Notre Dame’s Road Woes Continue under Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly - Notre Dame HC
Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Many Irish fans had been anticipating the first game of the College Football season since last year’s loss to Ohio State.  Their hopes of another undefeated regular season were dashed on the first game of the season as yet again the Irish suffered a heartbreaking loss on the road.

It has become hard for Irish fans to be optimistic in primetime road games the last few years. Brian Kelly is now 14-12 at Notre Dame in “true” road games – excluding neutral site or bowl games.

Over the course of the last three seasons Notre Dame is 3-6 in road games with their only wins coming at Temple, at Pittsburgh, and at Virginia last season and even in those contests the Irish struggled.

Against what ended up being a bad Virginia team, it took a last minute drive by DeShone Kizer to win the game.

The biggest true road win last season was over Temple. This was a good road win for the Irish under Kelly, because it was in fact the biggest game in Temple history and ESPN’s GameDay was on site.  Temple ended the season unranked however with a 10-4 record, so perhaps the ranking at that time and hype was a bit premature due to their lackluster schedule. Nonetheless, credit that as a quality win for Kelly.

Facing Pittsburgh on the road, the Irish were ranked 5th. Perhaps the Irish would struggle in this game as they had earlier in the season against Virginia.  Notre Dame had a substantial lead until the Pitt Panthers scored 13 points late to make the score closer than it needed to be 42 to 30. But it appeared the Irish had turned a corner on road.

It’s been a different story in the big primetime road games the last 3 years – the games against the best of the best, the blue bloods of college football. Everyone across the country watches to see what the Irish are made of in these games.

In 2014 an undefeated Notre Dame challenged undefeated Florida State in a game in which the Irish were the better team.  Notre Dame came up one play short as the referees called a questionable illegal pick play. A play the Irish had run earlier in the game without drawing a flag.  In fact, Peyton Manning made a living off of running this same play without garnering a penalty.

Just a few weeks later the Irish were in another key matchup of top ranked teams when they went to Arizona State. After an awful start, the Irish climbed all the way back in the game, but fell just a bit short once again ending their playoff hopes.

Fast forward to last year. Notre Dame traveled to Clemson in another primetime game. Clemson scored two easy touchdowns to start the game, and then Notre Dame defense completely locked down. It’s not necessary to go over all the details of the game, but the Irish would lose by two points in a game the Irish showed a lot of charisma.

With Notre Dame’s playoff hopes on the line in the season finale last year the Irish went to Stanford. A seemingly easier environment for the Irish compared to crowd noise at Death Valley and Doak Campbell Stadium. It looked like this time the Irish would prevail when DeShone Kizer gave the Irish the lead with less than a minute remaining. But in the back of my mind, I knew anytime left on the clock was too much time. Was I right.  Stanford hit a game winning field goal as time expired and fans rushed the field leaving Notre Dame fans disappointed on the road once again.

Then the first game of the season comes against Texas – a team Notre Dame had beaten by 35 points in South Bend and held to only 3 points a year ago. While Texas has a new offensive coordinator and are a much more mature team, the difference in this game was the fact it was played on the road. For whatever reason the Irish just don’t play well on the road. If this game was in South Bend or a neutral site game, Irish probably win.

Statistics don’t lie. Brian Kelly is 14-12 on the road and over the last three years the only ranked team he has beaten on the road is Temple.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Notre Dame fans is how close the Irish come only to come up short time and time again. Yes, there was a bad call at Florida State and an equally bad missed call at Texas, but losing on the road doesn’t happen because of one call.  A missed targeting call doesn’t give up 50 points. That is unacceptable for Notre Dame in year three under a defensive coordinator.

Take away the Temple game last year, and the last major road game that Notre Dame has won is almost four years ago at Oklahoma. Every year the Irish are on the verge of getting over the hump, but every year fans of opposing teams across the country see the Irish fail on the biggest stage. How can anyone blame them for thinking that Notre Dame is overrated or hasn’t won anything since 1988?

The 2016 season isn’t over by any means.  Each of the last 2 national champions both had a loss at home early in the season – Notre Dame’s was even more respectable coming on the road.  Notre Dame has a Heisman candidate in DeShone Kizer and if the Irish beat Michigan State next week they’ll be right back in the hunt for the playoffs.

At the same time, something has to change. Changing an assistant coach such as Brian VanGorder like many people suggest might not be in order just yet. Perhaps it’s the bright lights or the fact that other teams get up to play Notre Dame like it’s their Super Bowl. Maybe I’m overreacting, but after failure after failure on the road, something needs to change for Notre Dame to reach its potential.  Right now, road games are just too hard to watch.

14 comments

  1. Dan MacDonald 3 years ago

    We have been patient with Kelly. but it is time. Fire BVG and get a defence or resign. This is Cincinnati redux.

    Reply Like Dislike
  2. jeff 3 years ago

    The most Antiquated venue ive ever watched a game. Public Address system was a joke including the PA announcer. He didnt know who wr Fink was when he caught his first pass. Scoreboards were laughable. All that money and still antiquated facilities.

    Reply Like Dislike
  3. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

    They were expected to beat Texas so this wouldn’t have counted in your definition Terrance.
    Furthermore, they weren’t expected to beat Ok in ’12 and USC in ’10 both on the road.

    Queen – don’t forget CW the human schematic advantage.

    Reply Like Dislike
  4. Mike "King" Kelly 3 years ago

    Coach Kelly is just not scheming enough. He is reverting back to His U of Cincy days , winning 62-59 .. We need another Ara, the Armenian schemer!

    Reply Like Dislike
  5. Peter Recchio 3 years ago

    ground hog day

    Reply Like Dislike
  6. Terry McManus 3 years ago

    I’ve been saying this for years and here I go again – We will not be BACK until we win a game on the road against a team that we’re not supposed to beat.

    Kelly has gotten us to this point with good coaching and good recruiting, but he has failed time and again in getting us over the final hump. There is no swagger in this team or any of the previous ones, there is no “poor m-fers you have to play Notre Dame” attitude that I have seen on this or the previous teams. And when one of our guys is obviously targeted and none of his teammates retaliate, the message is clear – ND can be pushed around.

    I remember Chris Zorich from the late 80s – it was said that the reason that the defense played like wild men was that they were afraid of Zorich if they didn’t.

    Reply Like Dislike
  7. Michael the Archangel 3 years ago

    re: “3 loss seasons are the new norm. Get used to it.” We ought to be; it’s not that new.
    ND has lost at least three games in 21 of the last 22 seasons; that’s many years preceding BKs arrival.
    This isn’t a BK phenomenon; his record is a slight improvement over the preceding fifteen years or so.
    ” Hope springs eternal” but blind hope can be foolish.
    Good news- ND won every home game last season, but road warriors they haven’t been since 2012.
    re: statistics lie- here’s a stat from one of the bookies last week, urging bettors to take Texas . “ND is 0-9 since 2012 in games at an opponent’s field when ND is an underdog, or favored by less than a TD.” 0-9! It’s not a matter of winning some of those crucial games; the reality is ND winning not one of those games. Zero! Zilch. None. Why if you can keep it close can’t you win even one?
    More huge road tests this year @ NCSt. & @SC, beyond holding victory vs Mi. St, Stanford, Miami and Va. Tech @ home. ND has made numerous big plays to keep road games vs. top teams’ close, as they did in Texas Sunday night, and @ Clemson and @ Stanford last year. But not quite enough to snatch victory from those ongoing big game losses. Is that all on the players? Looking back:
    Why NDs switch @ Texas from the ineffective 3-3-5 D’ to the 4 man front that led to third quarter D’ success, or was it the switch to the “next-man-in” DBs that led to that brief success, and then BVG returns to the 3-3-5 D’ scheme in the fourth? Is that all on the players?
    The D’ has been the problem most often; but is it always the players’ fault? The O’ has been outstanding these last two seasons, but the O’ not making or wasting the key third down plays, or not scoring the winning score late are also recurring problems in these games. It’s great who BK has recruited and ND can compete to keep most of them close- but almost winning isn’t something an elite program should be content with. I’m not ready to change the fight song to: “When on the road, ‘tho the odds be great or small; old Notre Dame won’t win any at all; While her loyal sons go marching onward to another close loss”. But ND got close to victory can’t become the best we get to expect.

    As for Nevada, 52-21 would be a welcome week 2.
    ND must start winning big when they’re 4 TD favorites, or it’s back out of the Big 6 bowl picture, even with nine wins.

    Reply Like Dislike
  8. subwayalumni 3 years ago

    completely inexcusable defensively, esp. at the hands of a true freshman qb, ridiculous!

    Reply Like Dislike
  9. Jimbo 3 years ago

    Why must every ND writer keep bringing up excuses like the call last week and the call in FSU game? Bottom line is the call did not go ND’s way. Find another way to win. Just look at the points given up in some of these losses. I said this the day he was hired and I’ll say it again. BK is not the man to lead ND to the promised land. Good solid 3 loss per year coach. Nothing more (except 2012), nothing less. 3 loss seasons are the new norm. Get used to it.

    Reply Like Dislike
  10. mzipprich 3 years ago

    I think you guys are living in lala land if you think this defense will improve enough to finish the season 11-1. This will be a 9-3 regular season at best. If I’m wrong and they finish better than that, I’ll gladly eat crow.

    Reply Like Dislike
  11. Bob Rodes 3 years ago

    “Their hopes of another undefeated regular season were severely diminished on the first game of the season as yet again the Irish suffered a heartbreaking loss on the road.” ???

    Perhaps “tragically extinguished” might have been a better choice of words than “severely diminished”.

    As for “statistics don’t lie,” well, I don’t agree. In fact, statistics are liars’ favorite means of lying. I’m not saying that you’re using them to lie here, because you obviously believe what you’re saying and I tend to agree with it. At least in the BVG era.

    I certainly can’t blame anyone for thinking that ND hasn’t won anything since 1988, either. However, that conclusion isn’t exactly backed up by statistics. If by “anything” you mean a “national championship”, then statistics do indeed back that up. But you will find ND apologists by the legion quoting various “wins” of various descriptions that “refute” your position. Which statistics are “lying” here, when they back up opposite points of view?

    All that said, I don’t disagree with the main points in your article.

    Reply Like Dislike
  12. Dustin 3 years ago

    It’s not premature to fire VanGorder. It’s too late.

    Reply Like Dislike
  13. pete 3 years ago

    Van Gorder needs to go. Kelly needs to go outside his comfort zone of hiring guys he priviosly worked with and go hire the best, most expierenced d coordinator in the country. Also Todd Lyght needs to teach his secondary to look back for the ball. Way too many passes are being completed over Notre Dame db’s who aren’t locating the ball in the air.

    Reply Like Dislike
  14. Damian 3 years ago

    That’s all correct. That is the one last hump ND needs to climb to make it back to the world of “elite.” I know some fans out there have been calling for BK’s head since about 2014. But there is no doubt ND has made improvement. ND can be top 25 teams at home or at neutral sites. How quickly some fans have forgotten the 2000’s when it was nothing for ND to lose regularly to ranked teams, frequently in blowout fashion. Progress has been made in the sense that top teams have to respect the Irish in any game. In 2009, it is likely Clemson would have won by 14+ points. Prior to BK if the Irish fell behind more than 10 pts. it was game over. The only question was how badly would the other team blow us out. It was embarrassing. I frequently turned the TV off rather than watch anymore.

    Under BK the Irish fight to the last second. Under Weis, once Texas extended their lead to 14 the outcome would no longer be in doubt. Would we lose by 21, 28 or more. Under BK, the team not only fought, but took the lead for a time. Yes, that is progress.

    But, there is no reason they can’t go further. Against Texas, had we just had an average middle of the road defense, that would have been a win. Too many of the losses in the last 2 years would have been wins with an average defense. Sure, if the offense made one more play this week, had BK put Kizer in one series earlier, maybe that would have been what put ND on top. But to be fair, they scored 47 points. I put that loss on the defense. 47 points should be a win. Even a potent offense is never perfect. You’re going to go 3 and out from time to time.

    Now one game does not make a season. It is possible, though admittedly doubtful, that the defense gets itself in order and plays well the rest of the season. Do 3 things: complete tackles, stick to assignments, avoid dumb penalties. Just do that and we’d see a huge difference.

    Reply Like Dislike

You may also like