Notre Dame and NC State played in the middle of Hurricane Matthew last Saturday. In hindsight it’s easy to see the game should not have been played. Nevertheless, the game was played and NC State played under the same field conditions as the Irish. One would think that since Brian Kelly had experience in hurricane like conditions in the Clemson game last year, that the Irish would have been better prepared. They weren’t. From start to finish NC State’s Head Coach, Dave Doeren, had a better strategy than Brian Kelly.
It was clear from the start of the week that this game should have been postponed or moved to Sunday. Perhaps NC State was in jeopardy of losing a nationally televised game on ABC? Maybe the NC State Coaches saw DeShone Kizer had thrown for 471 yards the prior week and wanted to use the Hurricane as an advantage?
There was absolutely no reason that the football game should have been played. A lot of traditional football fans like to see games in the rain, where games are won in the trenches, but this was far from that. Offenses only managed two field goals with the only other scoring coming from a blocked punt. The Wolfpack were celebrating the 50th anniversary of Carter-Finley Stadium. Why would they want to play such a historic game in front of a half empty stadium?
Whatever the reason, the game was played and one team was better prepared than the other. Doeren deployed his running attack the entire game. The Wolfpack only averaged 3.1 yards per carry, with 157 yards total on 51 attempts, but NC State only attempted 14 passes. Seven of those being completed for a total of 41 yards. Throughout the entire game NC State used end arounds and even ran the wildcat to mix up the running attack. It was clear that Doeren was playing a conservative game, and waiting for the Irish to make a big mistake.
Meanwhile the Notre Dame Offense attempted 38 rushes for 59 total yards, which was equal to 1.6 yards per carry. For an offensive line that was rated #1 overall by Pro Football Focus to start the season, that is awful, even in hurricane conditions. The Irish have two potential first round picks in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, however the offensive line has continued to struggle in the running game with a very talented backfield.
The passing game meanwhile was even worse. DeShone Kizer averaged a completion on only 34% of his attempts for a total of 54 yards (9 for 26), including a costly interception on an inexplicable play call on 3rd and goal from the 20. Five of Notre Dame’s 38 rushing attempts were also called pass plays with NC State racking up five sacks for a loss of 17 yards.
Even with the Irish rushing attack grounded, they should have continued to run the ball with the good field position they were awarded at times by their defense and poor punts courtesy of the conditions. Justin Yoon had proven in the 1st half he was capable of kicking a 40 yarder in the conditions. Replicating that success again would not have been easy but the sophomore kicker proved he could connect on a kick from 40 yards earlier in the day.
In a game where field position was everything, the Irish kept trying to pass. Every incompletion did nothing for the Irish, whereas a run would’ve at least gave them a few positive yards. Notre Dame had 3 turnovers during the game and none of these were from the Notre Dame running backs. The fact is keeping the ball on the ground was a more reliable option for the Fighting Irish.
Even snapping the ball was difficult last weekend yet Notre Dame continued to take snap after snap from the shotgun. Yes, this is the spread offense that Kelly runs, but this was a hurricane and everything needs to be reconsidered. Coach Kelly blamed Sam Mustipher for the bad snaps immediately following the game. Would it not have been safer to run the football and take snaps under center?
Brian Kelly brought in Malik Zaire for only one play, a play in which he slipped, and then took him back out. In a day where Notre Dame’s total offense tallied only 113 yards, why not utilize Zaire more? Notre Dame should have at least tried a few more running plays with Zaire and pounded the football as the Texas Longhorns did to the Irish in the season opener.
At one point in the game, Notre Dame was positioned on N.C. State’s 22-yard line with the gamed tied at 3. Instead of running the ball and setting up a field goal the Irish ran three consecutive passing plays which garnered negative two yards. On 4th and 12, instead of attempting a 41-yard field goal (a yard further than Justin Yoon had hit the drive before), Brian Kelly decided to go for it and this attempt failed miserably.
Instead of trying to take a three-point lead which might have been enough to win the game, Brian Kelly kept passing. The passing game hadn’t been working all day. Instead of attempting the same exact field goal that was just made moments before, Coach Kelly decided to go for a near impossible 4th down conversion.
Notre Dame’s greatest asset, DeShone Kizer and the passing game were held in check during the hurricane. The Irish had set a record for most passing yards in a win the previous week, and in the middle of this storm the Irish were neutralized. Instead of playing conservative, kicking field goals, and running the ball to prevent turnovers, Brian Kelly stuck with the lackluster passing game.
In a game where only 1 out of every 3 passes were completed, Kelly directed the blame to his center for not being able to snap the ball (he later did soften his tone and take some ownership though). It was clear from the beginning the game plan was impossible to execute. The Irish have a young team and this is definitely a rebuilding year as opposed to a reloading year. Youth has nothing to do with the game plan and play calls that hindered the Irish last Saturday though. That responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of Kelly and the offensive staff.