Standards vs. Results – Winning Should Be Enough for Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame won a football game on Saturday, which is a good thing. A lot of people are upset about this good thing that happened because winning and losing is almost beside the point at this juncture of the season. It’s all about “the standard” now, an elusive and subjective metric we use to decide whether the game was a success or whether it was a failure. So while Notre Dame won, they almost lost, which means it’s basically a loss, and it was to a “bad team” on top of that, which makes it all worse.

The reason we are at this place is the responsibility of the team, of course. When you get blown away by your rival in a big game to knock yourself out of playoff contention and eliminate the chance of what everyone would agree is a great season, the glass is officially half empty. That’s just the reality of it.

But, the milk is spilled, there’s nothing that can be done about what’s already happened, and the focus on a standard of play versus wins and losses only makes things worse. We’ve seen multiple Notre Dame teams miss out on their goals, and then the season falls apart, and I think in large part because of this standards vs. results question.

“The Standard” Ought To Be Winning

I mainly blame this on Brian Kelly, who always talks about playing to standards instead of playing for wins, and he ought to stop. Frequently he mentions playing to the standards when they play a lesser opponent, like Bowling Green, which is just code for “don’t have a letdown,” and isn’t something he should be reminding players on the day of the game. He can, of course, but if their level of play hasn’t been figured out before the contest–like say, at practice–then telling them not to play poorly isn’t going to be effective.

Speaking of level of play, this team has shown us week after week this year what they’re about and what level they can reach. And it has consistently been below playoff-caliber, which is why they were never very high in the advanced metrics like SP+. This isn’t them playing below the standard; it’s just who they are. If you’re watching them play at this point and feeling disappointment because they don’t look the way you expect, that’s pretty much on you. And maybe you’re the type of person who won’t settle for inefficiency or anything less than greatness (which would be weird since those types of teams haven’t really existed for Notre Dame in the last 30 years), in which case you’ll either stop watching or be very upset every weekend.

This isn’t to say Notre Dame should lower the goals or settle for something less than the playoffs and a national title as a program but in season? Where does that leave this team? The players aren’t going to just quit. And they can’t go back in time and do over Georgia and Michigan. All that’s left is to win the rest, however they can.

Winning Should  Always Be Enough

Which brings me to this. The signs have been apparent from the start that this team wasn’t as good as expected in the pre-season. The offense hasn’t been sharp against Power 5 competition, the defensive line not the week to week game wreckers we thought. Folks griped about the slow start against Louisville and Virginia, and the close call against USC. The most significant evidence Notre Dame had a chance to make a run was in a close loss at Georgia. That was, of course, all taken away against Michigan.

We’ve seen them be inconsistent on offense and defense all season, it cost them their two big games, and now all that’s left for them to play for is a double-digit win regular season. Surely this is a let down for the team after their success last season, and there was a predictable sloppiness to their play yesterday. They played like a team that wasn’t sure; their overall confidence was shaken.

But, they found a way to win, despite their sloppiness and their mistakes. And that should be enough for them and everyone else. It doesn’t matter how it looks anymore; there is no one left to impress with nice window dressing. Just win the games and be happy when you do. Don’t feel bad about winning close to Virginia Tech, or Duke next week, or any other team on their schedule. These are all Power 5 teams, and freakin Navy, who sits at 7-1 and is ranked #31 in SP+.

Should Notre Dame run the table the rest of the season, it will be a heck of an accomplishment, all the while not meeting the ultimate goal. At this point, it’s the best they can do, and if it comes, however it happens, no one should feel bad about it. Sure, there will be bad plays and frustrating moments and perhaps some unforgivable coaching mistakes. But, the focus should be on winning, which a real thing, and not on meeting some standard, which is a made up thing that means different things to different people.

Just win the games, and to heck with everything else.

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  1. Lou Holtz considered excellence and winning as tributes to the Blessed Lady of the dome.
    Not Davie, nor Willingham, nor Weis, nor Kelly has ever mentioned it.

    Fun fact.

  2. When I think of Lou Holtz, I remember the fired-up leader pacing up and down the sidelines, grabbing players’ face masks, and asking his team at halftime to save “Jimmy Johnson’s ass” for him. Contrast to BK’s standing there with his arms folded, with an occasional scowl on his face, and who’s strongest mantra is “next man in”. Sounds like the desk at the DMV. His locker room speeches put me to sleep. BK is probably a good coach of football, but ND needs a leader who brings out the absolute best from his players every week. I’m not a Domer. I’m actually an SEC grad (the team that DID beat Georgia this year) who grew up a die-hard ND fan. I saw what Lou Holtz could do when he got to my school (THE USC), and he went undefeated against Ohio State. It’s all about the coach!

    1. Absolutely correct. Imo Notredame would be a machine with Urban Meyer or any other great coach. Kelly offensive staff is not elite. If I was him I would fire Long and Reese and bring in some stud coaches.You would see a whole different level of offense imo

  3. KELLY is just a little better than average coach! His mistakes have been keeping close friends as coaches ( QUINN ) and they’ve done a poor job at best! After paying fat ass Weiss all those years not to coach the team, they are happy to under pay now! Kelly took a dead program and has built it back up and become relevant again! Yes we need better I just don’t think the administration believes that. $$ is being made big time by the program now and BOWL GAMES have brought in more $$ ! After Davie, Willingham and FAT ASS they love and love being able to pay him cheap!! Still think were waiting another 2 years with KELLY!! If ND wins out and goes 10-2 and plays in another BIG BOWL GAME then the ADMINISTRATION gets what they want!! And if by some chance they win that bowl game and finish 11-2 that will make KELLY 33-6 in the last 3 years!! My point is unless there’s another 2016 season his job is secure!!

  4. The sooner Brian Kelly enters the Transfer Portal the better off Notre Dame football will be. Time for this clown to move on.

  5. Winning is a fine standard so long as you’re undefeated. Once you lose a game, style points begin to matter. It’s not fair, but such is the world we live in.
    And I find it humorous how the reporters who cover the team are now backing off and saying fans have unrealistic expectations of Book because he was a 3-star recruit and backup to Wimbush. This is classic goal post moving as they were heaping praise on him last year.
    Making a QB change shouldn’t be some seismic event. Just do it and move on.

  6. I agree with what you are saying. It’s just harder for those of us who grew up watching Notredame win 4 national championships and several close misses.There was a time Notrrdame was elite. Will it ever return to that. Not sure.Dont think it will with Kelly but he is Notredames coach so I will always support him.As far as him saying today that he is happy with Long as o coordinator.I would not read much into that statement. What is he supposed to say?

  7. Didn’t Jurkovec enroll early in Jan 2018. That was 21 months ago. Kelly says he is still not “ready to play”.
    Something is wrong here. If Book get hurt Jurkovec needs to be “ready to play”. ND has some playmakers
    coming in nest season. Are these guys going to sit on the bench so that Finke, Armstrong, Flemister can get some
    touches ?. The game is faster now. Coaches need to see who can contribute right away. In colllege basketball the
    elite players only play for one year. Then they are off to the pros. It takes ND 3 years to see if these guys can contribute?
    ND needs to go more UPTEMPO. Esp on third and 2. Get lined up and snap the ball. Create some rhythm and try to
    get the defense off balance. Too much wasted time along the line of scrimmage w/ players shifting around and going in motion.
    Line up quickly , get off the ball and get the 2 yds for the first down.

    1. What is wrong, and will remain wrong with ND football, is BK. I don’t claim to have the answer; but, it is CLEAR what the problem is. Your VERY ADEPT observation that PJ has not been “coached up”, is clearly a deficiency. Some form of change, is drastically needed. It was clear to me, when the BK apologists started showing up, AGAIN. Go Irish! “

    2. Absolutely correct “Old”… What this should indicate to the fan-base is that Phil is not the answer. However, I contend he is the type of player who excels in game situations, but is lackluster in practice. These types of players exist and they just need an opportunity to display their talent. I hope Phil gets a chance before the season ends.

  8. Winning is not enough. A win is a win but… It is tiring every week to see ND play down to it’s opponents, start slow or stop playing. As a fan it would be nice to see us win comfotably once in awhile and get the subs in for some quality time. If you have a heart condition you should not be an ND fan because every week they just barely win. No wonder Kelly says the backups don’t have enough experience they hardly ever get to play! Go Irish!

  9. I think another reason for frustration is the uniqueness of CFB that style points matter. For the NFL I’m a NY Giants fan (not a great football year for me needless to say) but for the Giants all I really do care about is the win. It doesn’t matter if they won by 1 point or 30 points. All that matters is wins-losses at the end of the year.

    But for CFB how you win can be almost as important as the win. A strong win can make the difference between a NY Day 6 bowl and a toilet bowl. A dominating 11-1 campaign might get you in the playoffs whereas a weak 11-1 season can have you outside. So we are trained to look at CFB beyond the simple wins and losses and are frustrated when we have a series of lackluster wins.

    And not to mention there is an ocean’s world of differentiation between the true elite teams in CFB and the rest of CFB. So weak wins against average or below average teams probably means your team is in that ‘others’ category and are destined to get blown out by the elites. With the NFL you have dynasty’s sure, but the gap between the best and the rest isn’t nearly as wide, and other teams can break through with the right trades and draft picks.

  10. Sloppy play, from slightly above mediocre coaching. As long as Kelly is at ND, the NC will remain elusive. Winning nine or ten games, will always be enough to justify a sub-par BK (and his sidekick, JS) coaching debacle era..

  11. This article makes way too much sense. It has a healthy dose of perspective, which clearly has no place on today’s interwebs.

  12. I get tired of our really highly rated recruits coming out of high school not playing because there are other veterans in front of them who “understand the offense/defense” better. Why aren’t these stud athletes getting coached up? Does anyone really think that Kyle Hamilton shouldn’t be a starter right now over Elliott and I’ll even say Gilman!? From what I have seen, this kid is all over the field making play after play. Why is he not starting!? This drives me crazy!

    Book was a three star recruit for a reason but he “understands the offense” and can complete passes within 5 to 10 yards really well. Jurkovec was a 5 star at one point I believe and a 4 star coming into ND and within the top 5 duel threat QBs in the nation. He’s been with the team for 2 years now and doesn’t “understand the offense” which Kelly keeps saying about him. Why is that!? Saban made a change at QB to Tua in the national championship game and we all know how good Jalen Hurts is. Dabo switched to Lawrence (who Kelly said Jurkovec looked just as good as coming out of HS) over Bryant who took them to the playoffs. These guys have higher ceilings and these coaches recognized it, gave them a chance to prove it, they did, and now look at how successful they are at the highest level. Are we going to even attempt to do this with our highly rated QB recruit because it sure doesn’t look like it!? Again, drives me crazy!

    1. I wonder that myself. What happens next year if Book comes back? Does BK stick with Book because he’s the “veteran” or does he move on to Jurkovec? I mean at some point I would think Jurkovec’s going to get frustrated at not playing and start thinking maybe he should transfer somewhere else just so he can at least play.

      I’m just getting sick of hearing about all the great recruits we keep getting and we end up struggling against at best average teams and losing the big games, badly. At what point do all these great recruits turn into results? And that’s a coaching issue. Sure the occasional highly rated recruit fails to pan out. But it seems to happen all too often at ND. Now we’re hearing about a monster haul they are pulling in for 2021 I believe it is. Forgive me if I can’t get all that excited about that because I don’t have any faith that BK can turn that into results. Why would I? Last year we learned we were no further along then we were in 2012. We occasionally will win out the regular season, but when it comes to elite teams we aren’t close. We weren’t close to Alabama in 2012 and we were just as far in 2018, and a bit farther away now.

      1. I’m worried PJ may start looking to leave as well. I don’t see Book leaving after this year because the NFL isn’t going to be beating down the door to draft him and I don’t see him transferring. Why would he honestly since he has a starting gig right now and would come back as QB1 again next year.

      2. Exactly!

        How is it that we are getting top 10 recruiting classes but get blown out by a Michigan team that isn’t that good or by a Miami team who went on to lose their next five games after killing us? Players aren’t the problem, it’s the coaches straight up.

  13. Thank you for this article. At the beginning of the season I didn’t expect to see this team make the playoffs due to all the talent they lost from the 12-1 playoff squad. Notre Dame isn’t a reload every year type of team because their recruiting is top ten not top 4. Which is fine because that is good enough to put a squad together and make a run at the title every few years. The program is in great shape and is capable of winning a title despite what many say.

    I’ve been enjoying the season (other than the Michigan game) and have this entire time been hoping to see ND win 10 or 11 games and WIN A MAJOR BOWL GAME!

    Anyone who was still clinging to playoff hopes after the Georgia loss was kidding themselves. Notre Dame needed to go undefeated with the 2019 schedule because their rivals are having down years (USC, Stanford, Michigan)

    It’s not like they pulled Clemson this year from the ACC arrangement.

    This team will redeem itself and go down in history if they can run the table and beat a solid program in a major bowl game. (Here’s to hoping they don’t get the ACC runner up in the Orange Bowl)

    I disagree with your assesment on Kelly’s language of standard vs. just winning. As a member of an FCS(1-AA) National Championship Football Team over a decade ago I’ve learned it is important to focus on what you can control and take things 1 game at a time and 1 play at a time. This approach allows you to make more progress and in turn win more games.

    The standard creates the mindset that eventually results in play that is at a level high enough to beat the playoff teams of the world.

    That being said there is definitely something missing currently from Kelly’s repertoire that leads to big game W’s.

    Currently Kelly is battling some sort of fatigue his teams suffer that I believe is associated with playing at Notre Dame with the high expectations/standards these kids endure on the field, the classroom, and in the community.

    Many of their opponents “get up” to play Notre Dame as well. You don’t see this as much with the Alabamas and Clemson of the world. Often their opponents are psychologically beaten before the game begins. They don’t even believe they can win.

    Notre Dame needs to create its own unique culture and mindset that produces this type of phenomenon.

    Kelly needs to figure this out. (Easier said than done)

    Holtz was able to do it. I do believe the academic rigors for his teams were SLIGHTLY less than the current teams but I think it had more to do with Holtz himself.

    Holtz was a tiny poor kid with a lisp from West Virginia. He also was (and still is) a very devout Catholic. Holtz has faith, strong faith. That man was able to look into the eyes of his kids, connect with their souls, and get them to play big in big games.

    This is the “magic” Kelly is currently missing. And…. despite what many will say, he is capable of becoming a better motivator.

    He’s humbled himself and changed after bad seasons and outcomes. I’m sure he’s already thinking of how he can improve big game, bright light performance.

    I hope he studies it and finds some things he can apply to the program because currently it’s the only missing ingredient.

    “Don’t lose your faith. I don’t know how people get along without faith,” he said. “I can’t begin to tell you how many times I prayed when Michigan was on our 2-yard line.”

    Kelly likely needs to pray more rosaries than anything else. He is the coach for Notre Dame (Our Lady) after all.

  14. The biggest problem I have is the regression. Many of the players who were on the team last year have actually gotten worse. I think that, more than anything is what frustrates fans.

    Look at Book, since he’s the most obvious example. They had a great finish Saturday, but most of the game it was the same old Book from most of the year.

    Sure, if they go 10-2 they’ll probably get a NY Day 6 Bowl. But with the way we’re playing I feel like we would get blown out by that level of competition.

    And another source of frustration, for me at least, is that I’ll probably never get to see ND win a NC. For all their talk, I think the powers that be at ND are satisfied where ND is at. They’ll talk about NC’s being the standard, but I don’t believe they really mean it, or will take the steps necessary to make ND elite. As long as the money keeps rolling in, they keep their TV contract and their agreements with the ACC that keep ND mostly independent they are fine

  15. I said in the beginning of the year that a good season would be 11-1 or 10-2. I thought they would be 9-3 and 8-4 would be a bad season.

    The big problem with this team is no big play threat. How many big plays have ND had like last year. Dexter Williams would have a big run or Boykin would get hit with a big pass. That is not happening this year and the team is required to complete an 80 yard 18 play drive. College teams can’t do that all the time and that is why it is important to have big play capability.

    Now I think that the big play players on offense are young and will eventually show up. Now the big problem ND has going forward is the injuries on the offensive line. They will have to rely on their receiving core and Book. If the Book shows up like he did in the last drive, ND will not only win all their games, but they will be really good.

    This year I didn’t think they were a top four team, next year I think they can be something special.

    1. “Now the big problem ND has going forward is the injuries on the offensive line.” Maybe.
      I don’t have the confidence some have that the best players are necessarily playing the most minutes. Where was Boykin for three years-McKinley for four years- Dexter Williams for three years? Great practice players don’t always translate into players who make key plays in game time crunch. Let’s see if OLs Gibbons and Dirksen can rise to the occasion the way Boykin and McKinley and Dexter did after being relegated to the bench for most of their careers.

  16. Kelly needs to go, Greg, Enough is enough. 10 years and he still can’t beat top teams. Thanks for building the program back up, but now it needs someone else to get them further to the top.

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