Almost No Longer Good Enough for Notre Dame, Brian Kelly

Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

Year seven of the Brian Kelly era wasn’t supposed to start out like this.  Notre Dame wasn’t supposed to be out of the playoff mix by the middle of September.  Notre Dame’s defense wasn’t supposed to be among the nation’s worst.  But it did, they are, and it is. And at this point “almost” being great is no longer good enough.

Last year, with a star studded team that featured multiple early NFL Draft picks, Notre Dame “almost” made the playoffs.  Two close losses to two of the top 5 teams in the country separated Notre Dame from a perfect regular season and a 10-2 mark.

Two years ago Notre Dame was undefeated after six games and traveled to Tallahassee to take on the defending champion Seminoles.  Notre Dame almost pulled off the road upset but came up short.  The season completely unraveled shortly after.

Fast forward two years and Notre Dame is still almost winning big road games and prime time matchups with top 10 teams.  Keyword: almost.

Notre Dame has as many new starters on both sides of the football as anyone in the country this year, but that’s college football.  Everyone’s rosters turnover every year.  The Irish still started the season ranked #10 and talked about the playoffs being their goal this season.

Notre Dame’s latest almost came last weekend when the Irish let Michigan State rip off 36 unanswered points until they woke up and tried to make a roaring comeback.  The Irish fought valiantly and nearly pulled it off.  Notre Dame deserves credit for not surrendering when it would have been easy to do so, but the underlying point is they should have never been in the position to begin with.

Michigan State came into town as the higher ranked team, but by no means are the Spartans so supremely talented that they should have been able to run off 36 straight points.  That is not meant in anyway to downplay the Spartans either.  They are every bit of the top 10 team they are ranked as.  On paper though, the Irish have at least as much, if not more talent, than Michigan State.

Game aren’t won on paper though.  They are won between the hashmarks.  And between the hashmarks Notre Dame was outworked, outexecuted, and outcoached.  Mark Dantonio brought a team that lost a lot of starters of their own from its 2015 playoff team to town.  His team, however, was fundamentally sound played smart, and muscled their way to 260 yards rushing and over 500 yards of offense.

The same couldn’t be said for Brian Kelly’s troops last weekend.  Notre Dame missed tackle after tackle and assignment after assignment.  Kelly said this summer that this was a team that needed to do the ordinary things extraordinarily well to get where they wanted.  Last Saturday night the Irish didn’t do the ordinary things even satisfactory.

All week long Kelly has preached that he and his staff need to coach better and to his credit he has refrained from throwing any of his assistants under the bus unlike say Charlie Strong at Texas who hung his staff out to dry following the Longhorns loss to Cal.  Good luck finding a strong supporting cast at your next gig, Charlie.

Brian Kelly has done a tremendous amount of positive things for Notre Dame during his tenure and his fingerprints are all over the program at this point, but almost winning big games is no longer good enough.  At one time almost winning big games was a big step forward after getting used to 38-0 drubbings at the hands of bitter rivals under previous coaching regimes.

That time has come and past because of the success Kelly has had.  Notre Dame, for the most part, now wins the games it’s supposed to win, but it’s become rare for Notre Dame to win those games that are toss ups or games in which they aren’t given a strong chance to win.

Michigan State this year.  Clemson, Ohio State, and Stanford last year.  Florida State in 2014.  Stanford and Oklahoma in 2013.  All games against big time programs in which Notre Dame played tough but came up short on in the end.

During that same the only wins the Irish have had against programs that still looked good by the end of the season were Stanford in 2014 and Michigan State in 2013.  That’s two games in three and a quarter seasons.

Notre Dame will almost certainly run off a few wins in a row here by feasting on some ACC bottom feeders in Duke, Syracuse, and NC State but then Stanford and Miami come to town in October.   Will the Irish use this three game stretch to improve and be ready to take on Stanford or will the Irish fall again before the Cardinal even flies into town in a few weeks?

It’s about time Notre Dame wins a game in which it’s the underdog under Brian Kelly.  Baring a collapse from Stanford over the next few weeks Notre Dame’s next chance for that will come October 15 (unlikely under David Shaw).  Will the Irish rise to occasion or will they come up just short as they did a year ago when it appeared they had the game won with 30 seconds to go only to come up short?

Three weeks isn’t an insignificant amount of time in which a young team can improve.  Winning the next three games and knocking of Stanford could change the entire narrative of what is now looking like another disappointing season for the Irish.  That of course requires the Irish to reel off three straight wins and then get over the hump of almost winning a big game when Stanford rolls into South Bend.

Almost is good if you’re playing horseshoes or hand grenades as my old 5th grade teacher Mr. O’Donnell – a huge Notre Dame fan himself – used to tell me.  Brian Kelly is out of horseshoes though and the only hand grenade he might have left if this season continues to go South will need to be used to blow up the defense and start over.


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  1. Shazamrock 3 years ago

    I love the little pussy,
    He’s so cuddly and warm,

    And if you don’t hurt him,
    he’ll do you no harm.

    So not pull his tail,
    Nor drive him away,

    Because sweet little pussy,
    just wants his say.

    ME OWIE !

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  2. Dan MacDonald 3 years ago

    If this does not tell the leadership of ND that it is time to move on from the present coaching staff, then the problem goes higher than the football team.

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  3. SteelFanRob 3 years ago

    Every QB ND plays looks like an all-pro!



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  4. SteelFanRob 3 years ago

    Meant to say Burgy and Duranko.

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  5. SteelFanRob 3 years ago

    Amen, C-Dog!

    But wait for Damian and the excuse makers to come out of the closet. Bury will bore us with his failed witticisms. Shaz will confuse us with his attempt at poetry. Durango will try to convince us we live in the 1930s. Damian will tell us ND can’t do any better than BK. Etc., etc., etc….!!!

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  6. C-Dog 3 years ago

    Excuses about academics don’t wash. Notre Dame was just as tough academically in the 1980s. And any non science non engineering degree is attainable by any reasonable highschool grad at any university.

    Kelly has two main flaws. His ego. And his stubbornness. Notre Dame is bigger than Brian Kelly. He’s put a lot of energy imposing his will on the program. But the payoff is a decent program that is a great game or two every year and almost reaches its potential.
    He is a control freak but he HS a hard time adjusting his game plan when it’s not working.

    The result is great athletes more afraid to incur his wrath than players setup to take control themselves on the field.

    This is not a Notre Dame program

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  7. SteelFanRob 3 years ago

    Where’s the bravado now from all those on here predicting a blow out?!

    I can’t believe those people are really ND fans. Haven’t they seen this team over and over get beat in S. Bend by teams the Irish were supposed to blow out?

    I’ve seen this game too many times in the last two decades. BC, Syracuse, Tulsa, USF, Navy, Northwestern, etc.

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  8. SteelFanRob 3 years ago

    We’ve seen these games so many times before. A heavy underdog comes into S. Bend and upsets ND or gives them all they can handle.

    I wonder how a coaching change has done for Michigan?

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  9. Irish Eyes 3 years ago

    I can’t watch the Irish play anymore after watching them give up 14 points to a Duke team they were getting ready to blow out. This team is unbelievable. They make dumb plays and cannot tackle at all. They are absolutely horrible defensively and have been for several years now – porous. Why do they continue with the defensive coordinator. They have good athletes but we consistently see them out of position and missing tackles. I think it’s time for a change. I am so tired of watching them make the other team’s quarterback look like an All-American every week. It is ridiculous.

    I will try watching them again when they make some coaching changes – and not before.

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  10. jeff 3 years ago

    If you look at the AP top 10 they all have one thing in common. Great Defense. Notre Dame not even close. Lots of teams out there that can score but its the ones that can play defense that usually rise to the top.

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  11. MontereyBayFI 3 years ago

    Tyler Eifert was a 3 star recruit coming out of high school, and how good is he? What matters is coaching, and ND has an incompetent, ignorant head coach that it must rid itself of if it wants to win national titles again. Ohio State went undefeated in Urban Renewal’s first season. Lou Holtz found a way to recruit with the high academic standards at ND. Stop excusing Brian Kelly’s mistakes and faults.

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  12. john 3 years ago

    stanford has the same academic standards

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