RALEIGH, N.C. – Earlier this week, associate head coach Mike Denbrock said that the Irish would be prepared with two game plans heading into Carter-Finley Stadium, depending up on the weather conditions.
It’s hard to understand – after Notre Dame’s 10-3 loss to N.C. State – just what that other game plan was and under what conditions would it be used. This game plan resembled 75 degrees and sunny with a trace of a breeze.
Subtract sacks and botched snaps from the run total, which is where they are assigned on the stat sheet, and place them in the pass category, which is what the original intention was.
End result: the Irish had more passes called than runs in a game in which hurricane conditions made it virtually impossible to score going into the wind or throwing the football – with or against the wind.
In fact, none of the three scores were accomplished against the wind.
Simply put, Brian Kelly couldn’t resist. Ultimately, the stat sheet showed that the Irish ran it 38 times and passed it 26 while N.C. State passed it 14 times and rushed it 51. Even if those numbers were a fair representation of Notre Dame’s run-pass distribution, it still would have fallen short of the Wolfpack’s emphasis on the ground game.
But early on, N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren figured out that the passing game with Ryan Finley was a bust. Finley had a tough enough time catching the shotgun snap, let alone throwing it accurately.
N.C. State made the halftime adjustment and employed backup quarterback Jalan McClendon as the wildcat quarterback/runner while Kelly said he never gave real consideration to using Malik Zaire or anyone other than DeShone Kizer as the “quarterback wildcat,” which is not his forte.
The Wolfpack would get too cute for their own good and allowed a 1st-and-goal at the three slip by the wayside. But the field had been flipped, so when Tyler Newsome was kicking against the wind deep in his own territory early in the fourth quarter, the attempt was blocked, and N.C. State’s return was all the scoring that would be necessary to secure the victory.
As for the punt scheme…
RUGBY KICKS ARE FOR RUGBY
In addition to how the mere incorporation of rugby-style punting is an unnecessary development in the game, it was unnecessary for it to become a part of Notre Dame’s approach. Tyler Newsome kicking the old-fashioned way was working just fine.
But in an attempt to deal with the weather, Notre Dame made some adjustments. Typical of the special teams at Notre Dame that feature a blunder-of-the-week section on its stat sheet, the rugby-style punt requires two personal protectors instead of three.
Two was not enough.
There is entirely too much time spent on peripherals and not enough time spent on the basics of the game.
“Last week we started to go to a twins and a rugby style,” Kelly said. “Today, because of the weather conditions, we were in rugby. So when you’re rolling, you’re using a spread set, so you have two guys in that set.”
The punt was blocked and that proved to be the game-winning play.
Kelly would go on to say that he felt like he and the coaching staff had let the team down. Quite frankly, when something like this happens after making a change during week, it’s only human nature for a player to second-guess the philosophical alteration.
To be fair, the defense bought in to last week’s changes, and then built upon it against N.C. State. Huge kudos to Mike Elston, Greg Hudson and the gang. But the coaching let the special teams down, and now the defense has to swallow the consequences because of a wasted effort on a rugby approach that backfired.
ACCORDING TO FORM
N.C. State had the better running game coming into the game. Check.
N.C. State had the better defense entering the game. Notre Dame played well, but the Wolfpack rushed for nearly three times as many yards as the Irish. Check.
N.C. State had what Irish Illustrated rated as the second best special teams in ’15 among teams on Notre Dame’s 2016 schedule. Check.
The Wolfpack weren’t necessarily any more deserving of winning this game than Notre Dame. But in the key categories, in the areas where N.C. State appeared to hold an advantage heading into the game, they maintained that edge, and cumulatively, it was enough to grind out a victory.
This was a battle of two poorly-coached teams. The decision-making on the goal line when the Wolfpack had a chance to score the one and only touchdown against the wind was atrocious.
But which team made the offensive adjustment at halftime? Which team made the adjustment in special teams procedure that ultimately cost that team the game-winning score? Which team maximized its strengths better than the other?
It stinks to lose a game to a team like Dave Doeren’s N.C. State. Considering Doeren is 0-18 against Power 5 conference teams that finish with a winning record, there can only be one conclusion right now. Notre Dame will not finish with a winning record.
THE WEATHER CENTER
I disagree with those who say this game shouldn’t have been played due to the weather conditions. It was wind and rain. The lighting that delayed the game an extra half hour or so at halftime was unexpected.
It was wind and rain. Football has been played in wind and rain from the day football began. To categorically declare that the game shouldn’t have been played is to disregard all the logistics of making such a change from TV to travel to lodging too all the thousands of people impacted by such a decision. Those things have to be taken into consideration.
A money decision? Of course. But should games be postponed because of too much snow? Should they be postponed because it’s too hot? When will the game be made up?
Admittedly, it was ugly football. But it doesn’t take bad weather conditions for it to turn into a sloppy college football game. Did you see the first half of the Notre Dame-Syracuse game last week?
I will admit, the wind – when reaching hurricane-gusting levels – is the greatest reason to find an alternative to the time/place of a game. But rain should never be a limiting factor.
Bottom line: Both teams had identical conditions, but both did not monitor those conditions in the same way. Because Doeren and his staff did a better job of managing those conditions, the Wolfpack are 4-1 and the Irish are 2-4. Had Kelly and his staff managed their assets better, they would have won the football game.