Northwestern v Notre Dame

Five things we learned: Northwestern 43, Notre Dame 40

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Apologies to Van Morrison’s mother. There didn’t have to be days like this.

Notre Dame’s overtime 43-40 loss to Northwestern Saturday is a game that defies explanation. Turnovers. Mistakes. Coaching blunders. They all add up to the worst Saturday Brian Kelly has ever had at Notre Dame Stadium, and perhaps one of the worst defeats in his 20-plus year coaching career.

Watch a replay of the game

Playing against a hapless Northwestern team, the Wildcats came back from an 11-point deficit in the game’s final minutes to force overtime. They did so courtesy of mistakes both mental and physical, by players both young and old, and a head coach who certainly should know better.

Credit Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats for pulling off the upset, keeping their dwindling bowl hopes alive by getting their fourth win of the year. But make no mistake, this game was lost by Notre Dame.

Finding new ways to stub their toes, the Irish loss pushes Notre Dame out of realistic New Years Day bowl contention, likely outside the Top 25, and into a final two-game stretch that should have everybody on “free-fall” alert.

Let’s finding out what else we learned.

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“Millions of excuses, but no single reason.” However you slice it, this loss is on Brian Kelly. 

Great Notre Dame football coaches can lose to Northwestern. So while some will want to run Brian Kelly out of town for this defeat, history won’t likely define him by this horrifying defeat. Just ask Lou Holtz.

The last time Northwestern visited South Bend, the Wildcats pulled off an even bigger upset, shocking an Irish team that was nearly four-touchdown favorites. And that means Kelly will have to endure a week like the one Holtz battled through early in the 1995 season.

But maybe Kelly can learn from Dr. Lou on how to handle this. The former Irish coach responded to a fan letter in the days after the difficult loss with this message, one Kelly would be wise to grasp:

Dear Bill:

Thank you very much for your letter. I really am sorry about the way we played against Northwestern, and yet I can’t quite understand it. I think I could give you a million different excuses, Bill, but not a single reason. All I know to do at a time like this is to follow your advice and persevere.

You were most kind to write.

That’s got to be how the Irish feel after this loss. There are millions of different excuses, but no single reason. It’s easy to point to the obvious. Bad math on a two-point play. Cam McDaniel’s game-clinching fumble. Two turnovers as the Irish are on the verge of crossing the goal line. A defense that gave up over 500 yards to the worst Power Five offense in college football.

But make no mistake. This one is on Kelly. And now the Irish head coach will have to go on a puzzling search to pick up the pieces before preparing for a Louisville team that’ll be smelling blood.

In his postgame comments, Kelly said all the right things. At his most succinct, he said the obvious:

“We’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to play better.”

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This is not the same defense we saw in September. 

Notre Dame’s self-destruction will be well-chronicled this week. And after getting past Kelly, quarterback Everett Golson and critical fumbles by Chris Brown and Cam McDaniel, the spotlight will turn to Brian VanGorder and his crumbling defense.

The shine has come off VanGorder, who went from meme to punchline in roughly 60 days. The first-year defensive coordinator watched his team give up 547 yards to a team that averages just 322 yards a game. Against the least explosive offense in all of power-five football, the young Irish defense was gashed early and often by big plays.

The razor-thin edge VanGorder’s defense lived on in September is long gone. And so is most of the personnel that had this group playing well.

Sheldon Day was in a brace from hip to ankle on the sideline, not a good sign for Notre Dame’s best defensive lineman. Jarron Jones looked like a fraction of the player who destroyed the interior of Florida State’s defensive line. The loss of Daniel Cage forced a defensive line with Jacob Matuska, Grant Blankenship and Andrew Trumbetti into action. That’s like looking at the 2007 front four.

Without Joe Schmidt, the linebacking corps look lost. That includes Jaylon Smith, who started the season on an All-American trajectory and could be lost in orbit at this point. Nyles Morgan struggled mightily again, and then lost his cool, trying even harder to find his way into the back of the doghouse.

The secondary is in even worse shape. Brian Kelly and the defensive staff decided Drue Tranquill would get the start over Max Redfield. The freshman safety, who up until this afternoon was one of the best surprises of the season, did his best to make the staff regret it nearly every play he was involved in.

And while Austin Collinsworth’s scoop-and-score was the type of senior memory the captain deserved, from that play forward, the veteran looked overwhelmed, the long layoff and shoulder injury nullifying him for most of the game. There’s enough pressure on the secondary without without accounting for a pass rush that’s non-existent.

It’s worth point out that even with these injuries, it wasn’t all bad for the defense. They forced four turnovers, keeping the Irish even in that all-important battle. Collinsworth’s touchdown recovery and Matthias Farley’s end-zone interception kept the Irish in it. Cole Luke’s interception should’ve bailed Notre Dame out again. But that feels a little bit like beautiful window dressing on a burning house.

At this point, there’s no hiding this group. Not without a base defense, a simplified scheme that can serve as the bedrock of this unit. Under Bob Diaco, the Irish had that. But with nothing but kids and leftovers on the field, there’s nothing to lean on. So VanGorder is going to have to pull a rabbit out of a seemingly empty hat these next two weeks.

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Notre Dame’s special teams finally cost them a football game. 

Heading into this season Kyle Brindza was set to go down in Notre Dame’s record books as the school’s best kicker. Now he can’t even be counted on to make an extra point or come through in the clutch — his best trait heading into 2014.

A week after a change at holder, Notre Dame’s brutal special teams unit cost the Irish dearly, with Malik Zaire fumbling an extra-point snap, allowing a Wildcat defender to block and return a point-after attempt for a two-point play. That three-point swing turned out to be rather important.

Brindza also hooked two critical field goal attempts wide left (including one in overtime, the goat to Northwestern kicker Jack Mitchell’s heroic day). The senior kicker who before this season had ice water in his veins, just couldn’t get it done in any facet, shanking a 17-yard punt when a good kick was desperately needed as well.

It’s not all on him. A kicker without confidence in his battery is a lost soul. After the game, Kelly talked about the struggles with the PAT battery when he decided to make the controversial decision to go for two in an 11-point game. That decision created a two-possession game, a margin needed for Northwestern’s comeback to even be possible.

A year after the Irish ended the season with woeful coverage units and in need of rebuilding a broken facet of the game, it looks like Notre Dame will have to do it again, only with a unit even more critical to the team’s success.

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Whatever happens going forward, Everett Golson needs to believe in himself. 

The box score will show more turnovers from Everett Golson. A fumbled zone read play that cost the Irish greatly. An interception that bounced off a lineman’s helmet and once again into the wrong team’s arms. But after hurting his shoulder early in the second half, Golson played well enough for his team to win.

A stat-line of 21 for 40 for 287 and three touchdowns and one interception on a cold, blustery day is not the problem. (There were probably five drops in that total.) Nor was his afternoon running the football, a career-high 78 rushing yards that included a 61-yard touchdown that opened the scoring.

But if there’s a worry you should have moving forward, it’s that Golson has lost some of the self-belief and unteachable football instincts that make him the dangerous quarterback that he is. And that’s something Brian Kelly can stop.

If I’m Kelly this week, I’m doubling-down on Golson. This is his team, and Golson is his quarterback. We can spend hours debating Malik Zaire and competition next year, but ultimately it’s no secret to anybody inside the program that Golson is the team’s quarterback for this season and next. So the mission moving forward is to make sure this loss is Golson’s rock bottom, and he plays out the season on an upwards trajectory.

Kelly showed that faith in his quarterback down the stretch, choosing to throw for critical third-down conversions instead of running the ball. And Golson came through. But with multiple fires burning in the Irish kitchen, Kelly should put the most talked about one out now.

Golson is his quarterback. Period.

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Next Year might still be the year. But Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are going to need to do some serious coaching, and go to see what the kids can do. 

In many ways, Cam McDaniel’s fumble might be a blessing in disguise. Because while the senior captain is a wonderful team leader and a player that deserves respect, he’s not one of the team’s best three running backs. And he’s certainly not going to be a part of the equation for an Irish team that now needs to look to a bright future in 2015.

With three losses, it’s time for Kelly and his coaching staff to make some tough decisions. And that might mean coaching for 2015. That’s not to minimize the next two football games. Both are critical to the present and the future. But in some 50-50 matchups where veterans are playing, it’s time to see what the kids can do.

That means giving Mike McGlinchey a shot at right tackle, working him into the rotation with fifth-year veteran Christian Lombard. It also means looking at players like Colin McGovern and the rest of the talented depth chart likely chomping at the bit while the offensive line plays just adequately.

If the secondary is at bare bones, let’s see Nick Watkins get in the mix in the secondary, especially with Cody Riggs injured and Watkins already playing through his freshman eligibility.

If the Pinstripe Bowl was when Kelly forced Max Redfield into the lineup, the head coach and his talented sophomore safety need to kiss and make up, because Redfield is a part of the future, even if it’s been a bumpy road the past few months. So is Tranquill, but in a role better suited for his skillset. Veteran Matthias Farley showed he’s a part of that group too, another huge game for a veteran that’s gone through the fire and emerged a better player.

The next project should be Greg Bryant. The sophomore running back showed some frustration on social media in the immediate aftermath of the football game, but he needs to play his way through inexperience. That’s easier to do with McDaniel fumbling away the game and missing pass blocking assignments as well.

After nightmares like today, looking forward is difficult. But while Saturday’s shocking loss took 2014 off track, Kelly would be wise not to let it do the same to next season.

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)
AP
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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.

 

Five things we learned: Duke 38, Notre Dame 35

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The tombstone for Brian Kelly’s seventh football team in South Bend might read:

Here lies Notre Dame. They found ways to lose.

That might lean dramatic, but the Irish are 1-3, a 38-35 defeat at the hands of Duke the latest boondoggle for a team that’s waking up all the wrong echoes. And Kelly’s program—led by a historically bad defense— is plummeting, a free-fall from what seemed like solid ground entering the season.

But that’s what a perfect storm will do. A horrific defense, a schizophrenic offense, poor leadership and a young roster stepping into every trap laid, every banana peel dropped, especially when the chips are on the table.

A week after getting out-classed by Michigan State, Notre Dame faces a much different monster in the mirror.

“I told our guys we’re going in the wrong direction. We’re not going to continue to go in this direction,” Kelly said postgame. “We’ll have to reevaluate what we’re doing, who we are doing it with and how we’re doing it. All of those things.

Let’s find out what we learned.

 

Notre Dame’s defense has infected the entire football team. 

A last-second kneel down was all that kept Duke from crossing 500 yards of offense. But it isn’t enough that the Irish defense is getting decimated by every competent football team that lines up across from them. Their mediocre play has infected the entire team.

That’s what happens when you put pressure on your offense to score every series. That’s what happens when you coach to protect one vulnerability, only to unleash another.

Because it isn’t enough that this defense misses tackles, blows assignments and plays with an alarmingly low IQ. They’ve found a way to infect the offense and the entire coaching philosophy, too.

There’s no need to spend words indicting Brian VanGorder (or Kelly for hiring him) or the position coaches for failing to get the defense in the right position. Kelly made it abundantly clear that any move he makes will likely be postseason, not as some sort of mid-season shuffle.

Because even a back-to-the-basics week did nothing to salvage things. We saw no uptick from working on tackling midweek in mid-September, for preaching the fundamentals; “speed to power” in one ear and out the other, like a Duke player weaving through defenders to daylight.

This defense is toxic and has found a way to derail all three segments of the team, hoisting enough pressure onto DeShone Kizer that it was as much the guys in blue making his afternoon tough as it was David Cutcliffe’s team.

 

Blame coaching all you want, but Brian Kelly is making it clear that he’s holding his players accountable, too. 

Brian Kelly said all the right things about coaching accountability, spitting out the perfunctory cliches—”I’m a 1-3 football coach. We’re all 1-3 football coaches”—through gritted teeth.

But it didn’t take long for Kelly to make his true feelings clear, taking dead aim at the effort and attitude that his team showed Saturday afternoon, making it clear he’ll be looking for a different type of football player to take the field next week.

“Guys that have fire and grit. We had one guy in the entire football team that had emotion and fire. And that was Dexter Williams. He’s the only one. He’s the only one that I saw,” Kelly said after some prodding.

“So if you want to play for me moving forward. I don’t care what your resume said, if you’re a five star, if you had 100 tackles or 80 receptions or 30 touchdown passes, you better have some damn fire and energy in you. We lack it. We lack it severely.”

After another week where veterans were just as responsible for futility as any rookies, Kelly made it clear that he’s set to make sweeping changes to the team that’ll take the field next weekend in East Rutherford against Syracuse.

“Every position. All 22 of them, will be evaluated. Each and every position,” Kelly said. “There is no position that is untouchable on this football team. That’s the quarterback all the way down.”

 

Notre Dame needs to find an offensive identity, too. Because DeShone Kizer wasn’t close to good enough to bail them out. 

There’s no applauding the 534 yards of offense the Irish put up. Because when push came to shove, the Irish offense failed to score when they had two final chances to win the football game—a troubling trend that’s beginning to emerge.

The ground game struggled. Behind an offensive line that’s still making too many mistakes, Josh Adams, Tarean Folston and Dexter Williams were all held below five yards a carry. Only Kizer found an explosive play on the ground, his 23-yarder the only running gain the Irish had over 20 yards.

Kizer put up some empty statistics as well. He was clearly pressing for much of the second half, even after the momentary boost the offense got from the defense after halftime. Kizer’s fourth quarter was one to forget, just 3 of 7 passing for 45 yards, taking a sack, throwing a mindless interception on 3rd-and-20, and short-circuiting any comeback chance with a poor final drive.

Combine that with some head-scratching reads, a handful of missed touch passes and an inexcusable fumble, and it was a difficult afternoon for the Irish’s star quarterback.

“Below standard,” Kelly said of his quarterback’s play.

 

Once again turnovers, special teams and self-inflicted wounds killed the Irish. 

Want to learn how to throw away momentum? Give up a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

With Chase Claypool, Julian Okwara and Nick Coleman all blowing tackles, even a serious injury to return man extraordinaire Devon Edwards didn’t stop backup Shaun Wilson from taking one to the house, flipping the game completely on its head when it looked like the Irish could bury Duke early.

Add in Kizer’s fumble, his fourth-quarter interception (and another one he gift-wrapped that was dropped) and Equanimeous St. Brown getting stripped after a big gain, and it’s a formula the Irish know all too well.

“There’s not a lot of things to point out other than the obvious. Three turnovers, all of them impact the game. Sloppy turnovers. A kickoff return for a touchdown,” Kelly said to open his postgame comments. “And the inability to mount anything consistently throughout the game. Once you feel like you have something going pretty good and then we tend to make a mistake and let teams back in the game.”

That’s certainly what happened Saturday afternoon, with the Irish capable of delivering a knockout punch and instead carrying the Blue Devils off the ropes and right back into the game.

Toss in some of the worst tackling—both attempts and angles—you’ll ever see and you’ve got a recipe for defeat.

 

You need to live and die with the kids. Because this might not be rock bottom. 

Bad news: This could get worse.

Because as Kelly mentioned last week, there are no trades, no waiver wire and no cuts in college football. Sure, you can run Brian VanGorder out of town if you really think that’ll help, but it’s only going to add more instability to a season that’s not close to rock bottom—not with offenses like Syracuse, Stanford, Miami, Virginia Tech, Army, Navy and USC on the schedule.

(No disrespect meant to NC State, I’m sure they’ll find a way to get theirs, too.)

The roster that Kelly himself assembled deserves examination. But that’s the group that needs to get this team out of trouble. And it’s tough to say any amount of hard coaching will allow that to happen.

So live and die with the kids.

Donte Vaughn, welcome to the starting lineup. Julian Love, see you there, too.

Khalid Kareem, Jamir Jones and Julian Okwara can’t be any worse at getting off blocks than Andrew Trumbetti—who plays like a two-gap defensive tackle instead of a guy attempting to rush the passer.

Offensively, pass the baton to Equanimeous St. Brown already—he’s clearly the team’s No. 1 receiver. Give Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson reps at the X if Torii Hunter can’t scare teams downfield. And if Tarean Folston can’t find that next gear, Dexter Williams certainly seems willing to show you his.

Notre Dame’s football program is in a dangerous place, and all are responsible.

Because lost somewhere between the fancy new facilities, the social media partnership with Bleacher Report, and the sports-science and nutrition commitments that treat this program better than most NFL outfits, a simple fundamental got lost in the process–and this football team got soft.

We could’ve seen this coming. Kelly hinted at worries during the spring and summer, especially as he openly had questions about this team’s veteran leadership. Those problems were exposed in August, when one senior leader thought it wise to drag four underclassmen with him on a Cheech and Chong adventure, all while exercising his Second Amendment rights, too.

So match a lack of leadership with mediocre effort and a young roster looking for veteran examples and you can bet that Kelly’s postgame comments for the media were a subdued echo of what he said behind closed doors.

“It looks like it’s hard to play, like we’re pulling teeth. We’re playing football for Notre Dame! It looks like it’s work,” Kelly said, almost exacerbated. “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’ve gotta look for the guys that want to have fun and play this game with passion and energy and that’s the way we have to go.”

 

 

Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. Duke

Josh Adams Nevada
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It’s another Saturday of football at Notre Dame. And if you’re unable to tune in on NBC at 3:30 p.m., or you want more than our afternoon broadcast with Mike Tirico, Doug Flutie and Kathryn Tappen, we’ve got you covered.

 

For the PREGAME SHOW AT 3:00PM ON NBCSN, CLICK HERE.

For the BROADCAST FEED OF NOTRE DAME VS. DUKE, CLICK HERE.

For the BANDS AT HALFTIME, CLICK HERE.

And your POSTGAME COACHES PRESS CONFERENCES, CLICK HERE.

Here’s to a great Saturday, the first one of autumn.

 

Pregame Six Pack: Back to the grind

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium on September 17, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan State defeated Notre Dame 36-28. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Enough has been made about the fate of Brian Kelly’s football team. Now it’s time to play. Because for the young team that takes the field each week, Saturday is an opportunity to improve, a chance to win a football game, and one of 12 Saturdays that serve as a reward for the hard work that goes in all year round.

At 1-2, nothing is served by looking at the big picture. Conversely, it’s Kelly’s job to drill down, making sure his players and coaches understand that the details are what will be critical on this third-straight home weekend.

With the team focusing on the little things, let’s do the same in the Pregame Six Pack. With the Irish and the Blue Devils meeting for the first time since 2007 on Saturday afternoon, let’s focus on six key position groups that will ensure the Irish leave the game at a level 2-2.

 

The defensive backs. Players young and old need to take a step forward. That means Cole Luke needs to rebound from his worst week wearing an Irish uniform and Devin Studstill needs to keep improving. That means the Irish need to hold up not just in pass coverage, but in run fits as well—the focus as much on youngsters as it is on Drue Tranquill and Avery Sebastian.

Without Max Redfield, Shaun Crawford, Devin Butler and Nick Watkins, this group has no reinforcements other than the youth on the roster. And Kelly sounded fairly clear that with the Irish out of the picture for a big postseason spot, he may be inclined to save Watkins’ year of eligibility and let him forearm heal with time.

“We’re at a point right now where we have to make a decision whether we want to get him in,” Kelly said.  “I would say standing here in front of you right now, based upon my conversation with Dr. Ratigan, he thinks it’s still two more weeks, and if that’s the case, I would lean toward not playing him this year. Not to use up a half-year on him.”

That means Nick Coleman’s going to keep playing. Donte Vaughn will get his chances, too. And it’s up to everybody to step their games up—because this is the group that needs to get the job done.

 

The Offensive Line. The Irish front didn’t have a strong Saturday last weekend. And so you can guess that Harry Hiestand let his unit know this week that those results wouldn’t be good enough.

Expect to see a new attitude this week. That means a commitment to sustaining blocks. It means a diligence in spotting pressures. And it means getting the ground game—and the line of scrimmage—moving.

“It comes down to what we do and that’s the way football is, especially on the offensive side of the ball, it’s executing what you need to do and what your job is,” Mike McGlinchey said this week. “Doing that against a look that is in front of you, that’s the great thing about playing offense, especially offensive line, is a lot of it is in your control. You just have to be able to see what’s happening in front of you and trust the guys next to you to get the job done and that’s what’s going to happen.”

Expects Duke’s defense to challenge Notre Dame’s front with varied looks and a multitude of different pressures. But after struggling against the Spartans, expect a very motivated Irish offensive line to set the tone on Saturday.

 

 

The Pass Rush. Brian Kelly called Duke quarterback Daniel Jones “as good as anyone in the country as far as running their offense.” That’s high praise for a young player just getting started, but it’s likely a credit to a smart quarterback and a very good offensive coaching staff. So as the Irish defense tries to find its footing, expect the Blue Devils staff to see some opportunities after watching three games of tape from Notre Dame’s defense.

But a developing set of receivers and a struggling offensive line should give Notre Dame’s woeful pass rush some opportunities to establish themselves. It should also help protect a secondary that found itself in position to make plays last week, but just didn’t get the job done.

The Blue Devils short passing game has had success. But if Duke tries to extend those throws down the field, the Irish defense better be ready. You can only do so much in the secondary. Against a Duke offensive line that hasn’t been at its best, the Irish front should be able to pin its ears back and get after the quarterback, with veterans like Isaac Rochell or a rookie like Daelin Hayes. The door is open to get a sack or two from a position group that’s been missing in action through the season’s first quarter.

 

Special Teams. Scott Booker’s unit has to want to get that bad taste from their mouth. Jalen Elliott’s penalty took a score off the board. Miles Boykin’s mistake gave the football to the Spartans. And Nicco Fertitta took a stupid penalty, getting himself noticed for all the wrong reasons.

CJ Sanders is due for a bounce back. And Duke’s specialists have been struggling, too. If the Irish want to win this game convincingly, they can dominate the third phase of the football game, helping the defense with field position and setting up the offense with a short field or two.

 

Wide Receivers. I noticed Chase Claypool attacking the football. Notre Dame’s coaching staff did, too. Now it’s time to add the talented freshman to the mix, another downfield weapon who can exploit mismatches and bring a physicality to a unit that already features Equanimeous St. Brown.

Duke’s defense isn’t bad. But they’ll be asked to do a lot, committing bodies to stop the running game and hold up the Blue Devils if the offense can’t get rolling. But for as good as DeShone Kizer has been this season, he’s due a few big plays from the guys catching passes. A season after Will Fuller served as a home run hitter, it’s time for an Irish pass catcher to take a long ball to the house.

 

The Head Coach. Yes, I know this is cheating. The head coach isn’t a position group.

But this is Brian Kelly’s team. That means that he’s ultimately in charge of Brian VanGorder’s besieged defense, the special teams that struggled last week and the offense that went missing for two quarters.

Kelly’s been under the bright lights before. And after seven seasons, a little external heat isn’t anything that’s going to come as a surprise—no matter how successful he’s been turning this program around.

 

“It comes with the territory. I know what the expectations are for the football program at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “When you build expectations you’re going to be criticized. I have no problem with that. I get that. As I said, I’m a 1-2 football coach. If you’re not criticizing a 1-2 football coach, your fan base is pretty soft.”

So it’s up to Kelly to have his team avoid the noise. It’s up to the coaches and players inside the Gug to find the motivation. And it’s up to the team to play with an internal motivation that doesn’t take into account the team’s postseason destination.

The message has been sent, at least if you listen to one of the team’s captains.

“It’s got to be self and team pride,” McGlinchey said this week. “It’s the constant battle to become the best person and player you can be each and every day. And along with that, become the best team we can be every day. That’s the motivation, just become better and do better and continue to work for that, and everything that we do is about.”

The message is clear. Now delivering on it is essential.