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The good, the bad, the ugly: Tulsa

Nov 1, 2010, 3:51 PM EDT


What a calendar year for the Irish. From Halloween to Halloween, you’d be hard pressed to find a football program that’s had a tougher 12 months than the Fighting Irish.

On the field, the Irish were 4-9, with seven of those losses decided by one score or less. Major injuries were suffered by starters like Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, Dan Wenger, Dayne Crist (twice), Ian Williams, Carlo Calabrese, Theo Riddick, and Jamoris Slaughter.  On the sidelines, the school fired its fourth head coach in less than a decade, a pattern of rebuilding and restructuring that’s done more damage to the development of the football team than anyone can imagine. And off the field, the Irish suffered the tragic losses of incoming freshman Matt James and junior videographer Declan Sullivan, two members of the Irish football family that had their lives cut short well before their time.

The Irish have no football to play this weekend, taking a much needed mental and physical break before preparing to face No. 5 Utah in Notre Dame Stadium. Before that, let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly from Notre Dame’s 28-27 loss to Tulsa.


A lot of credit needs to go to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Charley Molnar for getting freshman Tommy Rees prepared for action. The quarterback that jogged onto the field when Dayne Crist went down in the first quarterback looked nothing like the one that jogged onto the field against Michigan.

Rees looked poised and confident directing the Irish offense, working quickly and efficiently within the confines of the system. He drove the Irish to four touchdowns, becoming the first Irish freshman quarterback to ever throw four touchdown passes in a single game. When Rees processed information correctly, the ball came out of his hands quickly and confidently, and Kelly’s spread offense had a rhythm that we rarely saw under Dayne Crist.

Unfortunately, when Rees didn’t see things correctly, he made poor decisions, forcing a few balls into places they should never go. Tommy spoke candidly about his final throw of the game.

“We had one-on-one coverage with Mike. When we have that, we want to take a chance,” Rees said. “I under-threw the ball a little bit… But with Mike, he can even make bad plays look good. That one is completely on me. I take accountability for that throw. Looking back, I would try to take it back. Nothing I can do.”


Kelly’s decision to put his freshman quarterback in a position to throw that interception has many apoplectic. With the Irish looking at a 37-yard field goal, the decision to throw the ball in the first place has people thinking Kelly cares more about winning “his way” than winning at all.

That said, as good as David Ruffer’s been, putting that kind of pressure on your kicker isn’t the soundest strategy, and the kick team has hardly been bullet-proof, with two extra points being blocked already this season.

Kelly has certainly surprised people with his penchant for gambling, and more of those decisions have backfired than paid off this season. That said, whether you agree with throwing the ball or not, Kelly’s logic was solid. He took a timeout to discuss the choice with his quarterback. He put him in a one-receiver, one-coverage read. Rees got the match-up they wanted, but just underthrew the football.

Kelly’s confidence in his team to make crunch time plays, and to go for the throat instead of playing conservatively is a mindset that the Irish are struggling to develop, and have struggled with since Brady Quinn graduated. With seven last minute losses in the last two seasons, it’s not hard to understand why the team unconsciously struggles to put the nail in the coffin.


There is never a honeymoon period for a Notre Dame head coach, and Kelly and his staff are likely understanding that right now. This coaching staff knew it needed to win games early, and the struggles to do that — whether it be coaching deficiencies, critical injuries, or just plain bad luck — don’t matter to a fanbase restless for answers and results.

For those already claiming the Kelly era a failure, they’ll likely point to the loss of blue-chip defensive end recruit Aaron Lynch, who decommitted and eliminated Notre Dame from consideration this weekend. Lynch’s defection follows the “negative recruiting” playbook to a tee, with reports saying that the high school senior was worried he’d struggle to keep up academically. Not surprisingly, Lynch is still considering Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators, as well as Florida State, Miami, and South Florida.

One player is never going to make or break a recruiting class, and the losses of blue-chip defenders to Florida like Omar Hunter and Justin Trattou have been lessened by the fact that neither of them have done much wearing a Gators uniform. Still Lynch’s defection is likely the result of opposing coaches working hard to denigrate a program and its own fanbase providing plenty of gasoline for the fire.

The Irish have the chance to turn around their season if they can win two of the last three football games. While 6-6 just wasn’t good enough for Ty Willingham or Charlie Weis, all things considered it’d be a great salvage for Year One of the Brian Kelly era.




  1. krups06 - Nov 1, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    Great article Keith. One play, one game, and season does not make a coaches’ legacy. There have been moments this season, a difficult one for us all, where there are no excuses for this team’s lack of poise and inability to execute. I don’t believe Brian Kelly has made a single excuse as to why his team hasn’t one, even though we are all aware of the complete destruction of this team’s skill position production due to injury and playing a very competitive schedule. If losses like the one to Tulsa occur in the coming years, then yes there is reason for panic, but until I see a Brian Kelly lead team when its fully healthy, fully integrated into his schemes, and gone through a few full recruiting cycles fail this miserably, I refuse to believe he will be anything other than successful. It may take a little more time than he is used to due to the fact that this is Notre Dame, but a coach doesn’t make it to this position without being a winner…(sans Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis but that’s another discussion for another day). This team was underachieving last year and pitiful the year before so to think that largely the same group of players was going to be miraculously better this season was irrational. Building a program takes time and Brian Kelly certainly deserves his fair share of it.

    • c4evr - Nov 2, 2010 at 4:49 PM

      One play may not make a legacy, but it sure as hell sets the tone. Running the clock down and kicking was the ONLY call in that situation. It may be pedestrian, and it may be conventional – but it also reduces the number of factors that could lead to unsatisfactory results. Even if he misses the field goal, it’s called ‘losing correctly’. In poker, if you go all in before the flop with the best hand and still lose on the river, you have the consolation of having lost ‘correctly’. WHICH MEANS, you played your hand correctly and put yourself in the best possible position to win the hand. BK did not put his team in the best possible spot to win the game by having a freshman QB throw over a record setting kicker. I can understand if the roles were reversed and Rees had 18 successful red zone appearances and the kicker had shanked a couple during the game. He’s effectively killed two birds with one stone – the QB’s a wreck and the kicker just got a vote of no confidence. Enough of those type calls and soon Kelly will be getting a vote of no confidence from the players. Not a great place to start establishing a legacy.

  2. fightinmad35 - Nov 1, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    Kelly’s logic was solid??? In what world?? Oh I know, the world where ND nation is used to losing football games. That was a ridiculous call. RIDICULOUS.. who cares about the matchup of Floyd on a small corner? Field goal range, a freshman qb who played as well as he possibly could, a mourning campus and fanbase… YOU kick the ball and win the game.. Period…

    • krups06 - Nov 1, 2010 at 5:19 PM

      It’s way to easy to ASSUME that the field goal was guaranteed especially when the coverage team already gave up a block, and as good as Ruffer has been all season he has never been called to make the field goal with the game on the line. If you thinking coaching is so easy then get off your butt, grab a clipboard and start coaching, see how long it takes to become the head coach at Notre Dame…

      • fightinmad35 - Nov 1, 2010 at 6:33 PM

        I’m no coach, and at the same time I’m not being paid millions of dollars either. No matter your opinion, me and the rest of the country, ND fans, media, pretty much EVERYBODY agrees that was the worst play call in ND history and possible the worst loss in ND history. If I were coaching, I would have ran the ball and taken a chance with the SUREST THING ON MY TEAM THIS YEAR, MY FIELD GOAL KICKER.. Enough of the BK excuses, passes, arrogance and idiotic mistakes.. BK has made several arrogant or ignorant calls that have lost ND 3 games this year that should have been won.. Michigan, Michigan State and Tulsa. At this rate of hiring and firing coaches at ND, my time will soon come and I haven’t even started coaching yet..

      • c4evr - Nov 2, 2010 at 2:56 AM

        I’m with fightnmad35 on this one. BK’s coaching calls from the beginning – Montana throwing instead of kicking v UM, going for it on 4th down against MSU, and throwing the last pass yesterday – have bordered on criminal. And there have been other bonehead coaching decisions that somehow are forgotten when the team wins a game. Is there any wonder the recruiting class is dropping like flies. These are smart kids and they are watching the same game we are. There’s no sugarcoating it – it’s TULSA. The tradition and lore can only get you so far with high school athletes, you have to win, or at least be moving in that direction. Let’s just hope Kelly’s RKG’s are hidden amongst the 2 and 3 star players that still get starry eyed at the ND tradition. And I thought CW’s decision to let Stanford score last year was the low point in Irish history and pride. But BK has brought a new ‘floor’ to Irish disappointment. By the end of this season, Holtz will be a full on deity. SInce Holtz’s departure, ND has had a slow and steady slide toward football irrelevance that recently seems to have ground to an unceremonious halt. Although… we still have Army to push us further down the slope into college football obscurity. As for giving Kelly another year or 2 at the helm, just keep in mind that, although his team finished 5-6 in his first year after inheriting a similar team from the now not-so-horrible-by-comparison Gerry Faust, Holtz lost to 4 top 10 teams (excluding Alabama, they lost by a TOTAL OF 7 POINTS to those ranked opponents). They finished the year beating #17 USC. And I’m pretty sure that in similar positions, Lou ran the ball north/south until he found a way to control the line of scrimmage. If Kelly continues, and arrogantly I might add, down this same “get used to it” path, he’s likely to inspire his very own version of the Tea Party in the hopes of somehow holding this ‘proven winner/program turner arounder’ accountable while simultaneously catapulting Holtz to sainthood.

  3. theunicaller - Nov 1, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    I completely disagree that it was solid logic. There’s no reason to take a chances once you are in field goal range and all you need to do is kick the ball to win the game.
    What Brian Kelly did has a name and it’s illegal unless you have a license. It’s called GAMBLING.
    The solid logic is running the ball one more time up the middle to get as close as possible. Then you kick it on 3rd down in case there’s a bad snap. You don’t gamble a sure win the way Brian Kelly did. You give your GROZA FINALIST kicker a chance to kick a 30 down the middle to win the game.

  4. tlndma - Nov 1, 2010 at 6:27 PM

    Look it was only one play but, that call was simply foolish. Down by one and your kicker has NEVER missed a field goal. Now if Ruffer missed, that might be bad luck or a curse. But we’ll never know because of the foolish play call. Keith, “Putting that pressure on your kicker isn’t the soundest strategy”, instead you put it on your freshman QB? I don’t for a second think you think it was sound judgement. Nice try though.

  5. jpwills19 - Nov 1, 2010 at 11:09 PM

    I am somewhat surprised that no one has mentioned the play by Mike Floyd on the interception at the end of the game. Yes, it was a very risky call and an underthrown ball, but it was pretty clear that Floyd was not in a position to make the catch or even break it up. That being said, why didn’t he take the corner down (obvious PI, I know) so he couldn’t make the interception? Would have put the offense in a very tough position at third and very long, but at least they would have still had a shot to kick the FG. I guess it’s tough to bust the chops of the only playmaker you have left this season.

    • 1notredamefan - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:00 AM

      agree, sometimes he can make ya wonder. I personally don’t like that they lost and that play just like all the other ones that were failures could be called out! We didn’t deserve to win b/c of a few situations not just that last play!! If he would have made the catch and we won most of you would be bitchin about Crist runnin the ball again blah bla blah

  6. jerseyshorendfan1 - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:16 AM

    I’m just glad its a bye week. Didn’t really feel like watching anyway.

  7. 1notredamefan - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:01 AM

    O sheet just saw on cnn breaking news……….SKY’s Fallin in South Bend!!!! Yikes

  8. 1notredamefan - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:02 AM

    err NBC my bad:)

  9. brendanunderscoreg - Nov 2, 2010 at 11:24 AM

    i agree it’s a bad call. i agree you can’t judge a coach in his 1st year while he’s trying to turn around a program that is used to losing.

    but, this program at this point in time is not headed in the right direction. maybe it’s d sullivan’s death, the injuries to the playmakers, or a curse. i’m not looking for excuses. i am simply stating what seems obvious to most of us. this team is starting to spiral right now. it might be the coaches or the players or a combination of both. it doesn’t matter what is causing it. the only thing that matters is it’s happening.

  10. txbeej - Nov 2, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    This season has been an unmitigated disaster. Sad to say, but it can’t end soon enough for me. Get well over the winter, work on holding together the rest of the recruiting class, and hope for better next season.

  11. ndfan4ever - Nov 2, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    The pass play was a mistake period. but that is how Kelly likes to coach has to satisfy his ego. You have the best kicker let him win it. If your not going to trust him there what happens when you really need him in the next game or down the road. Kick the ball if he misses he misses so be it at least you had a chance. That pass play never had a chance. Really it never ever should have come to that anyway but the defense can’t defend. 3rd and 26 and you give up 31 come on. Watch the replay we rush 3 and drop eight but the linebackers don’t get deep enough to force a throw underneath. We stop them there we win and you don’t even have to try a risky pass with freshman QB backup. Kelly says when we get that matchup we will try it everytime nice. I can respect that if we had been down 4 or points but we didn’t need a touchdown to win. It would have been a great ending win with a touchdown, but given the circumstances a win with a field goal would have been fantastic. Now we will need a miricle to win another game this year let alone getting to a bowl game. I love the Irish always have and always will.

  12. dmacirish - Nov 2, 2010 at 4:36 PM

    did we not get in this situation because of our kicking team. had we been able to convert on the extra point then the final score would have been altered to ND 28 and Tulsa 26. maybe the decision by coach kelly wasnt so bad. maybe the qb did under throw the ball. remember, just because the coach calls the plays doesnt mean he throws the ball. if tommy saw the throw wasnt there he shouldnt have thrown it. hey we lost so what. here is to the next game.

  13. blueandgolddreamer - Nov 2, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    I think it was the right call. I like the aggressive attitude. If Notre Dame wants to continue to play on the ELITE level then reduce the academics. By not meeting the level of others, they are being left in the dust to recruiters who use it negativley such as Urban Meyer who has coached at Notre Dame. I think Kelly should be commended for his play calling and I hope it continues. Coach Kelly has done a tremendous job with what he has had to work with. At this point, the university should bend over backwards to keep Kelly and allow him to bring in the athletes he needs to bring in to bring it back to glory or us alumni will need to get use to getting beat soundly by Navy and other weaker opponents.

    • Nate - Nov 3, 2010 at 8:07 PM

      I agree.

      Like Brian Kelly has said time and time again, he tries to put his players into positions to make plays to win games. I’m not happy with the loss. None of us are. But, with the amount of time on the clock and the position they were at, taking a solitary strike at the end zone to one of the best WRs in the country against an undersized corner with 1-on-1 coverage is a call that I’m okay with. Rees throws that ball two feet higher and he’s a hero. Or, Floyd drops it, Ruffer trots out and kicks the field goal. But considering that an XP had been blocked earlier in the game and they would have been kicking into a tricky wind, I can’t say that was an entirely stupid call.

      He was trying to put his players into a position to make a play to win the game. If you go back and look at the season with that in mind, most of these “stupid decisions” that everyone is talking about look different. Heck, if the players make those plays, ND is 7-2, probably ranked in the Top 25 and everyone is talking about how Brian Kelly is the real deal and he’s going to take the Irish back to the promised land. It’s a game of inches, folks.

      Once the players start becoming playmakers and make those kind of plays, they won’t look like bad calls, anymore. That’s the whole idea of the system Kelly is trying to implement.

      That said, with Dayne out 6 months, I would be shocked to see Rees or one of the other freshmen overtake him on the depth chart going into fall camp. Hendrix, Massa and especially Rees will have just as much time in the system as Dayne has had, but with more actual, physical experience in it. Rees was a spread QB in HS and I think Hendrix was, as well. What I saw from Rees in the Tulsa game impressed the hell out of me. He made some mistakes and doesn’t have a big-time arm, but he was smart and got the offense into a rhythm that has been missing for a few weeks. I think Dayne has been a great kid and has tried as hard as he can to get up to speed, but it hasn’t clicked for him yet.

  14. seamus007 - Nov 3, 2010 at 5:27 AM

    What happened to Declan is tragic. We’ll keep him and his family in our prayers.

    Losing to Tulsa was a coach taking a risk and losing. It’s time to move on.

    Notre Dame will be back–sooner rather than later.

    Keep the Faith!

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