Among the many reasons for Notre Dame’s miserable 4-8 campaign in 2016 was their inability to take care of business away from the Golden Dome. Just one of their four road games last season resulted in an Irish victory, with that contest taking place in the Meadowlands against the Swiss cheese-like defense of the Syracuse Orangemen.
The Woes of 2016
Two of the others, the opening-game double overtime heartbreaker at Texas and the swamp-laden trip to North Carolina State, were winnable games. Notre Dame simply couldn’t get the job done when it counted.
Allowing 50 points to the Longhorns was the first of six games in which the defense allowed more than 30 points. Meanwhile, the combination of a blocked punt that resulted in the only touchdown and the inexplicable decision to keep passing in a downpour brought heat down on Irish head coach Brian Kelly following the 10-3 loss to the Wolfpack.
Trying to Reverse the Decline
The road game struggles wiped away the 3-2 mark in 2015 that Notre Dame had achieved in that category, with Kelly’s 16-15 regular season mark away from home showing a continuing issue that began in 2013. During the first three seasons under Kelly, the Irish had an impressive 9-3 road record. However, that’s dipped to 6-11 over the past four years.
Over their last 13 road games, Notre Dame has been able to win two games in a row just once. That lack of consistency can’t continue if Kelly wants to stay around, which means that 2017 has to see a turnaround.
The Upcoming Campaign
Looking ahead to the 2017 Notre Dame football schedule, five road games are on the docket. The first two are against Boston College and Michigan State in consecutive weeks, the first time the Irish is visiting these schools in five years. Having won the last five meetings against BC, including their last two trips to Boston, Notre Dame still has to be wary against a team that improved by four games last year.
In the case of Michigan State, the Irish fell way behind early last year and fell short in a comeback attempt against a team that quickly fell apart after that win to finish 3-9. Under Kelly, Notre Dame has split their two meetings in East Lansing and are likely to need to contain the Spartan running game to collect a win.
An October 7 trip to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels is essentially uncharted territory. That’s because it’s the first visit under Kelly’s leadership and only the second in the last 43 seasons. The Tar Heels will have a new signal caller, with second-overall NFL draftee Mitch Trubisky now playing professionally. However, that means relying on a shaky running game, with the defensive side currently banking on the tenuous potential of its starters.
Miami may lack the swagger of a few decades ago, but the first Notre Dame visit in 28 years on November 11 will be an effort to break a five-game losing streak down there. Right now, the Canes’ quarterback situation is shaky, though they have running back Mark Walton to cause havoc and a strong defense.
In the regular season finale at Stanford two weeks later, the streaky trend of the Palo Alto side of this series has seen the Cardinal win the last four meetings there. By the time the game is played, the uncertainty at quarterback for Stanford may offer a window into determining the challenge of the Irish.
The Hard Truth
Of course, by that time, Kelly’s own status might have been determined. A comeback year likely means that Notre Dame is bowl-bound, while another 2016-like campaign means a new head coach patrolling the sidelines in 2018. A good way to avoid the latter is to get back to a winning record on the road.