Notre Dame Football Stock Report: Week 7

Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

After a holding line on Notre Dame stock following a win against Syracuse, another precipitous dip occurred against the Wolfpack of NC State in hurricane-like conditions in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is probably the lowest Notre Dame has been as a program since, well, two weeks ago after losing at home to Duke. It was said in this column following the loss to the Blue Devils that Brian Kelly likely already had his death knell moment as the Notre Dame coach and once that bell is tolled it can’t be un-rung. Not in South Bend as the head coach of the Fighting Irish. Further compounding the problem for the program is the increasing difficulty of the schedule moving forward. To date, Notre Dame’s previous opponents have a 15-16 record, with four wins against Notre Dame. The remaining schedule of opponents is 21-8. To be 2-4 heading into the difficult stretch of the season does not bode well for Kelly’s prospects moving forward.

Trending Up

Individual Talent On Defense

The good news regarding what we’ve seen from the Fighting Irish so far this year is they have enough individual pieces to feel that they can bounce back with proper coaching, whoever those coaches may be, especially on the defensive side of the ball. It would be silly to ignore the type of conditions that both football teams had to endure on Saturday (frankly there is a case to be made that the game shouldn’t have been played at all), and any and all positive comments about the defense take place while stipulating that they knew the other team couldn’t and wouldn’t throw. Which, in the game of football, is an advantage.

That being said, there were several individual performers that stood out. Daniel Cage and Jerry Tillery were monsters at times, Jerry Tillery especially so. Tillery led the team in tackles with nine and was consistently in the opponent backfield either making plays for himself or paving the way for a teammate to cleanup. Safety Devin Studstill was all over the field making five tackles and Nyles Morgan nearly swallowed someone whole on one running play.

Daelin Hayes forced a fumble. Nicco Fertitta showed toughness in the run game. We’ve seen Julian Love and Donte Vaughn play well in situations where they were given more chances to acquit themselves. There are some young, talented pieces on this defense that are gaining invaluable experience every snap they play and the encouraging part is they seem to be getting better every game they are removed from the Brian VanGorder experience.

We know how talented the youth is on offense, there is now reason to believe that there are players on the defense to match.

Greg Hudson

The new defensive coordinators actual role in terms of putting together the game plan and making the defensive calls is unclear. Frankly, it doesn’t even matter, the players are playing hard for him. Is it any kind of coincidence that guys like Tillery and Cage are seemingly thriving under a guy who has been with the team for two weeks as opposed to VanGorder who was with them for two plus years? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. The defense didn’t give up a touchdown on Saturday and was 3 for 3 preventing NC State from scoring touchdowns in the red zone. If you’ve followed the Notre Dame defense at all the past three years, that’s a big deal.

This isn’t an advocation for Hudson to become Notre Dame’s full time defensive coordinator, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but if this trend line continues on defense there is a great chance Hudson is leading someones defense next year.

Trending Down

The Offensive Line

To be fair I would also almost consider a hold on this unit because the coaches did them no favors with the way they called plays and their game plan going into the game, especially considering the conditions. And to be fair, they held up pretty darn well in pass protection if you consider it’s much easier for a defensive lineman to move forward on a wet field than it is for an offensive lineman to move backward. That being said, given the expectations of this unit heading into the season–I for one, predicted the team would rush for 3,000 yards this year–they’ve been on the steady decline pretty much all year. Aside from  the dismal rushing performance against NC State on Saturday (38 carries for 59 yards), they also turned up a stinker against Michigan State (25 for 57).

The left side of the offensive line that features Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson had been called maybe the best duo in all of college football. That has yet to materialize or even come close to materializing. This is perhaps Notre Dame’s most pressing issue on the team. Their offensive strength has morphed from their supposed strongest unit, the offensive line, to their supposed weakness, the wide receivers. That move was illustrated on Saturday. The one thing that Notre Dame has been consistently good at all year is throw the ball, which is a problem in hurricane-like conditions. But, Kelly had so little faith in his line that he threw the ball on the first three plays and dropped back 38 times total, counting all the times Kizer was either sacked or scrambled following a drop back.

If Notre Dame wants to do anything this year, it is this unit that needs to get things figured out.


Brian Kelly

It’s not just the game plan, which to be clear, was terrible. They dropped back to pass 38 times in hurricane like conditions, including on the first three plays of the game, and when they did run it was often a slow developing play that too often relied on ball handling and a running back moving parallel to the line of scrimmage. It was as if he was so confounded by what to do in the terrible conditions that he decided to act as if they didn’t exist. And the most shocking part of this is we’ve seen Kelly implement the type of game plan that would have been best suited in these conditions for an entire SEASON. In 2012 Notre Dame was a ball control team that often went double tight end, put the quarterback under center, and ran left behind Zach Martin and Chris Watt almost exclusively. DeShone Kizer didn’t go under center once in this game, as Kelly appeared bound and determined to score 40 points when it was apparent after the first quarter that his defense was going to hold up.

As I alluded to earlier, it wasn’t just the game plan, but the overall lack of leadership that has done Kelly in this season. He had a card to play, standing next to him all game in Malik Zaire, and he didn’t play it. Because he couldn’t play it. Because he’s lost the player. Will there ever be a more obvious situation for a player like Zaire to enter the game? It would basically be a redux of the LSU contest from the 2014 Music City Bowl. One of Notre Dame’s best offensive players has been reduced to a couple plays a game gimmick stemming from a quarterback situation that Kelly couldn’t afford to screw up and which he ultimately did. This isn’t first time at quarterback for Kelly. He lost Dayne Crist. He lost Andrew Hendrix. He lost Everett Golson. Now he’s lost Zaire. And ultimately he will lose his job. And I think he knows it. A former Notre Dame linebacker from the Holtz era texted me while Kelly was needlessly calling timeout to end the game that read “It’s like he called timeout to hold onto something that has completely slipped away.” I think this is right.

What To Watch For

An Inspired Performance Against Stanford

The rain exposed a flaw in the Notre Dame coaching, but a return to the friendly confines of Notre Dame Stadium against a suddenly struggling Stanford, who may be without running back Christian McCaffrey will be a welcome scene. The offense will be able to do what they do best, which is sling it all over the field, and even with a hobbled McCaffrey, it may be difficult for Stanford to keep up, given the state of their quarterback play.

A Chase Claypool Sighting

It’s been three weeks since Claypool took his one opportunity against Michigan State and turned it into a 33 yard reception up the seam against the Spartans out of the inline tight end position. It was then that Brian Kelly told us Claypool would be more involved with the offense. He has yet to see the field on offense since. This might be a weekly feature in this column from now on. Whenever Claypool gets his chance, he will be great.

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  1. I attended the Syracuse game and the UNC game. At the end of the Syracuse game, Mallik Zaire sprinted from the ND sidelines toward the end zone tunnel with a goofy-looking ball cap perched at an odd angle on his head. The rest of the team moved from the sidelines closer to the stands to sing the Alma Mater unaccompanied by the band (which had not made the trip) or even a tape on the loudspeaker. Another player ran to catch Malik’s attention, and he promptly turned around (he was very near the exit) and trotted listlessly back towards his teammates. He made it about halfway across the field and kind of jogged in place. As soon as the Alma Mater was over, he turned and sprinted to the exit again. I did not see him leave the field at the end of the NC downpour because all the non-starters were donned in rain gear. I think he was limited to one running play which lost yards on it. He certainly did not look like he enjoyed getting tackled (and drenched) in the morass of that field for the one play. My sense is that Malik has soured completely on the Irish and is just making time until the season is over.

  2. I’m not sold on the defense! Keep in mind that NC ST had a td called back in the 1st qt because of a penalty! That being said there is a lot of young talent on this defense! I have been a big BK fan since he got to South Bend but I feel heven as lost this team! I’m not sure if I was a young recruit I would want to play for someone who it’s obvious will not change a game plan even if needed! Nor do I think I play for someone who picks someone different every week to throw under the bus! You will lose a locker room very quickly! Just saying!

  3. Greg, welcome – to the recognition of the demise of BK, and his apparent cluelessness as to how to win a close game. Many of us fans have been awaiting your arrival for quite some time. ND has lost every close game they’ve been in going back to Stanford last year. The players are as tentative and hesitant as their coach. They feel and reflect BKs losing streak with each new close game loss. After seven years, I’m thinking that HC job at ND drains you. Some fans (and players) are tired of his ‘who’s to blame’ reruns with every loss. When ‘failed to execute’ was often the result of predictable strategy, only the names and dates have changed when blaming others.
    But let’s not forget the cluelessness of the AD, with Silent Uncle Jack not challenging the wisdom of the the ACC that the Hurricane Flood Bowl not be played, disregarding the safety of both players and fans, and their journey home in Raleigh through flooded highways. Evacuate- unless you’re going to the game! Ignorant and pitiful! Make a call, Jack, Ye of Frozen Fiasco infamy (albeit spiffy stadium renovations, Jack) Ye Ol’ Great Muted One of yesteryear.

    Jack ‘Talk No Smack’ SwarBack will hopefully be leaving soon, as will BK, but Jack , like BVG, will be leaving a season or two too late. As a mediocre injury-plagued Stanford limps into town, this game is about as significant and telling as who Donny Two Times Trump last insulted.
    It would be more fun if ND finally wins a close game.
    The stock report re: Brian Kelly might indeed call for ND to sell.
    But that won’t be necessary. BK isn’t going out this way- but by next year’s end, some NFL booth coach position will be available, and he’ll take it, and hopefully his pal Jack Swarbick will then leave.

    After eight years, it’ll be time for BK to move on, and when he does, I won’t blame him.

  4. CUT THE CRAP! Kelly coached like a numb-skull, to use one of his terms. (copyright: The 3 Stooges) Stop blaming him for players’ mistakes. Very good point that it’s his job to put players into position where they can succeed. Throwing in hurricane-conditions was a bad move by him. Knuckle-head, to use another 3 Stooges term. But OUR Irish have been wicked-unlucky this year, also. (“wicked”? it’s a Boston thing…) Good teams rise above hurricane-conditions. NotaDame is NOT A GOOD TEAM. That is a poisonous mind-set that has overtaken OUR Irish.

  5. I’ve to fully grasp where the love affair with the OL began. While there have been some games and maybe one year of quality line play, I cannot recall one big game in Kelly’s tenure when ND actually controlled the LOS. They’ve never been able to get that needed yard, which is just reinforces how little control over the LOS they really have.

    I see Kelly losing the team, and, given the team is relatively young, I don’t see him getting it back. To this point, I ask you this. When you watch his press conferences, when you see his locker room statements to the team, if you were a young player, is there anything to make you feel like the coach with all of his years of experience has any idea what to do.

    1. westcoastirishfan,

      If Coach Kelly has lost his team permanently, he should not come back next year. But I think the jury is still out. He clearly has not lost the defense – he may have just found them, in fact.

      Bruce GC
      La Crosse, Indiana

      1. You’re going to base the resurrection of the defense on a game played in slop? Wow.

      2. west coast and jeff,
        I base it on the second quarter at Syracuse and on a hurricane game, and Coach Hudson. But don’t get me wrong – I’m still very concerned about “D” – especially against the pass.

        Bruce GC

      3. This team is as unpredictable as a spin on the roulette wheel. They could beat Stanford by 20 or lose by 10. I can’t draw any conclusions on the defense because look what Wake Forest did to Syracuse and the ‘cuse is very young offensively. It will be interesting at season’s end to see if ND beats anybody with a winning record.

  6. Greg,
    It’s an excellent piece you wrote. Coach Kelly had a Hobson’s Choice…we have not been able to run the ball well all year long (understated), so what can you do? Answer: pass half of the time.

    Zaire probably should have been given a shot to lead a running game – at least after the windspeed suddenly jumped from the 20-25 mph forecast to the 40-45 mph reality.

    The “D” is starting to look like an average (for ND) defense. That’s nice to see.

    A lot of people may be tuning out this season – not me! I think this season is one of the most interesting I remember. Rockne’s most famous team (the win-one-for- the-Gipper team) was also Rock’s worst team EVER – by far! They stunk up the field to the tune of 4-4! How many people know that?

    This team of Coach Kelly still has lot’s of opportunities to win big games. I think they are going to get somebody, maybe more than one opponent.

    I’ll stay tuned.

    Bruce GC 77′ 82′

  7. Not sold on the defense trending up. Hurricane conditions made it nearly impossible for either team to move the ball with any success . The defense is still weak imo. I need to see how the irish defense fares against Stanford and Miami. Hold these teams under 30 points and maybe they win one of these games but not likely.

    1. Jeff, thanks for reading! I agree the defense is still a weak point, I’m more referring to the individual talent, which has flashed on a number of occasions the last couple of weeks. As for the entire unit, you can’t waste all of spring, summer and fall with a coach and defense that has taught them nothing but bad habits. They will always be inconsistent at best this season. But, it’s beginning to look like the pieces are there.


      1. It also looks to me like they are having fun on defense. That is definitely a good sign.
        It is also Hudson’s influence, obviously, and maybe some from Coach Kelly.

        Bruce GC
        La Crosse, Indiana

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