1 – They’re Alive! Sometimes it just takes one. One win to get things rolling – and rolling in this case would be crawling out of a self-imposed, eminently avoidable (ahem, Brian Kelly) 1-3 hole to a manageable 3-3 mark heading into a home tilt against Stanford on Oct 15.
If the Irish can find a way to win Saturday against North Carolina State (currently favored by a point), look for another thriller in the modern rivalry that is Notre Dame and Stanford. (2012, 2014, 2015…you could include 2009.)
But if not? If the Irish fall regardless of the circumstances in Raleigh? Avert your eyes, Irish fans – it’ll get ugly against the Cardinal.
2 – It’s All Relative: When was the last time you woke up on a Sunday morning and felt that the Notre Dame football team made progress? (If it was Sept. 10 after Nevada, your glass is way, way, way too full.)
- Was it after a road win in Pittsburgh last November? Or was the 30-spot put up by the Panthers too telling?
- Was it last Halloween at Temple? Or did you feel that 24-20 contest was far too close for comfort?
- It’s fair to surmise that for most, “progress” was last made nearly a calendar year ago when the Irish came back and eventually subdued USC (the 17-0 fourth quarter was nice), 41-31 in South Bend.
Now…will progress again present this weekend?
3 – Party of Kizer for Three, Please: Three appears to be the magic number for DeShone Kizer, as in “3 TD Per Contest.”
Destined to be the *most productive quarterback in Notre Dame football history should he elect to return for his senior season next fall, Kizer posted his 51st career touchdown (16 rushing/35 passing) in Saturday’s win over what amounts to 16.5 games played.
He’s committed 17 turnovers in those 16.5 contests, a ratio that should, and probably must abate if the Irish are to finish with a winning record this regular season.
(*Of note: Brady Quinn produced a combined 101 touchdowns (95/6) with 43 turnovers in 46.5 games as the team’s chief QB.)
4 – Unexpected Scuffles: Notre Dame entered Saturday’s contest converting 9 of its 10 goal-to-go situations into touchdowns. But they exited just 10 for 13 in that regard, scoring on a short Kizer run, connecting on a Justin Yoon field goal, and failing on two tries from inside the Orange 2-yard line (3rd Down Adams/4th Down Williams) early in the contest.
The latter misstep might serve as a short-yardage portent to this week’s matchup against the Wolfpack in Raleigh where North Carolina State’s front seven (13th-ranked rush defense; 6 TD in 11 red zone trips for foes) will look like the Denver Broncos in comparison to the sieves the Irish faced in MetLife Stadium over the weekend.
Somehow, Notre Dame ball carriers suffered 18 Stuffs Saturday (including Kizer’s two sacks incurred) – that’s 18 carries among their 37 total ending in negative, 0, 1, or 2 yards.
That won’t cut it over the next three contests.
5 – Good Luck to One of Our Own: Clemson’s gain is Irish Illustrated’s loss as recruiting reporter extraordinaire Anna Hickey begins the next phase in her career covering the Tigers for 24/7Sports.
Fittingly, in one of her first pieces covering the Tigers, three Clemson players referenced their win over Notre Dame last October and the game’s atmosphere in comparison to the wild affair Saturday night against Louisville.
Good luck Anna, and remember the three biggest lessons learned covering Notre Dame Football:
3. Never take the wrong exit en route to the Los Angeles Coliseum “Russ, Audrey…you noticing all this plight?”
2. “Rotating” two 5th-year senior linebackers does not necessarily mean you’ve adequately replaced Manti Te’o. That’s just bad math…
1. Never, under any circumstances, ask a Michigan Stadium employee for directions to THEIR OWN MEDIA WILL CALL…
6 – Twitter Question of the Week: This from Cayden McFarland, KJRH TV - Tulsa: “How many kick-off return TD's would Rocket Ismail have had if Vangorder was Holtz's D-coordinator?”
It took me a full second to comprehend the creative question, but then I realized the answer is obvious:
47. At least.
7 – The Claypool Conundrum: In case you’ve been relegated to watching your sub-.500 Irish in passing – that is, not with the detailed eye you normally carry into contests when cheering for a playoff contender – allow me to pass along this public service the die-hards are hammering home on our Four Horsemen Lounge Message Board:
Chase Claypool has to be on the field more.
The freshman’s athleticism is off the charts (as Pete Sampson pointed out, “Just watch him run down the field on kickoffs”) and he consistently makes plays when afforded the opportunity. In minimal action this fall, Claypool has already:
-- Leapt for a 33-yard gain (Michigan State)
-- Nearly corralled a breathtaking Hail Mary catch (MSU)
-- Registered a tackle on kickoffs at the 12-YARDLINE (MSU)
-- Caught a punt returner from behind to save a touchdown (Syracuse)
-- Downed a punt with a toe-tapper save at the 1-yard line (Syr.)
-- Rushed for 9 yards on a Jet Sweep (Nevada)
-- Recorded punt coverage tackles after gains of just 3 and 4 yards (Nevada)
-- Didn’t play against Texas. Which makes sense, because he probably wasn’t athletic yet, right?
Where to play him? Certainly each of the ST “Run Teams” (punt and kickoff coverage and return) and as the tight end in obvious passing situations (take Durham Smythe and Nic Weishar off the field on third-and-long, it won’t hurt.)
And that’s at minimum. But to be fair, it’s not as if Notre Dame’s wide receivers haven’t produced. Who do you take off the field from that unit to get Claypool more time?
8 – Road Wary: With its win Saturday, Notre Dame improved to 13-4 in neutral site matchups under Brian Kelly. Two more remain (Navy, Army) and thus a 15-4 mark seems likely with, perhaps, a seventh-straight bowl game pending.
But for that 20th neutral site matchup to occur this season, Kelly and the Irish must first right the persistent wrong that is their shoddy efforts in true road games: 5 wins in the last 14 played in enemy stadiums dating back to the outset of the 2013 season. (And one of those wins was at Air Force.)
(Pre 2013? Kelly’s Irish were a robust 9-3.)
Raleigh and Los Angeles serve as the remaining proving grounds away from home this fall.
9 – Coaching Collisions: Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister offered a well-deserved “A” grade for Kelly and his staff in the wake of last week’s practice efforts and game day approach against Syracuse.
Kelly & Co. received the grades they deserved against Texas, Michigan State, and Duke, too: D, F, F
Down-the-road sideline battles loom against the likes of David Shaw, Mark Richt, Ken Niumatalolo, and last off-season’s hot coaching hire, Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech.
(Shaw, Richt, and Niumatalolo have combined to win nearly 76 percent of their 431 games coached at Stanford, Georgia/Miami, and Navy, respectively.)
Considering his most egregious managerial error of 2016 occurred in early January and not this fall, it’s fair to saddle Kelly with a full-blown “F” grade for the season’s opening month.
But through one day in October, he has an A – and he’ll need to post another five or six such sideline efforts over the next two months to dig the Irish out of the hole he helped create.
Until next week, Irish fans…