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Bye week brings opportunity to answer legitimate questions

Nov 11, 2013, 1:36 PM EDT

Tommy Rees, Aaron Donald, Darryl Render AP

With Notre Dame’s team plane not arriving back in South Bend until the wee morning hours, Brian Kelly didn’t have his usual Sunday teleconference. If he did, he would’ve likely needed to answer some tough questions about a game plan that was just as erratic as the players executing it.

Twenty-four hours have passed since Notre Dame’s ugly 28-21 loss to Pitt. That means players and coaches have likely turned the page after one of the more distressing losses of the Kelly era. But with a bye week allowing for further introspection, it might be okay to let this lost linger for a bit inside the Gug, as some tough lessons might turn into a good reminder for the future.

For as long as there is football, there will be football players making mistakes. But perhaps most distressing about this loss was that it showed a potential crack in the foundation of Kelly’s core philosophies, something the head coach addressed in his postgame comments.

“I think what I’m most concerned about is the inability to put together a consistent effort tonight in November,” Kelly said. “We’re 10 games into the season. There’s really, for me, no reason why, and I take full responsibility for this as the head coach, that there’s no reason why we don’t execute at the level that we should in November, and that didn’t happen tonight.”

In the past, the coaching staff has used the off-week as an internal audit. With two regular season games to go and recruiting in full swing, resources will likely be allocated differently. But if there are game-plan deficiencies that need to be reassessed, on Saturday night Kelly certainly provided what essentially amounted to the greatest hits for his detractors.

ABANDONING THE RUNNING GAME

You’d have thought Pitt had stuffed the run game when you look at the six carries the Irish had in the second half, for an equally poor 10 total yards. But the ground game started out strong with 128 yards on 18 first half carries, with both George Atkinson and TJ Jones hitting big gainers.

Probably the most frustrating part of the lack of ground success was the fact that the previous week it was the running game that cemented the victory. But the toxic combination of abandoning the run without protecting a beat-up defense, ended up as one of the true head-scratchers of the evening.

PUTTING THE GAME ON TOMMY REES’ SHOULDERS

I’ll continue to make the argument that Tommy Rees gives the Irish their best chance to win. But that doesn’t mean the game needs to be thrown on the senior quarterback’s shoulders. Developing consistency at running back isn’t easy when you are trying to get four backs touches. But it’s especially difficult when you force the quarterback to be the cog of the offense and hope a back can get into a rhythm in five carries or less.

But back to the quarterback play. In Eric Hansen’s terrific analysis in the South Bend Tribune, he notes that Rees is 11-0 as a starter when he commits zero turnovers. That number plummets to 10-7 when he commits one or more. Last year, the Irish adopted a conservative, limit-turnovers-at-all-costs approach that played out nearly perfectly. This year they’ve gone back to traditional spread concepts and in all three of Notre Dame’s losses, Rees has thrown multiple interceptions.

Kelly is still looking for some type of consistency in the red zone, with Rees’ end zone interception the sixth that he’s thrown beyond the goal line in his career. That stat alone leads you to believe that changes need to be made schematically if the Irish are going to get more efficient in the seasons to come.

NOT ALL GAME PLANS ARE CREATED EQUAL

Throwing 40 times in early September isn’t the same thing as throwing 40 times in November. Kelly talked about the challenges of playing at night in Pittsburgh, a notoriously weather-effected stadium that has the rocket-armed Ben Roethlisberger cutting spirals through the river-fueled winds.

But Kelly’s offensive game plan heaped a ton of pressure onto the shoulders of Rees, and it was clear from the start that the quarterback was struggling with accuracy on an evening where temperatures were in the 40s and wind was swirling.

Making things more confusing was the decision to continue throwing the football, especially with the need to protect a beleaguered defense, gutted of its best player when Stephon Tuitt was ejected early in the second quarter.

One loss in November certainly isn’t an indictment of a coach who’s had more success in the season’s final month than just about every coaching titans in the college game. But after letting the dust settle, the blame for Saturday’s loss — just as Kelly acknowledged — falls on players and coaches equally.

123 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. yaketyyacc - Nov 12, 2013 at 6:12 AM

    whew! fellows, got the message. George Perles, coaching MSU, unranked, had no. 1 Miami on the ropes as the fourth quarter began. his team did it with the passing game. he now decides to run the ball and run out the clock. no no George, not aginst Miami, and as a result, MSU lost. a coach’s loss.
    and this is what our entire season has been. a coach Kelly loss. Please, don’t say I am a Rees hater, still his choice of Rees signaled storm clouds ahead, and then,, such poor play calling reinforced the impending results.
    The difference between Lou Holtz and Brian Kelly is that Holtz loved Notre Dame and his players, and Kelly loves Kelly. Lou Holtz’s anger was out of love, and Kelly’s is out of selfishness. Remember the last line of our alma mater: ” and our hearts forever love thee Notre Dame. got it coach?

    • nudeman - Nov 12, 2013 at 9:33 AM

      Unfortunately, I agree with the Kelly loves Kelly thing. And it pains me to write that. I thought he was a true believer when he came to ND; thought it was his personal mecca.

      Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am.

      • irishwilliamsport - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:43 AM

        Yeah, there’s the “then there’s the Football Coach at ND” statement where he was as happy as can be and then the Eagles interview the day after the NC game, the day after ! I haven’t forgot about “these aren’t my guys” statement either. If they handled Gunner better he would not have transferred and would have been an option as a starter.

      • mtndguy - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:44 AM

        That carries a lot of weight given how well you both know Kelly.

      • nudeman - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:43 AM

        I don’t care about Gunner. That’s not on Kelly.

        By all accounts, he wasn’t’ progressing last year, was sloughing off in the classroom, and left ND because he wasn’t handed the job; and supposedly he isn’t necessarily all that impressive at Cincy.

        Just like I predicted about your boy Tee, I bet he never makes an impact in CFB.

        No loss there.

      • sfnd - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:45 AM

        Personally knowing Kelly is not particularly relevant. Listening to his words and judging him by his actions is fair.

        Some may argue that Kelly has his eye on something else or that he does not fully meet the characteristics they desire in an ND head coach. Some may say that they are satisfied with Kelly’s commitment and comportment. Others can argue that the desired characteristics (all-in loyalty to the university and the job) are unreasonable in this day.

        Everyone should state his case if the venting feels good. I do not expect many will change their minds based on the comments section here. Plus, the whole comments thread becomes yesterday’s news when Keith posts the next article.

      • mtndguy - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:47 AM

        Nude, are you sure they didn’t leave because Kelly was to much of an “abusive father”? All that red faced yelling and cussing?

      • mtndguy - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:50 AM

        sfnd, so personally knowing someone doesn’t qualify someone to make a better judgment than just seeing their actions for a few minutes on the sidelines during a game?

      • nudeman - Nov 12, 2013 at 12:22 PM

        mtndguy
        What is your (sarcastic) point there? That Kelly’s purple face is irrelevant?

        If you think so, then I disagree.
        I don’t think it affects every kid negatively, but unquestionably for some it does

        Gunner was a baby. They lost nothing there

      • irishwilliamsport - Nov 12, 2013 at 3:08 PM

        mtndguy,

        I never said I knew him, his actions are pretty clear and a normal human being can see that. Have you ever heard a coach say these aren’t my guys and throw the team under the bus after a loss ? He said it, it’s a fact. Apparently you think coniving in the weeks before the NC game and interviewing the day after with the Eagles was not selfish and self serving ? I do.

      • irishwilliamsport - Nov 12, 2013 at 3:12 PM

        Secondly, I have seen 3 years of mistakes and inexplicable losses and one year of absolute lepruchan luck. What about next year when we lose Jackson Tuitt Nix Calabrese Fox Shembo on defense ?

      • irish4006 - Nov 12, 2013 at 7:13 PM

        We are losing Nix for sure, Tuitt 70% sure. Shembo, I don’t think his eligibility is up and he hasn’t really lit things up this year (not entirely his fault, the whole defense is shaky).

        Jackson, Fox, Calabrese – losing these guys will not necessarily be a bad thing. The next guy in can’t be much worse than any of these three right now with the potential scenario where they will improve with experience. These are lost causes.

      • papadec - Nov 12, 2013 at 9:36 PM

        Kelly’s personal mecca is Foxboro, MA.

  2. paulhargis53 - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    I remember prior to the season starting, I called this ND a four loss team.
    I was called many names and told how I was just a hater and I knew nothing of this “great team”, that they were all the way back and would be “contending for NC’s for years to come”.

    Time to say I told you so to you arrogant, delusional ND fans.
    Stanford will squat hump you, just like the Crimson Tide did.
    That embarassing loss demoralized this team. It couldn’t have happened to a better college fanbase.
    Kindly shut up now.

    P.S. Golson isn’t changing anything next year. ND will be outclassed by most other major college powerhouses, when you’re playing by the student athlete rules that others aren’t, you’re aalways going to come up short.

    Getting to the NC last year was an aberration.

    • scottatnd - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:09 AM

      “kindly shut up now”
      Are you being forced to read this blog?
      Only an idiot would continue to read something if it upset them. Are you an idiot?
      Are you still reading?
      If you are, there is no need to reply.

    • mtndguy - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:34 AM

      Unfortunately paulhargis53 you don’t sound much different than the “fans’ on this blog. You just need to blame it all on Kelly though, you’re missing that little piece, otherwise, dead on.

    • sfnd - Nov 12, 2013 at 11:54 AM

      With respect to “playing by student athlete rules”…Stanford has had a pretty good record the past few years. They have produced NFL level talent. And the school has a fairly good academic reputation while maintaining higher than NCAA minimum admissions requirements. And it will be a big challenge for ND to win the game on Nov 28th.

      Nevertheless, I do not think ND should lower its expectations of competing (including playing for the National Championship every few years — and I do believe that is possible with the right leadership) and winning or its expectations of student-athlete academic and non-academic behavior.

      Go Irish.

      • getsome99 - Nov 13, 2013 at 4:56 PM

        Stanford also produced Jonathan Martin. Nice work.

    • papadec - Nov 12, 2013 at 9:39 PM

      paul – if ND wins out, with, or without, a bowl win – will you drag your sorry butt the hell out of here – and stay out?

  3. batthirtyseven - Nov 12, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    I’m more of a reader than a commenter, but I’m feeling like I want to chime in. I love Notre Dame football. I appreciate these players that go out there to represent the University and me as a fan. The players are great. I love that they have flaws, just like us. I love that we have guys that excel in certain areas and lack in others. That’s what makes football such a great team sport. What I hate is when a coach doesn’t put his guys in the best position to win. Asking TR throw as much as he did against Pitt and run this offense is not fair to him. It’s not what he’s built to do. I harbor no ill-will to any player who makes a mistake. They’re kids for crying out loud! It’s the adults who are at fault for not properly utilizing what they have. This is a good team (not great), but they are much better than that nonsensical 2nd half game plan against Pitt. The coaches let the players down and a guy like TR has to absorb all the venom.

  4. irishwilliamsport - Nov 12, 2013 at 12:52 PM

    The program took a step back this year obviously. The defense wasn’t playing great even before all the injuries. Coaching is a big part of the problem this year, on both sides of the ball. Why would they call that rollout where TR threw the pic ? I said NOOO as soon as I saw that because I knew what was coming.

    Four years in the program and that’s what we get from Hendrix in the USC game ? He hardly got any reps the week of the game, why ? He’s the 2nd team QB.

    How can those guys not know to pick up that fumble Saturday and run it in for a TD ?

  5. runners00 - Nov 12, 2013 at 1:47 PM

    This program hasn’t taken a step back. We caught several big breaks in 2012 and those breaks ran out in 2013. Pitt had several chances to put us away in 2012 and didn’t do it. Same thing with BYU. Stanford had a pretty clear shot and we caught a break in that game, too. There were other games where the opponents stayed with us for four full quarters and we pulled it out at the end. Good teams don’t just rise up against big-time opponents. They put away inferior opponents, too.

    So, where do we go from here? I don’t know. One thing that Coach Kelly has correctly said, on several occasions, is that the time to work on big things is in spring camp and fall camp. If we’re ten weeks into a season and we’re missing tackles (and we are), we’re in big trouble. BYU is good. Stanford is the best team I have watched in 2013. Now, I’m not in the south and don’t see either Alabama or Texas A&M. But I have seen Stanford a couple of times and they do the fundamental stuff really well. And I think they will roll over us if we play the way we’ve played the last couple of weeks.

    The story has to change. We have to fight much harder against BYU than we did against Navy or Pittsburgh (or Purdue or Michigan). This is true from the top down. We can’t be satisfied with a two point win. We have to coach better. We have to block much, much better (especially in the run game). We have to tackle much, much, much better in all phases. In all phases, we have to play a lot better.

  6. regionirish - Nov 12, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    I truly believe BK is a great offensive coach. Sometimes his play calling is questionable, but for the most part he is competent. He has done a great job recruiting talent. My major concern with the team is #1 The lack of passion and intensity-there are only a few players on the team who try to get others pumped up. . Jaylon is one, who is a freshmen and should not be needed to get others going. Being a college football payer myself this lack of intensity is a sign that the players do not respect/believe in the team’s coaching staff. #2 A Cincinnati fan once told me BK teams will always frustrate you with special team play and I have never heard a more true statement in my life. Does anyone know why ND can’t have a single coach dedicated to special teams? If the only reason is that it’s not what BK wants then Jack should force the issue. I think we all agree that the confidence Irish Nation has in BK is declining and it’s time to start seeing/hearing initiatives that are going to fix things…

    • nudeman - Nov 12, 2013 at 4:16 PM

      regionirish

      THAT is a great comment.

      Related: One of the things I always loved about Lou’s teams (and even Devine and Ara’s teams) was they had the swagger to go on the road into a hostile environment as an underdog and not just win but kick ass.
      Exhibit A: 1988 ND/USC in the Coliseum, but MANY other examples for all three coaches.

      Aside from the OK game, when has one of Kelly’s team EVER done this?

      It’s been 4 years of shrinking from the moment and playing down to the level of competition.
      Funny thing is, he TALKS a tough game, talks of “Brian Kelly Football”
      But other than OK I’ve never seen it,
      Maybe in another 4 years?

      • regionirish - Nov 12, 2013 at 6:01 PM

        Nude

        The coaches are surely a factor when it comes to a teams attitude or intensity.

        Coaches attitude does not mean yelling at players for poor performance, but instead means praising players when they do good and relating that to breaking the other team’s will. Kelly needs to transition from a play well because we(the coaches) demand you to play well. To a play well because our opponents think you are weak and want to embarrass ND and enjoy doing it. I feel besides USC we have no hatred for other teams, when in fact they should be out to defend ND at all costs every week. If BK does not create a culture of US vs. THEM it wont just naturally happen.

      • danirish - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:30 AM

        When has Notre Dame done anything spectacular since Holtz? Kelly’s moment was @ Oklahoma. What was Weis’s? Bush Push? What did Willingham do? Win the 1st 8 games against crap teams only to be exposed? Davie?

        There is a hex of epic proportions on this football team! Did Holtz sacrifice a goat or put a curse on them. Call out thepriests!

      • c4evr - Nov 13, 2013 at 9:51 PM

        I’m telling you, it’s the Rudy curse.

    • nudeman - Nov 12, 2013 at 9:16 PM

      Teams are only allowed a certain number of assistant coaches and I believe the number is 9. So if you hire a ST coach, what position coach are you going to jettison?
      My understanding is that most teams handle STs the way ND does. They tack it on to another coach’s duties and/or have grad assts ep out. For some reason though no one else puts on the clown show on STs that ND does. Maybe it’s the drinking water in SB.

  7. domer61 - Nov 12, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    Kelly should worry more bout his ability to coach at an elite level than the playing surface at home.

    • regionirish - Nov 12, 2013 at 10:46 PM

      Domer

      I agree that Kelly has made his opinion known a few times, so it’s time to focus on coaching issues. However, if the Irish settle for anything less than the Green Bay synthetic and real grass system it will be a huge mistake. If you read about that surface it is amazing. And all of the top soccer clubs in Europe are using it now.

      Let’s hope Jack can get it done.

      • tpdsdomer - Nov 13, 2013 at 10:29 AM

        When it comes to Notre Dame football I consider myself a traditionalist, but I’m also a realist. The athletic administration has replaced the Notre Dame Stadium turf numerous times in recent years, including this season over the break prior to the USC game, which is ridiculous. Since I’ve never heard a single high school, college, or NFL player complain about field turf, I believe it’s high time to install it at ND. I want to see the players on both teams play on a consistent surface and field turf provides that. In addition, I’ve see what Jumbotrons can do to inform and inspire crowds at other college and professional stadiums, and I’d like to see them installed at ND. Showing replays, highlights of previous great ND games, scores and highlights from around the country, and content used to pump up the mostly dead ND crowd (aside from the student body) would add a great deal. The one request I have to go along with that is no advertising – EVER!! I see that at NFL stadiums and it turns the atmosphere to crap in a hurry.

  8. paulhargis53 - Nov 13, 2013 at 8:56 AM

    papadec: No, I won’t. You know why?

    Because your self entitled, arrogant fanbase will crank up the hype machine as soon as the season is over.
    Bragging about how great ND will be, about how every recruit is a star in the making and predicting undefeated season’s.
    This fanbase is almost as delusional as Packers fans.

    I will be here to remind you that 2012 was an abberation and that 3 to 5 loss seasons are the best you can expect.

  9. fnc111 - Nov 13, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    There are no more questions. Just answers. ND football will be average forever. Cold Midwest teams don’t even have a shot. I’m over it. Its only a game. Congrats to the real teams down south.

  10. cpfirish - Nov 13, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    Chris Peterson is the answer!!

  11. ndbonecrusher - Nov 13, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    “ND will be outclassed by most other major college powerhouses, when you’re playing by the student athlete rules that others aren’t, you’re aalways going to come up short.”

    Paulhargis53 those 2 phrases in the same sentence are mutually exclusive. Class doen’t come solely from the W-L numbers. Are you suggesting that we should equate winning with moral superiority? Yeah, that makes sense…

    Reference the earlier spot-on comment about Stanford having great students AND great athletes. They are not too shabby. We will see how not-shabby in a couple weeks. Beating Oregon isn’t what gives Stanford “class”, and losing to an inferior team does not diminish ND’s “class”.

    I love ND football as much as anyone here, but I look after adults and children with cancer, so getting a W is not quite as important to me as it used to be. Conversely, being a graduate of Notre Dame is IMMENSELY important to me. If that makes me “self-entitled, arrogant, and delusional”, then bring it on. Wouldn’t trade my ND experience for anything.

    Finally, “always” is typically spelled with 2 a’s, not 3. Guess that’s just me being arrogant again.

  12. ndbonecrusher - Nov 13, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    Then again “doesn’t” typically has an “s” in there somewhere, too! Mea Maxima Culpa.

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