IBG: Bye Bye BCS Edition

Brian Kelly & Tommy Rees
Tommy Rees (left) and Irish head coach Brian Kelly (right) wait for a replay result against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I am a little late to the party this week, but here is UHND’s weekly entry for the Irish Blogger Gathering.  Like last week, each Notre Dame blogger in the IBG submitted one question for everyone to answer.  We then all answer every question but our own.

I’ll start off with my question and links to everyone else’s posts for this week.

My question: After running the ball effectively in the first half, Notre Dame all but abandoned the run in the second half against Pitt even they didn’t trail at all until there was less than 9 minutes remaining in the contest. Is Notre Dame’s lack of a commitment to the running game this year as opposed to last the reason the Irish themselves right back where they were in 2011?

NDtex from HerLoyalSons: Stephon Tuitt’s ejection for “targeting” (and I use that term very loosely) definitely added more frustration to an already horrid game. I’m all for promoting player safety, but I definitely don’t think this new rule is the way to go. Do you agree? If so, how would you change the rule? If you’d like to keep it, what are your reasons for leaving it alone?

I agree that the rule is not the way to go because right now the referees just have too much power over the potential outcome of games for judgement calls.  The replay booth does have a chance to take away some of that control by overturning an ejection but in the case of Tuitt, they confirmed the ruling on the field even though both Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit and most of the viewers at home disagreed.

One of the problems is that in many cases, such as Tuitt’s, the defender lines up the hit and then turns their body somewhat in an attempt to avoid a helmet to helmet hit only to make contact with the offensive players helmet when they duck their head down.  If the rule stays, my change to the rule would be that targeting cannot be called of the offensive player lowers their helmet and leads with their helmet in anyway.  All of the focus right now is on the defensive player but the offensive player can do just as much damage to the defender if we’re talking about say a 230 lbs running back going up against a 180 lbs cornerback.

Player safety does not to be of utmost importance at the collegiate level especially since the guys taking and delivering the hits are not getting paid to play the game like the pros do.  For a professional athlete there is a certain degree of occupational hazard involved.  That isn’t the case with college athletes though.

Aaron from Strong & True: With two games left before bowl season is at hand there is work at hand to finish off the season strong. What must the Irish do well on offense and defense over the last two games to give themselves a chance to get to 9-3?

If Notre Dame is to have any chance to finish up the season 9-3, the defense is going to have to get healthy in a hurry and the offense is going to have to execute with a level of proficiency and consistently that we just haven’t seen through 10 games this year.  Without those two things, Notre Dame will be worrying about going 8-4 let alone 9-3.

Defensively, Notre Dame needs a fully healthy Louis Nix and the return of Kona Schwenke and Ishaq Williams to have the kind depth of front needed to survive a slugfest with Stanford.  Notre Dame may be able to get passed BYU without a full depth chart in the front seven (or as close to full as Notre Dame can get with the season ending injuries already suffered), but without all hands on deck against Stanford, Notre Dame’s slim chances will dwindle even more.

Offensively, the Irish will need to show balance and be able to run the ball finish 9-3.  If Notre Dame relies on the pass and abandons the run like they did in the second half against Pitt, the result is going to be the same as it was last weekend against Stanford certainly and possibly against BYU.  Can Notre Dame pound the ball against Stanford?  We haven’t enough of it this year to think it’s possible but that is what it is going to take.

Mike Coffey (NDNation.com): There are only so many things you can do during the season to correct the larger issues on a team, as most time must be spent on the opponent du jour. Name one issue you hope is at the top of the coaching staff’s list for this off-season and why?

I think the return of Everett Golson alone will make the offense more balanced and dangerous so if I could fix one issue this off-season it would be the special teams.  I just don’t understand how after four years, the special teams for Notre Dame are still so bad.  Kick coverage has been about the worst we’ve seen in the Kelly Era this year.  George Atkinson usually has at least one nice return a game but it is usually because of his speed, not because holes are being opened up for him.

Then there’s the punt return game.  It boggles my mind how Notre Dame can struggle so badly in this department.  TJ Jones had a couple nice returns early in the season where it looked like he got tackle by the turf monster more than anything, but since then, the punt return game has been almost non-existent.   Notre Dame doesn’t have a defense that can stop offenses on short fields consistently or an offense that can consistently drive the length of the field.  Having special teams units that could win the field position game would have made a big difference in 2013.

After four years of poor special teams play though, I’m not sure how much wishful thinking it is to think that it can be fixed completely this off-season.

Keith Arnold (Inside the Irish):  How much can you learn from one game? If you listen to some, the Irish’s loss to Pitt seems to have erased just about every bit of good that’s happened over the past four seasons. No doubt, the Pitt loss was one of the most disappointing of the Kelly era. But how do you personally measure the game and disappointment final score, and does it change the opinion you held of Brian Kelly at 7:59pm EST last Saturday?

The most disappointing aspect of the loss to Pitt was that it was a complete affirmation that Notre Dame is not nearly as close to being an elite program as we all thought last Thanksgiving weekend before the blowout to Alabama.  That blowout was easier to deal with since it was Alabama after all.  They are a juggernaut right now.  A loss to a mediocre at best Pitt team though?

I thought this program was past such losses but after playing with fire a couple times this year, Notre Dame finally got burned and lost to a team that it had no business losing to.  The loss didn’t wash away all the progress that Kelly made with the program, and I fully believe that this year is just a speed bump but at the same time a loss like that makes it difficult to get too excited for the final two games and bowl game.

With Notre Dame at 7-3, 8-4 looks like the best possible regular season record matching 2011’s disappointing season.  Given the injuries and Kelly’s reluctance to run the football, 8-4 is far from a given too.  BYU is going to come to town next weekend expecting to win and they very well could.  Either way though, last week’s loss was just another reminder just how disappointing the 2013 has been.  A year after playing for the national championship, Notre Dame’s bowl options would all have sound made up 10 years ago.  There’s no sugar coating that.

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  1. Ron Burgundy,

    Just got invited to a private screening of Anchorman 2

    I hear it’s kind of a Big Deal!

    You must be doing something right when the fans want more!

    … Will drinks be served?

    1. Awesome! Hope it is as good as the previews have indicated. Tough to beat the original.

      There will be scotch, oh yes there will be.

      1. Cool!

        Initially I was stunned and surprised and had to take a double take…

        Just wanted to make sure it was truely a private screening of the Anchorman, and not a screening of the Anchorman’s privates!


  2. Amen,

    Michael the Archangel, Chris and Storespook…eventually people will understand the real facts: We are going to the jock-strap bowl! Hmmm….Duranko, you said game 10 the offense will be even better! How’s that working out for you?

  3. Yes 7-5 or 8-4 is disappointing but everyone in the country predicted that when Golson was lost for the season.

  4. Definitely a season of frustration from a fan’s point of view. I have typically tried to stay away from predictions in posts I have made but I think we have 50-50 chance beating BYU and I’ll say maybe a 10% chance of beating Stanford. I have lost a lot of optimism for this year and a 7-5 team playing in a low level bowl doesn’t generate a lot of enthusiasm or create a “woo hoo” factor for me other than its good to get an additional game, I guess. I remember in Lou’s last year they had a good 8-3 team and elected to not go to a bowl. I have posted many times here I didn’t believe this team was a BCS team so I am not surprised. This program in the last 17 years has a history of losing to teams they should have beat, certainly has occurred under this coach. Looking ahead to next year, there is a major assumption EG will be back. Is that a given? If he is, I didn’t hear about it. If he does, given what he did to lose his spot, does he have some academic deficiencies that puts him at risk to be academically successful at ND. I don’t know the answer to that but it makes me wonder. 4 years and we have a QB concern at the position and consistent horrible ST play. Something tells me season 5 isn’t going to be much different in these areas. Best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Oh boy! I just think the loss to Pitt set things back, especially about perceptions recruits and current players have about the team and coaches. I am not calling for BK’s head at this point . I do think if next year translates into a similar year like this year, then it’s time to assess if the program is going in the best direction. 5 years is more than enough to assess that. I have a feeling he is going to make a jump to the NFL. Let’s be honest, in his best year he had at ND he decides to actively look into that option at the same time ND is preparing to play one it’s more important games in 25 years. THAT says something about the man’s character and I for one haven’t forgotten that and I also suspect some current players haven’t either. I have followed ND football for 44 years. I will continue to follow it. It’s just hard to see where it has evolved and has not stayed on the same level the last 15+ years.

    Go Irish

    1. EG wants to come back, and it sounds like BK wants him back. ND expelled him for the year but I believe they have the option of taking him back if he meets the usual standards. I wouldn’t say it’s certain, but it sounds likely EG will be back.

      If not, Zaire is another QB well built for Kelly’s offensive system. But they’ll probably be a learning curve he’ll have to get over first (unless he’s the next Johnny Manziel).

    2. Nice post. IMO, BK has, so far, proven to be a very average game-day coach. Recruiting? If you can’t recruit at Notre Dame you probably are in the wrong business, so I am not giving him an A for that. There is something about coaching at ND that makes ‘so-called’ good coaches seem very average. IMO, BK often times coaches like a desperate man and not like a coach who should have things well under control. There is too much backfield talent not being used in obvious ball-control situations. Scoring quickly seems to be BK’s calling card but that just isn’t going to work with this year’s defense, especially last week, with all the injuries.

    3. I want to watch the Stanford SC game to see if how it pans out for SC. I think Tommy has bad games a d when he does ND loses. The weird thing is he usually doesn’t have back to back bad games. We’ll see if that holds true.

  5. BLAH, BLAH, BLAH – I’m so much a better coach than Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco and so I know what they should have done and how they should have done it. I WANNA BE THE COACH !! I WANNA BE THE COACH !!! …..that is after the fact – I mean, because it’s so much easier than

    1. How do you defend the coaching the last few weeks? Only if you’re related to him. 4 carries for folston? Throwing the ball on 2 and goal from the 5(w Rees, anyway). The disgustingness of the preparation for Purdue, And Navy. The utter lack of picking a RB, the coaching QBs the way he does, etc. can’t defend any of that! BK is the coach and he shouldn’t be fired or anything, but besides QB and linebacker play, coaching is what needs to improve the most. I hope he can do it.

  6. Blame the loss on Tommy. His back to old tricks again, throwing INT at the worst possible time.

    Blame the loss on Kelly. Having tommy boy throw the ball like he’s the second coming of Manning or Brady.
    Why did Kelly install a pistol offense with a handicap QB. it makes no sense.

    Blame the loss on Diaco. He was lucky the defense last year has a player named Teo. The year is so bad. No improvement from all areas of the D. A 3-4 defense is based on the unpredictability of the blitz. However Diaco’s blitz are un-creative, and his delayed blitz almost always never worked.

    1. Chris,

      Smells like another CW titanic in the works after four years! I hope I am wrong but, we are indeed playing in the jock-strap bowl after a 12-0 season. I wonder if Saban uses the same excuses as we do? “WE ARE WHAT WE ARE!” (TO BE OR NOT TO BE!)Duh…which way did they go BK? “WE ARE WHAT WE ARE!”

  7. Agree with most of the points. Despite my rooting for BK to succeed, there’s no doubt he has work to do. I’d like to think he had a reason for abandoning the run that maybe we’re not aware of, but short of some unknown injury to Folston, I really can’t think of anything.

    I’m a big believer in doing what works until it stops. If running the football works, then run the ball into it stops working. Sometimes I think coaches today think too much. Sometimes the simplest answer is the right answer.

    I think Kelly has shown at times a willingness to change (i.e. going from being red-faced screaming HC to being more controlled last year; his handling of the QB’s last year to make sure there was no controversy). This would be one of those times. Don’t be afraid to give Folston the ball.

    1. @ Damien, I agree EXCEPT for . . .

      “…(BK’s) willingness to change ? ? ? ”
      You mean other than uniform and helmet styles once a year in the Shamrock series ?

      As far as BK “thinking too much” . . .
      As long as his pat answer remains
      “we are who we are”,
      (even in a pistol on nearly every short yardage situation with no QB running threat, then giving the ball most often unsuccessfully to the RB five yards behind the LOS so all 11 can converge on him . . . how many times ? ? ?
      and “just execute ” to
      explain away the total predictability
      of every passing route (throw it deep, and hope TJ or DD or Troy, will grab it from the defenders all over them),
      where’s the “willingness to change?”

      There’s been nearly ZERO evidence BK has a “willingness to change”.

      Having said that, the D vs. Pitt forced 9 punts, more than any other game this year. Despite the few albeit key missed tackles,the botched fumble recovery, and the questionable PI and ejection of Tuitt calls, that loss rests squarely on a lack of an aggressive physical offensive game plan beyond the execution issues. If we see the same-old-same-old against BYU, it’s 7-4, and a most disheartening send-off for this Senior class.
      Variation and less predictability isn’t even a venial sin!
      Try it, coach, you might like it !

      1. The huge shifts from the sparkle of the ASU game in Arlington TX & the power of the D as this season has progressed to last week, away from SB, Rees hammers Pitt with a deep ball to Jones which literally lights up the TV + Herbstreit to dribbling away the last seven minutes?
        Zero hand offs to Folston vs Pitt (almost)?

        ND has developed and is a talented squad and capable of giving Stanford a fight. The decision making however is at best bewildering to me.

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