Post Game 6-Pack: Notre Dame’s Championship Dreams Die in Miami, Again

It’s been two days now since the meltdown in Miami.  Normally the post game 6-pack would have been posted on Sunday morning for a night game, but a little weekend vacation for the lady’s birthday had me a bit preoccupied this weekend.  It is probably for the best though as I, like most Notre Dame fans, needed yesterday to just sulk in my own misery and disappointment for a little.  Better days are still ahead based on what we’ve seen this year, but the disappointment from this one is real and it sucks.

Here’s a look back on just what the hell went wrong on Saturday night.

1. Notre Dame wasn’t ready to play

This one was pretty clear but Notre Dame wasn’t ready to play and the seeds of this were planted weeks ago.  I stated in my preview that I was concerned that Notre Dame was spending time during the week making marketing videos that could serve as motivation for Miami.  That one video wasn’t the reason why Notre Dame lost, but the fact that that video was made and saw the light of day showed where the mind of the team was last week.  Can you imagine Nick Saban allowing something like that to happen?  Or Lou Holtz?  Even if that took 10 minutes of the teams’ time, it was a distraction that wasn’t needed.

That kind of stuff falls directly on the shoulders of the head coach.  Brian Kelly needed to keep his team locked in with that laser focus that they had earlier in the season.  When a team is capable of beating USC 49-14, they should not be capable of losing 41-8 to Miami less than a month later.  Kelly and this staff didn’t do a good job of keeping this team focused as its profile has risen.  It’s impossible not to look at the timing of the launch of the 33 Trucking campaign and the struggles of this team at this point.

Edit: just to be clear.  I loved the 33 Trucking campaign idea and bought hats for my nephews, dad, and self.  Where I think the campaign became a distraction is when the players were brought in to do videos and promos and the like.  Conceptually, I still think it’s a brilliant idea/campaign.  Kelly, however, should have said this is great and all but the players shouldn’t be spending their time with it.

2. Brandon Wimbush picked a bad time to take a step back

I am a big Brandon Wimbush fan.  If and when he puts it all together he is going to be something special to watch.  Saturday though, he took a step back.  Hell, maybe two steps back.  It started when he missed on yet another long touchdown to Equanimeous St. Brown on the first drive of the game.  He had St. Brown wide open for an easy score and he missed him again.  It wasn’t that far off, but it was far enough off that the two didn’t connect.  Had St. Brown caught that and settled the offense in, who knows how things play out.  Wimbush has missed that pass repeatedly this season.

What made things worse for Wimbush on Saturday was when things snowballed he didn’t handle it well.  He was shell shocked and got pulled – more on that later.  A week after his best game of his career though, he was standing on the sidelines as Ian Book came in and threw a pick six at the end of the first half that was essentially the nail in the coffin.

Better days are ahead of Brandon Wimbush and those already calling for the Phil Jurkovec era next year on Twitter or on the boards are foolish at this point.  Every quarterback has a game like this at some point of their careers.  If Wimbush can learn from his and come back stronger for it, we might all look back on this one day as when he turned things around.  It will be very interesting to watch him this weekend though.  If he comes out and shakes off the bad game and takes a step forward he will learn from this.

3. Brian Kelly panicked by pulling Wimbush

Wimbush was not playing well and looked out of sorts, but Kelly needed to settle his quarterback down and stick with him and let him play through it.  I suppose it was possible that Ian Book could have come in and pulled some Joe Montana magic but nothing we’ve seen to date suggested that was possible.  Wimbush meanwhile could have potentially made some plays for Notre Dame with his legs to get them back into the game.  Instead of pulling him, why not adjust the play calling and just try to get to half time without more damage?

Inserting Book didn’t lead to any points for Notre Dame but did add 7 on the scoreboard of Miami with a bad pick-6.  And what do you expect from a cold quarterback who hasn’t played meaningful snaps since the first week of October?  Kelly has now also sent a message to his starting quarterback that he could get pulled at anytime.  Not the kind of message a struggling quarterback needed.

4. Mike McGlinchey had one of his worst games

The Notre Dame offensive line in general had a pretty poor showing against Miami, but Mike McGlinchey had one of the worst games of his career on Saturday night.  The fact that Georgia and Miami are now two of his worst games is something that will come up during his NFL Draft evaluations and it shouldn’t be surprising if he ends up as a right tackle in the NFL as opposed to playing on the left side like he has the last two seasons.  A good argument could be made that Miami just knew they could key on the run and not have to worry about the pass and that’s why they had so much success shutting down Josh Adams, but there were plays like this one that weren’t the result of the Miami front just overwhelming the Irish line.

5. Notre Dame still has a lot to play for

Saturday was a really low moment for this program.  In many ways it was worse than the last time Notre Dame played in that stadium and got blown out by Alabama.  Miami is no doubt a very good football team after what we saw on Saturday, but they are not anything close to that Alabama team from 2012 and until Saturday, a good argument could have been made that Notre Dame’s team this year was a lot stronger top to bottom than their own 2012 squad.   As bad as it was though, Notre Dame can still close out this year strong if they beat Navy and Stanford and land in a major bowl game.

The same team that just got manhandled by Miami spent the previous seven weeks manhandling every team in its way so they are very capable of winning the next two games if Kelly and staff can get them refocused.  That will be no small task and this weekend will reveal just how much this team has grown from last year.  If Notre Dame can come out and dominate Navy as they should, we’ll know this team can respond to adversity.  If they struggle though, this could be another forgettable November just like 2014.

6. Notre Dame defensive line could be wearing down

One of the biggest concerns – and there are now many – out of Saturday night was the lack of any sort of disruption from the Notre Dame defensive front.  The Irish have been relying on a pair of freshmen all season – Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish – for depth inside and a number of young ends who are probably still a year in the weight room away from being really disruptive forces.  They have managed to play very well for most of the year, but the last couple weeks the defensive line has been a bit quiet and it could be because they are wearing down a bit as the season has progressed.

It’s almost never a good idea to rely on true freshmen on the interior of the line and it could finally be catching up to Notre Dame.  I love the long term potential for Hinish and Tagovailoa-Amosa.  In fact, I’ve written numerous times I think he is going to be a future All American in this defense, but when Notre Dame lost Daniel Cage and Elijah Taylor for the year and couldn’t get much production out of players like Micah Dew Treadway or Brandon Tiassum we knew that there could be some trouble at some point.

Hopefully Elko can tape the defensive back together for the next two weeks.

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  1. I just can’t get past number 1 above. The team just wasn’t prepared. That was inexcusable. Shameful really. People like myself, who had lost faith in BK, were starting to see a shift, a change. I was just starting to think that maybe BK had done something that I thought was a lost cause. Make ND a dominant program again. Then he lets this happen.

    Like Frank, I don’t think the same team that demolished USC should have gotten demolished by Miami. To be honest, I don’t really think Miami is elite, not on the levels of Alabama anyway. They may get crushed by Clemson in a few weeks.

    Had they lost a close game, had ND put it all on the line and lost, that’d be one thing. Sometimes the other team just has better athletes. But this ND team should not have had their heads handed to them. Not only is Miami not elite right now, ND is also not that bad. That reeks of poor coaching this past week. There’s no way around it. I put this on BK and his staff first and foremost.

    1. Absolutely Damian. And Frank said so, as you noted. I said the week before the game that the days of our guys feeling pressure during a game because they were unprepared were over. I was wrong completely, and that’s on BK.

      BGC ‘777 ’82

      1. Damian,
        I think Ron meant “ditto”
        He is a master of brevity (and will correct me if I’m wrong anyway).

        La Crosse, Indiana

  2. I think Frank hit it on the head with the lack of preparation by the team. I think they all let their success this year go to their heads, coaches and players alike. They thought they had arrived. They thought the fight was over. Well, it ain’t over until its over and now they are out.

    I agree with Brad and Bruce that the Stanford game will be more telling. But I disagree in the sense that if ND struggles against Navy, that would tell us where their mindset is. Anything less than a dominating win against Navy will be concerning for me. I do agree with Bruce that a big bowl win would go a long way. That’s were I disagree with SFR on because ND has admittedly done very poorly in those types of games. But I say if the team wants to be taken seriously, if they really want to prove to the fans, and more importantly to themselves, that they are better then the Miami game, then prove it. Dominate Navy and Stanford and fight for a big bowl. Then prepare, prepare, prepare. Show me and other doubters that we’re wrong. You want respect, take on an OSU or an OK and beat them like they did with USC.

    I don’t want a middling bowl win. Those are meaningless to me. ND has proved it can win lower tier bowls. So what? That’s not enough anymore.

    1. Damian, the flexbone makes it difficult to get “a dominating win” – because it limits your number of possessions so radically (when it is working). I’ll take a win of a touchdown or two with a smile on my face. Beating the flexbone is kind of like breaking a serve in tennis. Stop it, take possession and score…then stop it again. If you can do that twice in a game…you win. Last year we did that, but special teams gave them another shot at fourth down and short (after a penalty on fourth and long) – that was all they needed.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Well, I guess I want to have the feel of a dominating win, that Navy was never a threat. Sort of like WF (though admittedly better defense). I mean, WF made it closer then I would have liked, but I never had the feel that they were a real threat. Something like that.

      2. Well Damian, you are absolutely right that they should not be a threat given the talent and depth difference between the two teams! No doubt about that. And this is not one of Navy’s smoothest running teams – for sure…so we could get a blowout and I hope we do. ND should never lose to Navy. I’m just saying that if that flexbone comes ought Saturday and runs well I’ll be more than happy with a ten point win! It’s a deadly offense when it is clicking because it limits the number of chances our “O” gets and shortens the game so much. It’s weakness is that it does not play well from behind, and typically it isn’t complimented by a Navy defense that can get a lot of stops.

        If we get off the field on third (and fourth) down a few times early, and score, we’ll probably wipe them out, just as a team like ND, with as many pro prospects as we have, should wipe them out.

        BGC ’77 ’82

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. Agree with what a meaningful bowl win means. Unfortunately can’t think of last one besides Fiesta Bowl in 88

      1. There were a couple of Cotton Bowls against A&M and the Sugar Bowl slaughter against Florida. There was the Orange Bowl against Colorado! We used to win big bowls regularly, friend. I was at two of them. I remember Jeff Jeffers (God rest his soul) coming out of the elevator smoking in the Dallas Hotel we were staying at. So believe me, there were plenty of them.

        BGC ’77 ’82

  3. I disagree that this game against Navy will tell us anything about Wimbush. He needs to do it on the road against a good team in a prime time game.

    Stanford will tell us a lot more than Navy. I expect ND to overwhelm Navy with their size and athleticism. But if they go to Palo Alto and lay an egg. That tells us everything we need to know.

    1. Agree but if he comes out and struggles again this week, it will tell us a lot. It just won’t be what we want to hear.

  4. Frank, you hit a homerun with this article. Everything you wrote is right on the mark. Everybody should read it, starting with coach Kelly and the team.

    I would say this in addition…we’ll really know if this team can handle adversity after the Stanford game more than after Navy. The problem that needs to be addressed is the road play, not the home field play. Now is the time to make a road statement, at the FARM, against a pretty good Stanford team.

    There is a lot to play for, as you noted. There is a huge difference between 10-2 with a major bowl win and 9-3 with a Citrus or Gator Bowl loss. Brian Kelly should start personally challenging his team to finish strong RIGHT NOW, just like Coach Richt personally challenged his Canes to beat ND position by position.

    These are the two things we have to play for (now that the NC is gone):

    1. A major Bowl win, which has not happened since Holtz was our coach…that’s a very long time ago AND
    2. the second best turnaround season in ND history…better than Rockne’s ’28-’29 turnaround, better than Layden’s ’33 – ’34 turnaround, better than Leahy’s ’50 – ’51 turnaround, and second only to ARA’S ’63 – ’64 turnaround (by a whisker).

    Now that’s worth playing hard for, wouldn’t you say Frank? (And thank you for this article you wrote, which puts things in proper prospective.)

    1. Sorry, I left out Coach Brennan’s ’56 – ’57 turnaround. The last thing I want to do is slight Coach Brennan – he was a great coach both at Mount Carmel and at ND. In fact, of what little I know about football, a lot of it was learned from guys who played for TB at Carmel (some who played at ND, and some who played elsewhere in college). Those guys knew some football!!!

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Damn – I left out Coach Willingham’s turnaround – one of the best ever. Sorry.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. It was a hard game for Notre Dame. However, I was very impressed with the play of Julian Love. He seems to improve every week adding a cherry on top of the Sundays that we will one day see him playing in the NFL 🙂

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