The 2017 Notre Dame football team is just full of surprises aren’t they?
Three weeks apart Notre Dame scored a crushing victory over their storied rival USC, then got lambasted by old foe Miami. On the night before each game, both of those results would have been considered unthinkable. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Say what you will about the 2017 football team, they are an emotional roller coaster.
I don’t know how to explain what happened to our team on Saturday night, except to say they clearly weren’t ready to be champions. Not that night, not in a couple months. Brian Kelly delivered a famous quote to his team following their 21 point victory to then #14 NC State, in which Notre Dame amassed over 300 yards rushing: SOMETHING GAVE!
Well, something gave in Notre Dame against Miami too. Perhaps it was one big game too many. Their third top 25 team in four weeks (5th of the season), in a hostile environment. The conventional wisdom heading into the second half of the season was “there is no way the Irish are getting out of this unscathed.” Some teams could have pulled it off. But, not this team. They just didn’t have enough.
Turns out, the team many thought would finish .500 (or worse) isn’t going to win the national championship. The regret is not giving Miami their best. We’ve all watched Notre Dame play this year. That wasn’t them. They didn’t coach the same, they didn’t play the same. They didn’t have that edge. And that’s all I want now. I want that team back, because I like watching them play. They don’t deserve to be the team that was humiliated in Miami. They’ve played too well for that. But, now, what was considered a formality three days ago is anything but that. It’s all on the table now. The team that beat USC can defeat anyone. The team that lost to Miami wouldn’t make the bowl season. What’s it going to be?
The senior captain left tackle has been excellent for much of this season, one of the anchors of the best offensive line and running games since the early 1990’s. The numbers they have been posting are remarkable. But, Notre Dame has lost two games this season and the line has been beaten badly in both losses. McGlinchey has been particularly conspicuous in his play. He’s given up sacks for fumbles, quarterback hurries, and lacked the power and push of previous games. It isn’t all on him of course, the line is a unit. However, he’s the one with the “c” on the jersey. He is tasked with the responsibility of leading from the front.
Fortunately for him, their stellar play prior to last Saturday has put the team in position to make up for this. They can close the season strong, win the last two contests against Navy and Stanford, and emerge victorious in a major bowl, something that hasn’t happened since 1993. As disappointing as Saturday was, 11-2 would mean something for the team and the program. None of it happens without better play from McGlinchey and co. though.
What a difference a week makes. He made the “rising” list last week in this column when he offered up his best all-around performance as a Notre Dame quarterback against Wake Forest. It all came crashing down against the Hurricanes. He started by missing St. Brown on a deep ball that would have given the Irish a tone setting touchdown on the first drive. After that, he was consumed by the moment and lacked the ability to emerge with his A game intact. He threw a terrible interception near the Irish goal line that led to a Miami score, and ultimately led to his getting benched for a series, only to stand by and watch as his backup threw a pick six right before halftime, ultimately sealing the fate of his team.
I’ll get to the decision to pull Wimbush in a second, but practically it’s a defensible decision. He didn’t have the body language you’d want in your signal caller, and he seemed to be engulfed by his surroundings. The season was slipping away from Kelly and his team, he felt he had to do something. Obviously, the situation was made worse. But, Wimbush had given him ample reason to make a move. He wasn’t what he had been.
I’ve seen a lot of calls for early quarterback runs to get Wimbush settled in. Maybe that helps. But, Long called a touchdown for him on the opening drive, and Wimbush missed it. I get the calls for more runs, but there were plays out there to be made and they weren’t.
Can’t let your team lay an egg like this coach. Not in this game. I appreciate that he didn’t see this coming, we certainly didn’t. But then, I watch on TV. He is with them everyday. In hindsight I’m sure he can go back and see some warning signs that his team wasn’t mentally ready for the challenge. One would hope that his 30+ years of coaching experience would have tipped him off that something was amiss, but it did not. Whatever the case, what took place is unacceptable. And he’s the head coach, so of course it starts with him.
Also, can’t let your quarterbacks throw three interceptions in the first half, one of which directly lead to a touchdown, and all of them leading to 17 points. The way this team is built you can’t let them go down making mistakes on what they do second best. Passing is a complement to their true strength.
And look, Brian Kelly didn’t tell Wimbush to sail a slant route deep in his end and he didn’t tell Ian Book to misread a coverage. I don’t care. The only way something like this happens is if Notre Dame turns the ball over. To give the ball away passing the ball just can’t happen.
Lastly, I thought pulling Wimbush was a mistake. As I detailed above, he had cause. But first, they needed playmaking down 20-0. Wimbush gives them that, more so than Book. Second, he doesn’t need his first year quarterback looking over his shoulder during big games. The band-aid is off now, Kelly pulled him for performance in a key moment as the leader of the #3 team in the country. It can happen any time now. This isn’t Wimbush’s last game. They plan at least 16 more starts from him.
Kelly has had problems with quarterbacks his entire tenure at Notre Dame. He’s pulled Crist, Rees, Golson, Zaire, Kizer, and now Wimbush all for poor performance at various points of their careers. In the end, I’m not sure the short term gains were worth the long term effects.