Can Notre Dame Avoid A November Collapse?

Back in the preseason, a smart guy with the initials of GF predicted Notre Dame would enter the week 10 tilt against Miami with an 8-1 record.  I also picked them to lose the game, as well as the season finale against Stanford.

My logic was simple: Notre Dame has struggled in November the last few seasons, and with the way the roster was constructed (especially on the defensive line), I saw them fading down the stretch. And lets be honest, we’ve seen it before.

In 2014, Notre Dame entered November at 6-1 and ranked #9 nationally. Then they completely fell apart, getting blitzed at Arizona State following a win against Navy, and then dropping the final three to fall to 7-5. Notre Dame limped home in 2015 before losing a heartbreaker at Stanford, and 2016 was 2016. Since the 2012 season, the Irish are 8-12 in the month of November.

This year, the team was riding high following seven straight double digit victories (three against ranked teams), the closest of which was an 11 point win against Wake Forest in which they lead 41-16 at one point. It all came crashing down last weekend in their 33 point drubbing at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes. In all likelihood, the former #3 Fighting Irish saw their once promising playoff hopes dashed in South Beach.

All is not lost, however. They will wake up tomorrow ranked 8th in the CFP rankings, and still in position for a New Years Six bowl game should they win out, something they haven’t won since 1993. But, can they buck the trend of the last few seasons and finished 10-2?

Reasons To Be Pessimistic

Run Defense

The funny thing is, I predicted Notre Dame would fade as a team because the front 7 would break down. Not enough depth, I thought. Well, Mike Elko and his defense played it exactly how they should have on the defensive line throughout the year. They routinely played multiple people on both the defensive line and linebacker. We haven’t seen the type of snap counts that destroyed the effectiveness of players like Sheldon Day and Isaac Rochelle late in their seasons. Guys like Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner have rotated in and out of the lineup in every game, and their have been multiple defensive ends who have made an impact up front for the Irish. They shouldn’t be breaking down. Yet the rushing defense numbers the last couple of weeks have been concerning to say the least.

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Against Wake and Miami, Notre Dame gave up a combined 476 rushing yards, 5.8 a carry, and six touchdowns. Remember, entering the contest against Wake, the Irish defense had given up one rushing touchdown all season. When the dam broke, it broke big.

This is obviously a concern with the final two match ups coming against Navy and Stanford who, uh, really like to run the ball. Maybe they shouldn’t be breaking down in the front 7, but they are, at the worst time.

Lack Of A Goal

This one is a bit of a wild card because maybe the team is able to focus on a double digit win season and a major bowl win. Maybe that means as much to them as the fans hope it does. But, the fact is a week ago Notre Dame was in the drivers seat for a playoff berth and now that dream is pretty much gone. It’s a cliche, though cliches are often true, but not being in a conference has left Notre Dame in an emotional rut once national championship aspirations have gone away. Will they be able to play with the same edge late in a close game with the carrot being a ten win season as they would with a playoff berth on the line?

Quarterback

This one came up suddenly, but when your starter gets pulled for performance in the second quarter and has two stinkers in both losses this season, it’s a problem that could derail a season. This could be not unlike the fall of Everett Golson late in 2014, who was clean for the first few weeks then fell apart on the road against Arizona State and never fully recovered. If the turnovers and inaccuracy continues, coupled with the struggles on the defensive line, suddenly the things that made Notre Dame really good–turnover differential and a stout defense–are no longer in play. Then what have they got?

Reasons To Be Optimistic

The Final Two Defenses

Notre Dame has struggled most as a team when they can’t run the ball because they can’t take advantage of the weakness of the defense when they focus on the run. We saw this against Georgia and Miami, two teams that could take away the run if they wanted to. Fortunately for Notre Dame, Navy and Stanford don’t have the template on defense to limit Notre Dame the way others did. It’s not size, it’s strength, speed, and quickness. The Irish should be able to get what they want in the running game the next two weeks which seems to have a calming effect over the entire team and Brandon Wimbush especially. It would help if Wimbush gained some confidence, because Navy is the 111th ranked pass defense by S&P+.

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This Team Is Objectively Better Than The Others

I know I’m throwing out what we’ve seen over the previous ten weeks, but I really shouldn’t. What Notre Dame did against USC, Michigan State, and NC State should matter. Their closest margin of victory in their eight wins is 11 points, against the 10th ranked schedule by FEI. They are blowing teams out against that schedule. This team is good.

The 2014 team also fell apart due to a slew of injuries that rendered their defense unrecognizable the final four weeks. That hasn’t happened this season. Sure, some guys are banged up (Nyles Morgan), but they are still out there competing. The same is true of the offense. So we have a better team overall, with the full compliment of their roster available. A collapse at this point would be a deviation from what they’ve been all season. Could happen, but it’s more likely they continue the excellent play we’ve seen throughout the year. Doesn’t promise anything, but I like their chances.

This is pretty much the most compelling of all the reasons, good or bad, that I’ve listed. This team has shown itself to be good many times over. And good teams usually win the games against teams they are better than. Sure, they could fall apart; Navy and Stanford have proven to be thorns in the side the last few years and they aren’t terrible. In fact, Stanford might be good. But, Notre Dame is better. They’ve been better all season. And that’s what I expect to play out the final two weeks.

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58 Comments

  1. Does anybody feel the rigors of the academic schedule plays into the late season issues? Mid terms, final projects looming not too far off. Not making any excuses just wondering if that may have an affect on where the players may need to share the focus.
    Go Irish Beat Navy…

    1. Yes. And I think it also may play a part in these blow out losses like OSU, MSU, Georgia, ND, etc. At some point, academics gets “in the way” of football preparation…and you get caught short.

  2. BGC,
    I’m here at campus, just to ill to go to game. I’ll see if I can light a candle at Grotto. Irish finally flex their Popeye muscle. 49-7.

  3. David:
    Cold, overcast, rainy today for the game, with a chance of a snow/sleet/rain mixture…but NO Sunday blizzard…partly sunny Sunday for the drive home. Prove you are a real ND fan (not a SELLOUT) and go to this game to cheer on our IRISH!

    Everybody who thinks David should go to the NAVY game – Honk your horns on the way into the parking lots!!
    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Is Brian Kelly still the coach?
      Then y’all should save your hearing and car batteries.
      No need to make another vexxing Fall Saturday even worse on yourselves.

  4. LINEBACKERS AND SAFETIES

    They are the key to stopping and controlling the “death by a thousand cuts” Navy option.

    We’ve often been successful when an extra good-tackling LB has been in the game, and Tranquill have been effective against Navy even when grouped with the safeties. And this may be the most favorable game for what Martini brings to the table.

    Of course, those two groups, safeties and linebackers are coached by Elko and his alter ego, Lea.

    Last year the defense for the Navy game was coached by Coach Interim.

    Elko and Lea knew about this game when they came on board. They’ve thought about it since last January.

    This is a great chance to get back into the win column.

    Go Irish!

    1. 1. Does anyone know if Elko ever coached against Georgia Tech?

      2. Stop the fullback, don’t vacate your area of responsibility, stop the QB at the veer point (DON’T GET VEERED!), AND STAY ON YOUR FEET…everybody – stay on your feet!

      All wishbone plays start the same way…so a presnap read is harder to get…and noise isn’t usually as much of a factor.

      The reason the Service Academies use the wishbone is because linemen do not need to sustain their blocks for very long, literally only a second…their linemen are too small to do power blocking on a consistent basis…so they don’t try…they cut block and speed block instead…a smaller man’s offense.

      Finally…as tempting as it may seem to come up for run support…if you are assigned to cover a receiver – don’t leave that guy until you are sure it’s not a pass…if you do, and you’re wrong, THEY SCORE!

  5. D-bomb,
    I’d much rather be a distinguished poster on this site than be a turd in the punchbowl of this polite society which you reek of.

  6. Love the article! Lots to be excited about my friends! One more thing to be excited about is ND is playing at home this week! And they are honoring their seniors with awards before the game :) :) :) Who does not play well after an award ceremony????? I know I would! My biggest factor in why they will win out is a low amount of injuries this year and the two last opponents have bad run defenses. As my Pappy use to say – “I smell a victory!!!!!” Go Irish!!!!!!!!

    1. PP , “I got a feel’in” (Paul McCartney song) that Irish win out–beat Navy , beat Stanford , Beat opponent in Major bowl–finish season 11-2. I see no collapse from this 2017 squad. Irish final ranking with CFP #5 or #6. Look out 2018–here come top recruits including EQ ‘s brother.

  7. D-bomb, this is for you. With this being military week and all, believe you need a beat down. Everyone knows about Tokyo Rose, reminds me so much of you. Actually Gi’s loved listening to Her. Unlike you who has nothing new, everything old, stale, rotten. She knew we had B-29’s off the coast of Japan, but, didn’t know what was in them. She kept preaching the same message so much like you” give up Gi’s ” Kelly’s a fraud” . You are just a common, cowardly traitor to Notre Dame football. Oh, and guess what, there was a Japanese pilot who bombed Pearl Harbor and after He crash landed the Navy personnel reached into the cockpit and He was wearing a Compton High School ring, believe it or not was Tokyo’s Rose brother! Don’t bother looking it up, take my HONEST word for it.

  8. Damian: as the internet you are on must be a very early version, here you go….

    Fraud (noun):
    a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities.
    synonyms: impostor, fake, sham, charlatan, quack, mountebank

  9. Kelly is a fraud. Just look at him in those sideline shots …even HE now realizes it !
    Forget echoes…wake up yourselves.
    #RumplestiltSkinheads.

    1. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and risk the possibility others may think you’re ignorant than to open it and remove all doubt.

  10. I realize that the Navy triple option has often throttled Notre Dame, most recently in Jacksonville. But if you’ve been watching Navy this year, they are not nearly as effective. The dive play has to work to keep the linebackers inside and it hasn’t done much this year. Navy looked poor against Temple two weeks ago, a team the Irish crushed early on. Plus, Navy has no defense this year and has given up scads of points when it has won in a shoot-out. Notre Dame will beat Navy on Seniors Day, the last home game. The only question is whether it will look like Wake Forest. I don’t thing so – a lot of pride out there.

    Stanford is another question. Stanford looked horrible early on, but now Bryce Love is back and running very well. Their QB accuracy has improved dramatically. We shall see.d

    1. That’s the other thing about Navy, they’re just not as good doing what they normally do this year. That’s one of the reasons it’s true Stanford will provide a bigger test as to where they are at this point. With this game coming up, it’s more how does ND respond to their throttling last week. Do they wallow in their sorrow and let Navy hang around? Or do they throttle them?

      Now if Navy does the unthinkable and beats ND, BK better pack his bags because I think many fans will be ready to run him out of town. There is no excuse for losing to Navy, none.

      1. …if Navy does the unthinkable….

        Ummm…you know they’ve done “the unthinkable” twice to ND under Kelly already, right?
        It’s quite thinkable….so you might to try doing that.

  11. From “Nat’l Champ?” stories to “Nov. Collapse?”. In 5 days.

    As long as Kelly is coach, just totally forget that first storyline.
    Once you do that, a loss or two won’t be result in these bipolar episodes.

    1. Have you ever actually watched or played in a football game. I’ll answer that, NO you haven’t. Just wondering if your parents are regretting that pro-life stance right now.

      1. Classy AND eloquent.
        You should save all your “abortion zingers” to yell out at ND stadium.
        You’d get all the attention you seek and more.

  12. I see 1of 2 things happening that could be what we see on Saturday.
    If NDs offense goes 3 and out in the first series.then it’s going to be a long night.
    If Navy scores on their first series again a long night.
    Yes Navy plays tough every time they play us. Doesn’t matter who’s under center for the midshipman.
    Ok back to 1 of 2 things. I’ve seen too many of Kelly’s product on the field to know if it’s a hangover or just lack of execution.
    Lately the headline has been lack of execution. And that gives more weight to the hangover side.
    The defense let’s Navy score on thier first attempt. It’ll be about the defense being unfocused. Elko has yet to scheme against a Navy triple option. It’ll be his first true test .
    If we see Navy repeating the same plays over and over it’ll tell you Elko is lacking in the adjustment department.
    The Irish will play for.pride for thier brothers.but will pride be enough.?
    ND 24 Navy 22 or it could get ugly.

  13. Good article. I think the difference between 2014 and this year is injuries. From 2013-15, ND was killed with injuries and other defections (suspensions, Frozen Five, etc). That’s not the case here. They’re mostly healthy at this point. They’re probably tired, but so is everyone at this point in the season.

  14. i don’t think November has really been an issue with Brian Kelly’s teams. they are 18-11 in November with 7 of those losses coming over a 2 season span. A collapse would be rare

    1. A November collapse is a huge issue! Are you kiddin’ me? If we end up 9-4 after a Citrus or Gator bowl loss, where are we? We are at Dan Devine’s worst year. That’s not good enough for me. (Why should it be – it wasn’t good enough for Dan himself, nor for George Kelly…nor for Coach Yonto who I hear went bananas after analyzing 21 in-season injuries and looking over the conditioning program!) Those guys bounced back in 1980 for a great 9-2-1 season. We screw this up and we’ll be no better off than we were at the end of 2014…no big turnaround year…no major bowl win…and no more ARA sightings!

      We need to win out to reap the rewards and accolades this team deserves!

      Is Dan Devine’s worst year to become our new standard of success? He himself would have none of it.

      1. Of course it was! We went undefeated in his second year! The question before the house is this: Was 2012 an outlier, or was it his bona fides for this year (and next, and next after that) – NCAA revisionist histories notwithstanding. If we go 9-4 this year…it was an outlier. But if we keep doing what we have been doing, except at MIAMI, and I think we will…you may find us in the playoffs next year, or maybe in 2019.

      2. Was 2012 an outlier ?! Forgetting the utter lunacy of this question…

        IF he ever oversees a “playoff” season ever again (purely for argument), he’s off like a scalded cat.
        If Kelly’s smart (again, purely for a discussion), he’d leave before they actually even play that game, to ensure the NFL team didn’t change it’s mind.

  15. I think it comes down to attitude. On paper ND should beat both Navy and Stanford. We’ve seen enough of them, and ND, to know how they should match up. ND needs to refocus. Really, if ND blew out USC and NC State, which are arguably better teams then Navy and Stanford, they should be able to blow out Navy and Stanford. I know against Navy they are masters of time of possession. ND’s defense could go a long way if they force Navy out of their comfort zone. At the very least I’m looking for ND to be in control of the game, even if the score isn’t a blow out, it should not feel close.

    This week will tell us a lot about where the team’s thought processes are at.

    1. Remember what Navy was? A gift of grateful remembrance to the Academy. That was it.
      Now ND fans sweat in quiet fear of it every year.
      That is the state of ND football.

      1. I don’t fear Navy. ND should be able to beat them. What I’m looking for is how the team responds after last weeks beatdown. I mentioned before, do they come out like Penn State after their loss to OSU, when they were flat and got beat pretty soundly by MSU. Or do they do what OSU did after getting crushed by Iowa when the following weak they demolished MSU.

        Which road does ND take? That’s what I’m looking to see.

        However, I will say, to all the ND haters that bash ND for playing Navy year after year, Navy is not a team to be taken lightly either. Anytime a team looks past them thinking they are in for an easy ride has come to regret it. They are beatable, but they are a disciplined team that is methodical in their approach. Any team that plays them has to be aware of that or they will give you a hard time.

        I think Frank noted how so many teams are playing cupcakes this week and yet, those same people will complain about ND playing Navy. I don’t consider Navy a cupcake. I mean, they can beat the Georgia Southerns and Troys of the world too.

      2. “ND should be able to beat them”.

        Notre Dame should be able to beat the Naval Academy. In football.

        Read that as many times as it takes.

      3. Again, why are you here? You obviously despise ND football in it’s current form and you despise ND fans. If I despise something as much as you say you do, I certainly wouldn’t post, or even visit their web sites. I’d move on to something else.

        You’re obviously a bitter and angry person. You’re the type of person who looks for the cloud in any silver lining.

      4. Damina:

        Your critical thinking is poor, your reading comprehension lacking, your objectivity highly impaired, and your debating skills woeful.
        To me, those are obvious.

      5. Actually, I like a lot of what Damian says, and how he says it…he is a straight shooter who cares about ND. As for you David, for every five things you post, four are nothing but personal attacks without any merit at all. Your skills would be appreciated in Washington DC I think. It’s unfortunate, because every fifth time or so you say something worth reading. You should become deferential to those types of posts and lose the nasty ill-conceived stuff most of them associate with your name.

        FYI – the weather is grey and cold with snow possible for Saturday and a Sunday blizzard to drive home in. Prove you’re a true Notre Dame fan David – go to this game and scream loud at NAVY on their third downs!

        BGC
        La Crosse, Indiana

      6. “David,

        All posturing and BS aside, answer me this very simple question:

        Are you a ND frustrated at the mediocrity of BK’s teams or are you an anti-ND troll?

        I believe you one time stated you were a long-time ND fan. If so, then whatever you say and how you elect to say should be welcome by all, even those who disagree.

        However, if you’re not a real ND fan, then, really, why waste your time and ours. Go for a walk, get a breath of fresh air, spend time with family and friends, etc.

        If you choose to respond with ad hominem vitriol to this totally fair and innocuous query don’t play the innocent victim later.

      7. Ok, David, whatever. I can’t debate, I have no critical thinking. Yet you are the one that blathers on about BK being a fraud over and over again, whatever the Hell that’s supposed to mean.

        I’ll give you your wish though. I’m done debating with you. I’m not sure why I bothered with you in the first place. You’re one of those self righteous people that’s always right in your own mind. I know the type well enough that you’re not worth the effort. Say what you want, I really don’t care anymore. Be happy in your misery.

  16. I think the real issue I have seen in College football is the dreaded top four curse. Teams seem to play tight and lose
    under the dreaded top four curse. I saw this with PSU, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma. This hype is ridiculous, the only team that is plowing through is Bama.

    If I was a coach I would handle it lik Saban. Lou was the master at handling hype.

    1. LOU was also a master at winning big bowl games…and not just at ND! I would rather be matched in a bowl against any former Notre Dame coach rather than LOU! Give that guy four weeks to prepare (then get ready to explain a cheerios bowl loss to your angry fans who expected a blow out against his team!)

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Bruce, the Cheerios Bowl against Florida was a great win, wasn’t it? Lou decided to stick with the run the second half and our two backs (Waters and Bettis?) pounded out 6-7 yards a carry. That would seem to be the formula for beating Navy and Stanford as well.

      2. But look at his record from 88 through 94, after he turned the team around, and before we accepted two bowl bids we should not have – the Fiesta 2 and the Orange bowl when the program started to stagnate and we had trouble recruiting “D” linemen…that’s what I meant by “big bowls”…bowls that meant something…and that we belonged in. Of course your numbers are right if we include the 87 bowl and those last two I mentioned. But he also had huge bowl wins elsewhere…Arkansas, and a slew of non-football powers going to a rare bowl for them and even a “first bowl”.

        By the way, Devine was tough in bowls too. Since LOU left we have been pretty bad in major bowls…often losing by lopsided margins…so maybe I should say that LOU was a master compared to what we have had since he left. My bad.

        BGC ’77 ’82

        BGC ’77 ’82

      3. Bob, Sorry to get back so late. That Cheerios Bowl is one of the few tapes from that era I still watch from time to time. The second half was a clinic in scheme blocking Holtz style. (Waters was gone…there were two other tough running backs though). The other thing about that tape is the Pro crew that called the game for the Sugar Bowl TV coverage. They were awesome all game long…a great second perspective…and hilarious! The first half, incidentally, is a clinic in Rick Meyer keeping us in the game, and some play calling that set up the second half offense. And NOBODY except Lou and the Team thought we could ever win that game. Also – everyone is saying before the game “their QB is a little gimpy, rush him.” But the Munchkin from South Bend, as the pro announcers called him, decided to do the opposite, often dropping 8 or even 9 men back into coverage. Love it so.

      4. True, since the Holtz years ND just has been woeful when it counted most. The Hawaii Bowl win was such a big deal not because it was any great matchup, but just because we finally got the bowl monkey off our back. That’s how far we had fallen, we were happy just for a bowl win, period. But now that don’t cut if for me. We’ve won a few of those lesser bowls. They really don’t interest me anymore. It’s time ND wins a real bowl game against a real team. If ND…and BK want to prove they belong, then get the job done. If not, then it’s time for ND to start thinking about the future. BK will be back next year. He won’t be fired. But if ND loses another big bowl game, I think it’s time for the administration to start scouting around to see who can take the program to the next step (quietly of course).

        The only good thing about that is it will give everyone a chance to evaluate Elko and Long to see if they are worth keeping. They’ve had some ups and downs, but it’s also the first year. A 2nd year should give us some better ideas about how good they really are.

  17. Thank you Greg. I like the observation about the defensive line. I did not think as much about the D line as you guys did. I also like the observation about the great wins this team has. And I like the very true contrasting between this team and the 2014 team that was riddled by bad injuries…possibly an early warning about the failure of the physical condition program last year. This seems to be a healthy team…and one that can play in the fourth quarter. Nicely written.

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