Another chance for Notre Dame to make a statement in a primetime game in front of a national audience and another time the Irish made one no Notre Dame fan wanted to hear. Despite taking a lead into the 4th quarter, Notre Dame allowed Stanford to score three touchdowns in a matter of minutes fueled by two Irish turnovers. The Irish struggled once again to maintain any offense and let Stanford’s backup quarterback to start the season to have a career day on them.
Let’s crack this one open and look at just went so wrong.
At this point, Brian Kelly may need to open the QB competition for 2018
Again, let me make this clear upfront, I like Brandon Wimbush a lot and his talent is undeniable. That said, after 11 starts in the Chip Long/Brian Kelly offense, it’s pretty clear that something isn’t clicking for him. Wimbush was a painful 11 of 28 last night for 249 yards. The yardage total was inflated by two long catch and runs by Kevin Stepherson and Equanimeous St. Brown that accounted for 158 of those yards. That means the other 26 pass attempts Wimbush made generated just 91 yards. That’s just not good folks.
Wimbush’s turnovers have been deadly in Notre Dame’s losses including last night. It started with the fumble on the last offensive play of the day against Georgia. It happened again in South Florida with two interceptions and a fumble against Miami. Last night Wimbush turned it over at the worst possible moment. Right after Stanford took a 24-20 lead at the start of the 4th quarter, Wimbush was intercepted on Notre Dame’s first ensuing play. It was a bad interception too. It wasn’t a great play by Stanford by any means. It was a bad throw that Wimbush just can’t make in that situation.
There isn’t a simple solution here really, but baring some sort of ridiculous performance in the bowl game, Notre Dame needs to open up the quarterback competition in spring ball. Wimbush finished the regular season completing less than 50 % of his passes in a day and age when 60% is the barometer for success. It’s not like Notre Dame has a seasoned quarterbacks coach to work with Wimbush through the issues either.
Wimbush has not been helped out by his wide receivers much with way too many drops and their inability to come down with any sort of contested catches, but that is only a small part of the problem here. For as many drops as there have been, there have been just as many instances of a Notre Dame receivers running wide open only to be badly missed.
At the same time, Chip Long needs to do a better job of calling plays that Wimbush can execute. Notre Dame pulled off one of those horizontal/wide receiver type passes maybe once or twice all season but Long still calls them over and over. Wimbush has trouble throwing them and the receivers struggle to block them. Stop calling them til you know you can execute them.
Notre Dame defensive backs still struggle playing the ball in the air
While the offense was tough to watch on Saturday night, the defensive backfield was equally painful. Notre Dame defensive backs have struggled all season long playing the ball in the air with last night being the low point in this department. KJ Costello was just lobbing passes up throughout the game and Stanford was winning every one of those situations. What a novel idea, right? Having wide receivers who make contested catches in traffic?
All that said, Notre Dame’s defensive backs allowed Costello to toss a career high 4 touchdowns when in actuality they had an opportunity to record a couple picks if they just played the ball in the air. Mike Elko did a lot of good things with the Notre Dame defense this year, but he needs to focus on the secondary in the off-season. He and Brian Kelly may need to evaluate the staff in the secondary as well. Notre Dame’s corners have struggled playing the ball in the air for a while and Notre Dame has not been recruiting corners with any level of success the last couple years.
Costello had 5 touchdowns passes all season in 140 attempts. Notre Dame allowed him to throw four last night alone on just 22 attempts. That’s also not good folks. By contrast, Wimbush has three touchdowns to four interceptions in Notre Dame’s three losses this season.
Jerry Tillery and Tevon Coney played great
While the secondary had a bad night, the front seven played well for most of the game until the end when they ran out of gas. Jerry Tillery and Tevon Coney specifically played some really good football. Tillery had three TFL and Coney had two of his own. These two will be the cornerstones of the Notre Dame defense next year and both are in store for big time seasons.
Tillery was disruptive all night and spent a lot more time in the backfield than he has in weeks. Coney meanwhile was all over the field just as he’s been all season long. At one point Coney meet Bryce Love in the hole with Love trying to juke Coney. Coney was having none of it, however, and he made the stop in the backfield. Both players have All-American potential next fall.
David Shaw owns Brian Kelly
This one is painful, but Shaw simply owns Kelly at this point. Kelly is just 2-6 in his Notre Dame tenure against Stanford and after last night’s drubbing, he has still never won at Stanford Stadium – an 0-4 record. Shaw just does more with less than Kelly has year in and year out. This wasn’t even one of Stanford’s better teams yet they beat Notre Dame by 18 points – the largest margin of victory in this series since 2010. Notre Dame hasn’t beaten Stanford by that much in over a decade.
Shaw is easily the most unlikable coach Notre Dame faces each year mainly because he just keeps on beating Notre Dame. Shaw just keeps on winning at Stanford too. He is a bit of a reverse Kelly in that Stanford has lately lost games early in the season only to rebound each year and close strong. Notre Dame under Kelly has rarely finished a season as strong or stronger than they started it.
Why on earth didn’t Dexter Williams get more carries?
No matter what Brian Kelly says publicly, Josh Adams does not look 100% just as he didn’t look 100% last year at the beginning of the season when it was pretty clear he was missing that second gear that makes him so special. Last night Adams picked up just 49 yards on 20 carries. Dexter Williams, meanwhile, recorded just three carries. He picked up 21 yards on those three carries though so why not give the kid the ball more with the offense struggling?
It is really mystifying that Williams has not gotten more carries this year when he’s averaged nearly 9 yards a carry. He ended the season with a mere 37 carries. Williams battled through his own injury issues this year, but he still played in nine games. That means Notre Dame gave a kid averaging 8.8 yards per carry the ball on average just over four times a game. Just don’t get it.
Another November collapse for Notre Dame
For the second time in four seasons, a promising Notre season has come to a crashing halt in November. In 2014 Notre Dame was in the playoff mix at the start of the month before it lost four straight games to end this season. Just 15 days ago Notre Dame was #3 in the country heading into the Miami game with a chance to make a statement on the national stage. Instead, this team lost two of three and needed a Navy defender to fall down on a desperation 4th down attempt to hold on to beat Navy.
Last night’s game looked like a team playing its first game of the year in September, not it’s 12th the last weekend in November. With Notre Dame in primed position to take the lead last night after Chris Finke set the Irish up at the Stanford 19, the Irish were called for back to back procedure penalties including a false start from 5th year senior Mike McGlinchey and the Irish settled for three. After that field goal, Stanford scored three touchdowns in just over three and a half minutes thanks to the Wimbush pick and CJ Sanders fumbling a kickoff after Stanford opened up their first two possession lead of the game.
Even in 2015 when Notre Dame didn’t fully collapse in November, they played lackluster football against Wake Forest and Boston College before losing to Stanford to end the season and eliminate themselves from the playoff mix.