1 – What Now? Brian Kelly has been able to quell Irish fan base uprisings on six previous occasions, each of which at least allowed for the argument that things were indeed looking up under the Dome. To wit:
- Part I (November 2010): A 4-0 finish buoyed fans’ spirits after a 4-5 start that included losses to Navy and Tulsa, punctuated by a tragic practice field death in between.
- Part II (The 2012 Season): Kelly’s second year at the helm (2011) brought nothing positive, beginning with the South Florida Debacle (on field and on the sidelines) plus 29 turnovers incurred by season’s end. Any goodwill remaining after 2010 was lost among the local supporters…but then he went 12-0 and Notre Dame played for the national championship.
- Part III (Florida State): A rare galvanizing loss (for fans and the program alike) and one in the wake of a 6-0 start, to boot. Didn’t last long, but Notre Dame’s rise to 7-1 and one flag away from a No. 1 ranking certainly engendered goodwill among a skeptical fan base.
- Part IV (LSU): The Music City Bowl win over “an SEC team!” helped assuage the 0-4 embarrassment that was November 2014.
- Part V (2015 Regular Season): A 10-2 finish and a legitimate two plays – or in reality, one play in Palo Alto and one head-shaking coaching decision at Clemson – away from 12-0.
- Part VI (Fire, Fire, Fire!): To quote George from Hoosiers, “I told you once we got rid of him!” But did the firing of Brian VanGorder fix anything? Or did Notre Dame simply face a dumpster fire Syracuse team and play defense in a hurricane?
Does he have a seventh act in him this fall?
2 – Malik Zaire: If not then, when? And if not in a hurricane then why was there a two-quarterback system employed in the first place? (And for the sake of ease, why not the first series of the second half so he could at least warm-up and prepare?)
What an egregious misuse of resources this season has become…
3 – Glass Half Full: Jerry Tillery took another step forward…Justin Yoon (onions!)…James Onwualu is one heck of a senior linebacker and the poster-child for player development at present…the ongoing two-game resurgence of Daniel Cage…Greer Martini has outstanding football instincts and is one heck of a special teams player…
Okay, maybe it’s only 1/5 full.
4 – What’s Next? In the wake of Notre Dame’s loss at Texas, I asked readers in this space if 9-4 would be “acceptable” by season’s end. Reaction was mixed but not between the yes and no camps, rather, “no, it would not be” and, “they won’t lose four games…”
Today, a six-win, six-loss season is the clear unstated goal for a head coach and a program that wants (and needs) 12-plus bowl practices for his young players heading into the offseason.
Can the Irish finish 4-2 to achieve that middling end? On tap is the following:
- Four relative toss-ups: Notre Dame is favored this week against Stanford, will likely not be at USC to conclude the season, and in between will be in the -3/+3 range for both Miami and Virginia Tech in South Bend. A realistic prognostication is a 2-2 finish here, with 1-3 more likely than 3-1.
- The Shamrock Series matchup vs. Army is one Notre Dame “should” win. In fact, if not, the rest of this column is moot and the Kelly Era will be over quicker than I had opined two weeks ago in this space. Assuming a win here…
- Navy. Victors over No. 6 Houston. Conquerors of Kelly in 2010 and nearly in 2013 and ’14 as well. As Houston found out, it’s all fun and games preparing for Navy until completely dedicated slot-backs, guards, and fullbacks hammer their shoulder pads into your shin…65 straight times.
Consider this a toss-up as well.
Notre Dame is 0-4 in games played competitively into the fourth quarter so far this season. At least four more such contests, if not five, are on tap.
5 – The Parable of Charlie: I returned home from Midway Airport Sunday to find my 18-month-old Charlie in possession of the remote control on the kitchen tile. Knowing his penchant for throwing things, I asked him to hand it to me. You know, because handing an object to someone is safer than, say, throwing it.
He threw it, and it shattered into five pieces.
So I fired the babysitter.
6 – A Time and a Place: A hurricane caused Sam Mustipher to airmail or muddle a handful of snaps. A hurricane caused DeShone Kizer passes to flutter and fail. A hurricane caused 70-plus percent passer Ryan Finley to resemble a scared eighth grader flubbing his lines in a school play.
A hurricane caused 10 fumbles Saturday in Raleigh.
And a hurricane inexplicably caused Notre Dame’s head coach to attempt passing plays on approximately 37 of 64 snaps. And that, my friends, is atrocious.
7 – From 4-0 to 0-4: DeShone Kizer beat Virginia in the final seconds. Save for a needless two-point attempt earlier in the contest at Clemson, he drove Notre Dame to the precipice against the Tigers three weeks later. He drove the Irish to a win at Temple in the final minutes and did that same – save for the failures of his defense – a month later in Palo Alto.
That was Kizer 2015. Kizer 2016 is 0-4 in that regard, missing a slant in Austin, taking a sack against the Spartans, missing another slant against the Blue Devils, and finally, being victimized by a bad snap on Saturday.
At some point, Kizer and the Irish offense will return to form when the chips are down, and that’s why hope remains for a small faction of Irish faithful.
8 – “It’s Not Happy Camp”: There’s a reason only one Irish player was both credited and blamed for the comebacks completed and truncated above:
This is big-time college football (there is another option), and ultimately, players make plays or fail to do so. And if we praise the former, we therefore must critique the latter.
Coaches sometimes do the same.
9 – Cautionary Tale: Remember, it’s less about who’s on the Irish sidelines in 2017, but rather who’ll occupy them thereafter. It’s not about the “when” of change, but to whom you’re entrusting with the program’s future – because what if the best choice isn’t available this winter?
Until next week, Irish fans…