1 – His Personal Best: Brian Kelly mentioned he needed his best players to “be great” on Saturday and I don’t need to verify through film review that at least one of them was exactly that – Jaylon Smith, he of the career-high 15 tackles including contributing to a season-best six Stuffs, three of which were in goal-to-go situations.
More likely than not, Smith will play but one more game in a Notre Dame uniform. If that’s the case, the current defensive scheme will need to change. Completely. Because if you think the Irish D was gashed too often this season, just wait until Smith, aka, The Human Eraser, isn’t there to run down his teammate’s mistakes.
2 – Great or Legendary? He won’t, nor does it make much business sense for Smith to do so, but if the true junior were to return for his senior season of Irish football next season, it would have an impact similar to that of the dual return of Manti Te’o and Tyler Eifert in 2012.
That is, to be blunt, Notre Dame would qualify for the college football playoffs. He’s far beyond “scratching the surface” of his potential collegiate impact, but Smith would return as the nation’s best overall football player in 2016 – with potentially the nation’s best offense on his side.
3 – Speaking of the need to get better: Four drives of at least 75 yards, each ending in touchdowns. That was Notre Dame’s “still-developing” defense – at full strength -- at Virginia in Game #2 this season.
Five drives of at least 74 yards, each ending in touchdowns. That was Notre Dame’s “never-developed” defense – at less than full strength – at Stanford in Game #12.
That, my friends, is a bottom-line indictment without qualification.
4 – The Baddest ---------- In the Valley: If Saturday’s game remains on your DVR, re-watch DeShone Kizer’s 3rd-and-10 NFL-quality completion to Corey Robinson to keep alive the should-have-been game winning drive. We occupy an unfortunate sports world of knee-jerk hyperbole, but that singular play – the shuffling of his feet, the concentration in the wake of impact, the accurate throw under duress – was reminiscent of a young Montana – the 49ers Super Bowl version.
5 – The Playoff-Ending Post Route: Incredibly soft coverage by fifth-year senior Matthias Farley, an invaluable cog in the Irish machinery and one that has been able to lend a hand over the last two seasons to every aspect of the special teams and defense…with the persistent exception of his downfield coverage.
As for the safety to his side, Elijah Shumate – that was the only downfield route on his half of the field (left cornerback Nick Coleman had the deep quarter, and the receiver to his side ran an underneath route.)
You are what you are, and Notre Dame’s secondary was the squad’s Achilles Heel.
(As an aside, name a past Irish safety with more disparate abilities to contend vs. the run but not the pass than Shumate?)
6 – The Leap: Promising freshmen that develop into playmaking sophomores is the lifeblood of a contending football program, but if you’re looking to raise the bar to a championship level, the same holds true for seniors-to-be (for instance, C.J. Prosise, Chris Brown, and Romeo Okwara this fall).
Your likely candidates for 2016 – from outside Notre Dame’s current Top 10 players, that is: Torii Hunter, Jr., Mike McGlinchey, Cole Luke, and Durham Smythe.
Speaking of seniors to be…
7 – Zip It: What compelled junior Max Redfield to chirp at Stanford receiver Michael Rector following a late-game incomplete pass? Redfield aided Cole Luke in solid coverage of Rector on the crucial play and quarterback Kevin Hogan’s pass sailed out of bounds. Redfield, as is his wont, then felt the need to trash talk Rector in the midst of the game’s decisive drive.
Or perhaps Redfield offered, “You might not know me from your film reviews, so I’d like to introduce myself now…”
At least that’s what he must have said, because otherwise he had no business opening his mouth during a game dominated by the offenses. (Redfield wasn’t alone, as Stanford couldn’t stop jawing Irish receivers, either.)
One snap later, Stanford dented the Irish secondary (not Redfield’s side) for a 27-yard gain to set up the game-winning field goal.
8 – Three-Deep, Indeed: C.J. Prosise, Josh Adams, Tarean Folston…DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire, Brandon Wimbush.
The first grouping seems like the proverbial “good problem” to have. The second has to be expertly managed from start (January 2016) to finish (Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Weekend).
9 – It Must Be Said: The fact that we (Brian Kelly, Irish fans, media) at all fault the team’s admittedly insufficient red zone offense for defeat Saturday is borderline comical. Here’s an idea: STOP SOMEONE!
Also, upon final review:
-- The Contending: Quarterback, D-Line, Jaylon Smith, pass protection, the running backs, poise under pressure, Will Fuller goin’ deep, special teams, Leadership, the offensive scheme and approach, late surges by Romeo Okwara and Chris Brown…
-- The Crippling: The defensive scheme and approach, red zone defense, the secondary, red zone offense…
-- The Oddity: In 2015, Notre Dame morphed into “Tight End P.U.”
10 – The Bright Side: Well, at least Tuesday night won’t suck…
Onto bowl preparations…