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.