5 Things I Didn’t Like in a Very Fitting Way to End the 2019 Regular Season

Notre Dame capped off a 10-2 regular season on Saturday in much the way their entire went – a bit of an uneven effort that left fans frustrated at times and thrilled at others.  The Irish struggled early before pulling away late and then padding the score in the closing minute.  It was a fitting ending to a year in which much the same could be said about the 2019 Irish – there was a lot to like, but an equal amount to not like.

1. More false start penalties on the offense

Brian Kelly and his offensive coaching staff have all of the bowl preparations to try and fix whatever is causing all of the false starts because whatever they have done during the season has been entirely ineffective.  Notre Dame committed another four false starts on Saturday against Stanford to continue one of the worst trends of the year.

Notre Dame was playing in front of one of the smallest, most pathetic crowds they will ever be in.  There was no noise to contend with.  There was no hostile environment.  The tasting rooms in Napa had more hostile crowds than the handful of Stanford fans who were able to spread out in an empty stadium. There was no excuse for that many false start penalties, in that environment, this late in the year.

Ultimately, this comes back on Brian Kelly to get fixed.  Whether it’s issues with Ian Book‘s cadence or if the problem lies within the offensive line, it’s on Kelly to get this fixed.  It might not come back to haunt them in the bowl game, but when they look back at what could have been in 2019, the false starts – specifically those in Athens – will be one of this staff’s biggest regrets.

2. A slow start from the Notre Dame offense

Notre Dame’s first offensive drive was a clinic. Ian Book marched the Notre Dame offense down the field with ease on a 5-play, 80-yard drive capped off with perhaps the best-executed screen play of the Brian Kelly era.  It was surgical and looked like the undermanned Stanford defense would have no answer for the Irish offense.  Then the Irish stalled.

Notre Dame’s next three drives resulted in zero points.  One drive was a three and out, another a four and out aided only by a Stanford penalty to prevent a three and out, and the third ended with Notre Dame punting from the Stanford 42 yard-line for a net gain of 27 yards in field position.

The Irish finally got back on the scoreboard again following Isaiah Foskey’s blocked punt, but even that was a chore.  Gifted with a first and goal from the one, it took Notre Dame three plays to score after two consecutive runs combined for no-gain.  On third down, Book hung in the pocket before heaving the ball to Tommy Tremble for the score.

Considering all of the defensive starters that Stanford was missing, it was far from an ideal start for the Irish offense.  Notre Dame came into the game with the offense finally having some consistency, but it didn’t carry over early.

3. Stanford’s first two drives

While Notre Dame’s offense started slow, the Stanford offense came outfiring behind backup quarterback Davis Mills.  The Cardinal offense took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in 7 plays for an early lead.  Their second drive was a 16-play clock-draining exercise that ended with a field goal.  After getting stopped on the third drive, their fourth drive of the game went for another touchdown on five plays.

Three of their first four drives of the game ended with scores resulting in a 17-7 lead for a team playing with their backup quarterback and missing starters all over the field.  After four drives, Stanford held a 43-19 advantage in plays ran.

Clark Lea eventually adjusted as we’ve seen him do numerous times now, but the question of how Stanford was able to have so much early success remained.  This was an offense that scored all of 20 points against Cal putting up 17 on Notre Dame in the first 21 minutes of action on Saturday.

Like the offense, it was not an ideal start for the Irish defense.

4. Struggling to get the running backs going in the ground game… again

Like the false starts, this falls back on Brian Kelly to fix, but the Irish had to get creative again to manufacture yards on the ground.  Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys contributed yards on jet sweeps, and Ian Book used his legs to help power the Irish rushing attack again on Saturday because Notre Dame couldn’t run the ball with its running backs very well.

On Saturday, part of the problem was Tony Jones Jr just missing some big holes to run through and bouncing plays outside when there was a lot of room inside.  Here are two examples Greg tweeted out earlier this week.

In both instances, there are clear holes for Jones up the middle, but in both cases, he bounced it outside and left a lot of yards on the field.  Jones has not been the same back since the USC game when he shredded the Trojans for over 170 yards.  Unfortunately, this has been a problem for Jones throughout his career where he flashes but then struggles to maintain success after getting hurt.  Jones got banged up against Michigan after his breakout performance against USC, and we haven’t seen the same running back since.

5. No Notre Dame football for the next few weeks

For as frustrating as the 2019 season was at times – and Saturday contributed to that a little – it was the last Notre Dame football game we all get to watch until the bowl game (almost certainly the Camping World Bowl on December 28 despite some other blogs talking about the New Year’s 6 still).  It was an odd regular season that featured some enjoyable highs and some devastating lows.

In many ways, Saturday was a microcosm of the entire season for Notre Dame.  The offense was frustrating at times, brilliant at others.  The defense started off looking shaky only to rebound and close out strong.  Notre Dame ultimately won the game by 21 points, but they were aided by a late, garbage-time touchdown that made the final score look much prettier in the box-score than it looked in person.

The same could be said about the entire 2019 season.  A 10-2 final record while setting the Notre Dame season scoring record sounds great on paper, but when you look closer, and those two losses were to the only two teams that had any business beating the Irish, it’s kind of “meh” after last year’s run to the playoffs.  Like their effort against Stanford, there was a lot of good to come out of it, but a whole lot of evidence that there is still a lot of work to be done for the Irish to end up where they want to be ultimately.

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  1. SAM is right about everything he wrote below. Aside from a boycott, his advice, which is all pretty positive, is about the best we can do. “Curb stomp” our opponent is the child friendly version of how I feel about it – I hope the team feels the same, I really do.

    To give you “O-line” wonderers some HOPE, there is this blast from the past I keep seeing in my mind: I know it sounds “ND corny” – but it’s a true memory of the home opener of a Dan Devine season long ago. The previous season was a really lackluster one (by DD’s standards, anyway). Our “O” line had led the underachievement parade that year with off-sides, holdings, and generally mediocre performance all year, despite the winning season. No Bowl game after that season (by our choice). So I’m sitting in Gregor’s seats for the home opener the following September, wondering what I’d see out of the team for a follow-up. It was just after the opening kickoff (Dad’s seats were in Sec. 25…Row 57…seats 27 and 28…right on the twenty yard line staring right down on the LOS anytime a ball was downed in the South end zone.) I was just wondering what I’d see as our guys broke the huddle. And Lord, I swear it: they RAN up to the LOS, and everyone of them hit their stance at the same time… a perfect stance, straight as the chalkline, and just then some cloud moved, or something, and I could see a flash of sunlight, really bright, come off their helmets one after another from East to West…just like that! And I knew they had solved their problems. No doubt in my mind. That line went on to be the second best in Devine’s career (IMO)…bettered only by the best DD ever pit on the field!

    BGC ’77 ’82

  2. I know there was a lot of things that the fans didn’t like this season. No running game, no down field passing game, O-line false starts, hell they hit the man in motion 3 times this year with the snap, no love from the committee with the rankings, sputtering offense for long stretches of games, damn scUM game, etc… But hindsight is 20-20 so there isn’t anything we can do now but bitch about what might have been. So I’m going to be happy about a 10 win season for the third year in a row, 2 more years of Hamilton in the secondary, Tyree and Johnson coming in next year to help the RB and WR corps along with the other recruits, the LB play this year was way ahead of the curve, D-line depth this season and looking ahead to next season. I could go one with either list but it is what it is.
    Kelly won’t be fired or replaced. He won’t fire or replace Quinn so let’s hope the O-line situation gets figured out. A lot of other teams across the country would love to be 10-2 and in the top 15 of the rankings. Let’s just curb stomp the shit out of Texas or whoever in the bowl game, enjoy it and get ready to wait for the Blue Gold game this spring.

    1. Sam, I want to comment on one thing, the defensive line depth. I thought it was the team’s Achilles Heel this year, but they got through, and the late
      season injuries to tagavailoa-Amosa and Ademilola PROVE the need to be three deep at DT. We return everybody at DT, and for the first time
      the majority of the two deep will be upperclassmen (Hinish, Myron, Ademilola) They will be stronger, fitter, and highly experienced and Elston has filled the pipeline.
      I have a mild comment, Sam on the deep passing game. Right after the VTU game, Book started throwing the ball deep, a little bit,
      and between the hashes. If that is a glimpse of things to come, well, fine. Where he is still deficient is in the quick decision making
      and improvising throws in the RPO game. When he breaks out of the pocket he’s running. If he would stop and throw, well, that’s
      the thing that makes defensive coordinators nuts.

      We’ve had a glimpse of his downfield, and between the hashes, and perhaps that can be enhanced.
      But between now and the Navy game, they have got to see if he can handle effective RPO quarterbacking,.

  3. The second one was the one I really noticed on TV and made the comment on this site. He had a huge hole and maybe he could have overpowered the initial tackler which is what he does best when running.

  4. No David – I never did because we were taught by Gregor and Barb that there was a Bishop named Nickolas who gave Church money for poor “at risk” children in order to spare them from a horrible life…not a “Santa Claus.” And if college athletics is about money then we are getting screwed that way too! But I don’t care about that (though ND Administrators might). I follow this sport for the love of the sport, not for money.
    As for being a business, that’s true David – but there can be such a thing as a principled business as opposed to the NCAA/Committee/Conference Commissioner/Bowl Committee model which is about as ruthless and unprincipled as any I can think of. And how in hell, David, does anyone lose money by giving the TV audience and stadium fans good matchups rather than silly ass blowouts? That sounds like the kind of “Detroit” reasoning that gave us the Cobalt, instead of what all of us “naïve” drivers really wanted! Do you live in Farmington, David?

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. PS: The ruthlessness starts at the TOP, with the NCAA itself, and we all know it. But David, guess what scares the piss out of even the most ruthless of all businesses…that’s right, David, a high visibility BOYCOTT – it’s almost always a loser for the company.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. I haven’t watched a ND game on live TV in almost 2 seasons.
        But I don’t see it as a boycott, because I’m not “going without”, or suffering like some martyr.

        I watch other, better, more entertaining games. And marvel at the suffering y’all seem so blindly committed to.

      2. Your words:

        2 years ago
        The words on Kelly are the most important.
        By winning this one game — thanks to one, very fortunate catch — Kelly’s extremely poor job performance gets a pass for another year.

        For me, it just means my personal boycott of ND Football will continue indefinitely.

        For you poor saps, it means more shock, disappointment, dismay and wasted Saturdays.

      3. BGC dopey hasn’t watched a game live in 2 years, explaining why he knows nothing and suffers watching through his DVR!! But dopey keeps commin back with more stupid observations than the week b4! From his picks of top coaches to his collection of ND games on VCR sadly the only one suffering is dumbass davey!!

      4. Sorry, I don’t keep a scrapbook of internet posts…that seems the kind of thing an insane person would do.

        My refusal to watch bush league Brian Kelly football started as taping ND games for later….if they turned out to be worth watching.
        Eventually, I mostly deleted unwatched games.
        Near the end of last season, started watching other, more promising games.
        …and I cannot recommend this highly enough.

        So, does it remain a “boycott” if you eventually end up finding a replacement product that’s better in every way?
        If it makes Ron, the spinster librarian, feel fulfilled….sure.

  5. Frank , not much to add with what others are posters are saying. O-line/Running game in dire straits. Running Back “by committee” has gotten the Irish by during the November sweep of weaker teams. I think the sweep was an acomplishment of course–yet 10-2 finish doesn’t leave me with that feeling of elation on 2019 season. We are going into 2020 with an O-line/Running Game that quite frankly needs a major overhaul. These units need more than just “tweaking” to right the ship towards a shot at playoffs in 2020. For the Book/Jurkovec dispute — either one need an O-line/Running game to reach elite. Can’t do it on their own.

  6. I’ve been lamenting from the UofL,game that our backs were either not hitting the holes fast enough or
    seeing them. It’s easy to blame the OL for a poor running game, but with the Irish I think it’s the running
    backs who are the problem, not the blockers.

    The false starts, at least the number of them, are inexcusable but correctable. It’s impossible for a
    “barstool coach” like me to recognize the problem and provide the solution, but fully I expect our coaches to fix what is a glaring issue.

    1. Well Fitz, if they are “correctable” I suggest you contact Coach Quinn and Coach Kelly immediately to explain how – because I am beginning to suspect that they no idea how to correct that behavior!

      BGC ’77 ’82

  7. Hello David,
    You are allowed to turn the channel. Be advised, you’re a man and can make decisions. Good luck this week putting your underwear on and eating your brussel sprouts.

    1. Tier three coming if we wind up in the Camping World Bowl – although that would be fine with me IF the opponent we draw is 9-3 or better. But a 10-2 Notre Dame team with wins over three ranked teams vs. a 4 or 5 loss opponent (in ANY bowl) just doesn’t sound right to anyone I know of other than outright ND haters, and petty people who somehow think ND should be punished for not appearing in a Conference Championship game even though at least 10 teams in EVERY conference don’t appear either, WITHOUT being punished. It’s not even close to being right. Send them a clear message…boycott the bowls until they are at least sensible in matchups, if not fair to all. You see folks, for me, it’s not about being left out of a NY Six Bowl, nor is it about money. It’s about being forced to play an opponent that even a lopsided victory over that team won’t move us anywhere in the polls, not unlike our 5 November opponents. “Well ND didn’t play anybody in their bowl”, etc…a self-fulfilling

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Ummm….you do know that college football is a business right? Do you still write letters to Santa ?

      2. yeah, but…………………..

        Kelly and staff will deny it, but the first bowl practice is the first practice for Clemson next November 7th.

        In ways large and small, they will be preparing personnel, scheme and depth and alignments to plan for that game.

        Our early season schedule next year is unimpressive. We are a better program than Wisconsin.
        The sneaky game is a home game against Stanford the week after a giddy trip to Lambeau.

        It may be the most anticipated November game since ’66 (It took until mid-October for the FSU excitement to build in ’93)

        And all the coaches and players should read Moby Dick some time this summer.

        There are a lot of good things to build on, and this bowl game is a perfect segue to winter conditioning and the Spring.

        the schedule is portentous.

        I mean, the last time we opened the season in Ireland………………

      3. Duranko, believe me, we will have to prove on Lambeau Field that we are the better program.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      4. I would prefer ND to stay INDEPENDENT, but if we were in the ACC we would be playing in the CONF. CHAMPIONSHIP this week! We would’ve beaten our 3 rivals and the ACC has no one who can beat ND! Except of course CLEMSON, ND would be 11-1 or 12-0 ( if they didn’t play Clemson reg. season ) and this week playing for CFP or NY 6 game!! I want to stay independent, but just sayin!! Any team with 3 losses or more is just a lose, lose situation for ND in bowl game why drop down to that.

    2. Bruce, I hear you on Lambeau (he’s a Domer of course, Curly) but Clark Lea is very tough on RUN FIRST offenses, and that is what Christ builds.
      When you stop Wiscy’s running game, then they have issues.

      Here’s a wild guess: Wisconsin will have more rushing yards in the first quarter than they will for the last three quarters.

      Once Lea gets to see what you’re doing……..

  8. Let’s not forget Stanford pretty much scored a garbage time TD late as well, so ND’s garbage time sack-fumble-TD even later garbage-timed them back. Not to mention gave me a sweet backdoor cover on the points!

  9. I think what’s a shame is if ND had been able to clean up the issues they’ve had all year they may have been 12-0. The false starts were an issue against Georgia and that was a close hard fought game. Take away those drive killers and maybe we would have had a W.

    It was even more prevalent against Michigan. No run game, poor penalties, a slow to start defense. Fix those and the tune might have been different against Michigan. They wolloped us, but momentum in FB is everything. Had ND not had early issues the game may have turned out differently. For instance, the defense at one point managed to make a stand and get the ball back to the offense when the game was still in manageable territory yet the offense couldn’t make it pay off.

    I think what’s so frustrating is a number of these issues are coachable. And yet they kept rearing their ugly head.

    But I’m happy to have another monkey off our back…that is the winning at Stanford that’s dogged us for years.

    1. I agree. I like Brian Kelly and think he is a very good college coach but dont think he is elite like a Dabo Urban Saban. Yes I know he doesn’t have a lot of advantages those teams have. The ability to go get a Justin Fields tranfer or dip into the juco route and get a Cam Newton like Auburn did.Also he doesn’t have the power to slap someone on the wrist or ignore the problem like Alabama and Oklahoma can. The thing I can’t figure out with Kelly though is in his 10 years why can’t he produce a great offense. Also why can’t he recruit or develop a heisman trophy quarterback.Why cant Notredame year after year to produce a strong consistent running game? I think the problem with the running game is two fold.One Kelly has never had a great East and West speed back.Dexter Prosise and Josh Adam’s were game breakers explosive and fast but only North and South.Their long runs were up the gut or off tackle. If you have a back with great speed on the perimeter it opens up the inside runs because it forces the defensive line to play wider along with the outside linebackers.Also did you notice the last few games with Lenzy in the game and Book willing to throw the ball down the field backs the safeties from stacking the box hindering your running game. Finally I think Kelly needs to look at solve these false starts and look and see if the offensive linemen he is recruiting have the skill set to run these pin and pull zone blocking schemes he is trying to run

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