Brian Kelly Fails to Make Necessary Adjustments

Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports
Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports

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.

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  1. Word is les miles is going to Purdue
    We missed miles and harbaugh and Meyer
    Is swarbrick the most incompetent sd on America?

    1. We didn’t miss out on these coaches, bj. They simply didn’t want the ND job. Why would they?! Who wants the ND job these days?! This is a very mediocre program. The university administration doesn’t help.

  2. Looking for whether BK has lost this team?
    Tune in tonight. The Hurricane Bowl was indicative of nothing. But after last year’ s last second loss at Stanford, ND couldn’t be more filled with revenge for any game this year, could they? Their focus and intensity this evening will show whether they have given up on BK or not. This is easily the most important game for BK to prove himself in the last three years. A lackluster performance here will speak loudly and clearly as to what the team feels about BK.

    1. Well question answered. 17 unanswered points. Shotgun to newly installed QB at your own 5 yard line. Neither team looked good. ND didn’t defend

  3. Totally agree,bruce. Notre dame needs a lead blocker fullback, 2 or 3 tight ends, and physical line play. Notredames I lineman are very highly rated every year so I still say they should be able to control the line of scrimmage if not dominate. Again look at how Michigan is running the ball now vs with Brady hole. Notredames lineman are higher ranked than Michigan. All these experts can’t be wrong. What is the difference, coaching, scheme, playcalling, strength and conditioning.

  4. I wonder why the Irish cannot be a physical team. It starts in practice. It’s a mindset that ND lacks at the moment. For BK to survive at ND, he needs to change the way the team prepares and practices. Is the strength and conditioning up to par? Lot’s to consider, but these issues should have been addressed long ago under the reign of BK.

  5. Notre dame magazine this month has an article about LBJ and the tactics necessary to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Father Heburgh applauded the ruthless tactics LBJ used to make it happen. It’s time to make it happen be ruthless fire swarbrick Kelly et al and hire Lou to convince Urban Meyer he can make it happen in South Bend

  6. Kelly reached HIS level of incompetence at Notre Dame. ND football is beyond him. As long as Kelly coaches ND, the teams will be incompetent.

  7. Malik starts at QB, Irish win the game. You tell him I don’t care how many yards you get each play you’re just going to keep running. We’ll throw an occasional deep ball for the purposes of keeping the safeties and CBs honest. I have no idea how Kelly couldn’t see that even when Kizer made good throws the receivers couldn’t catch them.

  8. Physical offensive line play and power run game is all about coaching, scheme and philosophy. Notre Dames offense line can dominate if they had great coaching. Look at Harbaugh at Michigan. Look how he came there last year and compare Michigan’s o line and running game under him compared to Brady hoak. Even with the same lineman. Different as night and day.

    1. Sorry, I cannot make the assumption that the OL is capable of dominating. I have been following this team too long for that.

  9. The state A.D. had a game day agenda a mile long with everyone and their bastard children that had anything to do with that football stadium invited. That was not going to change .This was on Jack S. to say its sunday or forget it. who would have blamed him ?

  10. I agree with most of what is being said – Kelly getting out coached – I supported him up to here but not doing good job here – He needs to stop throwing others under the bus and say it starts and ends with him. The biggest failure this is easily the OL – picking up third and short still a major problem – if you have a so called elite OL – those should be automatic. And not running more and giving Zaire more of a shot
    raises some big questions. I can see only one or two wins the rest of the year – Kelly needs to do some soul searching and do what top level coaches do and accept some of the blame at least – The last few years the OL a major let down

  11. someone mentioned that there are probably 15 to 20 coaches in college football right now that would have notredame at 6 and 0. I agree with that. I would like to see Kelly change the offense to a more pro style I formation offense still incorporating some spread principals. This is the kind of offense Michigan, Michigan state and Stanford run. You need a physical power element to the run game and notredame doesn’t use it. Also did anyone notice last week right after notredame recovered a fumble on north Carolina states 22 yard line after the change of possession Notre Dame got a delay of game penalty. How does that happen with an experienced quarterback and a coach in his seventh year. Very poor coaching Kelly.

    1. Notre Dame doesn’t use it, or Notre Dame isn’t capable of executing it? “Physical” and “power” are not the terms that come to mind when I think about ND football, especially not in regards to this offensive line.

    2. Pete,
      I like split backs, but the “I” is just as good – a lot of people would say it’s better than split backs. We just need a power running formation to complement the spread and the 2 man option and the zone read, as they call it. Otherwise, on running downs with only one running back, opposing defenses can see it coming and stop it dead too easily.

      And I know it sounds redundant, but we need a fullback to
      (A) pass block in general
      (B) flatten a defensive end somebody whiffs on
      (C) lead block for the QB or the tailback
      (D) get the tough yardage in the red zone or on third and short
      (E) carry out a fake into the line
      and probably other things I don’t even know about.

      Bruce GC
      La Crosse, Indiana

      PS: see you all at the game tomorrow night! GO IRISH!

      1. Mr. Curme, if you care to share, are you kin with Greg Curme, former professor of statistics at Notre Dame? Either way, I had the pleasure of taking one of Greg Curme’s classes in stat and he was an outstanding and memorable professor.

        And it just hit me. He took what can be an aseptic subject, stat, and made it come alive. His classes were always intriguing. He was an artist as well as a statistician.

      2. Pete? Duranko,
        Yes sir, that was my “dear old dad.”
        A lot of athletes took his class, especially during the summer session.
        Thank you for the kind words about him. He was buried in CG Cemetary, not far from Coach Yonto’s grave.

        Bruce GC 77′ 82′

  12. This game is irrelevant. I will be playing golf and knocking back a few cold ones. Unlike Kelly ive made the proper adjustment. Must have a solid plan B

      1. Possibility of rain on the central coast of Calif this Saturday. I may have to make some necessary adjustments to my plan B.

  13. Had it been a meaningful game, it obviously would have been rescheduled. But the outcome was completely irrelevant, as are both the teams.

    Kizer should just shut it down for the season and not risk pulling a Jaylon Smith. Pretend this pathetic excuse for a season never happened and focus on the league.

  14. This game will be the opposite of last week. What needs to be done is involve E. St. Brown in as many plays as possible. He will have an All-American, NFL caliber game. He knows many of the Cardinal from previous meetings. One of His younger brothers has already signed on with the Cardinal. Lets make Him change His mind! Scoring fest, Notre Dame 42-Cardinal 39

  15. I have been a big supporter of Brian kelly, but I live in North Carolina and I think it was irresponsible and ludacris to play any of the games that were scheduled!! People losing power, getting stranded in floods, 12 people died!! And they had our ems and police at a football game?!?!? People should be fired for making that decision!!!!! But yes going back to kelly! I don’t care how good you’ve done passing in previous outings in bad weather conditions ala Clemson last year in bad conditions as well! When this N.C. State team continually keeps giving you the ball in scoring position and u keep blowing it, then you make the change run the ball and keep moving field goals!!!!!!!!!! Not going les miles about it and being stubborn! I’ve defended the man up to this point but if he don’t start acting like a coach and make the adjustments that should be made and don’t stop being stubborn, the. Maybe he should get the les miles treatment!!!! Quit being a idiot and start being a coach! The center did a poor job because again he was being stubborn about passing the ball! Out Deshone under center and if he can’t do that then get Malik Zaire in the game for more than one play!!!!!!! My little league team can do better than that! Kelly and his staff better get their act together and start coaching like they got a brain or they get the damn axe!!!!!!!! Go ND LET BEAT STANFORD!

  16. I can’t believe our line is this bad. With these backs we should be able to consistently march downfield . Kizer’s forced to throw and everybody knows it. Where’s this massive playbook Kelly’s been touting for 7 years? From what I’ve seen, he’s rotating the same 5 plays and two of them are dives.

  17. Yes.

    Why didn’t he have Zaire play more? He was better suited for that style of game. Kelly only gave him one chance while he himself does so many questionable things over and over without success. None of this makes any sense. Maybe he wants to lose?

  18. Yeah. There is a difference between a strong wind (25 mph – what the forecasters told us) and a full blown gale (45 mph – the reality for Kizer and Mustipher). The game should have been rescheduled by the AD’s.

    Bruce GC

  19. I think BK was in a dame if you do , dame if you don’t situation here. It is quite obvious that neither a run heavy or the chosen pass heavy game plans were both impossible. Against Clemson last year in the rain we were forced into a pass heavy scheme and it almost worked out. So now all the MMQB say the plan was wrong. Those same people would he took his best player out of the plan if he chose a run heavy game plan.

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