New way to win

Prediction No. 6 in our summer series offers that Notre Dame's defense will allow more points, more often, than at any point in the Brian Kelly era to date. But they'll find a way to win, anyway...

The 52-game Brian Kelly era in South Bend has heretofore been defined by two realities:

1.) More often than not, games were close, and the majority were won by the Irish.

2.) If the opponent scored more than 21 points, Notre Dame was in trouble.

No. 1 won't change in 2014, No. 2 will.

As noted in Prediction No. 4 "Close and Late" in our ongoing summer series, I expect Kelly's fifth-edition Irish to again be involved in an inordinate number of contests that are decided in the fourth quarter. A remarkable 11 of 13 games fell under that category last season; seven in both 2012 and 2011; six in 2010 -- that's 31 of 52 games played to date decided by a score in the fourth quarter, with Notre Dame prevailing in 18 of them, including 12 of the last 15.

This prediction posits that reality No. 2 above -- the Irish struggle when their foe tops 21 points -- will change in 2014. In fact, it has to.

Previous seasons of the Kelly era have shown the following results when the opponent scores more than 21 points (it's relevant to note that for his first three seasons, that didn't happen often).

2010: No wins vs. five defeats -- Michigan (28-24), Michigan State (34-31, OT), Stanford (37-14), Navy (35-17), and Tulsa (28-27).

2011: One win (Air Force, 59-33) vs. four defeats -- South Florida (23-20), Michigan (35-31), USC (31-17), and Stanford (28-14).

2012: One win (Pittsburgh, 29-26 in 3OT) vs. one defeat (Alabama, 42-14).

2013: Three wins (Purdue 31-24; Arizona State 37-34, and Navy 38-34) vs. four defeats (Michigan 41-31, Oklahoma 35-21, Pittsburgh 28-21, and Stanford 27-20).

Add it up and Kelly's Irish are 5-14 when the opponent tops 21 points, with seven such contests played last season and three of five total victories occurring in 2013 as well.

No such victories in 2010; one in both 2011 and 2012; three last fall -- and that ascent will continue in 2014 with Notre Dame's new look defense allowing 21 points or more in 10 of 13 contests (including the bowl game, as in each case above) and the Irish winning between six and eight of them.

"You have to find a way to play good enough defense, in the times that you need it…I think as a head coach who's a play-caller, I have a lot to do with how those games shape up," said Kelly in his initial interview with Irisheyes.com following his acceptance of the Notre Dame job, adding, "(But) you're living on borrowed time if you're trying to go around outscoring everybody."

Kelly's back in the saddle as play-caller, and for one season, the high-scoring approach appears necessary.

If the Irish can prevail in six, seven, or eight of those predicted 10 contests, and win each of the remaining three (when I project they'll hold an opponent below 21 points), a successful season will follow.


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