Notre Dame Football’s Silver Lining

Deshone Kizer - Notre Dame QB vs. Clemson
Photo: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame falling to Clemson 24-22 in Death Valley in dramatic fashion put the first blemish on head coach Brian Kelly’s squad for the 2015 season.  And while no team searches for moral victories in defeat, the truth is not all losses are created equal.  Notre Dame’s thrashing at the hands of USC last season provided little future value other than quarterback Malik Zaire gaining some game experience in garbage time.  However, there were numerous positive developments from the Clemson game that should leave Notre Dame fans upbeat about the future.

Deshone Kizer’s poise is something to behold

In August UHND.com predicted Notre Dame would beat Clemson and that Malik Zaire would be the difference in the game.  The thought process behind the prediction was Notre Dame’s offense would need to score many points to overcome the Tigers, and with Zaire lost for the season, it was doubtful the Fighting Irish would be able to do so.  And while quarterback DeShone Kizer had been extremely impressive in action against Virginia, Georgia Tech and UMass, playing within the hostile confines of Death Valley is a challenge on another level entirely.

Kizer undoubtedly had his youthful moments.  He had inaccurate throws and what was nearly a very costly interception, as well as a missed read that would have led to a Notre Dame touchdown.  But he played well enough and with enough poise that Notre Dame had the pieces it needed on the field to beat Clemson.  And although Notre Dame fell short, the fact the Irish had what it needed to win with their former No. 3 quarterback on the field speaks volumes.

ESPN broadcaster Kirk Herbstreit said it best during the game.

“His numbers aren’t going to blow you away when you pick up the box score tomorrow, but what’s going to impress you if you watch this game is how he just kind of hung tough.  They have not been able to run the football, they have put him in some tough positions – I just can’t get over how he sits in the pocket, and how much time he has, and how he doesn’t panic.”

Notre Dame’s defense kept them in the game

The defense was a question mark heading into the 2015 season.  Which defensive identity was the true one from last year: the one that helped lead the team to a 6-0 start, or the one that surrendered 44.5 points per game during the last four regular season games?  The jury was still out as to whether injuries were the culprit that derailed the defense in 2014 or if defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme was incapable of standing up to a spread offense with a mobile quarterback.

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The beginning of the Clemson game hinted the latter was clearly the case.  VanGorder’s defense surrendered 14 points within the first seven minutes of the game as Clemson bullied their way to 9 yards per offensive snap.  But Notre Dame’s defense shook off the opening jitters and battled back.  Clemson was held to 10 points over the next three quarters, and star quarterback Deshaun Watson was limited to less than 100 yards in the air with only a 50-percent completion rate.  And all of this was accomplished despite Notre Dame’s offense turning the ball over four times and providing Clemson with short fields.

While Notre Dame losing is the ultimate storyline, the Clemson game was a step in the right direction for Notre Dame’s defense in its quest to prove it can slow down spread attacks.

Justin Yoon drilled one in a monsoon

True freshman kicker Justin Yoon has taken a lot of ribbing from Notre Dame fans after his rough start.  The former No. 1 kicker in the nation came in to the Clemson game 4-6 on field goal attempts, including missed extra points against Georgia Tech and Massachusetts.   The shaky performances were unquestionably going through the mind of Brian Kelly as he trotted Yoon out onto the field for a must-have field goal attempt against Clemson.

Notre Dame trailed 14-0 and the Tigers appeared on their way to a route.  The momentum needed to be halted and the Irish needed a score.  Facing fourth down and ten yards to go, Kelly had little choice but to send out Yoon to attempt a 46-yard field goal.  A true freshman trying to make a desperately needed field goal in prime time in Death Valley is intimidating enough.  Add historic rainfall and intensely gusting wind into the mix and the idea seems doomed from the get-go.  But Yoon drilled the attempt, which was a huge turn of events for Notre Dame, and an enormous confidence boost for the young kicker.

Yoon has the physical ability and mental makeup to be a truly special player for Notre Dame.  Irish fans need to be patient and give the true freshman kicker a chance to transition to the pressure of major college football.

Notre Dame is still in the mix

Any objective observer of Notre Dame’s 2015 team had to know they were not going to go undefeated.  There isn’t a team in the country that can lose nearly one-third of their starting lineup to season-ending injuries and finish the season unscathed.  Losses are fine – it’s the blowouts that are a problem.

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Notre Dame’s start against Clemson had eerie similarities to Notre Dame’s blowout loss at the hands of Alabama during the BCS National Championship game.  But rather than fall apart, Notre Dame’s defense dig in, and the offense overcame numerous miscues to take Clemson to the brink.  The storylines coming out of this game will be one ones of Clemson’s survival rather than of Notre Dame’s faltering, which is exactly what the Fighting Irish need moving forward.

Whether or not Notre Dame is a playoff-caliber team will be sorted out soon with a looming showdown against the USC Trojans.  What matters now is the opportunity still exists after a close loss to Clemson in Death Valley.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

 

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21 Comments

  1. Well I dont know about anyone else, but I now feel all warm and fuzzy inside due to the kicker finally making a FG. Now, if he could just stop missing extra points on a regular basis…

  2. I agree about Herbstreit. I don’t recall seeing any criticisms here of him (though I’m sure if you really wanted to too you could find one or two). I don’t have any issues with him.

    Now Mark May, that’s another story–though he has been complimentary of ND this year at times which just freaks me out. He’s not supposed to compliment ND ;).

  3. Give me Musburger/Fowler and Herbstreit calling any game and I’m good. ND’s silver lining is there is plenty of season left and 2 games that can elevate it into playoff contention. Temple and Pitt are no throw away games either. The other thing is there are several teams ranked ahead of ND that have to play each other. SOMEBODY has to lose. This football season has turned into March Madness. Survive and advance!

  4. i saw a comment on a recent article that said no big time, established coach will ever come to nd because of the limitations of the academics, morality, etc. i said to my self, mfbs. the ideology of losing. there is no silver lining. its either winning or losing. lombardi said it best, losing becomes a bad habit. i am tired every year of the screw ups, excuses, justifications for losing. every year. the defense has given up hundreds of points in the last season and a half. why is that guy still here?

    harbaugh, meyer, dantonio would never put up with this. great, great motivating coaches.

    i saw kizer on his way to a touchdown, with only a safety between him and the goaline line. he went down before he was hit. imagine what tom zbikowski would have done. run him over.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_iKg7nutNY

  5. @Duranko

    The point is you said Lundquist and Danielson “never” interject their opinions when that is not the case.

  6. Herbstreit is far from an OSU homer. Not sure if anyone actually said that, but if so, it’s an ignorant comment or sheer assumption. If anything, KH is typically more complimentary of ND than he is OSU. Not that it matters anyway, as Verne is the only worthy commentator alive.

  7. It appears that Tebow has not played college football since’09. Further, as is so often the case with criticism, it is more instructive regarding the criticizer than the criticized.

    Duranko was the scourge of picturesque Johnston PA. He neither allowed runners to pass by his defensive tackle post nor second “n” in his surname.

  8. david
    September 14, 2015 at 9:29 am
    TB: GT will quite likely be taking ND to the woodshed Saturday. If ND was to scored 40 points, they’d very likely still lose. GT is very, very solid.
    Have a Plan B for the second half on Saturday…..yard chores, other games, heavy drinking….

  9. I don’t understand why ND couldn’t pass the football in the first half, since Clemson was defensively configured to stop the run! They dared ND to pass, and it was their best strategy. The receivers played badly in the first half. Overall, a very disappointing performance that makes me wonder how good ND really is. But, even great teams have an occasional bad game. As always, the worst is that the Irish should have won (and they know it.) Kelly certainly was no help: kicking two extra points would have resulted in a tie, and ND would have won in OT.

  10. That, Scott, is more indicative of the WIDE CRITICIZERS than it is about Lundquist. Further, I might be wrong, but I don’t think tebow has played college football in this decade.

    Duranko, the maven of Johnstown PA neither allowed runners to pass his defensive tackle post nor a second “n” in his surname. Not that it matters

  11. At the risk of going John Galt, Notre Dame football is Notre Dame football. Its reality is real and is defined by action on the field of honor, not by either predictors, gamblers or commentators in electronic media or the press.

    There is only one truly outstanding set of commentators right now who cover college football, Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson, who handle the SEC broadcasts on CBS. Their virtues are many but among them is that they never interstice themselves or their opinions between the viewer and what transpires on the field.

  12. I distinctly remember Kirk Herbstreit being roundly dismissed here as an Ohio State homer with no objectivity. But all seems forgiven now….

    Kizer was very good, and fantastic given all the circumstances.

    And I see Jabba Burgundy has again stirred from its fetid coma….

  13. I don’t believe I’ve ever been so impressed with punting before after watching the game. His 1st punt was aweful bet he came back & placed several inside the Tigers 15 yard line. Several of them near the 10 yard line.

    All in all, the special teams unit played a hell of game. I really…can’t remember saying that the kicking team was a highlight of a game before. Lol

    I’ve not read anything about the game taking notice of how well our punter was dropping kicks deep into Tiger territory.

  14. Damian, my best guess is that the weather they played in sucked equally for both teams. What wasnt equal was Clemson having 16 days to prepare while Notre Dame had maybe 5. IMO that is a huge advantage for Clemson especially since ND was the team traveling. USC will have a similar advantage when they arrive in two weeks. On a neutral field with equal prep time i believe ND wins.

  15. All good points. As BK points out there are no moral victories at this point, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some positives out of this game.

    The key one for me and one that gives me hope is unlike under other recent coaches, this team doesn’t give up until the clock hits 0:00. They will fight to the end. And their were some players that played well, Kizer being the best example. Also, while the defense unfortunately was caught flat footed at the beginning, they did actually settle down and prevented Clemson from running away with the game. Offensively they couldn’t get much going, but the defense fought hard to give the Irish every chance.

    I wonder if the weather conditions were better would the Irish have faired better. That’s no excuse for the team (esp. since Clemson was faced with the same conditions), more just me as a fan wondering.

    Hopefully they can take an early lead against Navy and rest some of the starters for the last quarter. Navy should never be underestimated, but the defense has shown the discipline to defend against the triple option. They are not fooled by it and I think our offense can handle their defense. There is still much to play for this season, and still an outside shot at the playoff (though they will need a lot of help from other teams).

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