Notre Dame’s Search for an Identity Continues

Notre Dame Identity
Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly reacts to a missed field goal in the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame’s match against Michigan State was to be the litmus test to a 2013 season that has produced nothing but questions.  Could Tommy Rees win in suspended quarterback Everett Golson’s stead?  Who would be the go-to running back after the departure of last year’s stars, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood?  How would Notre Dame’s defense perform in a post-Manti Te’o era?

After yet another grind-it-out victory against the Spartans, the results to the questions that have been plaguing Irish fans since the start of the season are finally in.


How can information be gleaned from a performance where Notre Dame gained more yards from Michigan State penalties (115) than from yards rushing (78)?  How can a starting running back emerge when the highest yards per carry mark for an Irish running back against MSU was 3.8 and the overall team average was 2.4?  And how can these situations be rectified when Notre Dame’s coaching staff and senior captains are making the mistakes while true freshmen, such as wide receivers Corey Robinson and Will Fuller, make repeated clutch performances?

It was Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin that was baited into throwing a wide receiver bubble screen on the second play of the game, with Michigan State’s secondary anticipating the play call and immediately crashing the line of scrimmage, tackling wide receiver C.J. Prosise for a 3-yard loss that ultimately led to a three-and-out on the first offensive drive.  And it was Chuck Martin who lined up in the pistol formation with 33 seconds to go in the first half when every player, coach and fan in Notre Dame Stadium knew a fade route to Irish wide receiver DaVaris Daniels was on the way, before it ever fell lifelessly incomplete along the sidelines.  Predictable play calling, however, was not the only problem for the Fighting Irish on Saturday.

It was senior captain T.J. Jones, placed on special teams to bring stability to an underwhelming phase of Notre Dame’s game, who nearly caused catastrophe on two separate punt returns, failing to stay clear of one punt that took a nasty bounce – something which NBC analyst Mike Mayock chided him for – and rushing another with a poor angle that just as easily could have caused a fumble.  And it was senior captain Tommy Rees who intentionally threw a pass out of bounds on 3rd and 14 in the 4th quarter with less than three minutes to go, killing the clock and sparing Michigan State from having to burn its final time out of the game.  Luckily, MSU quarterback Andrew Maxwell made a similar mental error that would seal Michigan State’s fate, scrambling out of bounds on a do-or-die 4th and 20 without even attempting to make a conversion in MSU’s last drive of the game.

Keeping with the theme of mixed results, despite the mental errors and stretches of monotonous play calling, Notre Dame also showed growth.  Nearing the end of the first half and in need of a momentum changer, Notre Dame scored a touchdown on a broken play rather than settling for a field goal, taking the lead into halftime.  Fresh off throwing an incomplete fade route to DaVaris Daniels at the goal line, Chuck Martin called for another fade route on the next play.  Rees, seeing it was not open, improvised and found T.J. Jones in the back of the end zone, firing a perfect throw into tight coverage and providing Jones with an opportunity to make an acrobatic touchdown reception.

The Notre Dame defense showed progress as well, allowing only 254 total yards against Michigan State, the lowest number of the season.  Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco showcased flashes of last year’s defensive dominance, holding the Spartans to 13 points, a 3.4 yards per carry rushing average and less than 4-yards per pass attempt.

While Saturday was a needed litmus test that provided mixed results, it’s important to keep the season’s progress in perspective.  Notre Dame has faced a serious identity crisis in 2013 but has still managed to find ways to win, an important trait head coach Brian Kelly has hammered home time and again.  Tied 10-10 against MSU, Notre Dame punched in the game winning score on an untouched 7-yard Cam McDaniel scamper within the first 60 seconds of the 4th quarter, illustrating the finishing ability Kelly has spent four years building still exists even if the names of the finishers remain unsettled.  Finding ways to win even when critical questions are left unanswered is what a good coaching staff does, and why Notre Dame has won 19 out of its last 21 regular season games.

Will Notre Dame’s inconclusive performance against Michigan State be enough to overcome an Oklahoma Sooners team that appears in every way to be an inevitable Big 12 champion?  That’s the problem with inconclusive results – all you can do is wait for the next test.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles as well as co-founded a nationally-featured non-profit organization. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at [email protected].

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  1. Do not “search for an identity.” MAKE IT HAPPEN. Reality is the best identity, even for a legendary program like ND’s. BE A CHAMPION.

      1. Wasn’t it Al Davis who said just win baby. I think Broadway said I just want to kiss you baby.

  2. I sort of figured this would be a rough year, esp. with Golson off the team. He figured to be a prominent part of Kelly’s offense and with his experience would have been better this year. Rees is doing a good, even great job, but the fact remains, Rees does not play Kelly’s system, so he can’t open the playbook like he could for Golson. Zaire has great potential, but obviously will be raw. If they can get him in some this year, that will help immensely toward getting him some experience.

    I am surprised they don’t use Hendrix’ speed for some plays. I know he’s not a great passer, but I’d still use him in certain rushing situations (whether it be himself running, maybe even a wildcat type of play, or handing off to another running back). He would give opposing defenses something else to think about.

    1. Have you been here for more than 30 seconds? Because SFR is one of the guys who has been here for years. Therefore he rates higher than you do.

    2. Slouth,

      Like I said, this isn’t a theology board and apologized if I offended anyone. However, since we’re all integral human beings who cannot always chemically isolate things from each other, at times some of us will make cultural, political, or religious allusions. That’s OK so long as the references don’t devolve into full-blown discussions of these other matters. It’s not like “duranko’s” reference to “True Grit” has degenerated into a debate about the merits John Wayne as an actor. But your concerns are nonetheless respected.

      Thanks for the support, JDH!

      1. Excuse me, but any true blooded American knows the great John (The Duke) Wayne was way more than just a simple actor!

        He was a Good Damn American Icon!

        Believe it… or your dead where you stand pilgrim.

      2. Damn right! Like Notre Dame Football, John Wayne was and is a cultural icon. I grew up adoring the man. I was just a kid when he died. Saw his last public appearance on Carson. When I died, I cried.

        GO IRISH!

      3. JDH,

        I enjoy good humor, you know that, but that whole “When I died, I cried” is funny stuff.

        Mind if I use that one?

      4. Shazam,
        I meant to write, “When he died, I cried.” That’s a true story. I really loved/love the Duke. I was only about 5 years old when he passed away.

      5. We, of course, all know you meant “when he died”

        I just watched “Rio Bravo” for the umteenth time the other night.

        Alawys entertaining.

        “Yup. The end of a way of life. Too bad. It’s a good way. Wagons forward! Yo!”
        -John Wayne- (Hondo)

  3. I want to make clear that I meant no disrespect to any Christian brothers and sisters. I was simply trying to explain to THB what official Catholic teaching was regarding reading the Bible. This is not the forum for theological discussions. But I want to apologize if my words to THB offended any brothers and sisters in Christ who are not in fellowship with the bishop in Rome.

  4. 1.Kelly & Co try to outsmart opponents and end up over substituting RBs allowing no one to get a feel for the game. Pick two (not GAiii) and stick with them.

    2.Defense did better, but needs an overhaul of “bend but don’t break”… Pressure is the way to force opponents into mistakes not allowing completions and then tackling.

    3.exile the bubble screen. It works when you run it a few times a game not a few times a series!

    4.The deep ball is needed badly!!! Though we didn’t connect much (lack of practice) It’s the only way to open things up and get 8 out of the box. It was nice to see and worst case, we got a lot of PIs because of it.

    4.These coaches need to get coached up. They have been out coached every week in 2013 + the BSC Title game.

      1. Ron, Good point. But ND isn’t Grand Valley. Nonetheless, your point about patience is well-taken. Martin’s in his first season as full-time OC at ND. It’ll take some time. However, patience isn’t an inexhaustible supply.

      2. My observation is that it is Kelly “calling” the plays since we went down 10-0 vs Michigan. Looking at him on sidelines with his “play card” it certainly looks to be him giving the plays to Rees since Michigan. Hope Scot or someone can clarify that for me/us. Cheers

      3. @ D-Train 65:

        I wish I could provide you with an answer to that question but I’m as curious as you. Since the Michigan game — and even during the 2nd half of the Michigan game — it sure appears that Kelly is calling the plays. But whether he is officially, I don’t know.

  5. You resent insults, THB? Yet, you have no qualms resorting to them with anyone who disagrees with you. BTW: Look over some past threads on here and note that I have come to your defense more than once.

    I apologize if I offended, THB. I admit I over-react at times. See, that’s me being critical of myself. I’m not being negative about me, just acknowledging there are areas that I can improve upon spiritually.

    I have to wonder THB if you really do appreciate the high standards of ND football. It seems to me that you, like some others on here, have grown so accustomed to ass-kickings that you’ll settle for just winning games against mediocre opponents. That’s sad to me, THB. You see, I won’t settle for just barely beating Temple or MSU at home. What I want to see from ND football is true greatness. That means we take for granted destroying the likes of Temple, Purdue, and MSU. That means we shouldn’t fear losing to anyone on our schedule, ever, at home or on the road. Perhaps we just have a different definition of excellence.

    Finally, what’s so funny about reading the Bible “organically and canonically”? You know what that means, right? You are aware that that’s official Catholic teaching from “Dei Verbum”? Perhaps your a member of another Christian denomination and that would explain both your ignorance of canonicity and penchant for proof-texting. Nothing like a little private interpretation of Scripture to prove whatever it is you want to prove!

  6. No, THB, the US would’ve certainly lost WW II if it had put its head up its ass and not called things like they were. Blind stupidity doesn’t count or pass for patriotism. Go sell that BS to someone who will buy it! BTW: Weren’t you the same expert that told us the Purdue was a powerhouse team and that we’d see how good they were? Well, how’s that working for you, genius? How did your second-coming of the 85 Bears Boilermakers do last week against Wisconsin? Frankly, given your total lack of football acumen, I don’t think anyone here has to apologize or give an account to you about anything we say. So, get off you flimsy high-horse and go actually watch a football critically sometime. You might just learn something.

    IF ND emerges as a NC contender next season, then I guarantee you they won’t be playing like they’re playing now and therefore our observations will be equally critical but more positive. Did you get that, THB, or is English not your first language? We can still be critical, but the overall assessment will be positive. I guarantee you that all of us here hope you’re right. But given how you’ve been predicting greatness for ND football on this site for some time (every week we’re supposed to look like the 1970s Steelers according to you), I wouldn’t hold my breath!

  7. I should clarify that while Tommy has shown leadership at times (see Purdue game), he is not often a vocal leader. And when I mentioned “stacking the box” it appeared I was referring to our O-line because of a poorly-constructed sentence. Obviously I was talking about opposing Ds.

  8. Waiting for an identity? Really? After 4 games I think our identity is pretty well-secured. We are the “B- Boys”. We have a team that is wildly unpredictable and a coaching staff that is completely predictable. I predicted the first drive of the MSU game with EXACT accuracy. This does not make me a football guru, far from it. It makes Kelly and Martin Keystone Cops. Run up the middle, get stopped. Throw a screen toward the sideline, get stopped. Now, because you are forced, throw downfield and register an incompletion. If I can predict the offensive plays, the opposing defensive coordinaters probably aren’t too challenged. I mean god, Purdue’s coach even admitted how predictable we were before halftime!

    We have Tommy Rees who is playing to his potential most of the time. I can’t get angry at a guy who has improved greatly on his reads, his leadership and at the end of the day, his win/loss record. However, I PREDICT ANY GAME NOW THAT TOMMY IS GOING TO HAVE A TURNOVER FEST. He has thrown at least 4 balls that were a teethskin away from a pick 6 the last 2 games.

    Our offensive line typically plays well, giving him the time he needs but stacking the box to make it tough for mediocre RBs. Atkinson is the disappointment of the year. Cam and Carlisle are the go-to guys. TJ Jones and Davaris Daniels are outstanding. Our TEs need more involvement and better looks. Special teams is improving.

    Our defense and Tommy are the major variables. Will Tommy improve his accuracy? His strength will not and can not. Will our linebackers increase their speed and ability to read? Will our secondary learn to turn around and look at the ball?

    I am optimistic that these things will occur in time. But I do not think they will improve in meaningful ways anytime soon, and that is due to a LACK OF LEADERSHIP.

    There are no vocal leaders on this team.

  9. I’m not sure about the defensive improvement. I still think they are weak in the secondary.Elijah Shumate (and I hate to single out one player in particular but…) was victimized repeatedly. Something’s wrong when your DBs are constantly chasing after a receiver.

    Let’s hope they can shake off the dolcdrums thi sweek. The team is better than its performance to date.

    Go Irish!!!!!

  10. Scott,

    Is it likely or unlikely that Kiel found out early that TR was going to start this year? I believe it was more likely Kiel found out early TR was starting and I don’t blame him for leaving. Hey if the blue skies… frolicking boys want to stay in bed with TR all year…be my guest! Zaire will be gone next! Whoops, was that a real prediction? Well, a high percentage one at that based on actual empirical evidence to date. OooooooooOuch! Such disloyalty for facts! Imagine that!


      1. Darn Scott,

        Your good! I was trying to use professor logic come-on! Oh well, back to the drawing board. Hahaha!

    1. I did read today that Kelly said Zaire will be “put into our gameplan now that he is healthy”. We’ll see if/when that comes to fruition.

      1. I truely hope your right JDH, otherwise scratch next year also. However, I find it completely unusal Zaire hops over Hendrix with Hendrix supposedly #2? Maybe Hendrix’s unsuccessful hail mary put him on the bench as the new #3…”drinking pickle juice?” At least Dayne got one half, Hendrix goes down in flames in one play? Imagine that?!

  11. We are predictable on offense. U know they will run from personel groupings and linemen cheating.( tackles leaning out to pass block rush ends). We play to many people. Why can’t Daniels and time stay in the game on running plays? Would hope they aren’t that bad at blocking. We have no poker face. And pick 2 running backs to play, this isn’t pop warner.

  12. “Finding ways to win even when critical questions are left unanswered is what a good coaching staff does.” That lone sentence summs up the character of Coach Brian Kelly and his staff. If there is a way to derail and defeat the Sooners this Saturday, this is the man who will find that way.

    We will be watching and awaiting victory. The ‘Shembo Monster’ aka ‘The Prince of Pain’ is ready to ring the Bell…

    Go Irish! Hooah!

  13. Some of ND’s defensive prowess was the result of what seemed like a dozen dropped passes by the MSU receivers. On the other hand, much of ND’s offensive ineptitude resulted from the fact that the MSU defenders committed holding and interference infractions on virtually every pass play. They should have been penalized on just about every play. The ND offensive game plan was very much lacking as was the play calling.

    1. Can we engage in O.P.U. strategy at some point?

      Some of the current top ranked D’s nationally are as follows:

      1. MSU

      2. FLA

      3. USC

  14. Question: What did BK say to the broken vending machine?

    Answer: I wanted a payday but had to settle for snickers!

    “Give him a break, give him a break, break him off a piece of your Kit-Kat bar!

  15. Question: What did BK say to the broken vending machine?

    Answer: Give me my quarterback! (Golson or Kiel!)

    Yeah, the next year boys’ predicted this was the year…last year! (Hahaha the real “Chicken Littles”) Further, where were are the mother teresa boys when Te’o was getting torched last year before the BYU game? Wink-Wink!

    Gee, after two games into the season, I wonder if I can get away with predicting 10 wins like the good professor does. Except at the beginning of the season the professor poo-pooded predictions as a methodology of quaranteed disappointment. Love the double standards advocated around here! Damn hoodwinked again!

    Thanks Scott for the refreshing unbias and unvarnished truth!

    To the imaginary Blue Skies Club, keep on frolicking in the Blue Skies!


  16. They look so mediocre. I’ve come away thinking wow do they need help in just about every aspect of the game. Nothing stands out and they managed to be 3-1. But what is coming down the pike is no laughing matter, Oklahoma, USC, Arizona, just to name a few, and what about that monster from Stanford! There is no way in the world they can beat Stanford this year. USC, yes……..Oklahoma, maybe…….Arizona, s strong possibility, but no way in hell they beat Stanford! Once they get passes these four, they could run the table they could be 3-5 by then. This year looks like a real crap shoot. Anything can happen and probably will! Go Irish!

      1. Faith, while invisible, isn’t blind and certainly not stupid. Faith isn’t belief. Apparently some here believe that this team is great. It’s always just a matter of time. One week. One year. One decade. One century (for the many here who apparently are OK with ND football becoming the Chicago Cubs). That’s not faith. That’s blind stupidity based on nothing more than a misplaced sense of loyalty. True faith and loyalty allow for criticism when it’s due. Jesus was a faithful Jew who had no problems chiding his co-religionists for their blind loyalty to outdated and hypocritical beliefs.

        So much for quoting Jesus, THB. Rather than take a verse out of context as pretext to a proof text, read all of Scripture organically and canonically. You’ll be more convincing that way.

      2. I can not help but wonder in the event that Notre Dame emerges as a national power 2013 (as they most certainly will) how you’ll avoid and or wiggle out of all this negativity crappola?

        I’ll be a hard-head and quote it once more:
        “Oh ye of little faith.”

        If the United States had fought and developed morale in WW2 as you would have it (in here)? America would have lost the war! Then you would have defended the loss of the USA by determining all the shortcomings of our leadership & military commanders.

      3. I resent insults SteelfanRob however I recognize my methodology as unorthodox. Additionally I understand the high standards ND expects. This also occurred to me General G. Washington while commanding the American Revolution fought the greatest military superpower of his day namely England. Washington’s merchant army lost every battle in which he faced the British for the first six years of fighting. E.v.e.r.y. b.a.t.t.l.e.
        What clever biblical descriptive term you wish to utilize to describe whatever it was that ultimately kept Washington going? Use. I call it faith but I’ve yet to have “read all of Scripture organically and canonically” …LOL

  17. Just a note, Tommy Rees is not a captain. T.J. Jones and Zack Martin are the captains on the offensive side of the ball, and Bennet Jackson is the lone captain on the defensive side of the ball.

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