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Progress measured in both wins and losses

Sep 30, 2013, 5:04 PM EDT

Oklahoma v Notre Dame Getty Images

If there’s anything that’s taken the stink off Notre Dame’s disappointing loss to Oklahoma, it’s comparing it to the sinkhole that’s enveloped the football program at rival USC. As the Trojans exit September, they aren’t wondering whether or not they’re still competing for a spot at the top of the Pac-12, but rather who will take on the challenge of undoing the damage that’s happened over the past three seasons.

After watching countless soap operas take over the Notre Dame football program over the past decade, it’s now happening around Heritage Hall, with Pat Haden’s dismissal of Lane Kiffin at LAX taking its place in the pantheon of cold-blooded coaching moves. Notre Dame’s two September losses have Irish fans frustrated and looking for schematic or personnel adjustments, but hardly wondering if the nameplates inside the Gug need to be swapped out.

Measuring progress is a difficult thing. For Pat Haden, he started by judging Kiffin on a curve, understanding that the decimating effects of NCAA sanctions needed to be accounted for in his grading system of his head coach. But losing seven of eleven games, some in very embarrassing fashion (like the Trojans’ second half performance on Saturday night), made the decision Haden made the right choice.

All of this is a long-wandering way to get to Notre Dame’s early season struggles. As much as seeing the Irish fall to both Michigan and Oklahoma is frustrating, there is progress to be found in both losses. Especially when you look at some of the statistics that came out of Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma, a game that was very much in doubt with twelve minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Our friends at did some deep digging here, and produced this table.

Notre Dame Oklahoma
Number of Drives* 12 12
Avg Starting Position Own 25 Own 31
Three & Outs 5 1
Drives Gaining 0 or less yards 5 0
Drives Ending in Plus Territory 3 10
Drives Reaching Red Zone 1 4
Drives with Explosive (20+ yard) Plays 3 3
Drives ending in TDs 3 3
Drives ending in FGs 0 2
Drives ending in Punts 6 5
Drives ending in Turnovers 3 1†
Total Number of Plays 53‡ 77
Plays per Drive 4.42 6.42
Time of Possession 24:16 35:44

* As mentioned earlier, the ND kneel down drive was excluded. OU’s pick-six does not count as a drive. OU’s turnover on downs counted ND’s kneel down to end half excluded

Put candidly, in year’s past this game would’ve turned out ugly. Like Notre Dame-Michigan ’06 ugly. Or USC-ND ugly in ’08. And while we’ll need to see if this team falls down to that frustrating 8-5 level that plagued Kelly’s first two squads, datapoints like this game (and to a lesser degree against Michigan) do rid critics of the lazy conclusion that this team plays without heart or is lacking leadership (the type of Derek Jeterization of sports that makes logic-based thinkers put their heads through windows).

On paper, this game shouldn’t have been close. Between the three gift interceptions, the offensive failures on nearly half of their drives, or the fact that the Sooners had the ball for almost 36 minutes and ended a ridiculous ten drives in Notre Dame territory, point to a football game that ends in a lopsided fashion more often than not.

Nobody’s looking for consolation prizes. And Brian Kelly’s already talked about adjustments in offensive schemes that’ll lessen the burden on Tommy Rees, changes that the Irish implemented last season to great success. Yet if you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic, the signs are there. Even if you have to look a little bit deeper to find them.


For more coverage today on Notre Dame football, check out these articles from


ND tries to regain its balance
by Tim Prister

Spark in the rushing attack has Brian Kelly hopeful that the Irish can lighten Tommy Rees’ passing load.


Opponent Overview
by Douglas Farmer

Notre Dame’s opponents went a combined 5-5 last weekend, including No. 22 Arizona State’s romp over USC, which led to the dismal of Trojan head coach Lane Kiffin.

  1. runners00 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    I think what people want is to compete against and defeat Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas A&M, Michigan and etc. On Saturday we learned that we’re not there right now. It’s a challenge with a quarterback that has limitations like TR. And the defense — the tackling and coverage — needs to improve. That said, if we can run the ball consistently and take care of it, I still think we can win the vast majority of the remaining games. But that is a big if. We have to run the ball and we have to take care of the ball.

    Kelly knows what he’s doing. We’ll be fine long term. I know everyone’s annoyed about the Eagles job interview but I see it kind of like I see free agency in baseball. It’s too bad that Michael Cuddyer left for Colorado. Would he have been necessarily ineffective if he’d stayed with the Twins after consulting with Colorado? I don’t see that. He’s a good hitter and good hitters hit. The same is true with good coaches.

    • danl16 - Oct 1, 2013 at 1:51 PM

      I don’t have a problem with a person trying to improve his “lot in life”. However, if a person is faxing his resume from his current employers office that is not professional. Hence, I think BK was in discussions prior to the BCS game, possibly a couple weeks before. Via his handlers. Timing is everything but it hurt the players and UND. Again, I am not aware of any coach setting up a meeting less than 12 hours after the BCS. It is the biggest game of his career. This is not indictment of his coaching accomplishments but really bad judgement on his part as far as rebuilding ND and recruiting.

      • nudeman - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:07 PM

        There is now way he was NOT in discussions before the BCS game.
        He interviewed, what … like less than 24 hours later?

        I honestly think Kelly was distracted going into the game, thought he was gonna’ pull off a shocker against Bama, then shock the ND world by leaving on top for the NFL.

        He left his previous two jobs after 3 years.
        But he didn’t get the offer and hasn’t been the same at ND since.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:39 PM

        the cynic in me says he was hot to trot for the philly interview because he knew the NCG was going to be a bloodbath and wanted to secure the interview before the extent of the bloodbath and the striking gap between ND and Alabama became apparent.

        the cynic in me also thinks BK thought he was a shoo to get the philly job and that as soon as philly showed interest BK thought the interview was just a formality.

      • savejimmyjohnsonsassforme - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:17 PM

        I’ve gotta agree with Nude. Actually, in my eyes the on-field product hasn’t been the same since the SC game. I’m not gonna say we were a better team than Bama, or that we shoulda won, but the NCG was the first in the string of games for which this team has been unprepared. If properly prepared and able to withstand their initial burst we could’ve hung around and then who knows, anything can and will happen in sports, right?

        Anyway, I’ve got a question that I’d like someone to answer and I’d be happy to admit this year’s subpar performance is not 100% on the coaching staff……aside from Niklas and possibly Daniels, who on this entire team is a better player year over year?

      • nudeman - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:30 PM

        TJ Jones is better. He was already pretty good, but he’s been excellent so far this year.
        Not sure I agree on Daniels. Couple very good games, and that long TD against Purdue was 1st round draft pick stuff, but what’s he done since?
        He’s slight of build and has trouble with man coverage
        Plus, you can’t just disappear against 2 of the tougher opponents
        Maybe Atkinson is slightly better. Gotta give the guy credit … 145 yards in a big game
        Bennet Jackson is worse
        Tuitt is WAY worse
        Nix … hard to say since he gets doubled coming out of the locker room
        Ishaq is just awful. Totally non existent
        Carlo and Fox are still below average
        Shumate is worse
        Rees is arguably worse; he’s certainly worse than last year’s starting QB

        In other words, aside from TJ and Niklas and MAYBE Atkinson and Daniels, more have regressed than improved

      • savejimmyjohnsonsassforme - Oct 1, 2013 at 4:09 PM

        I was gonna say TJ as well, offensively, but his punt return duties have been an adventure, to say the least.

        Agreed, Daniels has done little lately, but overall I think he’s improved. He, along with the rest of the WR’s, is unable to free up from press coverage BECAUSE THEY DON’T EVER HAVE TO IN PRACTICE against our comically soft coverage, once again this is the fault of the coaching staff.

        I’ll agree that GAIII is slightly improved, but only for a guy who has no business whatsoever starting at RB at this level.

        Niklas is the guy who has become an absolute beast, and of course, the staff doesn’t utilize him nearly enough.

  2. irishwilliamsport - Oct 1, 2013 at 2:58 PM

    I agree with you guys on BK, no way that wasn’t on his mind during prep for the game and no way possible there wasn’t contact prior to the NC game.

    The team has played well enough to win both those games we lost but the offense is not playing up to par because of the QB position. There’s no Quinn or Clausen you can count on to put up 35 points a game and overcome a bad day by the defense.

    I’ve never had mono but I’ve had pneumonia and just because you are cleared for activity does not mean you are ready to QB against ASU or USC 2 weeks later. It takes a long time before you feel 100% again so for this year it’s TR and AH. Chuck Martin had a cold relationship with Gunner and he transferred and Golson is not here so prepare for an 8-5 year.

    • nudeman - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:21 PM

      “The team has played well enough to win both those games we lost ”

      What games were you watching?
      They were absolutely MURDERED in every statistical category against OK

      1st downs: OK 25 ND 12
      Yards: OK 450 ND 324
      Turnovers: OK 0 ND 3
      Penalties: OK 4 ND 8
      Possession: OK 35:16 ND 25:44
      Total Plays: OK 73 ND 54

      Michigan was nearly as bad but I don’t have time to cut & paste that.
      Go check

      • dmacirish - Oct 1, 2013 at 8:34 PM

        again a dumb comment – dumb because there is a lack of intelligence. games are not won on statistics, they are won on the scoreboard. anytime that you are within 4 – 7 points late in the 4th quarter you are in a position to win the game. obviously the team played well enough to win but did not capitalize on the opportunities present.

        go back and watch the game nude, you will see you are being absolutely absurd this year – borderline annoying with your comments as to how horrible the team is.

  3. irishwilliamsport - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    Should have beat OU though, if they just ran the ball and pounded it all day, why throw it at all. Every time this year where they needed to close out a game they ran the ball effectively and picked up first downs and would have scored if the clock had not run out. And stop playing so many guys, you can’t play 5 different guys at one position Atkinson got most of the reps and look what happened.

  4. irish4me - Oct 1, 2013 at 3:28 PM

    Nude, I completely agree about the coaching. I still can’t understand what the hell Kelly was thinking heading into the BCS championship game, no contact drills because he figured that the Tide were too deep in talent, like we were going to play in mid season form after a 2 month (2 freakin’ months !!!) layoff. Then surprise, surprise we’re missing tackles all over the place. This year we just seem like we’re sleep walkin’ at the beginning of the game, it’s a least 2 consecutive 3 and outs at the beginning of each of the last several game, that is if we’re not just handing points away. The MSU game with seemingly a half dozen 3rd and 1 situations, we throw deep, again and again, WTF? The stupid play where we throw to a WR BEHIND the line of scrimmage, usually for a loss. The punt recieving team, can’t get anything going for 4 years, fair catches inside our 5 yardline !!!!! These things are coachable, at least they are EVERYWHERE else. The defensive backs, never looking back for the ball and being flagged. The Defense in some alternate universe stratergy “Bend don’t Break”, which really is give up a lot of yards and hope they make a mistake, more like a prayer than a game plan. For some reason, I can not put into words I actually believe that Kelly can still right the ship, but if the Irish get blown out this week, then I’ll rethink that. I have one question: Why is it that STANFORD can put up Great teams for the last five years, they have the same standards as the Irish? Anybody?

  5. c4evr - Oct 1, 2013 at 4:30 PM

    As spokesperson for the lazy conclusion team, I can only say that I am an objective observer… I object to everything I observe.

  6. irish4me - Oct 1, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    One additional statement about our coaching. Chuck Martin was named Offensive Coordiantor after being the Saftey’s Coach. Yeah, On The Job training at NOTRE DAME looks a lot more like “On the John” Training. Third and one: GO LONG !!!!

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