Notre Dame Earns More Respect, Loses Another Big One

So close, yet so far away.

I, for one, did not predict that Notre Dame would have the ball at the Georgia 38 with a first down and just over a minute left, a touchdown away from winning the game. The offense, missing several key pieces, seemed not up to the task for much of the game, but there they were, on the verge of scoring 14 unanswered in the 4th quarter to win the game. The defense, who everyone believed would get run over, held Georgia to field goals when they needed, and gave the offense a chance late in the 4th quarter with a must-have defensive stop. It was all going right until it wasn’t. And the Irish were back to where they’ve always been.

There is not much question where Notre Dame stands in the football world. They are a top 10 program, but not top 5. Capable of playing with, but not beating, the elite in college football. It’s where they have been mainly for the past 25 years. The graphic has gone around a bunch lately; they are 0-11 against the last top-five teams they have played.

They are very good at winning respect, at least in September and October, not very good at winning the games. I should note this is true of the Notre Dame fan base, not so much amongst the national media. Some of those folks didn’t give us props following a victory last season–trying to appease them is folly–but what matters here is how Notre Dame actually overcomes this hurdle they can’t seem to get over, in 2019 and beyond.

Better Play From The Captains

The thing about being a captain on a football team is everyone is looking to you, all the time. That means you don’t make the dumb mistakes; you don’t jump offsides, you don’t false start, you don’t drop balls that are intercepted. It also means your play has to rise above the rest of the team. It’s not enough to be good; you’ve got to be great. That’s the responsibility of being captain.

Notre Dame has seven captains this season, and I’d say two, Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, are living up to the standard set above. They haven’t been perfect, but their games have been consistently high, and they’ve been reliable game after game. Elliott is a bit understated due to his role as the deeper safety, but people aren’t getting behind the defense, so he’s doing his job.

The other five–  defensive ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem, wide receiver Chris Finke, right tackle Robert Hainsey, and quarterback Ian Book–have to be better. I’m not saying they are playing poorly, but their standard is higher.

Okwara and Kareem have been disruptive without the stats, Georgia was afraid to throw anything beyond quick passes and back shoulder fades, and if that line is game planning against our ends, then we’ve got something. But, they do need to make more plays in the running game, and even with the quick drops, there is more of an impact to be made.

Hainsey has been fine, but he also joined the false start brigade last night, and given the penalties we saw from his group, it’s hard for him to hold guys accountable when he’s also making those mistakes.

Book and Finke are basically tied together. The offense was supposed to be great primarily due to their connection, and it just hasn’t been there. The third quarter interception last night was a perfect example. Book throws an in route slightly behind Finke on a short and easy throw, but it hits Finke in the chest, where it bounces up and into the arms of a defender. Can’t happen from two captains in that spot.

More Skill Talent

This is hardly an original thought, but can’t mention how to close the gap without bringing this up. Notre Dame had the ball on the Georgia 38 with a minute left to score the winning touchdown, and they played the whole game without a top 25 level running back. Maybe not even top 50. Losing Armstrong was a killer for this team, especially in this game. Georgia knew no one in the backfield could hurt them, no one out of the backfield in the passing game could hurt them, and they were right. It’s a tough way to play offense, especially when you’re in a talent deficit with everyone available.

For 2019, the key is getting Michael Young and Jafar Armstrong back. Per Brian Kelly at his press conference, receiver Michael Young and running back Jahmir Smith are probable for this week, with Armstrong looking like a go for USC. We saw what it meant to the offense to get tight end Cole Kmet back into the lineup; he was a game-changer for us. Getting Young back in, allowing Finke to move to the slot comfortably, and getting Lawrence Keys in behind him, will only open up the offense more, and the offense can begin to click again with Armstrong in a couple of weeks like we wanted all along.

For 2020, five star running back Chris Tyree and five-star receiver Jordan Johnson are on the way, as is top 50 tight end Michael Mayer. Reinforcements are coming, both this season and next so hopefully that leads to an offense we’ve been waiting for.

Win The Rest

Notre Dame is going to be favored in every game the rest of the season, and if anything positive can be taken away from last night, it’s that this team really ought to go 11-1. The defense was certainly better than most predicted, and the offense is only adding weapons. The true test of this season is where they go from here, and I suspect next weeks game against #18 Virginia is going to tell the story. If I had to guess, I’d say it’ll be their best performance yet, and they’ll go sailing into the USC game with the lineup intact and ready to play their best ball. Hope springs eternal.

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  1. After game 3 last season ND changed quarterbacks (with good results).
    After watching Chris Finke flounder for 3 weeks, I think it is time for
    another change. Finke seems to lack the speed and strength to
    compete at a championship level.

  2. I have a lot of optimism moving forward. I really liked what Brian Kelly said after the game about how next week will determine the character of the team. Notre Dame has a solid team. They seem to have a lot of pieces. It looks like the younger talent, especially at linebacker, are going to be very good for the next few years. Notre Dame has the Georgia game in the rearview now. Now it is time to focus on a game at a time and continue to improve.

  3. If there is one bright spot it’s that most in the national media is giving ND “props” for keeping it close–when everyone, including many here probably, expected a blowout—by Georgia. I have to be honest, with some of the issues I saw in the first two games I was fearful we were going to get embarrassed. So we weren’t embarrassed. No one is laughing at us this morning (the haters will still hate of course–but in general most outside ND land thought we played well enough).

    The problem I have is at what point do we start winning these games? We are in year 10 of BK. I’m sorry, but it’s never going to happen. We will continue to go to these top 5 match-ups–sometimes get blown our (usually when it matters most like a playoff/bowl game)–and sometimes maybe make a game of it and maybe even put a little scare in the other team.

    I tend to wonder, how much did Georgia’s struggles to put away ND have to do with that they started the season playing 3 hugely overmatched opponents. What if we played Georgia in late October or early November when they had at least more respectable opponents? Would they have been better prepared for the Irish then and blown us out?

    The difference I’ve seen in ND many years is elite teams get better as the season wears on. How many times has ND struggled in November? And in 2012 and last season, when we went 12-0 (not an easy feat I admit), we get our hands handed to us in the most meaningful game of the year, the final playoff/NC game. I mean, we don’t just lose–we get embarrassed…in front of the whole CFB world, giving ammunition to the haters (some within the committees that make the calls) that ND really doesn’t belong in the conversation…making it even harder for the Irish to get in if they have an 11-1 season (or maybe 12-0 if the haters have their way).

    I’ve said before, ND is an above average team that can beat 95%, hell maybe 99% of the teams out there. The problem is the elite teams, Clemson and Alabama, are so far above the rest of the CFB world and we are with the rest of CFB. 2012 was a wake up call. That was the year ND realized it had a huge gap to meet if it wanted to be elite. Well, folks, it’s 7 years later and honestly we are no closer. Georgia was a great, an elite team probably, and even they are probably not quite at the level of Clemson and Alabama yet. But they are closing the gap. We are not. We are stuck in place.

    I will say, BK and Swarbick, better start thinking of ways to hold on to Clark Lea. You can bet someone is either going to want him to be their HC or some elite team is going to try to swoop in and make him their DC. That’s a guy worth keeping around. The defense wasn’t perfect…but they did what they needed to help the Irish win. Unfortunately the offense failed to take what the defense was giving them.

    1. Damian , Irish are 24-5 since that 4-8 disaster of ’16 –and a playoff appearance. POT OF GOLD is coming —as sure’in as the rain a fall’in on the roof top of an Irish pub in the green , green country side. Keep the faith lad.

      1. I’d like to think that. But it just seems like we get so close but just can’t break that glass ceiling. You know, I don’t even need to win a NC every year. Even if it were every few years. I don’t need to be Alabama and win it 2 or 3 years in a row like they’ve done at times (though I certainly wouldn’t complain if that were to occur). I’d almost be happy if it were like Ohio State’s record. Win a NC every few years, win some big name bowl games, maybe they have an off year now and again. But usually in the conversation. ND has been in the conversation but either they have a bad November and it crashes and burns, or they actually make it to a big bowl game or playoff game and get crushed. What will it take to break that pattern?

        And I’m just not sure that the PTB care as much about NC’s as we do. As long as the money comes in and they field respectable 9 to 10 win seasons I’m not sure they care about the rest as much.

    2. Damian, It is kind of difficult for the SEC minions and pundits to laugh real hard at us right now. I mean, if we suck, what does that say about Georgia? They STILL are less than 1 touchdown better than us. Now later in the season you will start to hear the same nonsense you heard two years ago when they beat us by one point – “Oh, but Georgia is a MUCH better team now than they were in September.” We heard that very crap on THIS site! And they will seriously believe that people who are “other than cretins” will actually believe them! Wait and see.
      The real question is exactly what you ask – when do we start beating them? Possibly in a New Year’s Six Bowl rematch this very year! The SEC may very well get two teams in this year – LSU and BAMA. That will leave the loser of the SEC Championship game (Georgia or Florida) in one of the non-playoff New Year’s Six Bowls. Now there are a lot of possibilities for those six slots, but a rematch is not forbidden by the Committee as far as I can tell. Just sayin’.

      PS: 11-1 on the way!

      BGC ’77 ’82

  4. Well stated. As Pedro opined, Kelly (and his staff) are doing a good job given the talent gap at key
    positions. Saturday night was a good example. The talent differential that separates the Irish from the elite is slowly but surely changing in favor of ND. More speed and an elite QB are priorities for a top five team.

    1. So true FITZY, the talent level against GEORGIA was more than evident!! Kelly and his staff did an excellent job of game planning and in game planning to nearly pull out a victory! A huge difference in the game was at RB where Georgia’s backups could b big time players for us, but help is on the way with ARMSTRONG coming back and CHRISS TYREE on the way!! LOTS of season left GO IRISH beat Virginia 11-1 is the goal now!!

  5. Kelly is doing a great job given the talent differential at some position groups. RB recruiting misses in past years have caught up to us. We can’t sustain one injury. At wide receiver it’s been a bit of bad luck with multiple injuries, a suspension, and talented guys who just can’t survive at ND. Stephenson was electric and would still be on this team.

    Can’t say enough about the defense. Clark Lea is a guru. By 2021 we will be very thought to beat. But will Kelly make it that long, and can he keep coordinators like Lea?

  6. Hard to understand with Notre Dame’s national recruiting success overall and at skill positions why it has to depend on a converted QB and wide receiver to carry the rock. Others have said before me, and agree, where is the bruising back who gets that two yard for a first down or TD? Lance Taylor has done it before in Palo Alto; he can do it again in South Bend.

  7. If Notredame doesn’t go 11and 1 Kelly needs to make Long tight ends coach only and go out and bring in a big time offensive coordinator.Look what Orgeron did at lsu.New coordinator and now their putting up video numbers.

    1. New coordinator at Michigan too. And they stink. Be careful what you ask for – you might get it.

      BGC ’77 ’82

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