Can Notre Dame Avoid Another November Collapse Following Michigan Blowout

Struggling in November has been a problem for Notre Dame in recent years.  Even during Brian Kelly’s reboot following the 2016 season, the Irish haven’t been immune to November letdowns.  Following Notre Dame’s blowout loss at the hands of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Notre Dame fans are worried that another November letdown is possible.  Whether it happens remains to be seen, though, and right now, this month can go either way.

How the Irish respond this weekend will give us a good indication of which direction they’ll head.  Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and look at how things have spiraled out of control for Kelly and Notre Dame in years past.

Recapping Notre Dame’s Novembers to (not) Remember

In 2017, Notre Dame entered November squarely in the playoff race with what looked like a path to playoffs.  Then they ran into a buzz saw in Miami before stumbling a second time against Stanford on the road.  They finished with a 9-3 regular-season record and earned an invite to Citrus Bowl where they salvaged their season with an exciting win over LSU.

The 2016 season was an utter disaster, but it could have been somewhat salvaged in November.  The Irish were 3-5 entering November with bowl eligibility still looking like a possibility.  Notre Dame faced Navy, Army, Virginia Tech, and USC.  Notre Dame should have gone at least 3-1 against that slate to finish 6-6 and be bowl eligible.  Instead, they lost three of four, and Brian Kelly blew up his staff and reinvented himself.

Notre Dame didn’t suffer a total collapse in 2015, but much like 2017, they entered the month in the playoff race and ended the month out of it.  After uninspiring performances against Boston College and Wake Forest, Notre Dame was already out of the playoff mix before they lost to Stanford to close the season.  Thanks for that one BVG.

Perhaps the most drastic letdown came in 2014, though when the Irish went full-blown collapse.  Notre Dame entered November 6-1 fresh off a heartbreaking loss to defending champion Florida State on the road.  Notre Dame was still in the playoff mix following the loss, but then it all went to hell.  After nearly letting Navy come back against them before holding on to win, they dropped four straight, including terrible losses to Northwestern and Louisville at home.

Dear Brian Kelly, please never go full-collapse again.

2019’s Schedule looks Familiar

Starting this weekend, Notre Dame has the potential to lose even if they are a 16-17 point favorite against Virginia Tech.  Coming off a tough loss like the Michigan debacle, a team can usually go one of two ways.  Play pissed off and put it entirely behind them, or let the team that just beat them down beat them again.  We won’t know which direction Notre Dame is headed until kickoff on Saturday.  Virginia Tech hasn’t been great by any means this year, but they are coming off a bye week. Although we learned first-hand last week that doesn’t always mean anything.

After Virginia Tech, the Irish travel to Duke before hosting Navy and Boston College and then finishing the season on the road against Stanford.  That’s a very similar schedule to the one the Irish faced in 2014 as they limped to the finish line.

  • Navy always gives Notre Dame trouble – especially when the Irish are struggling.
  • Duke is on the road at night.
  • Boston College will treat their trip to South Bend like their Super Bowl.
  • Brian Kelly has never won on the road at Stanford.

It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way Though

While Notre Dame’s had some pretty rough Novembers the last five years.  You don’t have to look too far to a November that Notre Dame owned.  It was just last year that the Irish capped off an undefeated regular season with five wins in November.

Jack Swarbrick didn’t do the Irish any favors last year either.  He virtually sold a home game to play in Yankee Stadium against a ranked Syracuse team while having the Irish travel all around the country over the final six weeks of the season.  Kelly guided Notre Dame to wins over Northwestern, Florida State, Syracuse, and USC.  Both Northwestern and Syracuse were ranked at the time as well.

So, it can be done.  Notre Dame does not have to follow the paths it went down in 2014, 2015, 2016, or 2017.

So How Does Notre Dame Avoid a Letdown?

The first thing Notre Dame has to do to avoid the fate they suffered in 2014 or to a lesser extent 2015 and 2017, is to put the loss to Michigan behind them.  It’s easier said than done, but Notre Dame needs to burn those game tapes and pretend like they never happened.  If they let that loss linger any longer than the bus ride back to South Bend, the Wolverines can beat them again this weekend.

On the field, the Irish need to get back to the defense that we saw against Georgia when they were complimented all night long by the CBS crew for their sound tackling.  That night they bottled up the Georgia rushing attack for most of the night.  A far cry from the defense that gave up over 300 yards to a Michigan ground game that struggled throughout the year.

Offensively, Chip Long and Brian Kelly need to make some drastic changes.  We know that won’t include a quarterback change based on Brian Kelly’s comments earlier this week, but something has to change.  Notre Dame cannot continue playing the same kind of offense we’ve seen from them in every game against decent defenses all year.  Whether it’s changing the play calling, rotating in some new players, or something else entirely, something needs to change.

If Long and Kelly continue just to keep doing what they’ve been doing offensively, Notre Dame will lose another game this season.  Maybe more than one.

The Irish also need their stars to play up to their potential in November to avoid another letdown this month.  Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, Ian Book, Chris Finke, Jalen Elliott, and even Alohi Gilman all need to elevate their games over the final five games.  None of them are playing better than they did in 2018, and a case can be made all of them have regressed this year.

Brian Kelly has learned from his past mistakes at Notre Dame and made a lot of changes that have improved the program.  He’s had plenty of experiences with his teams underachieving in November during his first nine years.  We’ll know soon enough if Kelly’s learned enough from those mistakes to prevent another November collapse.

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  1. Burgundy, I need your help. I hardly know where to begin.

    Dare we let one Halloween loss to MIGHTY Georgia Southern get in the way of “your boy’s” replacement of Notre Dame’s principles
    with the Gospel from Boone according to Appalachian State.

    Further, is this most recent contretemps just another weary example of “You can have people think you are stupid while
    your mouth is shut or open your mouth and reveal all doubt?” Inquiring minds want to know.

    The motto of Appalachian State is “Esse, Quam videre” That roughly translates to “Be, rather than seem>”
    But it SEEMS that Appalachian State (the lesser Mountaineers) BE having a home loss, in unSEEMLY fashion.

    Quite a bit of timing from “your boy D”

    I have an inside source who tells me that App State, right there in Boone, recently changed its motto from the traditiional
    “Why these gaptoothed hillbillies having so much trouble walking on flat ground?’

    I await your leadership, wit and guidance, Ron.

    1. Woooosh. You didn’t miss the “point after”…you missed the point itself.

      And the sucking up to the Plastics Queen….very good look for you.

  2. I was so disturbed by the “performance” last week that I had no intention of going to this game. But I was listening to the band play the fight song on my computer and the snow started falling – hard – and sticking. Its cold outside, and there is a biting wind.
    It will clear a bit by Saturday, but not the cold. So I just can’t resist…I’m going to see what these guys are really made of Saturday…it’s my kind of weather and I’m in just the right mood – I’m angry as hell. Unfortunately, tomorrow is a dialysis day, so no pep rally for me – but I will rally at Notre Dame Stadium, as will 70000 other true fans of my Alma Mater. Let’s see if the team shows up as well. I think they will. Go IRISH.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  3. If you make the same mistakes, you get the same result.

    In recent years, there have been several significant changes:

    (1) Improved strength and conditioning-the staff is much more judicious in understanding the empirical impact of too many snaps on players ability to function
    as the season develops.

    (2) Notre Dame has COMMITTED to rotating defensive linemen to keep them fresh late in games and late in the season.
    (It is conceded that freshness and competence are vectors which point in different directions). This has reduced(you can not eliminate) the
    the injury risk, which showed up most clearly in the 2014 finale at USC (just check out the Irish starters at DL in that game)

    (3) the irish also noticed the WR fatige at the end of ’18 and have adjusted accordingly.

    This program is much smarter about managing November and its special issues than it was several years ago.

    (4) ’16 simply, was not a collapse, which
    is defined :an instance of a structure falling down or in.
    “the collapse of a railroad bridge”

    The ’16 season began with a loss (at Texas) and the Irish never got above .500 at any point during the season)

    They established the bar of mediocrity early, then achieve a fascinating consistency with that mediocrity. Surely, there must be some sort of a medal for that.

    This ain’t ’14 and it ain’t 16.

    You’ll thank me for this in about 48 hours./

      1. David! You can still get a ticket in the ADA section and sit with me! We can smoke a bowl of Medical Tobacco behind the boathouse, get some burgers at Legends and wash them down with four or five Bloody Marys before the game. You can thank me after you thank Duranko (c’mon David – I know you want to…and the weather will be perfect).

        BGC ’77 ’82

  4. It’s not about a loss.
    It’s about what you do AFTER you lose.


    Purdue 49-Ohio State 20


    Michigan 42 Penn State 7

    Ohio State 62 Michigan 39


    Clemson 44-Alabama 16

    The “closest loss” in that quartet was Michigan’s 23 point loss to Ohio state, though it probably felt worse.

    Those teams lost.

    but how have they reacted since?

    That’s the test.

    Further, check out the season ending loss/tie (yes against Bubba Smith and George Webster and Harold Lucas, an Ara/Pagan coached team had
    NEGATIVE rushing yardage against Michigan State (BGC and his kin may remember the monotony of Frank Crosiar “Zloch fails to gain”)
    and the ensuing scoreless ties against Miami. That was ’65.

    In ’72 the season ended in the Coliseum (stop me if you’ve heard that before) when DAvis scored 6-(and don’t conflate that with ’74-THAT wass the 49 in a row game)
    before the bowl rout against Johnny Rodgers and the Huskers.

    And if you’re ambitious check out how the Irish closed out the ’87 season.

    10/26 is gone

    11/2is the only thing and the important thing.

    And yeah, Go Irish!

  5. My only comment Brian Kelly is a really good coach but is he a great coach? Notre Dame is at the place where you have to ask the question is Kelly the man to get a Football national championship? If the answer is no, should we be looking at Washington’s coach Chris Petersen or Minnesota’s TJ Fleck. For me, I tend to lean toward Chris Petersen only because of his defenses. Notre Dame needs elite speed on all three phases and you just do not see it. All who watch Notre Dame sees a drop off between the elite teams and them. It is like Notre Dame plays down to the opponent rather than dominating them. What should be done now? Notre Dame has a rich tradition but in a tech age that means little when you talk greatness or championships. Time will tell if the leadership of Notre Dame want titles or wins. We all know Kelly can win games but it seems hard for him to win the big games.

  6. A November collapse might be just what the doctor ordered for Jack to part ways with Kelly. 8-4 wouldn’t do it, but 7-5 might make it easy. They win this weekend, but Navy and Stanford are scary games.

    Jack has to walk the tightrope here. If you fire Kelly you risk losing the 2020-2021 recruiting classes, which are (in my opinion) set up to be the best under his tenure.

    Best case scenario is Kelly through the 2021 season, then bring in Matt Rhule to take advantage of the stocked cupboard.

      1. Your lines are Regina…..not Jason, the lunch room skeeze.
        (The dual role thing is reserved for actors with more range…)

    1. Pete: Yes, we need to watch Coach Rhule, but also Coaches Satterfield, Fleck and our own Coach Lea. Let the chips fall where they fall.

      Also for Farhsdahl…your post says it all! That’s why I’m going to this one!

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. BGC I think URBAN would now be really interested in coaching ND after next year which he said he will sit out. MEYER didn’t think he could win at ND because of academics and restrictions! But KELLY has taken ND to NC in 2012 and playoffs in 2018! Meyer is a much better coach and recruiter than KELLY, that being said I think Meyer knows he can win at ND now! And his ego to prove what nobodys done since ’88’ will be a big factor!! Of course the question is will the ND ADMINISTRATION and all the decision makers take that chance of bringing MEYER on board?

      2. NDCRAZYMIKE: Urban would be acceptable to me under those conditions – he’s one of the top 3 or 4 coaches of this millennium – no doubt about that. But it does not matter what you or I think; he has to pass muster with the top brass at ND (which I think he would, but I don’t know for sure) and he would be bypassing some coaching jobs that pay a lot more than ND, even if ND ups the ante. Also, I am somewhat concerned about his health – for his own sake. Notre Dame is not exactly the most stress free job for a head coach in the country!

        BGC ’77 ’82

  7. Play angry. That’s the narrative here. I would never burn that game tape; I’d loop a video of the worst plays in the locker room and make the players do 45 reps of every calisthenic and every lift in the weight room. I would make them so pissed off they’re spitting fire by the time they get to game day.

    We need to earn the pride back, and not just the players – the coaches, the athletic department and the fans all need to earn back our pride. Yes, the fans, too. We need to make Knute’s house a place to be feared again.

  8. “It was a big leap and around here I believe it was a very emotional leap as well,” Gillin, Appalachian State’s athletic director since 2015, says of the FBS move that was made the year before his arrival. “This has always been a very proud fan base. And a fan base with a bit of chip on its shoulder, in a good way. So, when you have had so much success at the FCS level, winning national championships and selling out games and producing All-American and putting players into the NFL, there are going to be people who say, ‘Hey, life is pretty good right now. Why mess with this?’ But then there’s also that desire to do something bigger. If you really believe in what you’re doing, why not take that to the next level and see if you can accomplish what you think you can? Thankfully, they elected to do that. And here we are. With a real chance to take that next level step.”

    And that, right there, is why I’m rooting for App State. Or anyone else who has the desire and the guts to try and be more, to achieve more.
    ND under Brian Kelly is not that.

      1. And I had them penciled in to win the whole thing.
        Think I can get my $65,000 back ?


  9. Something is missing this year.Bad coaching, and a lack of our best players performing up to their level.
    It makes me wonder if this team has ever recovered from the Clemson game. I do not have a lot of confidence in the rest of the season going well.i hope I am wrong, and something lights a fire under this team and their coaches.Happy Halloween.

  10. I am very concerned about a November collapse. They seem more the norm for BK, there have been more underwhelming or downright disappointing Novembers than good Novembers. When they enter November undefeated it seems they are able to close out the season pretty well.

    But whenever they have a game like last week they seem to fall apart. The heartbreaker against FSU a few years back was actually a hard fought battle with the game decided by a questionable penalty against the Irish. They were never the same after that. Then in 2017 they had a bad blowout loss against Miami and I see a lot of parallels to this year. They entered both Miami and Michigan with a shot at the playoffs (though probably better in 2017). They get shellshocked by a team, who in both cases was not an elite team, then they sleepwalk through November. I think there’s good reason to be worried it happens again this year. The patter has been set already.

  11. Any loss during the remainder of the season would be a classic case of underachievement by ND, not anything attributable to its opponents over that stretch; and if there is a loss, that’s on the coaching!

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