The Top 5 Things I Didn’t Like in Notre Dame’s Latest Primetime Disaster

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 eitherIan 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.

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  1. Coach Kelly fails to let hi players froth at the mouth for the big games. His big game opponents get their players fired up to eat nails. Coach Kelly treats his players too much like Bill Belichick. College football players are not professionals. They need emotional enthusiasm galore to be fully effective. Coach Kelly’s players are talented enough and mature enough to embrace an emotional high without losing focus.

  2. Notre Dame allowed Michigan to rush for more yards than Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin COMBINED.

    HAHAHAHHA That should be retweeted 10,000,000x byt Domers. That is an incredibly sad stat

  3. Frank , got it all. Your summary– thought there would be something along the lines of , overhaul needed back to square one. Irish probably have the talent , even with Book still learning/improving , to beat the teams remaining. I hope Irish win out and smell of rotten eggs is not lingering into 2020.

  4. Nothing but great news here, folks. The administration certainly gets their wish…. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY will ever mistake the University of Notre Dame for a football factory.

  5. While the coaches were pretty much trash this game, does anyone else feel like our team is soft this year? As MTA pointed out, we got absolutely owned on the LOS on both sides of the ball. Some of that is scheme from the coaching but a lot of it is their guys being tougher than our guys. I feel like we don’t have guys on this year’s team that can fire our team up all that much, like a Tranquil or Coney from last season. When you start getting owned like that, someone has to be out on the field to light a fire under your a** and I’m not sure we have the leadership out there to do that. I was hoping Okwara and Kareem would fill those voids but I don’t see it.

    1. ChrisJ , I agree and with MTA. There’s another player “who doesn’t see a lot of action. His name is Chase Claypool. If you do see him — he’s somewhere on the field near the sidelines. With his talent , you’d think he’d have around 40 plus catches now–not 20 plus. Most top receivers in the country are around 40 plus at this time. Claypool is a game changer–can do a route anywhere on the field. But Irish QB starter has limitations.

  6. No excuse for this kind of showing. Kelly has proved he cannot prepare a team for the big one. He has taken us as far as her can. Two big games this year, and he lost them both. Time for him to go.

  7. Frank – “the ball went past the line of scrimmage”???!!! My ass Frank – that ball went PAST THE LINE TO GAIN!!!
    And the 5th year senior was running toward the WRONG goal!!! There is absolutely NO GOOD AT ALL that could possibly come from touching that ball!!! Not even a chance for a scoop and score, which I might try (if the circumstances were right) IF THE BALL WAS PAST THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE, but nowhere near the line to gain AND I was running and scooping toward the correct goal line! This was not a bad play, Frank – it was mentally INSANE…which is different from merely being crazy, by the way. Or, the player just plain flat out DID NOT KNOW THE RULES! And if so, that begs this question: Who in hell would put a guy out on the field who doesn’t even know the rules, and why?

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Dislike: Let me tell you something. As either a teacher at Munster or Merrillville, as well as an Academic Competition Team Coach at both places, if I EVER put a kid out on a gym floor, in front of a few hundred parents and peers, who was so badly set up to fail that the kid did not even know the rules!!!, I’d be in the principals office so fast, and maybe much worse, and NOBODY…I repeat NOBODY would be defending me. Much less put a kid out in front of 110,000 fans AND on national TV totally set up to fail, which he did spectacularly, and which he will remember for the REST of his life. So you can defend that stuff if you want to, it’s your right. You can defend any level of hurt or incompetence you want. You can also KISS my public school teacher cheeks.

      BGC ’77 ’82

  8. Most games are won or lost in the trenches.
    I don’t disagree with any of what Frank posted.
    But the LOS was completely dominated by Michigan.
    DC Brown set up 3 LBs within five yards of the LOS and inside the tackles on nearly every play and ND had no answer for that. Poor preparation + poor execution vs. a team on a mission to keep their season alive> a seriously embarrassing ND outcome. How ND reacts to that fiasco this week is all we can watch for.
    BTW, I’m thinking WRMcKinley must lead the nation in % of receptions resulting in TDs. His complete lack of use reminds of the first three years of Boykin-a guy currently in the NFL. Makes me wonder what other players on the team but not regularly on the field could make a difference.

    1. You’re right about the LOS Michael. There has been one and only one running play I’ve liked this year, and it was the Tony Jones 12 yarder vs. Virginia, where the entire O Line went student body left and pushed the D Line 5 or 6 yards down the field. The approach in a “rain game” is to have your offensive linemen fire off the ball straight ahead, and run as often as possible VERTICALLY. The game plan was so insanely bad it defies explanation. Not only did they attempt far too many passes, but they continued to run horizontally against 9 man fronts.
      And yes, we are grossly underutilizing our talent. You’ll see it on draft day next year when some of these non-producers get picked.

    2. MTA,

      Agree on all fronts, especially McKinley. How much of it is on Book vs calls getting him the ball though? But as you said, reminds me so much of Boykin who was underutilized until his senior season which was almost by default because everyone else went pro or graduated and then it was only then we found out that he was a stud receiver. McKinley is on the same path. That is on the coaches, as usual.

  9. Its become very clear that Notre Dame under Brian Kelly will not win a National Championship. Good coach for sure, just not great. His choice of Offensive coordinator in Chip Long was a bit puzzling when he just didn’t have the track record to show why he was ready to take the defenses of Clemson, Georgia, Alabama. Miami two years ago and now Michigan? The job of an offensive coordinator is to win the chess match vs. your opponent. To adjust and have looks the defense would be surprised to see. You can’t just line up these days and overpower the best teams. Against Miami of Ohio maybe, Virginia Tech, Louisville…ok. USC is down, so throw them in there for now. Long has done so little to make me believe wow, what a great call! He comes up with one call a game, this past week was the TD to Kmett. very well designed and executed but one a game of 75 plays just wont get it done. This job is way too big for him at this stage of his career. Kellys choice in him reveals he is gutless to do it himself. Kellys strength is running an offense. He passed that on to a guy that is not ready. The only success he has had is when he had homerun hitters making plays. Thats not calling a great game, thats just having talent that bails you out. False sense of who we are actually. Watch the good teams, the constantly keep defenses off balance. We can blame the rain, special teams gaf, and even a bad day for Book, but the problem is Long, and really that falls on Kelly, he chose him.
    The defense is actually pretty good, but not if it has too play all night without any breaks. Three and out hurts the defense. Hurts field position. Hurts momentum. This past loss, like all Prime time losses which I have named fall on a poorly designed offensive game plan and lack of a coach to adjust. By the way, I have felt like this for more than this game. This has been since Long took over. Poor guy is just not ready and Kelly wont change direction and we will contue to lose big games. We will win 9 and ten games every year, but then that means we have compromised what we need to aim for. 1988 is far too long ago for me. Lets go get Urban and fix this.

  10. I compliment Frank on finding ways to distill the games worse points down to 5 things (which did point to a number of other problems as well).

    Poor game all around. The only good part, mostly, was our punter (except for one miss–but 1 out of, what, 10 punts is pretty good).
    I’m pretty much done with Chip Long at this point. I tried to be patient, and at times there were flashes. But the same problems keep cropping up. As Frank noted, he’s not getting the team to play to their strengths. It’s like he has his favorite plays and he’s sticking with them whether they can be executed or not.

    The defense is an enigma. They weren’t perfect, maybe not even elite, but they were a respected unit most of the year. Now they did come out after halftime and get a couple stops….and the offense did them absolutely no favors, they just put the defense back on the field a minute or so later. But still.

    I still say VanGorder put some sort of hex on them a few weeks back. Ever since that game our defense hasn’t been the same. They almost let USC take the game and now this weekend, outside a few series after halftime they let Michigan dominate them.

    And let’s not forget. We can complain all we want about ND not getting top recruits. But this was not Alabama we were playing….or Ohio State…or LSU, or whatever elite level team you want to put in here. This was not an elite team we were playing. Michigan will likely end the season with more losses than ND. There is no excuse for losing like that against Michigan.

    It’s on the coaches first. They didn’t have the players ready by a long shot. Inexcusable. And the players seemed to sleepwalk through much of the game.

    1. All these underlings are the best Kelly could find and convince to work for him.
      Kelly is responsible. That’s why he makes multiples of what they do.

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