IBG: Holy War edition


We continue the Irish Blogger Gathering, this time with the questions coming from the cleverly titled blog Domer Law, run by a real-life Notre Dame graduate that also happens to be an attorney. (Shocking, right?)

Credit goes to Neil for being able to  put together some good questions, especially in light of the backpedaling the Irish have been doing the last three weeks.

After 3 straight losses, there appear to be two camps of fans:  A.
 The sky is falling.  Coach Kelly is not a good coach, not a good fit,
probably won’t ever win a game and should be fired today.  B.  Coach
Kelly is still totally awesome, and you had to expect some bumps and
bruises as he builds the team – remember Holtz’s first year? Which camp do you fall into, and why?

I’ll get my cheating in right off the bat. I fall into group C: I’m still very bullish on the Irish coaching staff, but it’s clear that the evaluating tools and roster management used by the previous staff put Notre Dame farther back than I expected.

I’ll admit, I thought this team was going to make a run in the opening stretch of the season, and those two heart-breaking losses, and the thorough beating Stanford delivered makes me feel stupid that I had on the green-sunglasses again at the beginning of the year.

But BK and company are doing things the right way, and having been the head man at a program for 20 years before this stop will help him weather the storm, stay true to his system and principles while getting the team on the same page.

With the current state of the program, put yourself in a recruit’s
shoes.  If you had offers from all 12 schools on our schedule and Notre
Dame, which would you pick right now and why?  Who would your top 3 be?

Love these kinds of questions. I’m going to make a few assumptions: 1) I’m either a ball-hawking safety with incredible range or 2) a blue-chip quarterback with good wheels and a head on my shoulders. Either way, my logic is probably the same.

If I’ve got five visits, I’m likely only taking four (on the schedule*):

1) Notre Dame — obviously.
2) Michigan — Would be a cool trip, the secondary has like four guys and Robinson is either a big hit away from being done and only has two years of eligibility left.
3) Stanford — At the very least, I can walk away after graduation with a job offer from Google.
4) UCLA* — I’m cheating again. After living in Southern California for six years, there’s no way I’m going to USC, especially with the sanctions.

Sadly, cross Stanford off my list. I think Harbaugh’s not staying more than two more years before he’s either on an NFL sideline or in Ann Arbor — although working at Google would be pretty cool. I’d enjoy my visits to Ann Arbor, Westwood, and South Bend, though I’m still worried about the good ship Rodriguez taking on water during the Big Ten conference schedule. That leaves me to UCLA and Notre Dame, and as much as I enjoy the area out West, I’d probably be drinking the Blue-and-Gold Kool-Aid after a weekend with Kelly, Chuck Martin, and Bob Diaco. (I already did after the fantasy football camp…)

What’s the trajectory of this season?  Is this going to spiral downward
into a 2007-esque kind of year, or will the team rally and start winning
some game against quality opponents?

I don’t see a 2007-like season, only because the Irish are a better team in the first four games than they were in ’07 already. I think people are forgetting how awful that year was. Think of these games: Georgia Tech, beat down. Pen State, beat down. Michigan, beat down. Losses to Navy and Air Force, crushed by USC, handled by Purdue and Michigan State. I just don’t see that happening this year.

Give me your top 5 reasons why you’d rather go to Notre Dame than Backup Boston College.

Now, now… This is one of those things that I find gets my skin-crawling. You know when your college choice should stop mattering? Right after you chose it. That said — I get the point, enjoy ribbing friends and receiving shots for my college choice and to play along, here goes:

1) Too big of a city.
2) Not a college town.
3) BC Sports are like the 10th most important sport in Boston.
4) University > College
5) All those Red Sox fans would make life pretty miserable.

I’m depressed after our third straight loss.  Do your best to cheer me
up and convince me that I should still be excited about this weekend’s

There’s only 12 WEEKS OF FOOTBALL per season! We’re already done with four of them, that means we’ve only got 8 games left! You know what we do then? We take eight months to breakdown every play-call, every recruit, every administrative decision, and every perceived slight in the media, and that’s nowhere near as fun as actually watching football. It’s a night game against a bitter rival! It’s less than a field goal spread! Loud Noises!

If you could ask Coach Kelly any one question, what would it be?

Tough question: I’d probably want to know what he was most impressed with and most disappointed in from the Notre Dame program he inherited. All of this off-the-record of course, so I’d actually get something of substance.

Only focus after Clemson loss is winning on Saturday

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks on against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The 2015 college football season has yet to showcase a truly great football team. With early title contenders like Ohio State and Michigan State looking less than stellar, Alabama losing a game already and the Pac-12 beating itself up, the chance that a one-loss Notre Dame team could still make it into the College Football Playoff is certainly a possibility.

But don’t expect Brian Kelly and his football team to start worrying about that now.

We saw a similar situation unfold last season, after the Irish lost a heartbreaker in the final seconds against Florida State. With many fans worried that Notre Dame wasn’t given credit for their performance in Tallahassee, the Irish’s playoff resume mattered very little as the team fell apart down the stretch.

As Notre Dame looks forward, their focus only extends to Saturday. That’s when Navy will test the Irish with their triple-option attack and better-than-usual defense, a team that Brian Kelly voted into his Top 25 this week.

Can this team make it to the Playoff? Kelly isn’t sure. But he knows what his team has to do.

“I don’t know,” Kelly said when asked about a one-loss entrance. “But we do know what we can control, and that is winning each week. So what we really talked about is we have no margin for error, and we have to pay attention to every detail.

“Each game is the biggest and most important game we play and really focusing on that. It isn’t concern yourself with big picture. You really have to focus on one week at a time.”

Kelly spread that message to his five captains after the game on Saturday night. He’s optimistic that message has set in over the weekend, and he’ll see how the team practices as they begin their on-field preparations for Navy this afternoon.

But when asked what type of response he wants to see from his team this week, it wasn’t about the minutiae of the week or a company line about daily improvement.

“The response is to win. That’s the response that we’re looking for,” Kelly said, before detailing four major factors to victory. “To win football games, you have to start fast, which we did not. There has to be an attention to detail, which certainly we were missing that at times. We got great effort, and we finished strong. So we were missing two of the four real key components that I’ll be looking for for this weekend. As long as we have those four key components, I’ll take a win by one. That would be fine with me. We need those four key components. That’s what I’ll be looking for.”

Go for two or not? Both sides of the highly-debated topic

during their game at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina.

Notre Dame’s two failed two-point conversion tries against Clemson have been the source of much debate in the aftermath of the Irish’s 24-22 loss to the Tigers. Brian Kelly’s decision to go for two with just over 14 minutes left in the game forced the Irish into another two-point conversion attempt with just seconds left in regulation, with DeShone Kizer falling short as he attempted to push the game into overtime.

Was Kelly’s decision to go for two the right one at the beginning of the fourth quarter? That depends.

Take away the result—a pass that flew through the fingers of a wide open Corey Robinson. Had the Irish kicked their extra point, Justin Yoon would’ve trotted onto the field with a chance to send the game into overtime. (Then again, had Robinson caught the pass, Notre Dame would’ve been kicking for the win in the final seconds…)

This is the second time a two-point conversion decision has opened Kelly up to second guessing in the past eight games. Last last season, Kelly’s decision to go for two in the fourth-quarter with an 11-point lead against Northwestern, came back to bite the Irish and helped the Wildcats stun Notre Dame in overtime.

That choice was likely fueled by struggles in the kicking game, heightened by Kyle Brindza’s blocked extra-point attempt in the first half, a kick returned by Northwestern that turned a 14-7 game into a 13-9 lead. With a fourth-quarter, 11-point lead, the Irish failed to convert their two-point attempt that would’ve stretched their lead to 13 points. After Northwestern converted their own two-point play, they made a game-tying field goal after Cam McDaniel fumbled the ball as the Irish were running out the clock. Had the Irish gone for (and converted) a PAT, the Wildcats would’ve needed to score a touchdown.

Moving back to Saturday night, Kelly’s decision needs to be put into context. After being held to just three points for the first 45 minutes of the game, C.J. Prosise broke a long catch and run for a touchdown in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Clemson would be doing their best to kill the clock. Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game brought the score within 12 points when Kelly decided to try and push the score within 10—likely remembering the very way Northwestern forced overtime.

After the game, Kelly said it was the right decision, citing his two-point conversion card and the time left in the game. On his Sunday afternoon teleconference, he said the same, giving a bit more rationale for his decision.

“We were down and we got the chance to put that game into a two-score with a field goal. I don’t chase the points until the fourth quarter, and our mathematical chart, which I have on the sideline with me and we have a senior adviser who concurred with me, and we said go for two. It says on our chart to go for two.

“We usually don’t use the chart until the fourth quarter because, again, we don’t chase the points. We went for two to make it a 10-point game. So we felt we had the wind with us so we would have to score a touchdown and a field goal because we felt like we probably only had three more possessions.

“The way they were running the clock, we’d probably get three possessions maximum and we’re going to have to score in two out of the three. So it was the smart decision to make, it was the right one to make. Obviously, you know, if we catch the two-point conversion, which was wide open, then we just kick the extra point and we’ve got a different outcome.”

That logic and rationale is why I had no problem with the decision when it happened in real time. But not everybody agrees.

Perhaps the strongest rebuke of the decision came from Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister, who had this to say about the decision in his (somewhat appropriately-titled) weekly Point After column:

Hire another analyst or at least assign someone to the task of deciphering the Beautiful Mind-level math problem that seems to be vexing the Notre Dame brain-trust when a dweeb with half-inch thick glasses and a pocket protector full of pens could tell you that in the game of football, you can’t chase points before it is time… (moving ahead)

…The more astonishing thing is that no one in the ever-growing football organization that now adds analysts and advisors on a regular basis will offer the much-needed advice. Making such decisions in the heat of battle is not easy. What one thinks of in front of the TV or in a press box does not come as clearly when you’re the one pulling the trigger for millions to digest.

And yet with this ever-expanding entourage, Notre Dame still does not have anyone who can scream through the headphones to the head coach, “Coach, don’t go for two!”

If someone, anyone within the organization had the common sense and then the courage to do so, the Irish wouldn’t have lost every game in November of 2014 and would have had a chance to win in overtime against Clemson Saturday night.

My biggest gripe about the decision was the indecision that came along with the choice. Scoring on a big-play tends to stress your team as special teams players shuffle onto the field and the offense comes off. But Notre Dame’s use of a timeout was a painful one, and certainly should’ve been spared considering the replay review that gave Notre Dame’s coaching staff more time to make a decision.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s decision was probably similar to the one many head coaches would make. And it stems from the original two-point conversion chart that Dick Vermeil developed back in the 1970s.

The original chart didn’t account for success rate or time left in the game. As Kelly mentioned before, Notre Dame uses one once it’s the fourth quarter.

It’s a debate that won’t end any time soon. And certainly one that will have hindsight on the side of the “kick the football” argument.