Notre Dame Hits The Road, Hopefully With The Running Game On Board

As Notre Dame starts the first of two straight true road games, the numbers five and 11 have popped up quite a bit this week. As in five wins and 11 losses in the last 16 contests in another school’s stadium. Those are not good numbers, especially so for an institution that fancies itself a football school with high aspirations. If you can’t win on the road, you can’t do anything as a football team.

The five and 11 record is pretty shocking, given how good Kelly was early in his career away from the friendly confines of Notre Dame stadium. From 2010-2012, his Irish boasted a 9-3 record in the proverbial lions den, spurred on by a perfect 4-0 in 2012. Obviously, things have taken a turn.

Notre Dame has five true road games on the 2017 schedule and Kelly’s job depends on his ability to navigate those successfully. After the loss to Georgia, and #4 USC looming as a crucial home contest, anything worse than 3-2 on the road would likely spell doom for Kelly. There has been a running narrative among the Irish beat reporters this summer that athletic director Jack Swarbrick is fully committed to Kelly, barring complete catastrophe, at least into next season. He wants to see how the program changes take hold for at least two seasons before deciding to let go of Kelly. And I should note this narrative is driven by people who have actually talked to Swarbrick. They would know a heck of a lot more than me, and are reporting what they’ve been told.

That being said, I just can’t imagine a five loss Kelly surviving beyond this year. People are calling for his head after a one point loss to a top 15 SEC team. Four more of those and the pitchforks will be out.

Long story short, he really needs to do well on the road this year. And that starts with running the ball and limiting turnovers.

The Running Game Has Not Traveled Well

When you go on the road, you’ve got to bring your offensive line. Running the ball allows the offense to control the game, keeps quarterbacks out of obvious passing downs (which generally get the crowd roaring), and it keeps the defense on their heels.

It’s also pretty key to the game of football, just in general. It’s good to be able to run the ball.

Over the last 16 games on the road, the running game has taken a pretty big drop off from when they are performing at home.

Carries Per GameYards Per GameYards per CarryTouchdowns Per Game
Home 36.83187.795.12.12

Notre Dame is running for 47 less yards per contest, a full yard per carry, and over a full touchdown per game less on the road from 2013-2016. And it isn’t for the lack of trying. Notre Dame is still averaging 33 carries a game on the road, slightly down from 36 at home.

This is a trend that has not proven out on the defensive side. They have played consistently both at home and on the road. Generally, you know what you’re going to get on defense.

Why it matters this week

Though Notre Dame has beaten Boston College in five straight (BC hasn’t been good for some time) they have consistently given Notre Dame fits. In the last three games, Notre Dame has won by a combined 20 points, and in  2015 under current coach Steve Addazio, they were able to limit Notre Dame to 19 total points and 127 yards rushing on 3.74 yards per carry.

Notre Dame should be able to handle this team fairly easily. But, we saw Wimbush struggle with the pass last week and if BC can stifle the Notre Dame running game as they did in 2015 (against theoretically an inferior line to that one) that is the formula to the start of an upset special.

Which brings me to…

Notre Dame Is A Turnover Machine On The Road

Over the course of 24 home games from 2013-2016, Notre Dame has turned the ball over 16 times, an average of .75, slightly less than one per game.

In the 16 road games over the same time period, they are at 30 turnovers total, 1.88 per contest. A nearly 2 to 1 margin.

 Turnover MarginTurnovers/Game

This is how you lose games to lesser teams on the road. You fail to run the ball and you turn the ball over. And given how we’ve seen Notre Dame struggle in the passing game so far (Wimbush is currently outside the top 100 in passer rating) and the revolving door at receiver, they may not be able to rely on the quarterback to supplement the offense the way Golson, Kizer, and Rees could.

Everyone, including myself, was high on the offensive line this year. I ranked Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey as the first and second best players on the team. If they are to do anything this year, they need to did it on the ground. They’ve struggled on the road running in the past, it can’t happen this year. Not if they want to be the type of team they say they can.

Because if Wimbush is forced to throw, that’s where the turnovers have come from. And that’s a recipe for defeat.

They have to win up front.

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  1. this is a must win game for BK or u can start going over the options for ND,S next coach starting next week!! Last weeks loss was tough but improvement on D was outstanding! anything less than a win 2day is unacceptable this BC team is NOT very good!!!

  2. problem is Kelly. he has consistently played his favorites and in many cases his favorites aren’t the best at their position. Dexter Williams is better than Adams…it obvious to anyone who has seen them play. Adams is definitely good but Dex is way more explosive, fast and gets to the hole quicker. I find it extremely hard to believe that Mustipher is/was better than Hoge at Center. Hoge never had a chance b/c BK was trying to recruit Mustipher’s brother so gave Mustipher the starting job…Hoge- was top 4 recruit in his class-transferred & Mustipher’s brother is going to PSU…nice job BK! G. Bryant (RIP) another perfect example. By FAR our best RB from the time he stepped on Campus. Kelly played Cam McDaniel-HOLY _hit! Now Finkes is our BEST PR?? And starts and WR? I find that HARD to believe.

  3. ND not only has to run the table but must do it in “style” meaning beating the living s*** out of teams going forward if they want any kind of chance getting into the playoffs. And unfortunately, I think it’s going to take beating a team like USC, Stanford, or Miami really badly as well which is going to be difficult to do. This has not been something Kelly’s teams have been able to do in the past but I sure hope he is telling his team this during meetings. Without a 13th game and the committee clearly hating ND for being independent, simply winning out isn’t going to do it in my opinion. Hell, they were talking about keeping ND out back in 2015 even if we would have beaten Stanford at the end. We lost by two to Clemson at their place in the rain and that would have been our only loss but it looked like we were going to be shut out of the playoffs regardless.

    1. Good thoughts! I begrudgingly agree. And I have an addition. “Style points” don’t mean shpit, whether you win-or-lose. WIN FIRST and style takes care of itself. GoIRISH!

  4. With a convincing win here, we may just crack back into the top25. To see these teams ;eastern that, western that, Northern that and southern that ranked ahead of us is very humiliating. Notre Dame 30 Bos Col 10.

  5. I actually do think they win this game. Like Temple, a blowout may calm some nerves just a bit. I’m not saying all is right with the world, but it may at least be the first sign that the Georgia game may have just been a blip. ND would still have a lot more work to do but it’d be a step in the right direction.

    For me at least, anything less than a blowout win over BC isn’t going to help a whole lot at this point in my long term concerns. The Irish need to put BC away early.

    I do find some of the insider information interesting about Swarbick. At this point if the Irish go no worse than 8-4 BK is safe for another season. I’m not happy about that in year 8, but those I’m afraid are probably the facts. A losing season and BK is gone. At that point Swarbick isn’t going to lose his job to save BK’s. 7-5, at the beginning of the season I thought BK would be a goner but now I’m not so sure. I think there will be heavy pressure by the ND faithful to pull the plug but will that be enough? I think once Swarbick realizes his own job might be a risk he’d pull the plug.

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