Notre Dame Mired by Inconsistency

Each football season brings with it a new identity for every team.  Ohio State, the defending national champions, had the luxury of three quarterbacks capable of starting for seemingly any program in the country last season.  Fast-forward several months and the Buckeyes have been plagued by inefficiency at what appeared to be a position of strength with the very same players.

For Notre Dame, two-thirds of the way through the 2015 season, the identity is one of inconsistency that has surfaced on a nearly weekly basis.

Head coach Brian Kelly’s team jumped to a 14-0 lead over Massachusetts in what was expected to be a route.  And although a blowout ultimately occurred, it only took place after Notre Dame let its guard down and allowed the Minutemen back into the game.

Notre Dame’s lead was cut to seven when UMass’s true freshman running back Marquis Young cut through the Irish defense for an 83-yard touchdown.  On the very next play quarterback DeShone Kizer was intercepted when wide receiver Will Fuller attempted to catch a pass with his body, a mental error wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock has hammered home to Fuller time and again.  Kizer’s interception spurred a 10-play, 50-yard drive for a touchdown that made a surefire blowout a legitimate contest.  And while Notre Dame would pull away in the second half and score 62 points – the most since 1996 – the sloppiness witnessed in the first half has followed Notre Dame throughout its fall schedule.

The Fighting Irish letting up too soon nearly cost them against the USC Trojans.  Notre Dame quickly jumped to a 21-10 lead against its bitter rival sparked by DeShone Kizer connecting with Will Fuller for a 75-yard touchdown on the offense’s very first snap, and a subsequent blocked punt for a touchdown.  Kizer commanded the Irish offense on a 63-yard drive to the USC one-yard line, with a touchdown likely breaking the will of the Trojans.  Instead, Notre Dame fumbled at the goal line, and what should have been a back-breaking play put USC right back into the ballgame.  In only three offensive snaps the Trojans were able to gain 159 yards and managed to tie the score heading into halftime.

But Notre Dame’s inconsistency goes beyond simply letting opponents back into games – the Irish are failing to show up prior to the fourth quarter in marquee matchups.  Notre Dame’s offense stalled and endured multiple miscues in the red zone against the No. 21 Temple Owls until Temple took a 20-17 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the game.  Despite being limited to 24 yards on its last two offensive drives, Notre Dame’s offense moved the ball with relative ease on the last possession of the game.  Kizer hit Fuller for a clutch third down conversion only to connect with Aliz’e Jones for 45-yards on the next play before ultimately finding Fuller in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

Notre Dame’s inability to play consistently ultimately led to their only defeat of the season against Clemson.  Kelly’s team played its best football of the year in the fourth quarter in Death Valley, holding the Tigers to 18 yards on three offensive drives, including two forced turnovers.  Notre Dame’s offense was also at its best, scoring touchdowns on a 4-play, 64-yard drive and a 6-play, 32-yard drive.  But the sloppiness of the previous three quarters built too large of a deficit to overcome.

The impressive part, despite the sole blemish against Clemson, is Notre Dame continues to find ways to win despite its inability to play well for a full four quarters, something the Irish were incapable of doing prior to Brian Kelly’s arrival.  Kelly routinely discussed the importance of teaching players how to win when he first arrived in South Bend in December of 2009, and since that point no other program in the nation has had as many fourth quarter comeback victories as Notre Dame.  But in order to take that next step to elite status, Notre Dame has to evolve beyond making clutch plays when it matters most and begin to play complete games.

The 6-2 Pittsburgh Panthers pose yet another significant test for Notre Dame.  Head coach Pat Narduzzi, the longtime defensive coordinator of the Michigan State Spartans, oversees a stiff defensive unit that will test a Notre Dame offense that struggled throughout most of Saturday evening’s contest against Temple.

DeShone Kizer has displayed poise beyond his years and is developing a reputation as a clutch performer, but if Notre Dame wishes to make the College Football Playoff cut, the fourth quarter heroics need to become a thing of the past.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at


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  1. Is Coney an inside backer? Don’t I see him playing outside? Isn’t Grace then Morgan and Martini the inside backers? Not being a jerk. Just didn’t know if he has practiced /played there.

  2. bruce I agree that Smart is a defensive genius, but just check the specific numbers as to how he did against Auburn and Ohio State last season, both points and yards allowed, and how he did against Ole Miss this year. He yielded over 40 points three times in a six game stretch. Auburn got 630 yards, Ohio State 527 and Ole Miss 433. Now I suspect that if Notre Dame had played those three teams and had those results, both in ppg and ypg, that the loudmouth ignoramus segment of the fan base would be calling for BVG’s head.

    If not, what am I missing here?

  3. I agree about Schmidt. I was at the game Sat.night and I spent a lot of time focusing on Schmidt. Maybe I’m missing something watching only the tv replays. Unfortunately I’m not. He’s constantly a step or two away from where he needs to be. He’s constantly almost but not quite there on big plays. He has a hard time shedding blockers as well. Then throw in the missed tackles. Maybe he hasn’t fully recovered from his leg injury. Maybe he never will. But he needs to be replaced.

  4. Your assessment of Coney is based on exactly what?
    Btw, the o-line will look quicker if you watch in ffwd mode vs super slo-mo.

  5. OK, so Joe (Rudy) Schmidt is an overachieving walk-on. But Miles (No-Mo) Morgan hasn’t a clue. He’s a work in progress with zero chance of progress. No, the man to spell Joe Rudy is Coney. No-Mo was the guy BK put in when Joe Rudy went down last year. We lost 4 of next 5 games.

    Opening another topic. From watching key replays in super slo-mo i’ve come to the conclusion that our OL sucks. They’re all 300+lbs who move like 500+lbs. If their blocks are not straight ahead, they’re easily by-passed. It accounts for why Kizer had to scramble so much against decent rushes like Clemson’s and Temple’s. Could it be they are all un-coachable? Nah, everyone knows that Harry Heisand is the greatest OL coach in college FB. Or is he? Even our last drive when Temple’s LB’s dropped back into coverage, our OL could not open gaps for Procise. A delayed screen to CJ was sniffed out by a defensive end who just brushed #79 to the ground to make the tackle. When #79 couldn’t get himself up he attempted to trip the DE.

  6. I’m definitely starting to agree with you guys on Schmidt. We talked here just a couple weeks ago about him and I tried to sort of stick up form him because of A) his intangibles as a leader and communicator on D B) Some of his “bad play” wasn’t exactly what it appeared.

    However, his game is NOT improving. He is very often out of position, not fast enough to drop back into nickle coverage, and missing tackles. It is time for Morgan to get reps.

  7. I totally agree on Schmidt. He needs to be replaced by Morgan who brings an elite athletic presence similar to Jaylon. I love Schmidt as a person and he is a great story but he clearly is not the same player physically as he was before the injury.
    As for K Russell, I don’t know what to think. He got torched several times in big situations and as someone earlier said got bailed out by a bad throw on the INT. Granted, he made an amazing play against SC (also a bit under thrown) and the INT here was athletic, but a good arched pass means we probably lose that game in a horrible fashion.
    Where was Max R the entire game?
    Shumate’s targeting was a joke.
    Can’t be too upset with the record and I would also be very happy with the Fiesta Bowl if we lose to Stanford or one of the 2 pain in the arse lesser programs (Pitt-BC) that would happily go 1-11 if the 1 win was ND. I know we are a superior team but we better match their intensity and put it away early. I still have nightmares about some of the turd-like performances ND has turned in vs these teams in the past.
    I think if we get through at 10-1 to Stanford all is good. The playoffs will shake out and I still think Kevin Hogan could be the worst 3+ year starter in the history of college football. Would love a shot at Ohio State.
    Go Irish!

  8. Was this also from the pay site? Do they offer refunds?

    Kenny M
    August 8, 2015 at 2:26 am
    Hearing multiple reports about how well Russell is looking at corner. No rust at all on day one after sitting out a entire year.

  9. Brian Kelly can say whatever he wants about Joe Schmidt but he needs to be replaced as a starter. I understand that it was mostly coach speak and Kelly was trying to give his captain some confidence but minus the two games versus the option teams Schmidt has been horrible. On Saturday he only had two tackles and my biggest issue with him is that he can’t get off blocks. He is either a step or two slow or he cant get off blocks. You cant start a guy because he makes sure everyone is lined up right. Its year 2 and if these guys dont know where to line up without help they shouldnt be playing. I guarantee a lost versus Stanford if he is still starting in the middle. Schmidt is the weak link on this defense and if I see it I am pretty sure the players see it as well. Your captain middle linebacker can’t be the weak link, not in this system. It makes no sense that he is still starting. I have read on another Irish pay site that Kelly and BVG have had a couple of disagreements this year about the defense and I would put money down that it involves Schmidt!

    This offense needs to step it up inside the 20. You can’t kick FG when you play Stanford or Pittsburgh on the road. Some of the poblem is play calling IMO so that can be fixed. 1st and goal inside the 10 is not the time to get cute. Play big boy football and smash it in there.

  10. I completely agree with the posters…get Schmidt out of there. He is a liability and he is SLOOOOOOWWWW. Where are Coney and Morgan? At least rotate them in…don’t give me the whole “Quarterback of the Defense” when he has Jaylon right next to him. I disagree, however, that any Irish cornerback looks for the ball in the air…ever. Maddening. Please don’t get me started on the safety play. Its bad and does not seem to improve.

    The front 4 and Jaylon are dominant as seen on Saturday night. We need the secondary to change schemes and the D will be alright.

    Remember…the professional college football analysts deemed this Temple D as the best the Irish have seen this year so far…and it showed. I would have like to see Procise running downhill more to mitigate the corners of the Temple D…and what happened to Josh Adams? Get him in there more and give CJ a break.

    Overall, a good win. Now we have to hope that Clemson, Temple, and Pitt win out after we beat them next week. Gonna need a strong win at the Farm to have a shot. I will be satisfied with a New Year’s 6 bowl though…strong move forward after last year. I will be the first to admit that I didn’t see 10 wins coming BEFORE Malik and Tarean went down.

  11. I agree with Subway Alum concerning the D. I’d play Morgan and Coney a lot more. I see Joe (Rudy)Schmidt as a liability at times. Overall, if opposing teams show speed, we seem to crash. Not sure why that is. I think it goes back to preparation and probably game planning/schemes. I think we need to see more of the young RB back too. When CJ struggles, put the young guy in for some snaps.

  12. Another great article Scott. It’s just maddening. However, as of the Temple game, I have to conclude that our defense is just not as good as I thought it would be. With all their talent, there are too many weak areas and they are being exploited time and again.

  13. As a follow up to my previous comments…altho it was a bogus call, Shumate’s ‘targeting’ will mean (if it stands) he’ll miss the 1st half of the Pitt game. it might mean we are forced to move KV Russell to Safety. Interesting experiment.

    Another experiment, move Joe(Rudy)Schmidt out, put Coney in at MLB, no great downgrade IMO and possibly an improvement. We’ve got to shake up the D, their killin’ us.

  14. @ ChrisJ…KV Russell is the best DB we’ve got. However, I think we should move him to one of the Safety positions and ask him to make plays. He and Cole Luke are the only two DB’s who actually look for the ball in the air. Everyone else is content to allow the catch, then tackle.
    On another subject, i’m really troubled by our LB’s. Most of the time out of position and usually missing tackles. How would we like to have Temple’s Matakevitch (#8) in the middle instead of the very “Rudy”-like Joe (gee-whiz i can’t believe i’m playing) Schmidt. His ‘walk-on’ qualities are beginning to hurt us.

  15. I think everyone would completely agree with this article. I know I do. The inconsistency is the most frustrating part for me as a fan. We have far superior talent than most of the teams we play yet we let them hang around almost every game. Where is the killer instinct?

    This Temple game was ridiculous. It’s almost like our coaching staff doesn’t realize that we have the superior athletes on our team sometimes. We get too cute with our play calling, trying to mix it up, etc. Every time Jaylon blitzed (or anyone else), their QB was simply not good enough to make an accurate throw under pressure, yet we kept dropping out of blitzes all night. Fuller was locked up one on one a lot of the night, yet we continued to try and run Prosise even though they were clearly taking him away (hence the 1 on 1). Has anyone stopped Fuller 1 on 1 all year? Calling a slant for Corey Robinson at the goalline? He’s 6’5…throw a fade and let him use his athleticism to make the play!!! Just sick of us not trusting our athletes who are far superior to these other kids we play against.

    And the last thing I want to mention that has been driving me insane is freakin Russell. He better realize he isn’t as good as he thinks and get this cocky mentality out of his mind. He is clearly taking plays off still and getting burned over and over. The last interception he was burned again but luckily their qb threw the ball on a line instead of putting air on it otherwise Temple may have scored there as the receiver was well behind Russell. I know Kelly has been on him about this stuff but it’s almost like he just thinks he is better than the game or something. Sick of this attitude.

  16. OSU is an interesting point of reference. OSU last season lost to Virginia Tech and struggled against some bad opponents down the stretch, including a narrow 7 point win over Minnesota. On the way to a NC. We micro-analyze everything with Notre Dame, so we see the inconsistency that we don’t notice with other teams we aren’t following so closely. Teams have ups and downs during the season.

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