Worst title ever, I am sorry. In America’s dumbest sport we were witnesses to one of the dumbest games played in conditions that made any semblance of football close to impossible. I will admit that I was one of the people who thought the weather wouldn’t be that bad. That might have been in response to last year’s game at Clemson where people were freaking out there would be deaths and it turned out to be more of a fun wet than anything else.
Saturday afternoon at NC State was so much worse. Patently absurd at times.
Needless to say everything about this game was ugly. It’s difficult to balance the outlandish nature of the game with the attempt to coach a coherent game plan but even in that light Notre Dame failed spectacularly against the Wolfpack. Let’s review this stupid thing.
I thought Notre Dame would lose by 7 points, and they did. I thought the offense would have some struggles, and they certainly had those. What’s wrong then?
Three things: play-calling, toughness, and adjustments.
The first two I can live with to a degree. The staff could have underestimated how bad the weather was going to be and even if it was sunny and dry out I wouldn’t have believed the Irish would run the ball super well anyway. Is the latter a frustration? Sure, but we are what we are at this point, and it’s not a unit that’s going to put the team on its back against a Top 15-ish defensive line on the road against Southern talent.
The lack of adjustments though is really maddening. The Irish attempted 26 passes and all but a few of Kizer’s 15 rushing attempts were passing plays that turned into scrambles.
NOTRE DAME WENT ALMOST 60% PASSING IN A HURRICANE.
A year and a half ago I was worried about how the trio of Kelly, Denbrock, and Sanford would mesh and deal with all of the responsibilities on offense. Last year, they handled it really well. We know that the relationship has been Denbrock calls plays, Sanford helps putting together game plans, and Kelly over sees everything but has taken more of a hands off approach.
Now, I don’t want to over-react and pretend that there are massive offensive problems. However, in this game something was completely broken. We’ve seen a much more hands-off Brian Kelly (more on this below) and I don’t know what the heck Denbrock and Sanford were thinking. In truth, this kind of felt like the offensive version of Diaco’s 2010 game plan against Navy–instead this time it was the weather as the issue and Notre Dame throwing their hands in the air like, “We’ve got nothing else! We thought we could throw the ball this is what we practiced!”
I mean, at times it really seems like this staff in 2016 is making moves in a dare to be fired.
— 18 Stripes (@18stripes) October 8, 2016
This dumb game really highlighted an offense not physical enough to pound the ball, not imaginative enough to confuse NC State with a diverse array or runs, and not quick enough to switch things up on the fly. I get that the conditions were absurd and that usually the offense is just fine but this was kind of like playing a top 5 defense–the same problems popped up.
Nothing was more pathetic than 2nd offensive series of the 2nd quarter following NC State’s fumble with the score 3-0 in favor of the Wolfpack. We were treated to this sequence of events with the ball just outside the red zone:
Delay of Game
False Start (Personal foul by NC State for taunting)
Rush for No Gain
Completion for 11 Yards
Sack (Loss of 8 Yards)
This was a gift from NC State to at least put 3 points on the board in a game where 3 points would have felt like 14 points and they completely screwed the pooch. I’m done talking about this nonsense.
Is there anything worth talking about? Straight stats will give this unit a boost–they didn’t give up a touchdown! I’m not sure what kind of curve we need to grade on here with this game. NC State totaled 198 yards and put together 4 drives of at least 37 yards which under normal playing conditions probably nets them 20 points or so. I suppose with the curve this was still improvement for the Irish defense but who really knows.
We didn’t have a sack and only 5 tackles for loss. The futility continues in that regard.
There was a point in the late 3rd quarter and into the 4th quarter where Notre Dame was another bad fumbled snap from having negative total yardage. Up until the final drive, the longest drive of the game for the Irish was 24 yards. I don’t need to tell you that all offensive stats were completely torpedoed after this debacle. The average points per game fell by 6.2 all the way to 33.6 while that impressive 6.9 YPP fell almost a full yard to 6.15 on the season.
Advanced stats can’t control for a hurricane, unfortunately. According to the latest S&P+ rankings the Irish offense tumbled from 14th to 33rd after the NC State game. More hilariously, the defense moved up 48(!!!) spots to No. 36 in the nation. If you haven’t stopped laughing let me point out that Notre Dame at 2-4 is still 33rd overall in S&P+ while NC State fell 13 spots to 38th overall after beating us.
Brian Kelly has been the head coach at Notre Dame for roughly 82 months and close to 2,500 days. He was 48 when he was hired and will turn 55 later this month. A lot of this is genes but Kelly has aged tremendously in a way only a U.S. President can relate with in our country.
Of course, we live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society and in college football we tend to gravitate towards the bad–when it’s ongoing–as the “real” side of a coach. Especially at Notre Dame, we don’t have that type of patience because we’ve seen too many false messiahs and literally no one has ever recovered from a very bad season and found success afterwards. That is clearly coloring everything surrounding this program right now.
What interests me is that I think Brian Kelly could come back with a pretty strong 2017 season. This season is going to suck in so many ways but we’re 4 months away from National Signing Day and hitting the re-set button. We’ll be completely off the radar as a team in just 7 weeks as we sit out bowl season, too. I’m not sure if I’d exactly predict that but I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion we can’t bounce back next year.
The one thing pushing back on that front is if Brian Kelly is either checked out or is at the point of his career where the fire isn’t there to put the pieces back together next year. Although we’re seeing some signs of the former I really don’t think that’s the issue right now.
The more likely scenario is this: Kelly got entirely too comfortable and satisfied with the 2015 season precisely at a time when he should have turned up the heat in the other direction for a huge (and possibly final) 2016-18 push for greatness. He trusted too much, let his CEO-skills blind him that the program would run itself in a lot of areas, while believing there’d be real progress in year 3 of VanGorder and the QB competition between Kizer and Zaire would be entirely manageable. Most especially the quarterbacks were going to lead the team against a very friendly schedule.
Almost literally, nothing has gone to script. Strengths aren’t quite that strong and powerful enough to hang your hat on in 2016. Weaknesses are much worse than thought. Things are so out of whack that Kelly has been stunned how much of his program has cracked at its foundations and how little help (looking at you defensive coaches) he’s surrounded himself with to this point.
Does Kelly deserve to be fired now? Will he deserve to be fired after a season that’s looking like 4-8 might be the absolute ceiling for this team? No, I don’t think so. It’s hard for me to square away that Weis got 3 years of bad-to-mediocre results for 3 years and that we’ll cut Kelly loose after one bad season. I can’t escape the feeling that for America’s toughest job that’s an incredibly short-sighted and dangerous move that will 100% scare away any legitimate applicants. Loud chest-pounding on message boards about expectations and standards are so full of emotion as to cause blindness. It’s more important to make the right moves–even if they take some time–and get the right person in the seat than it is to just fire someone because things aren’t where you want them, or even worse, to prove to a bunch of chattering hyenas that we’re sticking up for Our Lady’s storied history.
The only thing that REALLY matters moving forward is if the foundation of the program is so bad and Kelly has lost the ability to raise the tide and remain committed to fixing things. Acting as if this is the real Kelly and 2016 is unveiling a truth about him doesn’t do much for me. Neither does saying we know he won’t win a title–this is a Tier II job and I’m not firing Kelly because of those expectations. Even with an 8-loss season it’s easy to think the foundation is crumbling but things are still fairly stable all things considered. That’s why so much comes down to the effort and emotional investment from Kelly himself. It’s still in my mind that he’s so haggard and tired from this job that he’ll leave in December and Swarbrick should be ready for that scenario. However, if that’s not the case–and I’ll assume Kelly and Swarbrick will hash that out soon–he’ll get 2017 to see if he can be the first Notre Dame coach to find success after a terrible season.