5 Things I Didn’t Like: Notre Dame v. Vanderbilt

Notre Dame struggled for the second week in a row this weekend in their 22-17 win over Vanderbilt.  While the Irish improved to 3-0 in the process, they left many questions unanswered as they continue to search for an identity on offense and search for ways to maintain early double digit leads.  I’ve already outlined the good that came out of Notre Dame’s third win of the season, so let’s dive into what went wrong.

1. Brian Kelly’s decision to go for 2 in the 4th quarter

Ultimately this decision did not backfire on Notre Dame, but it could have and we’ve seen it backfire before.  Up 12 points with 11 minutes to go in the game following Ian Book‘s touchdown pass to Nic Weishar, Brian Kelly decided to go for two to go up 14 points instead of 13.  Seems plausible.  If you’re playing Madden.  In reality, with a good defense and an opponent that had struggled in the redzone, it was unnecessarily chasing points.

Notre Dame failed to convert and after another Vanderbilt touchdown, the Irish were up just five. That is significant because when Justin Yoon lined up for a 32 yard field goal later that he ended up missing, the Irish would still have only held a one possession lead at eight points.

Kelly did this exact same thing against Northwestern in 2014 and it ended up costing the Irish just as described above.  Notre Dame took a 40-29 point lead and Kelly went for two to be up 13 instead of 12.  Instead, the Irish were up 11 and Northwestern erased that with a touchdown, two point conversion, and then a field goal with 19 seconds left to force overtime.

With Notre Dame’s defense, Kelly should be trusting the defense to hold a 13 point lead in the 4th quarter, at home, to Vanderbilt.

2. The “blue zone” quarterback carousel Notre Dame keeps using

Brian Kelly was finally asked about the quarterback carousel that he is using near the goalline after it didn’t work for the first time this year.  Kelly said that Ian Book will continue to be used in the “blue zone” – inside the five yardline.  His rationale was that Book’s game is better suited under center essentially.

Here’s my issue – and a lot of people’s issue – with this though.  Notre Dame was excellent in the redzone a year ago.  A big reason for why they were so good in the redzone was because of the running ability of Brandon Wimbush. Why then, does Kelly feel that his team has a better chance of scoring inside the 5 with his best runner on the sidelines?

There could be an argument made that with Book in the game there is more of a threat to pass the ball, but to date, Wimbush has not struggled throwing bootleg or play action passes for short yardage.  If Wimbush is your quarterback, you let him in the game in this area.  Who knows, maybe a short touchdown pass like the one Book had to Weishar helps build confidence for Wimbush if he is in the game.

Regardless, if Wimbush is your guy, stick with him here.  If Book is your guy, stick with him for the other 95 yards.  If Book gave Notre Dame some sort of unique threat like a Tim Tebow did for Florida near the goalline in 2002, I could see a much more valid argument.  In this case, the reverse can almost be made.

3. Another week with the Notre Dame pass rush literally held in check

The Notre Dame pass rush got off to a roaring start in week one with four sacks against Shea Patterson.  Notre Dame has had just two since.  Vanderbilt threw the ball a lot on Saturday too.  Kyle Shurmur attempted 43 passes against the Irish defense, but the Notre Dame pass rush only got home one time.

Now, part of the reason for this is an inexplicable lack of holding calls on the opposing offensive line the last two weeks.  Ball State was holding on almost every down, but never drew a single penalty.  On Saturday, Vandy was just as guilty and here is a prime example:

Khalid Kareem was held so egregiously that he got banged up and had to leave the field momentarily.  A call like that should never be missed.  That wasn’t an isolated incident either.  One Vandy’s second to last drive that ended with Jalen Elliott’s (not the ground’s) pass breakup, there was one play where Julian Okwara split two defenders and was held by both.  Kareem was held on the edge as well without a flag.

Now, holding is not the only reason the pass rush had just one sack.  Holding takes place a lot without being called.  We saw week one that Notre Dame has the ability to get to the passer albeit it against arguably one of the worst offensive lines Notre Dame will face this year.  Clark Lea and Mike Elston have some work to do this week because they need to start generating more pressure.  Teams have been coming back on the Irish in part because their quarterbacks have had too much to throw in the second half.

The Notre Dame offense staying on the field and giving their defense some breathers might help out that pass rush just a tab as well.

4. The lack of plays made by Notre Dame wide receivers

Speaking of the offense, Notre Dame is severely lacking playmakers at wide receiver right now.  Miles Boykin is a massive target and could be a monster at moving the chains, but he hasn’t been able to get separation downfield this season.  Chase Claypool is turning into quite the enigma. He is supremely athletic, but he isn’t getting open and when he is, he isn’t holding onto the football.  His blocking has also been suspect to say the least.  Chris Finke has not been targeted downfield since his ridiculous touchdown against Michigan.

Brandon Wimbush is having a hard time getting the ball downfield in part because there aren’t open receivers downfield.  Furthermore, none of the Irish receivers have shown an ability to haul in contested catches this year.  Wimbush gave Boykin a few opportunities to make plays on the sideline – albeit on a talented, tall corner – and Boykin wasn’t close.  In fact, if you watch some of those replays, his footwork was all over the place and even if he had pulled in the ball it might not have counted anyway because he was out of bounds.

Notre Dame needs to find some playmakers at receiver in a hurry.  There are two youngsters on the roster that need to get an extended look soon – Michael Young and Kevin Austin.  If the starting receivers can’t get separation on Ball State and Vanderbilt, they won’t get it on Stanford or Virginia Tech either.

5. Multiple 4th down conversions from penalties

With a 12 point lead in the 4th quarter, Notre Dame let Vanderbilt extend two drives because of pass interference penalties. The first was called on Troy Pride and ended up resulting in a touchdown.  Pride has had a tremendous start to the season, but the flag wasn’t necessary at all as he had good positioning and could have made the play without the flag.

The second conversion is on the staff almost as much as the player.  Facing a 4th and 10 at the 50 with just over two minutes to go, the Irish staff sent in Donte Vaughn who hadn’t played much.  Kyle Shurmur, like a good veteran quarterback should, attacked Vaughn immediately.  Flag.  If you need to insert Vaughn there, fine, but why is a player who hasn’t played much on Kalijia Lipscomb – Vandy’s top receiver – in that situation?

Notre Dame has been uneven to say the least the last two weeks, but the good news is they’ve been uneven while winning.  There is still time for this offense to get it’s feet under them and make some strides.  We saw the offensive line take a big step forward this week – perhaps there is a similar improvement from the wide receivers this week.

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43 Comments

    1. Agree with you EJS. BK is relying on his chart in making 2-point conversion calls. Ditch the chart and coach with your gut. Fans typically have a good feel for when the team should go for 2. It’s a gut call. When Kelly opted for 2, I said, “No! Don’t do that!” Guaranty 80% of fans felt the same way. No need to chase points. By missing the attempt you typically give the opponent an emotional lift anyway. Best to only go for 2 when it’s ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

  1. Irish will beat Wake Forest. Don’t care if it’s it an “Ugly Win. 4-0 ! Stanford ? Irish will win–again —5-0 ! Ugly win –who cares –just keep winning/advance game by game. Guess who won “Ugly game by game” in greatest victory in US history ? The Marines in 1945—Island by Island versus Japs in the War of Pacific. It was tough to do–Japs put up hell–of a fight in each contest—but Marines persevered. Irish can do also — rest of schedule. Go Irish

    1. Yet MacArthur was criticized endlessly by the press, pundits, and military and civilian “geniuses” during his day Southside (they finally got him fired). But my father, as a marine private, trained for the invasion of Japan as drawn up by MacArthur. Dad once told me he loved McArthur, and would have done anything he asked him to do, or die trying. The same bunch of “military geniuses” hated Patton too by the way. I had an uncle liberated from a POW camp by Patton, 80 pounds lighter than when he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge, and bootless. Of course the military wizard running our country now doesn’t like POWs (they are not really heroes, right?)…but I loved uncle Joe Zimmermann…he was born on the 4rth of July…no kidding.

      Southside, your post above might as well be written in archaic Coptic as far as the understanding of some of the people on this site would get it. Don’t you know Southside, this country is now about style over substance, the amount you are paid over the value of your work, and all in a world where blatant lies are just hyperbole. But it’s all OK because that 70 billion dollar check from the Mexicans is in the mail!

      BGC ’77 ’82

  2. A loss to WAKE would be a disaster! If anybody watched their game against BC last week you saw BC go up and down the field on WAKES defense scoring over 40 pts basically running right thru them! AT WINSTOM-SALEM!! No excuses this week for the offense, its time to get the offense going b4 STANFORD next week!!

  3. Not enough pressure on Shurmer in the 2nd half. He’s an elite passer, but not that mobile, and not a threat to run. He’ll rip you apart if you give him time, like he did for more than a half.
    More Tony Jones, please ..
    So why not pressure the QB all day, even in the 2nd half, even if it takes 5 to get to him.
    You don’t need sacks if you pressure the QB. For example:
    Vandy 3rd and 9 (4 man rush)- 1st down Vandy.
    Later in that drive 3rd and 3 (Coney blitzes forcing bad pass). Vandy punts.
    Later, 3rd and 10, ND blitzes, incomplete pass, Vandy punts. Anyone see a pattern here?
    Vandy 1st and 10, ND blitzes, Vandy loses 3. Last Vandy drive of the 2nd quarter . . .
    ND blitzes, forces bad pass . . .then Irish rush 3, Pinkney catches it at the 3; fortunately, Vandy drops a TD pass with 3 seconds left in the half . . .
    first half pressure and key plays led to only 3 Vandy points.
    Other things I didn’t like:
    Holding all day long . . .ND DBs called; Vandy’s OL, nada!
    NDs Pride with the INT. then runs it back to the 1. Then, they keep Tony Jones out of the game and run it into the pile three times, then punt . . . setting up a short field for the first Vandy TD.
    Under “things I never like” about the ND game . . .The Doug Flutie dismissive comments each week. I know he doesn’t matter, but he’s sure annoying. This week’s lowlights . . .
    Love blows up screen, Flutie praises the RB that didn’t catch the ball; then Love stays in position and blocks Vandy’s pass with his back: Flutie “How frustrating for Vandy” (and for you, too, huh Dougie? )
    Love later makes a great pass breakup, Dougie talks about Shumer chewing his mouthpiece.
    ND 16-Vandy 10 end of 3rd qt.
    Flutie “ Vandy playing @ ND is ‘nuthin!” to them.
    Gilman rips the ball loose @ the one. Flutie “ Blasingame’s got to be sick.”
    Not nearly as much as I am about this passive aggressive ND hater who gets paid to diminish ND every home game while praising every opponent he can.
    ND ruined your Liberty Bowl finale @ BC, Dougie, but get over it!

    Did I mention, more Tony Jones, please!

  4. Observations in this article are spot on. ND fans need to step back and simply LOOK at Brandon’s passing statistics this year. They are dreadful. No doubt the receivers are not getting separation, but that has a lot to do with the “backyard ball” type of offense we’re running. As much as I like Brandon as a person and a runner, he is not the answer.

    We simply need someone to RUN THE OFFENSE. Is that Book? Maybe. Should we find out if he is the guy? Yes, but we won’t because Kelly is stubborn to a fault.

    Jurkovic is the long-term answer. But we need to consider perhaps he’s the short-term answer as well. This week you will see a freshman QB for Wake light us up. Alabama also had success with a true freshman. So it’s not unprecedented.

    I just hate to see us waste this defense this year. I see some parallels with Saban’s reluctance to pull Hurts last year. Can you see the difference a QB makes in Alabama’s offense? Come on

      1. Brandon ranks 72nd nationally in total QBR, with a 55.2 rating. Kyle Shurmur is 23rd with a 73.6 rating. The elite QBs are all 90+. He has a 1 to 4 TD/INT ratio and has completed 55% of his passes. And the irony is that his best passing effort was against the best defense they’ve faced so far (Michigan).

    1. AGREE 100% !! This is not a great offense by any stretch!! Get JURKOVEC going now theres no way he can b any worse than BW NO WAY!! LOOK at the other 3 freshman from PA. who played as freshman ; JOSH ADAMS, WILL FULLER, MIKE MCGLINCHY and now its time for JURKOVEC!

    2. Pedro,
      Although “dreadful” is way too strong a word at 55%, I hear you when you say it’s not good enough. The frustrating thing for me is that if you take away 3 of the interceptions, and two easy passes to catch are caught (not every drop – there are always drops) but those two, and his performance is good enough to compete. That’s being close. The complicating problem is – he threw those balls, and others which were not intercepted, but could have been, and he knows better! So why did he do it? In year two as a starter, especially with a twelve or thirteen game season, he should do that maybe ONCE in the whole year. Will it ever really end, as it should?

      If you were going to start someone else, it would certainly be Book. Then Jurkovic comes in from time to time for experience, or when Book is out for a play, etc.
      But I say for now, let’s see if he can go w/o an interception again, and hopefully, get some help from his targeted receivers on easy catches. Come on guys, get back to a good catch per touch ratio….and get some freshman in there a bit, AND WHEN A “TE” IS GETTING OPEN AND IS CATCHING, AND PROTECTING THE BALL ON CONTACT – like Alize was, KEEP HITTING HIM. THEN SEE IF YOU CAN HIT THE OTHER ONE! Stanford makes a living doing it to us! There is no rule against it. Of course, they may be saving some things for Stanford anyway. I’ve always assumed they are…ARA saved stuff, and so did Devine, though not as much, and Holtz always seemed to have something ready that they hadn’t seen before in big enough games…Holtz and Devine, also on defense, but ARA on defense big time in the second Texas Cotton Bowl.

      BGC ’77 ’82

  5. This game at Wake Forest may set the tone for the rest of the season. This ND team is about to either implode or explode. But at this point, it is right on schedule at 3-0, and a helluva lot better off than Michigan, Wisconsin, Auburn, David’s great Florida State team, Washington, Texas, Texas A&M, Arizona State, USC, Miami, TCU, UCLA, MSU and about 40 other teams who are busy telling themselves that they will still make the playoffs even with one loss after three weeks. It’s about winning…not about looking pretty for the girls and the pundits and the posters.

    On this site, most of us hope the team explodes in our first road game, just like we did against Boston College last year. A few posters and followers hope we implode and lose because they (erroneously) believe that somehow that will get BK fired. If the team and the coaches get serious for 60 minutes on Saturday (rather than just 30 minutes) we will, in fact, explode. If not, look for another road implosion and the first loss of the season.

    BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Yes Ron, unlike our home games, which I have projected to be all wins for ND…except possibly for our “home game” in New York city.

        BGC ’77 ’82

    1. I see no implosion in Winston Salem. Irish will win — I’m hoping the “explosion” will take place when Stanford visits. Kinda like the 2 atom bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.

  6. A few comments:

    First, this is a very surprising team. If you go back to 2016, you would have been shocked that this defense is as good as it is.

    The back four is astounding, at least vis a vis recent Notre Dame standards. I get chary about overreacting to early data, either positive or negative but have we ever had two cornerbacks with the skill and execution of Pride and Love? Truly, it is an interrogative, not rhetorical question.

    The safety play? Unrecognizable from the FEMA disaster area at safety in 2016.

    I harp constantly about defensive line depth, as much about DEPLOYING IT as having it.
    My standard is about 55 plays. NO defensive lineman, and behoove me no Balisisms, should play more than 55. You have to play four defensive tackles, even if it means putting Dew-Treadway and Adamilola in there even if they are not fully ready.

    We also must give Coney and Tranquill some rest. For the first time this season, the defense looked tired late in the third quarter and early fourth against Vandy and “tackled tired” 9/29 and 10/6 are both winnable but neither will be easy. Play more players. No risk no reward.

    The defense is legit and needs two things:
    1(play more depth up front)
    2(more sustained drives by the offense)

    a third would be nice, as Lea gets more confident-some blitzes.

    the offense is a problem, but there are indicia:

    (1) The tight ends have arrived. And with Chip Long they are here to stay.
    (2) Considering the weeping and gnashing of teeth last winter over Adams/McIntosh/Holmes the running back corps has been a pleasant surprise, but not yet at all where it needs to be. But there are glimpses. The sleeper, Tony Jones, has awakened. Whatever his travail was, he seems to have moved past it. Jafar? Well, now he can play, and they have prepared him well as both a receiver and a runner. ND’s opponents should mark 9/21 carefully. It is the last game without Dexter Williams. Has Notre Dame ever had a runner lie fallow for several years and then burst forth in his final year? What was Reggie Brooks, a radish?
    (3) Wimbush still misses passes, and takes a lot of risks with passes that could be intercepted, but Wimbush 2018 is far north of Wimbush 2017. Saturday is key, because Brandon had issues on the road last year. It’s big test but he is more comfortable with the offense and the quarterback’s requirements.
    (4) For all the offseason hoopla about Boykin and Claypool, they, more than any group, have underperformed expectations. Sure, part of the issue is Wimbush, but Boykin had no separation at all on Saturday. Claypool? He seems to have caught whatever bug was biting Alize Mack the last two yearsGreat athlete, but he disappears like Houdini, at times.
    (5) Offensive line? It is knitting, getting better. Winovich or not, ND outrushed Michigan and gashed Vanderbilt on Saturday. Only Bama and Georgia (Duh) had more yards rushing against Vandy in 2017 than the “struggling rushing game of Notre Dame” did on Saturday.

    If I’ve learned anything watching our Irish lo these many years, it is that three games a season maketh not.

    I could go on forever, but here are a few examples:

    ’70 looked like a national champ, unstoppable, then, mysteriously the offense disappeared in November home games against Georgia Tech and Lsu. Why?

    ’77 through 3 games had people looking for rope for Devine’s neck. By November they were not merely the best team in the country, they were devouring everything in their path.

    ’14 looked like they had it all, and then that call in Tallahasee..and the final verdict on the Frozen Four

    The last two games have been kind of boring, I concede that.

    But the tale of this season will be written from 9/21 in Winston Salem (how Wake Forest moved from Wake Forest, NC to Winston Salem, is a great North Carolina/tobacco money story) to 10/6 in relatively nearby (to Winston Salem, onbly 125 miles) Blacksburg with that interlude against Stanford.
    Notre Dame has five seasons
    First three games
    Next four games
    Rockne’s Ramblers and next four games
    USC in the Coliseum
    post season

    In the first part, the Irish are 3-0.

    It’s a football SEASON, not EXTRAPOLATION to infinity from the first several games.

    Think about your OWN offseason expectations. Were you really confident we would beat Michigan? Were you worried about the RBS? the safeties? Clark freakin’ Lea? Would you have taken a non-pretty 3-0 “by any means necessary?

    Buckle your chin straps lads.
    This just might be fun……

    1. That was good. Thanks. I’ve become accustomed to references to classic literature in your reviews. I anticipate a reference to North Cacalacki’s own Walker Percy’s “Love in the Ruins” if our heralded corner has a bad game at Wake. Truthfully, though good insights. Especially enjoyed the FEMA reference as abject failure. That was rich.
      ’98 PLS Major

  7. Notre Dame is 3-0 and you, Frank, are 5 for 5. Let me presumptuously add No. 6: wide-receiver screens – they make you hold your breath waiting to make sure they don’t go sixty yards the other way. Rip that page out of the playbook and run some kind of misdirection, traditional screen or another sweep.

  8. I don’t understand the consternation regarding the 2 point attempt. Further, it was not the same exact thing as the
    Northwestern game a few years back. Let’s break it down….

    Northwestern – Lead +11, extra point makes it +12, N’Western must score 2 TD’s to win, making +12 the magic number at
    play here. Kelly erred big time here, not taking the extra point and going up 12.

    Vandy – Lead ALREADY at + 12, already need 2 TD’s to win, why not make them also convert 2 PAT’s as well? This seems
    like a nitpick when there are other glaring issues.

    1. Because with a 13 point lead you only need to add a FG to keep the game a two possession game. With a 12 point lead, adding another FG keeps the game one possession. Going for two there basically says, I have no faith my team can kick a FG or stop them from scoring again.

  9. I am afraid that BW just does not have the instinct to be a good passer. He can be great when he runs. But he does not seem to be able to go through the progressions when he is called on to pass. Ian Book does seem to have that innate ability. I would like to see Book at QB on a regular basis and Wimbush in special situations rather than the reverse. What do I know – I have been following ND for 70 years !
    Go Irish !

  10. Kelly randomly deciding to chase 2 points would be a concern IF Kelly’s teams weren’t so inept in the red zone…. when they DO score a TD, the euphoria of the 6 points makes idiotically gambling away the sure extra point small potatoes.

    I did just find the halftime rant clip…..Just a sad, sad indictment of a coach who has no clue of how to motivate. I’ve been more inspired listening to the safety spiel from flight attendants.

      1. It shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that a complete fraud like Kelly wouldn’t stoop to an empty tale of hard scrabble, first-gen Irish immigrants in a feeble attempt to connect with a group of kids who barely know him, let alone ND tradition. Tales of old-school ND toiughness and greatness are now nothing more than fables for marketing…see: NBC broadcasts.

  11. GREAT ARTICLE FRANK!! The frustration week after week of bringing in BOOK on first and goal is crazy, that’s where BW seems to b the biggest threat!! Again pounding my head asking WHY on another senseless , unneeded 2pt attempt ! And these WRS have proven they cant get open against anyone, and the very few times they do BW EITHER UNDERTHROWS or LOFTS THE PASSES WITH NO ZIP AT ALL!! PLEASE give the young speedy WRS a chance, AUSTIN, YOUNG and can we stretch the field and take a safety out of coverage 1 time by sending LENZY on some post and fly patterns!!!

  12. Say, where’s Duranko been. We all miss His expert commentary. Oh well, guess He doesn’t feel these first few games are worth commenting on.

  13. I agree with Kelly the defense is good not great. I do think it will get better.special teams played their best game Saturday. Notredame needs to keep Young on kick returns. KID has a great burst. I think getting Dexter back will help the offense.He has the breakaway speed the backfield needs.Also would like to see Austin Young And Keys given playing time.Notrrdame can use more speed in receivers.

  14. Going to the game this Saturday. Hope I see a much improved team but BK doesn’t seem to be concerned about the poor play. The high water mark was 2012. 10 and 2 or wors. Too much talent wasted. Same qb play year after year. No domination. Not good enough.

    1. Just a guess here, that means that 4 out of 5 people disliked the coaching decisions, tactics, and play design. Were you going to extrapolate that 80% of ND fans dislike BK? Based are your voluminous and extensive data collection and exhaustive research?

  15. It seems ND has taken a step back this year. Part of that is losing two NFL caliber offensive lineman. But it seems to me the coaches should have done a better job preparing for that. We all expected them to take a step back. But it seems that they took a few too many step backs. I didn’t expect the offense to basically be starting from scratch, which it seems they are doing now. The defense doesn’t seem to be playing as disciplined as they were in week 1 also. However, I have a bit more faith in the defense’s ability to clean things up. A lot of their mistakes are coachable and I think Lea is a pretty good coach so I think he’ll work on that with them.

    Maybe I’m alone but I thought they were using Book pretty well. In general when they used him they had a well thought out play that he executed well. I see Frank’s point about BW’s running ability being an asset in the red zone though.

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