Monday Morning Briefing

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly touches on the team's disjointed start, the journey, and starting with a challenge rather than a cupcake.

More than 1,000 yards of offense have been offset 10 turnovers. A lone offensive touchdown allowed in Quarters, 1, 2, and 3 by the Notre Dame defense has been undone by a whopping five yielded in two fourth quarter defeats.

Little, it seems, has evolved as planned for head coach Brian Kelly and his 2011 Irish.

"When we came out of pre season camp, we felt like we had the chance to be a good team," Kelly began. "So when you put that modifier in front, 'chance to be a good team,' I can see those things in practice, I can see those things in the development of our players, but that chance to be a good team is everything that you just mentioned," he continued of the turnovers and myriad penalties assessed. "It's those turnovers, it's the little detail things. And until we can clean up those detail things, we can't be a good team.

"I still believe in this team. I still believe we're going to be a good football team. But the chance to be a good team is all the things that we're doing right now. We're not giving ourselves a chance to be a good team."

Kelly's second Irish squad has committed 17 penalties including three post-play personal fouls – each by a senior defender – in two contests. His 2010 team averaged just over four per contest last fall.

Mental toughness – an intangible quality mandatory to any successful endeavor, and one Kelly notes often as a source of pride – appears in short supply.

"We're shaping our team every single day; again, there are so many details to that," he said. "All you guys care about – and I understand that, and our fans – is that it equals wins, and we're not doing that for them. I understand the frustration.

"But we're building it the right way; we'll get them there. We're not there yet. I know this journey all too well. I've been on it before. It's frustrating. It's disappointing. It's all those things.

"We'll break through," he concluded. "There are too many good things happening out there for us not to break through."

Notre Dame ranks 13th in total offense through two weeks, producing 510 yards per game. The Irish rank last nationally in turnover margin out of 120 FBS teams: a -3.5 disadvantage through two contests.

Directional U unavailable

It began as ex Irish head coach Bob Davie's lament: the schedule, one lacking in "directional schools" (Eastern Michigan, North Texas State, etc.) weren't part of the early-season learning curve for the Notre Dame program. Other teams began with a cupcake warm-up while Notre Dame started its season with the likes of Michigan, Purdue, or Georgia Tech.

In the wake of an unexpected 0-2 start, early-season scheduling remains a hot topic.

"We've made so many mistakes against two pretty tough teams coming out," Kelly said, adding, "Again, as you see the schedule, Ohio State is playing Toledo…I mean, teams are playing easy games early on in the schedule. We don't get that luxury. We have to go play in front of 115,000.

"Those mistakes are more glaring against opponents that are physically pretty good, as well. I believe that we're going to be a good football team. We won't be until we clean up the little things that keep popping up on Saturdays."

Only 16 of the Football Bowl Subdivision's 120 teams opened with consecutive BCS or BCS-equivalent (Notre Dame, BYU) competition. Notre Dame, Maryland, Wake Forest, Miami, East Carolina, Rice, Ball State, Miami (Ohio), UNLV, USC, Troy, BYU, Middle Tennessee State, Fresno State, Florida Atlantic, and San Jose State. (Also of note: Georgia has faced Boise State and South Carolina while TCU has traveled to Baylor and Air Force.)

Of the group above, only USC has begun at 2-0 (Maryland 1-0).

Notre Dame has failed to open its season vs. a non-BCS conference foe (or traditional power conference opponent) in just three seasons: 2004 – a 20-17 loss to BYU (though the Cougars are the nation's historically best "mid-major"; 2008 – an ugly 21-13 win over San Diego State; and in 2009 – a 35-0 shut-out of Nevada.

The Irish have not opened vs. a pre-season ranked team since 2005 (Pittsburgh). Previous, Irish teams led by Bob Davie, Lou Holtz, and Gerry Faust open with a nationally ranked foe in nine of 22 seasons, prevailing in eight of those contests.

Of Notre Dame's last three teams to begin a season 0-2, none finished with a winning record:

  • The historically poor 2007 squad opened 0-2, fell to 0-5, and finished 3-9. Such depths aren't possible in 2011.
  • Bob Davie's final team, 2001, lost its first three, won three straight thereafter, and finished 5-6 prior to his official dismissal. The 2011 Irish have already scored more points, 51, than did Davie's '01 squad over its first four contests.
  • Lou Holtz's first team in 1986 began 0-2 with losses to #3 Michigan and at Michigan State; fell to 1-4 but rebounded to finish 5-6 vs. the nation's toughest schedule (four top eight foes included).

Perhaps the best historical comparison to today's team is Dan Devine's 1978 unit. Ranked #5 to start the season, Devine's Irish lost to Missouri and #5 Michigan to begin the season. They rallied behind a mid-level defense and a QB named Joe Montana to win eight straight before a crushing, last second season-ending loss at #3USC (current #4 Stanford awaits the 2011 Irish).

The "Chicken Soup Game" followed and a Cotton Bowl (BCS-equivalent of the day) concluded the season.

My take on the traditionally challenging opening schedule: When you begin 2-0, it's a source of immense pride for both the program and its fans, one that often equates to a Top 15 national ranking (this year would have likely been Top 10).

But when you open 0-2, its better to discuss scheduling realities behind closed doors.

BCS riches aren't in the cards for Kelly's 2011 Irish – a winning streak must be.


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