Matt Cashore /

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

A best-case scenario, a telling conversation with a kindergartner, and Scoring for Dummies highlight this week’s edition.

1 – He has a Point: Received this text from a friend Sunday: “O’Malley’s Monday Musings should recap Brian Kelly’s signature wins. Will help you get some time back in your day.” 

Following his oft-reference win against No. 8 Oklahoma in Norman, Kelly has won two of his last 11 matchups against teams ranked among the Associated Press Top 15 (Eventual 8-5 Stanford in 2014, and 3-9 Georgia Tech in 2015, serve as the vanquished pair.)

The nine defeats were a hodgepodge: classics, such as Florida State 2014, and Clemson/Stanford 2015, a Major Six Bowl (Ohio State 2015), blowouts (Alabama, Oklahoma 2013, Arizona State 2014), and blowouts that ended closer than the game’s reality (Stanford 2013 and Michigan State on Saturday night).

But they all share one thing in common…

2 – The Blueprint: Tip of the hat to Mark Dantonio. The Spartans clearly have players but their eye-test talent pales in comparison to their collective development as football players under the head coach’s guidance and program plan.

Michigan State’s two-deep depth chart listed 13 fifth- and sixth-year seniors as starters. It likewise included a healthy mix of underclassmen such as RB L.J. Scott and certified Cole Luke-killer, true freshman receiver Donnie Corley.

I get the feeling “We’re young” is not part of the post-game mantra in East Lansing following a rare defeat for the Green and White.

3 – Next Chance to Move the Needle: From a national scope, it’s Stanford in South Bend in four weeks. But for those close to or vested in the program – which is basically everyone reading this – Notre Dame’s trip to Raleigh against N.C. State on Oct. 8 provides the next litmus. Win there, and of course as expected vs. Duke (struggling mightily) and Syracuse (dangerous, barely) over the next two Saturdays, and a dispiriting 1-2 mark turns into 4-2 with the Cardinal on tap.

Stanford would thus present the opportunity for a season reset – one the Irish fan base desperately covets.

4 – A Promising Piece: At long last, sophomore defensive tackle Jerry Tillery flashed the type of impact Kelly referenced back in the spring of 2015 – the former’s first semester as a college student.

Saturday was the first time anyone could reasonably associate the term “disruptive” with Tillery’s impact on a contest. If he can repeat Saturday’s effort in say, three of the next four outings, it bodes well for future defenses not to mention the Irish in the season’s second half.

5 – To the Victor Go the Spoils: Sunday morning conversation with my daughter who turned six on Friday:

Charlotte: “Daddy, did Notre Dame win?”
Me: “No pal.”
Charlotte: “Why didn’t they win?”
Me: “I don’t know. They tried but just couldn’t quite finish.”
Charlotte: “Did they get half as many jelly beans for trying at least?”

Apparently time to crack down on the “finish your meal” rule at the homestead. Jelly beans, like Ws, are for closers.

6 – Stop Speaking in Code: Proud of our resiliency…Never-say-die…Comeback in the face of adversity…Overcoming adversity…They didn’t quit…Disappointed in our execution, proud of our effort late…

All of the above are common post-game Kelly catch phrases and they equate to one harsh truth:

Notre Dame puts itself in a hole from which it cannot dig out way too often.

In 15 of Kelly’s 25 losses as Notre Dame’s head coach, the Irish have trailed by at least two touchdowns including four of the last five (dating back to the beginning of 2015) and seven of the last nine dating back to early November 2014. (The only exceptions were the nip-tuck classic at Stanford last season and an 11-point deficit faced against Louisville on Senior Day 2014.)

The Irish have won just 13 games among the nine losses noted above, a 22-game span that dates back to the oft-referenced outstanding effort against No. 2 Florida State in Tallahassee.

7 – Mea Culpa: Considering the preponderance of coach-bashing and second guessing that populates Notre Dame media and fan message boards this week (admittedly including many of the Musings typed above), it’s necessary that we – certainly media, perhaps fans, other – likewise admit when we’re wrong. For instance:

I thought Kelly should have turned to backup Malik Zaire for a spark late in the third quarter. Two series later, Kizer went from scattered, inaccurate, and appearing to work out some issue with his shoulder/release, back to his former, clutch self.

And as a reward for Kelly’s faith in his proven junior, Notre Dame’s locker room doesn’t have a QB controversy to deal with in the wake of defeat.

8 – You Can’t Get There From Here: 53, 48, 30, and 37.

The numbers above represent the sack totals of college football 2015’s playoff participants.

34 and 31. Numbers that represent the sack total of Notre Dame’s defense and defensive linemen alone, respectively, in 2012 – the best season of the Kelly era and, not coincidentally, the best defense with which he’s been associated.

Zero. Notre Dame’s sack total through three games this season, tied for last nationally with Nevada.

When Kelly notes that sacks are an overrated statistic as he did last week, it’s technically true – provided your defensive front consistently applies pressure with its front line. (Consistent pressure often equates to incomplete passes and turnovers.)

But when neither sacks nor pressure are part of the equation for a defense that struggles both to tackle in space and to cover deep, well, 50 and 36 – the points scored against become the numbers of note.

9 – Could the Inverse Present?  Remember 2014? Notre Dame started 6-1 and the Irish defense was outstanding in four of the first seven contests plus oh-so-close during the Battle of Tallahassee. Brian Kelly’s new-look offense was flying high due to the aerial assault of one Everett Golson and it was on the cusp of playoff contention.

And then. THUD.

Are Kelly’s Irish capable of the inverse this fall?

That is, could this Notre Dame team instead struggle early, perhaps limp into its bye week at 4-3 but then hit its stride and finish 5-0…with nine regular season wins in tow when the final ledger is tallied?

To do so, the offense must continue to improve (I’d argue it should and will) and the defense must default to a style that attempts to keep foes under 30 to complement Kizer & Co.

10 – 28+ Points for Dummies: A blueprint for scoring three, perhaps four touchdowns against Notre Dame’s defense as it’s currently constructed:

  • Your QB must be alive. (Crucial in order to avoid delay of game penalties)
  • Throw the ball far downfield. Don’t worry, vacated areas will present.
  • If your QB chooses to hand the ball to someone post snap, do him a favor – block No. 5, No. 17, and No. 90 wearing Blue and Gold. Consider the same for No. 4 as well.

    If you fail to do so, they’ll likely tackle you. (Note to Irish fans: “Tackle” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an act of seizing, grasping, or bringing down.”)
  • If you get close to Notre Dame’s 20-yard line, just keep going. You’ll score. No need to insert that little guy that’s good at golf and soccer from your sidelines.
  • Don’t get discouraged. When Notre Dame scores, remember, you get the ball back and can do the same!

Until next week, Irish fans…. Top Stories