It’s fitting that this is the third game review this season from me that isn’t going to deal too much with the actual game from the weekend. The bye week is now upon us and I’ll probably end up writing something more in-depth on the roster through this point in 2016 in the coming days. Today, it’s less about how individual players are performing and yet another macro-level post on Notre Dame’s future.

I do not envy Jack Swarbrick. I imagine most of our readers would agree that he’s had a very successful 8-year run as the Notre Dame Athletic Director. Nearly all of Notre Dame’s athletic teams are playing at a very high level with numerous competing at an elite level nationally. He’s deftly navigated the conference realignment and been one of the more measured voices for the players rights movement. He’s overseen the construction and renovation of several facilities on campus. While the lack of a new basketball practice facility still lingers as a head scratcher Swarbrick’s patience with Mike Brey has paid off handsomely in recent years nonetheless.

Unfortunately, no less than 70% of Swarbrick’s legacy will be defined on how he handles the football program. Even worse the optics of the current situation with Irish football are very poor in regards to a new coach.

Granted, I’m working under the assumption that Brian Kelly is perceived among his peers as a good coach, at bare minimum. Using that assumption, Swarbrick’s hands are tied by two factors:

  1. Potential coaches are going to be very concerned about cutting a coach loose after one bad season
  2. Potential coaches are going to be very concerned about a good coach’s tenure exploding so quickly

It’s becoming fashionable now to claim that not only is Kelly not a good coach but that Kelly’s hire was a mistake. We’re seeing this pop up from the echo chambers of our own communities. Here’s the thing though…Notre Dame fans walk, talk, and act like convincing other Notre Dame fans of this about Kelly makes a difference. It’s not what we think, it’s what the prospective coaching community thinks and it’s simply not reality to suggest Kelly sucks. It’s comforting for us, but doesn’t make Swarbrick’s job any easier.

In regards to this being the only bad season one of our commentators once said, in essence, “Yeah but after the normal first season rebuilding pass given out Kelly hasn’t won 10 games every year.” Thank you for making my point.

Prior to writing this I thought a good article idea would be to make a top 10 list of improvements Brian Kelly needs to achieve in 2017 and after some brief thought I figured it would be a waste of time. I still think there’s a decent chance the 2017 team does very well but I can’t convince myself there’d be a massive change or upgrade to that top 10 list.

So, with that in mind I think Swarbrick is being forced into a corner with two options:

A. Full steam ahead with a new coach in December

Although it would require a lot of luck (coaching searches always do) and Notre Dame wouldn’t be dealing from a position of strength it would be possible to get a good new coach. Likely? I’m not so sure. But, certainly possible and I like the idea of an experienced Swarbrick selling the school to someone new. There are still a lot of positive indicators for the program: Lots of returning starters, good enough recruiting, increased coaching salaries, very good facilities, Crossroads coming next fall, and I don’t really believe the current recruiting class is going to be deeply bothered with a change.

B. One more year with a severe tight leash

This is the more likely scenario and with each additional loss this year things could get very harsh while judging next year. Nothing worse than 10-2 during the regular season and something like back-to-back losses could lead to an in-season firing. Unless the stars align in December the Irish would at least be dealing from a greater position of power to outside world. That is unless the wheels from this disaster season can never be put back on the wagon during the off-season.

Stanford Game Notes

Remember when the offense was on pace for a school record in points? Now they’ve fallen down to 30.3 points per game and it no longer feels like this unit is a gimme to put up 4 touchdowns every game.

Welcome back to the season, Tarean Folston! Not only did he finish the game with 49 yards on just 8 carries the more important sign was that he had a positive run success rate on 6 of those carries. Unfortunately, he did not receive any carries over the final 4 offensive drives.

Not only did Malik Zaire get 3 series in this game but there were 5 called pass plays versus 1 run call. How does that make any sense? Oh, there was also the safety after a bad snap and who knows what the call would’ve been there. I was shocked that Zaire came out on that series with the Irish pinned at their own 5-yard line. Also, did Zaire’s reaction seem kind of strange to anyone? I don’t believe we got a real good ankle on the snap but it didn’t seem to be inaccurate as much as too hot. The way Zaire flared his legs and arms out was bizarre.

Third down conversions (5 of 14) and touchdowns in the red zone (1 for 3) were a problem again.

Whither C.J. Sanders? Where did he go? Over the last two games he has 42 all-purpose yards of which 31 yards have come on kick returns.

Solomon Thomas ate the right side of the Notre Dame offensive line for lunch and then dinner with a fine dessert. When was the last time a defensive end had 10 solo tackles against the Irish? How often does that happen, ever?

The sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery from Jarron Jones was one of the most impressive plays by anyone this year. I was half expecting a facemask flag to be thrown because it’s been that kind of year.

Speaking of being that kind of year two plays stick out. The first was the (slightly) quick whistle for forward progress before a Stanford fumble led to a (would-be) Notre Dame touchdown. That would have lifted the score to 17-0 and maybe put things away for good. The other was the late-game punt return that was nearly fumbled by Stanford for a scoop-and-score to tie the game at 17-17. There was a feeling this team needed those breaks and they didn’t come.

How about 5 turnovers forced in the past 2 weeks? That brings the defense up to a healthy 9 turnovers in 7 games. We’re positively spoiled! Unfortunately, Kizer has interceptions in his last 6 games.

Don’t look now but Kizer has quietly been pretty average as a passer this season. His completion percentage is down 5 whole points and if we’re honest he doesn’t look any better throwing the ball than last year. You could make the case he’s looked worse on the whole, too.