While writing this week’s five things I liked column proved difficult, the hardest part of putting this one together was only listing five things I didn’t like. Notre Dame turned in one of the worst – maybe the absolute worst – performances of the Brian Kelly Era (an already low bar to reach). So as we finally turn the page to Virginia Tech, let’s put a ribbon on this one.
1. Notre Dame showing up unprepared for a huge game with 2 weeks to prepare
Notre Dame had a bye week to prepare to Michigan and they didn’t have any classes the week of the game meaning they weren’t limited to the normal 20-hour practice week leading up to the game. All of that in their favor and Notre Dame showed up completely unprepared for the game. That isn’t on the players, that is on the coaching staff – specifically the head coach who likes to remind everyone of how many years he’s been coaching.
Brian Kelly should have had his team better prepared for the environment they were entering. He did not. This was Miami 2017 all over again albeit in a rain-soaked Michigan Stadium instead of a strobe-light filled, seizure-inducing Hard Rock Stadium.
Speaking of the rain, it looked like Notre Dame had never played a game in the rain before. I thought we had learned from the 2016 NC State disaster you can just chuck the ball all around the field in a rainstorm. Apparently, the Notre Dame coaching staff did not. This is inexcusable for a head coach in his 10th season on the job at Notre Dame against a team that was not overwhelmingly more talented.
2. Notre Dame’s best players didn’t rise to the occasion
While the Notre Dame coaching staff did not have this team prepared to play in the environment and a large portion of the blame falls on them for this fiasco, Notre Dame’s top line players did not have their best performances on Saturday night either. Ian Book‘s struggles have been well documented on this site and others at this point. Suffice to say though, Book was not at the top of his game. In fact, Saturday night was the worst start of his Irish career.
While it would be easy to scapegoat the quarterback, Notre Dame’s other stars didn’t shine Saturday night either. Julian Okwara had a quiet night like most games this year outside of the Virginia game. Alohi Gilman took a really bad pass interference penalty that helped get the snowball rolling down the hill. Jalen Elliott was not a factor as Michigan gashed the Notre Dame rush defense. The list goes on.
In a game like Saturday night, you need your stars to show up and lead by example. When your stars are leading the way in making mistakes, you don’t have a chance.
3. Chip Long’s offensive game plan
Let’s get back to the coaching staff for a minute though since there was more to their failures Saturday night than just not having the team prepared. Chip Long‘s game plan was highly questionable, to say the least. While Ian Book didn’t help my missing some wide-open first reads on the night, what was Long thinking calling horizontal runs to the edge with Tony Jones Jr against a fast Michigan defense? That was exactly what the Wolverines want you to do.
For the second year in a row now, it feels like the problems with the Notre Dame offense have centered around the offensive gameplans not aligning with its quarterbacks’ strengths and weaknesses. We saw Long call pass after pass that Brandon Wimbush couldn’t complete last year. This year we’re seeing Long struggle to find ways to get the ball to his biggest playmakers – Cole Kmet and Chase Claypool. Good offensive coordinators scheme their best players open. Long has not been able to do that.
4. A special teams gaffe starting the downward spiral
In the grand scheme of things, one play doesn’t change the outcome of a game like the one we witnessed Saturday night. That said, one play in particular early changed the entire momentum of the game, and that was the blocked punt that Notre Dame managed to squander. After forcing a three and out on Michigan’s first drive of the game, Bo Bauer blocked a Michigan punt in the endzone. The ball went past the line of scrimmage, though and a 5th year senior didn’t know not to touch the ball. The rest of the players on the field weren’t aware enough to yell to get away from the ball.
Instead of getting the ball in Michigan territory and stealing the momentum, Notre Dame gave Michigan a free first down and let them escape the shadows of their own goalposts. Again, it probably would not have made a difference, but that one play summed up the game – and this season so far – perfectly. The opportunity was there, but it got fumbled away.
5. Notre Dame being unable to stop a Michigan running game that had struggled most of the year
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of Saturday night was seeing Notre Dame struggle to do anything offensively while Michigan ran the ball right into the heart of the Notre Dame defense without much resistance. At one point Michigan ran the ball 19 straight times. NINETEEN. This is a team that struggled to run the ball most of the year heading into Saturday night.
Michigan ran the ball 57 times overall for 303 yards on the night. They only had 1,078 yards in their first seven games combined – an average of 154 yards a game. Notre Dame allowed Michigan to run for twice their season average in conditions where they knew Michigan was going to run the football. Some of that came against cupcakes, though, so here are some sobering numbers for you. This is how many yards each of Michigan’s previous ranked opponents allowed the Wolverines to rush for.
- Penn State: 141 yards
- Iowa: 120 yards
- Wisconsin: 40 yards
Notre Dame allowed Michigan to rush for more yards than Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin COMBINED. That is is just crazy. Part of the problem was schematic, but part was some of the worst tackling we’ve seen all year. All of the good we saw in the Georgia game from a tackling perspective evaporated, and suddenly, all of our worst fears about the Notre Dame defense that hadn’t really manifested themselves their year were exposed all in a few hours.