Wisconsin v Northwestern

And in that corner… The Northwestern Wildcats

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Coming off a difficult and frustrating loss to Arizona State, Notre Dame welcomes Northwestern to town, a second opportunity at an eighth victory. For as difficult as last Saturday was for Irish fans, it’s been wash, rinse and repeat for those following the Wildcats this year.

Last weekend’s failed two-point conversion against Michigan was just the latest gut punch to Pat Fitzgerald’s squad, falling to 3-6 on the season and in real danger of missing a bowl game for the second consecutive season. After building Northwestern into a program that was seemingly in contention to win at least eight games a season, it’s been a deep dive since Northwestern let victory against Ohio State slip out of their hands early last season.

Taking us through the misery is the always wonderful Lake the Posts. The editor and founder of Northwestern’s friendly sports outpost (serving a daily dose of Wildcataganda since 2007) he hit this one out of the park.

This might be my favorite Q&A of the year. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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You okay? As a fanbase, it feels like Year 2 of the slide hurts a lot more than last season’s collapse. Leaving the fandom’s pain aside, can you give us a look into a program that’s now lost 13 of its last 17 football games? (Yikes.)

Short answer – “no”. We are not OK. We’re somewhere between full blown panic mode or worse – resignation. Despondent, frustrated, furious, cursed…you get the gist. One of the many beautiful things about being a Northwestern coach is that despite the rhetoric, we hold ourselves to a different standard (“hey look over here, have you seen our APR lately”?!!!). Most Northwestern fans are a forgiving lot. However, in part because Pat Fitzgerald’s five year run from ’08-’12 had conditioned fans to “a bowl game” as the floor, this two year skid, in years eight and nine of his tenure are particularly tough to swallow.

Heading in to this season on the heels of the union debate-filled off-season, most fans were willing to write off 2013 as an outlier. Now, it’s hard not to look at the past five seasons and point to the 10-win 2012 season as the outlier. The win totals have followed a disturbing trend in the past seven seasons – 9,8,7,6,10,5,3 (so far). Therein lies the issue.

There are so, so many issues it’s hard to know where to start. When you start looking back game by game over the past several years, the program that had become synonymous with pulling out close games has flipped the script. Starting in 2012, we became an increasingly conservative team. We’d sprint out to leads and try to hang on for dear life. All 3 losses that year involved significant 4th quarter leads that we lost. 2013 started a really disturbing trend of injuries that I’m blaming on Iowa, just because, but this off-season it became almost laughable. We couldn’t hold full scrimmages because we had so many people out for spring practice. Then, on the same day, our most explosive player – All-American Venric Mark transferred and our best WR Christian Jones blew his knee out and was gone for the year. The injuries have racked up to epic proportions (three defensive players including a captain have had to retire from football due to injuries). But, every team has injuries. The injuries have exposed some depth issues. The real issues run much deeper.

Here are my top three:

1) The offense has been anemic – 5th year QB Trevor Siemian is actually a decent passer, but he’s been wildly inconsistent. Our wide receivers have been bottled up for two straight seasons now, in part, b/c when we don’t have a mobile QB threat, it makes it much easier for opponents to defend us. We’ve got no one who can beat man coverage downfield (who isn’t injured and we’ve got 4-5 WRs out with injury consistently), Trevor holds on to the ball too long and the play calling has been beyond puzzling. It’s a perfect storm of a mess.

2) Special teams – This is the most overlooked issue by outsiders. We’ve been a train wreck. Fitz is the special teams coach and it has been awful. Last week’s Michigan 1-point loss is a perfect example. Michigan’s lone TD came as a result of a fumbled punt at our own 20, we missed a chip shot FG and a platoon of punters averaged less than net 30 yards on the day as they fielded ground ball snaps all day. Our punt coverage team had a gimme to down the ball at the Michigan one and let it bounce of their leg in to the end zone. That in a nutshell has been a weekly occurrence.

3) The team has zero identity – Fitz-coached teams in the past seemed to feed off of his energy. This team has been lifeless at times and it started in the season opener when we got throttled in the first half. The players went to Fitz and asked to be coached harder and held more accountable after the NIU loss and it worked – for a few weeks. We’ve seemed to try and be something we’re not at times and the days of scrappy, smart play have been replaced by massive inconsistency in execution, failures in in-game adapting and an overall lifelessness that has the fan base howling.

 

Staying big picture, is it fair to say the shine is off Pat Fitzgerald? I’m not insinuating he should be on the hot seat in Evanston, but are you viewing Fitzgerald (the coach) differently after this slide? If you were in his shoes, what’s the first thing you change?

Yes. Fans want to love him and want him to succeed. A pervasive thought I’ve heard among fans is that he is the “best coach in America Sunday through Friday”. What’s been disheartening to many fans is Fitz’s defensiveness with the media during the slide. It has been more combative than empathetic. Look, there are a ridiculous amount of injuries and adversity, but Fitz will be the first to tell you that is expected. The back-ups have simply not been prepared. There are only so many post game losing speeches when you can hear “it starts with us the coaches, we have to do a better job” before you start to get numb to it.

Personally, I think Fitz is the right guy for the job, I’m a fan of his and respect the heck out of him personally. I’m not one to call for people’s specific heads during a season, but I can tell you based on the sea of disgruntled comments and emails that fans are not happy with OC Mick McCall and the offensive position coaches in general (with the exception of RB where Justin Jackson has shined).

 

Let’s stay with the not-so-happy stuff. The offensive line. This summer you told me that the NU offensive line is 19th in the FBS in returning career starts, usually a good sign. This group hasn’t been good. Injuries? Bad players? What’s the deal?

ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham was excellent in his assessment of the line during the Michigan game which I believe you can extrapolate over much of the losing skid. He outright called out Mick McCall for putting Trevor Siemian in deep drop backs b/c our line is weakest at pass protection that requires any length of time. It stems from the fact that unlike the spread of NU’s past, we have no threat of mobility and opponents know it. We’re actually pretty good in run blocking schemes and when we go with the quick, up-tempo rapid fire approach. Right tackle has been an eyesore all year and the revolving door approach hasn’t solved for it. It’s been really, really disappointing.

Fans have clamored for 4-star QB dual threat RS freshman Matt Alviti to offer the run threat and he finally made his first appearance of the season last week for all of three snaps. I expect to see him a ton on Saturday. This has been the head-scratcher. The running threat on 3rd and 6-8 was a staple of success for years and without the run threat, we’ve just been crushed.

 

Defensively, this team is pretty solid, especially when you consider how much the offense has put on them. The Wildcats secondary has been really solid, and they’ve got more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. How will Fitz and DC Mike Hankwitz handle the Irish’s talented wide receiving corps and the turnover prone Everett Golson?

The “D” has actually been exceptional other than 8 quarters (2 vs Cal, 2 vs Nebraska, 4 vs Iowa) this season. When you’re season scoring average is under 20 you’re doing something right. When you consider just how bad we’ve been in spotting the opponents ridiculous field position, you get a sense that this unit could be very good. Mike Hankwitz should get credit. We’ve been crushed with injuries and unlike the offense, the young talent has stepped up. We have an NFL-level safety with Ibraheim Campbell who has been sidelined most of the year and his replacement Godwin Igwebuike has been great. We’ve got a ton of freshmen (both true and redshirt) that have been huge. LB Anthony Walker has had to replace senior captain Collin Ellis and he brings the lumber. The future looks very bright for the defense if they can eliminate those 8 quarters of inconsistency. This is where the uptick in recruiting has been most evident.

The pass rush has been inconsistent and Hankwitz is a highly conservative play caller. We’ve yet to face a dual threat QB with Golson’s skill set this season, so I expect him to have his way through the air as we likely won’t go all out on blitzes knowing he can kill us with his feet. We do have guys who are incredible athletes and can make individual plays. The “D” will pick off Golson if he’s careless on his throws and his carelessness with the rock is something you can bet our guys will be aware of and be looking to ballhawk. I really like our “D” with the exception of the team that kidnapped our team in Iowa City.

I fear we’ll overcompensate on “D” and do too much sitting back trying to contain Golson which will lead to deep ball success b/c no team can give you 5-10 seconds and not expect to get burned by your highly talented receiving corps.

 

It sounds like the quarterback position has gotten ugly. Matt Alviti saw a few snaps last week against Michigan with Fitz promising more of the same this Saturday. What’s a realistic split? Is Trevor Siemian on his way out? Is it really his fault?

I feel really bad for Trevor. I will likely get piled on for this statement, but I believe he’s a good QB. The weak offensive line play and the man to man press coverage on our receivers have given him little to work with. Plus, for the first time that I can ever remember, we’ve been terrible at catching passes. There have been countless times that guys have dropped wide open passes. Trevor has been more inconsistent as well, missing open guys from time to time, something he rarely did in years past. The Alviti question is a good one. He was heavily recruited by Notre Dame and NU won out in a head to head, so you know he’ll be gunning to go.

Alviti’s lack of playing time has been one of the most popular topics of the year. Insiders have told me that he wasn’t ready for the field, which has been puzzling since he was one of the most sought after QB recruits we’ve ever landed and he’s had a full redshirt year and now this season to play. The pervasive thought among fans has been “how could it be any worse than the current offense”? I expect to see him about 15-20% on Saturday depending upon how he does early on in the game.

 

How impressive has freshman Justin Jackson been? Is he the key to Saturday for the Wildcat offense? What needs to go right offensively for Northwestern to win?

He’s beyond outstanding. When you consider opposing teams have essentially laughed at our passing game and stacked the box, he’s been brilliant. Up until Michigan shut him down last week (only 35 yards) he had been cranking out 100+ yard games on a weekly basis against Top 20 run defenses all year long – Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota – he’s got that extra something about him that he turns 2-yard plays in to 7-yard gains by just his motor. He’s got the mix of power and grace and with any kind of a consistent passing game and deep threat, he’d be averaging 125 per game (He’s averaging just under 90 ypg). The one thing he hasn’t been able to do is bust big plays. That’s the next level for him – to break that 50-yarder. However, he’s on pace for 1,000 yards this year in a train wreck of an offense and should he stay healthy his arrow is pointing to making a run at the all-time rushing record for NU. He’s just a joy to watch.

 

For as ugly as this season has been, my brother (a Wisconsin grad) continues to talk about Northwestern’s ability to big-game hunt. Notre Dame has either faced the best effort of their opponents or played down to them, depending on how full or empty you view the glass. Should Irish fans be on upset alert?

Not based on what I’ve seen. The irony is not lost on Wildcat fans who’ve been clutching ND bragging rights for 19 years, that we’re returning to the site of the program slingshot game in 1995. Fitzgerald’s then coach, Gary Barnett, had coined the phrase “Belief without Evidence” heading in to that season and that motto holds true now. Any belief in an upset would be not based on any evidence in 2014 other than a 2-week span to open B1G play when we throttled a weak Penn State team in Happy Valley and upset Wisconsin at home.

 

For a variety of reasons, some Notre Dame fans are taking pleasure in seeing Northwestern struggle. In large part, because of comments from Fitzgerald back in 2009.

“Even though we’re similar academically, we’re in a little different boat as Stanford and Notre Dame,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve been consistently winning since 1995. They’re still saying they can do it, but we’re doing it.”

I took issue with both Fitzgerald’s remark — and Mandel’s writeup — back then. Looking at this week’s game notes, it points out something that’s been fairly obvious for a long time: Northwestern is 28-11 in August and September (non-conference time) and just 30-41 from October on. Put harshly, you can argue that Northwestern build their “winner” based on cupcake non-conference victories.

I don’t blame you. If the shoe was on the other foot, I’d be crushing us if I were Notre Dame fans. We’d be regaling in Notre Dame’s misery if you were going through a tough time as well and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’d be disappointed if ND fans didn’t!! We deserve it.

In fairness though, I think context is important. At that point in 2009, ND was entering uncharted waters of bad times as Charlie Weis was rounding out a torch-inducing tenure with consecutive win totals of 7,6 and 3 while NU was arrow up to a 9-win season after and 8-win season. We still had the 3 Big Ten titles to point to, but didn’t want to acknowledge that we were well on our way to tying ND for the mutually notorious bowl losing record (9 straight).

I would imagine that it is easy to love to hate Fitz from an outside perspective. I get it. I don’t mean that in jest.

There are lots of ways to slice the numbers (Fitz has a winning record in November and has gone 1-4 in bowl games), but the most important way to assess the body of work is the Big Ten record which isn’t good – 29-40, to your point. Northwestern fans used to tell you to look under the hood (last 3 Michigan games lost on final play, 2 Nebraska etc…) but that has now become the norm more than the exception. It is what it is.

 

In a Big Ten conference that’s far from its strongest, what does this program need to do to turn things around?

You hit on the double-whammy. We’ve downright stunk the last two seasons and as you’ve seen firsthand, this would’ve been the ideal time for NU to make a Minnesota-like surge to compete for the B1G conference title.

It’s hard to believe just last year we had ESPN Gameday visit when we were #16 in the country and seemed on the verge of knocking off #4 Ohio State. Since then it’s been a cliff dive. Fans are howling for assistant coaching changes and an overhaul in our philosophy. I think fans would love to see a Moneyball approach to NU football with a smart, analytically-driven approach that has us much more aggressive than we’ve been. I’ve talked to many former players who marvel at the current talent level – guys from 2008, 2009 and even 2012 – and they just don’t get it. There doesn’t seem to be that “refuse to lose” attitude and leadership on this team, but overall, we seem like a team that is telling itself a story while the rest of the league has us figured out to a tee.

I genuinely hope NU takes an honest assessment of the program top down and makes the painful and necessary changes at all levels. If there are no changes on the staff it will get as ugly as ugly gets in Northwestern circles, which means “not that ugly, but we think it is”. There is no doubt Fitz is a good leader and he’s going through the toughest stretch he’s faced. I feel bad for him, but I also know he’s the one who has the ability and the authority to do what he needs to do to get the right people in the right place.

 

Last one, I promise: Walk me through the winning formula for a Northwestern upset on Saturday afternoon?

Wow. After the ’95 game I’ll never, ever say “never”, but I feel like I’m in make believe. My colleague, Philip Rossman-Reich posted the three factors that when Northwestern wins at least two of them, NU has gone 3-0, when they fail to win two of them, NU has gone 0-6.

The three factors are 1)turnover battle 2)field position 3)big plays (20+ yards). We’ll need to win the first two to have a shot. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but Northwestern isn’t an offense that has the horsepower to score in bunches (primarily because we have no big play ability). Our scoring drives are of the long, methodical 15-play variety. If Notre Dame gets out to a double digit lead early it could be a long day. The Wildcat defense will have to make multiple key takeaways with great field position for us to have a shot. There has yet to be a game where NU has had it click on all three phases so we are back to “Belief without Evidence”.

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Special thanks to LTP for the A+ effort. There is a bunch of great stuff up over there right now looking at common recruiting battles and the long-dormant rivalry.  Follow on Twitter @LakethePosts

Kelly goes back to basics with defense

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts in the first half of the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Brian Kelly met with the media on Tuesday, revealing a few details about the defensive changes he plans to implement. And while he kept any specific schematic or personnel tweaks to himself, his comments helped clarify why he made the decision to relieve Brian VanGorder of his duties Sunday morning.

At the second inflection point of his tenure in South Bend, Kelly is once again betting on himself. We saw him do this to great success after he made the unconventional decision to name Chuck Martin his offensive coordinator after the 2011 season—betting on his protege instead of Ed Warinner, who then left to go to Ohio State after being passed up.

That’s not to say this move has the ceiling of Kelly’s last great pivot—an undefeated regular season that ended with a date in the national title game. You could just as easily argue it’s a survival play.

So perhaps that’s why Kelly was less interested in defining what Greg Hudson’s new job title means, and more resolute on clarifying that this defense will operate the way the head coach sees fit.

“He’s going to adapt to what I want to run. His style is going to be Coach Kelly’s style,” Kelly explained.

“I’ll worry about the implementation, the scheme. I’ll take care of that for him right now. As he gets more comfortable with what we have and what our system is about, then he will be much more involved in what we do.

“But right now, we’ll write the music and he’ll be the lead singer. I don’t know if that’s a great analogy, if that makes any sense. He’s going to be out front, but he just got here. In terms of assuming this role, he’s learning everything as well.”

For those worried that the Irish head coach was shirking responsibility for his team’s 1-3 start, Kelly certainly is acting like a coach who is doing the opposite. He’s doubling down, and in doing so, acknowledging some of the fatal flaws that became exposed each and every game Brian VanGorder continued to coach.

The head coach will simplify game plans, asking his young team to do less but do it better. The staff will learn from the opening night debacle in Texas, a game plan that stressed scheme over personnel, a decision that was largely emblematic of how VanGorder handled his time in South Bend.

“We can’t defend everything. We can’t defend everything, but we have to be sound,” Kelly said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Kelly’s other major move will be developing a better rotation. After seven recruiting cycles, the roster has a deeper talent pool than VanGorder was willing to access. And for all the talk of sub-packages and defensive specialization, Kelly sounded like a coach who knew he needed to take things back to the basics.

“I can’t have 15 different personnel packages. We’ve got a couple personal packages. That’s it,” Kelly said. “There can’t be cross-training into three different personnel packages. We’ve streamlined that to the point where the guys are going to know by hopefully Thursday exactly where they fit in each group.”

With just days to prepare a defense that’s already at rock bottom, implementing any gigantic scheme change was always out of the question. But in looking for a new identity, Kelly also acknowledged some of the breaking points that forced him to make the change.

 

Even in transition, Babers expects Notre Dame’s best

SYRACUSE, NY - SEPTEMBER 02: Amba Etta-Tawo #7 of the Syracuse Orange pulls in a touchdown reception as Cortney Mimms #26 of the Colgate Raiders defends during the first quarter on September 2, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s defense is starting fresh with Greg Hudson, at least temporarily, at the helm. But Syracuse head coach Dino Babers doesn’t expect the instability to lead to a weakened opponent.

In fact, he thinks it’ll have the opposite effect.

“What normally happens in those situations is just like in a cowboy movies you circle the wagons and you find out who wants to fight and who doesn’t want to fight,” Babers said Monday. “So we’re going to get an angry mama bear that’s been wounded, that’s going to be fighting and clawing and coming out with all they have, and really wish they wouldn’t had done anything and wish they would have won the game last week.”

But the Irish didn’t win against Duke. And Brian Kelly’s decision to remove Brian VanGorder of his duties after just four games leads Notre Dame’s young defense into some uncharted territory.

Because the Irish will have to find a way to slow down a Syracuse offense that might not have as good of personnel as Texas, but is better at running the up-tempo, spread attack that the Longhorns installed this offseason. And Babers comes from the same Art Briles coaching tree that Sterlin Gilbert.

So Notre Dame will need to find a way to tackle receivers in space. And they’ll need to find a way to get an offense off the field that’s run more plays than every team in college football but three.

While Kelly promised both personnel and scheme changes, what can be done in a week remains to be seen. But with the Irish offense going up against a defense that’s actually worse statistically in every major category than Notre Dame’s, finding any success on the defensive side of the ball will be key.

The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Duke

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Anthony Nash #83 of the Duke Blue Devils runs for a touchdown during the second half of a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 24, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Sunday’s move was emphatic. Brian VanGorder’s departure confirms that a 1-3 record is unacceptable. And the demise of this team was as swift as the departure of a colleague Brian Kelly has known for the bulk of his 25-plus year coaching career.

But that’s the job. And the move likely wasn’t easy for a head coach who saw himself as close to tenured as any man this side of Lou Holtz had been, and is now clearly in uncharted territory.

“I’m under review, as well,” Kelly acknowledged on Sunday afternoon. “We’re all in this together: All the players, coaches, everybody. So players’ jobs are on the line. Every job is being evaluated as the players. All coaches’ jobs are on the line as well.”

With Greg Hudson now directing the defense, and Syracuse having run more offensive plays than every program but three, the challenge this weekend is stark. So let’s move forward ourselves and finish off the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

THE GOOD

Dexter WilliamsBrian Kelly gave him credit, so let’s start there. Williams ran hard, looked explosive and flashed on special teams.

It’s time for Williams to get some more reps, even if it means taking away from Josh Adams’ leading load as well as Tarean Folston‘s.

 

Donte Vaughn. Notre Dame’s freshman cornerback wasn’t perfect—he got beat inside a few times on slant routes that everybody in the building saw coming. But he came up big and made a play, something Notre Dame’s defensive backs haven’t done since Shaun Crawford went down for the season.

His length and cover skills should be put to the test again next weekend when Syracuse’s Amba Etta-Tawo looks to replicate his monster 270-yard performance against UConn. The focus will be on Cole Luke, Vaughn, Julian Love and Nick Coleman.

 

Kevin Stepherson. The freshman only caught three balls, but all of them were big gainers,  including his beautiful 44-yard touchdown catch. With Torii Hunter unable to push the lid off opponents, Stepherson might be a better fit for the X moving forward, assuming he continues to learn the playbook and run precise routes.

 

The Weather. Looked like a heckuva day in South Bend, at least from a weather perspective.

 

THE BAD

The tackling. That was one of the worst tackling performances I can remember. Especially against a team that was anemic on offense heading into the weekend. Name a defender and you’ll recall a missed tackle.

Drue Tranquill held on to a few early, then had some ugly whiffs. Cole Luke, a guy Brian Kelly called the team’s smartest football player last week, sure looked lost a few times, too. And with hopes that Devin Studstill is the answer at free safety, Studstill did his best to make us wonder about that, too. He took some horrific routes to footballs, a difficult day at the office for a young kid who needs to learn quickly.

When your senior captain outside linebacker is getting run over by a quarterback for a first down and you’re thinking, “at least he made the tackle,” the bar has been lowered pretty significantly. But another week of “thudding” at practice might be needed—even with heavy installation coming soon.

 

The special teams. A missed field goal proved costly. So did some horrific tackling and coverage on the kickoff return that let Duke back into the game. And for the fourth time this season, Tyler Newsome flubbed his first kick of the game. (All but asking for the nickname Mulligan to emerge.)

Scott Booker has a ton of kids on his run teams. But they’ve got to get some consistency out there if they want CJ Sanders to help turn this into a positive, not another unit to hide.

 

The pass rush. Yes, the drought is over, with Nyles Morgan getting the first sack of the season for the Irish. But man—this team has a gigantic hole on it and finding any type of pass rush is critical.

Sure, Duke’s quick passing game took advantage of the Irish’s leaky secondary and didn’t let Notre Dame get to the quarterback. But at this point, every snap you’re giving Andrew Trumbetti over a kid who can get to the quarterback—Jay Hayes, Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, or anyone—feels lost.

 

The coaching. Kelly raised more than a few eyebrows when he said the following, when asked about an evaluation of his defensive coaching and game plan.

“That’s probably the one area that I feel better about today. We did what I wanted today in terms of coaching. And coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today,” Kelly said.

That was likely a time-buyer until a long night of thinking, because morning brought clarity for the head man.

 

THE UGLY

The State of the Program. With the game tied 28-28 heading into the fourth quarter, one team was jumping around like they’d won the lotto. The other was all but biting their fingernails, kicking dirty and looking lethargic.

If anything set off Kelly postgame—even more so than the defense his troops were displaying—it was the lack of effort.

“There’s no passion for it. It looks like it’s hard to play. Like we’re pulling teeth,” Kelly said. “You’re playing football for Notre Dame. It looks like it’s work. Last I checked they were getting a scholarship to play this game.

“There’s no fun, there’s no enjoyment, there’s no energy. We got to look for the guys that want to have fun and play this game with passion and energy and that’s where we got to go.”

In Kelly’s first few seasons in South Bend, he was criticized for having his team celebrate victories, even the ugly ones. But somewhere this program lost track of the ultimate goal and that likely falls on the head coach to fix that problem as soon as possible.

 

Firing a staffer. Notre Dame’s head coach likely saw what many of us saw as well. But a decision like that from the cheap-seats is one thing, a decision from inside the program is another.

Follow Notre Dame long enough, and you’ll tire of thinking about the carousel that’s come and gone—Davie, O’Leary, Willingham, Weis, armies of loyal assistants who have spent years working to climb the summit. And for most, life after Notre Dame isn’t the same.

Sure, there’s Urban Meyer, Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong. But there are a few dozen others who have come to a program with noble ambitions—willing to do it right and win on and off the field—but they fail too often on Saturdays.

So as ND Nation almost united in celebration of the move, it’s worth a quick word to a fanbase that always fashions itself as possessing proper etiquette.

Few come to your office and celebrate the worst day of your professional career. Less dig into your family’s Twitter account, hoping to break a story or confirm news they celebrate jubilantly. Sure, some of that comes with the territory. And certainly VanGorder was well compensated for his time in South Bend.

But ultimately, this Sunday hopefully provided some perspective. Baseball lost one of its brightest young stars. Golf lost one of its icons. And many many more things of consequence took place—inside the sporting world and out.

But when it comes to VanGorder, a quick reminder of something that has nothing to do with sports. A man has lost his job. A family will uproot once again. And the dynamics on the current football team—where Montgomery VanGorder still plays an important role—won’t ever be the same.

“I will tell you this: Brian is as fine a defensive coach as there is out there. He knows the game. He loves Notre Dame,” Kelly said on Sunday. “He wanted to succeed as much as anybody here, but it wasn’t working.”

There should be no harm in that.

VanGorder out as defensive coordinator

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)
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Brian VanGorder has been fired. Notre Dame’s third-year defensive coordinator was relieved of his duties after just four games.

Brian Kelly made the move official Sunday morning, less than an hour before his weekly Sunday teleconference. He’s replaced VanGorder with defensive analyst Greg Hudson, a former Notre Dame linebacker who joined the Irish staff in June and spent the last three seasons as defensive coordinator at Purdue, a position he also held at East Carolina and Minnesota. The rest of the defensive staff remains unchanged.

“Obviously, this is a difficult day for our coaching staff, but I’m excited and honored about the opportunity that Coach Kelly has afforded me,” Hudson said in the team’s statement. “We’ve got to improve on defense, without a doubt, and I’m confident that we will. We have great student-athletes and a tremendous defensive coaching staff. I can’t wait to get started with our group.”

The VanGorder era ends with the Irish ranked 101st in scoring defense, 96th in rushing defense and 87th in pass defense. The Irish are dead last in sacks, the last FBS team to get one when Nyles Morgan finally got the team’s first sack against Duke.

Hired after Bob Diaco left Notre Dame for the head job at UConn, VanGorder brought with him an NFL system and a multiple, attacking scheme. But after injuries derailed his first season, it was a defense best known for its maddening inconsistency, with even last season’s talented outfit plagued by the big play and mistakes.

As late as Saturday night Kelly pledged allegiance to his defensive coordinator, calling the staff’s game plan the least of his concerns after the 38-35 loss.

“We did what I wanted today in terms of coaching. And coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today. I was pleased from that perspective,” Kelly said.