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The good, the bad, the ugly: Stanford

Sep 26, 2010, 4:53 PM EST

After a evening of reflection and breaking down game tape, Brian Kelly said something incredibly interesting when discussing preparation for opponents.

“One of the unique things I’m learning at Notre Dame, early in the season, you’re not going to get great film sometimes,” Kelly said. “So you have to prepare for every eventuality. I put a lot of that on my shoulders.”

The Irish’s 37-14 loss to a now No. 9 ranked Stanford team saw the Irish take a large step back offensively, largely because of Dayne Crist’s confusion when Stanford dropped eight men into coverage in a three-deep zone.

“They were dropping a lot of guys. They had eight guys in coverage a whole bunch,” Crist said after the game. “They hadn’t shown it really at all in the film that we had. You don’t want to sit and make excuses, but tip your hat to Stanford.”

Stanford’s never dropped eight men into coverage this year because they haven’t had to yet. With convincing victories over Sacramento State, UCLA, and Wake Forest, Kelly admitted earlier in the week that he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and if Crist’s play and Kelly’s analysis are any indication, the Cardinal coaching staff won a key strategic battle yesterday, handling Crist just like defenses handled a young Jimmy Clausen during his sophomore season.

The game inside the game is what has me convinced that this Stanford team is a better version of last year’s squad — finally in possession of a defense that can slow teams down with a 3-4 system that’s highly versatile and capable of disguising schemes. (How long that lasts? We’ll see next weekend when the Cardinal travel to Eugene to take on Oregon.)

Before we turn the page to Boston College, let’s look at the good, bad, and ugly from Notre Dame’s 37-14 loss to Stanford.

THE GOOD

All good things must start with Manti Te’o’s performance yesterday. His 21 tackles against Stanford move him up in the statistical rankings to the top tackler in all of college football, averaging more than 13 tackles per game. He’s also giving his teammates a model of how to play the football game.

“One young man that played with that kind of intensity, if you will, we talked about that nastiness, was Manti Te’o,” Kelly said. “He played differently. I know he had a lot of tackles, but he played the
game differently. He’s a great model for us to have that we can point
to you defensively…Whether he knows it or not, he’s going to be pushed out in front quite a bit because of how he handles himself.”

Another group that should be highlighted were the cornerbacks. Darrin Walls, Gary Gray, and Robert Blanton all played very good games, with Gray becoming a tackling force in addition to displaying great cover skills. The next step for the corners will be turning great positioning into interceptions. While the Irish got the first two interceptions of the year on Andrew Luck, they’re going to have opportunities in Chestnut Hill to pick on a very raw quarterback, as Boston College will be starting either Mike Marscovetra or Chase Rettig at quarterback, after head coach Frank Spaziani decided to bench incumbent Dave Shinskie.

THE BAD

The Irish couldn’t get their ground game on track, and it turned Notre Dame into a one-dimensional offense, something that Stanford capitalized on as the game continued. Kelly acknowledges the need for better balance.

“”I felt after the Michigan State game we established where we wanted to
go offensively,” Kelly said this afternoon. “We took a bit of a step back in this game. We’re in the
process of evaluating where are the things we were missing in this
ballgame. I’d like to have a little more balance. We’re 300-something (passing yards) to 110 (rushing yards), that’s not really where want to
be offensively, in terms of run-pass… We know we can throw the football provided
we’re prepared and put kids in a good position to succeed. We have to
evolve a little further in running the football.”

One of the biggest reasons that the Irish are struggling right now adapting to the new offense is their reluctance to use Dayne Crist as a running quarterback. The zone-read running game necessitates a quarterback that’ll sometimes keep the ball and run, and after the staff saw what was behind Dayne Crist on the depth chart, Kelly conceded that he could be protecting his quarterback too much.

“”You have to say that’s probably true. I don’t think that way, maybe. I
think it’s more towards, let’s make sure we do things that are his
strengths,” Kelly said. “Maybe there’s a little in my mind that we’re protecting Dayne. I don’t know that we can continue to do that.”

At 1-3, it might be time for Notre Dame to take their lumps and develop Crist as a complete quarterback for this system. If that means exposing him to a few more hits, then so be it.

THE UGLY

Notre Dame’s 23-point loss was the first lopsided defeat since the end of the 2008 season, when USC trounced the Irish 38-3 to end the regular season. Since then, the Irish haven’t lost a game by more than one score, splitting the 16 games decided by a touchdown or less.

Obviously, the Irish losing nail-biters is far more gut-wrenching for players and fans, but a blow-out loss points to a larger issue and a team that’s just not close to getting back to the championship level they’d like to be.

While close losses sting, Kelly rightly understands the danger of blowouts on the psyche of a young football team.

“As it relates to our kids, as I told them after the game, if you break it down, it’s 19-6, fourth down and a foot and a half from midfield and we can’t convert,” Kelly said. “Then third-and eight we have a missed assignment where they pick up a first down. Really, a hard-fought game, those are the key plays that turned the game eventually to where it was finished.”

With three straight losses, the Irish will now recalibrate and get back to chasing a victory.

“We’re well past ‘we need a win,” Kelly said. “After the Michigan game, we needed a win. I don’t know that anybody goes around here saying, ‘Don’t worry, it’s okay, be patient.’ We’re at the point now, no question, we need a win. Our players will continue to show up and work. We need a win. There’s no question about it.”

  1. TLNDMA - Sep 27, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    Really Frank C’mon you are being ridiculous. Backpedaling? Talk to the coaches? You’d rather see an unknown? Again Egads!…You wrote,”The arm was not excuse when he caught the tipped ball.” I ask you Frank. If he made the play, why would he need an excuse.
    My point when saying “I don’t know how hurt he is.” was, he can probably do somethings with less difficulty than other things. I would suppose that catching a ball would be easier than tackling someone, when you have a shoulder issue.
    I really can’t see how Walls is your focus, with all that transpired Saturday. Again he was hurt, that was obvious. I thought it was a gutsy performance. Ever had a hurt shoulder Frank? Ever had a 300 lb. man run into that hurt shoulder Frank?..end of story.

  2. Dayton - Sep 27, 2010 at 3:47 PM

    The greatest pre-Christmas gift that I could ever get would be to see the Irish win the next eight games and finish the season 9-3. That would mean a great, non-BCS bowl (Cotton bowl perhaps) and a lot of momentum for next season. I’m certain it won’t happen, but a guy can wish. I guess hoping and keeping positive is all we can do right now. How do you all think the Irish will finish the season? Can they win six games and get to a bowl? Can they win even one more game? Thoughts?

  3. borromini - Sep 27, 2010 at 6:06 PM

    Geez…the whining by some fans is just unreal yet so predictable. I must be one of only a few who has realistic expectations of a 6-6 or 5-7 season for ND this year. Most whiners seem to disregard by choice that ND has a new coach and new O/D systems. Yes they played poorly…so what…you’re telling me that’s contrary to what should happen to a team like ND’s after the Weis years! Unacceptable to you? Seriously, who cares at this point in the 4th game of the coaching staff’s first year. I’d be happy just to see that by November we have actually improved as a team. That would be a first since 2005 as far as success in the last month of the season.

  4. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 27, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    CHILL PEOPLE Your post will post BE PATIENT!!

  5. irishfanintx - Sep 27, 2010 at 6:23 PM

    I still believe that the Irish have the skill players. Work is needed in the trenches both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. For the QB to run you have to provide some blocking. Crist took a beating against Stanford. For Dbacks to provide coverage you have to get pressure on the opposing QB every now and then. ND did neither of these against the Cardinal. I don’t think you condemn a coach or his players to failure after 4 games when you are in the midst of changing schemes on both side of the ball. That being said, I am still disappointed in the Michigan and the MS game…those could and should have been Irish victories.

  6. Sgt. Moon - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:38 PM

    It looks to me like some people on this site are starting to panic.
    There is a lot of work to be done with this football program before you see positive progress. It is four games into the season!
    Anyone who thought that ND would be 4-0, or even 3-1 is smoking some bad stuff.
    Mistakes have been made by both the players and coaches. Rebuilding a team takes some time. We will/should know by the end of the year if this team has made some progress. Do not look for a 9-3 or 8-4 season or any bowl game this year.
    I have faith in Brian Kelly and believe that ND will be a force to reckon with in the near future. When that happens, you won’t be able to find room to enter a post on this site.
    GO IRISH!!

  7. ljmcm - Sep 27, 2010 at 9:01 PM

    No reason to panic! It takes a few games to get a new program going. I think we will see some real improvement over the next few games. Where I will begin to panic is if we lose any of the next few games. I think the game I am most interested in winning right now is the last one. Notre Dame has been on the cusp of beating them the last two games. Brian Kelly should if his program has any chance of succeeding beat this USC team this year. He will have had eleven games to get his system going, and I would hope that this game will be a win. I have seen Notre Dame teams destroy the Trojans in their home stadium, and this team should do it this year.

  8. Mark - Sep 27, 2010 at 10:27 PM

    Well put, Dan. It gets incredibly tiring listening to all the whining know-it-alls who look at a few games into a completely new coaching group, new offensive and defensive systems, new quarterback and players at several other positions, to say nothing of the fact that all three current losses were to top 25 teams (however you may feel about their rankings personally, that’s how they’re rated) and then decide, based on those few games, “it’s time to throw it in”, “what’s wrong with Kelly?”, “how come everything’s the same as before?” Take a break.
    Instead of all the immediate glooma and doom and whining and complaining, how about showing some support even in the tough times of growing.

  9. frank b. - Sep 27, 2010 at 11:23 PM

    To answer your last question, yes I have been hit more times than I care to remember and yes it does hurt, and I have been hit with no protection whatsoever.
    I just think he does not belong in the game until he can focus a little better, if he is that incapable of making that tackle then in all fairness he should not be in the game risking any type of permanent injury. Perhaps the inability to focus is being fed by the injury, but I just dont see it. And the other thing I dont understand is if he is that injured why are they letting him play?
    Do you get burned using a freshman or do you get burned by using an injured player who may get hurt to the point of no return?

  10. R Irish - Sep 28, 2010 at 12:01 AM

    It’s clear that Kelly is going with one quarterback and that is Dayne Crist. The rest of this season hinges on whether or not Crist can develop and rise to the level of a skilled quarterback who can read defenses and pick them apart. If he does, then ND can win most of its remaining games. If he does not, then it will be a pitiful season, at best.

  11. Chucket - Sep 28, 2010 at 4:51 AM

    This season will end up 7-5. Please wait for the next two losses, OK? The rest will be victories. 7-5, or maybe 6-6. Coming to a stadium near you.
    There are non-productive old receivers who will be finally graduating. There is the strong suspicion of a concussion on Dayne Crist…what’s he doing on the field, he should be looking out for his life. NCAAF should get into this sort of issue.
    And Armando Allen is the only productive running back on the team. All others need development, including the strong Mr. Hughes.
    And, we must allow Kelly & Staff more time. They are coaches, not magicians. It took Harbaugh at least three years to gel his team’s identity.

  12. jnj nj - Sep 28, 2010 at 5:22 AM

    4 games in and the only conclusion I can come to is that there is not a coach anywhere who could improve either the OL or DL–they are god awful. Guess that strength coach just like all the others.

  13. KNS - Sep 28, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    We have said for several years during Weis’s & now Kelly’s reigns that Robert Hughes IS one of the answers to the running problem. He is today’s Jerome Bettis! He’s not flashy, but he IS dogged determined & has demonstrated in the past that he WILL carry the entire defense on his back if he needs to! A 2-back tandem of Hughes will FREE up the passing game TREMENDOUSLY! Use a split back set; cheat Allen to over the tackle instead of the guard & use him for a quick pitch option, use Hughes inside the tackles on dive plays, & ROLL Crist out for his passes to Floyd/Riddick/Rudolph! THAT offensive set would make a GREAT transition offense for this year to get all the playmakers on the field & in operation. With single set back sets, it becomes TOO obvious when its a run oftentimes. Also, from the split-back set pocket passing offers either more protection OR both backs on quick flairs to both sides freezing outside blitz by OLBs or the quick screen option. No offense to Mr. Barret, but I too coached & KNOW that what Stanford did is NOT rocket science. Put stuff in that isnt on film. Use offenses that are hard to defend when you have the PERSONNEL for them [like the 2 back set – we have the backs & the receivers & the line to make this work!!!!] We can use the spread as a change up pitch this year. Next year when we have more talent for the spread, THEN go to it big time. Transition years should be changeup pitches. Too bad head coaches like Weis & Kelly don’t take advice from those of us who have BEEN THERE/DONE THAT & KNOW [Mr. Barret’s good advice included as worthy too!].

  14. frank b. - Sep 28, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    thank you for saying what I have been thinking so succinctly.
    in recent post I said it is not so much hughes the man as it is the type of player he represents and what you can do with him, which in turn allows you to open up other parts of your game and make you that much more versatile and dangerous.
    hughes the man, considering all he has been through, and the fact he can demostrate senior leadership, needs to play.
    I have also said in recent post that this is the most dangerous collection of receivers in the country. BK needs to use all his weapons and keep that defense guessing the whole game.
    I wonder what Stanford’s defense would have been like had ND held the ball a little longer and then scored.
    We are all human and anybody’s defense can get gassed if they stay on the field too long.

  15. brianb - Sep 28, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    Great comments KNS. Finally someone who looks at the X’s and O’s instead of pontificating. Agree with mixing it up; O line continues to get outplayed. Need to make opponents consider the possibility of things like quick pitches, pocket rolls, the old swinging gate, etc. Seems to me linemen have just as good a chance of pulling and executing as they do staying put and getting manhandled like they’re doing now. Until line personnel change or mature, BK needs to do something to address the imbalance. These growing pains are tought to watch, but I went through them as a student ’85-’90, and we came out just fine at the end.

  16. TLNDMA - Sep 28, 2010 at 4:20 PM

    You’ve been hit with no equipment? Not even a helmet? I’d have never guessed……Hee Hee…..Just kidding.

  17. writerdrew - Sep 29, 2010 at 1:22 PM

    THANK YOU!!!!! Finally someone who has the intestinal fortitude and insight to look past what most armchair quarterbacks would call a “lost season”. Sure Dayne looked bewildered most of the game, it was a brand new look for a fairly inexperienced quarterback, he screwed up a couple times…it’s football. It happens. Lets not throw our brand new coach under the bus after 3 games just because we are frustrated with the progress of his predecessor. I would venture a guess that none of you applied for the coaching job, and even if you had, my guess is that you would still be watching the game from your lazy boy. So either put on some ND gold and blue, cheer for old Notre Dame, or shut the hell up and tell people you go for Bowling Green.
    GO IRISH!!!

  18. Irish Fan - Sep 29, 2010 at 4:41 PM

    We would be winning a lot more games if it weren’t for all the priests abusing little boys.
    God is punishing us for the Church’s sins.
    We probably won’t win another game this sesson.

  19. frank b. - Sep 29, 2010 at 6:11 PM

    I am glad you are kidding, my hits were not during “a game”.

  20. sweetpete - Oct 2, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    back off the kid. he has played well as a matter of fact our corners have played well this year. considering we have not put much pressure on the QB if any at all.these blogs talk about these kids individually as if they o you something. This level of football is on the coach and his staff! Think everybody is missing the true problem with this team: the o-line not run blocking very well or installing toughness and determination.

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