young men on the squad has increased. BTW I LIKE our players, and they mostly seem like wonderful young men. And very good players. With Balis, more in shape no less. BUT as noted by Eric and others, lacking top-5 program elite status. Which to be honest we have not had since Lou’s golden years with Vinnie Cerrato (who had to leave if you recall because he pushed that envelope too hard).

Clearwall
Clearwall

completely agree. I cant count the number of times I see recruiting alerts about a guy committing to ND and I’m like “well 3 stars are great BUT…” Im kind of getting sick of thinking heaven has blessed us for getting ONE 5 star every 3-4 cycles.

Irishchamp23
Irishchamp23

I think the excitement in some past classes were that we were getting more top 100 players. And that those players with at better positions (not just OL or TE) like Griffith, Jurkovec, Allen, Austin. So not 5 stars but top 100 at key positions that we hadn’t been getting.
This years class doesn’t have those top 100 players but is actually quite deep. Currently I have the class at 74% of 4 stars. That’s much higher than the low 50% we have been at.

And maybe a really important step in the right direction. If we know we can’t get the elite players then the other thing we can do is literally have 4 star players littered all over the roster. So e.g. if 60% 4 star or better is the “typical” championship level team, that’s not good enough for us because that usually includes a 5 star or two in most classes (so like 10 on a team).

Ok so the other option, perhaps, is that we need something more like 70-75% 4 stars (in numbers that’s like 9-12 more 4 stars than the 60%) on the team because none of them are elite like Bama/Clemson. That seems to me the only other way to compete with those who have elite talents. It also might be more doable given our constraints.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

I think that’s the only hope for real national championship contention, but I suspect it’s not enough without 5-star talent.

Also, FWIW, Allen fell out of the top-100 by the time of final rankings. Based on early reports from practice – or, mostly, the lack thereof – there’s reason to suspect he was overranked.

Irishchamp23
Irishchamp23

I think actually with the significant amount more of 4 stars would make up for the lack of 5 stars but it’s just actually really hard to get 70%+ 4 stars every year.

Yea, i hadn’t noticed Allen falling out but I also didn’t notice that Simon and Lamb jumped up so we had 5 top 100 players last year

kiwifan
kiwifan

Elite schools’ top 100 players tend to make an immediate impact as frosh, even at qb. Ours never do, at least as true difference makers. Those really elite guys are much more serious about playing professionally than they are about the specific school degree. Hell, those guys won’t even play in bowl games now, something unheard of just a few years ago, so why risk going to a school where the classroom and disciplinary environment is stacked against you?

I don’t particularly like Kelly, especially how he treats qbs, but I suspect he’s doing about as well as possible given the ND environment. So I agree with you guys that it’s not the x’s and o’s, but I do think you are being unrealistic about the johnnies and joes we can attract and retain.

kiwifan
kiwifan

I think we are doing that, going crazy to get top 100 recruits that get past admissions, but are never going to be as successful as the schools that don’t have that stricture of ND admissions standards, a huge part of “program fits”. Under the current ND program regime, we will never be able to recruit to the level and depth of the football elites.

So I agree with you re the unwarranted excitement about our recent recruiting classes. They’ve been better than most of our recent decade history, but not elite. And I don’t see that changing no matter who the coach is. Fan expectations are not aligned with the reality of today’s CFB and ND’s place in it. We have a lot of on the field data right before our eyes. Decades of it, actually. Very good does not equal great. We are very good, some years. That’s it.

tlndma
tlndma

A very deflating game. As you state the skill disparity is so obvious. Let’s keep in mind that Clemson’s QB is a true freshman. (How good will he be next year?) We just had a good class sign up for next year but, if you look at Bama’s class OMG!. They do that every year. Basically they get two great players for every one that ND gets. You can’t compete with that. This isn’t just a ND problem, it’s a CFB problem.
It seems the longer Bama dominates, the bigger the gap gets. There are really only a handful of programs that can even rise up to challenge Bama once every few seasons. Clemson being one this year, obviously. But, I won’t be surprised if Bama wins comfortably next week. I know this, if Bama’s starting CB goes down, they won’t even flinch. Will you be surprised if Bama’s D actually makes Lawrence look like a freshman? Maybe Clemson can stay or even beat Bama. If so, that just means there are two teams that are so far above everybody else. I think this was ND’s best team in years and yet ND is still so far behind but, so is 99% of CFB.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

They should let Trevor Lawrence go pro this year. He’d be the first pick in the draft.

Clearwall
Clearwall

Eh, that may be a TAAAAAADDDD overreacting. I mean if Kyler Murray announces that he’s going to play football and not baseball, I cant imagine he’s not #1 and given a HUUUUUUUUGE number to sign.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Kyler Murray is a fringe first-rounder because he is 5’10”. He will almost certainly not be a top-10 pick, even with a very bad quarterback class this year.

kiwifan
kiwifan

I think you’re correct, and don’t see ND or all but a very small handful of teams being able to contend at the elite level.

I’m not sure if Clemson can beat Bama, but I didn’t see any weaknesses in their team either. Hopefully it will be a great game.

CardinalBaseball
CardinalBaseball

S&P+ showed Clemson with Lawrence as their starter was basically Alabama and that seems to be true. I think there is just a clear hierarchy in college football that is BAMA, Clemson and everyone else. The issue for us is Georgia is the only program on the precipice of breaking that ceiling and we play them week two.

Completely agree with the sentiment we are not good enough at offensive skill positions to compete at the highest level. And after yesterday maybe I’m resigned to that overall, we can hope to be the best of the Michigan, Stanford, non Clemson acc but not more and that’s ok I guess

KG
KG

But next year is the year Claypool will put it all together and break out! I just know it!!!

(sigh)

Publius2010
Publius2010

/drops pass

KG
KG

but he drops it with such potential!

sleepy man
sleepy man

Thanks for everything this season to all. In terms of overall talent, there seems to be a pretty sizable difference that I can only assume comes down to recruiting better. I also believe the hierarchy in CFB is clearly Bama, Clemson, maybe OU, UGA, OSU(? Who knows without Urban) and then everyone else which is frustrating.
I didn’t go to ND so I have no real personal investment like most(?) of you all here. Genuine question though – is it even feasible to think that elite recruits are going to go to a school where they have to take 15+ credits a semester and have to graduate in 3.5 years? For elite recruits, I feel like college is just a layover on the way to the NFL. Why bother going somewhere you actually have to achieve academic success? I get that you can do both as ND has put some good guys into the league, and if I was a high level recruit, I’d choose ND for both academic and football reasons (unfortunately I’m not an elite athlete lol). I just don’t see many elite players doing that and it seems obvious that to actually compete (not just get there) in high level games, you need those guys.

KG
KG

Is Jurkovec really any better? I seem to remember once the media finally got to see him throw in August, his release was funky and looked all sorts of awful. Seems like even our “great” recruits end up having some weird flaw and don’t pan out like we hope. Yes, this is the hangover talking, but it’s hard to be optimistic about anything today.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

That Jurkovec (composite #83) is considered a great recruit by our standards is emblematic of the problem. If we want to legitimately compete for titles, we need to sign at least 3 guys more highly ranked than that every year.

KG
KG

Is it now also ok to vent my fear that Kliff Kingsbury turns all of USC’s skill talent loose and we’re going to lose to them for the foreseeable future? I was hoping he’d go to the enneffell.

kiwifan
kiwifan

Yeah, our so called elite qb’s have been average at best on the field, or complete busts like Gunnar Kiel (sp?).

If Jurkovec were elite, it would have been him, not Book, beating out Wimbush, who himself was supposed to be the Second Coming.

MrTgon
MrTgon

If Jurkovec was elite………. he would have gone somewhere else lol

Publius2010
Publius2010

I’d give the Jurky Boy a pass on not competing this year. He’s a true freshman, that’s a huge task to adjust to major CFB AND beat out the starter and backup qbs. I know Lawrence, Murray, and Fromm were elite qbs as true freshman, but they’re the exception to the rule.

KG
KG

Murray? He wasn’t exactly “elite” as a true freshman at Texas A&M. Decent, but not the Kyler Murray we saw this year at all.

kiwifan
kiwifan

I think in his case it really was the coaching at A&M

dpet
dpet

Don’t get me wrong because I really like Book and think he’s got the most out of his talent, but he’s not close to an elite talent. Jurkovec might be, and I hope Jurkovec is giving every opportunity to win the job in the spring/summer and be named QB1 for the 1st game next year. Not be handed the job, but be given a fair opportunity to take it. In no way am I putting all the blame on Book, as you outlined how it was the fault of any and our skill talent isn’t elite, and Long didn’t do a good job at all yesterday.

KG
KG

At what point do we start to hear that “Notre Dameing” is the new “Clemsoning”?
Because seriously–what’s different?
0-whatever the last NY6 bowl games.
Miami last year.
Stanford at the end of seasons before.

Please downvote this horrible thought. Imma do it myself, but I couldn’t keep it from coming out.
Edit: apparently you can’t downvote your own comments. So do it for me.

More Noise
More Noise

Any time, KG!
Well, the one good thought there is that, those kinds of cycles can come to an end…

kiwifan
kiwifan

Boy Noise, I love your heart, and the fact that we’re contemporaries (not many of us make it this far 😉), but this cycle has been about 30 years, making it semi-biblical.

More Noise
More Noise

Well, yes… a long damn time. Though since we are contemporaries you will appreciate that I give us credit for the one we should have had in ’93 — but even the weight of a mere quarter century was too almost too heavy to bear last night as it became evident that we were not going to break the drought. But being a positive guy, let’s for instance remember Clemson’s down cycle took 32 years!

eyerish9299
eyerish9299

Hey, the Cubbies and Redsox both eventually won titles.

Andy Roberts

Clemsoning was never what you are calling “Notre Dameing”. It referred to talented teams with expectations laying inexplicable eggs against teams they ought to beat. This is a simple issue of ceiling.

KG
KG

Whoa. Mark Richt just retired. I know they had a bad year but didn’t see that coming.

8FP
8FP

How to win a National Championship in the 21st Century:

Be in the southeast.

Do anything you can to recruit the most talented players even if they’re highly unlikely to graduate,

Pay your coaches and assistants mind boggling salaries.

Or be Ohio State with Urban Meyer which is close enough to sneak in there once in a while.

ND is not built to win championships anymore.

Andy Roberts

If ND (or really any top program outside the Southeast, but especially ND) could find the next stud coach, they’d have a chance. But yeah, I think you’re probably more right than not.

kiwifan
kiwifan

Why do you think that? Saban at ND could attract but not be able to get approval from admissions for most of the studs he can routinely bring into Bama. And those that do get in would have a tendency to run afoul of a disciplinary regime with teeth in it……no more domestic abuse, guns fired, robberies, batteries, cheating allowed, so many wouldn’t last at ND, which doesn’t look the other way.

Concrete Charlie
Concrete Charlie

Is this fair? Alabama has a decent, mid-80’s graduation success rate. Can’t recall many stories about gun-toting football players at Bama. I think Saban runs a pretty tight ship.

kiwifan
kiwifan

Believe me I’m not knocking Saban, but the academic regime for football players at Bama is far less rigorous than at ND. And no school I know of is as deadly on disciplinary issues.

I think Saban is a genius at what he does. If he wins next week he will have earned the best ever title.

sleepy man
sleepy man

Man this is so true and so sad at the same time 🙁

More Noise
More Noise

OK, I will unburden myself of a heartfelt observation, based on all those many decades of love and devotion to the ND football program and its deep attachment to Our Lady’s school, and all our fans, graduates or no… ND can still do it.
Like Andy has just said, it will take finding the next stud coach. And for me, that will boil down to having the extreme (I say again, EXTREME) good fortune / good luck to happen into the next stud coach.
They are really truly very very hard to find, and like a hit movie, impossible to predict ahead of time.
Right now there are what, two for sure: Saban, and Dabo. Urban was one but he is gone bye-bye. Burned out, like Leahy, Ara, Lou… If you look at Saban’s record, prior to Alabama, who could have truly predicted he would turn into Emperor Palatine and build a genuine Death Star? And note what mediocre shape Alabama’s program was in before him. One can say exactly that for Dabo. (Urban was an exception in that he won big at Florida first.)

I say all of this as an unabashed BK admirer in many respects. He is a very good football coach, who seems to have gotten it about Notre Dame, and who has shown remarkable and laudatory growth. I like his teams, as a group of high quality and high performing young men. But I am forced to admit that we have found his ceiling and it is 12 and 1.

Which might be plenty good enough…or is it?

I realize that this is way premature and we will be having a debate on this very topic. But I wanted to push back at the idea that Notre Dame can never compete for a Natty again. But finding those stud coaches is really hard.

TimsSon
TimsSon

I want to believe that a championship is possible. barring lucking upon the next great one, what should be done? Others here have mentioned ND needs to pay up coaching wise if it really wants to play with the big boys. aside from that I want to see a period of sustained success, for Kelly to focus on building a culture of winning and a consistency of performance program wide, game to game and year to year. The back and forth I think is one of the things that keeps even the willing and eligible five star guys away year to year. I get things are different at ND, but five stars that could excel at ND go to Stanford, OSU, and Michigan, which share at least one of ND’s characteristics that are listed as negatives to getting five stars (academics, weather, out of the way town – I don’t care what anyone says Ann Arbor is not cool!). Looking at the recruiting this year and last, four stars, linemen, focusing on Georgia i stead of florida, I’m hoping that is what Kelly and Jack are doing, trying to build a program that can live past their time. if that’s not it and its just a retreat from competing for five stars all together, that would be disappointing.

TimsSon
TimsSon

Example Christian Wilkins from Clemson. Graduated in two and half years and from the northeast (Massachusetts), reported to be all around great person. Notre Dame man no? I’d be interested to know what led him to Clemson and not ND, but I would guess the biggest factor was the winning and stability.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Well I mean he got recruited in the BVG days. So that vs.Venables is what led him to Clemson. Also though Wilkins had an ND offer per Rivals, looks like he just wasn’t that interested. Did visit Stanford though.

Ideally though ND does have to make bigger pushes for non-southern 5-stars. This really isn’t breaking any news to the staff, surely they know to try and collect the best players possible but it’s not like they can force it into existence. Understandably there’s just frustration now since ND is clearly not as talented as the Bama/Clemson tier of teams.

Though even with UM, PSU and depending on how post-Urban tOSU goes, it’s no slam dunk that ND will and should get any and every such player. Pretty sure Bama can recruit out of their area for obvious reasons that they’re the power. Believe it or not some people just don’t really want to go to Notre Dame.

TimsSon
TimsSon

Truth. I guess what i wanted to point to him as an example as one of the likely many unicorn types that ND fans lament don’t exist (academic minded five stars who dont already have a reason to go to the southern juggernauts by living close by and not having to leave the warm. Minkah Fitzpatrick would be another. Northeast (NJ), good student, was sorta interested in ND with his buddy Wimbush, but had his focus on sure winners (at the time) FSU and Bama. ND gotta give those guys a reason to consider South Bend. Being a 10 win program all the time might go far toward that.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

I mean, I wouldn’t think it unfair to say a 5-star that doesn’t default go to a football factory basically is a unicorn. Even Fitzpatrick jumped after 3 seasons (aka as soon as possible).

Per Sampson at The Athletic, there were 29 5* this year. All of them stayed in their state or region except three- tOSU signed a OC from Georiga, Michigan got a safety from Oklahoma and Bama got a DL from Jersey.

I do agree with you that being a 10+ win team will help ND get on the radar more, but the reality is that almost all the 5* kids are in the southeast and they almost all stay in the region and go to football factories these days.

Basic geography says that Notre Dame is never going to get such a high % of Bama/Clemson/UGA level elite, elite talent. They probably can still do a bit better, but development and luck is going to have to be more key than just raking in 8-10 top 100 players every year like the true modern blue bloods.

TimsSon
TimsSon

8-10 sure that’s not happening, but better quality depth, with one or two unicorns makes a difference in the Cotton bowl. Over matched sure, but it keeps it a game they could realistically win even when you lose a Julian Love. What is that game like with St. Brown and Stepherson still around, maybe a Nelson who wants to take another year, and a healthy Bars, and a QB like Kizer with a deep ball? Most not top 100 beyond Nelson and St. Brown?. I’m just daydreaming now.

kiwifan
kiwifan

I don’t think our St. Brown was elite, certainly not like his brother at USC, nor, say, Cross at Clemson or Jeudy and the other receivers at Bama. Stepherson was fast enough but a head case who couldn’t stay in good standing, caught up in the discipline regime at ND. Kizer…..good but no unicorn.

We have to have more unicorns in skill positions who can gain entrance and avoid getting blown up for infractions that, rightly or wrongly, would be swept under the rug at other schools.

We don’t really know why Dexter was suspended for 4 games. It cost him a 1000+ yard season, not likely to be a selling point to unicorns with their sights on the NFL.

Publius2010
Publius2010

I think we all know what Dex’s issue was.
/inhales

Irishchamp23
Irishchamp23

I’d like to see info on the next 70 (Top 30-100). If we can’t get the 5 stars we need to get a 3-5 in the top 30-100 every year.

My guess is what’s true of 5 stars are true of players in general; in general players don’t go as far from home. Of course the outliers are often the ones that come to ND, but it’s always harder to recruit when you have to recruit outside your region for top players.

MrTgon
MrTgon

Totally agree. Unicorns indeed. I’m gonna guess that the vast majority of 5 star/stud players don’t care about the 40 year decision or whatever you guys call it. They don’t even really care that much about the 4 year decision. Their elite talent means the potential for a natty and NFL dreams and big houses and nice cars etc. That’s what they’re thinking about (at least in part). That doesn’t make them bad kids or even stupid kids. It makes them kids……maybe just human.

If I was a 5 star athlete in HS, I’d be thinking about the same things – where can I go that’s fun and awesome, where I have a chance to play (maybe in front of my home town), where I have a chance to win a natty, and where I have a chance to get drafted high. Academics would be a consideration for sure, but I’d also know (rationalize) that the choice between a degree and an elite football program isn’t mutually exclusive, only the choice between an elite degree and an elite football program is. They all give degrees. So, the decision to go to those schools over ND wouldn’t necessarily mean the difference between a 40 year decision and no-year decision and working at McDonalds if my NFL dreams didn’t pan out. And remember, in this fantasy, I’d be getting constant NATIONAL recognition because of my football skills, not my academic abilities. Reason wouldn’t stand a chance.

18 year olds with both elite talent and the maturity to see the wisdom (and wise it is) of choosing the 40 year decision over the relatively instant gratification of 3 years of partying in the sun near home, playing for an elite team, and winning a natty come around about as often as ND gets them, I think.

kiwifan
kiwifan

I think you have the correct insight into today’s elite unicorn, Mr Tgon

kiwifan
kiwifan

Great quarterbacks, best defensive coordinator in the biz we’re probably huge factors leading Wilkins to Clemson. Got his degree in 2.5 years in sports management if I recall what the announcers claimed. Not exactly a crunch major.

kiwifan
kiwifan

OSU football players face much less educational rigor than do players at Stanford and Michigan. And both those schools place less educational rigor on players than does ND. OSU has won titles, but Stanford hasn’t won one since Pop Warner was coaching in the 1930’s. I don’t recall when, if ever, Michigan has won it all. Certainly not recently.

Andy Roberts

Kiwi, in answer to your Michigan question, they won half a title in 1997 (and may well not have done so if they’d been made to play Nebraska in a bowl), and their last consensus title was 70 years ago this year.

kiwifan
kiwifan

Noise, I’ve lived ND like you, and just don’t think the next stud coach would change much, assuming we could identify and attract one. The first part, spotting a sure thing, is low probability, the second part, landing him, even lower probability.

Joe Stud wants to make jillion’s and win big titles. Given the overall environment at ND that football has to contend with, as his agent, I’d strongly advise him that there are much more attractive targets at which to make his mark.

A 12-1 ceiling is incredibly hard, especially without playing Citadel and Sanford types. Single digit teams get there in any given season. Firing somebody producing at that level periodically isn’t going to make Joe Stud any more likely to jump in the boat.

More Noise
More Noise

Thanks, Kiwifan. I am learning a ton from all these posts, including you, Eric (e.g., thanks for the info on Wilkins, Eric), and really everybody. And the discussion is helping deal with the pain. Saturday really hurt, after 30 (or 25) years it was truly time, and I thought we could do it… but not to be. Hence my handwringing about the 12-1 ceiling. All your points are good. Yeah, honestly… I think BK is as good as it gets.
So, I’ll flip to Alohi Gilman mode (I LIKE that kid’s attitude) and say, OK, let’s get back there and do it better. Hopefully Phil J indeed has a higher ceiling, and the three wideouts from last year mature and flash speed, and the O-line learns and matures, and … and… sheesh. Happy New Year from Paris, everyone… where we have our own problems but at least the champagne is great! All the best for 2019 t each of you.

sleepy man
sleepy man

Appreciate everyone’s input on this thread. I’m on mobile so I dont know where in the thread this is going to post but I just looked up the national champs going back to 2000. It’s not a real surprise but here it is – Bama, Clemson, Bama, OSU, FSU, Bama, Bama, Auburn, Bama, Florida, Texas, USC, LSU/USC (BCS/AP I believe), OSU, Miami, Oklahoma. Lots of big time programs haven’t won in a long time, not just ND. It’s just unfortunate that we’ve laid so many eggs on the big stage though. Like NDoneill said above, I hate that the narrative is we “don’t even belong on the field” with these teams/in these games. People just love to hate ND.
Something I did read (from E Hansen I think) that I thought was a good perspective was about the narrative following the blowout in Miami last year. Following that, it was how overrated ND is and they don’t belong etc and how The U was BACK BABY! Since that game, ND is 14-2 and made the CFB playoff and Miami is 8-9 and their coach left (although I read that Diaz now bailed on temple to come back to Miami). Trying to stay positive.

Happy New Year all.

NDoneill
NDoneill

What sucks it that the national narrative coming out of this game will be that Notre Dame, once again, didn’t belong on the same field as their opponent.

I was at the game and watching it live, and that’s not how it appeared at all. Clemson struggled to move the ball for long stretches. They scored three times from outside the red zone, once on a nearly-perfectly-defended ball and again on poorly-defended run. Otherwise we tackled well. It wasn’t like Eddie Lacy bowling over people.

I think the defense played well enough to win, barring some of the flukey stuff that happened. It’s our offense that just shriveled, and it was disappointing. We needed to be nearly perfect, and we weren’t. And that was frustrating, too, because it’s not like we were going 3-and-out. It’s not like moving the ball was impossible. We’d just go 6-and-out, or 9-and-out after losing yards on the last set of downs and falling out of FG range.

There was the big third-down drop when there was no one near our receiver. There was the other long catch and fumble that our WR recovered that they ruled “incomplete” on replay despite taking 2-3 steps up-field after catching it. Converting those wouldn’t have been enough, but those mistake killed us.

On the field, it looked closer. Clemson hit three home-run plays from deep and that made the score lopsided. If felt like it could’ve been as close as a 23-17 loss if Notre Dame cleans up it’s offense and Love doesn’t get hurt. But that’s still a loss — it was clear Clemson was the better team. I just hate that the final score will leave everyone with the impression that they were many miles better.

sleepy man
sleepy man

I agree with you about the game actually being ‘closer’ than the score. Few big plays we gave up inflated the score. I actually thought the D looked pretty good most of the time. Unfortunate the O just couldn’t get any points.

More Noise
More Noise

Great post, thanks for the in-person perspective. I wish I coulda honored my tickets for the final, was all set to fly to SF… glad you were there, and all our fans.

KG
KG

Kirk Herbstreit here. See, I told you that Georgia should be in the playoff ahead of Notre Dame!!!
(Pay no attention to the fact that they’re now down 28-7 to Texas in the 4th Q of the Sugar Bowl)

More Noise
More Noise

Ho ho!
So, a good early goal for our team — Athens (GA) in September. Let’s strap it on — good motivation for us!