Brian Kelly Can’t Solve The Notre Dame Post-Season Riddle

Disappointment. That’s what it is more than anything else.

Notre Dame entered the Cotton Bowl as 13 point underdogs, so going in the idea of losing isn’t exactly farfetched. But, if you’ve watched them all year, as most of us have, we know what their best game is. We know what they are capable of doing. And that wasn’t it.

The problem is, I could sub out the words “Cotton Bowl” above and insert the Orange Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl and the rest would still be true. For the third time in the Kelly era, Notre Dame brought a very good team to a major bowl game and left looking like an 8-4 club. This has happened across seven seasons, different coaching staffs, different players, and different opponents. There is one common denominator and that is Brian Kelly, the one in charge of the whole operation.

The only thing that matters now is how this gets solved. Everyone knows the stat by now, he’s 22-4 since the debacle of 2016, and he returns a team that should win double digit games again next season. His program has been built and he was excellent in building it. The job, however, is not complete and he would be foolish to think it is. And to be honest, I don’t get any inkling he thinks his program has arrived. He knows where the failures have been. Kelly went through a soul search after his team went 4-8, and he needs another one after 30-3.

Success In The Regular Season

One of the most common phrases I saw postgame was “Notre Dame was just completely overmatched and couldn’t compete.” I don’t agree with that. Notre Dame has competed, and won, against similar rosters. But, it’s only come in the regular season.

  • In 2012 Notre Dame was double digit dogs going to Oklahoma and beat them 30-13.
  • In 2014 the Irish went to defending national champion and #2 Florida State and was within a controversial (see: terrible) offensive pass interference penalty of taking them down.
  • In 2015 they lost to national runner up Clemson by two on the road, with a failed two point conversion in the final seconds
  • In 2017 they lost to national runner up Georgia by one, fumbling with just over a minute left. They were #4 in 247’s team talent rankings.
  • In 2017 they beat 11 win USC 49-14, a team who at the time was #3 overall in the team talent rankings.
  • In 2018 they beat Michigan 24-17, #8 in the team talent rankings.
  • For reference, Notre Dame is 10th in the team talent rankings, Clemson was #6.
Notre Dame Football Players We Wanted to See This Spring

Notre Dame also has some bad losses in there, to Miami last season most notably. The point is, they can compete and win against teams with similar rosters to Clemson this season. It isn’t that they are overmatched in those games. And Kelly has shown the ability to get his team ready to go and come up with a game plan that can win. If you add up the scores to all those games and add Miami, Notre Dame is +11. In the three marquee bowl games, Notre Dame is -69. They are nothing like what they have been when they play in those games.

Where To Go From Here

Obviously this is the question for Kelly, and the only one that really needs answering today and in the offseason. There is a chance they get back into a big game next season, if not the playoffs. The offense is back, minus Dexter Williams, with a possible upgrade at quarterback (more on that later), and a defense that will lose Coney, Tranquill, and Tillery, but perhaps retain Julian Love and all of the defensive ends.

They’ve recruited very well on the lines, but they don’t have anyone who is of the Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross mold at receiver, two top 50 players. In last nights game in particular, the lack of that big play punch hurt them, as there wasn’t a 50 yard touchdown just sitting out there for them whenever they felt the offense was scuffling (and Clemson was scuffling). That could continue to be a problem offensively, especially with Book at quarterback who hadn’t thrown a good deep ball all season and missed a touchdown again last night.

Overall, they need to recruit better across the board. They are currently top 10, good enough to make it, not good enough to be favored, which is the common denominator across most of those games up top. They are never favored, always needing a huge performance to compete.

As it is, it’s another offseason of the same conversation with the same questions, and at best a year away from being able to answer them. Disappointing. Just disappointing.


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  1. Denis 1 year ago

    I have been an ND fan my entire life but this loss is very straightforward, ND was overmatched on talent. End of story. To address the loss by talking about calls, schemes, coaching, etc. are missing the point. Nobody is matching up with Clemson and Alabama today because of the talent gap. Handcuffing the coaches on recruiting by insisting on high academic standards is the root cause. This is what Holtz talked about years ago. ND is so focused on elevating their status to Ivy League status (and then believing they can win the national championship) are dreaming and missing the broader points. Sometimes giving a student that doesn’t meet those high standards (Chris Zorich) results in giving someone a better chance at life and making them successful. Clemson is a fine academic institution, I know as I have had four children there. Their recruiting standards don’t take away from that and they produce winning athletics while giving good students a chance at a better life.

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  2. david 1 year ago

    Pat Fitzgerald announces at the trophy ceremony…loud and clear…he ain’t goin’ nowhere.

    Lincoln Riley snuffs out the rampant NFL rumors by agreeing to an extension at OU immediately after his semi-final loss.

    Brian Kelly in 2013? Radio silence for 2 weeks, while he interviewed for an NFL job.

    But that low-character issue has sorted itself out in very Shakespearean fashion. Unfortunately.

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  3. HURLS 1 year ago

    Hey come-on, now. NOTRE DAME LOST BECAUSE CLEMSON IS A BETTER TEAM. (period) And we didn’t get any (opportune) breaks. Nothing can be done about losing to a better team and program. (ask UMichigan about their losing to us) To win against the elite programs you need the breaks to go your way. They didn’t. Notre Dame looked like an average football team against Clemson. That’s because we played like an average football team against Clemson. Why? Because CLEMSON IS BETTER. We’re good. Not great. Yet…

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  4. Jim Boyle 1 year ago

    ND’s number 2’s have no game experience. When Julian Love went down he was replaced by a highly recruited, athletic corner. Why did he look scared? not enough game experience. Clemson and Alabama’s number 2’s look battle tested, because they have played a bunch this year. As long as Kelly and the Irish play tight games with the likes of Ball State our 2’s are never going to see the field. We are Notre Dame put the hammer down on teams you are supposed to pound, get your 2’s some game experience, before it comes back to haunt you as it did against Clemson

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  5. david 1 year ago

    Pat Fitzgerald just coached his team to a 28-point. 6 T/O comeback bowl win. Lineman even caught a pass for a TD. Really entertaining to watch.
    Imagine that.

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    1. Ron Burgundy 1 year ago

      I have the NW v Akron game on DVR, can’t wait to watch.

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      1. david 1 year ago

        Why, have you already watched all the Brian Kelly blooper reels?
        This last one is a beaut.

        And BTW…
        An ND football fan (such as you are) ridiculing Northwestern.

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  6. Mike Deverich 1 year ago

    OI agree with your assesment concdernig the lack of success in Big Bowl games. The ND team I watched on Sat. wasn’t the tsame team I watched all year, they played their owrst game at the biggest moment. However, with the academic requirements at ND most of the 5* recuits woudn’t be accepted. ND, Stanford, Northwestern, and a few others are behind the 8 ball when it comes to recuiting while maintaining their academic standards. ND gets its share of 4* recuits but is stymied with the 5* players. They definately need more speed at WR, a couple of players that can take the top off the defense and get the safties out of the box. Kelly has done a damnfine job bringing the Irish back to national prominence, 2 undefeated regular seasons against very good oppenents, now he need to to take that final step and beat the top teams in the country. He has changed since he first became the HC and I believe he will comtinue to look for ways to bring a couple of national titles home, where they belong.

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  7. Michael_Dee 1 year ago

    One glaring problem i see every year is the ND receivers being able to catch the ball “In Stride”. The QB has to be able to throw the
    ball downfield 25-30 yds and have the receivers take it the rest of the way. This is sorely lacking in the passing game.
    This will stop defenses from loading the box and stuffing the run. Book hasn’t really thrown a deep ball all year. ND needs to be able
    to stretch the field and give the offense another dimension.

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    1. Scott 1 year ago

      Book hasn’t thrown deep because he can’t. His accuracy is in dinks and dunks and some mid-range stuff. He grossly misse3d a wide open Finke in one game this season, he missed Boykin for a sure 6 in this one. I am hoping that Jurkovec competes with Book and takes over. You can call me crazy all you like, but when I see him missing receivers who created separation for sure TDs, he’s not the answer (neither was Wimbush, as we saw early on this season). Much of the problem is Kelly and his OC being unable to adjust in-game (sorry, Mr. Long, your play selection and game plan sucked against a top-notch D…WTF were you thinking?). ND doesn’t have the money to lure in a top-notch OC?

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  8. C-Dog 1 year ago

    Anyone hear that the Georgia players are dissing on ND for being in the CFP? I wonder who wrote their tweets for them. Can’t imagine a Georgia player can read or write.

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    1. Ron Burgundy 1 year ago

      I see what you did there. Sick burn dude!

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    2. Damian 1 year ago

      Yeah, I have absolutely no sympathy for Georgia. Hey guys, maybe you shouldn’t have lost 2 games. They only have themselves to blame.

      UCF, ok, maybe I can sympathize just a little bit, but then they didn’t help themselves with their out of conference schedule. But they at least won all their games.

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  9. C-Dog 1 year ago

    Offensive line wasn’t prepared. That’s on the coaches. Clemson had the scheme scouted and ND did not have an answer for quick lineman. Defensive line depth also kept Clemson for fatigue at D-Line. Plus assuredly guys who didn’t get caught were also juicing. The Russians will tell you, todays juice prevents fatigue.

    If ND’s offensive line could have bought Book time or opened a few holes, the game goes differently.

    Remember Etienne gets no meaningful yards until they are up and NDs D has to sell out.

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  10. Bob Rodes 1 year ago

    All I will say is that I would change “can’t solve” to “hasn’t solved.” Defeatism just isn’t in my makeup, I guess, and that sounds defeatist to me.

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