When it rains it pours, the hits just keep on coming, if it wasn’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all, kick a man while he’s down, and just when you thought things couldn’t get worse you go and do this. All things Notre Dame fans could have uttered at any number of happenings during the 2016 football season. Plainly put, it has been a nightmare, and the NCAA announcement on Tuesday that Notre Dame would have to vacate all the wins from their best season since 1993 just put the icing on that disgusting, molded cake.
It’s pretty impressive that a school having to vacate wins from a national title appearance season is about the 5th most pressing issue for the program, and in fairness a lot of that is because the penalty itself is a complete dumpster fire of hypocrisy and buffoonery from the NCAA that the punishment is hard to take seriously. But, had this happened last year, there would be far greater outrage from the casual fan.
But, Notre Dame has much bigger concerns at the moment, as it were, like whether or not the coach with a contract that runs through 2021 should be the coach through 2016. It’s been a remarkable turn of events when you consider last year at this time I wrote Brian Kelly had Notre Dame on the brink of greatness as a program while preparing to play Stanford in the season finale. A blowout loss this week to USC could very well put him on the brink of no longer being employed by the university. 2016, man.
January 1st, 2017
Let’s all just agree to move on, yes? 2016 happened, it was terrible, lets learn from it, move on to bigger and better things in 2017. And really, I can’t name anything in the football program that is going right at the moment.
The Offensive Line
Has to be the most disappointing group of the season just based on expectations and the fact that I thought two of the four best players on the whole team were playing right next to each other. It turns out replacing three starters from a stellar unit, no matter how good offensive line recruiting has been, is no easy task and the Irish suffered for it this year. There is a real case to be made that Kelly did this group no favors with the way he approached this season offensively; he never really fully committed to this being a running team and when he did we saw success (see the first halves against Stanford and Virginia Tech). But, that being said, the group still underachieved. Unfortunately, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson never became the consistent stars we expected them to be and the other three on the line experienced the growing pains you’d expect as first time starters.
The good news is the best four players return in 2017 with some new blood being introduced somewhere on the right side of the line either at guard or tackle. I think it’s fair to say McGlinchey struggled with the move from the right to left tackle and a year under his belt on the left side should serve him well heading into next season. Chemistry and continuity are a thing in football, especially so on the offensive line, and Notre Dame should be building both on the line, with some pretty good raw materials to work with. It’s reasonable to expect it won’t be same ‘ol, same ‘ol with this group next year.
If we’re all being honest, we expected more from Hayes this year. Mostly because we needed more this year, because this team doesn’t have anyone else on the roster with his skill set. This isn’t to go so far as to say Hayes was a disappointment, we just could have used more. He has yet to record a tackle for loss, or a sack (only six players have a sack so far this year, good lord) and also didn’t register a quarterback hurry. So, the thing we needed him to be good at, he was not good at. However, he did flash some athleticism in coverage against Michigan State, breaking up a pass and causing an interception, and he did force a fumble against NC State. Part of the problem is it doesn’t seem like the coaches ever really figured out how or where to use him and thus never got him into a role that catered to his skills.
The good news is he was a pretty big injury concern heading into the year and thus far has escaped unscathed (knock on wood). For a guy who hasn’t had a ton of game reps that weren’t against division I caliber football players, this is no small thing. Notre Dame will have a new defensive coordinator next season, and if Kelly–or whoever is choosing who that coordinator will be–is smart, he’ll put in film of Hayes and tell them to detail their plans on how to use this guy.
It was a nice story for a while, but ultimately the punchline was this is what the Notre Dame defense would look like under a replacement level coordinator instead of VanGorder. Essentially, a fun game you’d play among friends while watching Notre Dame play and ask each other “how good would Notre Dame be on defense if they replaced BVG with any random coach?” Which is essentially what Notre Dame did with Hudson, who many had never heard of. It’s really no fault of Hudson, he didn’t have a spring and fall to teach these guys anything and in fact he had something worse which was an entire spring and fall of them learning a bunch of bad habits. But, in order to be seriously considered as the DC next season, he had to be stellar and they fell well short of that. His defense offered very little resistance to what Virginia Tech was doing for most of the game; the Hokies moved the ball pretty effectively when they weren’t snapping the ball over people heads and deflecting touchdown passes into the arms of out of position defenders. And the unfortunate fact remains that after 11 games it’s for me to point to any area of defense that I’d consider a strength. Which isn’t a good thing.
This isn’t necessarily a call for him to be fired, it’s just that whatever they are doing in this area just isn’t working. Maybe he can adapt his philosophy, if that’s even a thing in strength and conditioning. Notre Dame has faded in the 4th quarter in almost all of their games. The offensive line is getting shoved around. The defensive line is getting shoved around. Whatever was going on with Tarean Folston and his body this year is befuddling, Josh Adams lacked the burst he showed throughout last year for most of this year. Again, I’m not a strength and conditioning guy, but something has to give in this department, because like the rest of the program right now, it just isn’t good enough.